Disclaimer: I do not own this epic novel series, but am more than happy to simply play around in John Flanagan's sandbox. All rights belong to him, and I make no money off this.
Author's Note: First of all, I wanted to thank each and every-one of you for reviewing and I also want to thank ProwlingWhiteTigress for agreeing to Beta-Read this fanfic. Also, I just wanted to say that this is a severe AU rewrite fanfic so, as you will soon find out, lots will be different but things will eventually come together. I think I will have canon couples though, eventually, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, read and review, I really do appreciate it!
Author's Note 2: Oops! After reading the chapter briefly, I realized that I had switched from first person to second (or third) person or whatever you call it. Don't know what hit me but I usually type pretty fast so I must have forgotten how I was writing it. Do excuse my scatterbrained antics, and I'll try to change that in the next chapter which should come soon by the way. Until then, R&R please!
Chapter 3: Of Ruses and Rangers
When Will had finally wrapped his mind around who had just spoken to him, he quickly slipped on a well-practiced mask of impassiveness, revealing no emotion whatsoever. It was well-practiced due to receiving all of those disappointed looks from his father and the other members of the court, his tutors and castle staff included.
Due to all the lectures he received for his pranks and all the reprimands he received for being a failure as the heir to the throne, Will was now very good at hiding his emotions under a faceless mask that most people had now come to frequently associate with him.
But inwardly, he sighed. What had he done this time? What had he done to interest, or worse yet upset, a King's Ranger? The Ranger in front of him was a war hero and would understand just exactly why Will was so hell-bent on rescuing his sister.
She was one of the main reasons why he was able to stay sane in court, because of her friendship and acceptance. It could be that she was slightly short too and had a fiery temper, not caring what other people thought of her. But whatever the case, she was the only person who was able to calm Will down and keep him sane.
Will never knew his mother, she had died in childbirth. And his father, well King Duncan was a good king but he was just that: A king. He might actually love and care about his children, but Will didn't know that. His father was too busy with the court and the damnable war to bother with them.
It was almost as if they were an extra burden and that King Duncan would rather them not be around so he could focus on the "more important" things. That was the reason why Will found himself calling Duncan "king" or "sire" instead of father. It was rude and disrespectful but Duncan hardly paid any attention to them so he didn't really seem to care.
So that brought Will back to the present. Why was the Ranger here and why had he stopped Will? Sure Will would get in big trouble back home but it was nothing he couldn't weasel his way out of. More importantly, Halt was the Ranger assigned to Redmont Fief where he was supposed to be going.
Heaving an inward sigh, Will steeled himself and asked the obvious question.
"Once again, why are you here?" He drawled, now feeling more impatient than shocked and alarmed.
Halt's eyes twinkled in amusement and it looked like he was smiling, almost. But all thoughts of Halt's demeanour quickly vanished when Will heard the Ranger's next statement.
"I am going to make you into a Ranger," Halt said simply, taking a deep reverent sip from his coffee mug.
Will simply stared at him, now completely caught off-guard and nearly losing his impassive stance.
"I beg your pardon?" He finally managed. "How can you just say that like you know it is going to happen? How can you simply think I will walk away with you when you and I both know very well that I have far more important things to attend to? Besides, I am the Crown Prince of Araluen and I could have your head on a pike for that if I wanted to."
"I like your spirit boy," He said. "But that's got to change or it will get you killed. You can't simply walk into Celtica or wherever that damned Morgoroth has taken the princess. You aren't a warrior and can barely even pick up a sword without tripping over it, or am I wrong?"
Will could only hang his head in embarrassment. Halt had seen right through him!
"You will just get into even more trouble," Halt continued, although a tad bit gentler this time. "And drive your father out of his mind with worry."
"That's a load of bullocks!" Will spat. "My father doesn't care a damn about me or Cassie, or he would have at least send a scouting mission after her. How can you say something like that?"
Will was shocked into silence, though, when Halt began glaring at him sternly, making the young prince shuffle his feet nervously, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
"You have no idea how much your father wants to have his daughter back in his arms," Halt said softly, a distant look in his eyes. "But if he sends a patrol of armed men into Celtica that will only alert whoever captured her. It will only put the princess in more danger due to her captor knowing that we are in on their plot and acting likewise.
"That would just put her more at risk. In addition, you tromping in there, untrained and inexperienced, would just be handing the enemy another bargaining chip and more trouble than the king can rightly deal with at the time. Besides, how do you know that his Majesty is not already doing something about his daughter's disappearance?"
Will rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, his face red from embarrassment at Halt's chastisement.
"I guess you are right," He sighed. "It is just so frustrating that I can't be of any help to my sister let alone Araluens' effort in the war. I just get in the way and my desire to be of use and get my sister back drove me into action. Dad will most likely have my hide when he finds out about this."
"Who says he has to?" Halt asked mischievously.
"What do you mean?" Will asked sharply, his brow furrowing in suspicion.
Halt took another sip of his coffee, swallowed and explained.
"You were going to train at the Redmont Battleschool, yes?" He asked rhetorically.
"Yes, what of it?" Will asked guardedly, not too sure if he liked where this was going.
