The Phoenix Ring(4)

By: Alexander Brockman

The office was just a little building, tucked away in the back corner of the city and painted green and brown. There was no door, just a deerskin curtain, which Aidan pushed aside as he stepped inside. The room was sparsely furnished, with a desk and two chairs in the middle and a mounted head of some giant beast on the back wall directly over another door. In the chair behind the desk sat a man who appeared to be in his fifties, though he still appeared strong and fast. He was clothed in a green hood and cloak, with an unstrung bow at his side. He was focusing intently on some arrows in various stages of completion on the desk in front of him. Aidan realized that this was the first time he had ever seen a Ranger in person.

“Yes?” The man said, never looking up from his arrows.

Aidan’s mind blanked for a horrible second before he could respond.

“I want to be a Ranger.”

The man chuckled. “I highly doubt that. Whatever stories you have heard aren’t true. What are you expecting?”

Aidan said nothing.

“The average lifespan of a Ranger is five to ten years after he joins. You have no support, no backup, only your training, your bow, and your knife. You will most likely die with only four fingers,” he stopped to hold up his left hand, which was missing the middle and little finger, “your body in constant pain from the goblin poison running through your veins, and with a lifetime of regrets, the blood of dozens of men on your hands. You will become a ruthless killer, and throw away your only hope to ever have a family. Are you sure, boy?”

For a moment, Aidan hesitated. But I made it this far. He thought. And there is no place for me back home.

“Yes, I am sure,” The boy said.

The man raised an eyebrow. “Either you are incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Brutus!”

A younger Ranger, heavily muscled with scars running across his hands, ducked into the room from the back doorway.

“This young man wants to join our numbers. Make sure he’s capable. I’ll notify the council.” The older man said.

Aidan felt excitement rise into his chest as Brutus nodded and led the boy out the back doorway into a courtyard, which boasted a small archery range and a rack of strung bows.

First the Ranger took his bow, which was good for little more than small game, and replaced it with a far sturdier, larger weapon. Next, he instructed Aidan to begin shooting at the target.

The village boy had never used a bow of this power, and was surprised at how difficult it was to pull the string to his cheek. He found himself consistently missing the mark, even after he had been shooting for a half hour. Brutus was silent, not se your back more.” At length the Ranger removed the bow from the boy’s hands and ushered him back into the tent.

Aidan’s arms were sore, and he was furious with himself for his poor performance. He wished for nothing more than to ask the grizzled Ranger whether or not he give up now and go home, but doubted that would be wise.

Aidan was surprised to hear two voices as he entered the tent. The older Ranger was talking to the wizard, Amilech.

“Yes, I’m quite sure.” Amilech said. “Ah lad, there you are. Take this.”

The wizard shoved a chunk of wood into the boy’s hands.

“Wha-“ Aidan said. “Why are you here?” Though he had a sinking feeling that he had broken one of the eggs.

“I’m here to take you with me, of course.”

Disappointment blossomed in Aidan’s mind. “Did I fail the test? I can pay you back for any eggs, I promise, as soon as I start working for the Rangers.”

The wizard laughed. “Boy, you will never be a Ranger, though I’m quite sure you could have been. Now come along,-“

Aidan felt the hot, red anger explode inside of him. He closed his eyes tight to keep the tears from flowing out. His mother had taught him an exercise to relieve his rage, long before she told him who his father truly was. He simply had to breathe out, and imagine all of his anger flowing from his body in sheets of flame, again and again. As he released his rage in the Rangers’ tent, he heard a yell, as if from far away, and felt the wood grow hot in his hands.

When he opened his eyes, the tent was ablaze. Fire crawled over the ground, his clothes, even on his arms, though he felt no pain. He barely had a moment to be startled before something hit the back of his head, and then his world descended into darkness.

Also By Alexander Brockman

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