A Tale of Two Rangers

Chapter 6: Rea's First Gathering

“Your struggles were never meant to break you down, but to make you stronger.”-Anonymous

The sun is just rising when Alix is in the stable saddling her horse, Willow. “There you go. Good girl,” Alix says, stepping back. Willow tosses her head, Do I get an apple now?

“Only because I’m in a good mood,” she grins, feeding Willow a bright red apple. Alix leads Willow out of the stable to where her apprentice is waiting with her own horse.

“Ready to go?”

Alix nods as she mounts Willow and they ride out of the clearing. “What’s the Gathering for?” Rea inquires.

“It’s the rare event where more than a few of us ‘dark and mysterious’ rangers are in the same place at once,” Alix grins.

Rea laughs. “What do we do there?”

“Well, you are assessed by certain Rangers and if you pass, you move into the next year of your training.”

“What will I get tested on? The stuff we’ve been doing the last year?”

Alix nods, “It’s easy. You’ll pass with flying colors.”

After a few days of riding, they reach the Gathering Grounds. “We’re here.” Alix says.

Rea dismounts. “Do we set up our tent here?” she asks, noticing some of the other tents that were already pitched.

Alix nods, “You can do that. I’m going to go speak with the commandant.” Rea quickly unpacks and sets up their tent and soon, Alix returns.

“What should I do now?” Rea asks.

“We have some time to relax until all the other rangers get here,” Alix tells Rea. “So you could go meet some of the other apprentices if you’d like.”

Rea looks uncertain. “Can’t I just stay with you?”

Alix shrugs, “If you’d rather.”

Rea hesitates. “Well, I guess I can go practice archery for a little.”

“Alright,” Alix nods.

Rea heads out to the archery targets, where an apprentice is already practicing. He nods a greeting to Rea as she approaches.

Rea smiles back and goes to an unoccupied range. The other apprentice resumes his practicing until his quiver is empty.

Rea fires her arrow in quick succession and soon the target is bristling with arrows clustered around the center. The other apprentice replaces his arrows in his quiver and walks over to Rea, “Nice shooting,” he compliments, gesturing to the target on the far side of the field.

“Thanks,” Rea replies, blushing slightly.

“My pleasure,” he says, “By the way, I’m Chris.”

"I'm Rea. My mentor's Alix."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," he smiles. "I think I remember Will mentioning something about her. She was the commandant's apprentice, right?"

Rea nods. "You know Will Treaty?" she says a little awed.

Chris nods, "He's my mentor."

"Wow," Rea whispers.

He grins. "I was pretty awed myself."

"What's it like to be the apprentice of one of the most famous rangers?"

Chris shrugs. "Not much different I would think. You still train and do housework and stuff."

"What's Will like?"

Chris thinks for a moment, "Why don't you come find out for yourself? He's just over there."

Rea shakes her head. "Oh, no. I don't think I want to."

Chris looks rather disappointed. "Why not?

Rea shrugs. "Because. I told Alix I'd be here practicing."

Chris waves his hand dismissively, "Come on, it'll only take a minute or two."

Rea shakes her head. "Maybe later, but thank you."

"Are you scared?" Chris asks suddenly. "Is that why?"

Rea glares at him. "No, I'm just being honest and doing what I told my mentor what I'd be doing."

Chris rolls his eyes, "Then why don't I go tell her you're going to go meet Will?" He grins, "Yes, that's what I'll do."

Rea sighs. "Fine, go and tell her."

Chris nods, "Okay! I'll be right back."

"She said it's fine, and to not worry so much." Chris says, walking back to Rea.

Rea grins. "It sounds like her."

Chris nods, "So, what are we waiting for? Come meet one of the most famous people in all of Araluen." Rea laughs and follows him. He leads her to where Will is drinking some coffee and Rea stand shyly behind him

Will looks up at the two apprentices, "Hello," he greets.

Rea smiles shyly. "Hi," she replies quietly.

Will stands up and holds his hand out, "I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting you before. What is your name?"

