Chapter 3: Standing Up

Wren gasped as the arm stopped his forward motion abruptly and he saw stars for a moment as he was flung backwards onto the path. Tye stood over him but he couldn’t read Tye’s expression because he was still seeing stars and because there was such a complicated mix of emotions on his face as he panted. After almost a minute, Wren got his own breathing back under control and Tye extended his hand. Wren took it and Tye helped him up, but kept Wren’s hand in his.

“How did you ever learn to run like that, Wren?” Tye asked. He sounded out of breath.

“I used to run every day in Fontain,” Wren said, his voice wobbling slightly at the thought of his former home. “No one could outrun me.”

“You haven’t run at all since you’ve been here,” Tye said. “You should be completely out of shape.”

“I am,” Wren grumbled. “You shouldn’t have caught me.”

“You slowed down when you turned,” Tye said with a tight grin. “That’s how I caught you.”

Wren knew he was sulking. If he had just kept running farther, he could have lost Tye and then safely gone off the path. He should have just had patience.

“How long could you run at that pace, Wren?”

“However long I need to,” Wren said. “It’s not hard unless I sprint.”

“And after you sprint? Do you need to slow down after that?”

“No, I just go back to my normal running speed.”

Tye looked at him strangely. Wren was too angry at himself to figure out why. Sprinting had been a good move on his part, but then he hadn’t been patient enough to lose Tye. He had tried to enter the forest before he fully lost Tye and now he couldn’t escape. Unless he tried running again right now. Tye seemed exhausted, after all, and Wren wasn’t. Tye was holding his hand but he would let go if Wren started running, wouldn’t he?

Wren tensed to prepare himself and suddenly he was on the ground again, back flat on the rocky dirt as the air squeezed from his lungs. He coughed and gasped in air, staring up at Tye in surprise. Tye didn’t look amused. He was angry.

“No more running, Wren,” he warned. “You stay with us. Do you know how dangerous this forest is? Not only are there bandits who would kill you for your hair length, there are also extremely dangerous animals living here that you wouldn’t be able to fight off. They’d eat you in a heartbeat. Isaac wants you to survive. Do you want to disobey him on that?”

Wren swallowed hard and looked at the forest. It looked a lot darker and scarier now, less like an inviting escape back to Isaac. Plus, he didn’t even know which direction the palace was, so he would be wandering for a long time in the forest until he ran into people who could direct him.

“I’m sorry,” Wren whispered.

Tye seemed to accept the apology because he helped Wren to his feet again. This time, though, he wrapped both arms around Wren’s waist so there was no chance Wren could escape. Wren could feel Tye’s racing heartbeat and hear his quick breathing. Tye had used all of his strength to catch Wren. But now that Wren was afraid of the forest, he didn’t especially want to escape into it. He would find other ways to escape. Safer ways. But he would escape.

They stood there for several minutes until Tye recovered, then Tye gripped his arm tightly and started leading him back the way they had come. They walked for quite a while before the other princes came into view. Fay was leading them at a quick pace and all of them looked relieved when they saw Wren and Tye, especially Dashel.

Dashel sprinted ahead to meet them and Tye let go of Wren so Dashel could sweep him into a tight hug. Even after the hug ended, Dashel kept a firm grip on Wren. He glared at Wren.

“Don’t ever do something like that again, Wren. You would be killed out there. Do you even know which direction the palace is or where we are?”

Wren hated being scolded, especially in front of other people. Even though he knew Dashel was right and he didn’t have any clue where they were, he wasn’t going to accept Dashel’s criticism.

“I would have found it,” Wren said, lifting his head in defiance.

“Not before you were found and killed,” Dashel said.

“He understands his mistake,” Tye interrupted. “He won’t do it again.”

Dashel looked at Tye and nodded, then returned his attention to Wren. He eased his grip on Wren a little. Wren was grateful that Tye had spoken for him, but also angry that he had folded on this issue. He didn’t want to be here and he wanted to make it as difficult for them as possible so they would be forced to send him back.

The other brothers were surrounding them and Tye looked at Fay.

“I’m putting you in charge of the morning run from now on, Fay,” Tye said. “Wren and I will do a longer loop. But I think that’s enough running for today.”

Wren scowled. Still, he knew for sure now that he could outrun Tye as long as he didn’t make any mistakes. His new plan was to stay on the road, since the woods were so dangerous. The road had to lead somewhere, after all. But maybe, he realized, the place it led was just as dangerous. After all, his hair length would make him a potential kidnapping target even if the person didn’t know who he was. He shivered slightly at the thought of strange men circling him again. His scowl faded. But he wasn’t happy.

“Come on,” Tye said to everyone, and started leading them down the path where he and Wren had just come from. This time, Dashel kept a grip on his arm the entire way. The road ended in something that looked like a military camp and there were no other paths. Wren inwardly groaned. The road was useless to him if it just led here.

Dashel squeezed his arm as if he knew what Wren was thinking. There had to be some way to get back to Isaac, though. He squashed the betrayal he felt, not wanting to have anything but love for Isaac right now. He would be angry at Isaac later, after he got back.

