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Nehat loved the annual scarf race, and he was sure that this year would be the best ever. He had been training and planning for this race for months, ever since the king and queen had announced the type of race it would be that year.

He knew he wasn't the only one who had been training. Everyone had trained hard, and he knew it would be a close race. He knew that it would not just be about speed and skill.

In order to win, you would also have to be wise. Nehat loved to plan and he had been thinking through all the different scenarios so that he would know what would be best.

Although it would have seemed to be best to start at either lake or cave, and then head in a straightish line to the other two locations, Nehat realized that it would be foolish. Most would do that, so it would be more crowded, making it more difficult to go full-speed and use the various tricks he had practiced for recovering objects from the back of his mount.

It would be better to start at the tree and then veer around a slightly longer way to get to one then the other of the two locations. When the day dawned clear, bright, and hot, Nehat knew it would be best to go to the cattail marsh after the giant oak so that when the sun was lowest in the sky he would not be flying almost straight into it.

Nehat had carefully gone over all his gear making sure that everything was in tiptop shape and placed correctly. When the race started, Nehat saw that Enielda must have also done some planning for she was off the starting line before him and headed toward the big oak.

He smiled. His sister was smart, but he knew that she was not good at pacing herself and her mount in a long race. She would want to stay ahead of him.

If he could just push his pace a little, she might go at a speed she couldn't sustain just to stay ahead of him. He noticed that Mitym was keeping pace with him.

He figured that his giant friend had decided the best course of action would be to follow him. That meant that he also had to make sure his dragon would have plenty of energy left for a last desperate sprint at the end.

Nehat smiled. He loved a good challenge. By this time, he was approaching the giant oak. He marveled at its size, as he always did.

The tree had been planted on the day SET had been founded 477 years before. Like the kingdom, it had grown and strengthened.

Nehat wondered if their country would weather the coming storm of war as well as this massive tree had weathered so many violent storms over the years.

He hoped so, but he was also worried. He knew that if war really did come, many things would change. Some of the older youth of the palace had joined the army.

If war came, how many of them would die? He shook away the thoughts and concentrated on the task at hand. He smiled as he saw Enielda turn and wave as she headed toward the amethyst caves.

That was good, flying into the blinding sun at the end should make her less of a threat. However, he forgot her as he drew close enough to see the green scarves.

He knew there were some close to the ground for those whose mounts did not have wings. However, there were also many near the top of the tree.

Although he knew his dragon, Marlef, could grab a scarf, Nehat had discovered that there was another way that was slightly faster. To prevent wings from blowing the scarves away, they were lightly fastened to the tree.

Human hands were faster at this job, especially because he was not supposed to disturb the other scarves. He had been secretly working on a trick for months. It was one he had watched the dracobats perform at the last founding day celebration.

As the tree grew close, he left his saddle and began to descend the knotted rope that was attached to his harness in the front. There was another rope attached to the back of the harness. The other ends were attached to the dragon saddle so he would not fall.

His timing was perfect, he reached the lowest point, and could feel the tension of the rope at his back just as they were about to pass over a scarf. He let go with both hands and hung free, confident in his tether. Hanging below his dragon, parallel to the ground, Nehat reached out and with the ease of practice, managed to release the scarf before it was behind them.

He tucked it through his harness, and the easy part was done. Now he had to get back to the saddle as quickly as possible so that his swinging weight would not cause them to lose speed...

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