Chapter One Edit
Adoption isn’t exactly the most common thing in Araluen. That was why I never took the main road on my way home after archery practice with Halt- there were too many people staring at me. I had never been comfortable with being in the spotlight, and my life with my new parents was no exception.
“I’m back,” I called softly into the main room of our apartments before heading off to my room to change. With all of my attention fixed on putting my training into practice and not making a sound, I was caught completely unawares when I opened the door to my room and found me adoptive mother sitting on the edge of my bed, looking over the paperwork she had assigned me to do. Lady Pauline pursed her lips as she examined my penmanship.
“Sadie, dear, we really have to work on your handwriting- and why would you tell a disgruntled baron that his castle was tiny?” I bit my lip.
“But I didn’t say that. I said that it was-“ My eyes widened and my mouth opened slightly as my mother smiled at me. “I’m just teasing you. Halt said that you had a rough day training.” I rolled my eyes.
“He might say it was rough. I say it was TERRIBLE!” I sat down on her bed beside my mother, and rested my head in my hands. “I did everything wrong, Mother. I forgot to stretch before I ran my laps, so I had sore muscles for the whole day, and- and the worst thing is that I had to do it with the new apprentice girl laughing at me the whole time!” Changing the subject, Mom asked me what new apprentice I was talking about, and I lifted her head to answer.
“You remember when we heard that Gilan was looking for an apprentice? Well, he got an apprentice alright, and when we arrived at the cabin for training -you remember, even though we don’t stay there I still train there- Gilan and this tall black haired girl were standing there, saying that he had paperwork to do so Nerida would be spending the day with us. With US! I mean, would it have been so hard…”
At this point in my ranting I slipped into Gallican, which Mom had to raise an eyebrow at, something she had affected after seeing the effect it had on others when Halt -Dad- did it. Spying the familiar expression, I slowed down and sat back down again- I had stood up when I switched languages.
“I know, I know. I shouldn’t burst into Gallican because not many people understand it and because if I’m ever really angry about something I should just go and talk to my horse.” Mom blinked in surprise.
“I never told you to go talk to your horse, dear.” I paused, thinking about it.
“Yeah, I think you did, but you’re denying it to take my mind off of my day.” Then I smiled. “But please- don’t stop. It’s working great.” Mom gave my a hug, and kissed me on the cheek.
“Goodnight Sadie, I’ll see you tomorrow after you come back from training.”
I groaned as I imagined running my laps with sore muscles, but went to sleep, smiling to think of my elegant and dignified mother telling me to go talk to my horse.
“I’m going to WHAT?!?!?” I stood bolt upright and stared at my dad in shock.
“You’re going to receive a horse from Old Bob.”
“I know, I heard you the first time,” Dad and Mom exchanged amused looks as I brushed his comment off and started pacing.
“Why on earth would I get a Ranger horse?”
Dad raised an eyebrow. “I can only guess… Hm… I wonder… would it be because a Ranger needs a horse?” When I froze, unresponding, he continued, “But of course not, after all, why would you want to be a Ranger?” Shaking his head in mock ignorance, Halt went on to answer his own question but was cut off as I flung my arms around him.
“Oh thank you thank you thank you thank you!”
Smiling, Mom mouthed ‘I told you so’ at Dad from behind my back. Before they had told me that she was to be a Ranger’s apprentice, Halt had wondered out loud what my reaction would be.
Mom had guessed that I would be overjoyed to hear about my apprenticeship and horse ownership. Dad had thought that when I actually got my horse that I wouldn’t remember to ask for the code phrase, even though I had remembered for Abelard, Tug, and Blaze. They were both right.
“Hey!” I tried to lift my head off of the ground to glare at my new horse, but the small animal just gazed at me and nickered softly, as if saying, Now why did you do such a silly thing like fall on your back? What’s wrong with you?
I groaned as I made my way back to my feet, cursing under my breath as I dusted off my clothing. Dad raised an eyebrow from where he leaned against a fence post near Gilan, Will, and the new apprentice girl, Nerida.
“Language, Sadie,” he told me mildly, “You know how your mother is about that.” I grinned ruefully.
“Yeah, I know,” I responded, “I had to decode a whole MESS of messages after saying ‘storm it’ under my breath once.”
Will had to laugh at that. “Wait, was that the time she pulled you out of the conference room by your ear?” I glared at him. “Just because I have to listen to you as a senior Ranger doesn’t mean that I can’t trounce you in races anymore… You have been warned…”
Will’s laughter abruptly ceased as he turned to look at me curiously. “Is that a challenge I hear?”
“Wait- what are you guys talking about, Will?” Nerida seemed confused, but no one answered her.
