An Aruous Quest – Chapter Six

Tax Trouble

 

It was nine at night, and Arden was admiring his bow in his cosy room. When he was given it, he hadn’t noticed the detail or craftsmanship of the bow. It was amazing. He knew what it was made of, however he was curious about its origins. So he decided to go and ask Voeren.
“Master, where did the Rangers bow come from?” he questioned as he interrupted Voeren’s paper work.
“Well, when the Rangers Corps was first founded, back in king Herbert’s reign, we had just made contact with the centaurs . . .”
“Centaurs! They’re real!” he interrupted as he heard the name. As a boy he had heard of them in fairy tales, but never believed they were real.
“Yes, but they like to stick to their part of the woods.” He laughed at his own little joke, (the Centaurs lived in Cónläi Thornlang, meaning frozen forest, on the opposite continent to Raudanas) then he continued.
“Anyway, they, like us now, were experts with the longbow, and had designed a half-recurve, half longbow weapon, allowing for double the power, while still maintaining the uncanny accuracy of a professional shooter.” He finished. Arden nodded, and went back to bed.

THUMP! Went the arrow as it slammed into the tree just behind Arden’s target panel, hanging from a branch high above. Arden frowned as he realised that he’d missed. Voeren smiled vaguely at the new determination in Arden.
“You’re aiming too low,” began Voeren, “imagine the arrow arching towards the target, rather than it going straight.” Nodding, Arden took another arrow from his bag, slotted it into place, and remembering what his master had told him, he adjusted his position and shot. This time the arrow landed with a sudden “WHACK!” Bull’s eye. The small apprentice rushed towards his arrow, now buried in the small wooden disk.
“Well done, Arden!” Voeren called at the gleaming boy, “But a direct hit once may be luck, a direct hit twice could be the wind, but a direct hit?”
“Three times is skill!” Arden cried out as he finished off the old saying. After a few more tries, (some finding their mark, others not) Voeren told Arden to stop, and follow him to the town market place, as they had nearly run out of food. The first place they went was the herbalist,
“Could we have some Garlic, Thyme and some . . . Tarragon please?” Voeren asked politely to a short woman with long, black hair, an apron and large, dirty hands. Arden could smell the Garlic so much it pained him not to cover his nose.
“That’ll be seven gold coins please.” she replied, only just noticing the boy behind her customer. Next they moved on to the Butchers. When Bill, the butcher saw a man now in front of his stool, and recognised him as a Ranger, he was about to offer anything he wanted for free when he paused. Rangers were respected and well-liked by most throughout the kingdom. But they were proud and honourable people, and Bill did not want to cause the Ranger offence by ignoring his pride.
“Could we have two chicken breasts, a hog and some rump deer, please?” Voeren asked as Arden imagined the succulent meats covered in spices.
“Yes, that’ll be four-and-eight gold coins, please.” He paused, “Ranger, can I ask you a question?” he ventured. For a few seconds Voeren was tempted to reply: You just did! But he decided not to.
“Yes, go on.” Voeren said.
“Why have our taxes been tripled? Are we going to war?” he asked worriedly. Voeren frowned; no one had given the order as far as he was concerned.
“Well, we are definitely not going to war! I don’t know why though, I’ll look into it for you.” On the way back Arden looked up at his master as he kept shaking his and saying:
“No! That’s impossible! No one could bypass our security, no one!”

