James was more than a little confused. Why was Daniel here now? Why did he have Halt? Was he the one who captured him? Does he have the other missing rangers too? These were the thoughts running through his head. "It – it's you." He managed to get out. James wasn't over the initial shock of seeing his mentor. After all, Daniel had abandoned him years ago.
"Yes, James it's me. How many times do I have to tell you to not ask pointless questions?" Daniel said slightly annoyed.
"Sorry," James answered under his breath still not believing that his former mentor was standing in front of him. He stood up, "Why are you here? Why is Halt here? Why did you leave?"
"Honestly James, can you ask me one question at a time?" Daniel asked with an amused smile. He could see that James had spent way too much time with Halt's former apprentice.
"Why are you here?" James asked, starting with his first question.
"To find you."
James took an involuntary step back. Why was Daniel looking for him? Now truly on his guard he asked, "Why is Halt here?"
"We will get to that later."
James suppressed a sigh. He was getting tired of Daniels answers. They really weren't answering anything. "Why are you looking for me? You left me alone as a kid. Why come back now?"
"I came back to serve my purpose of course! James, my brother is Morgarath." He said this with a happy grin.
"What! What do you - "
Daniel raised a hand cutting him off, "You didn't let me finish, James." He snapped, "I was never loyal to the ranger corps. I was simply a spy to help my brother. My mission now is to avenge my brother's death. His death was the rangers' fault. He was all Michael and I had. Now we are going to kill all of you."
Michael stepped into the clearing next to Daniel, "Very well said, brother. When we capture all of you," he continued darkly, "there will be a huge public execution for all to see. They will see our power and bow down to us."
James studied the two men standing across from him. Michael was obviously the older of the two brothers, and he was obviously the one in charge. Oh my god. He thought. They're serious. They want to kill us all because of one person.
As soon as this fully registered in James' mind he had his bow pulled back and an arrow aimed at Daniel's heart. "What about me, Daniel? Don't I mean anything to you?" Unshed tears blurred his vision, but he didn't need to see to shoot. He knew exactly where his mentor was.
Halt saw something flash in Daniel's eyes. Regret maybe? But as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.
"Sorry Jamie." He used James' pet name and gave an unsympathetic shrug, "You were never more than a distraction to me." Almost as an afterthought he added, "I wouldn't shoot that if I were you," he gestured to James' gray shafted arrow.
"And why not?" He asked not lowering his bow. "Because you won't survive if you do." Seeing James' confused expression he elaborated, "I have you surrounded by men with crossbows all trained directly on you. If you release that arrow, I'll avoid it and they'll shoot, killing you and Halt. Two less rangers won't ruin our plans."
James hesitated. He couldn't risk getting Halt or himself killed; especially not Halt. They needed to get the information to the rest of the corpse.
He nodded and lowered his bow. He didn't have a choice.
"No, James! You can't" Halt knew what James was thinking.
"Sorry Halt. It's the only way we will have a chance." A chance to escape. He added to himself, then he addressed Daniel, "Alright. You win Daniel."
Michael and Daniel's smiles never reached their eyes, "Good boy, James."
James hated it when people saw him as a boy. He was capable of so much more.
"Now set down that bow."
James reluctantly did as he was told. He hated being without the comforting feeling of having his weapons in his hands even more.
"Your knives and quiver too, boy, quickly." Michael was getting impatient.
Now being completely defenseless, James was afraid. He wasn't sure that Daniel wouldn't hurt him. His mentor was so different than the person he used to know.
"Oh, I want your cloak too."
This James frowned at, "Why?"
"Because we can't have you slipping away now can we?" Again the smiles never reached their eyes.
"Oh of course not," James hissed, but he didn't want trouble so he took off his cloak and tossed it over his weapons. "There! Happy?"
"Hmmm, there is still one thing missing." He pretended to think for a moment, "Ah yes. Derek! Danny!"
Two men bigger than James came into view. "Sir!"
"Oh enough already! We are friends. You don't need to call me sir."
"Sorry!" Danny replied. James figured he was a big softy. "Anyways, deal with him." Daniel gestured to James.
Realizing what Daniel meant, James took another step back, "That's not fair." He said eyeing the two men warily.
Danny and Derek were advancing on him, "Daniel! Call them off! I said I'd go without a fight!"
"Sorry James. You're a ranger. You know the drill."
James paled. Danny and Derek had grabbed his wrists, and pinned them tightly behind his back. "No...Please Daniel. Please. You know what he did to me." He begged his mentor to remember but Daniel was no longer listening,
"Danny, Derek hurry up! We haven't got all day."
In reality Daniel was well aware of how frightened he had made James. He remembered how James ended up in the ward and became his apprentice. It was because of the man who had held him captive when he was young.
