Title: Their Own
Author: Obi the Kid
Summary: Halt and Will are concerned for one of their own. Takes place after the events of book 4 (with a few minor changes thrown in) during the time that Halt is still expelled from the Ranger Corp and banished from King Duncan's land. Although I varied from the ending in book 4 a bit. When I started this story, I hadn't finished reading #4 yet, so I wasn't sure how long Halt might still have left in his banishment. So the timeline is somewhat different than the ending events in book 4.
Disclaimer: These characters and their world belong to John Flanagan. I in no way claim to own them. I'm only playing in the fandom for a short time and appreciate the world and characters that Mr. Flanagan has created with his book series "Ranger's Apprentice."
Note: Who knew my first story would lead so quickly into my second story. But when the plot bunnies bite, sometimes you just have to follow their lead.
Thanks to RomanGoddess4eva and Crazy Twilight Lover for reading my first story and letting me know they enjoyed it. Much appreciated!
The silence of the evening was broken suddenly by the thundering of heavy hooves across the solid forest ground. The huge dark horse emerged from the trees immersed in an eerie moonlit glow. Halt knew it was a battle horse before the rider presented himself. Longbow in hand, arrow notched, the elder Ranger stood at the doorway to the borrowed cabin, preparing, if necessary, to fend off the lone swordsman. The battle horse hollered it's arrival. A call that was answered by the two ranger horses standing fifty yards off. Halt knew immediately that he had nothing to fear from the rider as the horse slowed and approached the cabin. A familiar voice came from the strong, well-muscled form astride the animal. Halt lowered his weapon as he recognized Will's close friend, and battle school warrior apprentice, Horace.
Horace pulled the tall black horse, Kicker, to a stop and quickly dismounted to stand in front of and above the Ranger. The boy bested the man in height by almost a foot, though the smaller man's physical stature was not to be taken lightly. Years of experience came along with that small frame and those dark eyes. Experience proceeded only by the deadly accuracy he possessed with the longbow.
Halt waited while Horace caught his breath. He and Kicker had been running full tilt to the cabin, which set just outside the boundaries of King Duncan's land. Halt was still serving his one year banishment from the Ranger Corp and from the Duncan's service stemming from his public, drunken, verbal attack on the King. Part of a plan to intentionally get himself expelled in order to be free to pursue those who had kidnapped his apprentice, Will. Eventually he had succeeded in finding Will. Events followed. But the banishment would still have to be fulfilled. Thus he and Will had set up camp in a run-down cabin outside Redmont Fief. It was small and cramped, and as Will had remarked, a bit on the dingy side, but the one room shack was all they had to offer them shelter, and still keep them within realistic reach of where they would eventually call home again.
Halt grew somewhat impatient waiting for Horace to find the ability to speak after his dramatic arrival.
"Horace, are you planning to tell me why you are here, or do you just plan to breathe for the next hour?"
Taking a deep breath and slowly releasing, Horace nodded as Kicker tossed his head. It appeared he too was becoming impatient. The boy held tight to the bridle and finally addressed Halt. "Gilan is hurt. Badly. Sir Rodney was working us on sword skills outside when we heard a horse approaching. Then Blaze comes walking in. The sounds he was making were awful, like I've never heard from a horse before. He moved towards us at a slow walk, almost as if he was being careful of each and every step he took, setting each hoof down purposefully. He was bleeding several wounds. A half shaft of an arrow was sticking out of the side of his neck. Gilan's hand was holding on it. Blaze had brought him in. Arrows, two…no three of them were still in his flesh. His leg, arm and…back. There was blood everywhere. His face was cut too, maybe a knife wound. I don't know for sure. Sir Rodney pulled him down from the horse. He was conscious, I think. Then they took him towards the infirmary. I lost sight after that. They wouldn't let any of us see him. So, I took Blaze to the stables and left him with Seran. He's real good with horses and tending to them. Then I came here. I'm sorry it took me so long, but I got lost a couple of times. I'm not at my best in the darkness of midnight."
