"Boys are Easier"

A Ranger's Apprentice Fic

By: Wishingonmystar

A/N: This is something I've been turning over since reading the Ranger's Apprentice book. I haven't read past the fifth book, so I may not be so up-to-date on the series. Please just read the over and leave me a line of whether or not you are interested in reading more!

Thanks a bunch!


Chapter 1:

"Hey Kaye! Bet I can beat you to the top of that tree!"

The inn-keeper's daughter with her dark brown hair and dancing grey eyes looked up at the oak in question. Automatically she searched for appropriate handholds. It seemed she did that with everything, from trees to the walls of Castle Meric when she went into town. Her eyes caught plenty of good holds all the way up the tree and she couldn't help but smile. She could climb this tree blindfolded with one hand tied behind her back.

"Bet I can, Jaret," she retorted. Jaret was a good climber, one of the best in Meric fief, but Kaye knew she was better.

"You're on!" At Jaret's go, they both sprinted for the tree, neck and neck. When Kaye reached the trunk, she paused only for a split second to hike up her skirt. No, it wasn't proper, but she'd get in even more trouble if she ripped the skirt or fell out of the tree and hurt herself because she tripped on it.

Kaye leapt up, light as a cat, and caught the first branch. Swinging, she hauled herself up onto the branch, already reaching for the next one. Jaret was just above her, having gotten a bit of a head start because he was a boy and didn't have to wear a dress. Kaye found herself longing for the days when she was little and allowed to wear leggings and a tunic. But she couldn't now. It "just isn't proper for a young lady of fifteen", as her mother often scolded.

Kaye slipped up the branches and main trunk of the tree as fast as anyone would climb up steps. Her hands found purchase on seemingly miniscule cracks and knots in the old wood. To say Kaye liked climbing could be an understatement, of course. It seemed like most of her time was spent up in trees or on the roof of the inn. That is, when she wasn't helping her mother in the inn's kitchens or her father serving in the common room.

Kaye quickly surpassed Jaret as they climbed higher and higher. Here, in the top of the great oak tree, thinner branches gave Kaye the advantage. She was smaller and a good deal lighter than the taller boy who tended the stables and the great battle horses the knights of the fief rode. Jaret's uncle was Horsemaster for Meric fief, so Jaret worked in the castle stables with his uncle and cousins. While Jaret had to pause and search for the bigger branches to support his weight, Kaye climbed smoothly up, balancing easily on the smaller, swaying limbs. This was the part she enjoyed the most of climbing, getting to the top, seeing the world around her. She could spend hours, even a whole day, perched high at the top of a tree or on a roof, watching all that went on down below.

Kaye climbed higher still until at last she came to the highest possible point. She looked down to see Jaret a few feet below her, as high as he could go. Kaye grinned down at him, her breathing slightly fast from the surge of the race. Jaret was panting much more heavily, though he grinned from ear to ear.

"You're like a cat," he teased. "Or maybe a squirrel.

"And you're like a big, clumsy boy," she retorted, sticking her tongue out at him juvenilely. It was a ritual between them now. She'd win, he'd tease, she'd retort. Then they'd both laugh. They were about to, when they heard the shrill voice calling loudly on the wind.

"Kaye! Kaye, get back here this instant! You have chores to do!" Kaye winced. There was no mistaking the loud, carrying voice of her mother. She heard it often, whether it was carrying across the inn's common room, out the door and across the yard, or two feet in front of her in reprimand.

"I have to go," Kaye told Jaret needlessly.

"Sounds like it," he agreed. "I better get back too; otherwise Uncle Rufus will have my head." The two of them climbed back down, reluctantly and therefore a lot slower than they had ascended.

On the ground again, Kaye and Jaret split up, Jaret going towards Castle Meric and the stables, Kaye back into the town just outside the Castle's walls, but more specifically her family's inn where her mother would be waiting to reprimand her. Kaye un-tucked the hem of her skirt as she walked. She didn't need her mother to start on that course again.

