"No" Percy Jackson stood before his Uncles throne on Olympus, shaking his head slowly. Zeus sighed deeply as Percy continued:"Not another quest. We just fought a war for you. The second I might add. We don't want to fight all our lives... as short as they may be" his voice trembled a bit.
Poseidon shared a glance with his younger brother then turned his face back to Percy:"Son, I understand why you are upset but let me tell you about the offer we have to make to you and the daughter of Athena "
Percy head shoot up:"What has Annabeth got to do with this?" he asked, now intrigued. for the longest time he had tried to get Athena to give them her blessing.
"well-"said Poseidon, happy his son now seemed interested in the mission
"-you see, there is this little pet world of ours and just recently a man appeared claiming to be a prophet of a so-called golden God. Even though my nephew Apollo seems to be fine with this mans doing- "
Apollo smiled sheepishly on his throne"
- we want you to stop him"
Percy was confused:"Why would such a person even bother you. There are tons of people like him on the streets New York, let alone all those pesky mortals who promise the apocalypse is gonna happen every moment. Its not like the people are listening to clowns like him- Oh..."
Now Zeus spoke again:" I see you understand the issue Perseus. The mortal has had way to much success with his speeches in the past few months. We need you and some friends of yours to go to his current place of residence- a small kingdom called Clonmel- and convince the citizens that he is an imposter"
"Uh we could just kill him- that'd be like a myriad times easier than introducing a whole new religion" Percy argued "And- lets remember christianity for a sec - much less bloody too"
Annabeth stepped up to his side:"seaweed brain don't you get- it is not about a new religion. If the prophet gets too much power the power of the gods will fade in that realm and then they won't be able to protect the people that live there anymore "she looked over to her mother who nodded calmly
"sooo what about that offer of yours?" Percy asked his Uncle who was interrupted by Poseidon:"oh please brother let me tell them" "Alright"Zeus leaned back in his throne"tell them about our gracious offer"
Poseidon leaned forward:"You Percy and Annabeth along with Nico and William are upon completion of this mission granted a peaceful future."
"I can't believe were going to clonmel"Horace sat atop kicker and smiled happily to himself, enthusiasm practically radiating of of him.
It wasn't the first time he had mentioned that; Will remembered at least four times Horace had mentioned this since they had left Redmont the day before. He sighed.
Halt remained silent on Aberlard and Will was starting to worry about him. Halt had never been the most talkative but this level of silently staring into the void was concerning- even for him and especially since Horace had given the Ranger multiple opportunities to mock him.
Will let his gaze swift from left, where a light-flooded birch forest hemmed the empty street, to the right where multiple fallow fields and meadows stretched out to another forest. Behind the forest - Will knew that much from Halt - a beach full of fishermen huts that was surrounded by cliffs awaited them.
Four hours before sun down they arrived in the village.
They had managed to bring the horses down to the beach by following a narrow path that was carved into the chalky ground and by the time they reached the village for good the message of their arrival had already spread around.
Halt greeted the village elder:"Looks like you had a good catch today" He nodded towards the wooden stakes where the fishing nets dried in the afternoon sun. He continued:" I have to redeem a favor."
The village elder gestured Halt to follow him to one of the few stone houses, and they started to talk quietly about what Will assumed to their next way of transport - a boat that was a little bigger than an average fishing boat and the only one in the village that had enough space on board for not one but three horses.
Will was still a bit concerned about Halts strange demeanor- on the other hand -when wasn't Halts demeanor a little strange. Horaces cheerful attitude had begun to rub of on Will and by the time Halt returned with a grumpy village elder, who had to admit that taking three men and their horses across the strait of Hibernia was a small price compared to the favor Halt had done the village the week before by returning the villages gold.
The strait of Hibernia was a channel that disconnected Hibernia from Araluen. To Halts joy the crossing would only take an hour or evening less but an hour at sea was already enough to get his sensitive stomach to turn around.
Since the horses didn't exactly like this method of transport either all of them were glad when they stepped on dry land only one hour before sundown and continued their journey towards Dun Kilty.
I was stunned. After fighting for years and near death experiences on a daily basis the gods had decided we deserved happiness?
Aphrodite chattered with an annoyed looking Ares als the Five demigods Followed them through the Magnificent corridors of
"It's not uncommon you know?" I tuned my head to an Annabeth who looked at me understandingly. " peaceful future I mean. It's just that- it can only be granted to an adult demigod because of the ancient laws and usually we don't get the chance to grow that old"
She sighed, almost unnoticeable and I took her hand to comfort her.
"Don't worry Annabeth we'll make it. It's just one teeny weeny mission..." I stopped talking.
Apparently we had reached our destination. A huge door- seriously I don't know what else to expect- had appeared and Aphrodite opened it with a little more force than needed, and I could've sworn Nico and Will muttered "yeet" in unisono. The door crashed against the inside walls of a room filled with chests, coat hangers and a big old wardrobe.
I really didn't know what I had expected as ares had remained unusually silent and Aphrodite chattered something about tasteless mortals(gee, thanks).
On second glance the chest were marked with time periods and names written in Ancient Greek.
The one closest to me read Albion~ Merlins first life which was strange, but hey who am I to judge.
Aphrodite lead us towards a chest and opened it with a grand gesture. "voila" she chanted and took out various pieces of clothing which promptly landed in our arms.
We got three pairs of dark brown trousers each followed by two beige tunics as well as two in our signature color black and yellow for Nico and will and grey and Sea-green for Annabeth and me.
Thalia got dark blue which seemed to annoy her but she only muttered a few profanities and didn't break anything. The girls also got two dresses each- one plain light brown and one that looked a lot more festive than I had expected for a medieval quest.
Annabeth’s was light grey with silver hemming, while Thalia's was a dark blue with smal gems splattered across. It reminded me of Artemis and the midnight sky. To my surprise the gems formed various constellations- I frowned at Hercules and smiled at Zoe's.
We each got a dark brown leather vest and a belt with sheathes for our weapons, as well as two new bows for Thalia and Will who's silver and gold bows would have drawn attention. Lastly we were equipment with backpacks that could be fastened to a saddle and sixty arrows for Will and Thalia; each with colored feathers- grey and yellow respectively- in wooden cases. Nico, Annabeth and I got several throwing knives and two daggers each to hide in sheathes in our leather boots and on the belt.
