Chapter 1: Finding a Friend
new friend is a new adventure…the start of more memories" -Patrick Lindsay
Alix walks through a town in Whitby fief after a long meeting with the baron.
"And they say being a Ranger is all field work," she mumbles, walking along. “If only it was,” she sighs as she slowly walks down the street. Suddenly, she freezes when she hears a scream of pain.
Rea retreats to a corner in the courtyard of a run-down orphanage, trying to escape the blows of the three boys. She is crying and hurting all over. They corner her and the blows come faster. She tries to run but one of the boys grab her leg and jerks it, dislocating her knee. She screams in pain and doubles over. Another swings a punch at her arm and the blow shatters her shoulder. Rea sinks to the ground, moaning in pain. As the blows come harder and faster, she start to lose consciousness.
Alix galvanizes into action, immediately running toward the source of the noise. She skids around a corner between two small houses, and into an alleyway.
"It was definitely in this direction," she says, dashing around another corner. The alleyway opens up into a courtyard, and Alix draws her saxe knife, seeing a commotion at the far end. "You there! What are you doing!" she yells and they look up.
"Whadda you want?" one sneers. Alix pulls him and his cronies away from the cowering figure.
"I'm a Ranger, and if you had any sense, you would run," she growls, glaring at them. "Leave!" she barks when none of them move away. Startled by her attitude, they back off a few steps. She turns to the figure, a girl, and ignores the three bullies. She kneels down next to the girl. "What did they do to you? We need to get you to help," she says, her tone suddenly much more kind.
Rea continues to sob, not saying anything. She looks up at Alix and pulls away, afraid of the Ranger.
Alix frowns. "I'm going to help you, alright?" she says, noting the knee and the shoulder. "I'm going to have to take you to a healer, I don't know how to fix all of this myself," she admits.
Rea looks up at her with confusion in her large brown eyes. “Why do you want to help me? What am I to you?”
“You aren’t anything.
Just a foolish girl,” one of the boys behind Alix interjects. Alix swivels
around, angry. “Didn’t I tell you to leave?” she asks in a dangerous tone.
He shrugs, “Yes, but why should we? We could easily best you.”
“Is that so?” Alix says, and when they nod, she takes her bow in hand and knocks an arrow onto the string. “Do you want to find out what would actually happen?” she growls, and the boys find themselves looking at a very plausible death.
“Oh, uh, sorry then,” one mumbles as they all back off. “We’ll be on our way.”
“Good. Don’t come back,” Alix is pleased to see that they turn on their heel and run as fast as they can away from her back down the alley. She slings her bow over her shoulder and once more returns her attention to the injured girl.
"To answer your question, just consider me a friend." she says, gently picking her up, taking care not to further injure the knee or shoulder.
Rea’s eyes widen even further. “I’ve never had a friend before,” she whispers.
"Well, now you do," Alix says kindly, walking down several roads to get to the nearest healer.
Alix bursts through the hardwood door and demands the healer’s attention. The healer looks up from his work. By this time, Rea has slipped into unconsciousness. "She need your help," Alix says, laying Rea on the bed at the far side of the dim room. "I expect your finest work. I won't settle for a half decent job."
He nods. “Alright, alright. Can you tell me what happened to her?”
"I saw a few boys beating her," Alix replies, sitting on the floor.
He nods. “Her shoulder is broken.”
"Then fix it." Alix replies simply. “And her knee.”
“I’ll do my best.” He quickly resets her shoulder and leg. “She’s not going to be able to walk for a week, and when she does, It shouldn’t be long distances. And she’ll have to keep that arm in that sling for it to heal properly.”
Alix nods. "Alright. But I can't take her back there, not to those boys, they will just injure her again."
“What about the castle ward? Or she could stay with you until she’s strong enough.”
Alix raises an eyebrow. "Stay with me? Who would want to stay with a mysterious Ranger like me? I’m only her rescuer, not her babysitter.”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. But I wouldn’t send her to the Ward right away. It’s better than the orphanages but there still can be bullies.” Alix ponders his words. The ward was a place in the castle the baron of the fief provided to orphans, she knew, but it probably wasn’t the safest for an injured girl.
"I will leave it up to her." Alix says, still confused by his suggestion that the girl ought to stay with her. "It's her choice." A few minutes later, Rea regains consciousness.
