AN: To any of you who are new to this story, this is the continuation of my other story Starting Over. I suggest to read that first before you read this story. And to all who are coming back to read more of Seth's adventures, welcome back! R&R!Disclaimer: I want to be John Flanagan.
Seth let loose the last of her ten arrows and turned in surprise as she heard clapping from behind her. Her startled expression broke into a smile as she saw Will and Halt standing near the cottage. Halt gave her a weary smile while Will's was rather strained. She silently noted to herself to ask him what was bothering him later but headed over to them after she collected her arrows.
The three Rangers walked around to the front of the cottage and headed inside. Once they were seated and comfortable, Seth asked: Did you find anything?
Halt nodded, "We did, in fact." He handed her a folded parchment.
She unfolded it and scanned the paper, her eyes widening every second they stayed on the page. She looked up at Halt and Will.
Halt nodded, "Morgarath's battle plans."
She whistled low in amazement then signed.
That's quite a find.
Halt nodded, "My thoughts exactly. I'll be taking them to Arald right now, so sit tight and get dinner ready."
Seth and Will nodded and quickly made toward the small kitchen
Seth awoke in her room to the sound of voices coming from the sitting room. She got up quietly and slowly, taking heed to her throbbing head. Taking the bed sheet she was using, she threw it over herself like a cloak and walked toward the door, opening it just a crack to see who was visiting so late at night. She quickly recognized Halt and Will by the kitchen. Then she saw another figure just a few feet away from them.
It was Gilan.
Seth quickly fixed her night shirt and hair to make sure she looked neat and presentable then quietly opened the door.
The three men in the room looked over at her door to see a cloaked figure walking toward them. Gilan looked worriedly at Seth and walked over to her, "Seth? What's wrong?"
The girl shyly shook her head to try to stop him from fussing over her.
Will and Halt looked at each other and shared a small smile at Seth's behavior. Seth's affinity for the handsome Ranger was no secret in this household. Halt wouldn't have minded if something started between the two and frankly he'd look upon it gladly.
Taking pity on his hassled apprentice, Halt called to Gilan, "Calm yourself, Gilan. Seth is just ill."
Gilan looked at his old mentor, eyebrow raised, "Just ill? Since when has being sick been such a small matter?"
Halt raised his own eyebrow at Gilan, "It's never been, but Seth has been recovering. You should have seen her two days ago, couldn't keep anything down and her face was deathly pale. She looked terrible, to say the least. She's much better now, aren't you, Seth?"
The girl nodded vigorously then quickly stopped as her head throbbed more painfully. Will laughed, "Halt's right Gilan, she's getting better."
Gilan sighed then looked at Seth, "You're sure?"
She nodded, her face heating up at Gilan's obvious concern for her. She noticed with small irritation, Will's smirk that was directed at her.
As Gilan and Halt went to sit at the kitchen table Seth quickly signed to Will.
You and Alyss, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
Will paled. How had Seth known about that? She hadn't gone to town with him when they were both invited by Horace about a month or so ago, to celebrate their defeat of the Kalkara, huge bear-ape mix monsters that had been employed in the service of the tyrant, Morgarath.
Seth had, in fact, heard about the event from Alyss herself. Seth had gone to the Courier's quarters to give Lady Pauline a message from Halt and found herself in Alyss' presence as she waited for Lady Pauline to write a reply to her mentor.
Halt turned to Seth, "You should go back to bed and rest, Seth. I don't you to end up worse in the morning for skipping out on sleep."
Seth frowned. Come on, Halt. I just want to listen. Please?
Halt stared at her shrewdly and shrugged then motioned for her and Will to sit at the table. He turned to Gilan, "Very well, Gilan, before my apprentices explode with curiosity, what is the reason for this unexpected visit?"
"Well, it has to do with those battle plans you discovered last week. Now that we know what Morgarath has in mind, the King wants the army ready on the Plains of Uthal before the dark of the next moon. That's when Morgarath plans to break out through Three Step Pass."
"So he plans to beat Morgarath to the punch," Halt said, nodding his head. "Good thinking. That way we control the battlefield."
Will nodded in his turn and said in an equally grave voice, "And we'll keep Morgarath's army bottled up in the Pass."
Seth and Gilan hid their smiles at Will's attempt to copy Halt's mannerisms.
"One the contrary," Gilan said, "once the army's in place, the King plans to withdraw the garrison, then fall back to prepared positions and let Morgarath out onto the Plains."
Will asked why he would do such a thing. Seth nodded in agreement with Will, to let Morgarath out after all this time? It was rather ludicrous in Seth's opinion.
"That's just the point. After all these years. We've spent sixteen years looking over our shoulders at Morgarath, wondering what he's up to. In that time, we've had many of our forces tied up patrolling the base of the cliffs and keeping watch over Three Step. And he's been free to strike at us any time he likes. The Kalkara were the latest example, as you know only too well."
Gilan nodded, "And there's another reason. After sixteen years of relative peace, people are growing complacent. Not the Rangers, of course, but the village people who provide men-at-arms for our army, and even some of the barons and Battlemasters in remote fiefs to the north."
Seth nodded in agreement with Gilan. Around 4 days ago she went to a nearby village to recruit some of the younger men. But the two apprentice Rangers had been met with an angry public and more than a few hostile mothers.
