All of the Tales of Aldura are stand-alone stories, but in the time-line of the currently published Tales set on World of Aldura in Alarel, this story occurs between Jezrei’s Justice and Choices.
Phaedra stood beside her mount, slapping the reins against her thigh, trying to drive away the sense of foreboding which had niggled at the edges of her mind ever since Sergeant Willet mentioned their patrol would ride the Barrier Wall. The effort to banish her worry had spurred her into efficiency with stowing her gear, so that now, while other novice Rangers still struggled to strap bags in place, she was ready for the upcoming patrol. Her first as a Ranger.
When the members of her patrol finished their preparations, they clustered together, several paces away. She’d hoped graduating would change things, and she wouldn’t always be the outsider because she was Njae. Phaedra sighed. The last four years had been lonely. Now it appeared things would remain the same unless she convinced the others to revise their behavior.
A recently hired stable lad approached Ranger Josef who sat on the paddock fence. “What’s going on? Why are so many people here?”
“Willet’s leaving on patrol again,” another Ranger said, leaping over a puddle to join his friends on the rail. “We always watch the novices leave.”
“Playing wet-nurse again, Willet?” Josef shouted.
Soon the stable area of Mickels Keep Ranger Station echoed with jeers, catcalls and snide chuckles from the experienced Rangers.
Phaedra glanced at Willet to judge her Sergeant’s reaction. His face flashed red, but he didn’t respond.
One of her fellow novices, proud of his newly acquired status as a Ranger, took offense. With fists clenched, he stepped forward. Willet stayed him with a hand on his shoulder and a whispered, “Ignore them. We’ll be leaving soon.”
“But…” another objected.
Sergeant Willet spoke low. Phaedra leaned closer to hear.
“Anything you do will just make it worse. They do this every time a patrol of new Rangers leaves the station to ride the Barrier Wall. Soon as Captain Thaenad arrives, we’ll leave and be away from them.”
Mention of the Barrier Wall increased Phaedra’s sense of unease and spurred the recollection of the Seeress’ vision. When the insults continued, Phaedra straightened to her full height, a half-head taller than most of the others in the group.
Perhaps Willet was wrong. She might not be able to change her fate, but maybe she could change something. She glared at the men sitting on the fence. How dare they call Willet a nurse maid! A Njae would never openly insult an officer. She couldn’t abide rudeness. She flicked her waist-length blonde braid over her shoulder and turned to Willet who stood next to her. “Sergeant, isn’t there a good sized mud-hole inside the paddock next to the fence?”
Willet nodded and cocked an eyebrow.
Phaedra tilted her head toward the mouthy group of fence-sitters. “Ever get tired of their hassling?”
“Time a novice taught them a lesson,” Phaedra whispered.
“Now, Phaedra …” Willet started, but fell silent when she turned and stepped toward Captain Thaenad’s big smoke-grey horse, Whirligig, standing ground-tethered ten paces away.
“Phaedra, don’t. That one’ll hurt you.” Willet reached for her shoulder. She dodged his grasp, but tossed him a smile over her shoulder. Every Ranger and stable lad gave the horse a wide berth, his bad temperament a legend in the Rangers. Phaedra hummed as she approached him. The horse snorted, but stood still, watching. Phaedra drew forth her talent of speaking to animals. She held Whirligig’s muzzle, and stared into his eyes picturing what she wanted to happen. Over and over she projected the thoughts and vision until Gig nickered and bobbed his head. Phaedra scratched the horse’s forelock, slipped him a carrot then returned to her own mount and led it over to Willet. She spoke low, “Sergeant, we should mount up. There might be some excitement soon.”
Willet’s brow furrowed and he squinted at her, but he gave the order and organized them into patrol formation. He assigned Phaedra rear guard.
Once mounted, Phaedra whistled long and low. Gig neighed and danced in place. The patrol’s horses side-stepped and backed away from the big horse.
Another whistle and Gig bucked. The horse tossed his head and slung the reins over his neck. He ran along the fence brushing his flank against the legs of the six Rangers sitting on the top rail. Eyes wide and mouths open, they jerked away, falling backwards. Loud curses echoed as they landed on their backs in the chill water and mud.
Laughter erupted from the novice patrol, while Gig trotted back to where he had been standing before the incident. He glanced at Phaedra.
She would have sworn the horse smiled.
Willet raised an eyebrow, demanding an explanation.
Phaedra smiled. “I’ve a bit of talent with coaxing animals to do things, plants and the land also. All Njae do.”