Rea shakes his hand. "Rea-Le Hamlin, Alix's apprentice."

Will grins, "Ahh yes, Alix. Should've guessed. How have you liked the gathering so far?"

Rea shrugs. "I haven't seen much, but I've enjoyed myself this far."

Will smiles, "That's good."

"And your apprenticeship? How is that for you?"

"It's going well, sir."

Will smiles, "Will. Call me Will."

Rea smiles. "Alright...Will."

"Sorry to cut our meeting short, but I must meet with Gilan."

"Well, nice to meet you Will. I'd better get back to practicing too."

Will walks off while Rea and Chris head back to the archery range. "See, he wasn't so bad," Chris says.

Rea grins. "I never said that he would be."

Chris shrugs, "Maybe not, but I've seen lot's of people meeting Will for the first time. They're always surprised."

"Well, he's a lot more down-to-earth than I expected. If you get what I mean," Rea says, picking a target next to Chris'.

Chris hesitates, "I don't."

Rea grins good naturedly. "Forget it." She begins to shoot her arrows in rapid succession.

Chris rolls his eyes, "Whatever you say."

Rea laughs. "You're funny."

Chris smirks, "I agree. Funny looking."

"No, no. I think you are quite good looking. You take after your mentor," she says impulsively.

Chris grins, "Wow, I never realized you were so impressed." he says easily.

It is Rea's turn to roll her eyes and in doing so she misses the target. "Look what you made me do. I'm going to have to make another arrow," she says slightly annoyed, but slightly amused to Chris.

Chris laughs, "Relax Rea, It's fine."

One of the other apprentices snorts. "Yeah, yeah, it's just fine. Good job, girl. I didn't think you were capable of missing. Even when you were flirting with your new boyfriend."

At this, Chris frowns. "There's no shame in missing once. Especially since it was my fault."

"She's not the one that's getting the shame. It's us. Little miss showoff. Look how perfectly she can shoot. Her form. Her accuracy. Everything," he says in a mocking tone.

"So what? Everyone is allowed to be good at something. I'm best at tactical thinking and using my throwing knife. Rea is good with the bow. It's not a contest you know, we're all equal here."

The other boy laughs. "She is making it a contest. Girl, you'd better go back home to your cooking and fireplace. The Ranger Corps is no place for the likes of you," he says giving Rea a shove backwards. She tumbles onto Chris.

Chris helps her regain her balance, then marches towards the boy. "I'll have you know, that our future queen is a female in the corps, and that my mentor trained her. Girls have every right to be here as well. Especially Rea, who can do anything twice as well as you!"

"Oh, well, I've got to see that. Girl, your boyfriend just entered you into a contest. You ready?"

Rea looks at Chris, horrified. "Really, Chris was just boasting. I'm sorry. I'll leave."

However, the older boy wouldn't back down. "Too late. You're stuck with me. Listen, I'll test you. You fail to beat me in one test, you don't get your bronze. You beat me in everything, I get it and I'll just shut up. Come on get your bow and arrows ready."

"Rea, ignore him." Chris mutters. He scowls at the other Apprentice, "You aren't the one who decides that, the Commandant does. He gives the bronze." Chris grabs Rea's arm, "Let's get away from this idiot."

Rea starts to follow him but the other apprentice grabs her other arm and yanks her so hard she cries out in pain. "You will do it otherwise, I'll tell your mentor that you were boasting and when I asked you not to, you broke my bow and started a fight."

At this, Chris gets angry. "Then go ahead and do it you hairbrained idiot! Tell my mentor too for all I care, we're leaving," he spits.

Rea tugs on Chris' arm. "Chris, please. No, I'll just do as he says."

Chris angrily shakes his head. "No, you won't. He's a cheat and a liar, and ought to be ignored." he says, pulling Rea away

"Chris, I'll get into more trouble this way."

"You're not going to get in trouble because you haven't done anything wrong!"

Rea hesitates. "Chris, it might cause less trouble if I do it this way."

