Table of Contents
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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Copyright Â© 2011 by John Flanagan. Map copyright Â© 2011 by David Elliot.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54788-5
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 BROTHERBAND CHRONICLES
BOOK 1: THE OUTCASTS
This book is dedicated to those Ranger fans around the world
who have made the last six years so enjoyable for me.
The stories that follow are in response to questions
you have asked me over the years.
Thank you all.
The Republic of Aralan States
(formerly the medieval Kingdom of Araluen)
PROFESSOR GILES MACFARLANE GROANED SOFTLY AS HE EASED his aching back. He was getting too old to remain crouched for long periods like this, gently whisking dust away from the excavated ground before him as he sought to release yet another artifact from the earth that had held it captive for so long.
He and his team had come upon this ruined castle several years ago. They had mapped the outline of its triangular main wallsâan unusual shape for a castle. The jagged stump of the ancient keep tower stood in the middle of the space they had cleared. The collapsed tower was barely four meters high now. But even in its ruined state, MacFarlane could see that it had been a formidable building.
Their first digging season had been spent determining the outer limits of the building. The following year, they had begun a series of cross trenches, digging down to discover what lay beneath the build-up of earth and rock and detritus that had collected over twelve hundred years.
Now, in the third season, they were down to the fine work, and beginning to unearth the ancient treasures of the dig. A belt buckle here. An arrowhead there. A knife. A cracked ladle. Jewelry whose design and general appearance dated to around the middle of the tenth century in the Common Era.
On one momentous day, they had unearthed a granite plaque, carved with the likeness of a tusked boar. It was that piece that had identified the castle beyond doubt.
“This was Castle Redmont,” MacFarlane had told his hushed assistants.
Castle Redmont. Contemporary of the fabled Castle Araluen. Seat of Baron Arald, known as one of the legendary King Duncan's staunchest retainers. If Redmont had really existed, then surely all the tales of its people might have a basis in fact. Perhaps, MacFarlane thought, hoping beyond hope, he would find proof that the mysterious Rangers of Araluen had actually existed. It would be a staggeringly significant discovery.
But as this season had progressed and the trenches had been dug deeper still, there had been no find as important as that first one. MacFarlane and his people had to be content with the normal fare of excavationsânondescript metal tools and ornaments, pottery shards and remnants of cooking vessels.
They searched and dug and brushed, hoping every day that they would discover their personal Holy Grail. But as the summer digging season passed, MacFarlane had begun to lose hope. For this year, at least.
He stood, rubbing his back again, as he heard his name being called. One of the young volunteers from the university who augmented his paid staff was running through the excavation, waving as she saw him. He frowned. An archaeological dig was no place to be moving so recklessly. A slight misstep could ruin weeks of patient work. Then he recognized her as Audrey, one of his favorites, and his expression softened. She was young. The young were often reckless.
She drew level with him and stood, shoulders heaving, as she recovered her breath.
“Well, Audrey, what is it?” he said, after giving her a little time.
Still panting, she pointed down the hill toward the River Tarb.
“Across the river,” she said. “Among a tangle of trees and bushes. We've found the outline of an ancient cabin.”
He shrugged, not excited by this revelation. “There was a village down there,” he said. “It's not surprising.” But Audrey was shaking her head and grasped his arm to lead him down the hill.
“It's way outside the village limits,” she said. “It was on its own. You must come and see it!”
MacFarlane hesitated. It would be a long walk downhill, and an even longer one back up. Then he shrugged mentally. Enthusiasm like Audrey's should be encouraged, he thought, not stifled. He allowed the girl to lead him down the rough, zigzag path.
They crossed the old bridge that spanned the river. Never one to miss a chance to teach, he indicated to the girl how the supports at either end were much older than the middle span.
“The middle section is much newer,” he said. “These bridges were designed so that the center span could be removed or destroyed in the event of an attack.”
Normally, Audrey would have hung on his every word. The professor was a personal hero for her. But today she was in a fever of excitement to show him her find.
“Yes, yes,” she said distractedly, urging him on. He smiled indulgently as she tugged at his sleeve, leading him away from the remains of the ancient village. The going became tougher as they entered the forest and had to make their way along a narrow path, through the close-growing large trees and unkempt undergrowth. Finally, Audrey turned off the path and, bending double, forced a way through a tangle of vines and creepers. MacFarlane followed awkwardly, then stood in some amazement as he found himself in a small clearing, surrounded by ancient oaks and more modern dogwood.
“How on earth did you find this?” he asked.
Audrey blushed. “Oh . . . I . . . er . . . needed a little privacy . . . you know,” she said awkwardly.
He nodded, waving a hand. “Say no more.”
She led him forward, and looking where she pointed, his practiced eye could see the unmistakable outline of a small hut or cabin. Most of the structure had rotted away, of course. But there were still a few vestiges of the upright columns remaining.
“Oak,” he said. “It'll last for centuries.”
The outlines of the rooms and dividing walls could still be made outâfaint signs imprinted into the ground itself over the centuries, even though the original structure was long gone. And the flattened, level ground of the interior floor was all too obvious.