Hiraeth

A/N: This will be my very first long work for Ranger's Apprentice and I'm a little bit nervous about it—but also excited. I got the idea for this about a year ago and I dearly hope that it turns out to be as fun to read as it was for me to map out, plot, and write. I've put quite a lot of thought into it and hope it all makes sense and everything fits into place as well as fits the characters. Life had been rather messy and busy for me of late, so updates in this story may be sporadic.

Full Summary: Hiraeth: a homesickness for a place you can never return to, a place that maybe never was, the nostalgia, yearning, and grief for the lost places of your past. Morgarath gets the chance to turn back time and takes the opportunity to try and ensure his victory by taking Halt out of the picture. What if Pritchard was killed instead of banished and Halt never came to Araluen? (AU)

Important Note: This book will contain spoilers for practically every single book in the series. If you have yet to finish the series, and are not a fan of spoilers, this might not be the best tale for you at the moment XD. Also, although I will include many/most all of the characters that hail from Araluen, It will mostly focus on Halt, Will, Horace, Gilan, Crowley, and Evanlyn/Cassandra.

Side Note: Despite the premise of this story, there will be no magic in this work other than the single event of time turning back (and even that may, or may not, exactly be as it seems *cough cough*) Other than that, this story will not have anything in it that is any more fantastical than you usually get in the RA books, so I really hope that it doesn't turn anyone off. Think of it more of that this is an alternate universe where everything is the same except for this one "magical" item that can only be, and is only, used once. And considering the fantastical creatures, mind control/communication, barrow wraiths/spirits, and other things in RA that are of a slightly fantastical nature, I don't think this one item is too very far out. Besides that, this was mostly written for fun above all else :)

Gentle Word of Warning: I decided to put this here after some consideration. Due to the darker nature of the world in this AU, this book occasionally deals in/makes mention of/alludes to darker themes: violence, slavery, mentions of blood, injuries, hunger, exploitation, torture, imprisonment, physical/emotional abuse and neglect, as well as a few very minor allusions towards more adult themes. However, nothing is particularly graphic in nature and it is definitely not any more graphic than what is usually found in Ranger's Apprentice/Brotherband Chronicles. There's nothing in here that would put this above a 'T' rating, but I'd advise caution if these subjects upset you.

Disclaimer: I have nothing but respect for John Flanagan and the world and characters he's created. I own absolutely nothing and do not profit from this in any way other than my enjoyment and hopefully the enjoyment of others.


Prologue

~x~X~x~

Around the time of the Ruins of Gorlan

~x~X~x~

Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, rolled the large blue gemstone he held in his hand. Absently feeling its smooth surface, he stared at the open pages of the tome set before him. His mouth moved faintly as he went over the ancient words for what would be the fifth time in the past few hours. On the page before him was a drawn representation of the very stone that he now held.

The ancient book was worn to the point of falling apart, but it had served him well in the past. It was this book that had told him where to find the Wargals that lived in the Mountains of Rain and Night. It was this book that had given him the knowledge he had needed to assert his will over the semi-human, bestial creatures—so that he could speak to them and control them with his thoughts. All in all, the book had never let him down before…. Therefore, as farfetched as the words on the page concerning the strange stone he had found sounded, there was a chance that they were telling truth.

He had found it when he had been exploring some of the more ancient tunnels that twisted through the mountains. The Wargals had lived in many of these caves and crevices. But the one where he had found the stone was a little different than the typical Wargal shelter. At first glance, it appeared as if the creatures had made what looked to be some primitive shrine with the stone set upon a rough pedestal in the middle. The creatures had obviously revered this artifact, prized it enough to try to hide it and keep it safe. And, if what he had just read was true, then he was not surprised.

He looked now at the stone, his cold, dark eyes slowly pouring over its surface as he considered. It was a polished and rounded sphere of blue—the perfect size to fit in the palm of a man's hand. It seemed almost to glow if one stared at it long enough. It was beautiful, almost easy to get lost in… almost.

