Chapter 4: A Glimpse of the Past
"Letting the past be forgotten makes you feel better, but remembering the past makes you stronger." - Segev Layani
“Alix, how did you become an apprentice?” Rea asks, looking up from where she is studying a map of the fief.
“Me? Isn’t knowing how you became an apprentice enough?”
Rea shakes her head, “That was a few days ago, ancient history. I want to hear about you.”
“This isn’t just about not studying that map?”
“I’m just curious.”
“Curiosity killed the cat,” Alix mutters, rolling her eyes and sitting down across from Rea.
Alix sighs, “Fine. Although I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
Andrew, Alix’s older brother nudges Alix, “Hey, I dare you to knock on the Ranger’s door.”
“Me? No way! Baron Charles would kill me,” Alix laughs as they stroll along.
Andrew pauses to shift his crutch under his arm, “Come on, when has that ever stopped you before?”
When Alix is at a loss for words, Andrew grins, “See? Told ya. Just go tell him you think his cloak makes him invisible.”
“Well, it does, doesn’t it?”
“Why don’t you find out?”
“No. That’s a dumb reason. Give me a better one.”
“Tell him you think he’s good looking.”
“No! Andrew, that’s even worse."
Andrew laughs, “Play a prank on him or something, I dunno. Amuse me. You’re the creative one.”
Alix thinks for a moment, “I’ll just make something up as I go,” she decides.
Andrew nods, “Alright, I’m good with that.”
Alix hears the Ranger’s horse nicker as she walks towards the cabin and onto the verandah, but ignores it, knocking on the hardwood door. Andrew is hidden in the forest behind her, and she smiles, glancing down at the bundle of scraggly wildflowers she holds in her hands.
“Trust me Andrew, you’ll be entertained,” she mutters to herself. She looks up as the door opens to reveal the tall Ranger.
“Hello Sir, do you want this beautiful bouquet of flowers? Of course you do, look at how they accentuate your face!” she exclaims, holding the flowers up to him.
“Also,” Alix adds, ducking past him and into the cabin, “Look how good they look in here!” She darts around the room, “Look how nice they look next to this chair! And this wall! And this man’s cloak…” Alix trails off, realizing that there is actually another ranger in the room. She glances down at the coffee he is holding, and a harebrained idea springs into her head.
The ranger in front of Alix stands up, looking rather annoyed, “If you don’t leave-”
“These are perfect for anyone! Look how nice they look in your coffee!” Alix places the flowers into his drink. She bows dramatically, “Thank you for your time, I won’t be bothering you again,” she backs away, then dashes out the door, not looking back.
Andrew is laughing so hard he can hardly speak, “The, the look on their faces!” he snorts, doubling over with laughter, “And- And- ‘Look how nice they look in your coffee!’”
Alix is laughing as well, the memory of the experience fresh in her mind, “I didn’t mean to do it, I just… did it.”
“Oh boy, you just can’t turn down a challenge, can you?”
“No. Not me, not ever.”
“Which could be seen as both a good thing, or a bad thing.” a new voice comments. The siblings spin around, and see the tall Ranger standing behind them.
He looks at Alix, “I’m assuming he put you up to that ridiculous performance?” he asks, gesturing to Andrew.
Alix glances at Andrew, then shrugs, “Yeah.”
“And you got nothing in return for doing such an embarrassing task?”
“She doesn’t need any motivation. Alix is so stubborn she can’t back down from a challenge,” Andrew answers.
“Is that so?” the Ranger murmurs thoughtfully.
Alix nods, “Plus, it’s kinda fun.”
“Glad to see you aren’t as deranged as you were acting,” he says smiling slightly.
“Yeah… Well, have a nice day sir, we had best be going,” Alix says, mystified by his questions.
The Ranger nods his farewell, and walks away.
“That was odd,” Alix whispers to Andrew, glancing back at the Ranger as the siblings continue on their way.
“No kidding, but I guess Rangers tend to be like that.” he says as he limps along.
Alix glances down at his bad leg, the one he had broken in an accident as a boy, and not having healed properly, left him with a bad limp and a need of a crutch.