"How are you feeling?" Alix asks, getting to her feet.
“Better, thank you,” Rea looks between Alix and the healer. “Please don’t send me back there.”
"We aren't going to. We are giving you a choice of where you want to go,” Alix says.
“You can go to the ward, or stay with your Ranger friend here,” the healer says quickly before Alix can say otherwise.
Rea hesitates. “I want to stay with you,” she says, looking at Alix.
"With me? Alright, I suppose," Alix sighs, standing up.
Rea sits up, biting her lip as everything starts hurting again.
Alix pulls on her cloak. "Are you sure you want to? I'm a Ranger, and you’ve heard the rumors about Rangers. We dabble in the Dark Arts, have the ability to vanish into thin air, and materialize out of nothing," she says, cocking an eyebrow.
Rea looks deep into her eyes. “I’m not scared of Rangers. But are those rumors true?”
"It depends on which rumor it is," Alix says mysteriously.
“You can’t really be that bad.”
“Trust me, I’m the worst of them all.” Alix comments, then realizes Rea is about to try to stand. "Lay back down. You aren't ready to come with me yet."
“What do you mean? Why can’t I come with you?”
"There is no way you can make it the entire way without losing consciousness. Why don't I return tonight, and you can come with me then?"
Rea slowly nods. “Alright. Promise you’ll come back?”
"Sure thing kiddo. Why wouldn't I return? "
Rea shakes her head. “I’m sorry for doubting you, but it’s just….well, I’ve just been lied to and cheated so many times.”
"We've all been there, and it hurts, doesn't it?" Alix says quietly, before walking out the door. Rea stares at the closed door where she disappeared, then goes back to rest.
Alix walks back to the healer's. Rea is sitting in a chair, looking out the window. Alix knocks before walking inside. The healer answers the door and Rea looks up as she enters. “You came back!”
Alix can't help but smile. "I sure did, kiddo. Ready?" Rea nods and smiles widely.
“I am going to carry you since you can’t walk.”
“Are you sure? I hate to be a hindrance.”
Alix sighs. "C’mon kiddo, c'mere," Alix picks Rea up in her arms.
“Are you sure you can do this? You don’t have to,” Rea asks, slightly embarrassed.
"I didn't go through many years of training to wimp out when kiddos like you need me," Alix says cheerfully. Rea smiles and leans her head against Alix’s shoulder. Alix says goodbye to the healer, and walks outside. "So, kiddo, what's your name?"
"Rea. Nice name."
Rea smiles. “What’s your name...friend?”
"Mine? Just call me Alix."
Rea nods and smiles up at her.
"So, you must understand, I can't babysit you all day long. I'm a ranger, with things to do."
“I know. I can take care of myself. I am thirteen after all.”
"But, you are injured after all," Alix retorts.
“I’m fine,” Rea retorts back.
Alix laughs. "You're broken, battered and bruised and you say you're fine?"
“Well….,” Rea hesitates. “I can take care of myself. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want people babying me.”
Alix snorts. "And you won't get it! I do not want you pushing yourself, though. Imagine what people would say!"
Rea turns her face away. “I’ve always had to push myself to the limits and beyond. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
"Trust me kiddo, you're tough. But now you don't need to be," Alix says "Let me repeat. I will not have you pushing yourself too hard on my watch."
Rea nods slowly. “Alright, I won’t.”
Alix smiles. "Stupendous. Now, how about some dinner?"
Rea’s eyes sparkle with happiness. “Oh yes!”
"Good," Alix says, as her cabin comes into view. The little wooden cabin sits a little ways into the forest, set in a small clearing. Smoke curls up from the stone chimney, and a horse nickers from the stable next to the cabin. On the verandah sits a pair of creaky but comfortable looking wooden chairs. A few meters next to it, at the edge of the clearing, is an archery range.
Rea turns to look at it. “It looks so homely,” she whispers.
Alix grins. "I always feel that way after a long mission."
Rea smiles. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything so beautiful.”
Alix laughs. "I wouldn't say it's beautiful. Fairly clean, yes, but also old. If you want to see beautiful, you should take a look at Castle Araluen."
“I’ve never seen Castle Araluen before.”
