Uh... Hello all. I understand I have been missing for quite a while. I'd tell you that one day I got lost in the bush and stumbled upon a strange machine that threw me into another dimension, where I spent years battling mystical and terrifying creatures, all the while desperately seeking the way back home, so I may once again be united with my computer and finally update this fanfiction... but I'd be lying. The truth is, I've just been enjoying my Summer holidays after a horrendous year at school. I'm also a procrastinator. But here it is!
I haven't been very active on Fanfiction recently, and I apologise. Any fanfics I once regularly followed (namely The Ranger's Son by Rye Mellark and Past Mistake by Bralt, as well as several others) I will catch up on and review within the next few days. I'm sorry, but I've been largely invisible in Cyberspace for a while and I'm glad to be back. To followers of my other fanfictions, I assure you they're next on the update agenda.
Okay, I think I've rambled enough.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan. But you knew that. Didn't you?
"What?" of all the questions Halt could have asked, Will would never have expected 'Who are you?'
The child didn't reply. He stared around the room, his fear escalating with every second.
"Where am I?" he asked, beginning to panic. "I want to go home. Did Father send me here? Brigid said he wouldn't do that, he was only angry, why would he do that? Please don't hurt—"
"Hey, slow down," Will interrupted. "Are you feeling alright, Halt?"
He placed a hand on the frantic child's forehead, but there was no fever.
"Where am I?" Halt asked again.
Will furrowed his brow, "Halt, this is your apartment."
The boy remained silent, taking in a shaky breath to settle his sobs. Will knelt down on one knee, so he was eye level with Halt. There was certainly something different about the child. As Will peered more closely, he saw something in the boy's eyes that he never imagined he'd see in Halt.
They were totally open. All of Halt's fear, confusion and every other emotion were plastered on his face for all to see. There wasn't a single hint of his signature mask of grim unconcern to be seen. Will began to realise what was going on.
"Halt, you really don't remember any of this, do you?" he asked, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders.
Halt sniffed and wiped his tearful eyes. He didn't answer.
The child swallowed, "I… I want to go home."
Will nodded, "I know. You just need to tell me what you last remember."
Halt frowned, "I went to sleep."
"Yes, but what happened before that?"
"Brigid put me to bed."
Halt hesitated, "… My nurse."
Will blinked. When did Halt ever have a nurse? He wouldn't have one since he was at least…
"How old are you, Halt?" he asked.
"…Who are y—"
"Just tell me how old you are, Halt. Please."
Halt stepped back, his bottom lip beginning to tremble again. He wasn't giving up any more information to someone he thought was a perfect stranger.
Will sighed, "I'm sorry. If I tell you my name, will you tell me how you are?"
Halt thought for a moment, then nodded slowly.
"Alright. My name's Will," the young man told him. "I'm a Ranger, for Redmont Fief. In Araluen."
Four? At four years old, Halt was still in Dun Kilty. He was still the Crown Prince of Clonmel. He'd probably never even heard of Araluen.
Will had no idea what to do now. He said the first thing that came to mind, "Go get dressed."
"What?" Halt asked.
"Go and get dressed. You've got clothes in the room. Can you dress on your own?"
Halt nodded, but stayed planted on the spot.
"Go!" Will urged him, and the boy suddenly dashed away.
What the devil were they going to do now? Halt thought he was four years old again! Will tried to think of how it could have happened, what must have caused it. Then it struck him – the fever! Halt hadn't had any other symptoms of illness; just a dangerous temperature. All of the boy's strange rambling yesterday wasn't feverish confusion after all. He was genuinely trying to communicate with Will. And what had he done? Just ignored him, passed him off as delirious.
Then there had been the nightmare. Will knew there was something odd about Halt's reaction to it. It had been too… panicked. Sure, a nightmare was a nightmare, but the boy was frantic. And when he awoke, there was clearly something very different about him. Will had noticed Halt wasn't quite himself, but he was too exhausted to be concerned. Now look!
And it was all Pandora's fault. Her spell was behind this. She'd not only transformed Halt's body, but his mind. Now he was nothing more than a child. Granted, he was a child who was Crown Prince of Clonmel, but that probably only made it worse anyway.
The door creaked as Halt re-entered the main room. The first thing Will saw was that while the child had changed, his shirt had been buttoned up incorrectly, so that one side hung considerably lower than the other.
That made the Ranger smirk, "Halt, your shirt's crooked."
Halt frowned and looked down. He fiddled with the buttons, attempting to re-button them properly but finding it a little tricky.
