Disclaimer: If you truly think that I'm John Flanagan and therefore own Ranger's Apprentice, please PM me and I'll assure you that I'm not.
The cover image was drawn for me by a very talented friend.
"All right Will, I made supper, so you have to clean it up. Afterwards there will be time for you to practice your shooting before it's completely dark." Halt said, leaning back in his chair, savouring the last bite of rabbit stew.
Will sighed. It had been a long day, filled with tracking and silent movement practice, and he had been hoping that Halt would let him have the evening to relax. "Do I have to?" he asked, knowing that his question was futile but determined to try anyways.
Halt saw no reason to say anything in response, so he settled for merely raising an eyebrow at his apprentice.
"How do you do that?" Will queried.
Halt was perplexed by the question; surely Will knew how to do the dishes. Nevertheless, he responded, the sarcasm evident in his voice. "First you get some water from the water barrel. Then you take a cloth and—"
"No, not the dishes," Will interrupted, "Raising your eyebrow. How do you do it?"
"Oh," Halt said, surprised once more by the direction in which the conversation was moving. "Well… I'm not completely sure. You just raise it," he explained uncertainly. Raising an eyebrow was just something he did; it wasn't like he put a lot of conscious effort into it.
"Then how did you learn?"
"I don't know. It's just something I do." Halt had a vague memory of seeing one of his father's councilmen raise his eyebrow during a council meeting at Dun Kilty. He remembered being impressed by the motion and determining to master it, but he couldn't actually remember how he had figured out how to do it.
Will sighed again, discouraged by the unhelpful answer. However, he didn't have much time to stew in his disappointment. Halt looked meaning fully at the dirty dishes and Will picked up the not-so-subtle hint, frowning at the offending objects before rising and getting to work.
"What on earth are you doing?"
The person in question was sitting on his bed, holding a small polished metal mirror in one hand and using his other hand to force his eyebrow up and down. His face was squished into something halfway between a grimace and a look of deep concentration. The resulting effect was so bizarre and comical that Halt found the corners of his mouth twitching.
Halt's voice startled Will and caused a couple of things to happen in quick succession. Will yelped in surprise, jumped several inches into the air, dropped the mirror, and fell off the bed with a loud "THUMP". This sequence of events brought a slight smile to Halt's face, but he made sure to wipe it off before Will looked up accusingly at him from the floor. "What did you do that for?" his apprentice inquired with an injured air.
"I simply asked what you were doing." Halt said.
"But did you have to do it so loudly and abruptly? It's not like I like falling to the floor. It's not a very comfortable thing to fall on to," Will complained, avoiding the question.
Halt crossed his arms. "Will."
"Oh… well… I was just…you know, practicing," Will explained vaguely, resolutely looking anywhere but at Halt.
"Raising my eyebrow. Whenever you do it, it adds so much to everything. I mean, you can make it look threatening, incredulous, sarcastic, fearsome, bored, reflective, or surprised," Will paused to take a breath to continue, but Halt interrupted him before he could launch into a continuation of his monologue about eyebrow-raising and its benefits.
"Alright, I get it. Right now we have firewood that needs to be chopped and horses that need to be brushed down. And since you seem to enjoy looking at your face so much, you can scrub the pots until you can see your face in them. That should keep you busy for a while."
Will groaned as Halt listed the chores but he pushed himself up from the floor, knowing that the sooner he started, the sooner he would be done. He grabbed the axe and made his way to the woodpile.
Halt watched him go, a bemused expression on his face as he listened to the repetitive "THWACK" of an axe against wood. It was a strange feeling to know that Will was trying to emulate him. "It's a good thing that Will hasn't mastered eyebrow-raising yet," Halt reflected, "He'll be more of a handful than he already is once he figures out that trick."
The three Rangers rode slowly past the outlying farms. A few of the farm workers waved at the trio and one or two of the braver workers would occasionally call out a cheerful, if not slightly nervous, greeting.
"Remind me again why you're here, Gilan," Halt glanced at the tallest of the three Rangers.
"Well Halt," Gilan began in a tone commonly used to explain things to young children, which earned him a withering glare. Gilan continued as if nothing had happened, decidedly unwithered. "Even Rangers have vacation time and this year I've decided to come and join you and Will for a few days."