I thought of my mother. How would she react to find me missing again? Maybe i would get grounded once I was back... Then the world went dark.
We ended up spending the night in our camp. Two hours after the landing we came across a village that had been attached recently. The villagers didn't trust three armed strangers but recommended a tavern a days ride away. We would reach it by midday tomorrow and while I cooked a scrawny bunny over the campfire and Horace sharpened his sword near the tents Halt informed us of his genius plan.
"You want me to dress up as a bard and march into the enemy camp while you and a muscled 6'ft tall soldier pretend to be shepherds?" I shake my head "Halt you might have to elaborate or Horace and I will continue to stare at you like you're some lunatic"
Horace's face still displays a variety of expressions ranging from surprise over confusion to resignation. He's been hanging out with us rangers for to long.
Halt mimics hurt feelings while continuing to sip on a cup of coffee; it takes away the seriousness of his expression and he explains further:" Will, Horace I don't know how I deserve the title lunatic but maybe your brains aren't evolved far enough to follow my masterpiece of a plan."
He takes another sip of coffee and we wait patiently for him to enlighten us; after a minute he puts the cup back in the ground and explains:" Will, you will dress up as a bard and March into the enemy camp, as you called it."
Another sip of coffee later he continues
"Since Tennyson has many followers his camp has to be quite large; it should be no problem to sneak in and play some funny tune on that instrument of yours. This way you seem trustable enough to get information on Tennysons next steps."
"Okay but why does Horace has to be a shepherd? I mean look at him his body practically screams soldier."
Halt sips again.
"That's why I'm here" He signals towards the direction we came from,waking the memories of the destroyed village. "No sane person, let alone some mistrusting old shepherd would buy new sheep without proper protection for the journey back home."
He took another sip of coffee, while pointing at Horace
"You'll be my nephew. You've been with the army for the last few years but as things are looking now you've decided to come home and help the family out."
I have to admit, now that he explained the plan it made sense. But hey this is halt were talking about; he could be royalty and no one would now.
I awoke [i know what you're saying- big word Percy] at sunrise and immediately jumped to my feet, Next to me Annabeth, Nico, Will and Thalia did the same.
I eyed my surroundings with a glimpse of suspicion; this was a forest clearing, to my left I spot our backpacks and the bows.
I glance downwards and to my surprise I'm wearing the medieval outfit Aphrodite picked for me.
Nico speaks up and his voice is hoarse from the lack of water and words in the last few hours
" This place is weird."
He takes Wills hand and looks around, squinting slightly because of the sunlight that filters trough the treetops now.
He's right; this place is weird. Not faery-and-dragons-weird or alien-weird but rather like something I was supposed to remember.
The trees are similar to ours back home but they seem to have less concentrated consciousness and they are somehow alive. Not like spirits at camp but more like a whisper.
Also the air is fresher than what I'm used to. As if she read my mind Thalia whispers:" the air is clearer here. I can feel it."
"She's right. I can't feel the air but the sun is... younger. "
That's a weird statement from the son of the Sun god, but I know what he's trying to say- I feel the Ocean and even tough we have to be far away I know it's healthier than back home.
I look over at Annabeth. She smiles reassuringly and I grin.
Time to get going.
The next morning we split up in two groups; Group number one consisted of Horace and Halt. They were posing as an old miserable shepherd who was bitter about everything and everyone and his nephew, the handsome and brave soldier. At least Horace interpreted it that way. Group number two consisted of me, posing as a bard who was willing to follow the golden god into oblivion- or at least to the next bigger town, where the grumpy shepherd and his handsome companion would rejoin with him.
Obviously Group number two was the better one.
Five hours of wandering the woods in general direction of the capital later, I spotted some broken branches and half an hour after that I set foot on the clearing that Tennyson had chosen as camping site.
Since I planned to stay only for a little while, I stopped tucker at the far west side of camp and began to loosen the saddle. In the middle of the tent village was a small stage set up; Tennyson was holding a heart wrenching speech on how the golden god accepted everyone into his fellowship- as long as they hadn’t committed a major crime. Upon asking it turned out that a »major crime« included any crime as long as Tennyson decided counted as one.
When sun began to set I sneaked out of camp and headed for the tavern the townspeople had recommended to us the day prior.
I reached the town right before lockdown and the tavern just a few minutes later.
As soon as I set foot in the tavern I felt like something was...off; I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I headed for the counter that consisted of a huge wooden plank upon three barrels that was polished by time and use.
The barkeeper, if you wanted to call him that, was drying off a mug and
Looked up as I approached.”what can I get you, good sir?” He asked in the broadest accent “ a coffee would be nice. And a plate of what ever you’ve got in the kitchen- it smells wonderful.”
“Ah yes. My wife’s specialty; that’ll make four coppers- but it’d be on the house if you’d be willing ta play something for us.” He pointed at the Mandola that was hanging over my shoulder. I nodded “Sure will. You got any wishes?”
After two hours of playing I was running out of songs and decided to call it a night. The Inn-keeper handed me a cup of steaming coffee and a plate over the counter and I went sit at an empty table just next to Halts and Horace's.
By now the tavern was starting to empty; only Halt, Horace and a drunk Farmer were left, as well as a group of travellers that seemed to consist of five people only a little younger than me.
That wasn't unusual. People traveled at times but usually the people in question weren't that young.
As I was taking a closer look it seemed that all of them were carrying a weapon or two- even the girls. When one of them moved I noticed that his tunic was dyed an expensive looking turquoise colour.
After I finished my cup of coffee which was pretty good and the plate with the stew which was wonderful I stood up and pretended to start a conversation with the grumpy shepherd and the handsome soldier.
When the weird kids from the next table over stood up and got a room for the night, we sat contemplating for another ten minutes, while waiting for Horace to finish his beer; then we went outside up to look after the horses.
Tucker's saddle had been undone by a stable boy and there was some food but the water bucket was already empty so I filled it up with water from the well.
Horace is already done so I walk over to him:"Those Kids at the table next to yours- do you know what they want in town?"
He grins sheepishly:"If I'm being honest, I focused on the food"
That is reasonable.
Then his smile fades and He looks down thoughtfully "But they were all wearing weapons, which is kind of weird, even in these times. I mean they can't possibly handle them- they're way too young."
