There's a tavern by the docks. He's there most evenings." "Then I'll talk to him tonight, " Halt said. "You can try. But he's a hard case, Halt. I'm not sure you'll get anything out of him. He's not interested in money. I tried that." "Well, perhaps he'll do it out of the goodness of his heart. I'm sure he'll open up to me, " Halt said easily. But Horace noticed a gleam in his eye. He was right: the prospect of having something to do had reawakened Halt's spirits. He had a score to settle, and Horace found himself thinking that it didn't bode well for this Black O'Malley character. Will eyes Halt doubtfully, however. "You think so." Halt smiled at him. "People love talking to me, " he said. "I'm an excellent conversationalist and I have a sparkling personality. Ask Horace. I've been bending his ear all the way from Dun Kilty, haven't I?" Horace nodded confirmation. "Talking nonstop all the way, he's been, " he said. "Be glad to see him turn all that chatter onto someone else.
How do we get there? How did you get here, by the way?' [Will asked]. He heard Halt's deep sigh and knew he'd done it again. 'Do you ever, ' the older Ranger said with great deliberation, 'manage to ask just one question at a time? Or does it always have to be multiple choice with you?' Will looked at him in surprise. 'Do I do that?' he asked. 'Are you sure?' Halt said nothing. He raised his hands in a 'See what I mean?' gesture... 'Halt, ' [Selethen said], 'I could be wrong, but I think you were just guilty of the same fault. I'm sure I heard you ask two questions just then.' 'Thank you for pointing that out, Lord Selethen, ' Halt said with icy formality.
Halt eyed them balefully. They were all being so obvious about not mentioning his sudden reappearance that it was even worse than if they had commented on it... 'Oh, go on!' he said. 'Somebody say something! I know what you're thinking!' 'It's good to see you up and about, Halt, ' Selethen said gravely... Halt glared at the others and they quickly chorused their pleasure at seeing him back to his normal self. But he could see the grins they didn't quite manage to hide. He fixed a glare on Alyss. 'I'm surprised at you Alyss, ' he said. 'I expected no better of Will and Evanlyn, of course. Heartless beasts, the pair of them. But you! I thought you had been better trained!'... 'Halt, I'm sorry! It's not funny, you're right... Shut up, Will.' This last was directed at Will as he tried, unsuccessfully, to smother a snigger.
Halt! How are you? What have you been doing? Where's Abelard? How's Crowley? What's this all about?" "I'm glad to see you rate my horse more important than our Corps Commandant, " Halt said, one eyebrow rising in the expression that Will knew so well. Early in their relationship, he had thought it was an expression of displeasure. He had learned years ago that it was, for Halt, the equivalent of a smile.
Halt! How are you? What have you been doing? Where's Abelard? How's Crowley? What's this all about?" "I'm glad to see you rate my horse more important than our Corps Commandant," Halt said, one eyebrow rising in the expression that Will knew so well. Early in their relationship, he had thought it was an expression of displeasure. He had learned years ago that it was, for Halt, the equivalent of a smile.
Are there bears in these mountains?" he asked. His companion nodded. "Of course. But it's a bit early in the year for them to be moving around. Why?" Halt let go a long breath. "Just a vague hope, really. There's a chance that when the Temujai here you crashing around in the trees, they might think you're a bear." Erak smiled, with his mouth only. His eyes were as cold as the snow. "You're a very amusing fellow," he told Halt. "I'd like to brain you with my ax one of these days." "If you could manage to do it quietly, I'd almost welcome it," Halt said.