Kaye spotted her mother in the doorway as she moved down the busy street, weaving between horses, carts, and ambling pedestrians. As soon as her mother caught sight of her, she would want to see her at least trying to move quickly. She slipped by a vendor's cart and a mother with too many children to keep track of and almost rand head-long into a shaggy, bay mare. Without thinking, she ducked and slipped under the horse's fairly low belly, avoiding the hooves and dangling stirrups, passing through to the other side. She was actually surprised the horse didn't rear from the action.

"Sorry," she began to apologize to the horse's rider, but was brought up short. The figure on the horse had the hood of his green and grey mottled cloak drawn over his head. But that wasn't what made her pause. She recognized the figure by the special cloak. Her eyes wandered to the great longbow slung across his lap, strung, and the quiver of heavy arrows at his shoulder. This was a Ranger, there was no doubt in her mind.

She was pretty sure she'd seen this short, shaggy horse before, so this must be Meric's Ranger. What was his name? The Ranger knocked his hood back and smiled down at her good-naturedly. It made her uneasy. Rangers were known to be reclusive enigmas. Their expressions were always impassive, never giving away any emotions but confident calm. So to have one of their numbers smiling down at her set her more on edge than if he'd nocked one of those big arrows to that great longbow of his and pointed it right between her eyes!

"It's alright," he replied kindly, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. "Blaze doesn't mind, do you girl?"

The bay mare tossed her head as if in reply to the Ranger's question.

"Kaye! What are you doing? You have work to do!"

"Sorry," Kaye apologized to the Ranger again. She knew she should know his name, since he was the Ranger attached to her fief, but it was escaping her. And her mother was calling again, having seen her standing, talking to the Ranger. She dipped a quick, polite curtsey and left, hurrying towards the inn.

"Where have you been?" her mother demanded as she entered.

The thought of yet another reprimand was tiresome, but Kaye didn't think lying was any better. She hated lying. The guilt would eat away at her.

"With Jaret," she replied. "We climbed a bit."

Kaye's mother sighed, shaking her head. "Kaye, how many times must I tell you? It is not proper for a young lady to be climbing trees, or anything else, for that matter! You are fifteen now. It is time you acted proper. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mother," Kaye replied. But that wouldn't stop her next time someone challenged her to a race, or even later that night when she would escape the noise and heat of the inn's common room and kitchen for the quiet openness of the roof. She did not like to lie, but she had no reservations of bending or breaking the rules when she felt it necessary.

"Why were you talking to the Ranger?" Mother demanded as she handed Kaye a bucket of mugs that needed washing.

"I ran into his horse," Kaye replied. "I was apologizing."

Mother nodded once. "Alright. But don't get into the habit of it. They're dangerous folk. There's just something I don't trust about them." Kaye's mother's view wasn't special or particular. It was the general impression of Rangers. They were quiet, keeping to themselves and their mysterious Ranger Corps. Kaye didn't know quite what they did, but she knew they were not men to be toyed with. It's said a Ranger carries the lives of twenty-four men in his quiver. They are expert archers and they are also proficient with the two knives they carried. But those weren't the main reasons so many people feared or where suspicious of them. Rangers have an uncanny way of disappearing in plain sight. One moment, a room or area may appear empty. The next, a Ranger will be standing right in the middle of it, bow in hand, cowl obscuring face. It was unnatural and folk whispered rumours of black magic and sorcery.

Kaye personally didn't believe that. She saw the green and grey cloaks they wore. She saw how the Ranger's form seemed less substantial when wearing the cloak. It could've been sorcery in the cloak, but Kaye thought it might be just a bit more mundane then that. The green and grey matched the leaves and shadows of the forest all too well.

Of course, she'd never go spreading her suspicions. The Rangers themselves didn't do anything to disprove these superstitions, so there were two possibilities. Either they were true, in which case Kaye needed to be very careful—it didn't pay to be on a sorcerer's bad side, let alone a whole contingent of sorcerers. Or they were false and the Rangers did not see the point in disproving them and losing whatever advantage the rumours lent. Either way, it was none of Kaye's business.

