Section I: Episode 2
July 27, 2014
"Contestants, each of you will have a special challenge to complete in addition to your leg of the relay. Surprise!"
Master Veskegen seemed exceedingly pleased with himself, almost delighted, with unconcealed glee in his voice as he announced this previously unmentioned set of additional hardships for the contestants.
The crowd loved it too, cheering wildly. The Summer Spring Relay was a Dawn's Eve tradition, one of the highlights of the year. Most of Ieik had turned out, lining the entire course, which itself spanned almost half the town. That many happy people all scrunched up together were irrepressible.
In the contestants' bay, people were a bit more nervous.
"What's he going to spring on us, do you suppose?" Orni asked her teammates.
"Probably eggs," said Galavar, his mind still chewing on his earlier lesson. "We'll have to carry an egg on a spoon or something."
"With our eyes closed," said Asash.
"I like how he thinks this is a surprise to anybody," said the team captain, Javelin. "Every year that he gets to run the Summer Spring Relay, he cooks us a 'surprise.'"
"Two years ago it was a handful of sand," Orni offered, "which is why I'm wearing a shirt with a pocket today."
Suddenly Galavar felt self-conscious. He'd only worn his brims, striped white and pastel blue, and his sturdy blue bolt.★
"Why would you do that?" asked Javelin. "You know it won't be the same thing this time."
"I know that, but it could be something similar. He likes to do that."
"I bet for me it's going to be carrying a glass of water," their captain figured. "I'm such a sloppy runner, and he doesn't want anyone to get first place two years in a row."
Veskegen called for quiet, and the chatter among all the teams and the spectators fell away, a spectacular silence rippling outward across the valley where before there had been a great din.
"Gymnasts, you will be wearing a patch over the eye of your choice."
The crowd erupted in cheers again, immediately, and their chatter rekindled as they deliberated the ramifications of the blindfolding, with no shortage of speculation about how this would affect the teams' handicaps.
Asash rubbed his chin.
"What's that about?" he asked.
"A bigger blind spot? I have no idea," said Javelin. "But I wish it had been a glass of water. He wouldn't do the same challenge for two legs of the race."
"Distance perception, I think," said Galavar. "You may find it harder to judge distances with one eye blocked."
"Ah, yes," said Asash. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Our kinetics teacher is not exactly easy to stay awake around…ironically."
Veskegen called for quiet again.
"Sprinters," continued Veskegen, "you will be carrying a fresh flower."
More cheers from the crowd, and whoops.
"It's not water!" Javelin squealed.
"I have removed the stems completely," the obstacles master continued, struggling to be heard, "so that you will have to hold the flower heads themselves. You must not crush or drop them, nor may you put them elsewhere on your person. Beware, sprinters: It is a harder challenge than it may seem."
"It's not water! It's not water! It's not water!"
Asash patted Javelin on the back.
"Flowers are fragile, though. Be careful."
"Bodybuilders, you will be carrying a small jar of water."
"You may not put down the jar at any time, and you must retain enough water in it for me to fill my teacup to overflowing—which is to say, nearly all of it."
Javelin turned apologetic.
"Sorry, Galavar. That's terrible. But if anyone can manage it, it'd be you."
"There's no way I can do it," he mused. "I might be able to climb with one hand, but how can I possibly lift the heavy baskets?"
"Hold it in your teeth," she suggested.
Quiet Ornithate hadn't said anything, anxious for the relay master to dispense her fate, which was now revealed.
"Joggers, you will have to complete an additional circuit of your segment of the course beyond the one circuit that was previously announced."
The crowd, of course, was ecstatic. But over in the contestants' bay, everyone else on Orni's team looked at her.
"Well," she said simply, "he knows how to fuck us over."
"Will it really be that much harder?"
"Not harder to actually jog, no. I could easily run that far." She was a shy one, but on the subject of her home turf she became animated. "The trick is that it's harder to pace hills, and the course is very steep. I know I'll have to run more slowly, but I don't know how much more slowly. I never thought to practice more circuits at once. It's already so long."
"It's exactly because the jogging course is so long that you're going to be the star of the show," said Asash. "Most of the crowd is lined up along your route. You'll easily spend three times as long on the relay as the rest of us put together."