"Then our plan is simple," Halt said casually. "Since you do not seem to have the knightly qualities or even those of a swordsman, no offence Crown Prince, then I shall make you a Ranger."
"What?" Will asked, now completely floored.
He had not seen that one coming!
"A Ranger," Halt said, his voice filled with amusement. "I shall make you the youngest King's Ranger of all time. The only difference is that I will keep your being a Ranger a secret."
"What? Why?" Will asked, feeling affronted. "If I am to become one of you 'sorcerers' then why should I keep my true self hidden?"
"No offence, Crown Prince," Halt chuckled. "But you know how your royal father would react to you becoming one of us, or rather how the rest of the court would react. It would be a scandal."
Will heaved a sigh and sat down on the ground, hugging his knees to his chest. What Halt was saying was true. The common people of Araluen frequently viewed all Rangers with distrust and suspicion. This was because Rangers kept their operations and espionage missions a secret and maintained an ominous and foreboding countenance to enhance their power and control.
They weren't evil by any means. In fact, they strove to keep the peace and guard the kingdom. They were more like spies though, but the King's personal spies and were second only to him. Not too many people knew this though and Will even wondered if his sister knew. He only knew of this because of all the tuitions he was forced to endure as a part of his princely upbringing.
Since he would one day lay claim to the Throne, he would have to control the Rangers. Well, not control them really, more like approve and disapprove of their missions and give them permission to do whatever they needed so long as it was well within the law of the land and for the good of the kingdom. So far, there hadn't been any hiccups with this system and it worked very well.
"So you think this will cause conflict with my father and the other Rangers?" Will asked, starting to see where Halt was getting at. "Also, what would the other Rangers think? I doubt they have ever had a prince among their ranks before."
"Too true," Halt replied with a shake of his head. "That and also the court would not understand that being a Ranger is something you'd be good at unlike a knight. However, if you become a Ranger and I get the king to give his consent, then it would be the perfect secret weapon."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Will protested, holding his hands up in confusion. "Secret weapon? Just what are we talking about here?"
"I beg your pardon, prince," Halt sighed. "I was getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to our original plan, shall we?"
Will nodded dubiously.
"Right then," Halt said. "The idea is that you want to rescue your sister, yes?"
Will nodded fervently.
"Then becoming a Ranger would give you the skill and tools needed to accomplish the task," Halt explained. "It would also give us the upper-hand against whoever captured your sister. They would never dare to suspect the Crown Prince of Araluen to become a Ranger in secret. This would give us the element of surprise against our enemy and a new member to the clan. So what do you say?"
"Let me get this straight," Will said slowly. "You want me to become a Ranger in secret, even from the rest of the guild, but still go to rescue Cassie? How would we do that exactly? How can we fool people?"
In answer, Halt merely nodded in gesture to the corner of the room. Will wrinkled his brow in confusion and glanced in the specified direction.
"Evening Will," Said a familiar voice. "Run into any trouble on the road?"
Will watched in stunned disbelief as what looked like himself stepping out of a mirror approached him from the shadows. It was his exact form dressed in his clothes...almost. Being himself and not having an identical twin, Will knew who that could possibly be.
"Derrick?" The poor prince asked in confusion. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm a part of the plan," The stable hand explained with a grin. "I'm going to switch places with you, epic or what?"
Will could only nod as his befuddled brain tried to wrap itself around what was going on.
"So Derrick is going to pretend to be me during Battleschool training while I am secretly practicing to be a Ranger to prepare to rescue Cassie?" Will asked incredulously. "How the heck are we going to pull that off? It sounds adventurous no doubt but pretty unbelievable."
Halt chuckled and Derrick smirked.
"I have a contact who has helped us secretly on some of our top missions," Halt revealed roguishly. "He would be more than willing to help us master the disguise and would consider it the most epic prank in the world. All you have to do is show up in between classes for meals and other things to get people to believe the act."
"Then I'll take your place during Battleschool," Derrick said dreamily. "Imagine, me – a knight!"
Will could only shake his head at the notion of it all.
"You wish," He snorted.
"Hey!" Derrick protested in mock hurt. "I'm really going out on a limb here, I am."
"So," Halt cut in. "Are you willing to take on this task to rescue your sister, your Highness?"
Will didn't hesitate, wanting to help in anyway possible. Besides, this opportunity was too good to pass up.
"Let's do this thing!" He grinned, feeling a rush of excitement.
Halt nodded and stood up.
"Good, but you should return to camp and get some sleep," The grizzled old Ranger admonished. "We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow and many more to come. I doubt you will get much rest tonight but you at least have to convince the guards you slept in your room before the sun comes up."
"Alright," Will said reluctantly. "See you tomorrow, Derrick."
"Bye, Will," Derrick grinned, giving his friend a one-armed hug.
Will turned to leave but paused just as he was about to close the door.
"Halt?" He asked, causing the Ranger to divert his gaze to him from the window.
"Yes?" Halt asked curiously.
"Thanks," Will replied.
The Crown Prince turned to leave, his mind churning with plans, hopes and dreams. But if he had glanced back one more time, he might have seen Halt smile sadly, a look of true regret in his eyes.
To Be Continued!