Kaye was sent off to the yard with the bucket of mugs. A wash basin and stack of plates and other used ceramic-ware already waited her scrubbing. They would all need to be washed for tonight. It was near the end of the week, so the inn could expect a good crowd. There was even talk of a jongleur in town who may be stopping by soon. With a jongleur, business was always better and that meant more work for Kaye. She sighed at the thought of the countless mugs and tableware she'd be washing tonight once everyone went home and the boarders retired to their rooms. She'd be up well into the early morning that was for sure.

"Kaye, take these to table nine," her father big her, passing over a few more mugs. Kaye barely heard him over the noise. The common room that doubled as a tavern was packed tonight. Her father's suspicions and the rumours had been right. A jongleur had walked in, bedecked in red and blue, toting a lute and the promise of a profitable night. He'd been served, of course, about half an hour ago when he'd taken a break from singing. As was only proper, he did not pay. Jongleurs were paid in hospitality and tips from their performances. They were not expected to pay for food and board anywhere they performed.

Now the noise level was increasing to impossible volumes as the jongleur returned to his instrument and burst into "Old Joe Smoke". The patrons of the tavern joined him enthusiastically, even the more reserved tongue loosened by wine or ale or any number of alcoholic beverage. Kaye set the mugs down for the rowdy patrons at table nine before weaving back through the crowd, skirting the jongleur and his closer spectators. Her head was beginning to pound. She knew she needed to get out and enjoy some fresh air and a bit of quiet, but she was needed again. There were two hot dinner plates waiting for her from the kitchen.

"The corner table," her father told her. "Then take a break." He knew how the constant noise and stuffiness of the common room could get. Kaye picked up the two plates and deftly began weaving through the crowd, not bumping an elbow or dropping any food. She'd become good at this over the years of serving in the common room. She only looked up when she came to the table in the far corner and paused.

It was him. The Ranger she'd talked to, whose name she couldn't remember. There he sat, a cup of his own on the table in front of him. But he wasn't alone. Sitting beside him was another one. Another Ranger, the cowl of his dappled grey and green cloak thrown back like the first's.

The two looked like night and day compared to one another. Meric's Ranger was taller and much younger than the new one, still with a hint of laughter in his eyes, though the rest of his expression was stoic as was typical for his kind. The other Ranger, in comparison, was old and scruffy. His hair and beard were riddled with silver grey hairs and looked ragged. Unlike Meric's Ranger, this one had the Ranger and expression from the flat, almost bored set of his features to the way he sat back in the shadows of the corner, all but invisible. They had two things in common; they both wore Ranger's cloaks, and they both constantly scanned the room, most likely out of habit or suspicion.

Kaye took a quick breath (with so many people in one place, it didn't pay to risk anything more) and walked up to the table, keeping her head down and being as non-descript as she could. She felt both their eyes land on her as soon as she slipped closer to the table. She quickly set their plates before them and slipped off, no comments, not even a look up. She blended back into the crowd and made her way towards the back door and out.

The fresh air caught her full in the face and she breathed deeply finally. Her head was throbbing and her ears ringing and her nerves were all on edge. She didn't understand why, but something had seemed off. Kaye couldn't explain the feeling, let alone give it a name. She just knew she needed to get away for a little while.

So she turned and faced a little shed used for storage just behind the house. Leaping up, she caught the lip of its roof and used a few uneven boards in its side as footholds to haul herself up. The extra height gave her the ability to reach a ledge, just a few inches wide, that stretched around the inn. It was mainly decorative, but it was more than sturdy enough for Kaye and it provided a ready place to stand. She'd done these manoeuvres multiple times before. She inched along the ledge, using the underside of the inn's overhanging roof as handholds. She passed a window, but luckily the curtain was drawn shut. This patron was most likely down in the common room or attempting to sleep through the racket. Either way, there was no risk of someone seeing or hearing her as she passed this window. Of course, it would be incredibly hard to do so. Kaye was utterly silent and like a shadow as she slipped along the side of the inn.

Eventually she reached the way up. It was a corner overhang that afforded Kaye the proper grip to swing herself over and up, catching the roof top with her heel and finally hauling herself all the way up to the very top roof of the inn.

