Section I: Episode 4
August 10, 2014
Galavar switched the grip on the water jar to his right hand, clamped his teeth over the baton, and proceeded along the net as fast as he dared. If he went any faster he would have ceded his control to chance, and that was something he hated to do.
Two were ahead of him already; now a third bodybuilder was beginning to pull up beside him on the right. That was Entallil, the blacksmith's apprentice.
Steady, Galavar told himself. I can make it up on the steep. Steady wins.
Leg, arm, leg, same arm, crawling like a bug. The netting finally began to get steeper as the hillside sloped in earnest. As they passed into the free air, the wind of the late afternoon picked up ferociously and it wasn't long before a stray gust buffeted him so hard that it threw him off his gait.
That was a recoverable bungle, but from ahead he heard Remedy cry. The mate had lost his balance in the wind and now fell straight backwards. Quick thinker that he was, Remedy hadn't let go of the water jar with either hand, and allowed himself to land backside-down on the mesh, hard. The net shook, but Galavar was ready and lost no time.
It looked like a hopeless mess, but if anyone could recover from a predicament like that it would be Remedy.
Not before Galavar could reclaim second place, though.
Entallil, just on Galavar's tail, would be coming into Remedy's path shortly. As long as Galavar didn't give her any room, she'd have to fall behind him. He thought about cutting her off, but, once again, he didn't like invoking the force of chance. He wanted to win on the merits. So he moved a bit to the left and made room for her.
Remedy was squirming as Galavar passed him, trying very hard to get himself back into a mobile position without losing the water. The slope of the net was such that his legs were much higher than his head, and as he swiveled on his trunk he kept tangling his feet.
"You've almost got it!" Galavar said.
"Keep going!" Entallil shouted. To Galavar she said, "Thanks!" and promptly pulled even with him, then ahead.
But everything was going to change after the next line of posts. From there, the netting would be steep enough for Galavar to stand on. Everything beyond that point would be a climb rather than a scramble, and he would have his chance.
"Entallil," he called, with the golden hour sun behind her and the roar of the crowd in the air, "you're holding the jar the same way I am. How do you go so fast?"
"It's not so fast," she grunted.
"It's faster than me."
"I think you just have to trust the net. You're always too careful."
"But we've seen how many others have fallen. Would you want chance to decide this race?"
"This is not school time! Dig in and go!"
And go she did, pulling farther ahead of him into the full climb.
Galavar had come this far while sticking to his strategy; there was no point in changing it now just a few paces away from the end of the shallows.
He passed the posts, and with them the net finally rose mostly along the vertical.
"Now!" he said to himself, and climbed with all the vigor he could muster.
It was very windy up here. It felt good on his sweat. Off to his right the western sky was beginning to turn orange, and the haze in the air was just starting to put a tinge of red onto the sun. He hadn't been on the net all that long, maybe a sashul.★ He just hadn't noticed. At this hour of the day, it would all change fast.
He caught up with Entallil. When she saw him passing her, she scoffed.
"Your risk seems to not have availed you," he panted.
She was sweating hard and heaving for air.
"I wouldn't…be this far…so early," she replied.
"Fair. Good speed to you!"
"Your bolt…is coming loose," she told him.
Sure enough, it was. It flexed around his hips very easily, and a quick glance down showed that it was losing its knot. But there was nothing he could do now.
As the strength in his left arm gave out, he switched the jar back over and began to climb with his right, and from there he made his final ascent, steady and now quite swift. The sounds of his competitors fell behind him—all but Nightlight.
When he reached the top, the first thing he did was bow down and unplug the jar from his belly. A deep red ring had left its mark on his flesh there, but the water was intact, and people were cheering his name.
A sashul is a unit of time, approximately four minutes.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!