John Flanagan: The Ruins of Gorlan

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John Flanagan The Ruins of Gorlan
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    The Ruins of Gorlan
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The Ruins of Gorlan: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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"Tell me," he said to the eager girl, "what would you do with a turkey pie?"

Jenny smiled dazzlingly at him. "Eat it," she answered immediately. Chubb rapped her on the head with the ladle he carried. "I meant what would you do about cooking it?" he asked.

Jenny hesitated, gathered her thoughts, then plunged into a lengthy technical description of how she would go about constructing such a masterpiece. The other four wards, the Baron, his Craftmasters and Martin listened in some awe, with absolutely no comprehension of what she was saying. Chubb, however, nodded several times as she spoke, interrupting as she detailed the rolling of the pastry.

"Nine times, you say?" he said curiously and Jenny nodded, sure of her ground.

"My mother always said: 'Eight times to make it flaky and once more for love,'" she said. Chubb nodded thoughtfully.

"Interesting. Interesting," he said, then, looking up at the Baron, he nodded. "I'll take her, my lord."

"What a surprise," the Baron said mildly, then added, "Very well, report to the kitchens in the morning, Jennifer."

"Jenny, sir," the girl corrected him again, her smile lighting up the room.

Baron Arald smiled. He glanced at the small group before him. "And that leaves us with one more candidate." He glanced at his list, then looked up to meet Will's agonized gaze, gesturing encouragement.

Will stepped forward, nervousness suddenly drying his throat so that his voice came out in barely a whisper.

"Will, sir. My name is Will."

Chapter 4

"Will? Will who?" Martin asked in exasperation, flicking through the sheets of paper with the candidates' details written on them. He had only been the Baron's secretary for five years and so knew nothing of Will's history. He realized now that there was no family name on the boy's papers and, assuming he had let this mistake slip past, he was annoyed at himself.

"What's your family name, boy?" he asked severely. Will looked at him, hesitating, hating this moment.

"I… don't have…" he began, but mercifully the Baron interceded.

"Will is a special case, Martin," he said quietly, his look telling the secretary to let the matter go. He turned back to Will, smiling encouragement.

"What school did you wish to apply for, Will?" he asked.

"Battleschool, please, my lord," Will replied, trying to sound confident in his choice. The Baron allowed a frown to crease his forehead and Will felt his hopes sinking.

"Battleschool, Will? You don't think you're… a little on the small side?" the Baron asked gently. Will bit his lip. He had all but convinced himself that if he wanted this badly enough, if he believed in himself strongly enough, he would be accepted-in spite of his obvious shortcomings.

"I haven't had my growing spurt yet, sir," he said desperately. "Everybody says that." The Baron rubbed his bearded chin with thumb and forefinger as he considered the boy before him. He glanced to his Battlemaster.

"Rodney?" he said.

The tall knight stepped forward, studied Will for a moment or two, then slowly shook his head.

"I'm afraid he's too small, my lord," he said. Will felt a cold hand clutch his heart.

"I'm stronger than I look, sir," he said. But the Battlemaster was unswayed by the plea. He glanced at the Baron, obviously not enjoying the situation, and shook his head.

"Any second choice, Will?" the Baron asked. His voice was gentle, even concerned.

Will hesitated for a long moment. He had never considered any other selection.

"Horseschool, sir?" he asked finally.

Horseschool trained and cared for the mighty battlehorses that the castle's knights rode. It was at least a link to Battleschool, Will thought. But Ulf, the Horsemaster, was shaking his head already, even before the Baron asked his opinion.

"I need apprentices, my lord," he said, "but this one's too small. He'd never control one of my battlehorses. They'd stomp him into the ground as soon as look at him."

Will could only see the Baron through a watery blur now. He fought desperately to keep the tears from sliding down his cheeks. That would be the ultimate humiliation: to be rejected from Battleschool and then to break down and cry like a baby in front of the Baron, all the Craftmasters and his wardmates.

"What skills do you have, Will?" the Baron was asking him.

Will racked his brain. He wasn't good at lessons and languages, as Alyss was. He couldn't form neat, perfect letters, the way George did. Nor did he have Jenny's interest in cooking.

And he certainly didn't have Horace's muscles and strength.

"I'm a good climber, sir," he said finally, seeing that the Baron was waiting for him to say something. It was a mistake, he realized instantly. Chubb, the cook, glared at him angrily.

"He can climb, all right. I remember when he climbed up a drainpipe into my kitchen and stole a tray of sweetcakes that were cooling on the windowsill."

Will's jaw dropped with the unfairness of it all. That had been two years ago! He was a child then and it was a mere childish prank, he wanted to say. But now the Scribemaster was talking too.

"And just this last spring he climbed up to our third-floor study and turned two rabbits loose during one of our legal debates. Most disruptive. Absolutely!"

"Rabbits, you say, Scribemaster?" said the Baron, and Nigel nodded emphatically.

"A male and a female rabbit, my lord, if you take my meaning?" he replied. "Most disruptive indeed!" Unseen by Will, the very serious Lady Pauline put one elegant hand in front of her mouth. She might have been concealing a yawn. But when she removed the hand, the corners of her mouth were slightly uptilted still.

"Well, yes," said the Baron. "We all know how rabbits are."

"And, as I said, my lord, it was spring." Nigelwent on, in case the Baron had missed the point. Lady Pauline gave vent to an unladylike cough. The Baron looked in her direction, in some surprise.

"I think we get the picture, Scribemaster," he said, then returned his gaze to the desperate figure who stood in front of him. Will kept his chin up and stared straight ahead. The Baron felt for the young lad in that moment. He could see the tears welling up in those lively brown eyes, held back only by an infinite determination. Willpower, he thought abstractedly, recognizing the play on the boy's name. He didn't enjoy putting the boy through all this, but it had to be done. He sighed inwardly.

"Is there any one of you who could use this boy?" he said.

Despite himself, Will allowed his head to turn and gaze pleadingly at the line of Craftmasters, praying that one of them would relent and accept him. One by one, silently, they shook their heads.

Surprisingly, it was the Ranger who broke the awful silence in the room.

"There is something you should know about this boy, my lord," he said. Will had never heard Halt speak before. His voice was deep and soft-spoken, with the slightest burr of a Hibernian accent still noticeable.

He stepped forward now and handed the Baron a sheet of paper, folded double. Arald unfolded it, studied the words written there and frowned.

"You're sure of this, Halt?" he said.

"Indeed, my lord."

The Baron carefully refolded the paper and placed it on his desk. He drummed his fingers thoughtfully on the desktop, then said:

"I'll have to think on this overnight."

Halt nodded and stepped back, seeming to fade into the background as he did so. Will stared anxiously at him, wondering what information the mysterious figure had passed on to the Baron. Like most people, Will had grown up believing that Rangers were people who were best avoided. They were a secretive, arcane group, shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, and that uncertainty led to fear.

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