It was not an easy climb, not at all. But Kaye had accomplished it when she was only ten and had been doing it almost every night since, rainy or dry. Crouched on the roof solidly, she crawled over the wooden shingles to her favourite perch, the front apex of the roof, just as it slanted down towards the street. There was an element of danger there she enjoyed, and the view of the street and the rest of Meric's castle village was most spectacular. She could see all the way to Castle Meric. And of course, she could see if anyone came out into the yard behind the inn.

But the best part about this perch was the ability to eavesdrop on the street below it lent to its occupant. Kaye was naturally curious and listened to most of the conversations on the street below, even when they were mundane topics like how many eggs a person's chickens were laying one week to the next. But a few times, Kaye had heard things that weren't so commonplace. For instance, she'd once overheard a pair of horse thieves plotting to go after the inn's stables. And it was thanks to her warning that her father was able to prevent it, and even catch the thieves.

As Kaye sat up at her perch, she didn't see anyone at first. Btu then a slight movement caught the corner of her attention. It was barely more than a slight movement of the head, but it served to bring to her attention two figures that stood all but invisible.

"Why did you bring me here, Gilan?" asked a bored voice.

"You need another apprentice," another voice, Gilan, replied. He'd been the one that had moved and drawn Kaye's attention.

"So we look for it in a tavern? Gilan, what could you have possibly seen there?"

"It's an inn. And you know what I saw. You saw it too, for all you deny it."

The first person sighed heavily. "Gilan, I don't know how many more apprentices I can take. And this one looks like a fair handful."

"You are not as old as you profess, and you enjoy having an apprentice around, admit it. You've been grumpy ever since Will graduated."

"Having someone to do the cooking and cleaning is nice, I will admit. But Gilan, a girl?"

"Is that your only objection?"

"It is a valid one."

"No, it's not. Halt, you saw her. Will you not at least consider it?"

There was another heavy sigh, though this one was laced with defeat. "Very well, I will consider it."

"I knew you would. You like a challenge."

"This will indeed be a challenge."

"Shall we return?" Gilan suggested.

"If we must." The voice was bored again, and a little condescending. Kaye watched the two speakers move away from the shadows and back towards the light of the inn's entrance. In the light, she finally got a good look at the two of them. What she saw surprised her. It was the two Rangers she'd seen not ten minutes before. Both had their cowls up so Kaye couldn't tell which was Meric's Ranger and which was the visiting Ranger. She thought that the one called Gilan was the younger and the old, grizzled one was "Halt". But, she couldn't be positive, and Kaye didn't like to just assume anything.

They'd been talking about apprentices. In particular, a female apprentice. But, Kaye had never heard of a female Ranger before. They'd all been men, right? Maybe that was why the one, Halt, had been so reluctant.

But who were they talking about? Someone in the inn? It didn't make any sense, looking for a Ranger's apprentice in Kaye's family's inn. That wasn't the right place. And a girl? Girls weren't Rangers apprentices because girls couldn't become Rangers. It wasn't done.

I must've been mistaken. She settled back into her perch on the roof shingles, intent to simply enjoy the night and relative quiet. Every so often the inn's door would open and let some sound out, but these small bursts were a far-cry from the constant battery she would've received had she been inside. These short moments she could deal with easily.

Kaye sat still for a while, but the memory of the two Ranger's conversation kept coming back to her. There seemed to be something that was missing, a nagging feeling that told her she was forgetting something obvious, or an important detail. And she still wanted to know who they thought in the inn would make a potential Ranger apprentice. Surely not Rebecca, the other serving girl. She was an air-head and Rangers had to be smart. And she blundered her way through everything and chewed so loudly it was ridiculous! The girl can make soup broth crunch! Kaye thought.

Maybe they had meant one of the boys. Allan, the stable-boy surely had potential. He'd been too small to be accepted to Horseschool, but he was fairly smart and brave, and when he walked it didn't sound like the army in full battledress was coming.

