The tournament at gorlan, p.1
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       The Tournament at Gorlan, p.1

           John Flanagan
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The Tournament at Gorlan


  Also by John Flanagan

  THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE EPIC

  BOOK 1: THE RUINS OF GORLAN

  BOOK 2: THE BURNING BRIDGE

  BOOK 3: THE ICEBOUND LAND

  BOOK 4: THE BATTLE FOR SKANDIA

  BOOK 5: THE SORCERER OF THE NORTH

  BOOK 6: THE SIEGE OF MACINDAW

  BOOK 7: ERAK’S RANSOM

  BOOK 8: THE KINGS OF CLONMEL

  BOOK 9: HALT’S PERIL

  BOOK 10: THE EMPEROR OF NIHON-JA

  BOOK 11: THE LOST STORIES

  BOOK 12: THE ROYAL RANGER

  BROTHERBAND CHRONICLES

  BOOK 1: THE OUTCASTS

  BOOK 2: THE INVADERS

  BOOK 3: THE HUNTERS

  BOOK 4: SLAVES OF SOCORRO

  BOOK 5: SCORPION MOUNTAIN

  PHILOMEL BOOKS

  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014

  Copyright © 2015 by John Flanagan. Published in Australia by Random House Australia in 2015. Map copyright © by Mathematics courtesy Random House Australia.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  Philomel Books is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

  ISBN 978-0-698-17412-2

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  Contents

  Also by John Flanagan

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Map

  Foreword

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  FOREWORD

  THE EVENTS DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK FOLLOW DIRECTLY from the short story “The Hibernian,” published in Book 11 of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Lost Stories.

  For those who have not read “The Hibernian,” it describes how Halt and Crowley first met as younger men when Halt came to the Kingdom of Araluen as a fugitive from his homeland of Hibernia. Halt was the rightful heir to the throne of Clonmel, but his younger twin brother attempted to kill him and seize the throne. Saddened and embittered by his brother’s behavior, but unwilling to fight his own flesh and blood, Halt chose instead to leave Hibernia behind.

  He arrives in Araluen at a time when Morgarath, Baron of Gorlan Fief and the Kingdom’s foremost knight, is engaged upon a carefully planned attempt to seize power. One of his first steps is to weaken and destroy the Ranger Corps, an elite special forces unit who are the eyes and ears of the Kingdom and the most powerful group supporting the existing King. Over a period of several years, Morgarath has organized for the more senior Rangers to be falsely accused of crimes and forced to abandon their posts or flee the country. He has replaced them with his own sycophants and toadies.

  Morgarath is an influential figure and has gained King Oswald’s confidence, convincing him that his son, Prince Duncan, has been conspiring to murder him. Oswald takes refuge in Castle Gorlan, under Morgarath’s protection. As time passes, Morgarath’s protection becomes increasingly oppressive and the King finds himself a virtual prisoner.

  Crowley, a recently commissioned Ranger, trained in the traditional skills by an old Ranger named Pritchard, is disillusioned by Morgarath’s scheming. Shortly after he meets Halt, he decides to reform the Ranger Corps. He plans to recruit the few remaining members of the original group and seek a royal charter from Prince Duncan. Crowley discovers that, like himself, Halt has been trained by Pritchard, one of the first of the Rangers to be driven out of the Kingdom by Morgarath. This seals their friendship. The bond between them is reinforced when Halt joins Crowley to fight off an attack by half a dozen of Morgarath’s soldiers.

  With Morgarath’s men hot on their heels, Halt decides to join Crowley in his search for Prince Duncan. Together, they set off on their quest, with the ever-present threat of Morgarath’s enmity behind them.

  1

  IT HAD BEEN RAINING FOR A WEEK.

  Not heavy rain, but a steady, persistent, soaking rain that finally overcame the protective oil in their woolen cloaks and worked its way into the fabric itself, making it heavy and sodden.

  And cold.

  As they had done for the previous few nights, Halt and Crowley were camping out in the woods. Halt suggested that they should avoid towns and villages until they were sure they were clear of Morgarath’s sphere of influence, and Crowley initially agreed. Halt, after all, had more experience of traveling as a fugitive than he did. Now, however, he wasn’t quite so sure about the decision.

  They were sitting under a rectangular oilskin sheet that they had spread between four trees, with the lower side angled so that the rain would run off it. The ground beneath them was saturated and they had constructed low cots from tree branches to keep them off the wet earth. Each cot consisted of a rectangular frame, with a series of short crosspieces, and leafy boughs laid across it to form a rough mattress. Each day, they would disassemble the frames and carry the longer timber pieces with them, lashed in a bundle.

  A few meters away, their horses were tethered. The animals huddled together, sharing their body warmth and keeping their hindquarters turned to the wind and rain.

