When a Skandian leader is captured by a treacherous desert tribe The Ranger’s are sent to free him Sandstorms, unrelenting heat and trickery abound… And like a desert mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.
What does it mean to earn the Silver Oakleaf? So few men have done so. For Will, a mere boy, that symbol of honor has long felt out of reach. Now, in the wake of Araluen’s uneasy truce with the raiding Skandians comes word that the Skandian leader has been captured by a dangerous desert tribe. The Rangers are sent to free him. But the desert is like nothing these warriors have seen before. Strangers in a strange land, they are brutalized by sandstorms, beaten by the unrelenting heat, tricked by one tribe that plays by its own rules, and surprisingly befriended by another. Like a desert mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.
This book is like no other. Will is so worried by the fact that within a few weeks he will leave Halt’s protective wing, and become a full-fledged Ranger. Gilan helps matters because more is common between these to Rangers than what meets the eye. First, they were both apprenticed to Halt. Second, both felt uneasy around the time of graduation. Some things Will doesn’t want to discuss with Halt, so he discusses them with Gilan.
“What are you talking about?” he said in a low tone. “Tug is gone. He’s dead.” Gilan shook his head. “We don’t know that. He might be lost, but how can you say he’s dead?” Halt raised his hands in a perplexed gesture, pointing to the piles of windblown sand around them. “Did you just go through that sandstorm with us?” he asked. Gilan nodded calmly. “Yes. And I survived. So did Blaze. Seems to me you’re being a little hasty in assuming Tug is dead. Ranger horses are a tough breed.” Halt conceded the point. “All right. Let’s assume you’re correct. He’s alive. But still he’s lost somewhere out there. God alone knows where.” “Lost,” Gilan repeated. “And lost can be found. We have to take the chance. You’d do it if Abelard was lost.” he added and Halt who was about to reply that the task was hopeless, stopped himself. “I’ll go with him. Give us two days. We either find Tug in that time, or we catch up with you in Mararoc. “No Gil. You’re not coming. I’ll go alone.” Both men turned startled by the sound of Will’s voice. It was much the conviction in his words themselves that surprised them. Will, devastated with grief a few minutes ago, now had a ray of hope handed to him. And he seized it eagerly. “We can’t weaken Evanlyn’s escort any further. We all took an oath to the King to protect her,” he said. “Of all of us, I’m the one we could spare most, so I’ll go alone. Besides,” he added, “I lost him, and it’s up to me to find him.” “Don’t be ridiculous!” Halt snapped. “You’re a boy!” Will’s face, dust and tear stained, set in stubborn lines as he faced his teacher, the man he respected and revered above all others. He drew a breath to speak, but Gilan held up a hand to stop him. “Will, before you say anything, give us a moment here, please.” he asked. Will hesitated, seeing the stubbornness in Halt’s face that matched his own. But Gilan nodded once and he agreed, withdrawing to his position by the wadi bank. “Halt,” said Gilan in a reasonable tone, “let me put a hypothetical case to you. If Blaze were lost and I decided to go find him, would you try stop me?” “Of cour . . .” Halt began automatically. Then his sense of reason asserted itself. “Of course not,” he amended. “But you’re a fully trained Ranger. Will is just a boy. Gilan smiled at him. “Haven’t you noticed, Halt? He’s been growing up. He’s not the skinny fifteen year old you took under you’re wing anymore. He’s already a Ranger in all but name.” “He’s an apprentice,” Halt insisted. Gilan shook his head again, smiling at Halt. “Do you seriously think he’s not going to pass his final assessment?” he asked. “It’s a formality, and you know it. He’s already more capable and skilled–and smarter–than half a dozen Rangers I could name.” “But he’s too . . . ” Halt couldn’t finish the sentence. He knew that what Gilan was saying was the truth. The logical part of his brain knew that. But the emotional part wanted to protect his young apprentice and keep him safe. If Will went off alone into the desert, who knew what perils he would be facing? Gilan put a hand on Halt’s shoulder. It was a strange sensation, he thought, advising the man he respected more than any other. “You knew the time would come when you had to let him go, Halt. You can’t be around to protect him for the rest of his life. That’s not why you’ve trained him to be a Ranger. You tried to do that with me, remember?” Halt looked up sharply at that. Gilan was still smiling as he answered Halt’s unasked question. “In the last few months of my apprenticeship, you started mother-henning me something terrible.” he said. “Remember that man-killing bear we had to track down? You tried to leave me back at Redmont under some pretext or other.” Halt frowned, thinking hard. Had he really done that? He had to admit that he might have. He thought about Will and he agreed with Gilan. The boy–the youth he corrected himself–would certainly be accepted as a graduate Ranger within a few months. There was nothing left to to learn. The assessment was a formality. “Would you trust him with your life, Halt,”Gilan interrupted, and Halt looked at him. “Yes,” he said quietly. Gilan patted his shoulder once more. “Then trust him with his own,” he said simply.
— Chapter 21