That must've been it. They were just confused somehow. The inn door to the yard opened and someone stepped out, her father. He automatically looked up at the roof where he knew he'd find his daughter.

"Your mother will not be pleased you are up there again."

"I'm sorry, Father," Kaye replied routinely.

"Come down, I need your help again."

"Yes, Father," Kaye said again. She shifted and began moving softly along the shingles until she was at the front. Then she swung down, grabbing onto the edge until her motion had stopped before falling the last few feet and landing lightly on the ground in front of her father. He shook his head, chuckling as he looked back up to where his daughter had been only seconds before.

"I don't know how you do it. You're my little cat, never making any noise and always landing on your feet."

"Not always," Kaye corrected. "Otherwise you would not have had to call the physician so often."

Her father chuckled and nudged her towards the door. "In you go. Start clearing the eating-ware, but leave the mugs."

"Yes, Father," Kaye replied for a third time. She preceded him back into the inn. The noise was louder than ever because by now most had had three or even four mugs of ale and it was having an effect. The jongleur was playing again, just as enthusiastically as before, though Kaye was pretty sure she'd heard this song earlier in the evening. It must've been recycled "by request".

Kaye began to move unobtrusively around the room, picking up plates and utensils where it was obvious they'd been forgotten and weren't likely to be found again. As she moved, though, she felt this odd, prickling feeling on the back of her neck. She rubbed it to make sure nothing was actually there, but the feeling didn't go away. She looked up and intuitively met the eyes of the two Rangers in the corner. And it became clear what was bothering her. They were watching her, that's what that prickling sensation was. And they didn't look away when she caught them either. They just kept right on staring.

Stop it you! Kaye thought. She stuck her tongue out at them rather immaturely, then turned away. She thought she saw the older one look temporarily stunned and then she heard a swift laugh that had to have been Meric's Ranger, Gilan. The name seemed familiar now. The young Ranger's name was Gilan, and he was attached to Meric fief. The elder's name was Halt (whatever sort of a name that was) and he was presumably attached to a different fief. The name Halt was familiar, but Kaye couldn't remember why. She was horrible remembering names anyways. It was something that she'd have to fix if she was to eventually run the inn after her parents were too old.

Halt, Halt, now where have I heard the name? Kaye racked her brain. He's a Ranger, so it had to have something to do with the Ranger Corps., right? Wait, didn't...Will Treaty! Everyone had heard the name of the young Ranger, Will Treaty. He'd first sabotaged Morgarath's efforts to build a bridge around Three-Steps Pass. But he'd been captured and taken into slavery by Skandians. Then he, Halt, a young knight called Sir Horace of the Oakleaf, and the princess Cassandra had helped those same Skandians defeat the Temujai and had negotiated a peace with the Skandians. It was because of them the Skandians no longer raided the coasts. It wasn't prohibited, by the Hallasholm Treaty, but it was highly frowned upon by the new Skandian Oberjarl, what was his name? Oh it didn't matter. After all, how many Rangers named "Halt" could there be in one kingdom? And she'd heard Gilan talk about a "Will". That must've been Will Treaty. "You've been grumpy ever since Will graduated." Those were Gilan's exact words.

Kaye tried to sneak a glance but found Halt watching her again. He wasn't much to look at. Outside he'd stood shorter than the other Ranger, but Kaye hadn't really been able to tell where he stood in comparison to most other men. His scraggly beard and hair with his green and brown clothing made him look more like a bedraggled forester than a hero of the kingdom. Without the Ranger cloak, Kaye wasn't sure she would've been able to tell the difference.

Why is that? she wondered.

The two Rangers in the corner held her thoughts and much of her attention the rest of the night. She tried to watch them as they watched her. She made a game out of it, laughing inwardly when she was caught and feeling triumphant when she succeeded (which was not often).

Eventually it got late. The jongleur put away his instrument and accepted the room my father offered him. Tomorrow would be even busier with the jongleur around again. Word will have spread throughout the day. The inn could look forward to yet another night of good business.