"No it won't and you know it. No matter what you do, this blabber-mouthed fool will ruin everything. Let's GO."

Gently, Rea lets go of Chris' arm. "Alright, I hope you know what you're doing."

“I agree. Let's go."

Rea allows Chris to lead her away and she glances back around her to see the other boy talking quietly with another boy and they nod.

"Just ignore them. They aren't worth our time. Let's find Alix," Chris mutters to her.

Rea nods, but glances back worried. "Chris, he just snapped his bow on his knee."

Chris glances back, then mutters some rude words under his breath. "We aren't going to go back, let's just find Alix or Will."

"Hurry, they're following us," Rea whispers, her voice strained.

The two of them make it back to the main part of camp, "Will!" Chris calls.

Neither of the two mentors are in sight. "Chris, they're gaining on us fast. Let's hide in the woods."

"I may run, but I won't hide."

"Fine but hurry."

Chris and Rea quickly walk away and head into the woods.

As they hurry along Chris turns to Rea, "Can you climb?"

Rea nods, "I don't like heights though."

"Can you manage this tree?" Chris asks, gesturing to one on the right. "We'll have the advantage from up above."

"I can manage. Hurry." Chris nods and begins climbing

Rea follows him and the boys burst through the trees, shouting angrily.

"Hurry Rea," Chris mutters

She swings up into the branches after and stifles a scream and a branch snaps as she steps on it.

"Slower," Chris mutters, helping her find her footing again. Rea nods tersely and continues to climb. The bully catches a glimpse of the two fleeing figures and shouts, starting after them up the tree. Chris stops climbing to nock an arrow to his bow. "One inch further and I'll shoot."

The bully laughs, "You wouldn't dare shoot me." With that he jumps up, and before Chris can react, grabs Rea and pulls her down with him. The other boy pounces on her like a mad dog. Chris jumps from the tree and knocks the two boys to the ground. Another boy breaks off a branch and hits him hard over the head, sending him to his knees dazed. Chris struggles to his feet, "None of you are worthy to be apprentices." He jumps on the back of one of the bully apprentices, pulling him away from Rea who scrambles to get away. The apprentice tries to loosen Chris' grip, but Chris is determined and hang on tightly.

Meanwhile...

Alix walks to the archery range to find Rea. Will approaches Alix. "Alix, have you seen Chris or Rea? They were at the archery range but I don't seen them there now. And for that matter, hardly any of the other apprentices. I found a broken bow there though and I'm worried."

Alix shakes her head, "I'm worried too."

"It's just not like Chris to run off like that. He may be naughty but he's never done that before."

Alix nods, "Rea always stays close. Something must be up. Let's find them."

Will nods and goes with Alix in search of them.

Will asks, “Where do you think they went?”

Alix thinks for a moment, "This way." She says, walking away from camp and Will follows her.

Alix walks at a brisk pace

“Why this way?” Will queries.

Alix shrugs, "It feels right."

Will nods. “I hope so.”

Alix points to footprints in the ground, "They definitely came this way."

Will nods. "There are more than two of them."

"We need to move faster." Alix says, increasing the pace and Will nods and hurries after her.

After a struggle, Chris steps away from the other apprentice. "Why must you do this?"

“Because she’s a girl,” he spits.

Chris mumbles something rude under his breath, "You seriously can't let go of that, can you?"

He glares at him. “She beat me in archery.”

"You are such a hairbrained idiot. So what if she did!" Chris clenches his fists.

"She embarrassed the rest of us! Made us look like fools!"

Chris shakes his head, "No she didn't! You're just a stuck up brat! You probably paid your way into the corps!" he growls before lunging at the other apprentice.

The apprentice is taken by surprise and stumbles backwards.

"You disgrace us all" Chris spits as the two wrestle. Angered, he snarls and bites at Chris. Chris curses under his breath as he is injured, and pins the other Apprentice beneath him.

Suddenly, an angry voice demands, "What is going on here?" They both look up, surprised.