  Halt shivered and pulled his cloak more tightly around him. As he moved, a runnel of water ran off the cowl and landed on his nose, continuing its downward passage to drip off the end. Seeing it, Crowley laughed.

  Halt turned an accusing eye on him. “What do you find so amusing?” he asked coldly.

  Crowley, also huddled inside his cloak, nodded his head toward his friend. “You sitting there, hunched over and dripping, like an old man with a runny nose,” he said. Unfortunately, the shrugging movement dislodged a stream of water from his own cowl and the drops
ran down his nose. He sniffed, the smile dying on his face.

  “You find it amusing that I’m soaked to the skin and dying of cold?” Halt asked.

  Crowley made as if to shrug, then realized that such a movement would send more water running, and restrained himself. “Not amusing, perhaps. But certainly diverting.”

  Halt turned, very carefully, to face him. “And from what does this sight divert you?” he asked, with careful attention to his grammar. When Halt was in a bad mood, he invariably paid careful attention to his grammar.

  “From the fact that I’m also sitting here with water running off my nose, cold, wet and miserable,” Crowley said.

  Halt considered that. “You’re uncomfortable?”

  Crowley nodded, sending more water cascading. “Totally,” he said.

  “Some Ranger you turned out to be,” Halt told him. “I thought Rangers could face the worst discomfort in the line of duty with a smile on their lips and a song in their heart. I didn’t realize they would sit around whining and complaining.”

  “Facing discomfort doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to whine and complain about it. Besides, only a few minutes ago, I was laughing and cheerful.” Crowley shivered, and pulled his cloak tighter. More water ran off it. “These cloaks are good up to a point. But once the water has soaked into them, they’re worse than nothing.”

  “If you were sitting here wrapped in nothing you’d soon see the difference,” Halt replied. Crowley grunted, and a brief silence fell over the campsite, broken only by the persistent patter of rain on the leaves and the occasional stomp of one of the horses’ hooves.

  They were faced with another cold supper. The air was so moisture laden that getting a spark to take from Halt’s flint and steel to ignite a handful of tinder would be beyond his capabilities. And even if he could manage that, there was no dry firewood. Usually, they traveled with an emergency supply of tinder and kindling, but they had run out of both two days previously.

  Pity, Halt thought. Even a small fire would have provided some warmth, and the flames would have given them a psychological boost as well. He reached for the pack on the cot beside him and found a piece of beef jerky. He bit some off and began to chew methodically, his jaws working on the tough, flinty meat. Maybe the exercise of chewing the jerky would warm him, he thought. The meat was certainly tough enough to require considerable effort from his jaws. Slowly, the smoked meat flavor began to release from the jerky and fill his mouth. Then, of course, he realized how very hungry he really was, and how little opportunity he would have to relieve that hunger.

  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Being cold and hungry was miserable. Being wet was equally so. Being all three was well nigh unbearable.

  “I’ve been thinking . . . ,” Crowley began, leaving the sentence hanging for a few seconds.

  Halt shook his head. “And here am I without pencil or parchment to record this momentous event.”

  Crowley raised an eyebrow in his direction. At least, he thought, that didn’t send water cascading down his face. He raised his other eyebrow as well, just to make sure. No cascade, so he relaxed them both.

  “I think we might have crossed the border out of Gorlan Fief,” he continued. Halt grunted, a noncommittal sound.

  Crowley took that as a signal to expound on his theory. “That river we crossed late this afternoon, I think that might have been the Crowsfoot River, and that’s the border between Gorlan and Keramon Fiefs.”

  “Equally,” said Halt, “it might have been the Salmon River, and as I recall from the map, that’s still kilometers inside Gorlan.”

  But Crowley shook his head. “The Salmon is much narrower—much faster running. And it’s farther west, closer to Redmont. So unless our navigation is well off the mark, we wouldn’t have come close to it.”

  “Well, you were the one doing the navigating,” Halt said.

  Crowley gave him a hurt look. “My map reading and sense of direction aren’t wonderful. But I’m rarely twenty or thirty kilometers offline.”

  “Rarely, of course, implies that sometimes you are,” Halt pointed out. But Crowley stuck to his point.

  “Not this time. And as I say, the Salmon is narrower and faster running.”

  Halt decided to concede. “So, if you are right, what point are you making?”

  Crowley shifted as cold water ran down inside his cloak. Halt was right, he thought, it might feel miserable sitting huddled in a soaking cloak, but at least it still kept most of the water out—and it did allow some body heat to be retained, damp as it might be.

  “My point is, if we’ve moved out of Gorlan Fief, we might be able to look for an inn in a village and spend a few nights.”

  “You think Morgarath would stop at the border between the two fiefs?” asked Halt.