Standing and staring at Horace during the boy's story, Halt was left without words for a moment. Emotions ran through him. Gilan had been his first apprentice. A young man that he had helped mature and grow into one of the most well respected young Ranger's in the corp. He still cared for him very much as if he was still under his direct care and training. And to hear this news…it turned his stomach inside out.
He looked up at Horace. "You go back home, Horace. Will and I will arrive soon. I need to see about Gilan."
Then a thought from the young warrior. "But, you are banished from King Duncan's land. That includes Baron Arald's fief. The guards won't permit you to enter. And if you do, they'll remove you."
"I'll just have to take my chances then. I will see to Gilan. And to Blaze. Thank you for bringing this news Horace. Your concern is greatly appreciated. You should return home. Please don't make mention of your visit to me, if you've not done so already. We will find a way to get past the guards. Will is not a problem. The banishment is only for me. But I will see about it."
With a doubtful worried look, Horace bounced back onto Kicker and hurried off into the black night. Halt took a deep shuttering breath and closed his eyes, allowing only a single tear to escape. He managed to regain control before he moved back inside the cabin and over to the fireside where Will was sleeping soundly on the floor, oblivious to the activity having just taken place. Halt shook his shoulder. "Will, wake up. We have to go."
The fifteen year old groaned and tried to pull the blanket over his head. The action was met with the resistance of Halt's hand. The waking voice took on firmer tone. "Will. Now."
Will's sleepy subconscious registered the tone and knew it wasn't to be questioned. He jolted upright and quickly wiped the sleep from his face. Seeing the intense look in his master's dark eyes, he didn't stop to question him. And within two minutes he was saddling his pony, Tug, and securing his longbow and quiver to his back. When they were mounted and moving, only then did he probe Halt for answers.
"What's happened, Halt? What's going on? Where are we going?"
"Too many questions, Will. We are going to the Castle Redmont."
"But…you can't. You're banished…for another three months."
"Yes, I am quite aware of that. However, this cannot wait three months."
"But the guards won't let you pass. And if you do manage to get beyond them, they'll remove you."
"So Horace has told me."
"Horace? How is he involved in this? What…Halt, please tell me what is going on!"
The Ranger felt his frustration building as he was caught between his worry for Gilan and his trying to devise a plan to see him without being stopped. His fuse was short and Will was at the end of it. He stopped Abelard abruptly and turned him around to face his apprentice.
"Enough, Will! If you would just keep quiet for a moment, I can tell you what is happening. Can you do that?"
Will was taken aback. He'd seen Halt's frustration before. Even his anger. But never directed at him so forcefully. His lips pinned shut and his eyes cast downward as he nodded his response.
"Thank you," Halt replied in exasperation and turned his pony back toward the west and their destination. He urged Abelard to a jog. When Tug came up to Abelard's flank and they jogged together, Halt gave the boy the short version of what had happened.
"Don't ask any questions because I don't know the answers. Gilan has been wounded, quite severely. They have him in the infirmary of the castle. I need to see about him."
Stunned at the unexpected news, Will's first instinct was to begin asking questions. More details. How had this happened? Why had it happened? Would Gilan survive the night? But he kept his mouth shut. The energy coming from his teacher was not one that he wanted to attack. And when Halt suddenly urged Abelard into a full gallop, the boy obediently followed.
Upon returning to Redmont Fief, they were within sight of the castle before they'd come across the first guards. Halt instructed Will to set the pony's out of sight and they would try and glide in unseen, clad in their green and gray mottled cloaks. Few words passed between them. Halt was as focused as Will had ever seen him. It was the first time he'd ever felt such a strain in their relationship. A feeling that Will didn't like. One that made him unnerved. He had to put that aside though. For Gilan's sake.