"Would you like a hand, Halt?" Will offered.
"No thank you," the boy replied distractedly.
Will waited patiently for a moment while Halt finished the small task. When the boy was done, he looked up the young man expectantly.
"Ready to go?" Will asked.
"Where are we going?"
"We have to see someone. Urgently."
Will turned to leave.
He turned once again to face the child, "Yes?"
"Can you help me with my shoes?"
Two minutes later, Halt was jogging to keep up with Will's fast stride as they walked down the corridor.
"Who are we seeing, sir?" he asked, puffing.
"Baron Arald," Will replied curtly.
"Oh," Halt frowned. "Who's that?"
"The Baron of Redmont."
"It's a fief in Araluen."
Halt thought for a moment, before asking, "Why are we seeing him?"
"I have to talk to him about something."
"What do you have to talk to him about?"
Will sighed impatiently, "Look, it's complicated Halt. You wouldn't get it."
Halt fell silent as his gaze dropped to the floor; he looked like he might start crying again. Will and realised he'd probably been a little too hard on the boy. After all, the child had just woken up in a place he didn't know, and immediately been grilled by a total stranger. Will stopped and knelt at eye level with him.
"I'm sorry, Halt," he told him. "I've been too fast, haven't I?"
Halt just stared back at him with two impossibly sad eyes that Will never thought he would be capable of producing. But it turned out he was, and they almost broke the Ranger's heart.
"Look, I know this is all a little bit confusing at the moment, but I'll explain soon," said Will. "I just have to talk to Arald first. Is that alright?"
It didn't exactly occur to Will that he was probably doing this in the wrong order and that explaining everything to Halt should be a priority. For some reason, the most rational thing he could think to do at the moment was tell Baron Arald what had happened.
Halt nodded slowly in reply.
"Thank you," Will smiled, standing up and resuming the short trip to the Baron's office.
Within a few minutes they were standing behind the door. Will knocked and heard a distracted "Come in!" from the other side. He looked down at the boy.
"I need you to be on your best behaviour, alright Halt?" he asked. "This is the Baron, you need to use your manners."
"Alright," Halt replied quietly.
Will slowly opened the door and walked up to the Baron's desk. He bowed quickly and straightened up.
Arald smiled, "Morning Will." He nodded at the child, "Halt."
The boy immediately took a step back so he was partially hidden behind Will and peered at the Baron.
The Ranger sighed, "Halt, I'd like you to meet Baron Arald."
"Hullo," Halt greeted him.
Arald's welcoming smile faltered just a little, "Hullo Halt."
"Do you want to go sit down over there?" Will asked the boy, pointing at the armchairs by the fire on the far wall of the study.
Halt nodded silently and raced over and climbed onto one of them. He bumped some of the cushions off the chair as he was trying to get comfortable. When he made no move to pick them up, Will frowned.
"Halt," he prompted.
The boy looked up innocently, "Yes?"
"Are you going to pick up those cushions? You can't just throw them on the floor."
Halt looked down at them, "Where do I put them?"
"Just on another chair, it doesn't matter. They can't stay on the floor."
Halt mumbled something and jumped back off the armchair, picking up the cushions and dumping them on the second chair. Will turned back to Arald, who looked more than a little confused.
"Will, what's wrong with Halt?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"I don't know exactly, my lord," the Ranger replied in the same quiet tone. "It's something to do with the spell. He thinks he's four years old again."
"Well he is, isn't he?"
"Not that. I mean he can't remember anything past four years old. He woke up and had no idea where he was."
"Oh," Arald furrowed his brow. "So he thinks he's a prince?"
Will nodded, "I don't know what to tell him yet."
"Where did you get this?"
Will and Arald turned to see Halt holding a little ceramic soldier on a horse, which had formerly been positioned on the Baron's mantelpiece.
"That's a family heirloom, Halt," Arald explained, beginning to get up. "It's very delicate, could you—"
"I'll be careful," Halt said indignantly. "Can I play with it?"
"I'd prefer you not, Halt—"
Arald hesitated, "Look, I understand you'll be gentle Halt, but—"
"It's Prince Halt."
There was a stunned silence following those two words. The cold tone the child had used sounded more like the Ranger Halt than anything he'd said so far. He walked up to Arald and handed him the figurine, then went back and sat down on the armchair.
Will smirked, "Looks like you've made an enemy of Prince Halt, my lord."
Arald was still quite taken aback, "Yes. Er, alright." He sat down again, "Anyway, back to the situation at hand. What do you plan on doing about this?"
