Armed and equipped the Hopefuls lined the road in behind the barracks. The field in front of them had been harvested and was now partitioned into three sections; fourteen scouts placed in each. Eyes flitting among them Sarah noted Mike, Kevin, Allen, Jess and Mathew but no Jason.
"Smith," Sarah looked to Commander Josiah, "to the middle section for combat." The commander continued down the line sorting each Hopeful.
Sarah joined Allen and six others in their section. She wasn't the only one fidgeting slightly under the gaze of the fourteen scouts they faced.
“Listen up lads,” One of the two Scout Sergeants in that section paced before them. “You’ve been placed in the combat zone. As soon as that horn blows, you best be ready to fight. These men here,” he gestured to the scouts behind him, “will be trying to disarm you. Hand to hand moves once you are disarmed are forbidden, you’ll be tested on that over there,” he gestured to their left. “If you feel a tap on your shoulder.” The second Scout Sergeant made Sarah start as he tapped her shoulder in example. “That means you are to break and go to the tables.” The first Scout Sergeant pointed to the tables that had been set up near the Willow. “Any questions?”
“How long will this last?” Hopeful Jeremy spoke up from the other end of the line.
“All day,” the Second Sergeant told him as he and the other Sergeant moved to either side of the field.
“Are you ready?” Aaron asked Sarah anxiously as they waited for the horn to sound.
“Ready as I’ll even be,” she smiled nervously at him.
There were grins upon the faces of the Scouts they faced, refelcting the look on Jay's face that day in the cave. A shiver ran down her spine at the sound of the hunting horn and Sarah drew her weapons as the Scouts rushed upon them.
Everything blurred as the air became awash with the sounds of chaos. It was hard to know what was going on and Sarah found herself able only to focus on her immediate surroundings. She’d disarm one Scout only to find herself attacked by another. This was not a sparring session like they did during training. This was an all out battle, Scout versus Hopeful and the Scouts had the experience and numbers to win.
Starting to tire at last, Sarah began to wonder if she’d ever get tapped out when someone pressed against her back. A quick glance, which nearly caused her own disarming, and Sarah noted that it was Kirk. She didn’t look to see who he was fighting, but judging by the way he pressed against her he wasn’t doing all that well.
“Kirk,” she spoke as quietly as she could, “on the count of three, switch with me.”
“What?” was his bewildered reply.
Sarah didn’t wait, she could feel his exhaustion in the way he leaned and her opponent was just about giving away disarming opportunities. “One, two, three, Switch!”
Pushing on Kirk's left shoulder Sarah spun to the right forcing him around to take on her foe. Sarah grinned at the astonished look on Mike’s face when he realized what happened. She pressed the advantage of surprise, forcing him to fight back. Either she had gotten a lot better, or he wasn’t giving his all, for she had him on the defensive. Something she hadn’t been able to accomplish when he’d been training her.
Before she could disarm him, the two Scout Sergeants tapped them on the shoulder. “Get a drink and ration Hopeful,” she was told, “then go wade into the hand to hand area.”
Mike followed her and they were joined by Mathew, who was obviously less worked than they were.
“So how is Smith doing?” he asked Mike as they each took a canteen and ration from the table.
“Really well,” Mike sounded astonished.
“And how are you holding up Smith?” Mathew questioned as if he didn’t think she’d be able to handle it.
Sarah took a swig of water and held it in her mouth. Her body wanted rest, but she was high on adrenaline. She swallowed and chose to ignore his taunting.
“It’s a challenge,” she grinned at Mathew.
There was a part of her that was enjoying this and Sarah was beginning to see Jason’s reasoning. It was like tussling with her brothers, only the stakes were higher, much higher. Perhaps, Sarah thought, as she finished her ration, it was just the adrenaline high. She took another swig of water before striding to the hand to hand area.