“That’s the truth,” she agrees. “They’re quite daunting.”
Andrew is alone in the stables, brushing down his horse, Legend. He looks up when he hears a short knock on the wood frame behind him.
He turns, and his eyes widen with surprise, “What are you doing here?”
“I wish to ask a favor of you.” the tall Ranger states.
“Alright, I guess,” Andrew agrees, albeit tentatively. “What is it?”
“Your sister intrigues me. From what I’ve seen, she might have the skills a Ranger needs.”
Andrew shakes his head, “But she’s a girl, and all you’ve seen is her acting weird.”
“I’m aware of that, but we Rangers tend to be intuitive about these things.”
Andrew shrugs, “What do you want me to do?”
“If what you say is correct, and she won’t refuse a challenge, then I ask that you challenge her to a task. It will help me see if she has the talent required.”
“What challenge do I give her?”
The tall Ranger thinks for a moment, “Tomorrow evening, have her follow me, without being noticed by me or anyone else.”
“But if you don’t notice her, how will you know she has the aptitude for being a ranger? How will you even know she’s there at all?”
“I’ll know she’s there, I just won’t let her know that. I am a Ranger after all,” he says, smiling.
“If you say so,” Andrew responds a little doubtfully. “Where will she know to find you to tail you?”
“I’ll be leaving my cabin at sundown.”
“Alright, I’ll tell her,”
Alix is lounging in a chair in her brother’s room when he hobbles in. “There you are. I was wondering how long it would take for you to get back.”
Andrew smiles at his sister’s impatience as he flops onto his bed, leaning his crutch against the wall, “I wasn’t gone that long.”
“It was ages! It’s dark outside now!” she protests, sitting up.
“The sun was setting when I went to the stables.”
“Whatever. Has Baron Charles found out about our latest shenanigan?”
“I don’t think so. He never has time to pay attention to us lately,” Andrew replies, laying down and staring at the ceiling.
Andrew and Alix’s parents had died when they were small, and since the baron was close friends with their parents, took the two kids under his wing. The castle had been new and interesting at the beginning, and exploring it had given the siblings something to do after their lessons in the morning. When that became monotonous, they searched for other ways to spend their time - hence the dares. When Andrew became apprenticed to the Blacksmith, even those times became fewer and farther between.
“Charles the Bald has all sorts of official things to do,” Andrew continues, using the sibling’s nickname for the Baron, “He probably assumes we’re acting ‘responsible’.”
Alix snorts, “One of the last words I would use to describe us.”
Andrew nods, “Agreed.”
“So, any more dares you think I can’t complete?” Alix asks eagerly, looking over at Andrew.
“Actually, yes I do,” he says, sitting up.
“I hope it’s a good one. Don’t make it like that one time you had me tell Jared he was my true love,” she grimaces at the memory.
“Follow the ranger. You know, the one who’s cabin you barged into today?”
Alix’s eyes widen. “Follow him? When? From where? To where?”
“Err…tomorrow. According to my resources, he should be leaving his cabin around sundown.”
“And if I get seen?”
“Don’t. Not by him, not by anyone.”
“I dunno if I can do this, Andrew…”
Andrew gives Alix an encouraging smile, “Sure you can! Today you put flowers in a Ranger’s coffee, what can be harder than that?”
“Well, this is unusual for you. Normally you do odd or funny things… not serious things.”
“Hey, a change is always nice. Who knows, maybe this is for the better?”
“Maybe,” Alix sighs. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Andrew watches as his sister leaves the room, trying to picture her as dark and mysterious as a ranger. He sighs, unable to envision someone as energetic as Alix could possibly be anything of the sort.
Alix sighs quietly, wondering if anything could be more boring than waiting for a ranger to leave their cabin. Hidden in the greenery surrounding the path to the cabin, she watches for the ranger to leave. Alix had positioned herself before sundown, so as to not miss his leaving. She brushes an ant off her arm, growing more impatient by the second.
