Chapter 7: The Fan Dance
Wednesday July 29, 2026
Regimental Cookhouse, SAS Barracks
Credenhill, Herefordshire, England
The next morning, Michael parks the car at the SHQ and they walk to the cookhouse, already full of troopers who plan on doing the Fan Dance today. Sarah looks really sexy in a black tank top and black pants from her days in Gegana. She feels like a celebrity because everyone recognizes her and wants to meet her. The food provided by the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC) looks greasy and starchy. The cookhouse’s well-stocked and Sarah forces herself to take as much food as she can. They see Al Spencer and other men from B Squadron waving from one of the tables. All the thirty-odd troopers she met yesterday are there except Derek.
Everyone tries to eat as much as possible and then goes back in line for eggs and bread. They make egg banjos, which they intend to bring with them. This is a good idea and Sarah does the same as she will need a lot of energy today. After breakfast, they all walk to the SHQ to retrieve their bergens and load them into a lorry.
“Morning, everyone! Is this the celebrity everyone’s all hyper about?” asks someone next to the lorry, thrusting his hand towards Sarah. He is really good-looking, tall, and muscular like a Greek god. Unfortunately, he speaks in a thick Birmingham accent that Sarah doesn’t like. “I’m Captain Robert Covington. You must be Lara Croft.”
“No, I’m Sarah,” she answers, laughing.
“Right then, let’s get you inside,” he says as he helps her into the lorry.
The troopers prefer to sleep along the way and Sarah does the same. She puts her head against Michael’s shoulder, already fast asleep.
Wednesday July 29, 2026
Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre
Brecon Beacons, Powys, Wales
Everyone wakes up when the lorry stops in the parking area of Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre at the base of Corn Du. They meet Cormac and the Training Wing Sergeant Major, waiting near a red telephone box. Al gives Cormac a list of people partaking in the Fan Dance while the others put their bergens on a hanging scale to make sure they exceed fifty pounds. Sarah does the same and sees her bergen weighs 52.6 lbs, more or less the same as the other troopers. On top of the standard supplies, she’s added several water bottles and egg banjos.
After they stretch and warm up, they put on their bergens. Sarah struggles with hers. It’s as big as a fridge and it feels like she’s carrying her sister Cindy, back when Cindy was six years old or so. There’s an orange cloth on top of each bergen so Search & Rescue can spot them if they’re lost. Everyone else has finished strapping on their bergens and they wait patiently for Sarah. They watch her struggling, but they don’t offer to help. In any unit, there’re always one or two people who are slower than the rest. Sarah’s embarrassed because this time she’s the slowest. She hurriedly sorts herself and then puts on her Oakleys sunglasses to hide her blushes.
The Training Wing Sergeant Major checks his tablet. “The DS started with the volunteers at 05:45, G Squadron started five minutes after that and were followed by D Squadron only five minutes ago. B Squadron, standby… Standby… Go!”
Michael opens a wooden gate and they quickly walk up the steep hill. Within minutes, Sarah’s heart is beating fast and her lungs are on fire. Unlike the troopers already in the SAS, volunteers for the SAS have to wear full MTP uniform and carry an SA80A3 assault rifle. The sling of the rifle is removed so they have to carry it as if they’re on patrol, further hindering their movement. Sarah can’t imagine having to carry more weight.
There’s some relief after the first hill, as it starts to descend and they cross a small stream. Once it starts going uphill again, the troopers go at an even faster pace. Sarah starts to fall back, but she’s determined not to be an embarrassment to the INP. Once the incline decreases, the troopers start running. Sarah tries to follow their pace. Ten minutes later, she starts to fall back, the distance increasing by the minute. She’s only covered three-quarters of Corn Du, but Sarah fears she’s reached her limit. She tries to maintain her pace for ten more minutes, but finally runs out of steam and has to stop. She has never felt this much pain in her life! She has given all she has, but she will fail to reach Corn Du together with the other troopers. Sarah has run for only four kilometres and she’s suddenly worried because she must run six times that distance today!
“Dios, ayúdame,” mumbles Sarah in Spanish as she starts to jog again.
