Disclaimer: I do not own Ranger's Apprentice or any of its characters
Okay so this story is going to be cowritten with the amazing author Mychele O'Carrik of Clonmel:) Right now it's me writing (I believe my name is Bralt)
Setting the full cup of coffee down on the table in front of Will, Halt took his own seat across from Will with his own cup of coffee. Halt took a sip of the drink that he treasured; despite the hot weather, coffee was still his drink of choice. After a while of silence, Halt decided to tell Will about the message he had received from Crowley a few days previously, discussing a special mission and an opportunity to gather some new information. The only problem was he wasn't sure if Will would be willing to go; they would be venturing into the Mountains of Rain and Night which didn't hold any pleasant memories for the young apprentice.
"When are we going to go on a mission outside of Redmont?" Will asked before Halt could say anything. Halt raised an eyebrow at him; they had been going on several small missions in the past few months capturing robbers and other assorted criminals.
"Not enough action around here for you?" Halt asked in his deep voice before taking an appreciative sip of his drink. Will squirmed a little in his chair; that had been exactly what he had been thinking.
"Well, it seems that everybody else gets all the good missions lately." Will argued. It was true, Gilan had been given an assignment to chase down a big group of rebels that had been causing havoc all across the kingdom, and it was more exciting than chasing down the petty thieves that Will and Halt had been catching.
Halt looked at his apprentice; the truth was that he had declined the chance to take that mission because he wasn't sure whether Will was ready for it. True, it had been a while since Will had been captured in Skandia, and his skills were almost back to perfect, but Halt didn't think that it was the best choice of a big mission to start Will back up again. Instead, he had waited to see if anything else arose and he was rewarded with the mission of going into the Mountains of Rain and Night to scout the area out. It didn't seem like a dangerous mission and it would be more exciting than catching thieves around Redmont like they had been doing.
"I doubt chasing criminals across the kingdom would be considered exciting." Halt took another sip of his coffee waiting for Will's reply.
"Why are we just staying in Redmont though?" Will's apprentice years so far had been more adventurous then most and Halt had the feeling that Will didn't know that.
"Well if you're so bent up on leaving, then you'll be glad to hear that Crowley has offered us a mission." Halt said in his grim tone before taking another sip of coffee.
Will's face split into a smile and his eyes lit up; he was tired of chasing robbers and he was ready for a real challenge. "What is it? When are we going? Where are we going?" Will asked quickly, he could barely control himself, but managed to calm down somewhat when Halt raised his eyebrows once again.
"Well, if you'd give me time then I just might have told you," Halt answered his young apprentice who seemed to be a little deflated. Halt nodded once and then took another sip of his coffee, testing Will's patience for as long as he could. Eventually, Will started tapping the table and shifting in his chair and Halt decided it was time to end the suffering. "Crowley wants us to go scout out an area and report what we find there. It's an area we don't know much about so this is an important mission but I doubt it will be as exciting as the other adventurous you have gone on." Halt looked at his apprentice debating his next words. "You don't have to go through." Will looked shocked.
"Why wouldn't I want to go?" Will asked almost immediately after Halt finished talking; he couldn't think of any reason he wouldn't want to.
"Because we would be heading into the Mountains of Rain and Night, and I know that it wasn't the best place for you." Halt said with a little comfort but not so much as to be evident. The subject of Will's capture had been a touchy subject for them both, even though Halt couldn't have been more proud of the decisions Will made that had led up to it.
Will's mind stopped thinking of questions and he froze for a moment, one of his worst memories surfacing. Will was back at the bridge hiding behind a rock and firing as the Skandians popped up from their hiding places. Some meters away Evanlyn was trying to get the second fire to start back up again as the other half gave a shudder and started to collapse. Finally Evanlyn got the fire to catch and was rushing towards him. But she was too late as a rock was hurled at him and smashed into the side of his head. Will's hand released his bow as he rushed towards the ground with a throbbing in the side of his head. He thought he heard somebody approaching as the darkness enveloped him and took him into a deep sleep. Will shook his head, sweeping the memory away. Halt noticed and decided to wait for Will's answer, but when nothing came he sighed and finished his coffee.
"Like I said Will, you don't have to go with me. I'm sure Crowley would be more than willing to teach you while I'm away." Halt said. Will thought over what Halt had proposed; he was reluctant to leave his mentor after all they had been through, but he had no good memories in the mountains, so he wasn't too fond of returning. Will still didn't answer; he didn't know what to say. "How about we go to Araluen and see Crowley for more details; then you can decide what you want to do?" Halt told his apprentice; he knew that Will wouldn't jump into it and he didn't blame him. Will nodded numbly. "We'll leave tomorrow at first light so we can get there as soon as possible." Halt stood, signaling that the conversation was over. He walked over to the stove to pour himself another cup of coffee. "You should go take care of Tug so we don't have to take too much time tomorrow," Halt said as he turned around.