That had been bothering me too."I know, right? But now that I think about it they were probably just carrying them to scare off bandits."Horace nods. That is the only explanation.
Now Halt joins in the conversation:" I don't think you need to worry about them. When they sat down one of them said something about gods paying for dinner and later they stared at your coffee like they had never seen one before. I guess they're lunatics or they belong to Tennyson. Either way, they aren't our problem."
Leaning against the back wall of the tavern, which had now fallen silent as it was getting late, we start to gather ideas on how we could get closer to Tennyson.
After a few minutes of contemplating an assassination Halt spoke up:"I don't think we can just kill him. We need to convince the people that he actually is an imposter and that gods aren't real."
This makes the whole ordeal infinitely more difficult so we decide to rent a room for the night and discuss the problem behind locked doors. You never knew who might be listening in the dark.
As we sneaked into Annabeth and Thalia's room the gesture for us to be quiet. We freeze on the spot; only now I notice the open window.
It must be just above the stables because a distinct smell leaks into the room. Thalia listens intently and nods towards the window. I try to blend out the rustling leaves.
Down in the yard there are people speaking:"...being honest I focused on the food." The voice is deep but sound like it belongs to a younger man.
I get closer to the window and look down. The Bard and the Soldier are talking and the camouflage guy is feeding his horse next to them.
I pull my head back just as Soldier guy speaks up again:" But they were all wearing weapons which is kind of weird, even in these times. I mean they can't possibly handle them-they're way too young"
At this point I realise they must be talking about us "I know right? But now that I think about it they were probably just carrying them to scare off bandits." Thats the bard for sure. Thalia's eyes seem to be permanently stuck in the back of her head.
A third voice joins the conversation below:" I don't think you need to worry about them. When they sat down they were talking about the gods paying for dinner and later they stared at your coffee like they had never seen one before. I guess they're lunatics or they belong to Tennyson. Either way, they aren't our problem." That has to be camouflage guy.
" Alright. But what do we do about Tennyson?" The bard asks.
Sadly I don't know who Tennyson is or the whole conversation would be much more interesting.
Soldier guy replies immediately:" You two sneak into camp and kidnap him. It's that easy!"
Now I want to know what this Tennyson dude did to deserve to get kidnaped.
"Horace, we can't just kidnap him. The people would still believe in Alseiass, especially this who followed him through the entire country. We have to think of something to make them realise they've been tricked." That's camouflage guy. Apparently soldier guys name isn't soldier guy but Horace- thats a little disappointing although not surprising.
The Bard seems to have a better idea:" We could still kidnap him. Maybe people would stop believing him when they realise his god doesn't save him?"
Apparently they're after the same guy as we are. That a first, usually we are the ones getting chased.
"I understand your idea Will, but we should expose him to as many as possible so he can't get new followers again. I have an idea but I'm not done planning it out yet"camouflage guy admits.
So the bards name is Will. Great now there is two of them- chaos ensured.
Now Horace talks and I can hear the grin in his voice:" Another masterplan then, Halt?" Will the Bard chuckles:" Yeah please do enlighten us."
"Oh I will. But we should head inside and get room for the night. It's getting late."
Horace and Will mumble in approval and the three of them walk around the corner and close the tavern door behind them. Will quickly gets up and closes the door to the hallway. We left open it open because it could be squeaking and we were supposed to quiet.
Nico clears his throat:" That was... interesting to say the least." Annabeth's eyes are wide open as she rambles:" This is wonderful. We could travel with them, or even make them our allies. I bet they know their way around here and we only have a map. It could be of immense advantage! maybe they can fight very good too and-" Suddenly she stops talking.
Someone is coming upstairs. We hold our Breath but Nico's eyes get wide as he dissolved into shadows without saying a word, just seconds later we can hear our room door getting locked at the other end of the hall.
Now we have to wait. After a few minutes a satisfied looking Nico reappears in the shadows.
As Annabeth lights the candle in the bedside table Nico throws a Bundle of Parchment on Thalias mattress.
"I have our map" He says and adds with a light smirk:" And I have a route recommended from a few reliable but unknowing men in the room next to ours."
Will raises an eyebrow:" I'm sure your reliable but unknowing men are also unknowing of how thin the walls are, huh?"
Annabeth grin is wide:" I guess that settles it. But Nico... would you mind unlocking the door again?"
The next morning we to up early, but the weird kids were up earlier.
We left the tavern after breakfast and there they were, standing in the yard, waiting for the one with the blond hair.
At least I think they are because he was just arguing with the innkeeper over a water skin that laid between them on the counter. Weird.
I turn towards the stables and have only taken a few steps when I hear an unfamiliar voice calling for me.
"Will! Come here we have to go get the horses!" I turn around but no-one is looking in my direction. Instead I see the small dark-haired teenager waving at the blond one who is coming out of the tavern with a water skin in his hands and, apparently, is called Will. What a coincidence.
Will is grinning like a maniac at the others:" I got it Nico. You may now call me saviour of this world."
The dark-haired one who's name seems to Nico smiles bitterly:" Does that mean I can ignore your orders about my daily caffeine intake? because otherwise I won't be able to save this world."
Ok seems like they are a lost cause. Pilgrims? ok. But world saving? nah.
Wills smile falters for a second until he answers:" You may. But only for the duration of the mission. Doctors orders."
Where did they get the money to pay for a doctor? None of them seems to be deathly sick anyways.
Nico mumbles something I can't understand and I head back to the stables so It won't seem like Im too interested in what they have to say.
A few minutes later we are on our way to Dun Kilty and leave the Lunatics behind in the village.
At dawn we decide to set up camp because we won't be able to reach the capital today anyway.
"Might as well get there well rested."Horace states as he starts a fire for cooking, while I cut a couple of wild onions for the stew.
Halt nods approvingly:" Horace is right, we have quite some problems ahead of us. I think I should start my uhh... creative interpretation of Duncans seal so we'll get into the palace without problems."
Horace scowled:"Halt. Thats forgery. We are advocates in the name of the king of Araluen, we can't be caught with a faked seal."
Halt glances at him with a disappointed look in his eyes:" Horace, your lack of trust in my hurst my feelings. Who said we'll be caught?"
They continue bickering and I begin reevaluate my life choices.
We started following the others as soon as possible, which turned out to be half an hour later. Apparently, horses were quite expensive, or at least that was what Mr. greedy guy told us.
