Requested by Amanda. Racette.

"I'm so excited!"

Halt sighed once again at the perky voice and animated movements of his young apprentice. "So you've said." Still, Gilan continued, because he was nothing if not persistent.

"It's been the longest time since I've been home."

Halt raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "The 'longest time'? We were there a month ago for a session with MacNeil!" Gilan spread his arms in a 'there you have it' gesture. Blaze, her reins laying on her neck as Gilan spoke and moved, gave the closest thing a horse could do to a long suffering look.

"Exactly. A month is practically forever ago," the boy said, and Halt humphed. Young people, always living in the moment and giving no thought to the long term, he thought irritably.

"A month is practically nothing," Halt disputed, his tone slightly grumpy.

"Well, not to you! You've lived for a long time! You're what, forty? Fifty?" At Halt's positively murderous glare, Gilan immediately realized his mistake, and quickly panicked. "I mean, uh, thirty, no, twenty..." He trailed off. Blaze gave the horse equivalent of a snicker.

Never guess an adult's age or a lady's weight, was the sage advice the mare offered.

Halt meanwhile, threw his apprentice a dirty look, who mumbled something about riding point for a while and quickly squeezed Blaze into a canter, while Abelard rumbled with amusement.

All right up there, old man? his horse sniggered. Want me to walk slower?

Halt scowled. "Shut up, Abelard."

Will do, grandpa.

The grizzled Ranger gave a despairing sigh, and at the moment, slightly hated all three of his companions, both of the apprentice and equine kind.

Two hours later, as they neared Castle Caraway, Halt had cooled down enough ride next to his apprentice without the urge to slap the boy on the back of the head. Abelard had grown bored of making old man sallies about an hour previously, so it was with a relatively contention free air that they approached the large castle. Castle Caraway, while not as large or beautiful as Araluen's or Gorlan's former, was about on par with Castle Redmont.

Gilan, at the sight of the large structure, gave a happy sigh. Castle Caraway had been his home for essentially his entire life. While he was a adventurous and free spirited soul, there was something satisfying about being back in the most familiar, homey place he knew. "I can't wait to see Bentley," Gilan said gleefully, relishing the thought of being with his tall chestnut Thoroughbred.

Blaze, however, pinned her ears at Bentley's name, and gave an offended buck. Though she was an impeccably trained Ranger horse, she was still a mare, and invariably got offended when her master spoke of other horses. Gilan was quick to give her a soothing stroke. "Don't worry, Blaze," he reassured his mount. "You're still my number one." Blaze relaxed, her ears quickly flopping agreeably to the side.

At their exchange, Halt's thoughts strayed briefly to Declan. After getting Abelard, Halt had given his Hibernian bred horse to a young girl in Redmont fief. She had been overjoyed and loved Declan immensely. Halt saw the pair fairly often, galloping through the fields and jumping hedges by Wensley village. Declan was a gentleman, and as young Bailee had said, "made her feel like a princess". Though Halt missed his horse, he couldn't have asked for a better arrangement.

"There's a dinner tonight," Halt reminded his apprentice, before the boy got too carried away. "Keep that in mind before you run around like a wild child."

Gilan deflated. "That's right. What's it for, again? Do I have to go?"

Halt raised an eyebrow. "The Battleschool mock tournament? Part of the reason we came, remember, because your father wanted you to be in it?"

Gilan made a face. "Unfortunately," he muttered unhappily. He didn't mind his sessions with MacNeil, and he occasionally enjoyed sparring with the Redmont apprentices (though that often ended with him getting a bloody nose), but the strict rules and stuffy feeling of a tournament was completely unappealing to him. "I'll have to wear chain mail," he said distastefully.

"It'll please your father," Halt said simply. "Do it for him."

Gilan sighed in defeat. "Alright. And the dinner?"

"We're going. Even if the company is annoying, the food is generally quite delicious, which is good enough reason itself." A beat passed, before Halt hastily added, "Er, and because your parents want you to attend."

Halt took another bite of his fruit salad. He had been right about the food being extremely tasty, the Ranger decided as he enjoyed a particularly juicy piece of watermelon. Letting his gaze drift over the various Battleschool apprentices and castle occupants, he finally let it land on his apprentice. Gilan was standing with his parents, who were currently conversing with Baron Fergus. Halt felt slightly sympathetic as he watched Gilan shift his weight uneasily, nervously pulling his dress tunic straight. Despite being raised in this environment, Gilan was uncomfortable in large crowds. Even as Halt came to this conclusion, he watched Gilan unconsciously raise his left hand to chew on this thumbnail, a habit he did when he was anxious, before quickly jerking it down like he'd been burned. Gilan was clearly just about done with the party.

Finally, the family approached Halt. Gilan immediately went to stand slightly behind his mentor. Faced with the three of them, Halt was yet again reminded of Gilan's physical similarities to both parents, but mostly his mother. Gilan had gotten David's height and slightly dished nose, but Gilan was mainly Lysette's child. They had the same willowy build, the straight, ashy-blonde hair, the same deep, stirring blue eyes.

"Halt!" David greeted him warmly. "Enjoying yourself?"