Unfortunately, the Rangers left with the rest of the crowd, blending in despite their distinctive cloaks. It was actually disconcerting how easily they slipped out. One moment they were at the table, the next they were gone. Kaye didn't actually see them leave, just found a tip on their table, which she pocketed to give up later. The servers gave their tips to Kaye's father and he split them up equally amongst them to supplement their pay for the night. Of course, Kaye's pay was living there, so any tips she might make were her "allowance" for holidays where she didn't have to work and could go out with her friends. Kaye saved meticulously throughout the year to have more than enough money when the carnival came for the festival.

"Kaye, your father said you were to give me a hand with the plates," Rebecca said, gesturing to the large tub of plates that needed to be washed.

Kaye was confused. Typically on a late night like this, they left the plates to soak out back and the cleaned them the following morning afterwards.

So that Rebecca would be cleaning the plates now was odd, and that Kaye was supposed to help was even stranger.

"Are you sure?" Kaye asked.

"Yes," Rebecca replied. "He had to talk to those two Rangers. Odd they're still here, I thought they left at least half an hour ago."

The Rangers?

"I thought so too," Kaye replied. She looked upstairs to the office where her father was undoubtedly talking to the Rangers in the room he used as an office. "I wonder what they're talking about."

"Me too," Rebecca admitted.

"I could find out," I offered.

"But he said you had to help."

"I will, just let me listen for a while. I'll be plenty able to get back before any of them can check on us."

Rebecca looked hesitant, but the need to gossip was too much. You never told Rebecca a secret because it would never remain one for long. "Okay. But we have to hurry."

"Here, let me help you bring the plates out back and then I'll go. When did they start talking?"

"Just now. Hurry."

She and Kaye hauled the bin of plates out back and Rebecca set to work, making noise enough cleaning for both. Kaye, meanwhile, slipped up onto the shed roof again. Except now she went the opposite way along the decorative ledge. Kaye heard a slight gasp as she inched out along the wall of the inn, using the decorative ledge. From Rebecca's vantage, it looked like she was walking along a straight wall.

"Be careful," she hissed.

"Sh," Kaye replied. "I'll be fine." She reached around the corner, found the overhang again and shifted her feet to the next side. Kaye could see her father's window, the candles all lit like he only did when he had guests after it was too dark. She inched along until she found good footing and then looped her hands over the roof's overhang.

"—fine establishment, Mr. Harrow."

"Thank you, sir," Kaye's father replied.

"The supper was excellent. My compliments to your cook." it sounded as if Gilan was doing all the talking.

"My wife is my cook. I will most heartily pass on your compliments. How may I help you now?"

"We must confess, we had ulterior motives for coming here tonight. We came because we would like to talk to you about your daughter, Kaye."

Kaye's heart pounded faster in her chest at the mentioning of her name. Why would they want to talk about her?

Kaye's father seemed to share her confusion and suspicion. "May I ask what for?"

"We have observed certain innate skills and characteristics in her that we believe—"

"Excuse me, Gilan," the other Ranger Halt cut in.

Kaye realized she should have been on edge when Halt interrupted and there was no following statement. But instead she inched closer, in case they were speaking softly and she just couldn't hear properly. Unfortunately, the movement occurred just as Halt's head shot out the window. Kaye froze, but his eyes had already zeroed in on her position.

"Kaye. May I recommend you come inside?" He motioned her in the window. She stayed put at first, hoping maybe her refusal would simply allow her to return to the washing. But it seemed Halt was not allowing any of that. He gestured again, more impatiently this time, and Kaye knew she better obey. She manoeuvred to the window and slipped through. Halt closed the window behind her and Kaye felt trapped, like a rabbit in share. The other Ranger Gilan didn't seem anymore surprised to see her than Halt had been. But her father was, and if she read his expression correctly, a bit angry at her.

"Kaye, you are supposed to be cleaning the dishes with Rebecca."

"Yes, Father. I'm sorry."

"What were you doing climbing there?"

"I—Rebecca said you were talking to them," she nodded towards the Rangers, "and I was curious what about."

"Well, since this concerns her, I have no objections to her staying. Do you, Mr. Harrow?" Gilan asked.

