Scarf Two

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          Nehat had worked hard to master the trick that was necessary for regaining his saddle quickly.  The front rope was knotted every foot and hung loosely having a little slack. 

Now, he reached above his head with both hands and grabbed the rope above the lowest knot, pulling with all his strength.  He had to climb that rope with just his hands so that he would create as little wind resistance as possible, and he had to do it quickly not just to prevent speed loss, but because if he didn't, his strength would give out, and he would drop back to the end of his rope. 

If he did that, it would disturb Marlef's flight, and they would have no choice but to land for him to regain the saddle.  Using this trick was risky, because if he messed up, the race was lost. 

However, if he succeeded, it would make it easier for them to win.  With speed and care, he climbed hand over hand up that rope until at last he was in the saddle. 

He looked back at Mitym and Thifa who were now a little distance behind and grinned at his friends' amazed expressions.  The trick had definitely been worth it. 

His beautiful red dragon was already curving into the forest the way they had planned, heading slightly off-course to the cattail marsh to avoid some of the race traffic. 

As he looked down at the trees below them, he knew that some of the contestants were going through the forest.  He hoped his ogre friend was staying hidden as they had planned. 

He had found the two-month old ogre starving and alone not long after Isoje had brought her peg to the palace.  He knew most would have let the young ogre die, but he was glad he hadn't. 

He was also glad that he had been able to keep the ogre's presence a secret.  However, he knew he shouldn't be thinking about that now.  He had a race to win, and that would require all his thoughts. 

As they raced toward the cattail marsh, Nehat secured himself to the saddle with some other straps, so that they would be ready for a roll. 

He had decided that was the best way, and the most fun way, to get the second scarf.  This was the best scarf race ever. 

Nehat threw back his head and laughed just for the joy of racing with his dragon.  Suddenly, he stopped laughing.  He thought of the princess sitting at the palace waiting for the race to end.  It was not fun for her. 

He wished she could be racing with them, but she had kept her promise.  Atamar had not participated since she was 7.  It was more fun for him, but why was her sacrifice necessary? 

He wished he dared ask his parents why the princess always had to win.  His parents seemed to be obsessed with the idea of the princess losing.  They were constantly asking him and Enielda if the princess had lost at anything. 

He had asked the other youth, and they said they'd been getting the same thing from their parents.  He remembered his parents telling him to let the princess win when he was younger, but he had never felt that they were worried, just that it was important to them. 

Now, he got the feeling that they were worried.  He and the others had agreed that they wouldn't tell the princess.  They could see she was worried enough already. 

Who could blame her?  They all knew that there was something wrong.  Was there something wrong with her? 

Nehat tried to shake off his disturbing thoughts, but it wasn't easy.  They kept popping back up.  However, as he saw the cattail marsh approaching, he managed to push them aside.

"Are you ready?" he asked Marlef.  He checked his straps one more time to make sure that he was secure.  Then, as they neared the red scarves, he gave the signal, and his dragon began the roll. 

Their timing was off by a hair, but he still managed to grab a scarf before they were out of reach.  Coming right side up again he grinned and tucked it into his harness beside the green scarf-only one to go, and then the race to the finish. 

He hoped that he would win this year.  If he did, he would try to make sure that he kept Atamar laughing during the whole banquet. 

After all, she needed something to laugh about these days...

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