They'd almost made it to the infirmary when Sir Rodney stepped into their path. The battle school leader was stern faced, his eyes boring into the trespassing Ranger. "I suspected you might try this. You know you are not permitted here, Halt. Even with the circumstances, I cannot allow it. King Duncan's orders are to be followed to the very order of rule. Exceptions cannot be made. Will may stay. You cannot. And no, Horace didn't not tell me of his ride to you. I had him followed."
Halt stared at the man for a moment. "I hope you won't punish the boy for his actions. He was only trying to help." Then he lowered his voice, holding his hands out wide in an almost pleading motion. "Please Rodney, I need to see him. He was my apprentice. He may not live. Just for a moment, let me see to him and talk to him."
"Halt…King Duncan's rule…"
"Cannot be broken. Yes, I know. I promise you, if you let me see him just for a few moments; I will retreat quietly off the land afterwards and cause you no additional trouble. Please, Rodney. There is not much I ever ask of you or the Baron. I ask this now."
As much as it pained Rodney to keep Halt away, he knew his place. And unless overruled by Baron Arald, his hands were tied. "I wish I could do something, Halt. But…"
"I know, I know. Perhaps I should see the Baron then."
A voice from behind them broke in, and the slightly rounded form of Baron Arald fell into their sight. Halt bowed his head slightly and wasted no time continuing his plea. "Baron, I understand the circumstances surrounding my being here. But I could not, not come. Again I only ask a moment with him, and then I will retreat. It may be the last time I see him alive, sir. Please."
Arald looked at Halt. Looked into him. He saw the concern etched in the face and posture. He heard the hard breathing of frustration. But most of all, he saw the wetness around the dark eyes. Never in all the years he had known the Ranger, had he ever known Halt to show his emotions outwardly and publically. And after so many years of devotion in helping the King to defend his keep, the Baron figured it was probably time that they for once gave back to Halt.
"His condition is serious. There are two doctors attending, but it may not be enough to save him. You do need to see about him. He is one of your own. And I do know your feelings on that." The round man nodded towards the infirmary, and sent his loyal friend off with a pat on the back.
"Thank you, Baron." Relief filled the Ranger's voice and he began to where his first apprentice was being cared for…then stopped and turned back to Will. "Will, please see about Blaze. I will call for you when I am ready to leave."
Again Will was left stunned. He thought for certain that Halt would allow him to see Gilan. All at once the boy found himself confused and hurt, and not sure how to respond. His training automatically kicked in and he replied with a simple, "Yes, sir" and watched his mentor walk away and disappear into the infirmary.
Will turned to the Baron at that moment, uncertainty on his face. The Baron smiled sadly. "He still confuses me too, Will. It'll be alright. Go see about Gilan's horse now. He can't be forgotten in all of this."
"Yes, sir," Will said again, and then rushed towards the stables. Blaze stood in a large stall. Thick hay made for soft bedding. Buckets of food and water were hung to the side. A boy maybe a year older then Will was cleaning the animal and treating the many wounds with a special ointment. The horse looked as tired as any horse ever could.
The older boy saw Will come in, and instantly recognized the green and gray cloak of the Ranger Corp. "You're Will. I'm Seran. Horace told me to expect you. I've been taking care of Ranger Gilan's horse since he came in. He's better, but still sensitive in some areas to pain. He did eat a tub full though. That's always a good sign with a horse."
A smile happened as Will greeted the young horseman. He was pleased to see Blaze being well cared for. And glad that Horace knew just the person to see about it. In his mind he began piecing things together. Horace must have ridden out to the cabin and told Halt what had happened. Then he wondered how he'd managed to sleep through it. Horace was not a quiet rider. He should have been aware, even in sleep, that something was wrong. Perhaps that was part of what Halt was upset with him about. That he'd slept through something that, had it not been Horace, could have been a danger. No, he couldn't focus on that. His responsibility right now was for Blaze. A hero, at least in Seran's mind.
"He carried his master from wherever they had been attacked and refused to let him fall, all the while he was gravely injured himself. I've not heard of a horse ever doing such a thing."