"You mean you've come to annoy me," Halt returned.
"Perhaps," Gilan admitted with a grin, "But can you really blame me for wanting to spend time around your's and Will's cheerful countenances? Although I must say that Will is really beating you in that respect. Would it kill you just to smile once in a while?"
"Halt? Smile? Noooooooo. That only happens about once a year," Will piped up.
"Are you sure? That sounds a bit excessive," Gilan said.
"You two picked the wrong profession," Halt replied dryly, "Since you think that you're so funny, maybe you should consider being jesters. But wait..." Halt paused, as if he had just thought of something, "for that to work, your jokes would have to be funny."
Will adopted a mock-hurt tone. "You don't think we're funny, Halt?"
Gilan gave an over-dramatic gasp and looked over at Will. "He just doesn't appreciate our superior sense of humour."
Halt sighed and arched an eyebrow at the two young men riding beside him, both of them beaming brightly at him. He saw a flash of envy and curiosity in Will's eyes when his brow went up, but it disappeared in an instant.
"How does he do it, Gil?" Will was clutching a cup of coffee and staring thoughtfully into the flames. The Rangers had set up camp in a small copse of trees a little bit away from the road. Halt had muttered something about going for a walk to get peace and quiet before striding off into the gathering darkness, leaving Will and Gilan relaxing by the fire.
"Huh?" Gilan said eloquently, having been startled out of his thoughts, which may or may not have been about a certain vivacious chef.
"How does he do it?" Will repeated.
"He?" Gilan queried.
"Halt," Will said confidently, as if it explained everything.
"Halt?" Gilan said, starting to feel like a parrot, but unable to figure out where the conversation was headed.
Will sighed exasperatedly, as if Gilan should have caught on to the topic already. Gilan didn't know what to say, so he just raised a quizzical eyebrow at the younger Ranger.
"That!" exclaimed Will.
"Raising an eyebrow! I've been trying to figure out how to do it, but all that happens to me when I try is I fall off my bed." Will absently rubbed his lower back, remembering the hardness of the floor.
Gilan took a moment to absorb Will's statement and then looked perplexed as he tried to decipher it. "I suppose it's like any other skill. You just have to keep practicing," he said at last.
Will sighed again. "Thanks Gil. It's just that Halt makes it look so effortless. His eyebrows are like big… caterpillars," Will mused out loud, "Yeah, that's it. Big fuzzy caterpillars that just move up and down his forehead."
Gilan had just taken a sip of his coffee when he heard Will's musings. Unfortunately for him, drinking and laughter do not mix well and he half-choked on coffee as a fit of laughter enveloped him at the comparison Will had just made.
Noticing the odd noise that was coming from Gilan's direction, Will looked over at his friend. "Are you alright?" he asked concernedly.
Between his fits of laughter Gilan managed to gasp out, "Big… fuzzy… caterpillars!" After a moment, Will seemed to realize the humour in what he had said and a wide smile spread across his face.
"Oh I hope Halt didn't hear that." he said somewhat nervously. From previous experiences with things such as the song 'Greybeard Halt', Will knew that teasing Halt about his looks generally led to Will being forced to spend the night in a tree.
"I rather think it's a bit late for that."
At the sound of Halt's voice behind him, Will's eyes widened and he froze, desperately hoping that if he didn't move, Halt would somehow not notice him. It was a flimsy hope, but Will clung to it all the same. His hope was crushed at Halt's next words.
"Will. Tree. Now." Each word was clipped and sharp. Will knew that this tone meant that there would be no argument, so he simply cast a beseeching look at Gilan before scrambling to his feet.
"Halt…" Gilan interceded.
Halt turned to glower at him. "Don't say another word, Gilan. Not unless you feel like keeping Will company. I'm already considering it."
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour in this situation, Gilan snapped his mouth shut. Instead of speaking, he quickly rummaged through his pack, pulled out an extra blanket, and tossed it to Will, knowing from personal experience that spending the night in a tree was cold and uncomfortable.