Once they entered the camp, the princes split into groups and went to various areas where Wren saw odd equipment, like a wooden wall, and a rope across a pit of mud, and a track. The track he knew, but there were obstacles set up on it that he hadn’t ever seen.

Tye went to each of the groups and spoke to them as Wren and Dashel stood by the main tent. Wren wondered what he was going to be learning. He didn’t want to learn anything. This needed to be as difficult for them as possible so they grew so frustrated they sent him back to Isaac.

“Have you ever used a sword, Wren?” Dashel asked.

“No, and I don’t want to,” Wren snapped. He remembered taking a sword from a fallen Imperial soldier to defend himself as he ran away from his brother Forre. He hadn’t needed to use it, luckily, and it had been an act of desperation.

“We can start with something else, then,” Dashel said. “What types of fighting games did you play as a child?”

“None. I wasn’t allowed to play rough with anyone. They only let me run because they couldn’t catch me.”

Dashel sighed. “Not even playing with sticks?”

“No. No one wanted me to get hurt.”

Dashel shook his head. “All right. We’ll start with the very basics then. I’m going to show you how to stand.”

Wren bit back a sharp retort and let Dashel position him. He felt uncomfortable with his feet farther apart than usual, and with one in front of the other. Dashel showed him how to hold his arms and he straightened his feet.

Dashel patiently rearranged his feet.

“I’m going to fall over,” Wren said. “How can anyone stand like this?”

“It’s actually far more stable than how you were standing,” Dashel said, rearranging his feet yet again as Wren kept accidentally moving into a more comfortable stance. “Hold still.”

Finally, Wren felt a little more secure and Dashel didn’t have to keep readjusting him.

“Alright, Wren, now I’m going to push you. Use your strength to push me back, okay?”

Wren grumbled but agreed. He put his hands like Dashel had shown him and focused on keeping his feet still. Dashel leaned against his hands. At first he just set his hands on Wren, then he pushed and Wren staggered backwards. His feet were too awkward to withstand even light pressure.

Dashel yet again positioned him and Wren scowled.

“It’s not going to get easier,” Wren said. “I don’t want to stand like this.”

“Having trouble?” Tye asked, appearing out of nowhere.

Wren gave a start and, of course, fell out of position. Dashel stood and waved his hand at Wren.

“We’re starting with the very basics and he’s having trouble,” Dashel said.

Tye studied Wren for a moment as Wren stood comfortably. Then Tye rearranged Wren in the same way Dashel had, but he used more force when positioning him. Finally, he stood back.

“Does that feel stable, Wren?”

“No,” Wren said. “I feel like I’m going to fall over.”

“You’re not,” Tye said. He lightly pressed Wren’s shoulder. “Shift your weight evenly between your feet. Good. Now lean forward against my hand.”

Wren obeyed. He still felt clumsy, but he hadn’t fallen out of position yet.

Tye lifted his hands the way Dashel had before, and Wren also lifted his hands. Tye gently pressed against them, the pressure increasing rapidly. Wren tried to dig in his feet to withstand the pressure and reversed his stance. The pressure vanished and Tye and Dashel looked puzzled.

“Wren, which is your dominant hand?”

“My right.”

Dashel looked at Tye, who shrugged. “It’s not unheard of for someone to favor a different leg than their hand. Here, Wren,” he said, helping Wren into the opposite position from before, “This will probably feel a lot more natural.”

Once Wren’s feet were in place, he did feel more comfortable. Then Tye pushed against him with unexpected force. He staggered backwards.

“Wren,” Tye said, his voice full of exasperation as his face hardened. “One more chance, Wren. If you move this time, I’m going to whip you for every step out of position you take.”

Wren stared at him, aghast. He had to be kidding, but he also remembered what Isaac had said about Tye being strict. He looked to Dashel, who looked grim but in agreement.

“You can’t hurt me,” Wren said. “Isaac will kill you.”

“I’m not hurting you, I’m helping you train,” Tye said. “Now get into position.”

Reluctantly, Wren attempted to stand the way Tye had just shown him. Tye studied the result, then readjusted Wren’s feet without comment. He lifted his hands and Wren pressed against them, determined not to step backwards this time. He didn’t think Isaac would allow him to be hurt, but Tye and Dashel looked so serious he wasn’t positive anymore.

Tye pushed against him and Wren pushed back, and succeeded in keeping his position even though the force of Tye’s shove slid him back slightly. Still, he didn’t move his feet and that was all that mattered. Tye smiled in approval.

“Good job, Wren.”

Dashel pushed him next, with the same result. Wren was getting the hang of it. Tye headed to help the other princes and Dashel looked pleased with Wren. Wren was pretty pleased with himself as well, even though he didn’t really want to do anything that they wanted. He wanted to be difficult. But it was hard not to be proud the way Tye and Dashel had smiled at him. Now he just had to worry about whatever Dashel taught him next.

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