"Very much," Halt replied honestly. David was a true friend, one that he didn't have to put a facade on for. Turning to Lysette, Halt inclined his head. "Lysette. I hope you're doing well."

Lysette smiled brightly. "I'm wonderful. Even better since I've seen Gilan." Halt knew how much Lysette and David loved their only son. After several miscarriages and almost giving up, they had finally had Gilan. The circumstances were enough to make any parent protective, and Halt admired their ability to allow their free spirited son a longer rein than most parents might give.

David continued, a smile lighting up his face as well. "We were going to go on a ride tomorrow morning before the tournament, if you wanted to join us." The Battlemaster offered. "Gilan's been dying to take Bentley for a gallop."

A faint smile touched Halt's face. "Blaze was jealous when she heard," Halt admitted. David laughed.

"Spunky little thing, she is," David said fondly. Gilan quickly spoke up, addressing his father.

"Dad? Do you think we could spar tonight?"

David affectionately ruffled his son's hair. Though he completely approved of his son's choice to train as a Ranger, that didn't stop him from missing him. "Of course!" He answered with mock severity. "Have to see if you're letting your sword work slide." Glancing around, David lowered his voice. "What do you say we go now? Sneak out and leave the boring conversations to everyone else?"

Lysette rolled her eyes. "Right, leave your poor mother to entertain the dull party," she said, putting on a joking, suffering tone. Gilan's expression turned guilty, but Lysette continued with a laugh. "I'm kidding, Gil. Shoo! Go have fun."

Flashing identical mischievous grins, David and Gilan quickly weaved through the crowd toward the hall's exit. Halt watched them go with some jealously. Given the choice, he would have preferred to go unwind in his quarters, Halt thought glumly as he watched Lord Alden approach, and braced himself for a long conversation.

"I'll distract him if you want to make a run for it," Lysette muttered out of the corner of her mouth. Halt flashed a grateful look toward her.

"You're an amazing woman, Lysette," he murmured sincerely before quickly sliding through the crowd. Behind him, he could make out Lysette's high peal of laughter and, "Alden, how are you?"

That women deserves a knighting, Halt thought fervently.

The next morning was bright and clear. Halt had joined the family on the morning outing, and as they approached a wide stretch of open field, Gilan's hot blooded Bentley started to jig. "Want to race?" Gilan asked, circling his horse as the chestnut threw his head, the white stockings on his legs flashing as he pranced.

"I don't know, Gil," David teased. "Think Bentley can keep up with Archie?" Archie was David's large grey. Built heavier and stockier than Bentley, Archie wasn't as reactive, but he was a powerful animal.

Lysette quickly cut in, stroking her dainty black saddle mare; a lady's horse. "Come on," she scoffed. "We all know Ebony would win." Gilan grinned, then threw an amused glance at Halt.

"Actually, Abelard would probably win," the boy said thoughtfully.

"I'll watch and decide the winner," the Ranger offered.

David quickly positioned Archie level with Bentley, who was chomping excitedly on his bit. Lysette adjusted Ebony, and at Halt's signal, they took off.

Bentley broke away fastest, his long legs and Thoroughbred reflexes putting him ahead of the others. Ebony was behind him, her slim black legs stretching out, her legs barely seeming to touch the ground as she seemingly floated along. Archie, as was to be expected, started slowly, lumbering as he built up power and speed.

Bentley would most likely have won were it not for a stray pheasant that flew out almost underneath him. The chestnut spooked badly and swerved as Gilan fought to maintain his seat. In the time it took to straighten his horse, Ebony flew past him. Lysette crossed the finish point first, while Archie and Bentley ran, nose to nose, neither horse wanting to lose, passed the line together.

"I told you!" Lysette said happily, breathing hard, her long blonde hair windswept and tangled. Gilan, his face red, clutched at his side as a cramp hit him.

"Bentley... spooked." Gilan insisted in between pants. "He... would have... won."

"Longer race and Archie would have had it," David disagreed, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead.

As they continued with their argument, Halt just shook his head at them all. For such a well known, blue blooded family, they were wild and fun and interesting. With parents like this, Halt decided, Gilan's constant flighty, energetic behavior shouldn't have been a surprise.

"New contest!" Gilan said suddenly. "Whoever can make Halt laugh first!"

They spent the ride home exchanging bad jokes and puns, but Lysette won when she started telling Gilan's old baby stories. Gilan groaned in embarrassment, David berated himself for not thinking of using them, and Halt stowed away the stories for future reference.

All in all, Halt decided, not a bad visit.

I'm alive! I'm so terribly sorry about the hiatus.

No excuses, besides work and horse shows and fun stuff like that. My Burning Bridge reboot is almost ready for an update (FINALLY), so yay for that. I'd like to wind up Little Things in Between soon, and I have quite a few unfinished one shots in my folder that I'd like to finish and post. "Like to", being the key phrase here, but I'm trying, and I finally have a bit of time to breathe and write and hopefully get some things up.

Next chapter: Requested by Heather, MacNeil comes to Redmont, and chaos, as always, ensues...

If anyone even still cares about this story, reviews are muse food.