Alix marches over to them, pulling Chris off of the other apprentice, gesturing for Will to take the other. Will grabs him and glares at Chris. “What is going on here!?”

"He attacked me!" they both say at the same time, directed at the other.

Will rolls his eyes. “I can see that.”

Alix groans in frustration, "We don't have time to figure this out now. Where is Rea?"

Chris says, “She ran off deeper into the forest. This bully’s cohort was chasing her.”

"Thank you. Let's go find her then," Alix says, taking Chris along with her. He makes a face at the other apprentice and hurries off after Alix. “The bully hurt her and made her cry” he tells Alix.

Alix scowls, "Don't tell me about what happened until we are back to camp, and can discuss this like civilized people. Not savages fighting their peers on the ground. "

Chris opens his mouth to retort but then decides to keep it shut.

Rea runs through the forest, lost and disorientated while one of the boys chase after her. She trips, but gets up and keeps on running. Finally she stumbles out of the forest onto a dirt road but hesitates. The other boy bursts out behind her, hot on her trail.

"Can't run forever!" he taunts.

Rea shakes her head wearily. "I give up. Do what you want with me."

He chuckles, "Wimp." and steps towards her. Rea hangs her head and says nothing.

The Apprentice takes another step forward then stops, looking a little confused. "Wait. I don't really want to fight," he admits, all his anger gone. "It's not really worth it to me."

Rea looks puzzled. "What?"

He shrugs, "Now that Markus isn't here to nag at me, I realize it's not really what I want."

Rea nods slowly, wiping some of the blood off of her face. “I see,” she says quietly.

The apprentice looks down. "So, sorry," he says at length. "It was wrong of me to give into Markus's pressuring. I doubt my mentor will be very happy," he mumbles, shamefaced

Rea nods. “I going to be in big trouble too.”

Jonas, for that what the apprentice’s name, looks up, "I hope not! You haven't done anything wrong."

Rea shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. Do you know the way back?”

Jonas hesitates, "I'm not sure, I think we came this way., he says pointing behind him and a little to the right.

“Alright, I’ll follow you.”

Rea looks up. "Oh, no, here comes Alix and Chris," she says to Jonas.

Upon seeing the two apprentices, Alix sighs with relief. "There you two are!" But Rea says nothing and hangs her head, the cowl of the cloak concealing her bruised face.

Alix looks between the three apprentices, "Come with me back to camp, we have a lot to discuss." They silently follow her back to the camp, ignoring the stares from the other rangers and their apprentices. Alix walks over to where Will, Markus, and Jonas' mentor, Matthew are waiting and the bedraggled apprentices follow her.

"Let's get this over with, shall we?"

The Jonas nods, but looks furtively at Markus.

"Chris, you first. Tell me what happened. Everything." Rea hangs her head as Chris recounts the events.

After he is done, Alix turns to Markus, "Is this true? Do you have something to say against his accusations?"

Markus replies vehemently, “The girl started it! She embarrassed us by showing off and then when I got angry with her, she broke my bow!”

"Rea did NOT break your bow or show off!" Chris growls, fists clenched.

Alix holds a hand up for him to be silent, "Rea, what do you say to this?"

She bites her lips and says nothing for a moment. Finally, in a quiet voice she says, “I guess it was my fault it all started.”

"I didn't ask if it was your fault, I asked if you broke his bow"

"And was showing off,” Markus adds.

Rea shakes her head. “I did not break his bow though.”

"But you were gloating about your abilities?"

“Well, I guess I did get carried away.”

Markus yells angrily. “YOU GUESS?! You were definitely bragging. And you sure did break my bow. Aren’t I right Jonas?” The other apprentices opens his mouth to protest but Markus glares at him so fiercely that he quickly shuts it and nods.

​Alix watches the exchange with a frown, she looks up at the mentors, "Do you mind if I speak to each individually?" ​

They shrug. "Go ahead."