Morgarath narrowed his eyes. Its beauty mattered little enough to him in comparison to its potential. He was suddenly gripped by the temptation to try to use it as the book had said before begrudgingly thrusting that idea aside. As much as he might revel in such power, he knew that he would only be able to use it once. That meant he needed to wait until the most opportune moment—or the day he might need it most. It could well end up being the perfect failsafe. He placed the stone in a sack covering and then put it away.

Waiting was not exactly a problem for him. After all, he'd been waiting fifteen years for the opportunity to try and mount an attack against the Kingdom of Araluen. He'd waited fifteen years to try and reclaim what he saw as rightfully his. It had been fifteen years since the kingdom of Araluen had slipped from his grasp and he had ended up in the veritable prison that was the desolate Mountains of Rain and Night. He cursed at the thought of it.

All through that time he'd been plotting and scheming to regain what he had lost and more. And he sensed now that the time was ripe to make his first moves. After all, the stone was not the only thing he'd found during his exile here. Wargals weren't the only ancient and terrifying creatures that lived in these mountains. He had found two other, more fearsome allies—the Kalkara. The time was ripe to unleash them, he thought then with an ugly smile. This time, none of those who had conspired against him previously would be left alive to do so again and aid King Duncan.

~x~X~x~

Present day: Around the time of the Burning Bridge

~x~X~x~

Morgarath contemptuously knocked aside the boy's exhausted blow and then continued his vicious onslaught. He rained blow after powerful blow down upon the boy who was trying desperately to dodge and deflect them. This was child's play. Morgarath knew he was going to win this confrontation with as much certainty as he knew that he was going to get revenge on Halt. Although the young cadet's near suicidal move of throwing himself underneath Morgarath's horse had, admittedly, successfully unhorsed him and taken him by surprise—he was still angry about that—he knew that he could crush this boy as easily on foot as he could have done on horseback. And his eventual brutal defeat, Morgarath was certain, would draw Halt out to face him, draw him out right into Morgarath's waiting fingers. He smiled darkly at the thought—a smile that grew wider as his next massive blow snapped the young cadet's sword in half.

He stepped back as the boy stared stupidly at his broken weapon.

"I think we're nearly finished now," he said, the smile growing crueler. He vaguely heard the murmurs and dismayed cries coming from Duncan's watching army. The sound told him what he already knew: the boy was as good as dead now.

The boy reached desperately for his dagger with his left hand. Morgarath laughed at the pathetic action.

"I don't think that will do you much good," he sneered as he raised his sword up for the final, killing, stroke. The light of victory danced in his eyes as he brought his sword down with all his strength, expecting to feel the contact and crunch of bone and internal organs as he would split the boy from head to waist… but the blow never connected. Instead, it stopped dead in a wedge created by the crossed blades of the boy's broken sword and smaller knife. Before Morgarath could even reason through what had just happened, the cadet had withdrawn the smaller knife from the block and was slamming it forwards.

Pain. The sense of triumph and certainty vanished. Morgarath felt a burning pain and looked down to see that the blade had pierced through his armor and deep into his chest. His vision started to darken and he felt himself falling. That was when he realized that he was dying. He, Morgarath, once primer knight of Araluen, was dying.

Not only had his plans for conquest again been foiled, but so had his last desperate hope for revenge against the person who was responsible for it all. Everything had been taken from him again, by Halt, Duncan, Arald, Crowley first, and now too by this boy—a mere cadet.

This couldn't be it just couldn't. In that moment he knew a hatred so strong that he could hardly even feel the pain any longer. As he lay broken on the field, lost in malice and hate that was stronger than any he had ever felt before, his mind seized upon one last desperate idea to try and make this right. For he could not die like this; things couldn't end like this. All these thoughts flashed through his mind within seconds.

With weak and trembling hands, he reached into the leather pouch at his side. He wrapped his dying fingers around the smooth object inside and brought it out, seeing the glossy blue of its surface only dimly through his fading vision.

He closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to use that mental language, the will of his dominant mind, in the same manner that he used to speak with the Wargals. The stone seemed almost to glow… or perhaps it was just that the rest of the world was fading away…. He focused hard on a single memory.

He had thought long on finding the one point in time that had truly caused all his hard thought and carefully executed plans for conquest to fail. He'd had fifteen years to brood and turn that question over in his mind and thought he had the answer.

Everything had started to fall apart the moment that Halt had come to Araluen. Halt had helped rally the Ranger Corps, Halt had helped free prince Duncan, Halt had come up with the plan to outflank his army in the battle of Hackham Heath and again today. Halt had been the one to truly ruin everything. Knowing this, he knew also the exact point in time that had been the true start to his demise. It all came down to a single Ranger. But, contradictory as it seemed, that Ranger wasn't Halt; rather it was a Ranger named Prichard.

When Morgarath was weakening the Ranger Corps all those years ago, and systematically getting rid of the best Rangers—getting them banished for treason or forcing them to give up their commissions for other similar crimes—Prichard had been one of the first Morgarath had targeted. He'd had Prichard banished specifically because he was one of the Corps' finest… But Morgarth had found out later that Prichard had gone to Hibernia. And it was only a few years after that when a fully trained young Ranger with a Hibernian background had come to Araluen to become the biggest hindrance Morgarath had ever known. It couldn't be a coincidence. Prichard had been Halt's mentor…. If he had just executed Prichard all those years ago instead of banishing him, Halt would never have become a Ranger and probably would never have come to Araluen at all.

Legend said that the stone he had found could change one, and only one, thing about the past—and only the person holding the stone when it was used would remember the change, remember what had happened before. Morgarath wasn't entirely sure if he believed it fully, but it was his only chance now. So he focused with all the fading strength that he possessed, keeping himself going with the force of this desperate hope born of all his hatred and malice.

Halt was one of the first to head towards the field of combat as soon as Morgarath had gone down, intending to make sure that Morgarath really was dead, and to make sure that young Horace was alright—the cadet had fallen shortly after Morgarath, no doubt fairly badly injured by his move of throwing his body into the path of Morgarath's charger. Once he was certain of both, he intended to head directly up Three Step Pass to look for Will. He felt his former apprentice Gilan keeping pace behind him and sensed that a few of the command group were already following too. He also heard King Duncan calling for his personal healer to be sent for.

He turned partially to face his former apprentice as he walked. "You see to Horace until the healer comes. I'm going to make certain of Morgarath."

He saw Gilan nod at him and break off a little to the left. Halt was only a few meters from where Morgarath lay when he saw him move. Morgarath was still alive and he was retracting his hand from the pouch at his waist, gripping something and pulling it forward. Fearing that he had some kind of weapon, Halt shouted Gilan's name before moving to intercept the downed knight. As he moved, he saw Morgarath lift up what he had taken from the pouch at his side.

Halt realized that it was some sort of stone. But there was something weird about it. It seemed to draw one in as if it were a deep pool of dark water that grew steadily deeper as you looked into it—as if you could look beneath its polished surface to other layers beneath. The Wargals had all suddenly stiffened, seeming to straighten slightly as they turned their attention to it as one. And that was when Halt felt it—though he wasn't really certain what it was exactly. It was like a whisper in the back of his mind that seemed to grow stronger and stronger until it hurt. He heard the men of Duncan's army, and even the men in Morgarath's army, crying out in surprise or in pain as they felt it too.

Halt had spent his life fairly certain that there was no such thing as magic. In all the cases he'd seen or investigated as a Ranger, ninety-eight percent of them had all turned out to have reasonable explanations. There had only been about a two percent of those incidences that that defied any such rational explanations—and this was already seeming to have the distinctive flair of one of those two percent incidences. He did not know if it was indeed magic or not, nor what exactly it was supposed to do. But his instincts told him that it wasn't good and that he needed to find a way to stop Morgarath from doing whatever it was he was doing.