"No," Kaye's father replied. "Please, continue."

"As I was saying, we have observed that Kaye possesses certain innate skills and characteristics, much like those she has just demonstrated, that would make a Ranger. We are asking, well Halt is asking, your permission to take her on as a Ranger's apprentice."

Kaye's father snorted. He actually snorted at two Rangers! "Beg your pardon, sirs, but Kaye is a girl, and a girl can't be a Ranger."

"It is true that we have not, in the past, accepted females into the Ranger Corps. Kaye would be the first."

The first woman Ranger? The idea both excited and frightened Kaye. What if she couldn't do it? What if she failed? Would there never be another female Ranger? Kaye didn't want to be the reason for that. But if she succeeded...

"I cannot allow it," Kaye's father said firmly.

"But why not?" Kaye blurted out.

"You are needed here, Kayelyn," he instructed. Kaye shrank back. She knew he was absolutely serious when he used her full name. Nobody called her Kayelyn. Nobody but her parents when they were extremely angry or extremely stern.

"It is a great opportunity for Kaye," Gilan pressed. "She would train under Ranger Halt in Redmont, and eventually become a Ranger of her own fief. She would be serving her King in the best possible way."

"Her duty is here. This inn was run by my father, and my father's father before him, all the way back before Meric was a fief of the Kingdom or the Ranger Corps. were founded. And it will remain in my family after I die. I do not have a son, so my daughter must take that responsibility."

Gilan seemed about to press further, but Halt stopped him with his name. It was a subtle warning or signal.

"We understood, Mr. Harrow," Halt spoke up, "and respect your decision."

Kaye's father seemed suspicious, but nodded. "Kaye, see them to the door and then go straight back to Rebecca."

"Yes, Father." Kaye opened the office door and gestured the two men out respectfully. They descended the stairs, Kaye in front, leading the way.

"I am sorry my father did not agree," she apologized.

"Your father knows what is best for his family and inn," Gilan replied.

"I suppose," Kaye agreed. She opened the locked front door for them.

"I leave for Redmont tomorrow at dawn," Halt told her. "If your father changes his mind, have him contact Gilan and he will make the proper arrangements."

"Alright," Kaye nodded. The two left and Kaye bolted the door behind them before returning to Rebecca.

If she was surprised that Kaye returned through the inn, she didn't say anything. "So, what were they speaking about?" she asked eagerly.

"I couldn't hear," Kaye replied. The lie was thick on her tongue, but she felt it better than half the town knowing she'd been asked to become a Ranger's apprentice, and that her father had forbid it, by midday tomorrow.

"Oh, rotten luck."

"Yes," Kaye agreed as she picked up a dish and began scrubbing with Rebecca. As she cleaned, she couldn't help but think about the offer. The Ranger Halt returns to his fief tomorrow. She had to do something. She felt that there was something about the two Rangers she liked, even Halt. But her father had been adamant. She would not go. That was the end of it as soon as he said "Kayelyn". She could try appealing to her mother, but Kaye doubted that would make any difference. Mrs. Harrow felt even more strongly about Kaye taking over the inn and acting like a proper young woman than her husband. The idea of Kaye becoming a Ranger would be utterly absurd to her.

Of course, she could always simply go. She knew Jaret would help her secure a horse. They had a few non-battlehorses in the stables, and as long as she saw it returned, Jaret surely wouldn't mind letting her borrow one, would he? Ranger Halt said he was leaving for Redmont the next dawn. That was only a few hours from now. Could she do it?

"Kaye?" Kaye was drawn from her thoughts to look at Rebecca.


"Are you okay? You seem..." she shrugged.

"I'm fine," Kaye replied. "I'm just tired. It's really late."

Rebecca nodded, yawning. "It must be the second or third hour after midnight." There was no real way to know, though, since the hour would not be announced again until dawn.

Kaye and Rebecca were halfway through the stack when Mrs. Harrow came out back and told them to leave the dishes to soak and go home/to bed. Rebecca said goodnight and left for her home accompanied by her older brother, Bryce, who worked with Allan in the stables. Allan would stay, though, in case the horses needed something in the night.