Alix nods, "Jonas, will you come with me please? The rest of you troublemakers, don't go too far." He nods and follows her. Alix walks until they are out of earshot. Jonas glances at her furtively as she sits down on a log, and gestures for him to sit next to her, "Care to explain your side of the story?" He is hesitant to tell, glancing at the group of rangers further away.

Alix senses his nervousness, and puts a hand on his shoulder, "Look, you can trust me. You don't seem the type to get into trouble like this, and I just want to get you out of it."

He nods and proceeds to tell her everything with Alix nods occasionally as he speaks. He finishes his story and Alix nods, standing up. "Thank you Jonas," she says. They walk back to where the others are waiting, and Alix gestures for Markus to follow her. He grumpily does so.

When they reach the same place, Alix crosses her arms, "So, what's your side of the story?" He gives his story vehemently and with many angry words.

“They attacked you? After breaking your bow?"

“No, they ran and I chased after them.”

"Why did you do that?"

“I wanted to see where they were going and to make sure what they were up to next.”

Alix nods, "I see."

“Is that all you want to know?”

Alix shakes her head, "Not quite. What did Rea say to you when she was gloating?"

"She said something about how great a shame it was to miss once or something like that.”

"And then she broke your bow?"

"I said that she shouldn't brag and that there was no shame in missing once and she got angry with me and broke my bow."

"I see. Very well. If you would, tell Chris to come here please."

He leaves to rejoin the group of apprentices and Rangers sends Chris to Alix.

Chris walks to where Alix is waiting. "You called me?"

​"I did. It's your turn to tell me ​your version of the story."

After he tells his version of the stor, Alix nods thoughtfully, "I see."

He looks at her worried. "Please don't hold back Rea's bronze. It really wasn't her fault."

Alix is taken aback. "Now why would I do such a thing? Like you, don't believe that Rea would gloat, much less break someone's bow. "

He shrugs. "I don't know but I know that with her not willing to say anything in her defense it might make things look bleak for her."

Alix nods, "It's quite an unfortunate trait. Well, we can't do anything at the moment until I talk to Rea. Will you please get her for me?"

He nods and sends her back to Alix.

"There you are Rea, I'm sure you have quite the tale to tell me."

Rea shrugs and turned her face away from Alix.

"Will you please tell me?"

“I don’t have much to tell. They have told you everything.”

"I'd like to hear it from you."

“Well, I was at the archery range where I met Chris. I made some joke about my missing the target and one of the boys took it as an offence.”

"Continue." Alix nods.

“He grew angry and I didn’t know what to do so I ran.”

"He says you broke his bow, is that true?"

“Well….not exactly.”

"What do you mean? Did you, or did you not break his bow?"

“I didn’t, but it was my fault it happened. I couldn’t have broken it either. It was a longbow and it was too strong for me to break it.”

"It is your fault in what way? If you didn't break it, or pay or threaten someone else to do it, how is it your fault?"

“If I hadn’t made the comment, he wouldn’t have gotten so angry and this all wouldn’t have happened! It all my fault!”

"Rea, calm down. Just explain the rest, I'll decide if it was your fault or not"

“Yes, Alix,” she sighs. “Well, they followed us into to forest and that’s where you found us. That’s pretty much it. Also, Jonas has nothing to do with the argument. Markus forced him into it against his will.”

Alix nods, "Thank you Rea, and I don't know what happened to make you all think this, but I have no intention of withholding your bronze."

She finally turns her face up to Alix. “I don’t know, Alix. I don’t know. I’ve just messed up so bad.”

"I think you do know." Alix says standing up. "Well then, let's go meet with the others."

Rea stands and follows her silently. They join up with the others who all look up expectantly.

“I've figured our little issue out," Alix states.

Chris and Markus both blurt out excitedly, "Who's innocent?"

Alix raises an eyebrow at the apprentices, "I'm going to be explaining it all to your mentors first. The four of you go bug the commandant, he'd love the company," Alix grins.

As the apprentices head off to where the commandant is, Rea slips away and goes to wash off. In a few minutes, she rejoins her companions. Rea stands by Chris, listening to them talk easily with Gilan who chuckles at a comment Jonas has just made. Rea listens to them talk,wishing that she would talk as easily as they could.


