Even before dawn broke, there was the buzzing and excitement among the Sylvans as the first of the games would soon commence. The grounds and best perching places surrounding the start of the races were full of spectators by the time the sun was starting to peak through the trees.
Little Banhi was still sleepily rubbing her eyes as Shanku carried her and searched for a good place where her family could watch the races.
"Are you sure we will be able to see Da from up here?" Muso asked dubiously.
"He's the only one of 'em with mostly snow-white hair and wings, he'll be a breeze to spot!" Shanku replied.
Nari settled down on their perch and opened the basket she had brought. "You lot should eat something. You ran out in such a hurry for a good seat, you didn't even have breakfast!"
Shanku grinned sheepishly and had a biscuit.
"It's not every day I get to see Da run pell-mell after somebody else!" Muso said mischievously.
"You know that lady is happy to share mino pies. All you ever had to do was ask," Nari responded flatly.
"Adults, maybe. Us kids always had to do chores to get them!"
"It builds character, Nari said curtly.
"And a sneaky disposition," Musa said with a wide grin.
The spectators were starting to become restless. The sun had fully broke over the trees when the runners were lead out to the starting point. The crowd cheered and called out various things that were largely indiscernible due to the quanitity of them.
One of the cervitaur stags gestured for the runners to make a line. The Imperial Sylvans kept to once side, the Ferals to another, with the warring Fernwick were between them both.
"Let's keep this fair. This will be a race based purely on speed. No interfering with another runner. No tripping another, shoving, or such, or you will be disqualified," he stated firmly as he paced.
"The race will be ten furlongs. Five out, five back. There will be cervitaur to guide you. Now, since you are forest kurach, there will be forest obstacles to prove your worthiness to stay in our forest. We have placed rocks, logs, thorns, and even found some convenient stump holes in the track," the cervitaur came to stop in front of them.
"Sirs and madame, let's have a good race. Good luck to you," he finished, and walked slowly behind them.
The racers nodded, readied themselves, and waited for the signal to go. A hush fell over the onlookers. The cervitaur watched them for a moment, still as a statue. The Kurach were patiently waiting, anxious to go, with a few twitches of wings and tails the only thing giving them away. The cervitaur finally gave the command to run, and they were off.
Many obstacles had certainly been placed for the runners. There was very little smooth track to run on, a furlong at most. Where the smooth dirt ended began a series of bolders and rubble which required the runners to be alert and to jump from rock to rock, and under a few logs placed atop the rocks. A few scraped elbows and knees were earned here.
Beyond this were the stump holes, and they had been laced with thorns. One wrong step and a leg would be ensnared to the knee or higher, and would likely require assistance to be removed.
With a sharp cry, one of the runners fell. Khan of the Blade clan was unfortunate enough to become tangled in a stray thorn vine, and was left behind as he removed it from his upper leg. He was cursing solidly and aggressively brushed off any help from the cervitaurs. Undeterred, he resumed the race, ignoring the blood trickling down his leg.
To their relief, the next stretch was through trees and dodging ferns and bushes. All went well until they came to a sizable body of water lined with craggy rocks and thick weeds. It could either be swam through or gone around as flying was not permitted in a foot race. Some decided to swim and some decided to evade. This was the slowest part and the sun was starting to get high in the sky by the time all had made their way past this obstacle.
"How are we supposed to know how they're doing?" Muso huffed.
They were becoming rather tired by the time they cleared the trees, and the final stretch toward the finish line lay ahead. With renewed vigor, they gave it their all.
Arne, the runner for the rebel Fernwick clan, dashed past the marker first, with Zanzen close behind. They came to a stop, breathing heavily, as the others made their way to them. The cervitaur judge announced the winner and Arne held his fist in the air to the cheering of the Nyre teams. Arne and Zanzen were lead to a bench where they could rest while the remaining runners came across the line.
Terrence of the fundamental Fernwick placed third, followed by Mona of Waebre, Roan of Sushaw, Chek of Weolcen, Holt of Falnor, and finally Khan came limping on through. With the race over, he finally allowed his injuries to be treated. The cervitaur judges awarded each of them points, eight to the first down to one to the last, and the tally was added to the grand score that would be kept for each team for the duration of the games.
It was now time for midday meal, and as they had completed their portion, the runners were allowed to return to their families.
"You almost had it! You were right on his heels!" Muso squealed excitedly when Zanzen came back to them.
"But Arne was faster," Zanzen nodded. "I'm just glad to be back."
"I'll be glad when you've bathed!" Nari laughed and kissed his sweaty cheek.
"Will you join me?" Zanzen growled playfully and pulled her close.
"Oh, get a room!" Shanku groaned and covered Banhi's eyes. "Can we not just get something to eat?"
"Food sounds wonderful," Zanzen smiled and lead his family off to the tables for midday meal.
"So what all have you been doing since we last saw you?" Muso asked eagerly after they had each fixed a bowl of food.
"Well, we were taken out to the Scissortail training grounds," Zanzen began. "They had us all running, lifting, shooting, flying, and sparring for a few weeks to figure out who their top five were and how likely we were to place well in the games. They seriously considered me for the melée, but Gadon was far more experienced. I was more comfortable with him having that job anyway."
"Did they have as many thorns in training?" Shanku asked.
"There were no thorns at all," Zanzen shook his head, eyes wide in disbelief. "I think there were a few ulterior motives with that stunt."
"That one guy got tangled up good," Muso grimaced. "He was limpin' something awful when he got done."
"Well, that's Nyre Sylvan for you," Zanzen shrugged. "Whatever we may lack in grace we make up for in stubborness and tenacity."
"What happened in the trees? We couldn't see anything," Muso huffed.
"It was steady for a ways, and then there was a lake," Zanzen replied. "With some of the thickest weeds I've ever seen around water. "We couldn't fly, so it was either trudge or swim. I swam. Most of the Imperials tried to go around and ended up getting stuck in bramble and mud. Too snaky for my liking. Better up here than down in Crawfen territory though. They have alligators everywhere."