Halt, " said Horace, "I've been thinking... " Halt and Will exchanged an amused glance. "Always a dangerous pastime, " they chorused. For many years, it had been Halt's unfailing response when Will had made the same statement. Horace waited patiently while they had their moment of fun, then continued. "Yes, yes. I know. But seriously, as we said last night, Macindaw isn't so far away from here... " "And?" Halt asked, seeing how Horace had left the statement hanging. "Well, there's a garrison there and it might not be a b ad idea for one of to go fetch some reinforcements. It wouldn't hurt to have a dozen knights and men-at-arms to back us up when we run into Tennyson." But Halt was already shaking his head. "Two problems, Horace. It'd take too long for one of us to get there, explain it all and mobilize a force. And even if we could do it quickly, I don't think we'd want a bunch of knights blundering around the countryside, crashing through the bracken, making noise and getting noticed." He realized that statement had been a little tactless. "No offense, Horace. Present company excepted, of course.
Bear with me on this, Evanlyn. I know you're anxious about Horace." WIll was a little puzzled by Halt's words. "No more anxious than the rest of us, surely," he said. Halt turned away and raised his eyebrows as his gaze met Selethen's. Sometimes, he thought, his former apprentice could be remarkably slow on the uptake. He saw the Arridi's slow nod of understanding. ~Halt & Will about Evanlyn and Horace
I'll be getting you for this,' Halt had told him as he dabbed the diguisting mixture on the worst of the cuts. 'That soot is filthy. I'll probably come down with half a dozen infections.' Probably,' Horace had replied, distracted by his task. 'But we'll only need you for today.' Which was not a very comforting thought for Halt.
The two girls disappeared into the stern cabin once more. Will watched them go, then asked Halt, 'Anything you'd like me to do? Grow a beard? Learn to walk like a rooster?' 'If you could stop asking facetious questions, that'd be a start,' Halt told him. 'But it's probably a little late in life for you to do that.
The two girls disappeared into the stern cabin once more. Will watched them go, then asked Halt, 'Anything you'd like me to do? Grow a beard? Learn to walk like a rooster?' 'If you could stop asking facetious questions, that'd be a start, ' Halt told him. 'But it's probably a little late in life for you to do that.
Now for God's sake, will you two start behaving like a princess and a Courier?" Halt told them. "If you don't, I'll have to think about sending Will home.' 'Me?' Will said, his voice breaking into a high-pitched squeak of indignation. 'What's it got to do with me?' 'It's all your fault!' Halt shouted irrationally.
We're going to see Ragnak," Halt told him. "He's going to have to promise to free every slave who fights for Hallasholm." Will shook his head doubtfully. "He won't like that," he said. Halt turned and looked at him, a faint grin touching the corner of his mouth. He'll hate it," he agreed.
Take one more step and I'll put an arrow through you." Will tried to model his voice on the quiet, threatening tone Halt had used. He had retrieved several of his arrows from the nearest target and now he had one of them ready, laid on the bowstring. Halt glanced around approvingly. "Good idea," he said. "Aim for the left calf. It's a very painful wound.
Well I'm not dancing," Will said through gritted teeth. "I don't know how." Oh yes you are," Alyss told him. "Let's hope you're a fast learner." He glanced at her and saw no prospect of escape. "Well,at least I won't be the only one," he said. "Halt will be terrible too." But nobody in the assembly knew tat for the past ten days, Halt had been taking dance lessons from Lady Sandra.
Halt," said the elegant diplomat, "when you asked me to marry you, did you think we could just sneak off to a glade in the woods with a few close friends and get it done?" Halt hesitated. "Well, no...of course not." As a matter of fact, that was exactly what he had thought. A simple ceremony, a few friends, some food and drink and then he and Pauline would be a couple. But he felt that it might not be wise to admit that right now.
So I sent Halt to straighten matters out. Thought it might be a good idea to give him something to keep him busy." So what's Digby got to complain about?" Rodney asked. It was obvious from his tone that he felt no sympathy for the recalcitrant commander of Barga Hold. The Baron gestured for Lady Pauline to explain. Apparently," she said,"Halt threw him into the moat.
