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[personal profile] cassie5squared
Disclaimer: I do not own Forgotten Realms or any canonical characters or locations that may be mentioned. They are the property of Wizards of the Coast. All OCs are mine.

Author's notes: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lady_rilwen and [livejournal.com profile] lycaenion as ever, for their encouragement and help.

The previous chapters may be found here: Prologue
Chapter One

Chapter Two

"...and then, if ye'll believe it, the beast up and charges at me like it never felt the arrows at all!" The old hunter sat back and took a swig of his drink, hiding his grin at his wide-eyed audience. Roderrak was a talkative man, and enjoyed sharing his tales with anyone who cared to listen. This evening, he was telling the story of his hunt for a dire badger, which had seriously hurt a young herbalist near the High Forest.

"So what did you do?" Rydel urged, eager to hear how this tale would end. "Try to shoot it in a more vulnerable spot?"

"Hah!" The grizzled old man slapped the table with one hand and sat up straight. "Didn't I tell ye I'd run out o' shafts? In any case, the last thing t'do with a beast like that comin' at ye's to stand still and shoot at it some more. A stronger defence's what y'need, somethin' like a spear. I tell ye straight, when those things get mad they don't stop t'smell the goatsfoot."

He took another drink, then put the tankard down and began acting out the scene with his hands. "Lucky for me I'd brought a spear, so I hunkered down and set it in the ground so's it wouldn't slip. Great ugly thing came right at me, I don't reckon it even saw it. Ran right onto the spear and set up the loudest damned racket I've heard in a long time, but it was good and stuck."

Ignoring Rydel's wince at the thought, Roderrak carried on, gesturing enthusiastically. "'Course, I didn't leave it t'suffer - would'a been more cruel than it should've. Quick knife t'the back of the neck, and that was that. Took the pelt, and gave it to Enthen on m'way back. Poor lass deserved t'know it was gone after the maulin' it gave her."

The young cooper nodded slightly and sighed. "It's a shame it couldn't have been caught before it hurt her," he ventured.

"Heh, who'd've caught it? There's never many out that way these days. Never enough, anyway."

"People keep saying that, but why don't more go out there, then? Accidents like that wouldn't happen so often."

"'Cause it's not as easy as it sounds, lad." Roderrak sighed and shook his head. "Ye've got to be able to handle all sorts o' weather an' trouble out there, while knowin' the only person y'can rely on to be there t'help is y'self. It's a hard life, an' it takes a tough 'un to cope with it."

"You've said enough times you're too old, and you still do it," Rydel countered.

Roderrak laughed. "I'm old 'cause I learned how t'survive, which is more'n I can say for some who tried. Besides, these old bones ain't lost all their spring yet."

Unable to resist smiling at the garrulous hunter's confidence, Rydel glanced out of the nearest window, and noted ruefully that the evening light had almost completely faded. "I'd like to stay longer, but I'd best be getting back before the shop gets locked up for the night."

"Aye, go along with ye, then. Drop by another time, it's always good to talk to a young 'un like y'self." Roderrak raised his tankard as his companion got up, and chuckled to himself.

The cool spring evening was refreshing and peaceful, and Rydel found himself thinking back on the tale he'd heard. If there had only been more people out in the High Forest, maybe Enthen wouldn't have been hurt, and the dire badger wouldn't have needed killing. Maybe, if he'd known more about tracking monsters in the wild, he could have helped.

He sighed again and kicked a pebble absently. All these rangers and hunters and adventurers he looked up to, who were always off doing important things and helping others... it was such a far cry from making barrels all day every day. "Why can't I be the one doing interesting things?" he muttered, and then frowned slightly.

No, really... why can't I? What's to stop me?

He turned the idea over in his mind a few times, beginning to consider the possibilities. He had more than enough friends to give the advice he needed, and likely some tutelage in survival as well. Maybe he could talk to them some time. Wheedling weaponry lessons out of them had never been a problem, either, and he knew he wasn't a poor marksman with a longbow these days. And even if there weren't enough people out there these days, there were some, and with any luck he could persuade one of them to teach him a bit more...

