The first course of the day is more swimming. Sergeant Greenwoods explains that they do this a lot in training. It’s not so much because you’re expected to do a lot of swimming in the muck, but more of that they want to be sure you’re ready when it comes up.
You manage nearly a minute and a half this time, better than yesterday. But your second attempt only lasts forty-five seconds, and when you decide to make a third, you barely make thirty.
“You’re getting better at the basic technique. Your problem seems to be stamina. Best way to build that up is to get you exercising more in general. Fortunately, I’ve already got something scheduled for you once you get cleaned up.”
You shower and wash your clothes again. You even check for fly eggs this time; you’ve been reassured the pool is kept clean, but after yesterday’s incident, you don’t want to take any chances. Once you’re done, you follow the sergeant to another room.
This one has a large wall with a number of grooves in it.
“This is for climbing. Now, usually you’ll be climbing up a tree, rather than a sheer wall, but it’s good to have the skills. And it’ll give you a good workout. You’re just starting out, so…” She points to a mark about a quarter of the way up. “Just see if you can get a hand up to here, and then back down safely.”
You start climbing. It’s a bit awkward finding your footing, but after a few minutes you manage to make some progress. Not much, mind; your feet are only a little bit off the ground, and the quarter mark is still well out of reach. By the time the sergeant says “I think that’s enough, we should be moving on” you’ve barely made any progress. You’re so low down that descending is just a matter of hopping off, so you do.
Of course, the way things have been going, you’re not exactly surprised when you fall on your face afterwards. The sergeant helps you up.
“You’re still cautious, that’s the thing. Out in the field, if you need to climb, you need to be quick. That means you can’t count on knowing that the next step is safe. I’ve known recruits who did fine on the wall because they learned its shape, but once they got outside, they were useless on the trees. Now, see, when you hopped down, that was a risk, and sometimes risks don’t pan out. You’ve got to learn to do that sort of thing on the way up, too.”
You just nod a little. You don’t feel very talkative right now.
“You look worn out. I suppose you haven’t gotten used to the weight of the armor yet. Well, fortunately, the next lesson is a good deal simpler. Though we are going to have to walk there, so I hope you’ve still got the energy for that.”
You follow her through the halls, to the kitchen. She waves to the cook.
“How goes it, Tom First? Got a new recruit here. Needs to learn about finding food out in the swamp.”
Tom First looks at you and smiles.
“Ah, yes. Food safety. Out in the swamp, you won’t have old First around to cook up a bowl of swamp mush for you. I know, how will you get by without it? So if you’re stuck out there for a while, you need to know what’s safe to eat – more than you might think, though for some of it you need to learn not to taste it.”
Tom opens up a cupboard and pulls out a bag of leaves.
“Now, this here is your common swampleaf, you can pull it off nearly all the trees. It’s the main ingredient in swamp mush, though the flavor is considerably stronger out in the wild. And that’s not a good thing. Still, it’s safe, and it’s easy to find. There’s just one thing to be careful of.”
He pulls another leaf out of the cupboard, and holds it up next to one of the others.
“Can you see the difference here?”
You shake your head.
“Yeah, that’s the thing. This one is lazy swampleaf. It’s just like the regular stuff except it puts you to sleep fast – that’s relatively safe, but not when you’re out in the wild. You can tell the difference between the trees they come from, but the leaves are near impossible to tell apart by sight. So you never grab fallen leaves, you always pull them off the tree. You got that?”
“Right. So that’s the main thing to know. You can live for months on swampleaf if you have to. Well, not out in the swamp, something’s going to get you sooner or later no matter how well-fed you are. Of course, it’s nice to get some variety if you can get it… and even if you’re sticking to swampleaf, you’ve got to check for signs the tree might be sick. Or if some kind of beast might be living around it. There’s no easy answers out in the swamp.”
He puts the indistinguishable leaf back and pours the rest of them into a pot. Apparently your lesson doesn’t preclude making the next batch of swamp mush.
“So, before I start talking about other things to watch out for when foraging, is there anything you have any questions about?”
How do you tell the difference between the two trees?