Halt shook his head. "You warriors don't do much geography in Battleschool, do you?" Horace shrugged. "We're not big on that sort of thing. We wait for our leader to point to an enemy and say, 'Go whack him.' We leave geography and such to Rangers. We like you to feel superior." "Go whack him, indeed," Halt said. "It must be comforting to lead such an uncomplicated life.
Halt snorted derisively. "Battleschool evidently isn't what it used to be," he replied. "It's a fine thing when an old man like me can sleep comfortably in the open while a young boy gets all stiff and rheumatic over it." Horace shrugged. "Be that as it may," he replied, "I'll still be glad to sleep in a bed tonight." Actually, Halt felt the same way. But he wasn't going to let Horace no that.
You had this young man with you for... what, six years?" Halt shrugged. "Near enough," he replied. "And did you ever understand a word he was saying?" "Not a lot of the time, no," Halt said. Crowley shook his head in wonder. "It's just as well he didn't go into the Diplomatic Service. We'd be at war with half a dozen countries by now if he was on the loose." Will drew a deep breath to begin talking. He noticed that both men took an involuntary half step backward and he decided he'd better try to keep it as simple as possible.
Gorlog's teeth!" Erak exclaimed, stunned at the numbers. "How many are there?" "Ten thousand, maybe twelve," Halt replied briefly. The Skandian let out a low whistle. "Are you sure? How can you tell?" It wasn't a sensible question, but Erak was overwhelmed by the size of the horse herd and he asked the question more for something to say than for any other reason. Halt looked at him dryly. "It's an old calvary trick," he said. "You count the legs and divide by four.
Would you have done that in his place? Would you have left him and gone on?" "Of course I would!" Halt replied immediately. But something in his voice rang false and Horse looked at him, raising one eyebrow. He'd waited a long time for an opportunity to use that expression of disbelief on Halt. After a pause, the Ranger's anger subsided. "All right. Perhaps I wouldn't, " he admitted. Then he glared at Horace. "And stop raising that eyebrow on me. You can't even do it properly. Your other eyebrow moves with it!
Would you have done that in his place? Would you have left him and gone on?" "Of course I would!" Halt replied immediately. But something in his voice rang false and Horse looked at him, raising one eyebrow. He'd waited a long time for an opportunity to use that expression of disbelief on Halt. After a pause, the Ranger's anger subsided. "All right. Perhaps I wouldn't," he admitted. Then he glared at Horace. "And stop raising that eyebrow on me. You can't even do it properly. Your other eyebrow moves with it!
Fighting positions, please, ladies... ' 'That's debatable, ' Halt said in an undertone to Will as they stood watching... 'The 'fighting' part or the 'ladies' part?' Will replied with a grin. Halt looked at him and shook his head. 'Definitely the 'ladies, '' he said. 'There's no debate about the 'fighting.'' Will shrugged. He knew there was an edginess to the girls' relationship and that it had something to do with him. Why that should be so was beyond him.
Fighting positions, please, ladies...' 'That's debatable,' Halt said in an undertone to Will as they stood watching... 'The 'fighting' part or the 'ladies' part?' Will replied with a grin. Halt looked at him and shook his head. 'Definitely the 'ladies,'' he said. 'There's no debate about the 'fighting.'' Will shrugged. He knew there was an edginess to the girls' relationship and that it had something to do with him. Why that should be so was beyond him.
Once again Erak bellowed with laughter. "Your master here went nearly the same shade of green as his cloak," he told Will. Halt raised an eyebrow. "At least I found a use for that damned helmet," he said, and the smile disappeared from Erak's face. "Yes. I'm not sure what I'm going to tell Gordoff about that," he said. "He made me promise I'd look after that helmet. It's his favorite-a real family heirloom." "Well it certainly has a lived in feel to it now," Halt told him, and Will noticed there was a hint of malicious pleasure in his eye.