The horses said otherwise and after what felt like ten hours of arguing we got a reasonable price and got on our way.
We followed the trails until sundown, when Thalia announced that we should pick up our pace and started galloping, leaving us to follow her.
Her powers as lieutenant of Artemis included tracking even when it was dark, which was incredibly helpful. She said it was like the three sets of hooves glowed silvery and left it at that.
I think it's like when I know the coordinates at sea by instinct.
When the moon came out ((Support the moon, people!)) Will pointed out the smudgy silhouette of smoke rising from the forest just a few kilometres ahead of us and soon enough Thalia stopped her horse and pointed into the forest. »They're here. We should leave the horses.«
We left the horses in the thicket next to the road and, after I asked them to stay silent, followed Thalia into the woods.
We found them almost immediately, mostly because they had lighted a fire. We got slowly closer and checked out the surroundings, then retreated back into the dark.
Annabeth spoke first: » I think we should act like travellers. We'll go back to the horses and stomp through the woods so we'll look as innocent and non-stalkerish as possible.«
Thalia nodded and motioned towards the street » I'll go get the horses.«
» I'll help.« Nico and Thalia disappeared into the dark.
» We should think of some questions to ask them, so Will can check wether they're on our side.«mused Annabeth. I grinned: » What? I thought we could just walk over and ask Hey we wanna get rid of some guy. Maybe you wanna get rid of the same guy and we could team up?«
Suddenly there was a change in the atmosphere and I felt like we were being watched. The others noticed it too and turned their heads a little towards the campfire that was still visible between the trees and bushes.
Then there was a presence behind me and I reached for Riptide but there was already something cold and probably very sharp against my throat.
Annabeth thrusted forward but the knight from the tavern, Horace, stepped out of the shadows and stopped her with his broadsword. She stood still; Annabeth was one of the most skilled dagger fighters at camp and for a second I wondered why she wasn't resisting him.
Then I saw out of the corner of my eye the young Bard, Will, aim with a longbow at Will. That was bad. Most mortals weren't able to hold up a longbow or any bow for that matter longer that a few minutes. I knew that first hand. At that point the hand of the archer starts to shiver and they might release the arrow on accident which was problematic for the target aka Will Solace.
And I really couldn't have anything happen to him.
I brought my hands up and spoke calmly: »Will, please put that bow down. Horace. Would you mind leaving Wisegirl alone? She hasn't done anything to you yet.« Will and Horace looked at me, surprise written on their faces.
I could basically read their thoughts: How does that handsome guy know our names?
Annabeth joined me: » Yeah, Halt, was it? Would you mind taking that dagger down as well? I like Kelphead the way he is.« She sounded like she was complaining about a messed up order at Mc Donalds. Then again I have noting against being compared to food.
"And why would we do that?" Asked Will.
"Because you value your lives?"Thalia spoke up.
She had her new bow up and was aiming at Horace while Nico appeared out of the shadows and pointed his Stygian iron sword at the back of Will number two without touching him.
Will shivered so i guessed he had noticed Nico behind him.
Horace sheathed his sword and Will lowered the Bow.
To my surprise were his hands steady. Who are these people? Halt took down the dagger and walked out of the shadows of the trees. His cloak seemed to blend in almost perfectly which was probably on purpose. "Alright. Who exactly are you?«
Halt raised an eyebrow and sighed. »All right how about we all put our weapons down and...discuss the situation.« He pointed towards the fireplace. »Everything is better with coffee.«
Nico and Will turned towards each other, their eyes the size of dinner plates. » Coffee?«
The lunatics with weapons got their horses and followed us to the fireplace where the water was finally boiling.
While every one sat down I served coffee and couldn't help but grin over the bizarre situation. The atmosphere was still tense but the air was filled with the comforting smell of coffee and the slurping sounds of the two kids, Nico and Will.
Halt spoke up: » So are you going to tell us why you were spying on us?«
The Guy who's name seemed to be Kelphead and the girl who couldn't possibly be called Wisegirl exchanged glances.
Kelphead (seriously, who names their son Kelphead) spoke up in a language I had never heard before.
»Πρέπει να τους πούμε;«
›Wisegirl‹ responded in the same language: »Δεν νομίζω ότι θα μας πίστευαν, Percy«
Kelphead shrugged while the others snickered at the comment. »Όχι προφανώς, αλλά η αποστολή μας.«
The Dark-haired girl looked at ›Wisegirl‹: »Θα τους πούμε τα πάντα, εκτός, ξέρετε, τη θεϊκή επιχείρηση.«
Wisegirl nodded like she was agreeing to what ever the other had just proposed. »Εντάξει. πόσο περίπου στάλθηκαν για να πείσουν τους ανθρώπους ότι η Tennysons μια απάτη. Ούτε περισσότερο, ούτε λιγότερο.«
Wisegirl looks up. »We're not from here. We-«
»Neither are we. The question was why you were spying on us.«
Wisegirl rolls her eyes before shooting a glance at Horace. »As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted: We're not from here. We were sent to... find Tennyson and expose him.«
The way she says 'find' tells me she wants to say something different. Discard.
Halt and I exchange a quick look. What a coincidence.
I clear my throat. »Actually, that's why we were sent too. Why do you bother though? Why is it in your interest to stop stop him when you're not from here anyway?«
»We could ask you the very same question Will-number-two,« says Kelphead from the other side of the fire. He grins at me lazily and I can't help but wonder who they are.
The other Will looks up from his almost empty cup of coffee. »How about you answer first. We already told you our mission so it's just fair if it's your turn now.«
»We are sent by King Duncan of Araluen to stop Tennyson before too many believe him and he tries to take over the country for good,«says Halt. »Now please. Answer the question. Why do you care?«
The Dark haired Girl pulls her rucksack closer and begins rummaging around. Then she pulls out a sheet of parchment which looks to be a map.After a moment of silence she speaks up.
» Your King is afraid Tennyson could be a threat to him and his Kingdom, and rightly so. It's the closest country after the ones on this island and the next bigger one too.«
Nico puts his cup down. » I'll answer any of your questions when you answer me this one. Why does the King of a country ten times bigger than this one send three men to ensure the safety of two kingdoms?«
Halt sits up a bit straighter and fumbles around with his silver oak leaf necklace. »Have you, where ever you came from, ever heard of the royal rangers of araluen?«
All of them shake their heads. That's a first.