Sarah continues alone until she reaches the top of Corn Du. From the peak, she can see that B Squadron has already reached the top of Pen y Fan, which is about 350 metres from Corn Du. She continues her jog until she reaches the flat top of Pen y Fan. There’s a tent there and someone standing beside it. Once she’s closer, Sarah sees that the man is in his late forties with a face full of scars. He only has one eye and one arm. It turns out he’s one of the Directing Staff (DS) from the Training Wing, called Fred, who is assigned to that checkpoint.
“Sarah… with B Squadron,” says Sarah, panting. She takes off her bergen and puts it on the hanging scale.
“Good ’un, lass! Yee are only about three minutes behind the other blokes. Do yee know where yee are goin’?” asks Fred in his thick Yorkshire accent.
Sarah can only shake her head while strapping the bergen on her back.
Fred shows her the way. “Be careful descendin’ Jacob’s Ladder. Good luck!”
“Thank you, Staff!” says Sarah, waving goodbye to the friendly DS.
The view from the top of Pen y Fan is breathtaking, but Sarah doesn’t have time to enjoy it. She goes to the northeastern part of Pen y Fan, an area called Jacob’s Ladder. The top part of Jacob’s Ladder is dangerous, especially for people carrying heavy loads on their back. There are steep steps which need careful footing and Sarah must suppress the urge to jump down. While descending Jacob’s Ladder, she takes the opportunity to control her breathing, but becomes extremely worried when she realizes she’ll have to climb up this difficult terrain on the way back. Once she’s through the difficult part, Sarah runs at a faster pace to try to catch up with the others on the declining path. The path forks, the left goes to Cribyn and the right to the Roman Road, a road not built by the Romans. Sarah is determined to catch up with the others before they get to the Roman Road.
After a few minutes of fast running, she finally catches up with them, and even passes a few volunteers carrying the SA80A3. The path declines for the next five kilometres so B Squadron starts to run at an excruciating pace of fifteen kilometres per hour, making Sarah fall behind again. She sees the Neuadd Reservoir on her right and a forest block to her front. The rubbery path takes her parallel with the forest block for a few minutes before changing direction and cutting through it. Sarah meets first G Squadron and, some five minutes later, D Squadron, who’ve already reached the checkpoint at Torpantau and are now returning to Storey Arms. Five minutes after D Squadron, Sarah meets the DS running the Selection with the volunteers behind him playing catch up. She can only smile at them when they cheer for her to reach the checkpoint with the rest of B Squadron.
Several minutes later, Sarah finally arrives at the checkpoint, located approximately 200 metres from the ruins of Torpantau Railway Station. She reports herself to the DS manning the checkpoint while placing her bergen on the hanging scale. It turns out she’s a little over six minutes behind B Squadron.
“Well done, Sarah!” says Al, shaking her hand.
The other troopers, especially Michael, are also impressed with her because she managed to finish the first stage of the Fan Dance only a few minutes behind the others. They all shake her hand and give her a pat on her shoulder. Sarah can only nod at them. She’s too tired to even smile. She takes out her bottled water and drains it. They’ll only stop for ten minutes at the checkpoint so she takes an egg banjo from her bergen and wolfs it down. The other troopers have already done the same. Sarah is in agony; her shoulders, back, legs, and lungs are killing her, but the words ‘giving up’ don’t even begin to cross her mind.
“Roight, lads, rest is over,” shouts Al after Sarah’s only rested for three minutes. “We start again in a minute.”
They all get up and put on their bergens, except Dave, who’s still sleeping in a foetal position with his bergen as his pillow.
“Hey, Boss, let’s shave him,” suggests George, taking a bayonet out of his bergen.
Sarah straps on her own bergen while stifling a laugh.
“No time,” says Michael, giving Dave a hard kick up the arse.
Dave wakes up, cursing his commander. Michael waves goodbye to the DS and then jogs back down the previous route. At the forest block, Sarah’s left behind again, but this time she doesn’t try to catch up with them. She now knows the terrain they will take and has a strategy to deal with it. When they reach the Roman Road, Sarah has fallen behind 200 metres from B Squadron and the distance is increasing, especially when the path starts inclining towards Pen y Fan. Sarah reaches the base of Jacob’s Ladder, where she can see that the others have already reached the top of Pen y Fan.
