A/N: Well, since I already have the prologue, a full chapter, the beginning of a second chapter, and an idea for the third...I decided to post this story. :) If you've read my fic Green Oakleaf, then you know exactly how the whole "Men in Cloaks" thing got started; if not, just know that it's a play on "Men in Tights" from the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This fic is going to contain a lot of silliness and some intentional OOC, so if you don't like that, then don't read (obvious solution, I hope).
Props to Lady Wallace, Dodo 123, and King's Princess, all of whom somehow contributed to the creation of this fic (and all of them read Green Oakleaf, so they rock times ten).
This is essentially going to be a bunch of silly oneshots, usually involving singing and/or dancing that will jump all over the place chronologically. The prologue and first two chapters will go together directly, but after that, there's not going to be a set structure (unless I carry a plot over a couple of chapters).
And now-the beginning. But before you begin, I must address stuff.
1. If you don't know the song "Princesses on Parade" from The Swan Princess, I recommend that you go look it up now. That's the tune for something that shows up later in the chapter.
2. I do not own Ranger's Apprentice, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, or The Swan Princess (although the modifications to the lyrics of that song are mine). Although the Men in Cloaks are mine! (Well, sort of.)
3. Yes, I do know that Crowley was not the one who came up with cloaks, but it's all for the sake of the story. ;)
Read, review, and (most importantly) enjoy!
It had taken a lot of work, but he'd finally done it.
Crowley, the new leader of the Araluen Ranger Corps, had been modifying the Corps' uniform. The simple outfit of a green shirt, brown leggings, boots, and a jacket was decent, but it wasn't different from what an ordinary man would wear. The Corps needed a garment that would set them apart from the rest of Araluen-and Crowley had finally designed that garment. The garment itself wasn't exceptional, but Crowley had put some extra hard work into the design-namely, making the cloak camouflage. It would be perfect for the unseen movement that was often necessary for Rangers.
He'd overseen the seamstresses as they sewed the prototype and it looked excellent. "Only fifty more," he muttered. "Plus the apprentices."
Crowley let the numbers run through his brain for a moment before muttering, "The seamstresses are going to murder me."
The Corps had assembled at the Gathering Ground, all curious about what would happen. Crowley had contacted all of them, asking for their measurements for a new piece to their uniforms. Everyone was fairly curious, but Crowley had been very tight-lipped about the whole affair. Not even Halt, Crowley's closest friend, knew what the leader of the Corps was so excited about - nor did his apprentice, Gilan, who was beginning to drive Halt insane with questions.
"What was all that measuring business about, Halt?"
"I don't know."
"Are they assigning duties based on size?"
"I have no idea, Gilan."
"If they are...well, you drew the short stick."
Gilan chuckled to himself at his own pun.
And something in Halt's voice had told Gilan that he probably shouldn't ask any more questions. He'd just have to wait until it was explained to him.
Honestly, Halt was almost as curious as his apprentice about the whole operation. Crowley rarely kept things from Halt, but apparently he was intent on carrying this secret until the last second.
It didn't take long for Halt and Gilan to arrive at the Gathering Ground - Redmont was the closest of all the fiefs. As soon as they'd picked a campsite, Crowley approached Halt. "Halt! Good to see your smili - well, good to see you," he said, embracing his friend.
"Good to see you too, Crowley," Halt replied. "How do you like it over in Castle Araluen?"
"It keeps me on my toes," Crowley confessed, smiling rather tightly. "But I think I've made some changes for the better."
Halt merely raised an eyebrow. He trusted Crowley's judgement, but he was still maddeningly curious about the new uniforms.
"Ah, Gilan! If you keep growing like that, you won't be able to fit on Blaze," Crowley remarked, shaking the apprentice's hand.
Blaze tossed her mane and snorted. I could hold him, she seemed to say.
"Nice to see you again, Crowley," Gilan said, grinning. He was dying to ask about the measurements and the new Ranger uniform, but he knew that neither Halt nor Crowley would let him hear the end of it.
"Halt, could I borrow you for a moment?" Crowley asked his fellow Ranger. "There are some...last-minute details that I need you to help iron out." He almost grinned at the pun that he'd snuck into his request, but he didn't.
"Of course," Halt responded. "Gilan, practice up for your assessments-your archery's been looking a little sloppy."
Gilan scowled at his master's retreating form. "At least I'm not short," he muttered before taking up his bow and quiver.
"Well, Halt, as you know, I've been working on some modifications to the Corps' uniform," Crowley announced. He and Halt were in a somewhat secluded part of the Gathering Grounds so that they could discuss Crowley's ideas in a moderately private setting.
Halt nodded. "And it's gone well, I trust?" he inquired.
"As well as making fifty-three-fifty-four, if you count me-cloaks can," he replied, laughing. "I have a feeling that every seamstress in Araluen would tan my hide if anything happened to these cloaks."
Halt raised his eyebrows. So that's the new part of the uniform, he realized. It made sense-a cloak could be very useful for keeping warm during cold missions and, if they were large enough, they could double as blankets. "Excellent idea," he told Crowley.
"That's not even all of it," he answered. "They're-well, I'll let you see for yourself. I took the liberty of pulling yours out of the pile."
Crowley produced a bundle of green and brown mottled fabric from the inside of his jacket and handed it to Halt. "Camouflage," Halt murmured, holding up the cloak. "You're brilliant."
"So I've been told," Crowley remarked. "But I'm having one problem."
Halt looked at him, his eyebrows arching for a second in curiosity. Crowley continued, "Since we have cloaks, I thought that we might give the Corps an unofficial name-something that lets other Rangers know that we're talking about the Corps, but in a more subtle fashion."
"And you were thinking of mentioning the cloaks in the name?" Halt wondered.
