Muddy Trails

The metal was struck twice and the morning page called out to them. “Leave your plates and your cups where they be. Line up by the front right door for your japon.”

“Japon?” Sarah asked, only to hear Marcus snort as he passed by them.

Reed and the others exchanged glances, puzzled. “You don’t know what a japon is?” Reed asked her as they got in line.

Sarah shook her head. “Nope. Never heard the word before.”

“But you were with Phoenix Troop for three months, surely they gave you one,” Mike protested.

“It was never wet and cold while I was with them.” Sarah shrugged.

“Well...” Reed took the folded item from the Scout who stood at a table by the door and shook it out. “It’s basically a blanket with a hole for your head.” He ducked under it and poked his head out the center. “And the belt goes like so,” he fastened it around his waist over the japon.

“Oh,” Sarah laughed. “We called them ponchos.” She donned hers before taking the belt from the next Scout.

“Hopeful Class B.” The five of them turned to face Commander Josiah who stood in the doorway. “Your trekking leaders are waiting in the following locations: Classroom 2 for Reed, the Tanner’s for Smith and London, and Classroom 3 for Aaron and Kirk. Good luck boys.”

“Thank you commander.” Sarah grinned as she followed the rest out..

Sarah and London waved goodbye as they turned left and the rest of them went right. Water pooled in their footprints as they walked over the wet ground. It was, Sarah admitted, perfect crop rain, slow and soaking, but she began to agree that this perhaps was not the best weather for trekking. By the time they reached the Tanner’s Sarah was cold. The japon, though tightly woven and felted, didn’t cover her knees and she had to pull her arms inside it to keep them under its cover.

A scout stood in the doorway, his own japon looking damp. On the porch, next to the wall was Hopeful Michael, looking a bit miserable. Sarah couldn’t blame him as she shivered slightly. She and London joined him in trying to stay out of the rain that the wind had begun to blow about.

The Scout eyed them for a moment. “Alright, I got three. Come on in for a moment.” He stepped aside.

Michael bolted through the doorway. Sarah let London go first. The Scout followed her.

”Well,” the three Hopefuls turned to face the smiling man. “My name be Nick and I’ll be leading ye on our trek today. Your task is to keep up with me. Think ye can handle it?” He looked at the three of them for a moment.

“Sounds easy,” Sarah stated.

Nick grinned. “And you be?

“Smith,” Sarah replied, unsure of how to address Nick.

“So you must be London,” he indicated London who nodded, “since I know that’s Michael.” But before he could say anything else the hunting horn sounded. “There’s the start. Take a pack and get back outside we’ll be heading out shortly.”

Sarah groaned as she noticed the packs. “Should have seen that coming,” she commented to London as they put them on. They stepped onto the porch and into the rain. “But how will they know if they are wet because of the rain or a failed water crossing?”

“Ye sure they’ll be a water crossing?” Nick chuckled at Sarah’s dubious expression.

Nick watched a page walk from where the Scout and Hopefuls has left the Cobblers. The poor guy looked like a wet rat and Sarah wished she had an umbrella to give him. Passing the Tanner’s he stopped on the path that ran between it and the Armorer’s. It seemed like forever as they watched the page who watched between the buildings. At last the man turned towards them and nodded.

“Are ye ready?” Nick asked.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Sarah said, after a quick look at the other two.

“Then off we go,” Nick cried as he led them away from the barracks at a quick pace.

It was probably an easy speed for him, Sarah thought, seeing as all he carried was a canteen and small courrier bag. Her foot slipped slightly as they moved off the path and onto the soft ground of a field. The first hour or so wasn’t too bad since the path before them had been carved by the groups before them.

Still, with the mud sucking at her boots and the weight of the pack on her back, Sarah felt like she was struggling to keep up. London and Michael weren’t fairing much better. In fact, Michael was definitely having trouble. Sarah couldn’t help glancing back at him. Remembering how well he did during training, she knew something wasn’t right. Since they’d trekked in the rain before she could only surmise something was up with the pack.

“Michael,” she dropped back past London who gave her a curious look, “does your pack feel right?”

“What?” he huffed, puzzled.

“Your pack,” Sarah expanded, “it looks like it keeps unbalancing you. We should probably repack it next rest.”

“You think they’ll give us a rest?” London piped up.

Nick chuckled from the front. “We’re not trying to kill ye, just test ye.” Nick slowed his pace to let them catch up. “Repacking takes time though and ye do need to be back before dark.”

“Yes, but it could cost more time if it keeps upsetting his balance as we navigate through the woods.” Sarah steadied Michael, keeping him from falling flat on his face.

“Who said I’d be taking ye through the woods?” Nick asked innocently.

Sarah laughed, surprised she had the breath for it. “Well it wouldn’t be much of a test if there was no water crossing or woods to go through.”

“It be Michael’s choice as to whether or not he repacks.”

Nick turned around and picked up his pace forcing Sarah, London and Michael to follow suit. They continued on through the fields, now thoroughly soaked by the rain. After another hour or so, Sarah began to wonder if London had been right about not getting breaks.

The End

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