"How do you not know about them?" blurts Horace out.
"Like I said. We're not from here. Now tell us about these Royal Rangers." Annabeth was clearly unnerved; She hated not knowing.
Halt looked who looked like he was still trying o figure out the dynamic between Nico and Will motioned for Will-number-two to answer.
Will explained:" Araluen has fifty fiefs. The King of Araluen, Duncan, makes the law and each of the barons, one for each fief, act as a judge. In every fief there are twenty to seventy knights who protect the kingdom. But each fief has also one Ranger, and sometimes an Apprentice, who take care of any criminals within their fief. the Rangers of Araluen are the official representatives of the King and have in case of an emergency even higher rank than the baron, since they are sworn to the rightful King and usually better trained. The Rangers act as diplomats as well as strategist during wars or representatives. Does that answer your question?"
" So they're like the police?"
Will shrugged at Nico question. "I don't know what a police is but yeah, probably?"
Percy chimed in. " Thats not relevant right now. We get the idea. But where are these rangers? You said there were fifty of them?"
Halt grinned at him. " Will and I are Rangers, Horace is a knight."
Nico groaned loudly. "That doesn't answer my question at all." He was silent for a second, then he looked over at Halt and squinted. "Actually it makes it even worse."
"I'll tell you more about us if you tell us were you guys are from." said Will.
Annabeth went for the aurea mediocritas; don't tell too much, but tell the truth. "We live at the Long Island sound."
"Where is that? How come I've never heard of any place like that?" asked Horace.
Will shook his head. "That wasn't part of the question, tough I can assure you we mean no harm."
"Well, almost no harm. We need to get rid of that Tennyson dude."Chimed Nico in.
Will rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the support Neeks."
"Don't call me that."
"What else am I supposed to call you, other than Nico obviously? And don't come at me with significant annoyance again."
Nico pouted and stoped talking.
Will had followed the conversation like a visitor at a tennis match. "Alright." He sighed. "The country of Araluen in divided in fifty fiefs. Each fief has one royal ranger as a direct representative of the king. When a ranger gets too old he retires and a new Ranger takes his place. A rangers apprentice is trained for five years by an older ranger. In my case that was Halt, but I'm a Ranger now so technically we have the same status. Are you following?"
The Demigods nodded and Will continued. "In these five years of training a future ranger is simply referred to as an apprentice. The apprentices wear a bronze oak leaf as a necklace, to verify their status as. Rangers wear silver oak leaves instead and retired rangers wear a gold oak leaf."
Percy sat up straighter. " So you're the elite fighters of Araluen." It was less a question, then a statement. Then he answered Horaces' question from before. "Long Island is three quarters woods, mainly for hunting. The rest is fields and space for cabins. Depending on which part of the family you belong to you live in a specific cabin."
Wills eyes grew wide." Wait so you're all related?"
"Technically yes. But aren't all humans related in a way?"said Annabeth.
Percy nodded. "Also Annabeth and I are dating. So are the two lovebirds over there."
"And by dating you mean courting?" asked Horace.
"Yes" said Annabeth.
Uncomfortable silence wavered around the fireplace until a certain son of Apollo decided that they should go to bed and Percy, Thalia and Nico protested because they wanted to stay awake.
No-one messes with a son of Apollo when it regarded his patients; Needless to say they went asleep soon after.
The next morning they continued their journey together.
The sun wasn't fully up yet and morning fog flooded the landscape ahead while birds were singing in the woods at the side of the road. the whole scene seemed unnaturally peaceful.
Halt and Horace were riding ahead of the group while Will distracted the not so trustworthy newcomers with his cheery nature. Horace broke the silence first:" You've got to admit. A little help would come in handy, -no matter how little."
Halt stayed silent.
"Also we'll never know what they can actually do If we don't trust them eventually."
"Maybe you're right and I'm just to sceptical of these random people that we've only met yesterday night,"said Halt.
Horace opened his mouth to add something but Halt talked him over,"While they were spying on us."
The young knights shoulders dropped, but he instantly started smiling again." See? We know now they're terrible spies," He exclaimed happily. "And they told us stuff about themselves too. That's gotta count for something. At least we know now that they're on our side."
Halt raised an eyebrow:" Would you bet your life on that?"
When the sun reached the Zenit they came across a village that seemed big enough to have a tavern as well as someone who could tell them the best route to the capital and thus decided to stop for lunch. Actually Percy, Horace and Thalia were the only ones who were hungry but the others still agreed to come so they'd stop complaining about food.
When the were still twenty feet from the opening in the wooden barricade that surrounded the village the were stoped by two armed men.
The one who looked like a beanpole spoke first:" What do you want here. Why are you so many people and why are you armed?"
Percy spoke up first:" We want food. But then again who doesn't want food?... Well doesn't matter. We're so many people because none of us are not not born. And why would you ask why we're armed? you're armed yourself."
Beanpole mumbled:" I guess," but didn't complain.
His friend had recovered from the shock and now pointed a lance at them:" Go away or we'll kill you!"
All of them had to turn their heads away to cover their smiles, except halt who had encountered the likes before and knew how to handle them.
Halt looked at the older man with authority:" We're sent by the king of Araluen. May we speak to your chief?"
The second guy looked suspicious but couldn't figure out how Halt would want to trick him.
Beanpole rolled his eyes and waved towards the house at the end of Main Street:" Come on Gerald go get 'em. I'll look after these fellas."
Gerald stood up a bit then before straighter and nodded:" Y'know what I'll just go get him. you look after these fellas."
Beanpole smirked at him:" Sure. What would I do without ya." He turned back to the snickering group. "I'm Marcus by the way. So what are you doin' out there? These are dangerous times to travel."
Will nodded:" We heard what happed in the other village. Saw what happed to the other other village. But as we said, we're sent by king Duncan to help with the attacks."
Beanpole nodded slightly but stopped when he notices Gerald was returning with the chief and an entourage of armed farmers.
The Chief scanned the faces, found them to be very young, wondered if that was his own age and finally turned towards Halt:" As I've been told there was a problem?"
Halt sighed. Of course there was but wasn't there always? He spoke up calmly:" Im afraid so. three of us wanted to have a warm lunch and the rest of us would like some information.«
The chief sighed in relief and his figure slumped as he took the Map that Halt handed him. He cleared his throat and started to explain the route while Will, Will, Nico, Percy and Annabeth continued their talk although a little quieter than before. Horace asked Marcus wether he could get something to eat.
