Death of a hero, p.5
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       Death of a Hero, p.5
 

           John Flanagan
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  He dipped the cloth in the last of the milk and held it to the baby’s mouth. Will sucked eagerly, his eyes still fixed on the Ranger.

  “Yes, the Ward is the best place for you,” Halt told him. “And it’s best if you’re anonymous. I’ll tell Arald, of course, in confidence. But nobody else will know. Just the two of us. What do you say?”

  To his surprise, the baby emitted a loud burp, then smiled at him. A ghost of a smile touched Halt’s bearded face in reply.

  “I’ll take that as agreement,” he said.

  Four days later, just before the first gray streaks of light heralded the dawn, a dark figure carrying a basket stole across the courtyard of Castle Redmont, to the building that housed the Ward.

  Setting the basket down on the steps outside the door to the Ward, Halt reached in and moved the blanket away from the baby’s face. He placed the note that he had composed into the basket, at the baby’s feet.

  His mother died in childbirth.

  His father died a hero.

  Please care for him. His name is Will.

  A tiny hand emerged from the blankets and gripped his forefinger.

  “I’d swear you were shaking hands good-bye,” Halt whispered. Then, gently disengaging himself, he stroked the baby’s forehead.

  “You’ll be fine here, young Will. With the parents you had, I suspect you’ll grow to be quite a person.”

  He glanced around, saw no sign of anyone watching, then reached up and rapped sharply on the Ward door before melting away into the shadows of the courtyard.

  The Ward’s staff was already up and about, and he heard the door open a few minutes later, then the cry of surprise.

  “Why, it’s a baby! Mistress Aggie, come quick! Someone’s left a baby on the doorstep!”

  Wrapped in his cloak, hidden in the shadows of the huge wall, Halt watched as several women came bustling out, crying out in surprise at the sight of the baby. Then they took him inside, closing the door behind them. He felt an unfamiliar prickling sensation in his eyes and a strange sense of loss.

  “Good-bye for now, Will,” he whispered. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

  Halt felt that same prickling sensation once more as he finished the story. He turned away slightly so that Will couldn’t see the tears that had formed in his eyes.

  “But, Halt, why didn’t you tell me for all those years? Why did you say my mother died in childbirth?”

  “I thought it would be easier on you,” Halt said. “I thought if you knew your mother had been murdered, it might make you bitter. And, as I said, I thought it would be easier on you if nobody knew of my involvement. If I’d said your mother was murdered, people would have started asking questions. I didn’t want that. I wanted you to be accepted.”

  Will nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose so.”

  The older Ranger shifted uncomfortably.

  “There was something else . . .”

  Will opened his mouth, then closed it. He sensed it would be better to let Halt speak in his own time.

  Eventually, his mentor said, in a low voice that Will could barely hear, “I was afraid you’d hate me.”

  Will recoiled in astonishment at the words. “Hate you? How could I hate you? Why would I hate you?”

  Now Halt turned back to face him, and Will could see the anguish in his eyes. “Because I was responsible for the deaths of both your parents!” The words came out violently, as if they were torn from him. “Daniel died saving my life in battle. Then your mother came to my aid when I was fighting Jerrel. If she hadn’t done so, she’d still be alive.”

  “And you’d be dead,” Will pointed out. But Halt shook his head.

  “Maybe. Maybe not. But the fact remains, it was my fault that your family was destroyed, and up until now I was unable to tell you. I thought you might blame me.”

  “Halt, it wasn’t your fault. Who could blame you? You were keeping a promise you made to my father. Blame Morgarath. Blame the Wargals. Or blame Kord and Jerrel. That’s where the fault lies. Not on your shoulders.”

  Watching Halt, Will now saw those shoulders sag with relief.

  “That’s what Pauline said you’d say,” Halt whispered, and Will put an arm around him. It felt strange to be comforting the man who had comforted him so much over the years.

  “Halt, you didn’t destroy my family. That was fate. You gave me a second chance at having a family. You gave me a whole new life. How could I hate you for that? Besides,” he added, “can you imagine me as a farmer?”

  He felt Halt’s shoulders begin to shake, and for a moment he was afraid the older man was weeping. Then he realized with relief that he was laughing.

  “No,” his teacher said, “I certainly can’t see you as a farmer. Farmers are disciplined folk.”

  They both laughed at the thought of Will plowing and planting. Then, after a while, the young Ranger grew serious.

  “I would like to see my mother’s grave,” he said, and Halt nodded.

  “I’ll take you there.”

  And then they said nothing more, but sat together in companionable silence as the shadows lengthened and the sun finally set.

  Click here for more books by this author.

  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

  THE LOST STORIES

  THE BROTHERBAND CHRONICLES

  BOOK 1: THE OUTCASTS

  BOOK 2: THE INVADERS (MAY 2012)

 


 

  John Flanagan, Death of a Hero

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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