The next day Voeren woke Arden up at early morn and said,
“Get dressed, quickly! We’re going to ask the baron a few questions!” And with that, they were ready five or six minutes later. Two Rangers riding at full gallop towards the castle caused quite a stir, but eventually the newly-formed crowd got bored and dispersed.
“Knock! Knock! Is the Baron in there?” asked Voeren after thumping his fist against the heavy, wooden door. A small man with a round, circular helmet and a spear appeared before them.
“Oh! Hi, Voeren. Of course you can see the Baron, Sir. I’ll just get him.” The man shut the door again as he went to fetch his master. Once more the door opened, but this time Caspian was standing there saying:
“Come in! Come in! What brings you here, Voeren?” he questioned curiously.
“Taxes.” Voeren stated plainly. Why ever would he be interested in taxes! The Baron thought to himself. Once they had sat down, Voeren began.
“Why are there more taxes? People think we’re going war.” Caspian looked at him, frowning and replied,
“There shouldn’t be any extra taxes!? And if so the vault isn’t getting any more than the amount of money it usually receives! Although the amount of people saying they can’t pay anymore is now quite large, look into it for me Voeren.” Arden looked up inquisitively and asked,
“Does that mean that somebody’s pretending to collect tax and then keeping it for themselves?”
“That just about sums it up, I think. Why you’re a lot happier than when we last spoke, Arden.” the Baron noticed, and with that, they left.

“Shhh!” Voeren went as he looked at Arden, fidgeting. With the owner’s permission, the Ranger and a half were waiting behind a small house, watching carefully.
“We can’t be seen or heard!” he whispered angrily at Arden as more noise came from behind. Just before his master was about to tell him off again, Arden and the senior Ranger spotted a small, shabby man, carrying several heavy bags. He dragged his left leg across the ground as he tottered over towards the door. startlingly, when the residents opened the door, a newly acquired air of command swept over him and the surroundings, he no longer seemed like an injured old man carrying a load three times his own weight, instead Arden felt as if he had served in the army as a general for numerous years.
“Hello, there, citizens. Tax, please.” Arden frowned and looked at his mentor; an almost smug expression had seeped onto Voeren’s face. While the unauthorised money collector piled glinting gold and shimmering silver coins into one of his leather bags, Voeren inaudibly strung his bow, took an arrow from his quiver, the silvery iron tip looking similar to the coins in the shadowy darkness, and aimed for the man’s right hamstring.

 

Turning away from another night’s success, the man cried out in alarm as a small, but well-built Ranger appeared in front of his eyes, pointing an arrow at his leg. Arden had been told to stay hidden.
“Come with me and tell me what you’re doing, or run and I’ll shoot you and drag you back over here. It’s your choice, either way, you will still talk.” If it had been anybody else he would’ve taken his chances and legged it. But even in the gloom of the night he could see the sliver of a badge his opponent was wearing, it was suicidal this time.
“I’ll stay.” He sighed. All this work would be for nothing! He thought as he laid the weighty bags on the floor in front of him.
“That’s a shame; I rather liked the idea of dragging you over stick and stones.” Voeren mumbled to himself, just loud enough so Arden heard. The apprentice stifled a giggle as his master spoke. Is he testing me? Arden contemplated.
“Are you the one who’s scamming our town?” the solemn Ranger asked.
“Yes.” he replied. Voeren shot his head around, startled as Arden rustled in the leaves. Now’s my chance! The other man screamed to himself inside his head. His legs sprang into action as a pulled a short meat knife from a pocket. Voeren only just reacted in time, flicking his small dagger out of its scabbard and parrying an attack. After the irritated Ranger regained his balance, his attacker soon realised he’d made a bad decision and soon gave up. As the scammer dropped to the ground from exhaustion because of the blur of cuts and slashes aimed at him, Voeren leaned over and, with cold eyes, said:
“I’ve had enough of you.” Fearing the worst, the man on the ground scrunched his eyes and tried to back away, but felt a hand restraining him.

Back at the small cottage, Arden felt guilty. Voeren had tied the small, now limping man up, saddled him and dumped him with the prison guards. Voeren could’ve died, and it would be all my fault! Arden thought depressingly. As if reading his thoughts like an open book, his master spoke up,
“Everybody makes mistakes all the time, Arden. It is not crime, but you must learn not to make the same mistake twice.”
“What, even you make them?!” Arden cried out abruptly; he could not imagine his master and friend making a mistake ever!
“Yes, even me.” he replied. “Although we do need to work on being as soundless as possible.” Arden grinned, forgetting about what had happened earlier that night, and went to bed.

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