Thalia however didn't participate in the conversation but instead watched the forest out of the corner of her eyes.
She was sure there was something strange going on; there weren't any birds chirping. That usually meant that something big was coming. She tried to remember everything the gods had told them about this world, but ADHD made it difficult. Were there even any Greek monsters in this realm? The longer she thought about it the less probable it seemed, and the mist didn't affect animals as much as mortals.
Maybe there were mortals wandering in the forest? The Birds should have started singing already again if the mortals only passed through and there had to be at least thirty of them, judging by the tense atmosphere.
But what was a big group of mortals doing hiding in the woods? Thalia decided that there was only one possible explanation: an attack.
She sighed in exasperation.
"Guys. We have a problem"
Halt was just done talking with Paulus, the chief of the village, when he heard Will calling for him. He knew Will wouldn't interrupt him unless it was important, so he turned around on Abelard and raised an eyebrow.
Will looked like he had bad news to deliver:" Thalia says there is a group of at least thirty men hiding in the woods. She says they're not passing by and she has seen someone on lookout at the edge of the forest twice already."
Halt turned back to Paulus:" Has anyone living here left the village today?"
Paulus hesitated then answered:" Well yes. Some of us were on the fields but when the guards see someone coming everyone gets back behind the walls, just in case. They're still in here- it's time for lunch anyways."
Halt nodded and turned to the rest of the group:" Everyone, gather around."
Paulus exchanges glances with the guards, Gerald and Marcus, but comes closer:" What's goin' on?"
Halt sighs slightly:" Im afraid I have to inform you that you'll be attacked for propaganda reasons."
Paulus eyes widen:" What? Attacked? how-? When-?"
"Well, you'll be attacked. Yes attacked. There are at least thirty men hiding in the woods waiting for us to disappear. As to when the attack will take place, I'd say soon." Says Thalia.
Halt rolls his eyes:" I'm afraid she right guys. We have weapons and more importantly some of us know how to use them."
"Yeah, Annabeth does!" Percy chimes in.
Annabeth smiled sweetly at him in response.
"Like I said, before someone interrupted me, we have weapons and know how to handle them. that's why they're still hiding in the woods instead if attacking. Even with just two archers and one swordsman we'd be able to to at least some damage."
Percy was about to say something but Halt cut him off:" Yes I know, Annabeth knows how to fight, but im not talking about a little training here, I'm talking about battle."
Now Annabeth was the one groaning.
Percy, on the other hand, grinned like a child on the day before his birthday.
Will.2 was confused.((This is how I remember which one is which. I think I'll keep doing this.))
Annabeth spoke up before Halt could say another word:" We have to ride away-"
Paulus face resembled an owls by now:" Please don't!" he stage whispered as to not alarm the bandits, who, of course, couldn't hear him either way.
"- and then hide behind that hill, so they'll start an attack and you'll be able to shoot them. Then Percy, Nico, Horace and I will charge at them and stop anyone that reaches the gate."
Paulus eyes returned to a normal size:" Thats a good plan. A great plan. I love the plan. I fully support this young ladies plan."
Annabeth, who's face had gotten more and more smug as the old man continued, squeezed her eyes at the "young lady" part.
Everyone else was either very impressed by her fast strategising or already used to her fast strategising but still very impressed.
Halt cleared his throat:" Alright. Let's do it."
They reached the small hill and everyone got of their horses. Will.2 and Halt had their longbows and arrows ready but Thalia's and Will's bows were still in the wooden boxes. In less than a minute they had put bowstrings on their recurve bows and put twenty arrows each in their quivers.
The others had gotten rid of their cloaks and checked their weapons while Horace put on his armour. Halt had grabbed his shield and began pulling a whit piece of clothing of it. He then fastened the drawstring and revealed a setting sun on the front of the shield.
"In Hibernia there is a legend of a swordsman, who is called the sunrise warrior. He is said to return o the country if the country is ever in need."Halt raised his eyebrow at Horace.
"Let me guess. I'm newly proclaimed Folklore come to life to safe the day?" His expression showed he wasn't all that happy with this development.
Will waved at them from the top of the hill. He was lying down, his bow next to him, so he wouldn't cast a silhouette against the midday sky.
Halt, Thalia and Will scrambled over to him, while Annabeth, Percy, Nico and Horace got on their horses.
Halt only spared Annabeth, Percy and Nico a glance, then shrugged his shoulders. The gesture was clear. If any of you get hurt it's not my fault.
They waited in anticipation; Finally the arches got up from their laying position and each took an arrow.
Halt gave the commands:" Three arrows each. Aim for the first few rows of bandits." He then counted down backwards.
Three. two. one.
Four arrows flew through the air. The hit their targets and before the bandits could react there were already eight more arrows on the way.
eleven out of twelve.
Horace was baffled. He was used to see the rangers shoot with such a ratio but the children the were traveling with were just as good.
It was clear that there was more to them than met the eye, but now wasn't the time for that. He pointed towards the gates of the village, which had been closed after they left, and the four of them galloped towards the attackers that were still heading for the village.
They reached them just as they reached the gates. Horace pulled out his sword and attacked the bandit closest to him who dodged and returned the favour by stabbing Horace in the torso but the shield stopped the sword before it could do any damage. Horace now hit the man with pummel against the head and and the attacker stumbled and fell down.
Horace immediately looked around for the others. They were still alive. That was all that mattered. At some point they had shooed the horses away so they'd be face-to-face with their opponents. Horace turned around to attack again but there was no attacker in close range left. Between the arrows raining down and three swordsmen and one swordsman, the first group of bandits had practically disintegrated.
Instead of waiting for the bandits to come closer they walked towards the running mob. Even as they were walking more and more men fell under the arrows and barely fifteen were still left when the two groups collided.
There must have been much more than thirty when there are still bandits coming. Thought Horace as he disarmed another man.
He stabbed a third one who was heading for Annabeth in the back. Thats not very knight-like Horace He said to himself while fighting of number four. Number four fell when Horace struck his sword arm. But he was attacking a girl. That's not very knight-like of him. He thought to himself and simultaneously defended himself against two bandits with knifes while stabbing a third one in the upper leg. But he isn't a knight. You are. Horace considered the argument and turned to hit one bandit on the Achilles heel which made him collapse and then fending of a sword that was directed at his head only to behead the man holding it.
