'Are you kidding?'
The twins were watching Aderyn with a look of admiration. The trio had gone upstairs to pack their things, readying themselves for their apprenticeships. Stella and Sofia had packed only their best clothes, jewellery, pictures and reminders of their family. The twins actually were triplets, but their sister had died in the accident that claimed their parent's lives. Aderyn packed the things she thought she'd need. Her boots, leggings, a cap to pull over her ears and disguise her long hair, best shirts, a dress or two. They all went into the rucksack, along with her mother's jewellery and five or so of her gowns. The twins were gaping at Aderyn as if she were a Skandian.
'You've got to be kidding!' Stella gasped, shaking her head in wonder. 'They never take girls. You've got to be the first.'
Aderyn shrugged. She seemed to be radiating a nonchalance that Stella found intimidating; Aderyn was actually faking it: she'd never felt so amazed in her entire life. 'Well, you knew, women are just as good as men. Take Princess Cassandra for instance. She's probably one of the most iconic women today, and she's fought in wars. Against the Temujai.'
Stella looked confused while Sofia nodded and gave a small, reluctant smile. 'I still don't get why they're recruiting girls. They know full well that girls are fussier than men,' she said matter-of-factly, while pulling a soft, cotton shirt out of her drawer. Placing it delicately in the bag, she turned to Aderyn with an almost invisible air of burning curiosity.
'I don't know. I mean, there are so many things that I don't know about this. It was a rather brief conference, you know,' Aderyn explained. She sighed, feeling slightly angry at the Baron. He had lied about the 'chosen by-your-mother thing.
'Well, it shouldn't be so bad. I mean, you wanted to be a warrior, you're one now.' That was Stella, always trying to think brightly. Aderyn was a bit disappointed.
'I guess …'
After the three had packed all of their important (to them, at least) possessions, they headed down to the dining hall, where a banquet was being prepared in their honour. Justin and Joshua were mucking about, pretending that the silver knives that they had were swords. Shania, like always, ignored all of the other Wards. Stella and Sofia slid into seats next to the boys, while Aderyn searched the hall. She couldn't see any sign of the one she most wanted to see.
Then her eyes met his.
'Will, you do know you're crazy, right?'
Will looked up from his cup of coffee, sighed and set it down, raising an eyebrow for Gilan to continue. Gilan gave him a smile and explained.
'Come on, Will, do you really think Crowley will let you have an apprentice? You're only twenty-six! And add that to the fact that said apprentice is a girl! There has never even been a girl Ranger!'
Will shrugged. 'Your point is?'
Gilan threw his hands up. 'Why am I even bothering?' he exclaimed. 'At least Halt will put you right.'
'When he gets back!' Gilan said, clearly exasperated. Will gave a snort of laughter, receiving a frown from Gilan. Will continued to smirk at his bewildered expression. 'Why are you smiling?' Gilan asked.
Will's smirk grew more pronounced. 'Halt's not going to be coming back until the Gathering. The treaty will take at least a month to be renewed and he picked the wrong time to go to Skandia.' Gilan's frown turned into a pout.
'Oh my God, Will! You have to come to your senses. You can't have an apprentice! You're not ready,' he insisted.
Will's amusement changed rapidly. 'That's not what you said this morning!' he hissed.
'I had to say that!' Gilan's voice got louder. 'The Baron wasn't going to say no! He obviously wants her to be a Ranger. So that's what will happen. But it's not right!'
His jaw set, Will stood up, practically quivering with anger. He and Gilan always got on well, but this was a subject that both had different opinions on.
'Do you think women aren't as good as men?' he asked.
'No, I just th-'
'I've seen her skills. She's better than any Ranger's apprentice and she hasn't had training. I think we should seriously consider opening a women's division. Cassandra will definitely go for it and Duncan adores her, so he'll be with her. And anyway … women make better diplomats.'
Gilan felt confused. What was Will talking about? he thought. 'Why does that matter?'
Will looked enthusiastic; he was practically jumping up and down. 'Ok,' he began, 'the Baron (and Halt, for that matter) has always said that women make better diplomats. Imagine when I go on a diplomatic mission by myself: remember that incident a few weeks ago? Another problem like that and Araluen is going to have a lot of enemies.'
'I still haven't got a clue where you are going with this.'
'Well, if more women join the Special Task Group, we have some delegates; and by delegates, I mean people who can actually understand what I'm saying when I'm speaking complete rubbish that no one in this world will ever understand. I mean, we can hardly spare Alyss all the time; she's the only one who understands what I'm saying half the time. Aderyn can come with me on missions and do all the talking.' He looked extremely pleased with himself. He's getting too cocky, Gilan thought.
'Um, Will?' he said, in the tone of someone explaining a gaping flaw. 'What will you do when she's graduated?'
Will waved a dismissive hand. 'I haven't figured that out yet, but when it comes up, I'll deal with it.' He picked up his coffee mug, taking a long draught.
'Well,' said Gilan uncertainly, 'I think I'll go to bed. I've got a long ride tomorrow and I'll have to find way for Cian to come.' He drained the cup and placed it on the kitchen sink, eager for a good night's sleep.
'Wait,' Will commanded. Gilan paused. 'Gil, why exactly are you here? I mean, you didn't know that today you'd get an apprentice. So you must have a reason. What happened?'
A huge grin split Gilan's face. 'That's for me to know and you to find out,' he trilled, as he exited the room, heading for the guest room.
Extremely curious, Will shook his head. He stood up, stretched and made for his room. As he drifted off to sleep, he started to prepare himself for the morning.
Because if he had learned anything from Halt, it was that a Ranger's apprentice was a very tiring person.