Marathon runners always say that the real marathon starts at the thirtieth kilometre. Sarah feels like she’s reached her thirtieth kilometre when contemplating the Jacob’s Ladder. But she loves mountaineering and wall climbing so she powers herself up and takes the opportunity to close the gap between her and the others. Her lungs are on fire and her body is screaming for her to stop. Sarah once again can’t imagine having to go up Jacob’s Ladder with both hands carrying an assault rifle. With her bergen growing heavier by the second, she finally reaches the top of Jacob’s Ladder and then reaches the top of Pen y Fan, maybe 150 metres behind B Squadron. She reports to Fred again while weighing her bergen on the hanging scale. The friendly DS once again cheers for her to catch up with the rest of B Squadron.
She starts running towards the mound-shaped top of Corn Du. She passes several volunteers carrying their rifles and sees that B Squadron has reached the DS leading several of the volunteers able to keep up with him. Once the path starts declining again, Sarah finally catches up with B Squadron. Michael and Al share a word or two with the DS before running past him. Further up ahead, they see D Squadron.
“Tally-ho, D Squadron 200 metres ahead!” shouts George.
“Fuck, let’s do it! Let’s do it!” shouts Michael from the front.
“Fucking yeah, let’s do it!” shouts Al.
“Come on, lads! Let’s do it!” shouts Robert.
Sarah doesn’t know why they’re shouting like that.
‘I hope they don’t plan on passing D Squadron,’ she thinks, suddenly worried.
Sarah doesn’t have enough energy to sprint and can only maintain her nine kilometre per hour pace, using all her reserve energy and mental toughness just to maintain that speed. She finally passes the DS leading the volunteers, but doesn’t have the energy to greet him.
“Let’s fucking do this!” shouts Michael. “Are you with me, lads?”
His squadron shout back.
“Let’s fucking do it!”
“Fuck it, yeah!”
“B Squadron… Chaaarge!” orders Michael with a thunderous voice.
They run down the last hill to Storey Arms as fast as they can. D Squadron look as if they don’t want to be passed by B Squadron so they also kick it up a notch. Sarah is once again left behind. Further up ahead, G Squadron have finished and are waiting for them near the red telephone box with Cormac and the Training Wing Sergeant Major. From afar, Sarah sees all of B Squadron finish at the same time as D Squadron. A few minutes later, she hears G Squadron cheering her as she nears the finish line.
“Go, Sarah, go!”
“Come on, Sarah!”
“You can do it, Sarah!”
Sarah finally touches the wooden gate near the legendary red telephone box, to the cheering and applause of the troopers already at the finish.
“You have feathers in your bergens?” asks a trooper from D Squadron.
“Of course not. We just don’t want to be caught up by a bloody policewoman,” replies George, pointing his chin towards Sarah.
Everyone laughs. Sarah feels as if she’s dying and is amazed that her friends still have energy to banter. This has been the most painful three-and-a-half-hours of her life! Her body is dripping with sweat, her shoulders and back are sore, her lungs are on fire, her heart’s beating like it’s about to explode, her abs are starting to cramp up, and her legs feel paralyzed. She takes off her bergen and now feels light enough that she can fly. She takes off her Oakleys and lets them rest on top of her head.
“Well done, Sarah!” says the Training Wing Sergeant Major, shaking her hand.
Cormac also shakes her hand, but looks embarrassed when Sarah looks him in the eyes. They all hang their bergens on the hanging scale to again ensure they weigh more than fifty pounds. Sarah’s bergen weighs 51.3 lbs, more or less the same as the others.
“B Squadron, all of you, well done!” exclaims the Training Wing Sergeant Major. “You lot have smashed the regimental team record with a time of three hours and thirty-two minutes. And Sarah, you’ve done it in three hours and thirty-eight minutes. Very well done, lass!”
Everyone gives a round of applause and they all congratulate Sarah and B Squadron. The DS and five or so volunteers finally arrive at Storey Arms. Sarah’s quite proud of her timing, but she has to admit that if she had to do the Fan Dance in full MTP while carrying an SA80A3, she’d probably need more than four hours to finish.
“Sarah, it would be an honour if you could join us for the Long Drag on the last day of Test Week,” invites the DS leading the volunteers.
“The honour would be mine, Staff, thank you for the invitation,” says Sarah with her remaining energy. ‘I hope I don’t die on it,’ she thinks, genuinely worried.
Everyone seems happy that Sarah can join them on the last tab of Test Week. Although Sarah is not in Selection, she still wants to try it out to test herself. Michael finally comes up to her.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” asks Michael, smiling at her.
