The Battle for Skandia

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan Read Free Book Online

Book: The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Flanagan
usually left Horace’s head spinning after the first few minutes, while he tried to keep up with who was aligned with whom and who was conspiring against their neighbors and what they hoped to gain from it. He preferred Sir Rodney’s type of lecture: right, wrong, black, white, out swords, hack and bash. He thought it might be expedient to head off Halt’s incipient harangue. The best way to do that, he had learned from past experience, was to agree with him.
    â€œWell, I suppose you’re right about the forgery,” he admitted. “After all, it’s only the Gallican’s seal we’re forging, isn’t it? It’s not as if you’re forging a document from King Duncan. Even you wouldn’t go as far as that, would you?”
    â€œOf course not,” Halt replied smoothly. He began to pack away his pens and ink and his other forger’s tools. He was glad he’d laid hands on the forged Gallican seal in his pack so easily. It was as well that he hadn’t had to tip them all out and risk Horace’s seeing the near-perfect copy of King Duncan’s seal that he carried, among others. “Now may I suggest that you climb into your elegant tin suit and we’ll go and sweet-talk the Skandian border guards.”
    Horace snorted indignantly and turned away. But another thought had occurred to Halt—something that had been on his mind for some time.
    â€œHorace . . .” he began, and Horace turned back. The Ranger’s voice had lost its former light tone and he sensed that Halt was about to say something important.
    â€œYes, Halt?”
    â€œWhen we find Will, don’t tell him about the . . . unpleasantry between me and the King, all right?”
    Months ago, denied permission to leave Araluen in search of Will, Halt had devised a desperate plan. He had publicly insulted the King and, as a result, was banished for a period of one year. The subterfuge had caused Halt a great deal of mental anguish in the past months. As a banished person, he was automatically expelled from the Ranger Corps. The loss of his silver oakleaf was possibly the worst punishment of all, yet he bore it willingly for the sake of his missing apprentice.
    â€œWhatever you say, Halt,” Horace agreed. But Halt seemed to think, for once, that further explanation was necessary.
    â€œIt’s just that I’d prefer to find my own way to tell him—and the right time. All right?”
    Horace shrugged. “Whatever you say,” he repeated. “Now let’s go and talk to these Skandians.”
    But there was to be no talking. The two riders, trailed by their small string of horses, rode through the pass that zigzagged between the high mountains until the border post finally came into sight. Halt expected to be hailed from the small wooden stockade and tower at any moment, as the guards demanded that they dismount and approach on foot. That would have been normal procedure. But there was no sign of life in the small fortified outpost as they drew nearer.
    â€œGate’s open,” Halt muttered as they came closer and could make out more detail.
    â€œHow many men usually garrison a place like this?” Horace asked.
    The Ranger shrugged. “Half a dozen. A dozen maybe.”
    â€œThere don’t seem to be any of them around,” Horace observed, and Halt glanced sideways at him.
    â€œI’d noticed that part myself,” he replied, then added, “What’s that?”
    There was an indistinct shape apparent now in the shadows just inside the open gate. Acting on the same instinct, they both urged their horses into a canter and closed the distance between them and the fort. Halt already felt certain what the shape was.
    It was a dead Skandian, lying in a pool of blood that had soaked into the snow.
    Inside there were ten others, all of them killed the same way, with multiple wounds to their torsos and limbs. The two travelers dismounted

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