Alix explains what she finds out to the other Rangers. "So, from what I gather, that's what happened," she says seriously.

"Why would they want to do that?" one of the mentors queries.

"I believe it all boils down to jealousy."

"Why would they be jealous though?"

"Each mentioned being in the archery range, and all mentioned that Markus was watching Rea shoot, and that she was doing rather well."

Markus' mentor shakes his head. "I can't believe Markus would do something like that. He seemed to be a good boy. "

Alix nods, "Is he prone to get angry or offended easily?"

"Well, he did get quite angry a few times when he didn't do so well in his training."

"Makes sense. Fits the story,"

"What are we to do?"

"Before we take any serious action, I planned for us to speak with the commandant."

"Good idea," says Will. "The kids are there with him anyways."

"Those at fault will have to be punished, though."

"Yes, how?"

Alix shrugs, "I was hoping you all would have some input."

Will frowns. "I don't know how to punish him. What was your idea Alix?"

"I'm not going to tell you how to do things, but I would advise that you take into account who did what, and how severe their actions were."

"Well," Markus' mentor says reluctantly, "I could hold hold him back a year for bad conduct..."

Alix nods, 'We'll talk it all over with the Commandant." ​

They nod and the group of mentors head over to where the commandant is sitting talking with the apprentices. As they approach, Gilan looks up at them. The apprentices stop their chattering and look nervously at their mentors.

"I don't know if you've already heard, but these four have been having some issues," Alix tells the commandant.

Gilan cocks his head to one side. “They didn’t say anything of the kind.”

Will can't help but grin, "Of course they wouldn’t."

The apprentices look at each other nervously, and shift uncomfortably. “I think they are enjoying making us uncomfortable,” Chris says out of the corner of his mouth to Rea, who just shrugs and grins at him.

Alix looks over at him, hearing his comment. "Yes. Yes, we are as a matter of fact. I waited many years to enjoy moments such as this, especially after seeing how much my own mentor enjoyed such things," she says, straight faced with just the barest hint of a smile.

Gilan grins good-naturedly at her then says, “So what is all this fuss about?”

"They," Alix gestures to the four apprentices. "got into a wretched fight."

Gilan raises his eyebrows. “Oh? And now what?”

"Now, we have to explain the issue in further detail. Since you are the commandant after all."

Gilan nods and motions for her to continue. After Alix explains the situation, Gilan nods thoughtfully. "This certainly is a problem. After all, if we have contention among ourselves, we can't exactly be the kingdom's peacekeepers. Now, if you four were in my place, what would you do?" he says to the apprentices.

Markus blurts out, “Punish the guilty ones!” to which Chris replies vehemently, “Such as you!”

"Yes, we can't just let the troublemakers go free," Gilan agrees.

“So? Who’s guilty anyways? I know it’s not Rea?” Chris says.

Gilan raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms, "I believe that you know if you are guilty or not, whether you admit to it or deny it." he says, looking them all in the eye and they all fall silent.

"He's doing his 'thing',” Alix mutters quietly to Will "I've seen it before.”

Will grins back at her. “He sure does it well.”

Alix nods, "Next he'll probably talk to them individually, and they'll all come totally clean," she whispers quietly back.

Will nods. “He has a gentle and kind manner which totally disarms them.”

Alix nods, "In some cases, yes. Others, he can be terrifying. I think he tries to remain unpredictable when dealing with cases like this, and when on missions."

Will nods and watches as Gilan ask one of the apprentices to step aside and some with him. Alix gives Will an 'See? Just like I said' look.

Gilan walks a little ways off then sits down. Markus stands uncomfortably in front of the commandant.

"This must be hard," Gilan says. "I've never known you to get in such troubles before."

Markus frowns. “To tell the truth I haven’t gotten in so much trouble before.”

Gilan nods, "So what happened this time? What made things different for you to get in such a position?"