All too soon, he found himself at the door of the shop. Somewhat disgruntled at how short the walk was, he stepped inside and shut the door firmly behind him before heading off to bed.

~

Over the next few weeks, Rydel refined his plans with the help of some of his friends; the experienced travellers were more than happy to give him the advice and tutoring he requested, though it was hard to make time for lengthy lessons. His free time was limited to evenings now, and for some reason Fiskal was having him work late more often than not these days.

Still, he persevered, and the work began to have some noticeable effects. Daily weapons practice was building his muscles and sharpening his aim; his childhood studies of nature were expanded on and reinforced; some of his friends introduced him to other acquaintances of theirs who could also pass on useful tips. Even if he still had nowhere near the full array of skills and knowledge a real ranger would need to survive, the young man knew he was taking the first small steps that might just enable him to survive long enough to learn more.

Of course, with all this preparation and planning, it seemed as though there was a little spring of anticipation constantly bubbling up within him, and it manifested itself rather visibly. Where he had previously been rather subdued in his father's shop, he now often had a broad grin, even while working on the dustiest tasks, and whistled or sang a few snatches of songs where he had previously worked in resigned silence.

Merely planning and preparing couldn't go on for ever, of course, and during one evening meeting with Tastan, who was recently back from another trip north, the burning question was finally dropped.

"So, when do you plan on setting out?" the ranger asked as he watched Rydel practicing archery. By now, hitting the mark was growing much easier for the young man as long as it was stationary. At the unexpected query, however, the latest shot flew very wide and barely hit the edge of the target.

"I, ah... I don't know," Rydel muttered as he went to retrieve the shaft.

"Well, you're not just doing all this training just for entertainment, are you?"

"No, of course not! I just..." Not certain how to put it, the copper-haired boy fidgeted with the arrow, ostensibly checking it for damage. "It's... I've obligations, as well."

"You mean you're worried about your father, right?"

Rydel's silence and continued fidgeting was answer enough.

"For what he'll say about this idea of yours, or for leaving him to handle the shop without you?"

"Well... both, really, I guess. He's said often enough what he thinks about people who go living in the wilderness, and..." Rydel stared at the floor, his shoulders slumped. All the things he'd tried not to worry about were coming to the fore, and suddenly his dream seemed much less tangible with real responsibilities to consider.

"Here's some advice for you, lad." Tastan slung his arm around his young companion's shoulders and took the arrow off him. "Instead of trying to do all this plotting and planning in secret, maybe you should just tell him. He's your father, I'm sure if he cares for you he'll understand. He might not be happy - we've done our damnedest to make sure you appreciate there are risks, and I'm sure he knows them too - but he'll hardly try to lock you up in Everlund forever if this's what you want."

Rydel hesitated. "Even if he doesn't take it badly, there's still the shop to think of."

"And there're always some lads looking to get apprenticed and learn a steady trade. I can easily get someone to point them in the right direction once your da's got the idea in his head at all."

"If he does," Rydel muttered a little mulishly. This earned him a reproving tap with the arrow and a grin.

"Enough of that. You don't know till you try, and I'm sure you'll agree that giving up at the first bump in the road's no way for you to be acting."

In the face of such good-natured encouragement, there wasn't much the young man could do to argue, and he found himself smiling back. "I think so too. I can worry about the way things might go if they happen that way, right?"

"Now you're getting it." Tastan beamed. "And we can talk about how to approach the matter later. Right now -" he handed the arrow back - "I want to see some bullseye hits."

Rydel's smile turned lopsided as they walked back to where he'd left his bow. For all his bragging and overconfidence, Tastan was skilled, dependable, and helpful when it counted, and if he was lending his aid to this issue, it was more likely than not that it would be resolved reasonably.
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