Maybe we should have gone with him, " he said, a few minutes after his friend was lost to sight. "Three of us would make four times the noise he will, " Halt said. Horace frowned, not quite understanding the equation. "Wouldn't three of us make three times the noise?" Halt shook his head. "Will and Tug will make hardly any noise. Neither will Abelard and I. But as for you and that moving earthquake you call a horse... " He gestured at Kicker and left the rest unsaid.
Maybe we should have gone with him," he said, a few minutes after his friend was lost to sight. "Three of us would make four times the noise he will," Halt said. Horace frowned, not quite understanding the equation. "Wouldn't three of us make three times the noise?" Halt shook his head. "Will and Tug will make hardly any noise. Neither will Abelard and I. But as for you and that moving earthquake you call a horse..." He gestured at Kicker and left the rest unsaid.
I thought told you to watch where you put your feet," he said accusingly. Erak shrugged. I did," he replied ruefully. "But while I was busy watching the ground, I hit that branch with my head. Broke it clean in two." Halt raised his eyebrows. "I assume you're not talking about your head," he muttered. Erak frowned at the suggestion. Of course not," he replied. More's the pity," Halt told him.
Halt regarded him. He loved Horace like a younger brother. Even like a second son, after Will. He admired his skill with a sword and his courage in battle. But sometimes, just sometimes, he felt an overwhelming desire to ram the young warrior's head against a convenient tree. "You have no sense of drama or symbolism, do you?" he asked. "Huh?" replied Horace, not quite understanding. Halt looked around for a convenient tree. Luckily for Horace, there were none in sight.
You've known him how long?" Malcolm asked. "Since he was a small boy. I firs noticed him when he slipped into Master Chubb's kitchen to steal some pies." "So, what did you have to say to Will when you caught him stealing these pies? "Oh, I didn't let on I was there. We rangers can be very unobtrusive when we choose. I remained out of sight and watched him. I thought he might have potential to be a ranger." Halt said. Horace joined in "Why?" Halt answered carefully. "Because he was excellent at moving from cover to cover. Chubb entered 3 times and never noticed him. So i thought that if he could acheive that with no training, he would make a good ranger." "No" Horace spoke. "Thats not what I meant. Why were you hiding in the kitchen in the first place?" "I told you. I was watching Will to see if he had the potential to be a ranger." "Thats not what you said. You said that was the first time you noticed Will." "Does it matter?" "Not really. Were you hiding from chub yourself and Will just turned up by coincidence?" "And why would I be hiding from master Chubb in his own kitchen?" "Well, there were freshly made pies on the windowsill, and you like pies, don't you?" "Are you acusing me of trying to steal those pies?!?!" "No, of course not. I just thought i'd give you the opportunity to confess." After a pause, Halt continued. "You know, Horace, you used to be a most agreeable young man. Whatever happened to you?" "I've spent to much time around you, I suppose." And Halt had to admit that was probably true.
Gundar, seeing Halt upright for the first time in two days, stumped up the deck to join them. 'Back on your feet then?' he boomed cheerfully, with typical Skandian tact. 'By Gorlag's toenails, with all the heaving abd puking you've been doing, I thought you'd turn yourself inside out and puke yourself over the rail!'... 'You do paint a pretty picture, Gundar, ' Will said... 'Thank you for your concern, ' Halt said icily... 'So, did you find Albert?' Gundar went on, unabashed. Even Halt was puzzled by this sudden apparent change of subject. 'Albert?' he asked. Too late, he saw Gundar's grin widening and knew he'd stepped into a trap. 'You seemed to be looking for him. You'd lean over the rail and call, 'Al-b-e-e-e-e-e-r-t!' I thought he might be some Araluen sea god.' 'No, I didn't find him. Maybe I could look for him in your helmet.' He reached out a hand. But Gundar had heard what happened when Skandians lent their helmets to the grim-faced Ranger while onboard ship... 'No, I'm pretty sure he's not there, ' he said hurriedly.
