It had been a poor harvest in Scanlon Estate. The wheat crop had been meagre at best, and the apple orchards had been savaged by a blight that left three-quarters of the fruit blemished and rotting on the trees.
As a result, the share farmers, farm labourers, orchardists and fruit pickers were facing hard times, with three months before the next harvest, during which time they would have nowhere near enough to eat.
Squire Dennis of Scanlon Manor was a kind-hearted man. He was also a practical one and, while his kind-hearted nature urged him to help his needy tenants, his practical side recognised such an action as good business. If his farmers and labourers went hungry, chances were they would move away, in search of work in a less stricken region. Then, when good times returned to Scanlon Estate, there would be insufficient workers available to reap the harvest.
Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice Ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his personal demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.
It has been many years since he was under Halt’s wing. He has been through the toughest battles ever created. Yet he can’t seem to get over this great tragedy that has happened. What can his closest friends do to help him?
“Don’t talk to your horse, dear. People are watching,” Pauline said quietly.
Halt turned a perplexed look toward her. “How do you know when I’m doing that?”
She smiled at him. “Your nose twitches.”
… On the way, Kane [stableboy] kept glancing surreptitiously at the famous Ranger, fascinated by the fact that he kept staring down his nose and tweaking its tip between his forefinger and thumb.”
“Gilan,” she said, “you’re looking well.” And apart from those wrinkles, he was.
He smiled at her. “And you grow more beautiful every day, Pauline,” he replied.
“What about me?” Halt said, with mock severity. “Do I grow more handsome every day? More impressive, perhaps?”
Gilan eyed him critically, his head to one side. Then he announced his verdict.
“Scruffier,” he said.
Halt raised his eyebrows. “’Scruffier’?” he demanded.
Gilan nodded. I’m not sure if you’re aware of recent advances in technology, Halt,” he said. “But there a wonderful new invention called scissors. People use them for trimming beards and hair.”
Gilan appealed to Pauline. “Still using his saxe knife to do his barbering, is he?”
Pauline nodded, slipping her hand inside her husband’s arm. “Unless I can catch him at it,” she admitted. Halt regarded them both with a withering look. They both refused to wither, so he abandoned the expression.
“You show a fine lack of respect for your former mentor,” he told Gilan.
The younger man shrugged. “It goes with my exalted position as your commander.”
“Not mine,” Halt said. “I’ve retired.”
“So I can expect little in the way of deference from you?” Gilan grinned.
“No. I’ll show proper deference….the day you train your horse to fly back around the castle’s turrets.”
“How can you sleep at a time like this?” she asked, but the only answer was a low snore. She looked at him suspiciously. In the short time she had been with him, she had never before heard him snore.
“You’re faking,” she said.
“No. I’m really fast asleep,” came his voice from under the cowl.”
“Keep practicing,” he told her. “Until I get it right,” she said. But he corrected her. “No. Until you don’t get it wrong.”