Will reached up and stroked Blaze's large face. The long white stripe that ran vertically down the center of his face gave the horse his name. Right now though it was spoiled with blood. Either his own or that of Gilan's, Will wasn't certain. But he owed it to the animal to help Seran clean him up and care for him.
And so he did.
Halt approached the bed quietly. Gilan lay wrapped in white blood-soaked bandages. The doctors had said they'd done all they could for him. The rest was up to the strength of body and mind. Gilan's longish brown hair plastered a sweaty frame around the young pained face. Short, almost gasping breaths were ragged. A moan seemed to follow each exhale. The Ranger's blue eyes were closed, creasing with tightness as breathing inflamed the pain. If he knew that Halt was with him now, there was no indication. There had been much blood loss, as evidenced by the young man's constant shivering. His body had little with which to fight against its wounds. Halt would not leave him this night, banishment or not. So he sat and kept watch over his former charge. At one time in his life he'd vowed to keep Gilan safe. Gilan was but a boy at the time, yet once their bond had formed, it would not be broken.
Pulling a second blanket over his friend's chest and shoulders, Halt placed his hand over Gilan's and offered a gentle squeeze as he began his vigil. "I'm here, Gilan. I promised you as a boy that I would be here if you ever needed me. You hurt, I know. But if you have the strength to fight…I will stay as long as needed."
A groan answered the elder Ranger. But Halt figured it was just Gilan responding to the pain, and not to his presence. Nevertheless, he held tight to his friend's hand, offering all that he could.
It was over twenty-one hours later before Halt felt Gilan return the squeeze to his hand.
Halt smiled knowingly, the saltiness touching his lips as the tears of relief ran slowly down his bearded face.
Will hadn't known what to do once Blaze was taken care of and Seran had gone. Halt hadn't come to get him, nor had he sent for him. The boy assumed he was to continue to wait here in the stable. So he did. The uncertainty of the whole situation compounded against the emotional waves between he and Halt and not knowing about the condition of Gilan, had led him to exhaustion. More than half a day after they'd arrived here; there was no news of anything. His duty he felt was to continue to look after Blaze. Gilan would want his trusted horse to have the best care available, no matter what would happen with his master. Will took that responsibility very seriously. He knew Tug and Abelard would be safe. They would be waiting where he and Halt left them in the forest. Blaze on the other hand was still fighting his injuries. The ointment Seran had applied helped to begin healing the wounds. The only area of concern was on the animal's neck, the gouge left when the broken arrow shaft was removed. It still bled. So every hour Will would change the bandage and reapply the ointment. Blaze tossed his head now and then, probably causing more pain than good. Eventually he settled, dropping his forelegs onto the ground, then his tired body. Will sat close to him, leaning against the stable wall and stroking his neck as the horse rested.
Eventually, hearing the rhythm of the horses' rumbled breathing and seeing the rise and fall of the large body, Will could resist sleep no longer. He kept his touch on Blaze though. Absently stroking the animal's neck as his own head lolled to the side in a semi-conscious state. Eyes finally shut. His hand stopped the motion on Blaze's neck. Sleep came soon after.
Not certain how long he'd slept, when Will did finally awake, it was not on his own. A soft hand touched his shoulder. He opened his eyes to find the familiar face of his master in front of him. And seeing as how things had been left between them, Will didn't know what to expect. Was Halt still angry with him? Of course, he then inwardly chastised himself for thinking only of himself. His first thoughts should be about Gilan.
Fearing the worst, he fully expected Halt to tell him that his first apprentice had passed during the time he was with him.
"Wake up, Will."
Will shook the sleep from his mind and he groggily scanned the stable. Blaze was dozing upright now, one hind leg cocked to keep his balance. The neck wound appeared to have stopped bleeding during the night. Then he realized that it was still dark outside. They must have been here for almost an entire day.
"Will. Wake up and look at me. We need to talk."