"Exactly. That's the only area in which I haven't had much success-naming. Do you happen to have any ideas?" Crowley inquired.
Halt paused for a moment to think. "Hooded Men?" he tried.
"No, it makes us sound like a guild of assassins," Crowley muttered. "Perhaps...The Fellowship of the Cloaks?"
Halt shook his head. "Sounds like a smaller group - one of about nine - not something as big as the Corps," he decided.
"Cloaked Ranger Corps-no, that sounds like it's from a storybook," Crowley mused.
They sat in silence for several moments, thinking, before Halt said, "Why not just Men in Cloaks?"
Crowley snapped his fingers and looked up eagerly. "Perfect!" he exclaimed. "We're now the Ranger Corps - Men in Cloaks!"
A few hours later, all of the Rangers had their cloaks. Crowley grinned to himself as he watched the rest of the Corps wrapping the cloaks around themselves or swishing the cloaks around. He'd made a good decision. Now it was time to let these men know the other name for the Corps.
All Crowley needed to do was stand in front of everyone and clear his throat. The Corps was excellent on picking up on such subtle signals. "I see that you all seem to be enjoying the newest addition to our uniform," he began. His statement was followed by several murmurs of approval and happy nods.
"Along with our new uniform comes a new name," Crowley continued. When this statement was met with confused and even angry looks, he reassured the Corps, "Don't worry, officially, we'll still be the Ranger Corps-but to ourselves, we will be known as the Men in Cloaks!"
There was a second of silence before the Corps applauded in approval. They'll never know who came up with the name, Crowley thought. He'd tried to get Halt to tell the Corps - or rather, the Men in Cloaks - about the alternative name, but, as usual, Halt had refused to do anything that pushed him into the public eye. "You know, you don't give yourself enough credit," Crowley muttered to Halt.
"If I wanted credit, I'd run at it with my saxe."
They stood together in silence, watching the rest of the Men in Cloaks interact before Halt exclaimed, "Blast!"
At Crowley's confused look, he clarified, "This means we need another anthem." He stood for a moment, before adding sullenly, "I really enjoyed 'Ranger Corps, Unafraid.'"
Crowley patted Halt's arm for a second. "We can still do it until a new song is developed," he said. "Besides, 'Ranger Corps, Unafraid' is our official anthem-to everyone else in Araluen, we'll always be the Ranger Corps."
Halt nodded. "Good. That wasn't easy to write-or choreograph."
Crowley stepped forward again, announcing loudly, "We're doing the anthem now-get in your places!"
The Men in Cloaks scurried around, getting to their respective places in the Gathering Grounds. No one knew, but they were actually quite adept at singing and dancing as a group-training in unseen movement made them all quite graceful and there was just something about being a Ranger that opened up the vocal cords, making them perfect for singing.
The music began, slow and classy. One Ranger stepped forward and sang:
"Every single Ranger in Araluen
Prayed to be invited to the Gathering.
Every Halt, Jonathan, and Crowley
Would come by foot or horse to be here;
Most would swim the moat to be here-
Just to be at this historic gala...
Boys would walk or run or even crawl...
Rumor is that at this joyous scene today,
The apprentice will choose his future fief today."
The music broadened as a few Rangers and the three apprentices - including Gilan - did dramatic stag leaps across the main performing area. They all moved with precision and grace, but Gilan's leap was the best.
Crowley stepped forward and sang, dramatically in basso:
"Strength and discernment and breeding unmatched
Ranger Corps, unafraid
Lovely, enthralling and all unattached
The hoi polloi and, we're not feigning
Each enjoyed a lot of training
Born for success, each possesses a spark
Each a remarkable man!
Boy oh boy, these strapping Rangers
All can sense a hint of danger!
Gaze upon the
Ranger Corps, unafraid!"
The dancing Rangers in the background began to do some complicated turns, some spinning around two or even three times. Another Ranger stepped up beside Crowley and announced, "This Ranger's from Castle Araluen, where all our leaders go! He keeps us sane, has a good brain, and made our new cloaks!"
Two new Rangers stepped forward, one gesturing to the other as he annunciated, "This fellow here's a good strategist, a problem yet he's never missed. He hails from up near Meric - now that's really quite a distance!"
Another Ranger pulled Halt forward, saying dramatically, "This fellow here's our claim to fame - wrong action's he doesn't know! And from the things I've been told, he's not bad with his bow!"
These two stepped back as one of the oldest Rangers in the Corps dragged Gilan up. "Young Gilan here's from Caraway and he's trained with the blade! Gaze upon..."
The entire Corps sang together:
"RANGER CORPS, UNAFRAID!"
A few of the junior Rangers stepped up and harmonized:
"There will soon be an occasion
When young Gil will receive his own fief
This may be the day when King Duncan will say..."
Halt stepped forward and sang dramatically:
"You're good at throwing that kniiiiiifeeeee!"
The Corps formed a line, turning quickly one by one as they chorused:
"Brilliant, beguiling, the solemn brigade
Ranger Corps, unafraid!"
The turn line turned into a kick line as they continued:
"Each the pride of his community
Each a golden opportunity
Just remember our King Duncan'll
Make sure everyone is functional...
Heap praise upon the...
Wonderful, glorious, brilliant, dazzling,
Ranger Corps, unafraid!"
They all did their best dance moves, creating a few moments of chaos in the Gathering Grounds, before they all struck dramatic poses.
"I'm going to miss this," Halt murmured wistfully to Crowley. He had posed with his hood up, holding his bow as if he was about to shoot. His pose made the rest of the Corps look like amateurs.
"You'll think up something else just as brilliant," Crowley reassured him.
"I hope so," Halt replied. "Most people don't know this, but coming up with a good musical number is hell."