Gilan continued, "We're as strong as we'll ever be and any delay will only weaken us. This is the best opportunity we'll have to get rid of Morgarath once and for all."
"All of which still begs my original question," Halt said. "What brings you here in the middle of the night?"
"Orders from Crowley," Gilan said, handing Halt a written dispatch. Halt quickly read it then rolled it closed.
"So you're taking dispatches to King Swyddned of the Celts," he said. "I assume you're invoking the mutual defense treaty?"
Gilan nodded, sipping his coffee appreciatively, "The King feels we're going to need all the troops we can muster."
Halt nodded, "But…?" He spread his hands in a questioning gesture.
"Well, it's an official embassy to Celtica."
"Of course," said Halt. "The old Celtic tradition."
"Superstition, more like it," Gilan answered, "It's a ridiculous waste of time as far as I'm concerned."
"Of course it is. But the Celts insist on it, so what can you do?"
Will and Seth looked back and forth from Halt to Gilan, and then looked at each other, hoping to find some understanding in what they were saying in each others' eyes. The two apprentices turned their attention back to their older companions.
"It's all very well in normal times, but with all these preparations for war, we're stretched thin in every area. We simply don't have the people to spare. So Crowley thought..."
"I think I'm ahead of you," said Halt, and finally, Will could bear it no longer.
"Well, I'm way behind you!" he burst out. "What on earth are you two talking about? You are speaking Araluen, aren't you, and not some strange foreign tongue that just sounds like it, but makes no sense at all?"
Seth sighed while Halt raised his eyebrows at the outburst. Will subsided while muttering, "Sorry, Halt."
"I should think so. It's more than obvious that Gilan is asking if I'll release you two to accompany him to Celtica."
Seth disagreed with Halt on that part. She, in fact, did not think it was more than obvious that Gilan was asking such a thing but kept that thought to herself as she looked to Will. They were both thinking that same thing, "Us? Why us? What can we do in Celtica?"
"Well, you, Will, for one, can ask interminable questions, interrupt your betters and forget to do your chores. The better question is, can you two be spared from duty here? And the answer is 'Definitely.'"
Gilan took pity on Will as he saw the pleading look in his eyes, "I need you two to make up the numbers. You see, it's a superstition among the Celts. It goes back to the old days of the Celtic Council, when the Celts, the Scotti and the Hibernians were one alliance."
"The point is," Halt interrupted, "of course Gilan can take the message to them. But if he's a sole messenger, they'll keep him waiting and fob him off for days, or even weeks, while they dither over protocol. An old Celtic saying covers it: One man may be deceit. Two can be conspiracy. Three is the number I trust."
"So you're sending us because you can do without us?" Will asked.
"Well, you can't just send anyone out on these embassies. The three members have to have some sort of official status or position in the world."
"You two," Gilan added, "are members of the Ranger Corps. That will carry a certain amount of weight with the Celts."
But we're only apprentices, signed Seth.
They shook their heads. "You wear the oak leaf," Halt told them firmly, "Bronze or silver, it doesn't matter. You're one of us."
Will and Seth brightened considerably, "Well," he said, "when you put it like that, we'd be delighted to join you, Gilan."
Seth nodded her head in agreement.
"Just a moment," Halt said. "Will can go, although totally unnecessary, but Seth will have to stay here."
Will and Seth both sat at attention in their seats. She began to sign rapidly to Halt in clear protest: What do you mean I can't go?
"Seth, you're ill," he held up his hand to stop her from arguing, "it's true whether you like it or not. Think about it, Seth. Imagine you go with them while you're still recovering and you get worse? You'd slow them down and you know how important this mission is."
Seth bit her lower lip in frustration, but knew that Halt was right. This mission wastoo important for her to take a risk like that. She nodded glumly after a moment, in resignation.
"Don't worry, once you get better, I'll send you on several message trips to make up for this one." She brightened visibly at the thought and nodded.
Halt's lip twitched upward, "Now get to bed while Gil and I arrange a third member. I imagine you want to be awake to see them off in the morning." She grinned and stalked off back to the small room she had to herself for the time she was sick.
Seth awoke early that morning, before sunup with a slight headache, to see Will, Gilan and Horace, who had been chosen as the third member of the party, off on their journey. The three boys stood in line on the narrow verandah of the cottage looking down at Seth, who had donned her bed sheet cloak again.
She was rapidly signing to Horace while Will translated to him.
"Be well and don't start any fights with Will, okay?" Will said with a grin.
Horace laughed and nodded, "Don't worry about that Seth. After what Will and I have been through, there's no way we'd fight again."
She smiled and hugged the muscular Battleschool apprentice then embraced Will. After she let go she turned toward Gilan and began to sign to him.
Keep an eye on the two of them okay?
Gilan smiled and gave her a mock salute, "Not to worry, ma'am."
She silently laughed: And take care of yourself too, Gil.
He hugged her gently, "I'll be fine. And I'll make sure to bring the two of them in one piece…hopefully."
She punched him lightly as he let go.
The three quickly climbed onto their horses and rode off.
Seth and Halt continued to watch long after they had disappeared.
AN: So! How'd I do for my first chapter? I've been sick, which is why this chapter is out later than I thought it'd be, so I made Seth sick too! Hah! Nah, I'm just joking, her being sick was planned, so it's a coincidence that I happened to get sick while writing this chapter :D
Please review and tell me your thoughts or ideas and speculations of Seth's parentage too.