“The girl made me so angry!” he blurts out.

Gilan holds a hand up, "Calm down. How did she make you angry? Was she picking on you? Laughing at you?"

“Well, no. It was just that…well…she’s just was so good and…”

"So you were jealous," Gilan states quietly. "So, I'm going to assume then, that in your jealousy and anger, you broke your own bow and tried to get back at the others?"

Markus hesitates, not wanting to say it but wanting to at the same time.

"If you've done something wrong, it's better to admit it than to try and keep it hidden," Gilan tells him gently.

He breaks down crying. “It’s all true,” he sobs. “Oh, but I don’t think I could stand the shame. I’ve never messed up so bad before!”

Gilan leans forward, quiet for a moment. "I think, that so long as you have learned your lesson from what has happened today, you can be better because of it."

He nods. “How will you punish me?”

​"I think I will leave it up to your mentor. He knows you best, and can do a better job than I." ​

Markus nods and follow Gilan back to the rest of the rangers.

Gilan says, "Markus here has something he'd like to say."

Markus looks at his feet as he says, "I have an apology to make to all of you...I....well, I lied. To all of you. I was jealous and got angry...I am so sorry." With that he breaks down sobbing, ashamed of himself.

Rea looks at him and her heart melts. She steps up and put an hand gently on his shoulder, but he doesn't look up to meet her eyes. "It's alright," she says gently. "I have nothing against you."

He looks up bewilderment in his eyes. "What? You mean it?"

She nods and hugs him. "I'm just glad you made a clean breast of it all. Thank you," she says softly.

Jonas also nods at Markus, "I forgive you too." ​

Rea steps back and elbows Chris in the ribs. "Hurry up and say it."

Chris frowns, stepping forward, "I won't hold a grudge. Just don't let this happen again." he says stiffly. Rea mutters something under her breath about Chris then shrugs as he turns to glare at her.

Markus nods. "It won't." He turn to his mentor. "I don't know how to say I am sorry to you. I let you down. I broke your trust."

"I won't deny that, but I am grateful that you apologize."

Alix nudges Gilan, "I'm impressed. You've done it again." ​

He grins at her. "Yep, my striking looks and suave manner did it again," he says with a little bow.

Alix grins. "I bet it was the looks that sent him to tears," she teases.

Markus’ mentor is talking to his apprentice. “Markus, as punishment, I have decided to hold you back a year in your training. Since this is your third year, you will have to train for three more years instead of two.”

Markus nods, looking a little relieved. “Thank you sir and I won’t let it happen again,” he says firmly.

His mentor nods. “See that you don’t. I don’t want to be training you forever.”

A few days later, the Rangers are all packing up their camps and preparing to go home for the Gathering was coming to a close. Rea had passed the assessment with considerable ease and had won her bronze oakleaf, the symbol of a first year apprentice. She was packing up the tent when Chris came over.

“I’m glad that matter is all settled and we are all friends again,” he said, standing by here and watching her closely. Rea nods, busy tying the rope in place and securing any loose things. Rea becomes slightly embarrassed and uncomfortable with Chris just standing there watching her.

“Don’t you need to be helping your mentor?” she says in a slightly annoyed tone.

Chris shakes his head. “No, we finished. He’s just talking. Rea, I’m getting ready to go. I won’t see you for another year.”

Rea straightens up. “Yes, I know that. So what?”

“It’s just...well...I’ll miss you. Write to me sometime, will you?”

Rea laughs. “I will when I have time. Take care of yourself, Chris.”

“You too Rea,” he says quietly and reaches down for her hand. She is quite taken by surprise as he gently presses it to his lips. He holds her hand for a moment then, embarrassed, drops it and walks away to where his mentor is waiting. He mounts up and as he turns away, waves a goodbye to her. She raises her hand in return and watches them disappear down the road. As she turns around, she comes face to face with her mentor.

“What was that all about?” Alix asks, her eyebrows raised.

Rea blushed slightly and turns to mount her horse. “Just saying goodbye to a friend,” she replies.

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