"James! Where are you?" His father cried. He and his wife were searching the house. Their boys were gone.
Six year old James followed the party of men reluctantly. He was carrying his two year old brother with him. He knew they had to go. He didn't want to see his brother hurt, but that didn't mean he had to like it. They had been taken from their home in the middle of the night.
Brian was too young to understand, but James knew exactly what was going on. These men would separate them from their parents forever. They would never go home again. They would never be free again.
No! James thought fiercely. I won't allow it to happen. If I can't get myself out, I must get Brian away from here.
During the night, they ran. Young James holding Brian's tiny hand, they ran. They took cover in the forest and hid for days, but it was in vain. The bandits caught their trail and followed them. They came upon them when the brothers least expected it. Small but strong, James tried to protect his brother, told him to run, but it was too late. James was caught, but Brian didn't make it. "No!" James' anguished cry broke the silence in the air. He cried as his brother fell and didn't struggle to his feet. He was gone. "No." James sobbed falling to his knees. His brother was gone.
The next year for James was horrible. He was forced to work for his captors. Forced to do their every wish. When he wasn't doing their bidding, his wrists were bound with frayed ropes to ensure that he didn't escape. They'll make a mistake one day. James told himself. I just have to wait for my chance to escape. Sure enough, that day came. After a year of hard work, James was rewarded with his chance.
The bandits fell into a ranger's trap. The ranger was sandy haired and wasn't very tall. Once he defeated the bandits, he noticed the young dirty boy hiding among the tents.
"C' mon out, son." The ranger said in a soothing voice. "I won't hurt you," He gasped when the thin boy came out. The boy couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. His wrists were bound in front of him and it looked as if he had been beaten on numerous occasions. "Wh-what happened to you?" The ranger asked truly disbelieving what he was seeing. How could anyone be so cruel? This boy in front of him was only a small child.
The ranger sank to his knees. "Please, lad, come here. I can help you." He placed his massive longbow down beside him; put his hands, palms up in a non-threatening gesture, on his legs; and patiently waited for the boy to approach him.
Eventually, he did. James noticed that his eyes were warm and kind. This man wouldn't hurt him. He came forward and allowed the ranger to untie the ropes.
"I'm Crowley." He said holding out his hand.
"James." The boy said shaking the ranger's hand.
"It's nice to meet you, James." Crowley said with a smile, "Now let's get out of here."
"Where will we go?"
"If you want, I can take you to Redmont. You will be safe there."
James nodded. Anywhere was better than here, and he knew he couldn't go home. There would be no home left.
Crowley led James to his horse. He whispered something to his horse before lifting James up into the saddle, and mounting behind him. "This is Cropper. He'll take us to Redmont."
During the long ride, James had plenty of time to think. He wanted to be a ranger. He didn't want anyone to have to go through what he had to. When he voiced his thoughts to Crowley, he ruffled the boy's hair. "We'll see, James. We'll see."
When they reached the castle, James marveled at the size of it. It was huge. "I'm going to live there?" He asked with wide eyes.
"Not just you." Crowley said with a hint of a smile.
James realized he was hiding something. A secret he was dying to know. "What is it Crowley! C'mon tell me!" James was wide eyed and smiling widely now.
"Well, there is this little boy about three. He keeps on calling for a brother named James."
James gasped, "No. You're not serious. Brian's safe? He's alive, but how? I saw him…how?"
"I was there that day, James." Crowley was serious again, "I'm sorry the rangers couldn't help you then. I had to help your brother. He barely made it. By the time he was at least more comfortable, you and the bandits were gone. I'm truly sorry James."
Crowley bowed his head. He had failed this boy. He had left him to the bandits. "Crowley," The boy said, "You saved Brian. That's what matters. Now come on!" He said rather impatiently, almost bouncing in the saddle, "I want to go see my brother!"
Crowley grinned and helped the boy down from Cropper. One day this kid would make a good ranger he realized.
Back to the present
Daniel knew that because that man used to restrain James, he was now deathly afraid of any kinds of restraints. In fact, you could still see the scars where the rope had cut into his wrists. That's why James had begged Daniel to let him go.
Not bothering to struggle James pleaded one last time, "Please Daniel," he whispered. Daniel couldn't stand to look into his old apprentice's puppy dog eyes filled with fear. He looked away as he answered. "Honestly, James, cooperate and I promise you, you won't get hurt." he paused, "at least for now anyways. I can say that much. Now let's get going," Danny and Derek grabbed Jamie's elbows and forced him forward towards the waiting horses, Halt not far behind.
James, knowing there was no way to change Daniel's mind, allowed them to lead him. I just have to wait for the right moment. I will get Halt and myself out of this mess.