The boy nodded and stretched the kink out of his neck. A gentle reminder to never sleep leaning against a wall in a stable. When he saw the look on his mentor's face, his first reaction was to apologize.
"Halt, I'm sorry for my behavior. I shouldn't have questioned you. I should have been up and moving sooner when Horace came with news of Gilan. I should have heard his approach, even in sleep. You have every right to be upset with me. I will do…"
A hand held up halted the boy in mid sentence. "I'm not upset with you, Will. I should have explained the situation. That was my mistake. But I was upset and worried for Gilan. That overrode most everything else. And I'm sorry I left you here without word. Thank you though for caring for Blaze. He looks better than I expected."
"Seran did most of it, Horace was right to leave Blaze in his care. He took good care of him. I just sat with him. I think he misses Gilan." Gilan. Will needed to know what had happened, but he was so afraid to ask the question for fear that he would hear what he most dreaded. But he needed to know. "Gilan…is he…?"
"Alive. Somehow. The doctors didn't give him much of a chance to live through the night. But he did. His recovery will take some time, and he is by no means out of danger. I know Gilan though. If he made it through this first difficult day, he's strong and stubborn enough to continue to survive. He's always enjoyed driving his former master crazy. I suspect his days of doing that aren't quite finished yet."
A great sense of relief fell over the apprentice Ranger. His shoulders eased from the tension that had become such an unwelcome burden. "I was worried. I didn't know," he said, voice breaking slightly.
Halt put an arm around the small shoulders. "It's been a difficult day for us all. You've seen a side of me that perhaps you hadn't seen before. I take great pride in my responsibility to those under my care. Even when they think they no longer need someone to care for them. I will always look after Gilan, as I will always look after you." Pulling the boy to him for a quick moment to cement the words, Halt then broke the embrace. "Now, we have some decisions to make."
"Decisions? What kind of decisions?"
"About Gilan. He'll need time to recover. But I know him, he won't want to be locked in some castle infirmary. He'll need help getting around and doing basic everyday things for a time. I know our borrowed cabin is small…but as Rangers, we look after our own."
Will could see where his teacher was going with this. Their tiny shack-like cabin was able to become even tinier. "We can make it work, Halt. He can have my sleep area. I've made it so it's very soft and warm by the fire. He'll need that warmth too. I will…I'll find another place to sleep. I can find a spot in the horse shelter if needed. Gilan should be as comfortable as possible."
"First of all, you are not sleeping with the horses again. While Blaze and I appreciate what you've done, I can't have you smelling like Tug every day. Even if I am still expelled, I do expect my apprentice to present himself with a little dignity. And a little less smell. Second of all…we will make this work, somehow. I could send him home, back to his fief, but I'd much rather make sure he's physically prepared for that before he goes. He could stay here, but as I already said, he won't want any part of that. He'll hate having anyone wait on him and helping him while he recovers, but I suspect he'll be less reluctant to accept it from us than from virtual strangers."
"How long will he be here then?"
"In the infirmary? It depends. If he regains consciousness today, maybe a week. We'll have time to fix up the cabin and make sure that Blaze has a spot of his own under the shelter. We'll do alright."
Will nodded. "What about finding out what happened to him? Who shot him? Someone wanted him dead, or maybe they were just aiming for anyone. Or any Ranger."
"Yes, and that's the other reason I want him with us while he recovers. We don't know the answers to those questions. Hopefully Gilan can give us something to go on. For now, the Baron and Rodney have sent out two teams to scavenge for information. If there's anything obvious to find, they'll find it. We don't know if this was a random attack, or one specific to Rangers. It's not that uncommon for us to become targets. Not everyone thinks well of us." Then he said with even more determination, "So, young man, you'll have to be on your game. Cleaning, assisting and mostly importantly, on constant alert. Do you think you can handle this?"
The boy nodded eagerly. "I can. I promise. I won't let you or Gilan down."