"I think if none of us has failed by the point you get the baton," said Galavar, "then just take it as easily as you can."
"That makes sense."
"Don't listen to him," chided Javelin. "This is your chance for glory. Take it! Push yourself to the limit today." Then her face contorted into the grim severe. "But know your limit."
"That's not like you."
She grabbed Ornithate by her shoulders.
"Know your limit, so that you can taunt it when you crush it beneath your untiring heels!!"
"Yep, that's like you," Asash said.
"Contestants, you should each endeavor to complete your share of the racecourse," said Veskegen. If you fail in the special challenge you will be automatically unranked, but your team may still have an opportunity to win. It all depends on how the other teams do. Your fates are intertwined today, as is ever true.
"May your skills serve you well today."
He turned and shouted to the spectators.
"Eight teams have proven their mettle to qualify for the Summer Spring Relay this year! Only one team can win, but for now let us congratulate all of them for their sportsmateship, and encourage them on their way!"
The crowd roared like nothing before it. A wave of Kindred jubilation washed out everything else, thunderous as a waterfall, a hailstorm in its prime. Their cheers and cries and whistles and foot stomps filled up the air, and trounced the ear, bounced off the rock palisades, and boomed in the distance. The Village of Ieik was not a populous place, home to no more than three thousand mates altogether, but, to many a young athlete, in that moment it sounded like every spark in the whole world was cheering them on.
The people who were too far away to have heard Veskegen speak nevertheless heard the cheers of their neighbors, and they all came to life now, like a little piece of the sun fallen to the ground, sizzling and hot.
A wonderful sensation overtook Galavar. They were cheering for him. He could do it. He just had to find a way.
"Contestants, to your starting positions."
"Mates!" said Javelin, "this is my first year as captain—and with an entirely new team no less. Fare well. And remember our team mantra."
The others all said it in unison:
"Fail you, and we disgrace the name Javelin."
They grabbed each other's hands and did a whirl, then flew apart. It was their team's signature salute. Team Javelin.
Galavar thought it vain that she named everything after herself, but it did tickle his sense of humor.
They parted ways, but the course was laid out such that none of them had far to go. The heart of the crowd, as well as the gymnastic and bodybuilding courses, were all laid out here in the Moedden Radius. Here too were platforms for music, thousands of unlit torches waiting for evening to come, barrels of untapped wine and spirits, all sorts of toys and ornaments for games, and at least thirty carts where chefs had spent the day preparing food and drink for the meal ahead. The smells of meats and vegetables and spices were already thick in the air, for those lucky—or unlucky—enough to be downwind of it.
Galavar looked across the Radius and saw Javelin ready on the sprinter's course. She would go immediately after Asash, and when she finished she would hand the baton to him.
Farther north, Asash was taking his position at the gymnastic starting marker. There were eight one-eye blindfolds there, and eight batons, each one a different color. Team Javelin's was a bright, deep sky blue, and for a moment it looked to Galavar that there was a curious sliver of sky where his teammate's forehead should be.
★ Brims and Bolt
Brims and bolt are traditional Ieikilii summer daywear.
The brims are basically shoulder adornments. They consist of very short sleeves that always cover the tops of the shoulders, with some versions wrapping around the arms completely and other versions leaving the pits exposed. The two sleeves are connected across the collar by straps, or sometimes with a slim hoop of fabric that you might think of as a crop top that stops above the breast rather than below it. The brims are purely decorative, and often strive for a shoulder-broadening effect.
The bolt is essentially wraparound underwear. It takes its name from a bolt of fabric and consists of a long, thin sheet of fabric that pretzels underneath the loin and around the hips in both directions, exposing the musculature or fullness of the buttocks and leaving the thighs completely bare. In Ieik the bolt is mainly hygienic and, for males, protective of the genitalia, but for fashion people tend to wear theirs a little longer than necessary, allowing for a short tail that hangs about halfway down the thigh. Different people hang theirs off-centered on the back or front, or fully on either the left or right hip. For a cold-weather society such as Ieik, brims and bolt are a rare and welcome attire that only make sense on the warmest days of summer.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!