"Ahh, but you should. It's spires seem to glow in the sunset, and all the lords and ladies walking around the castle add to the picture," Alix says, smiling. "It's truly a sight. Although, it's awfully formal there."
Rea smiles. “That sounds wonderful. Other than the formalities part.” Alix laughs, opening the door. Rea looks around the cabin curiously.
Alix walks into the kitchen, and sets Rea down in a chair. “Let me grab dinner.”
Rea is amazed at the cleanness of the place. Alix comes back in the room a few minutes later with a pot of beef stew.
Rea looks up, hungry. “That smells wonderful.”
"Probably tastes worse than it smells," grins.
Alix sits down after serving Rea, who waits shyly for Alix to make the first move to eat. Soon, the meal is finished, and Alix stands up and begins to clear off the dishes. Rea makes a move to help her clear off the table.
"Sit. I've got this," Alix says.
“Are you sure? I can help.”
Alix shakes her head. "You shouldn’t be walking at all."
Rea sighs. “Alright.”
Later, once the dishes are cleaned and put away, Alix is sitting on the floor, sharpening her two knives. One is the larger saxe, the other a smaller throwing knife. Rea is sitting across from her on a chair, watching.
Alix raises an eyebrow. "Do you find me interesting or something? You've been staring for quite a while now."
Rea smiles. “Yes, I do find you interesting.”
Alix snorts. “Me? Interesting? You have to be joking,” Alix frowns and sends her throwing knife spinning across the room and into the wall. Alix gets to her feet and raises an eyebrow at the knife.
Rea looks at the knife quivering in the wall. “Well, first of all, you’re the first person who’s ever been kind to me since I lost my family. Second, you’re a female Ranger. Third, your weapons are interesting.”
Alix raises an eyebrow as she crosses the room. “My weapons are quite common, I am aware that I am a female Ranger, and I am most definitely not kind. Just… helpful,” she says, pulling the knife out of the wall. Alix studies the thin slit it made. “ At least we know it’s sharp,” she mutters to herself, sheathing the knife.
Rea is silent for a moment. “If I told you that I’m half Skandian, would that change anything between us? I mean, would you….do you hate me now?”
Alix shrugs. "Why should I hate you because of where you came from? I have no grudge against Skandians."
Rea shakes her head. “I don’t know. That’s a reason people hated me.”
"I see." Alix says, yawning.
Rea looks up. “I’m sorry to keep you up so late.”
Alix grins, "Nah, it’s my fault I'm tired. Stayed up last night finishing a report for the commandant," she says.
“I’ll sleep out here on the floor.”
Alix rubs her chin. "No. That would be an insult to my hospitality. I've got a room normally used for apprentices. That will work."
“I really don’t want to be a bother,” Rea says, leaning forward.
Alix rolls her eyes. "I don't think you could be a bother even if you tried."
Rea smiles and Alix helps her into the spare bedroom. She looks around in awe. “It’s so clean,” she gasps, not daring to touch the clean, white bed sheets.
"I suppose. It could use a good sweeping out though," Alix says, studying the room. "It will have to do. Alright, I'm in the room next to this one if you need anything."
Rea nods. “Good night and….thank you.”
Alix nods to Rea as she leaves, and closes the door behind her. Tired, Rea quickly drops off to sleep.
The next day, Alix is up early. Rea wakes and looks out the window. The sun is shining on the verdant foliage. She sighs happily.
"Rea!" Alix calls from her place in the central room. Alix is quickly pulling on her boots and slinging her quiver across her back.
Rea sits up in bed. “Yes?”
"I've got to leave to investigate a problem that has arisen," Alix says, poking her head into the bedroom as she grabs her cloak.
Rea nods. “You want me to wait here then?”
"Yes. Don't touch anything that looks important, and try not to get into any trouble. I’ve left food next to the bed for your breakfast," Alix says quickly, opening the outside door.
Rea nods. “Alright, bye,” she says quietly as Alix leaves.
Alix walks briskly down the trail away from the cabin, her cloak fluttering slightly behind her.
An hour or so later, Rea hears a step on the verandah. She frowns, unsure what to do. Rea takes a deep breath. “Who is it?”
The door creaks open on unoiled hinges and a tall figure is silhouetted in the doorway.