Will looked gratefully at him before scampering up the tree at Halt's command. Grumbling under his breath, Will squirmed around, trying to find a comfortable position. "Not that comfort is really possible in a tree," he thought morosely to himself, shifting to avoid a twig that had been poking his back.
Down below, Gilan and Halt listened to the creaking of the branches as Will positioned himself; Gilan with a sympathetic expression and Halt with a scowl. It should be noted that Halt was quite fond of his eyebrows and hearing them compared to big fuzzy caterpillars did nothing to improve his temper. He poured some coffee and sat in sullen silence.
Up in the tree, Will had become bored. He searched his pockets, looking for something to do. He felt a hard, smooth object and pulled it out, a mischievous smile crossing his face when he saw what it was.
Halt yawned, causing Gilan to look up. "I'll take first watch," he offered, "it looks like you could use some beauty sleep."
Halt gave Gilan a halfhearted glare. Although he would never admit it to Gilan, he was feeling tired and liked the sound of crawling into his tent, rolling up in his cloak and falling asleep. But he also felt that he couldn't let Gilan's remark pass in silence. "I look perfectly fine, thank you very much," he said gruffly, then yielded, "Will can take second watch and then I'll take third." With that he got up and disappeared into his tent.
The night passed quickly for Halt and Gilan, but seemed to last forever to Will. He hadn't dared to leave the tree, even during his watch. Reflecting on the greater visibility that a person had while in a tree, Will considered that perhaps people should always do their watches from trees. However, this idea was quickly discarded when a cramp hit his leg, reminding him just how uncomfortable it was to stay in trees for long periods of time.
"You can come down now, Will," Halt called as the sun rose the next morning.
Will clambered slowly down the tree, stiff and mildly sore. Gilan handed him a coffee almost as soon as his feet touched the ground, which Will accepted with a quiet word of thanks. He looked at Halt silently, waiting for the inevitable reprimand about not comparing facial features to furry insects.
Halt was about to start speaking when he caught a mischievous glint in Will's eyes. He felt a moment's misgivings—there wasn't anything he was aware of that Will should have been feeling mischievous about. He narrowed his eyes and frowned mildly, then pushed his uneasiness away.
His apprentice stood silently as Halt berated him, looking suitable chastened. But Halt still couldn't shake the feeling that there was something he was missing. He finished talking and then waited for Will to say something.
After a moment's hesitation, Will responded. A triumphant look shone from his eyes as he slowly and deliberately raised an eyebrow at Halt. He held it for a second and then couldn't keep back the large grin that spread across his face at the expression of shocked surprise on Halt's face.
Gilan had been watching the proceedings with interest, having noticed the glint in Will's eyes after coming down from the tree. He started to chuckle at Halt's reaction and he clapped Will on the shoulder in congratulation.
Halt glared at his current and former apprentices. "I thought I taught you two to show proper respect to your seniors," he muttered.
"You did. But you also taught us to forgo that when necessary," Gilan replied.
Halt surveyed the two young men in front of him and then turned away suddenly to prevent them from seeing the faint smile that broke unbidden on his face.
"So how'd you learn to do that?" Gilan asked curiously. After a quick breakfast, the Rangers had packed up and were on the road again, Will and Gilan riding side by side.
Will grinned. "It's just like you said: lots of practice. I had a lot of time up in the tree and I also had—" he fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a smooth, shiny object— "this!"
"Where did you get a mirror from? Are you really that concerned about your looks that you bring it everywhere?"
Blushing slightly, Will shook his head. "No. I'm not completely sure why it was in my pocket. I must have absentmindedly slipped it in sometime before we left." He grinned at Gilan. "However it got there, it sure came in handy."
"The look on Halt's face was absolutely priceless!" Gilan agreed, "He was completely—"
"I can hear you," Halt interrupted.
Will and Gilan exchanged an amused glance before urging Tug and Blaze a little faster to catch up to where Halt was riding in front of them.
A/N: This was an idea that came to me suddenly one day. I really hope that it at least brought a smile to your face. I was giggling when the idea for this story came into my head, but that may have had more to do with the fact that I was semi-sleep deprived...
Anyways, reviews would be very much appreciated if you have time to give them! *cough cough*
And... HAPPY CANADA DAY to any and all of my fellow Canadians!