Barrett found himself dripping with sweat. The bandages seemed like they would have made him more uncomfortable… but that wasn’t actually the case. They were quite breathable and dried out very well. The rest of his clothes, however, constantly smelled. Master Hykel said they would have somewhere to wash when they got to their destination… and that he would be expected to do so.
Barrett was dripping with sweat, not because it was hot, but because of exertion. The air was actually quite cool, which helped, but he was made to work harder than he thought he could. There were various exercises, such as things called push-ups… where he pushed down. Well, he pushed himself up, he supposed. Regardless, he did as many as he could… and then was made to do more. It was unpleasant and painful but what Barrett learned was… he could do more. He just hadn’t thought it was possible.
In the morning, there were only “light” exercises. That was because he was expected to be able to walk over twenty miles each day as well. Barrett found that it was actually possible to do so much physical activity, and he hadn’t expected it. It was barely possible, but without Master Hykel’s encouragement it probably wouldn’t have been. There was a lot of shouting involved, but instead of the type that made him feel bad about himself, he felt… good. Being told at high volumes that he needed to do more, but also actually could was… something.
Barrett thought the second biggest contributor to his success was actually food. Master Hykel cooked huge amounts of food for the two of them. Barrett could eat however much he wanted to… which was a lot. The only restriction was that he had to also eat some vegetables and not just meat. So, he did. Barrett wasn’t really sure where all of the food came from. He saw Master Hykel bring down a deer and roast it, but they had that meat for a few days, and he hadn’t seen where it was. Usually he was doing exercises while the cooking was happening, but one time he looked over and saw that Master Hykel pulled various things out of his bag… and there was no way they could have all fit inside it.
After the first week was over, Barrett felt exhausted… He didn’t think he could do any more. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to. “Today is a day off. Besides walking, we won’t have you do any other exercise. Remember, Barrett, rest is important. If you don’t give your body time to recover, it will get worse instead of better. Nothing can overcome that, not even expensive medicines. That doesn’t mean you can be lazy, but knowing when to rest is important.”
Barrett nodded. “I understand.” Barrett thought about whether he should continue with what he wanted to say, but decided he had to. “So, you said that half of the people died in the first week of training. I don’t feel like you’re the kind of person who would let that happen to your students… and I haven’t felt at risk of death.”
“Hmm? Oh. Well, I certainly don’t want my disciples to die. No sane master does. However, the training has that element of risk.” Master Hykel scratched his chin. “Oh, did you think we’d started the actual training? No, this is just basic fitness. We can’t really start the real training until then.” Then he grinned, “I kind of like you, so I’ll give you one more chance to back out then.”
Barrett paled. This wasn’t even the real training yet? He couldn’t imagine how brutal the real training must have been. On the other hand, it didn’t make any sort of sense with what Master Hykel talked about. He even mentioned that the body shouldn’t be pushed past what it could bear. If so… what was it that caused people to die?
“Well, here we are,” Master Hykel declared.
Barrett looked ahead. “Umm… this is a cliff face.” He looked around, but didn’t see anything else. Well, the cliff face fell off over to the east, but there were no other features. Barrett examined the cliff face more closely. Was there a hidden entrance or something?
Master Hykel patted him on the shoulder. “It’s up there.” He pointed toward the top of the cliff.
“I don’t see anything there either?”
“Trust me, it’s there. So, before we get to the training, we just have to go this last little bit.” Master Hykel walked up and touched the cliff face, then turned toward Barrett. “Oh, I suppose it’s possible for you to die climbing this before you start the training. No one has yet, but I suppose that’s because some of them gave up.” He shrugged, “I just want you to know, I’m not going to catch you if you fall. See you at the top.”
Barrett watched Master Hykel climb. He was swift, taking almost no time to think about what he was doing. Barrett was in a daze for the first few moments, but then he concentrated. He hadn’t climbed a cliff face before, but it couldn’t be too hard. Even so… he had to pay attention to the route. It was only a few minutes before Master Hykel had reached the top of the cliff face that was at least a hundred meters tall.
“Are you coming?” Master Hykel shouted down from the top. “Or are you just going to give up?”
When phrased like that… Barrett knew he wasn’t going to give up. He could do it. Sure, he may not have climbed something like this before, but… Surely, he could get off the ground. It took him a few tries for that. He placed his hand and foot on some slight protrusions, but just ended up pushing himself away from the cliff face. He recalled how Master Hykel had stuck to the rock face, almost rubbing himself against it. He tried again, and actually got himself up off the ground. It took a few tries, with him falling off every time he made a mistake, before he could get both feet off the ground and start going up.
He looked up, and found he hadn’t really made any progress. He continued, grabbing for handholds and footholds he thought Master Hykel had used. One arm, one foot, other arm, other foot… one thing at a time. He looked up again… and didn’t feel any closer. One more arm… Then his foot slipped, and he fell.
He landed flat on his back, with the air knocked out of him. It was a few minutes before he could even function again, just looking up. He realized he’d barely made it anywhere. It had been at most three or four meters up.
Barrett stood up. He craned his neck, and couldn’t imagine making it to the top. This was it, then. He would have to give up here. Otherwise, he could die. Of course… he could die doing something else too. He could get lost and run out of food, or die in an accident as a laborer, or get sick…
Master Hykel looked down at him from the top of the cliff. He couldn’t see his expression. Still, Barrett wondered if he really wanted to call him master. It was the same question of whether he wanted to be strong. The answer… was yes. He wanted to be strong. He couldn’t stand being weak anymore, and the worst thing that could happen to him was not trying. It would be even worse than death.