“Madre de Dios,” mumbles Sarah, still panting.
“Like those Para bastards at P Company like to say, ‘pain is merely weakness leaving the body,’” quotes Michael.
Sarah can only smile at him. She’s also envious that the others don’t seem as tired as she is.
“You’ve pulled off an amazing accomplishment, mo ghile mear. I’m proud of you!”
Sarah’s flattered, but still can’t speak yet.
“Just remember every stage of the Fan Dance whenever you’re enduring hardship in your life. You can always compare the situation with the pain and suffering you had to endure during the Fan Dance. Like when George ascended Mount Everest a few years ago. He said that facing the twelve metre Hillary Step was like facing the Jacob’s Ladder on the way back to Storey Arms.”
“How did Tony do on the Fan Dance?” asks Sarah, finally able to speak again.
“His team managed to stay with us most of the way, but they took their bloody time atop Pen y Fan just to grab some bloody selfies. But then they managed to catch up with us at Torpantau, just like you. They then stayed with us the whole time back to Storey Arms and we did it in three hours and thirty-four minutes.”
“It’s too bad I didn’t have time to enjoy the scenery,” says Sarah, annoyed that Tony once again beat her at something.
Sarah drains another bottle of water. She’s dead tired but afraid that if she sits down, she won’t be able to stand up again. She keeps moving, cooling down her body, her tank top drenched in sweat.
“Why don’t you take your shirt off else you catch a cold,” suggests Michael.
“You men would like that, wouldn’t you?” quips Sarah.
Michael only smiles at her, but Sarah knows he’s right. She could get hypothermia if she keeps wearing wet clothes in the mountains. Sarah takes off her tank top and uses it to wipe her body, still dripping with sweat. She’s now wearing a black sports bra.
“Here, let me take some photos of you,” says Michael, taking out his smartphone.
“Are you going to post them in the Interest Room?” asks Sarah with a raised eyebrow.
“Not unless you’re wearing that red bikini under that sports bra…”
Sarah smiles and punches him in the chest. Michael photographs her smiling.
“There you go. Come on, model for me,” says Michael.
Sarah is still too tired, but she does it for Michael. She poses like a covergirl with the Brecon Beacons as a beautiful background. Sarah might feel exhausted, but she still looks fresh and beautiful. Her body’s still wet from sweat, which makes her look even more exotic. She can pose like a professional model, ignoring the drooling troopers around her. After a couple of minutes, all of B Squadron suddenly come forward and do some wacky poses with her, making the others laugh and forget their fatigue.
“Roight lads, show’s over. Load up in the lorries,” orders Al.
Al helps Sarah into the lorry. She then hangs on intimately to Michael’s arm.
“What’s after this?” she asks when their lorry heads in the opposite direction to the other lorries headed for Credenhill.
“We’re headed for PATA or Pontrilas Army Training Area, mo ghile mear, southwest of Hereford,” answers Michael.
For some reason, all the troopers inside the lorry start sniggering when they hear their commander call Sarah by that nickname.
“Am I allowed to go inside?” asks Sarah.
“I’ve already sorted it with the Director,” answers Michael.
“Merci, mon amour,” says Sarah, giving him an adoring look and making the troopers even more jealous of their commander.
“Michael calls you ’mo ghile mear’, but you only call him ’mon amour’?” quips George. “That’s lame, Sarah. I know you can do better than that.”
“What do you suggest I call him?” asks Sarah, smiling.
“I don’t know… something Latin perhaps? Like Sillius Sodus? Or Nautius Maximus? Or maybe… Biggus… Dickus?” suggests George, trying hard to keep a straight face.
The troopers can’t help but laugh.
Sarah smiles wider because she knows where this is heading. “Hmm… Biggus Dickus is appropriate for him… but then I don’t want him calling me Incontinentia Buttocks.”
Everyone rolls in laughter. It turns out that they’re not the only ones who like ‘Monty Python: Life of Brian’. As is always the way, one good joke deserves another. The wit and sarcasm keep bouncing off the canvas sides of the lorry until they finally reach Pontrilas, southwest of Hereford.
The lorry enters PATA without any problems and Sarah wonders what to expect inside. Tony told her that PATA is the training centre for counterterrorism for the UKSF Group and he and his men were invited to train there with B Squadron. Tony had told Sarah a little bit about what went on inside and now she’s going to see for herself.