So thinking, he had crossed the small remaining distance between them in a few strides, trying to ignore and brush aside the horrible pain that had flared up in his head. His hand was already reaching to knock whatever it was from Morgarath's hand. Vaguely, he felt Gilan right behind him, trying to help, his left arm brushing Halt's right shoulder. He heard the young Ranger grunt softly in pain. Halt might have too for all he knew; the pain was making it hard to think, hard to focus, hard to move—and that... unsettled him. His heart started to race. He had to stop Morgarath before something worse happened. He gritted his teeth and kept moving.

The grizzled Ranger threw his right hand forward in a palm outward strike with all the weight of his arm, shoulder, and back muscles behind the blow, aiming for the blue sphere. The heel of Halt's hand began to brush the stone's smooth surface. As he was knocking it away, it flared to life, seeming to take on an otherworldly glow. It grew brighter within the span of a few milliseconds. Then, in a single blinding flash, everything grew dark, fading away into nothingness. Halt felt himself falling in that blackness as if his mind was straying from all thought and time itself.

~x~X~x~

Present Day (After the Time Change): In Between the Time of Ruins of Gorlan and Burning Bridge

~x~X~x~

A King stares out over the broken disunited land he rules. It is a land as fractured as his family ties and struggling armies. He fights a seemingly endless war against a traitor and his army of murderers and monsters. Fighting too against his own rising sense of hopelessness, he tries to remain strong for his people—all the while knowing that the situation grows more and more helpless every day it continues.

As helpless as the Baron feels — a man who holds no land, no actual position of authority or influence other than his title and the respect of the few who follow him out of friendship. He roams the broken countryside, trying his best to rally support to fight a losing war in the name of a King and a Kingdom that he loves.

A King and Kingdom he loved, as the King's Ranger did, who looks on despondently at the failing Kingdom and at his own dying Corps and all that they once stood for. His once cheery demeanor dimming slowly by the reality of war and the knowledge that it might be a war they could never fully win.

A war that can never be won is the idea that the lady and her young apprentice do their best to fight against. They fight as strongly as any soldier, battling to win in a world that gets harder to live in every day as the war goes on.

And every day a miserable cadet finds his bright dreams of knighthood, a won war, and honor fading away into a far less beautiful reality. It is a reality that grows slowly to become as ugly and harsh as the broken land in which he is existing.

Existing but never really living, a farm boy with no family and no surname works near ceaselessly to survive. He clings desperately to the dreams of his father, a hero, and his own dream that he could be like him, that there is something better for him out there.

And out there a lost girl tries to find her way back to her home and to her father, wondering if either will actually still be there when she returns—if she returns. If she can ever make it back to her kingdom, to the lands, fields, and forests of her home.

Out in the lands, fields, and forests he calls home, the wanderer fingers his sword and his bow. He looks past the light of his campfire and into the gnarled shadows of tree and brush and smiles. He smiles in defiance of the cold, the darkness, and the hardness of the life that they all lived—and could never truly run from if they cared.

If they cared…. And all the while, the runaway Hibernian prince looks for work as a mercenary in Galica, having no idea how much of an effect he would have had in the lives of all the others had he simply been there. Instead, he knows only the discontentment that comes from never finding a true home or allegiance, and the vague but constant feeling that there is something more than this, something better out there for him, something important that he's missing, something he should have been a part of, something bigger.

And in his base in the Mountains of Rain and Night, the traitor lord laughs. He laughs because he knows why their world was so broken, why they all felt as if they were missing something. He knows it with as much certainty as he knows that, this time around, it will be he who will stand successful, he who will be the victor. Araluen will be his…


A/N: Thanks so much for reading! So this prologue was mostly a building/ set up chapter, the main story will start in chapter one. I really appreciate feedback. If you see any way that I can improve or have any questions, don't hesitate to point them out. I think I'll be able to have chapter 1 out pretty soon. I hope you all have blessed days until next time!