"I didn't expect you would. Rangers have to look after their own, no matter what the circumstances. Gilan won't act like he appreciates us fussing over him, but deep down, he knows it's for his own good…and he'll be grateful for the love and support behind the gesture. Now get Blaze ready to go. We'll take him home with us until we return for Gilan."
Will paused briefly before asking one more thing of his teacher. "Halt, may I see Gilan before we leave? I know he's not awake, but…I just…"
"Need to see him."
Will nodded and swallowed hard. "Yes. I do."
Halt put an arm around him and they left the stable for the infirmary. "Come on."
Gilan's face was bruised and pale. The usual bright blue eyes were closed tightly. This was a completely different man than what Will was used to seeing. A sadness swept over him, followed by anger at those who did this to him.
"Hi, Gilan," the boy said as he sat down next to him. "It's Will. I just wanted you to know that Blaze is okay. He was injured, but we've been looking after him. He's worried about you, I can tell. But I promise I'll take good care of him until you are back on your feet. So, you concentrate on getting well and know that Blaze is safe. Don't give up, okay? Halt and I…we need you." He finished by tracing a finger over Gilan's pale left hand and grinned when the hand made a movement to touch his finger. Will glanced back at Halt who nodded his head forward. Then Will gently grabbed the hand of the former apprentice in a snug hold. Gilan weakly returned the gesture without opening his eyes. Will took it as a sign that everything would be alright.
Feeling a hand on the back of his neck directing him away from the bed, Will allowed himself to be guided by Halt out of the ward and back to the stable. They retrieved Blaze and began a slow walk away from the castle and into the forest, to a place just off the Redmont Fief. To the cabin that offered them temporary shelter until Halt was reinstated as a true Ranger.
In the forest, Tug and Abelard greeted them and their fellow Ranger horse loudly. The three horses shared many muzzle touches and whinnies and low rumbling sounds. Perhaps trading information and getting each other up to date on what had taken place.
Halt smiled and shook his head at the animals. It seemed that they too looked after their own. He left them to their reunion and walked for the cabin, silently hoping that Gilan's eventual reunion with he and Will would be just as warm.
Skipping ahead a few paces, Will turned around and called back. "Halt, how about Gilan takes my sleeping spot, I take that thing you call a bed, and you sleep outside in the woods? You do love to tell me how you enjoy the woods and sleeping under the stars, right?"
"Funny, boy. Funny." Halt replied with a gleam to his eye. "I guess I know who'll be doing all the cleaning and cooking while Gilan is around. Hmm?"
"I can't cook. You know that."
"One is never too old to start learning new things."
The good nature continued until they reached the cabin. Will felt the uncertainty of this last day finally lifting away. What he witnessed in Halt upon the news of Gilan was nothing more than a natural reaction upon hearing that a loved one was suffering. Will wondered if Halt had felt the same way when he'd been kidnapped and enslaved months before.
He didn't have to ponder on the thought too long as Halt came up behind him and playfully ruffled his hair, knowing full well that Will hated when he did that.
"You hate it, but you love it. It's my revenge for the worry the two of you bring me. At this rate, my hair will have gone completely gray by the time your training is finished." A pause for a rare Halt smile. "I wouldn't have it any other way though. I only worry about you and Gilan because I care about the both of you. And I always will. Just don't let word of that get around. Understand?"
He waited for Will to agree before sending the boy into the house.
"Okay, first chore. Me, place my feet up, drink a cup of hot coffee, sleep. You, beat the rugs, tend the horses, sweep the floor, make sure those pots are sparkling clean…oh and get a bath. The river is still above freezing this time of year. You smell like Blaze."
Then as he headed for the first of his many chore's, Will replied with a crooked pursed smile and a genuine, "I care about you too, Halt."
Halt's only response was one that Will knew so well after so much time spent with the grizzled Ranger. A narrowed look, an inward grin, and a single nod.
Will hurried to his chores to prepare the cabin for Gilan's arrival and recovery. After all, they had one of their own to look after.