Kaye's father barred the door after Rebecca and Bryce left and they finally began to settle in for bed. But Kaye's mind was reeling with possible plans; all involving her getting out to meet Halt by dawn. She had to.

After only an hour, Kaye had had enough of waiting. She got up, dressing in her sturdiest clothes, and packed the rest of what she could fit in a pack. She carried her shoes in her hands as she left the bedroom as not to make too much noise in the hallway. She didn't want to wake anyone, her parents or the guests. Kaye made her way down to the kitchen where she wrapped a loaf of bread, some fruit, and cheese, and stuffed it in her pack on top of her clothing so none of it got smashed. Only as she was heading for the door did she pause to slip her boots on. She slid the heavy bolt aside and was about to turn the knob when a voice stopped her in her tracks.

"What do you think you are doing?"

Kaye froze but there was the spark of flint and steel and a candle sputtered to life, outlining the face of her father. He looked angry too.

Mr. Harrow moved around the common room, lighting a few more candles sputtered to life, outlining the face of her father. He looked angry too.

Mr. Harrow moved around the common room, lighting a few more candles to provide enough light to see by. Kaye all the while remained frozen in spot, not daring to move. She felt like a rabbit before a hound dog, utterly trapped with no hope of escaping, so frozen stick still in hopes that maybe it would lose interest. But her father didn't lose interest.

"Where do you think you're going, Kaye?" he demanded, gesturing to her boots and the sack on her shoulder.

Kaye considered lying, but what would she say? The privy? Then why was she going out the front door, with a pack of clothes and food? Kaye relaxed, finally moving, and hung her head. "Father, I was going to follow Halt, to become his apprentice."

Her father's face went red in the dim light. "I said 'No'. Is my decision not good enough?"

Kaye held her tongue. There was no possible answer to that question she could have given that wouldn't have made him angrier and landed her more punishment.

There was silence between the two of them. Kaye watched her father as his face returned to a more natural shade. Finally he spoke again. "I will not allow you to be a Ranger's apprentice."

"But why? Rangers do so much good, don't they? Just look at what Halt and Will Treaty have accomplished! And now they want to bring women into the Corps. I could be the first female Ranger in history. It would be an honour!"

"You are needed here."

"It would not be hard to find someone trustworthy to run the inn," Kaye insisted. "Allan is smart and he's done a fair job running the stables. He could handle more, if you let him."

"Allan is not my son."

"Neither am I. I'm your daughter. And let's face it; you and I both know I would never be satisfied with settling down, marrying, and passing the inn on to my own children. I'm too much like Uncle Gareth." The mention of her father's younger brother who went on to become a Knight of the Kingdom made her father wince. He knew her words to be true. It was there in the ways Kaye was always testing the limits, always pushing just a little further. She would not be content with the life he and her mother lived. No matter how many tables she washed, patrons he serves, or late nights she worked. Kaye's heart wasn't in the inn. It never had been. It had always been out somewhere else, up in a tree or running around with the boys.

Kaye watched her father's expression carefully. It was calm now and the silence between them was stretching out longer and longer after she'd mentioned Uncle Gareth. Kaye wasn't so sure it had been a good idea now. While her father had never outwardly expressed anything bad about Uncle Gareth, she felt that maybe there was some resentment on her father's part. After all, the family had used all their money and influence to send Gareth to Battleschool, leaving only the inn for the eldest son.

Finally, Mr. Harrow spoke again. "When is he leaving?"

"At dawn," Kaye replied firmly.

Her father sighed. "Then you'd best get a bit of sleep. As much as you can, at least. Wouldn't want you falling asleep on the way to Redmont."

Kaye grinned and leapt from her spot to hug her father tightly. "Oh, thank you Papa!" she said, using the name she hadn't called him since she was ten.

"But promise me one thing." Kaye looked up at her father, curious. "Promise me I will hear about all the great things you accomplish all the way here on Meric fief."

"You will, Papa, I promise." She hugged him again.

"Now go back to bed. You have an early start in a few hours."