Thankfully, Ranger…. Ranger.... Gavin or Garth or something like that, steps out of the cabin. Alix holds deathly still as he steps off the verandah and walks down the path away from his cabin. Just as Andrew said, he left at sundown, Alix thinks to herself, listening to his quiet footsteps as he passes her hiding place.
When he rounds a corner and passes out of view, Alix stands up and follows. She remains a distance behind him, so if he were to glance to either side, he wouldn’t see her. She also times her pace so as to match the Rangers, not wanting him to hear the extra set of feet.
Gilan smirks to himself, listening to the extra pair of feet stumble behind him. He pulls his cowl up to hide his face in shadow as he heads into the village. He pauses before turning down a side street, then down an adjoining one.
Alix mentally scolds herself, her overconfidence having caused her to stumble. She continues to follow Ranger… I still can’t remember his name! I thought it started with a G, but maybe it was a J? Gabriel? George? she thinks as she sneaks along I wish I could at least remember the name of the person I am following! Maybe it’s George with a J… That could be it.
As Alix follows the Ranger, she realizes the direction they are headed will lead to the castle. She grimaces when she thinks of how fast the news of her following the Ranger will spread around the castle. They’ll think I’m a thief, or insane, or something equally odd. Maybe if I sneak away… Andrew never specified a certain length of time I was to follow the ranger. Even as the thought creeps into her mind, it is dismissed. By now, Alix is too curious as to where the ranger is going to give up.
Absorbed in her thoughts, she almost doesn’t realize the ranger has stopped, and almost runs into him.
“Why are you following me?” he asks quietly, turning to face Alix.
Alix’s eyes widen when she realizes she has been caught, “Umm, a dare?”
“Again you decide to be mischievous and-”
Alix holds up her hands, “Wait, before you lecture me. For the life of me I cannot remember your name. You’re Ranger… Garrick? Gage? Johnny? Joseph? George with a J? Garrett? Jaron? Gimli?”
Gilan finds it rather hard to keep a straight face as he listens to Alix’s list of names, “If you must know, it’s Gilan. Jaron’s the next fief over.”
Alix snaps her fingers as she remembers, “Right! I remember now.”
“And you’re Alixandra, daughter of the late Edward and Sarah Jasperson, if I remember correctly,” Gilan says, thinking about the news he had heard years back about the Baron’s close friends passing away, and their children going to live with Baron Charles.
“No and Yes. It’s Alix. Not Alixandra.”
“Alright then, Alix. How would you like to be a Ranger’s Apprentice?”
“Excuse me? Me, a Ranger?”
Gilan nods, “Yes, you.”
“Wait a second,” Alix says, taking a pace back. “Don’t you rangers practice the dark arts and whatnot?”
Gilan is unable to keep the grin contained this time, “No, that’s bogus. We just hone our skills past what a normal person takes the time to do.”
Alix beams excited by the prospect of something new, “If that’s the case, I don’t see why not! Do I get to act all mysterious like you in one of those weird cloaks? Do I get a bow and knives too? How long is the apprenticeship? Let’s go tell Andrew!” she exclaims, not waiting for Gilan to answer any of her previous questions.
“You seriously asked him if his name was Johnny?” Rea asks, grinning.
Alix nods, “Absolutely. Thinking back on it now, it wasn’t one of my more intelligent times.”
“Andrew seems nice. Could I meet him someday?” Rea asks.
A mournful look crosses Alix’s face, “He died during the second year of my apprenticeship.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Rea apologizes, feeling bad for bringing up a painful memory.
Alix waves her hand dismissively, “It’s all right. You didn’t know.”
Rea nods, then pauses, “Wait a second, so when you became an apprentice, Maddie hadn't started her training yet so that means...you began before females were officially allowed in the Corps?”
Alix shrugs, “Officially allowed, yes. But it never exactly mattered once Gil became commandant.”
“Would you still do something like that today? I mean, put flowers in a Ranger’s coffee?”
Alix shakes her head, “Despite my feisty attitude, I wouldn’t. After Andrew died, I changed. I wasn’t so… exuberant anymore,” she stands up and changes the subject. “Now, let’s focus on that map. We’ve wasted enough time.”