I stretched from one side to another, then paused, looking back at the horse still standing calmly behind me. “You know what, I really want to get to know my horse some more- but I certainly do challenge you… just after I get my code phrase.” I turned to Old Bob expectantly.
“Could you please tell me the code phrase I need to I can ride my horse without being thrown head over heels into the air?” Old Bob blinked at my formality.
“There’s no need for that kind of talk, young lady- Sage’s code phrase is ‘Jump high for me,’ so you can go ahead and get on her now.
I looked over her shoulder at the big brown eyes of the sabino mare standing at her back. I smiled.
“Sage. I like that name.” Walking to the horse’s head, I whispered my code phrase into the horse’s ear, feeling a rush of giddy happiness that this horse was to be my own.
“Well, get on her already!” Dad’s voice was brisk, and I could tell that if I took too long I’d be running laps for longer than I could care to think about. Grinning, I slid one leg over the saddle, and grasped the soft leather reins.
“Remember, all you need to do is-“ I cut Halt off before he could keep telling me things I already knew.
“Dad, I know what I’m doing- I HAVE ridden a Ranger horse before.” With a nod from Dad, I flicked the reins lightly and began trotting around the clearing. As I turned from time to time in my saddle to see how far I had gone, everyone could see the huge bright smile lighting up my face.
This is what I was always meant to be, I thought, A Ranger. Underneath me, I heard Sage snort her agreement, and as I pulled her to a stop, I could feel her asking me why on earth we were stopping.
“You know, I honestly have no idea,” I replied out loud, and then with a nudge of my leg we sped up again, enjoying the feel of running in the summer sun and breeze.
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! I lowered her bow and smiled in satisfaction at the three arrows neatly buried in the bull’s eye circle of my target. Sage was peacefully cropping the grass nearby, and the birds were chirping away happily in the trees while I shot arrow after arrow at the many targets strewn around the clearing. These arrow made a perfect score- and I looked over to where Dad was resting with his back to a tree trunk.
“I think I just did a perfect score! Wait- are you even awake?” Dad’s face was hidden by his cowl, but his voice came out clear and dry as ever.
“No, I’m fast asleep, ignoring the sounds of my old apprentice coming up the track with his new apprentice.” When I whirled around, Gilan and Nerida were indeed coming into the clearing, and I flushed in embarrassment. I had been so concentrated on getting my arrows into the center of the target that I had ignored my surroundings, letting people sneak up on me.
Then I changed my mind. Well, it is Gilan and Nerida, I thought to myself, They’re some of the best unseen movers of the Ranger Corps. Hearing them coming is pretty much a Halt-level skill. A voice suddenly broke me out of my reverie.
“Sadie, will you and Nerida stay out here and practice for a while? Our Commandant apparently has something he desperately needs to share with me.” Dad turned without waiting for my answer and walked up the steps of the cabin.
With the two mentors gone, I felt awkward and strange being around Nerida. The first time I had heard of this girl was to hear that they were letting a girl into the Corps for the first time ever. The next was to hear that she was Will’s sister, separated at birth. After that I had always felt awkward around her. Nerida Raven Treaty.
The ‘Raven’ in her name suits her, I thought as I watched the other girl sling a quiver of arrows around her shoulder, Her hair’s so black I would think that it never reflects light perfect for a Ranger. My last thoughts were slightly bitter, a comparison between my own hair and Nerida’s.
Suddenly I noticed Nerida staring at me.
“Um… are we going to practice or not?” Nerida’s hesitant tone of voice let me know that she felt uncomfortable too. Making an effort to be polite like my mother always told me to, I smiled and gestured to the targets before me.
“Be my guest,” I said, “We’ll shoot in rounds, starting from furthest forward, then flip directions.” Heading over to the next-closest target, I retrieved my three arrows from the earlier practice and replaced them in my quiver. “I need to go fishing for dinner at some point today- maybe you’d like to join me?”
When Nerida hesitated, I cursed myself and my poor attempt at conversation. I was about to retract my offer when Nerida smiled.
“I’d love to- I just have one question,” she said as our bows started to thrum with the sound of arrows being shot, “Don’t you live up at Castle Redmont? Why do you need to make dinner?” I smiled back at the other girl.
“I’m supposed to know what it’s like to live in a cabin for years at a time, rather than just days. I spend most of my time down here, but I actually live with Mom and Dad up in the castle. Half of the week days I spend with my mother learning diplomacy and the Courier’s Code, and the other days I come down here to have my butt kicked at archery and knife throwing.” I could see Nerida hide a smile, and I grinned back in response.
I wonder how long it will take until we’re friends, I thought. Then, catching a glimpse of two figures watching from the cabin window, I amended that thought. Actually, I wonder how long it takes before they own up and tell us they planned all of this.
Written by: Sadie O'Carrick