Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Okay, that's not quite true—I do own a half-decent pencil that I write story ideas down with, but I certainly do not own Ranger's Apprentice.
Apart from the droning buzz of a few nocturnal insects and the occasional hooting call from an owl, the night was quiet. Unimpeded by clouds, the moon and stars shone brightly, bathing the surrounding trees in a cold, silvery glow.
Halt was sitting with his back to a large, gnarled tree, his cloak wrapped around him and his cowl up, shading the pale oval of his face. In this position, he was nearly invisible to a casual watcher, and unless he moved or made a sound, it was quite likely that most people would never even notice him. Not that there were any people out during the middle of the night, but still.
A gust of cool air blew through the trees, rustling the red, yellow, and brown leaves and causing Halt to think wistfully of his warm, comfortable bed back at the cabin. He and Will had been patrolling along the outermost reaches of the fief, and they would have been back home before evening except for a pesky stoat that had been raiding a hamlet's chickens.
He and Will had tracked the predator back to its den and dealt with it without much trouble, but the escapade had put the two Ranger's behind schedule, which was why they were camped out several kilometres away from the cabin and the comfort that accompanied it.
The sound of his apprentice shifting in his sleep had Halt glancing over to check on him. Will had volunteered to take the first watch, and after waking Halt midway through the night, he had rolled himself in his cloak, then fallen asleep almost instantly.
During supper, Will had off-handedly mentioned that he was cold, and it was obvious he still felt that way. The boy was curled into a tight ball, and his hands clutched at the fabric of his cloak as if that would generate more warmth. His face was tense and his lips were curved downwards into a faint grimace. What caught Halt's attention most, however, were the faint tremors that racked Will's thin frame. Even through the material of the cloak it was obvious that Will was shivering.
With a thoughtful frown, Halt watched his apprentice. He had recently become aware of the fact that Will was more susceptible to the cold, yet he had not thought to bring an extra blanket or anything else that would help him. After a moment's deliberation, Halt shrugged off his cloak.
He padded almost inaudibly over Will and gently draped the large piece of fabric over him. Although Will did not wake, some part of him must have recognized the new warmth, and he shifted again, hands coming up to pull the additional cloak closer to him. A small sigh escaped his lips, and the downward lines of his mouth softened into a more neutral expression.
Halt smiled softly, even as he shivered in the chill night air. He resumed his place by the foot of the tree, more visible and less warm, but less troubled. Making sure Will was comfortable made an uncomfortable night worth it.
Will was cold.
No, scratch that. He was freezing.
He was in some kind of… snowstorm, maybe? There was white all around him; as far as he could see, whichever way he turned. The ground beneath him was white too. Sometimes it was smooth and slippery like ice, and other times it was soft and deep like snowdrifts.
The wind howled around him and its long, icy fingers swept right past his threadbare rags that were attempting to pass as clothes.
He hugged his arms around his chest in an attempt to shield a part of himself from the bitter cold, but it did no good. The wind almost sounded like it was laughing at his pathetic attempts to preserve some shred of warmth.
Will stumbled forward. He had no clue where he was or where he was trying to get to, but an inner voice that sounded suspiciously like Halt told him that staying in place without moving around would end up with him dead.
So he urged his leaden feet to take step after step. His shoulders were hunched and his head hung heavy with exhaustion and cold, but he kept stumbling forwards, pleading for relief with anyone that might be listening, but knowing it was futile.
And then, something thick and warm settled over him. The wind died down into barely noticeable puffs, and while the cold and snow were still there, they were greatly diminished. Will could have cried in relief, but he settled instead for a quiet sigh.
He was warm.
Will woke to the invigorating scent of freshly brewed coffee. He blinked a couple times, trying to organize his thoughts.
He had been dreaming of cold and snow, which wasn't unusual. Many mornings he found himself waking up to flashes and half-remembered glimpses of struggling through a forsaken, blizzard covered wasteland, but this dream had been different.
It had started off the same way as all the others, but then it changed. There had been warmth—something that had never appeared in his dreams before. So why had it appeared in this one?
Will sat up, and his cloak fell down onto his legs. He idly noted that it was thicker than he remembered it being, but didn't ponder the fact too much. Looking across the cheerfully crackling fire to where Halt was pouring coffee into a cup, Will's eyebrows scrunched together.
There was something… missing?
The answer came to him a moment later. It was a cool autumn morning, but Halt wasn't wearing his cloak. A quick scan of their campsite revealed that Halt's cloak was nowhere in sight, and Will couldn't help but feel confused. Halt had certainly had his cloak when Will woke him in the middle of the night for his turn at watch, but now it was gone.
It took Will longer than he cared to admit for his mind to make the connection between his extra thick cloak and Halt's lack of cloak.
Experimentally, Will pulled at the material on his legs. Sure enough, it separated into two cloaks.
"You gave me your cloak," he said in surprise, not completely comprehending the reason Halt had given up his warmth.
Halt looked up and took a sip of his steaming coffee. "Good morning to you too."
Will wasn't sure what to feel. On one hand, he was touched by Halt's generosity, and on the other hand he was just plain confused. "You gave me your cloak," he repeated.
A corner of Halt's mouth twitched. "I did," he admitted.
Will looked down at the two cloaks he held, then back up at his mentor. "But why?"
"You looked cold."
"But you would've been cold too!" exclaimed Will.
"I can handle it for one night." Halt poured a second cup of coffee and held it out to Will.
"Oh." Will took the proffered coffee and set it down beside him, then folded Halt's cloak and reached over to hand it to him. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
Halt nodded, shook the cloak out, and twisted it over his shoulders. Will took his coffee, added a generous spoonful of honey, and sipped at it happily, savouring both the taste and the warmth. Neither of them mentioned Halt's generosity again, but Will couldn't help but notice as they rode back to the cabin that Halt's demeanour was slightly less gruff than usual.
It was a few days later that Will came back to the cabin after a trip to Wensley to stock up on various food items they were running low on (coffee especially—it seemed like they were always in need of coffee) that he found a soft bundle of green and grey cloth sitting on his bed. Curious, he picked it up and examined it. It was similar to the Ranger's cloak he had hung up by the door when he came in, but this one was thicker and was lined with a soft, warm material. Even before he tried it on, Will knew it would be even warmer than the cloak he had.
A/N: Hey guys! Long time, no see, eh? I'm still here, and I'm still interested in writing, never fear. Thank you so much for your reviews, they're really encouraging and I love hearing from you.
Happy New Year's Eve! Here's to 2021 being better than 2020!