After ten minutes of running, Daniela could feel her heart pumping wildly, her lungs stretching her ribcage to as far as it could go, her legs begging her to stop. Some of the men around her were also struggling, their chests heaving in and out, sweat drenching their shirts, making the material stick to their skin. Daniela began to worry about her own perspiration and whether or not it would give away her womanly curves. But she was in too far to change her mind now.
So she powered on, ignoring her screaming muscles and working through the pain, slowly working her way to the head of the group, matching strides with Garrett. He turned his head and was shocked to see the short, weedy looking boy keeping pace with him. Daniela thought she saw a small smile playing on his lips and allowed it to motivate her to keep running.
"Come on!" Garrett called when he sensed the pace was slowing. "Do you want to let the others win? I didn't think so, now let's pick up the pace!"
As the sun rose higher in the sky it became harder for Daniela to keep up her steady pace. Her legs were seizing up, she was struggling to catch her breath and sweat was pouring down her face and into her eyes.
"Good work, Danny," Garrett's voice said, the sound coming from behind Daniela. She turned her head slightly to see him running just a few paces behind her a genuine smile on his face. Daniela forced her lips into a similar smile, even though it wasted energy she desperately needed.
"Everyone, about turn!" Garrett ordered. "Back to the camp. Give this everything you've got or none of us will be eating when we get back."
The thought of an afternoon of training on an empty stomach sent shivers through Daniela's spine and gave her an unexpected rush of adrenaline. The group turned around to head back to the camp and once again Daniela took the lead, chasing after the Captain.
The journey back felt twice as long as when they had headed out. By the time Daniela saw the gates of the camp coming into view she couldn't feel her legs, they were working independently from the rest of her body, doing whatever they had to in order to get her back before the other team.
But it was all in vain. As Daniela came staggering into the training yard her heart sank at the sight of Garrett's second-in-command congratulating his men on returning first. The Captain's face was set in a line as he looked over at Ian's team. He knew he had lost.
"Well done men," he said, clapping as the last stragglers practically crawled into camp. Daniela could see the disappointment in his eyes and felt sorry for him.
He thinks he has let us down, she thought.
"Good race," Ian said, approaching Garrett and shaking his hand. "Better luck next time, Captain." Garrett didn't reply, just nodded before turning back to his defeated team.
"Remember to warm down properly. Stretch all your muscles. We don't want anyone hurting themselves."
"Did we lose?" One of the men asked, his voice full of hope that they might get a break.
"Yes," Garrett replied reluctantly. "We are the lucky team who will be seeing to the horses instead of eating." There was a series of groans and sighs of despair from the gathered men and a curse or two from some. "But we will not see this as a defeat," Garrett insisted.
"How can we not see this as a defeat?" One over-confident soldier argued, walking forward as if he were going to take on his commanding officer, shoulders squared and fists clenched. "While those guys get to go eat, we have to clear up after animals. In what world is that positive?"
"Listen to me very carefully," Garrett replied quietly, his voice dripping with silent anger, "I will not repeat myself. I am your commander, you will never address me like that again. You should use this experience to bond together. One of you fails, you all fail. It's the same on the battlefield. If you aren't all pulling your weight then you are letting your comrades down. So you should be working harder so they aren't disappointed. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," the soldier replied, the anger gone from his voice, his shoulders relaxing and his fists unclenching as he backed down from the potential argument.
"Very good," Garrett responded, his voice softening. "Now I'll give you five minutes to catch your breath and then I expect to see you all over in the stables ready to work."
Daniela smiled encouragingly at him as he strode towards her. "You did well, Danny," Garrett told her, patting her on the shoulder. "You didn't deserve to lose."
"That's alright, sir," Daniela replied. "I don't mind the extra work. I like being with the horses anyway."
"If only everyone could be as positive as you," Garrett sighed. "See you in five minutes."
"See you," Daniela breathed as the Captain walked away, "Garrett." She savoured the feel of his name on her tongue, thinking she could almost taste it. Something about Garrett was drawing Daniela to him. Something that she didn't understand. Something that was beginning to scare her.