Horace scrunched his nose which threw off his opponent which gave him the chance to hit him in the head with the shield. Oh shut up, you saved her life! Thought Horace. He picked out two bandits which were definitely twins, judging by the equally ugly faces, and stabbed one of them in the stomach. The other one was so shocked he didn't even notice the bronze sword sticking out of his abdomen. Well maybe he was shocked because of the sword. The second twin fell and revealed Percy who shook off the blood of the bronze sword and put it back in the sheath.
"Thats it. There are no more bandits coming lets head back to the village."
He went and gestured to Halt, Will.2, Thalia and Will to join them.
He then took Annabeth's hand and squeezed it a little, while grinning at Horace:" They totally owe us that lunch now."
truth or dare... I know it cliche but hey, it works
The food was exceptional. Horace and Percy stuffed themselves and were quiet for the rest of the day.
When they finally got on their way again it was already dawning, but they were determined to reach clonmel as fast as possible, so they kept going. At midnight Halt made them stop. "We have to rest; We fought fifty bandits today." His gaze flickered over the demigods like he wanted to add something like "We also need to talk how you learned to fight like the best of our soldiers if not better even though you're barely half their age."
As they set up a small campfire and tightened the ropes that held up a sailcloth there was barely a sound made. When they finally sat down Horace let out a huff:" I definitely feel like I ate fifty bandits today.", but there barely was any reaction. They were all tired out from the fight and the meal, not to speak of the constant traveling.
William and Nico were leaning against a tree so the shadows covered them like a blanket and gave them a little privacy, while the others did the talking.
Halt, Horace and Will had subconsciously taken seat beside each other which left Percy, Annabeth and Thalia on the other side of the campfire. Will shifted uncomfortably and Horace cleared his throat loudly. The fire cracked and somewhere nightingale was heard. Wind disked through the branches overhead and rustled in the leaves. For a moment the Percy was at peace, something Annabeth and him rarely felt since they'd come back from that place.
Then Halt broke the illusion of indifference that had overcome the two of them for a split second.
"Who are you?"
The silence was deafening. Annabeth slowly opened her eyes and looked- stared- at Halt from across the fire. Will felt a shiver run down his spine. When she spoke her voice was cold as ice and whisked the warm summer nights atmosphere away.
" We already told you all you need to know."
" All we need to know? You told us nothing- nothing of importance- about any of you."
Percy sighed and looked up from the fire:" You don't trust us-"
Will looked offended:"Of course we trust you to an extent but-"
"-You don't trust us and that's fine. You barely know us, and it'd be plain stupid to trust us as you know nothing about us."
They leaned back against a tree trunk and stared up at the sky where the moon was showing between the branches. A content smile wavered over Annabeth's and Percy's faces and Will wondered what they were hiding from them. Maybe they were wards to a baron. That'd explain why they didn't want to tell anything about themselves and where they'd leaned to fight.
There was something regal about them. No arrogance but strength, courage and magic. Will decided that asking wouldn't hurt.
"Are you nobles?" his voices almost cracked but no-one seemed to notice.
Nico snickered slightly:" What? Did you guys start a game of truth or dare without me?" Percy groaned in annoyance and Annabeth rolled her eyes so hard Will could see it even though they were closed again.
Thalia groaned:"Please not that again, Piper made me play that once and I almost told her about Reyna!"
William grinned suggestively at her:"What is there to tell about you and Reyna?"
Thalia shut him off with a glance and a wave towards the Araluans.
William paled instantly. They still didn't know what the Araluans thought about that.
Horace sat up straighter and seemingly more awake:" What's truth or dare anyway?"
Thalia seemed to hesitate but explained anyway:"It's a game that you play with friends to kill time."
Percy snickered and Annabeth nudged him with her elbow.
"Basically you ask someone present if they want to answer question honestly or fulfil a dare. The person chooses and you think of a question you want them to answer. Usually at least one person gets asked who they are in love with." She blushed a little.
Horace pulled his legs in and rested his chin on his hand. A sly grin spread over is face:" I dare you to play truth or dare with me."
Percy and Annabeth looked at each other and started speaking in greek.
We can trust them, you know what they say. Your enemies enemy is your friend.
Seaweedbrain, I know what you mean but on behalf of my every history student ever I have to tell you about a thing called called fighting on two fronts. In this case you're right. we can trust them.
We can still play truth or dare though.
Sure. This'll be fun.
Annabeth looked at Horace and for a moment her eyes seemed to be lit on fire.
" We'll play."
Five minutes later they'd all gathered around the fire; even William and Nico who'd given up the comfortable spot of moss under a tall oak where they had previously been sitting.
Horace was chosen to ask the first person, and locked his gaze on Nico. "Truth or dare?"
"Dare." Nico wasn't completely oblivious; he'd noticed how Horace had eyed them for the past half an hour.
"I dare you to... climb up that tree."
Nico sighed I relief. The lava wall back at camp was much worse than that. Within the minute he'd climbed the tree, an old pine, and waved down at them.
"Come down there you idiot! Pines are Thalia's thing!" shouted William, concern audible in his voice. Nico said something inaudible and probably impolite in return but climbed back down.
"Halt, truth or dare?" He asked the ranger.
Nicos facial expression hardened and his eyes went cold:" Why won't you mind your own business and trust us when we say we don't mean you any harm?"
Halt didn't react to the change of atmosphere in the slightest, though he obviously noticed it.
"We don't trust you because you keep things- important thing- to yourself"
Nico nodded and the tension in the air resolved immediately as he sat back down next to William.
Halt leaned back and and chose Annabeth who chose truth. " Where do you really come from?"
Annabeth was still leaning against the Percy's shoulder and didn't show any signs of nervousness. "There really is a place called Long Island sound. The area is really mostly woodland for hunting and fields and some cabins. It is the place I consider my home. All of us do really, even though we don't always stay there. We call it camp Half-Blood." This she said in greek.
Even if they were telling the Araluans about themselves that didn't mean they didn't have to figure some things out as the shock of information had cost mortals before them their sanity.
Halt looked like he wanted to ask something but stoped.
