The flags Sergeant Deer had mentioned the night before were handed out the next morning. They were simple strips of red fabric with a deer stamped upon it. He handed one to each Hopeful.
“Guard them with your swords,” Sergeant Deer reminded them. “Draw first blood and you gain a flag; be the one to be blooded and you lose your flag. Lose your flag and you must return to base camp post haste.”
Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, Sarah thought with a smile. “Wait,” she stopped smiling having remembered the rules from last night. “If our first objective is to avoid being seen and therefore to not engage in combat, then the objective is not to get as many flags as possible is it?”
“Ah a smart one I see.” Sergeant Deer grinned at her as he shouldered his pack, indicating that they all do the same. “Most of my scouts have been through this before. If you ask the right questions you may find the answers you need.”
Sarah groaned, as did everyone else at his cryptic reply. “Any rules on where we keep our flag?” she asked before their pace took her breath away.
“Left breast under your vest,” Sergeant Deer chuckled.
Sarah seriously wanted to know how far under the vest it could go; however, she had to focus on keeping up. She wanted to stuff it under her bindings, but that would mean if she was defeated in combat she’d have to go fish it out. Smiling inwardly she thought of the eyebrows that would raise. But she couldn’t do. Sarah sighed; she was supposed to stay male and staying male was becoming harder every day. She was too used to being the teasing tomboy.
Three breaks and Sarah knew not how many hours later they reached their destination. With at least another hour of daylight she wandered off to forage for herbs. The variety was, again, a little different from what she been using before; still, it was good. Not to mention they went well with the three squirrels the Scouts had caught. Murmurs of pleasure from the others ran around the small fire as everyone ate their food.
“So you’re the camp cook that there’s been rumors about,” Sergeant Deer smiled.
“Smith fed us well when we went trekking too.” Nick grinned at her across the fire while everyone else nodded.
Sarah felt herself flush under everyone’s gaze. “It’s nothing really,” she shrugged.
“T’ain’t nothing man,” Sergeant Deer insisted. “Good food warms the heart and keeps us grounded.”
“Then why aren’t Hopefuls taught to cook?”
To Sarah it was a logical question. She’d noticed there was no class on campfire cooking and she doubted any of these males would have learned such skills at home. However, judging by everyone else stare, it was completely illogical.
“Sorry.” Sarah stoked the fire slightly wondering how to explain herself. “Cooking," she decided upon an answer, "is just part of survival training where I’m from.”
“And where’s that?” Deer asked curiously making Sarah wish she hadn’t said anything.
“The United States Of America,” Reed answered for her. “Smith got knocked out while fighting his enemy,” Reed clapped her back, “and when he came to he was here; found under a Willow tree by Scout Sergeant Phoenix.”
“Ah so you’re also the one that was recommended by Phoenix.”
“Yes,” Sarah sighed, wondering if her association with Jason was a help or hindrance. A wolf howl echoed through the air, interrupting her thoughts. It came again. Ready, if Sarah remembered correctly.
“All right men, everyone’s in place. You all know your assignments. Everyone turn in except those on first watch.”
Sarah was on the last watch of the night, which suited her just fine. She really did prefer mornings.