To all my RA fic readers. This is the last RA fic that I have completed. Currently I have no more in the works, as I'm working on Star War fiction right now. I'll come up with more Halt and Will ideas at some point though. Thanks for all the reviews and for reading my stories. I'm glad there are so many fans of this book series out there!
Title: Halt's Promise
Author: Obi the Kid
Summary: Takes place right after the end of Book 2. Halt deals with losing Will.
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."
The shaggy gray pony nickered softly into the callused palm, accepting the apple after some initial reluctance. The hard but gentle hands of the grizzled Ranger encouraged him, speaking quietly in hushed tones. They shared the same misery. The same heartbreak.
Halt rubbed Tug's face, scratching his ears and stroking the forelock that fell between his eyes. "We'll find him, Tug. I promised him. And I promise you. I won't leave him to die in whatever hell he may be in right now. We'll find him." Tug grunted and shook out his mane, destroying any sense of neatness that Halt had tried to fit him with. "Will won't stand for that untidy look, and you know it. I spend all this time getting you neat and knot free and you ruin it all in a few seconds. Be still, boy."
If ever a horse could give the appearance of being distraught, Tug did. He knew something was wrong if his master wasn't here to care for him. Will hadn't come back with Halt, and Halt was in a mood that Tug had never sensed before. Large, dark intelligent eye bore into the senior Ranger, as if trying to convey his thoughts. Halt felt it. The grief hitting him hard as Tug leaned his head forward into the man's chest. There it stayed for several moments. Halt leaned forward, touching his temple to the space just between those knowing eyes. Closing his own, he fought to keep his emotions in check as the reality of the now closed in.
It was quiet around his cottage. Too quiet. The rambling questions had vanished. The energy was gone. The sense of joy had all but disappeared. And all with the loss of a young teenage boy. Salty tears trailed down the aged cheeks and into the peppered beard, as Halt gave in briefly to what he was feeling. Neither he nor Tug moved until startled by a voice from behind.
"Halt, are you all right?"
Gilan, Halt's former apprentice had returned to his mentor's small cottage after consorting with Arald, Crowley and the others at Castle Redmont. He too was suffering from the sudden loss and uncertain future of the apprentice Ranger, though he knew how much more painful this would be for Halt. The bond between Halt and Will was unusually strong, and Gilan knew that for his former teacher, this was more like losing a son than a student.
Worried with the non response, he called again. "Halt?"
Halt steadied himself with several deep breaths before giving his attention to his first apprentice. Part of him wishing to be alone, but part of him touched by Gilan's caring and concern for him and for his missing student. It was uncanny how Will seemed to positively affect everyone he came in contact with. His nature was one that made people care. And it's part of made this tragic turn so difficult to accept.
"I will be," he finally replied standing straight and stroking Tug's face.
"How's Tug?" Gilan approached, noticing but not mentioning the redness in the man's intense eyes.
A solemn glance at the small horse, then, "Sad. Lonely. Miserable."
Gilan smiled sorrowfully. "The same as you then." He accepted the glare from Halt, knowing full well that those were exactly the feelings he was currently burdened with. "I know those feelings, Halt. I feel them too. And guilt. It hangs over me about this whole thing. If I hadn't left them. If only I had been there. If only I has sent Will back with the messages instead of me leaving him with Evenlyn and Horace. He'd be safe then."
"You don't know that."
"Not for certain, but it's a good possibility."
"There's no point in faulting yourself, Gilan. This is not your fault. It's not Will's fault. You both performed admirably and with more courage than most. Once we find him, you'll see. Will would never blame you for any of this."
"Once we find him? How will we do that? Duncan needs you here. Neither he nor Crowley are going to let their most valuable Ranger go off on some wild goose chase."
"It would not be a wild goose chase, Gilan, and you know that. This is Will we're talking about. I promised him that I would come after him. I promised him that I would find him. I will not break that promise."
Halt's deep eyes bore into the younger Ranger. Gilan stood hands taller than Halt, but he could never feel above him. Blue eyes locked with dark and Gilan nodded. "Just don't do anything irrational Halt. Will is going to need you alive and healthy - when you do find him." The younger was no fool. He knew Halt's legendary tracking skills. If there was one person who would find Will, it was Halt. Skills and determination melded to form a powerful team.