Will stood without answering, still in his own memories of being captured, he couldn't seem to escape. He didn't even realize he was at the shelter they kept the horses in until Tug butted gently against his shoulder. Will smiled at his horse who seemed to know he wasn't as happy as usual. Will patted Tug and started to brush him down. Tug butted against Will again, seeming to be trying to get the boy to talk. Will smiled again.
"It's nothing Tug, just some memories." Will said into his horse's ear. When Tug looked back at Will, his horse's eyes seemed unconvinced. "I might have to go back to the Mountains of Rain and Night." Will said finally relenting and letting his horse know. "I don't want to let Halt down, but I'm not too fond of the idea of going back in there." Tug bobbed his head; not only had Will's time of capture been difficult for Halt, but Tug as well.
The rest of the night went by in somewhat of a dream; Halt had gotten their packs ready while Will had been taking care of Tug, then while Will went to bed early, Halt went to take care of Abelard. Will, however, lay awake in his bed. He couldn't shake the memories of his experience in the mountains. Finally, he fell into a fitful sleep consisting of dreams filled with Morgorath, Wolfships, and torture. When morning came Will didn't need to be awoken, several times during the night he had woken in a cold sweat only to find that he was in the safety of the cabin he and Halt shared. Feeling as tired as he had been when he had gone to sleep, Will got dressed and headed out to the kitchen and took a seat at the table across from Halt, where a plate of eggs, bacon and toast and a cup of coffee waited for him.
When they had finished their quiet meal, Halt sent Will to clean the plates and silverware, while he packed some last minute items. When Will returned and they put the dishes back in their places, they went to saddle Tug and Abelard. In another ten minutes they were off with the sun just starting to rise at their backs. Another ten minutes and they were riding through forest, their cloaks shifting slightly in the light breeze. For the first couple of hours they rode in complete silence except for the slight sound of the horses' hoof beats, Halt naturally quiet and Will lost in thought. Finally, Will got tired of the silence and looked at Halt who rode beside him.
"Halt?" He asked, a bit too subdued for his usual self. Halt grunted in reply and Will took it as a sign to go on. "Do you think we'll meet any wargals?" Will knew that the race had been practically demolished in the last war but it seemed impossible to him that all of the wargals had been destroyed. Halt thought a moment before replying.
"Honestly, I don't know, but if we do I doubt they'll be of any threat. Nobody inhabits those mountains and they need a superior mind controlling them in order for them to do anything productive." Halt said after a moment. Will nodded, accepting the answer.
"Is it really possible to scout out the entire range of the mountains?" Will asked, getting back to his usual curious self.
"We're going to find out but yes, I believe it is. If you think about it, it really isn't that big a place, it's just mountainous so it makes it seem bigger than it really is," Halt answered, glad that his apprentice was getting better.
"How long do you think it will take?" Will asked after a few minutes of considering what question he should ask.
"I don't know exactly what we'll be doing, the letter just said that we needed to scout out the area and gather information." Halt shrugged. "Crowley will give us more information when we get to Araluen."
"Do you think that it'll be dangerous?" Will asked. Halt sighed and Will thought that he might have gone too far with the questions.
"What is it with this boy and questions?" Halt asked Abelard exasperated. As if knowing what his master was saying, Abelard shook his head violently. Under his cowl the corners of Halt's mouth twitched upward for a moment at the look on Will's face.
The next few days went by uneventfully; for the moment Will had forgotten the memories but he was still unsure about whether he wanted to venture back into the mountains. He promised himself that he would decide after the meeting with Crowley. Eventually, they crested the final hill and the castle was revealed.
Will had seen the castle before, but the beauty was never lost on him. Before them lay one of the most magnificent castles ever to be built: the huge stone walls soared into the clear sky above, magnificent in breadth and width. Even higher still, the castle towers curved against the lofty blue, seeming to scrape the dome of heaven with their battlemented crowns. Banners and pendants streamed in the wind atop each tower; it was anyone's guess how many such a gigantic castle had. They rode up to the crossing of the moat; the drawbridge was pulled up, temporarily concealing the formidable iron gate that Will was sure existed behind it. A loud voice hailed them from the wall:
"Who goes there, and what business do you have at Castle Araluen?"