Twigs snap beneath my feet as I trudge through the thick forest. I hesitate, waiting before I take another step, wondering if I’ve made too much noise. When no sound follows, I continue on, careful of my steps. When I reach the old grist mill, long abandoned and now crumbling from disuse, I let out a sigh of relief. I take a step out of the thicket and hands encircle my small throat. I gasp out and claw at the hands of my assailant. He shoves me to the ground, releasing me from his hold and I scramble backwards, into the clearing. I look up at Garrison as he looms over me, looking disappointed.
“Your steps are too heavy, you’re careless,” he says coldly.
“I’m sorry,” I sputter.
“Apologies are for the weak!” he barks, “Are you weak, Lark?”
I shake my head, “No, I am not weak.”
“I didn’t think so,” he says, “Now, again!”
We start back over from the beginning, he, giving me a five-minute head start into the woods before plunging in to track me. The goal? Reach the grist mill without being captured. We’ve repeated this lesson at least a hundred times, and every time, Garrison catches me. No matter how light my steps, no matter how little noise I make or how shallow I breathe, he still manages to reach me before I get to the mill. Garrison promises that if I master this lesson, he will then teach me to shoot a bow and arrow. I badly want to learn to shoot. I want to become the greatest warrior Maldara has ever seen. I will be cunning. I will be brave. I will be dangerous. I will be defiant in the face of my enemies, and I have plenty of those.