Scout Troop Phoenix moved carefully over the next ten days, speed giving way to precaution. Sarah could tell Jason was preoccupied with something. When they stopped and set up camp, he called for a three day scout. ‘Same pairs as our last scout only Mike takes Allen’s place,’ he told them. Many eyebrows raised, but no one asked a question. ‘Keep out of sight at all costs, we are in enemy lands now.’ Sarah banked the fire so it didn’t smoke so much. ‘Allen, I know I told you to teach Sarah how to disarm her opponent, but keep the sword play to a minimum.’ Allen frowned, but nodded.
Next morning, Allen tired to teach her more sword work but it was not easy to do without clashing swords. Sarah learned a few more things, but after the first day, they gave up. The next day Sarah offered to teach him some of what she knew instead. Then, all too soon, the scouts were back. Jess and Kevin had been forced to engage, while the other two pairs had barely escaped notice from the enemy.
They broke camp at dusk and traveled at night over the next five days. Jess was in charge of covering their tracks, so Sarah got to carry his pack again. They hid during the day to rest. On the fifth night they reached a pond, into which water fell from a great height. They climbed halfway up beside the waterfall before Jason disappeared behind it. Mathew quickly followed. The rest hesitated slightly before they too disappeared. Sarah suspected Jason and probably Mathew were the only two who had ever been here before. It did take a slight leap of faith, to bridge the gap between the rocks where they were climbing to the lip of the cave. But Jason and Mathew were there to catch her, so she took it, followed by an ashen faced Jess.
‘We camp here for ten days,’ Jason said over the rushing water. He headed to the back of the cave and heaved off his pack. ‘As far as we know,’ he continued, ‘the enemy does not know about this place, yet. I should not have to warn you to be extra cautious any time you go out of the cave. It is imperative the enemy does not know about this place.’ He looked at each one of his men. ‘Fire can only be used during the day when its light can not be seen through the water.’ Sarah nodded, since Jason was looking at her. ‘Now, let us rest till morning.’
As daylight began to show through the water, Sarah prepared breakfast. They ate quietly and Sarah wondered if Jason was going to hand out assignments, or if they were all going to stay here. At last everyone was done and Kevin began to clean up. Jason took the dishes from him.
‘Sarah?’ he said and she turned to look at him. ‘There is a pool opposite the side we came.’ He looked at her apologetically as he handed her the dishes. Sarah blinked as she reached out to take them, hesitantly. Jason said nothing else, but his eyes told her. He had strict scout business to talk about, and she was not, technically, a member of the troop. Sarah nodded and took the dishes from his hands and went where he indicated.
There was indeed a pool there, along with the loud noise of the waterfall. She couldn’t have heard them, even if she wanted to. So Sarah took her time washing the dishes, and when she was done she took off her shoes and socks, rolled up her pants and sat on the edge. Resisting the urge to swing her feet, she let the splashes tickle her toes instead.
The sound of metal on metal directly behind her startled her from her relaxation. In her rush to get up, she nearly slipped and fell. Jason caught her hand and helped her up.
‘I would not recommend sitting like that.’
‘You’re the one that startled me.’ Sarah noticed the rest of Phoenix troop was gone. ‘You get this camp watch?’
‘Aye,’ Jason turned, ‘get your sword, you ought to have buckled it on the moment you woke up.’
‘Why?’ Sarah asked scrambling to put on her shoes and get her sword. Jason didn’t answer until right after she buckled her sword around her hips.
‘We are in enemy lands, Sarah,’ he was facing her, obviously ready to fight, ‘you never know when you will be attacked.’ And he suited his word to action. Sarah barely got her sword out in time.
When she had thought Mike had been her toughest teacher, she was wrong. Jason was tougher and rougher. Maybe his comments and criticism hurt more because she knew him. Or at least she thought she’d known him. This whole experience was showing her a side to Jason she’d never seen before, though she’d always imagined it there.
‘Can’t I take a break?’ Sarah asked on the seventh day during one of the small practice pauses.
‘No.’ Jason came at her again. A few moments later she was disarmed, his sword at her throat, for what felt like the umpteenth time. ‘You have a good defense, Sarah,’ he said, his sword unwavering, ‘but without an offense to support it you will always lose.’ His sword came down and he picked up Sarah’s sword and handed it back to her.
‘Look, I’m not helpless without a weapon,’ Sarah said, frustrated almost to the point of tears, with how bad she was compared to him. It was a small consolation that he’d been sword fighting since he was eight.
‘Then keep me from ending up with my sword at your throat.’
Sarah looked at him eyes blazing. ‘You’re trying to hurt me?’
‘Yes and no,’ Jason shrugged.
Alright, Sarah thought as they faced each other for another round, if he wanted to play it rough, she could play it rough. Her brothers hadn’t learned to respect her from all the hugs and kisses she gave them. Now she was focused on taking him down. She could win, but not with the damn dagger.
Her dagger skill sucked and it was always the first thing torn from her hands. So Sarah tried to sheath it, then she would at least have a free hand to grapple with. Unfortunately she missed the sheath and it fell on the floor. Jason obviously knew what she was up to because he began to keep his distance, dodging both her hand and sword. Sarah wanted to drop the sword too, but it was all she had for blocking his blows.
The light filtering through the waterfall was beginning to fade by the time Jason disarmed her. As soon as the weapon was out of her hands Sarah took advantage of his proximity. A quick grapple and he was on the floor pinned. Sarah held him down the same way she’d held her brothers down when they’d aggravated her. She breathed heavy as he struggled, but she had pinned him good. Then she felt a sharp point at her ribs.
‘I could still hurt you,’ Jason said. Sarah looked to her side, to see the dagger she had dropped.
‘Oh for Christ Sake!’ she exclaimed, getting up suddenly, her eyes beginning to tear up. Sarah picked up her sword and sheathed it. Crouching, she poked at the fire violently, getting the last bit of heat from it, before she had to douse it for the night. Breathing deep she tried to calm herself, knowing that Jason had good reason to push her so hard. She began to stir the stew.