Uphill? There's nothing up the hill, " Colly said, trying desperately to work out where this conversation was going. "As a matter of fact, there is. There's a bluff about twelve meters high, with a river running below it. The water's deep, so it'll be quite safe for you to jump." In his brief glimpse of the river, Halt had noticed that the fast-flowing water cut under the bluff in a sharp curve. That should mean that the bottom had been scoured out over the years. A thought struck him. "You can swim, I assume?" "Yes. I can swim, " Colly said. "But I'm going jumping off some bluff just because you say to!" "No, no. Of course not. That'd be asking far too much of you. You'll jump off because if you don't, I'll shoot you. It'll be the same effect, really. If I have to shoot you, you'll fall off. But I thought I'd give you a chance to survive." Halt paused, then added, "Oh, and if you decide to run downhill, I'll also shoot you with an arrow. Uphill and off is really your only chance of survival." "You can't be serious!" Colly said. "Do you really-" But he got no further. Halt leaned forward, putting a hand up to stop the outburst. "Colly, take a good, long look into my eyes and tell me if you see anything, anything at all, that says I'm not deadly serious." His eyes were deep brown, almost black. They were steady and unwavering and there was no sign of anything there but utter determination. Colly looked at them and after a few second, his eyes dropped away. halt nodded as the other man's gaze slid away from his. "Good. Now we've got that settled, you should try to get some sleep. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.
The Rangers were founded over one hundred and fifty years ago, in King Herbert's reign. Do you know anything about him?" Halt looked sideways at the boy sitting beside him, tossing the question out quickly to see his response. Will hesitated. He vaugely remembered the name from history lessons in the Ward, but he couldn't remember any details. Still, he decided he'd try to bluff his way through it... "Oh... yes, " he said, "King Herbert. We learned about him." "Really?" said the Ranger expansively. "Perhaps you could tell me a little about him?" He leaned back and crossed his legs, getting himself comfortable... "He was... " he hesitated, pretending to gather his thoughts. "The king." That much he was sure of. Halt merely smiled and made a rolling gesture with his hand that meant go on. "He was the king... a hundred and fifty years ago, " Will said, trying to sound certain of his facts. The Ranger smiled at him, gesturing for him to continue yet again. "Ummm... well, I seem to recall that he was the one who founded the Ranger Corps, " he said hopefully, and Halt raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "Really? You recall that, do you?
Right! Let's get on with it! All right... you... Will... have trained as apprentice to Ranger Halt of Redmont Fief these last five twelvemonths and blah blah blah and so on and so on. You've shown the necessary level of proficiency in the use of the weapons a Ranger uses- the longbow, the saxe knife, the throwing knife." He paused and glanced up Halt. "He has shown the proficiency, hasn't he? Of course he has, " he went on, before Halt could answer. "Furthermore, you are a trusted officer in the service of the King and so on and so on and hi diddle diddle dee dee... " He glanced up again. "These forms really do carry on a bit, don't they? But I have to make a pretense of reading them. And so forth and so on and such like." He paused, nodded several times, then continued. "So basically... " He flicked a few more pages, found the one he was after and then continued, "You are in all ways ready to assume the position and authority of a fully operational Ranger in the Kingdom of Araluen. Correct?" He glanced up again, his eyebrows raised. Will realized he was waiting for an answer. "Correct, " he said hastily, then in case that wasn't enough, he added, "Yes. I mean... I do... I am. Yes." "Well, good for you.
Butterfly?" Will said. "Why Butterfly?" "I believe it's a term of great respect, " Selethen said gravely. He was very obviously not laughing. Too obviously, Will thought. "It's all right for you, " he said. "They called you 'Hawk.' Hawk is an excellent name. It's warlike and noble. But... Butterfly? Selethen nodded. "I agree that Hawk is an entirely suitable name. I assume it had to do with my courage and nobility of heart. Halt coughed and the Arridi lord looked at him, eyebrows raised. "I think it referred less to your heart and more to another part of your body, " Halt said mildly. He tapped his finger meaningfully along the side of his nose. It was a gesture he'd always wanted an opportunity to use, and this one was to good to miss. Selethen sniffed and turned away, affecting not to notice.