  Crowley stuck out his bottom lip. “Perhaps not Morgarath himself,” he admitted. “But if he sent some of his men after us—and we don’t even know for sure that he has—they might well decide to turn back once they reached the limits of the fief. Particularly in this sort of weather. They won’t be enjoying it any more than we are.”

  “It’s possible,” Halt said. “So do you have a village in mind?”

  Crowley nodded. He’d been studying the map before the light failed. “There’s a village called Woolsey,” he said. “I’d guess it’s about ten kilometers away and a little off the beaten track. It’s big enough to have a tavern or an inn. And if it doesn’t, we could always look for lodgings with one of the villagers.”

  Halt said nothing, considering the idea. Then a problem occurred to Crowley.

  “Of course, we’d need money,” he said. “Usually when I’m traveling, I pay with a chit that can be reclaimed from the Corps. But I can hardly do that now.”

  Since their confrontation with Morgarath, and the fight with his men, they had decided that Crowley should relinquish his identity as a Ranger. Morgarath’s men would be looking for a member of the Corps. So far, Morgarath was probably unaware that Halt had joined Crowley. To this end, Crowley had set aside his mottled Ranger cloak and was wearing a simple wool cloak in a dark gray color. Halt’s cloak was a forest green. Both colors were adequate for concealment, and not as instantly recognizable as Ranger cloaks.

  “I have money,” Halt said, and Crowley looked at him with relief. “But it’s Hibernian. I’m not sure if innkeepers here will accept it.”

  “Is it gold?” Crowley asked and, when Halt nodded, he continued. “They’ll accept it.”

  “Well then,” Halt said, “tomorrow we’ll head for Woolsey village. It’ll give us a chance to dry out our clothes and our gear. And the horses will benefit from spending a couple of nights in a stable.”

  “Or even a week?” Crowley suggested optimistically.

  Halt turned a baleful eye on him, peering at him through the multiple drips of water that were now running from his cowl.

  Crowley shrugged. “A couple of nights is good.”

  “Let’s turn in,” Halt said, yawning. It had been a long day and the thought of a dry bed on the morrow was an attractive one. He lay down carefully and, shivering slightly, wrapped the soaking wet cloak around him, pulling the cowl high up over his head. A gust of wind shook the tarpaulin above them and water cascaded down on three sides. He shivered again.

  “To blazes with Morgarath’s men,” Halt muttered. “I want a nice roaring fire tomorrow night.”

  “And a hearty beef stew,” came Crowley’s muffled voice.

  “And a hearty beef stew,” Halt agreed.

  2

  IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON BY THE TIME THEY REACHED Woolsey. The rain had eased to a steady drizzle but still refused to stop completely.

  They rode down the single street of the village, huddled in their cloaks. The two horses plodded stolidly through the thick mud that covered the street, their hooves making sucking, squish
ing noises as they alternately placed them down, then dragged them free of the clinging, wet ooze.

  Crowley pointed to a building halfway down the street, larger than those surrounding it. It was the only two-story structure in the village, and a painted signboard above the entrance swung erratically in the wind.

  He peered closely at the sign. “The Yellow Parrot. That does sound jolly.”

  “What’s jolly about a yellow parrot?” Halt shot him a sidelong look.

  Crowley considered the question. Truth be told, he had spoken simply for the sake of saying something, but he wasn’t going to admit it.

  “Well,” he said eventually, “parrots are amusing creatures. They talk, don’t they? They say things like ‘Polly wants a bread crust.’ Or, ‘Who’s a pretty boy then?’ And they’re colorful, so they brighten things up.”

  “What’s amusing about a bird wanting a bread crust? Or claiming to be a pretty boy then? After all, the bird doesn’t actually know what it’s saying, does it?”

  “It knows it wants a bread crust,” Crowley said. “I mean, when it says that, and you give it a bread crust, it eats the bread crust, doesn’t it? So obviously, it knows what it’s saying.”

  Halt nudged his horse so that it stopped, while he turned to look at his companion. Crowley twitched the reins and his horse halted as well.

  “Are you always so insufferably cheerful?” Halt asked.

  “I suppose I am,” Crowley admitted. “Do you always travel around as if there’s a big, black thundercloud hanging over your head?” He liked Halt, despite their short acquaintance. But the Hibernian did tend to be a bit of a Gloomy Gus at times, he thought.

  “What did you say?” Halt demanded.

  Crowley realized that he must have unwittingly muttered the words aloud as he had the thought. Hurriedly, he shook his head. Raindrops scattered around him as he did.

  “I didn’t say anything.”

  But Halt was glaring at him. “You called me a Gloomy Gus,” he accused.

  Crowley shrugged. “It’s a term of endearment in this country.” He tapped his horse with his heels to start moving again. Squish, suck, squish, suck, ooze squish, went the hooves.

 
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