Annabeth chose Will, who chose dare. "I dare you to shoot that tree over there." Annabeth said and pointed towards a tree not quite a hundred feet away. That was an easy task and Will completed it without any problems, then got his arrow back and chose William. " William, Truth or dare?"
"Uh, truth." William answered, knowing fully well that Will would probably ask about halfblooded business. Since Annabeth had a plan he was ok with a answering questions.
"What does the name of your home in common language mean?" William grinned inwardly; this game of truth or dare was about to get very confusing. He smiled innocently at Will. The tone in his voice made the wind pick up strength and the fire flicker bright ever so slightly. " It means Camp Half- Blood."
The silence lasted almost a minute. Then Horace spoke up. "Uh... what?"
"Camp half Blood is the name of our home." William cleared his throat, trying to change the subject subtly:" Ok. Thalia truth or dare?"
"I'll go with truth." she seemed weary.
"Ok. What's between you and Reyna?" William asked in greek.
Will blinked twice:" Hold up! What do you mean Halfblood? Are your parents from different countries?"
No one payed him any mind and Percy grinned:" Thats another question Will."
Then he turned to Thalia. " So, what is between you and Reyna?"
"Isn't speaking a different language against the rules?" asked Halt with a smug voice.
"Is no one going to ask them why their home is called Half Blood?" Will said confused.
Annabeth hesitated for a second before answering:" We've come to the conclusion that you guys may know about our... capabilities, but since we don't know about your opinion on a certain topic, which concerns all of us-" She gestured at the other demigods. "-to some extent we don't want to risk our alliance over simple miscommunication."
Will leaned back and stretched his feet closer to the fire:" If you don't know our opinion on the topic you can't possibly know our reaction to your opinion, can you?"
"We know that... Where we're from... there are people disagreeing with our opinion. Well you can't really say disagreeing because you can't agree on human rights but still-" Annabeth stopped abruptly, breathed in and out to calm herself and sank back against the tree trunk.
"This is still not explaining why the Camp is called Half Blood." Will muttered to himself.
Percy talked him over. "What wisegirl is trying to say is that we may trust you with our lives, as you've seen today, but we can't- we won't trust you with the fate of a kingdom. We can't be sure we're not destroying our alliance over opinions." He spat out the last word like it physically hurt him to say it.
Wills tilted his head to the left:" Is this a coffee-should-be-drunk-with-honey or a slavery-is-not-acceptable kind of thing?"
He asked cautiously.
The corners of Nicos mouth twitched. "I like this guy, he's got the right idea," He reached for Williams hand and squeezed it firmly before letting go again so no-one would notice.
Of course people did notice anyways.
"Wait-Are you guys a thing?" Horace exclaimed, eyes wide with understanding.
The demigods tensed; Percys hand slipped into his pocket out of habit and Thalia was half on her feet. For a tense moment no one moved. Then William let out a breath and relaxed:" Yes. Do you have a problem with that?"
Halt was relived.
A secret this big wasn't shared easily.
It also wasn't the kind of secret people came up with, when they wanted other people to trust them.
Which consequently meant they could trust them.
He also didn't mind the two boys being in love, even though in Hibernia it was seen as "opposing to nature" and such stupid ideas more.
In spite of his Hibernian upbringing, or rather to spite his Hibernian upbringing he felt like nature had absolutely no problem with same sex couples. And if nature had a problem with that, it could mind its own business.
Halt was also anxious.
He was a royal ranger at heart and this meant that he was a diplomat as well as a fighter- although some might say his Diplomacy was for a big part trickery and forgery- and by some Halt meant Horace exclusively.
Halt knew as much as every diplomat that when offered a gift one should always return the favour by gifting something of equal importance and worth. This applied to secrets especially.
Halt had had quite a few secrets over the years and there was only one which concerned the mission directly, had to be told before they reached dun kilty and was equally telling about his person as the secret he had just been told himself.
Halt was no fool.
He knew he had to tell the others, he just wasn't sure how. He had carried this secret for a majority of his life and now he was about to tell it to Will whom he loved like a son, and Horace whom he valued as a fighter as well as a person.
He was also about to tell it to strangers.
For a nanosecond he hesitated. Then he realised that this was what the strangers had felt like just moments before and decided they weren't really strangers anymore.
He cleared his throat.
The Atmosphere was tense. Percy and Thalia had instantly gone into big-cousin-protection-mode while Annabeth was analysing the araluans faces but finally decided that they wouldn't react hostile. Nico and Will hadn't moved at all.
Annabeth looked Percy in the eye to signify the there was no danger at hand and he and Thalia eased up ever-so-slightly. The whole action had barely taken a few seconds.
Now Halt cleared his throat and shuffled on his spot of moss. He seemed quite uncomfortable; a circumstance, which Annabeth found curious because he had appeared to be collected and calm to her since they had first met.
"No." said Horace calmly "I don't have a problem with that I mean."
Annabeth wasn't surprised; he seemed like a less impulsive version of Percy which also meant that he had a common sense.
Will hurried to agree:" Me neither. I mean... well... when Horace and I were still in school, -in the orphanage I mean, we had to read poetry written by a woman who had a wife so I guess that's kinda the same thing. "
He shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable with all the attention.
Annabeths eyes grew wide:" What was she called? The poet I mean!"
"I'm not sure. It started with an S for sure, but I can't recall..."
"Was it Sappho? Please tell me it was Sappho."
Will thought for a second the nodded slowly. "That could be it. Horace do you...?"
Horace grinned:" Will. In all honesty. I have no idea what she was called. But she was from someplace called Lesbos."
Will smiled."Thanks man that probably helps a ton."
"O It does" interjected a beaming Annabeth. She'd taken a note book out of her backpack and started writing like her life depended on it.
Horace shrugged:" Was never interested in poetry, but geography is useful in battle so..."
" Hoooly mother of Zeus, Percy! If they know Sappho in this world this means they have an entire greek culture of their own!"
The araluans expressions changed from utter confusion to realisation.
The demigods looked like they were about to facepalm.
Annabeth ranted on:"Its probably similar to ours if to completely the same but still... How do the gods manage it? do they pull half-shifts? No that can't be, what about all the other worlds? Could the Gods exist at multiple universes at once? maybe... "
Percy cut her off; She looked up, her eyes dazed over like she'd just woken up.
"Annabeth. Wisegirl. Light of my life. I think you just blew our cover. "