The the uncertainty was dispelled and the melancholy lifted as he saw a familiar stocky figure moving near one of the tents. "Halt!" he cried out gladly, and a slight pressure with his knees set Tug galloping through the deserted Gathering site. The dog, caught by surprise, barked once, then shot in pursuit like an arrow from a bow. The grim-faced Ranger straightened from the fire at the sound of his former student's voice. He stood, hands on hips and a frown on his face as Will and Tug careered toward him. But inside, there was a lightening of his heart that he never failed to feel when in Will's company. Not for the first time, the realization hit Halt that Will was no longer a mere boy. No one wore the Silver Oakleaf if he hadn't proven himself to be worthy. Despite himself, he felt a surge of pride.
I circled the site before I came in. If there's anyone within five kilometers, I'll eat my quiver." Halt regarded him, eyebrow arched once more. "Anyone?" "Anyone other than Crowley, " Will amended, making a dismissive gesture. "I saw him watching me from that hide he always uses about two kilometers out. I assumed he'd be back in here by now." Halt cleared his throat loudly. "Oh, you saw him, did you?" he said. "I imagine he'll be overjoyed to hear that." Secretly, he was pleased with his former pupil. In spite of his curiosity and obvious excitement, he hadn't forgotten to take the precautions that had been drilled into him. THat augured well for what lay ahead, Halt thought, a sudden grimness settling onto his manner. Will didn't notice the momentary change of mood. He was loosening Tug saddle girth. As he spoke, his voice was muffled against the horses's flank. "he's becoming too much a creature of habit, " he said. "he's used that hide for the last three Gatherings. It's time he tried something new. Everyone must be onto it by now." Rangers constantly competed with each other to see before being seen and each year's Gathering was a time of heightened competition. Halt nodded thoughtfully. Crowley had constructed teh virtually invisible observation post some four years previously. Alone among the younger Rangers, Will had tumbled to it after one year. Halt had never mentioned to him that he was the only one who knew of Crowley's hide. The concealed post was the Ranger Commandant's pride and joy. "Well, perhaps not everyone, " he said. Will emerged from behind his horse, grinning at the thought of the head of the Ranger Corps thinking he had remained hidden from sight as he watched Will's approach. "All the same, perhaps he's getting a bit long in the tooth to be skulking around hiding in the bushes, don't you think?" he said cheerfully. Halt considered the question for a moment. "Long in the tooth? Well, that's one opinion. Mind you, his silent movement skills are still as good as ever, " he said meaningfully. The grin on Will's face slowly faded. He resisted the temptation to look over his shoulder. "He's standing behind me, isn't he?" he asked Halt. THe older Ranger nodded. "He's standing behind me, isn't he?" Will continued and Halt nodded once more. "Is he... close enough to have heard what I said?" Will finally managed to ask, fearin teh worst. This time, Halt didn't have to answer. "Oh, good grief no, " came a familiar voice from behind him. "he's so old and decrepit these days he's as deaf as a post." Will's shoulders sagged and he turned to see the sandy-haired Commandant standing a few meters away. The younger man's eyes dropped. "Hullo, Crowley, " he said, then mumbled, "Ahhh... I'm sorry about that." Crowley glared at teh young Ranger for a few more seconds, then he couldn't help teh grin breaking out on his face. "No harm done, " he said, adding with a small note of triumph, "It's not often these days I amange to get the better of one of you young ones." Secretly, he was impressed at teh news that Will had spotted his hiding place. Only the sarpest eyes could have picked it. Crowley had been in the business of seeing without being seen for thirty years or more, and despite what Will believed, he was still an absolute master of camouflage and unseen movement.