A soft and rare smile crossed the elder man's face and he nodded thanks to the other. "You're welcome to stay this evening, Gil." Halt finally said after a short time of silence. "My home is always open to you."
"I know, Halt," the young man said mournfully.
"Thought I'd probably never admit this to Will, I've grown used to having someone around. After you graduated, I enjoyed the quiet for a time. Then I realized how much I missed the constant of another presence. So…Please. Stay." Halt never asked for much. He never needed much. But every so often, on that rare occasion, he would reach out to one of those closest to him and ever so subtly seek out a sliver of comfort. Gilan knew this all too well. And he knew that there was no way he'd ever turn his back on his former master in a time of need or a time of pain.
"It would be nice to stay in the old cottage again. I have many fond memories of the this place. And Blaze will be grateful to spend some time with his friends here." He motioned towards where Blaze had taken a spot close to Tug, as if offering support in his own equine way. "We both are to report to Castle Redmont tomorrow morning. Crowley will meet us there. He's already been discussing further plans with Arald and Rodney. Maybe that'll take our minds off of Will for a while."
Shaking his head, Halt said, "I don't want my mind off of Will. I want him back. I will find a way to go after him."
"Halt, you do anything rash and the punishment could be severe, even for a friend of the King. Duncan is not going to sacrifice the well being of his Kingdom for the life of an apprentice Ranger, or even his daughter. As painful as it is for him, he will not sacrifice thousands of lives for two."
"I will…find a way. Eventually. Please, Gilan, I know what's at stake. And I know what I promised Will."
Gilan surrendered his attempt at convincing Halt not to do anything stupid. And they both knew that he would never betray Halt by mentioning any of this to Crowley, Arald or even King Duncan. Right now though, they had to deal with the reality of the situation. Will was lost. Taken and probably to be tortured. He would suffer.
Those he left behind would be feeling their own pain. They had only each other to lean on.
Halt clapped Gilan on the back. "Come on, get Blaze settled. I'll make coffee."
That evening, the former master and apprentice pair talked and reflected and sipped on coffee until the exhaustion of recent events caught up with them.
"Take Will's room. He won't mind. It used to be yours anyway."
"No," Gilan said as he made himself comfortable in a large cushiony chair near the fireplace. "When he does get home, he'll be expecting to see it just as he left it. Besides, someone has to keep an eye on you to make sure you don't sneak out in the middle of the night and leave the Kingdom without permission. Right?" The tall, lanky Ranger grinned as he stretched the kinks out of his long frame.
"Gilan." Halt's deep tone was serious.
"I know. I'm kidding. You know me. But – I only want to help, Halt. I'm worried for Will. And I never get used to seeing you upset and distracted. For Will's sake, keep a level head about this. If you find a way to go after him…just…be safe about it. If we lose you, we lose Will."
The words were accepted with a grateful nod. One thing Halt so appreciated about his first pupil was his ability to find just the right thing to say when emotions ran high. It was what Halt needed right now.
"And on that note, I'll see you in the morning, Halt. As difficult as it may seem, try and get some semblance of sleep."
"I know Will means a lot to you too, Gilan. Thank you for caring about him. And about your old master."
Gilan smiled and tucked himself into one of Halt's blankets. He doubted either of them would find much sleep this night, but if his presence helped his mentor find an ounce of the peace that he was so desperate for at the moment, then a sleepless night was well worth it.
They would find Will. Halt would. Gilan had no doubt about that. He knew the man's abilities and his devotion to those under his care. One never felt safer than when Halt was looking after them. He just hoped Will would be found before it as too late.
Halt lay on his back, starring at the wooden rafters of the tiny cottage. They were only slightly illuminated by the solitary candle that burned and flickered. Closing his eyes brought painful memories of the sight of Will on the wolfship being taken further and further away from him. The ache in his heart was one he'd never known before. It was a feeling that none should ever have to bear.
A stirring in the other room caused Halt to lift his head briefly only to realize it was Gilan's snoring that he was hearing. It was a sound that had comforted him when Gilan was a boy, because it meant he was safe and secure. And now it comforted him once more. Despite Will's absence, Halt knew he was not alone. And that single thought and the sturdy presence in the other room, resting by the fire, was what finally allowed him to sleep.
Words touched his lips one last time before he slept. "I will find you, Will. I promise."