"I don't think there's anything we can do," said Will. "I have to go after Pandora and hope the spell's reversible, I guess."
"Yes, I understand that. What I meant was – what are you going to do with Halt? He's far too young to spend too long away from his family. He'll be homesick by tonight."
"I don't know what to say yet," Will admitted. "Maybe if I told him it was only temporary?"
Arald shook his head, "You need something as permanent as possible, in case this spell is irreversible."
"But what?" Will asked hopelessly.
"You'll come up with something, I'm sure. Remember, he's four years old. That's quite a gullible age. If you need any help let me know, but I've got several urgent documents that need to be sent today and I've only finished two. I know this is important, but… well, it's not like there's anything we can do about it immediately, so unless you've got news on Pandora herself I'm afraid this is a priority."
Will sighed, "I understand, my lord."
"Thank you. I'm sorry to hear this, Will. Good luck."
"Thanks," Will looked over at Halt, who'd been eyeing off a sword on a desk against the opposite wall. "Halt?"
The boy looked up.
"Do you want to come back to the apartment now?" the Ranger asked him.
"Can I go home?"
Will and Arald exchanged uncertain glances.
"Ask Will," Arald told him, resuming writing his report.
Will scratched his head, "Er… I'll explain everything back at the apartment, Halt. Is that alright? It seems the Baron wants some privacy."
Halt nodded slowly, then glumly got to his feet and headed towards the door. Will followed him, holding the door open for the boy. When they were once again alone in the corridor, Will looked down at the child. He felt he should say something about the boy's attitude toward Arald, but wasn't sure where to start.
"L-listen, Halt…" he began. "Wait, would you prefer I call you Prince Halt?"
The boy thought a moment, "You can call me Halt if you want."
"Alright then," Will smirked. "Halt, were you on your best behaviour in there?"
Halt glanced back at the office door, then nodded.
"Are you sure?"
"Well, remember when you went to sit on the armchair and you threw those cushions on the floor?"
"That… wasn't very good behaviour."
Halt frowned, "Why not?"
"Because it's rude to put cushions on the floor. You need to put them on another chair if you don't want them."
The boy didn't seem to understand, "But can't someone else put them on the chair?"
Will shook his head, "No. If you want to move them, you have to do it yourself."
The Ranger sighed, "Because it's polite. Anyway, more importantly – you know how you asked to play with Baron Arald's horse?"
"Yes. He wouldn't let me. He was mean."
"No he wasn't, Halt. You shouldn't have picked it up without asking. It wasn't yours. And he's allowed to say no."
Will cut him off, "If he doesn't want you to play with it, you need to respect that. And you need to be polite."
"I was," Halt said defensively.
Will took a deep breath. Halt was just as stubborn a child as he was an adult. At least there was something about this boy Will that already knew.
He raised his hands in a gesture of peace, "Alright Halt. I'm sorry. Do you think you could be even better behaved next time?"
Halt shrugged, "Maybe."
That was the best Will was going to get, and he was taking it. But there was still something that didn't quite add up.
"Halt, if your father is the King of Clonmel, didn't you learn how to use your manners around nobles? Surely you've been to some sort of function where you had to be on your best behaviour?"
Halt's shoulders slumped as his gaze fell to the floor, "Father doesn't let me or Ferris go to his special meetings. He says we're too little. We have to stay with Brigid upstairs."
"Oh," Will wasn't sure what to say to that. "Well… I'm sure they're pretty boring anyway."
Halt didn't answer. He obviously found the subject upsetting. Will didn't understand why, though; royal affairs honestly were quite boring. He didn't imagine a young boy would be able to sit still for long enough to attend a formal event anyway. Regardless, Halt seemed to think he was missing out on something that he really shouldn't be. Perhaps his father talked about his work a lot?
"We'd better get back to the apartment, Halt," Will said. "We need to talk about something important."
"What is it?" Halt asked curiously.
"I don't know. I'll think of it on the way."
At least that was something Will could tell him honestly. Now he had to formulate an entire story about how the Crown Prince of Clonmel ended up in Redmont, Araluen.
So now the story's speeding up. What did you think? I'd like to inform you that I had quite a bit of difficulty with this chapter, which also contributed to the long hiatus. Hopefully next chapter will come a little easier.
Er, for those planning to review (I hope quite a few of you, since I appreciate them so much!) I'd like to ask: What has been your favourite part of this fanfic so far? What has been your least favourite? Or you can just send your thoughts on this chapter like usual. That's nice too :)
See you next chapter!