The feather released by the man should represent the coming test: it was light, a weight easy to bear. Still, for Taisa — and certainly for the other two dozen aspiring riders —, the lazy fall of that little feather resembled much more the opposite of what she was feeling. Gawa seemed to notice that tension and said, as she had many times already that day:
Gawa was a benti, a people of huge non-flying bird-like beings, with long legs and neck and earth-colored feathers. Over her back was mounted Taisa, a girl from the zivar tribe, with tanned skin and whose face was covered by a beak-like wooden mask. All the other kids were eleven or twelve years old, but Taisa was almost fourteen. Because she was considered too small, only now the people from the village let her enter a race, although she ridden Gawa since she could remember.
In front of them there was the beginning of a field where tall grass covered the ground until very far away, going even beyond the Red Wall, the final point of the race, in that moment just a small salience over the horizon. Only over the narrow trail that led to there the soil was uncovered, and because it was the easiest way, surely it would be chosen by the most. Scattered through the field, many benti— at least two for each team— were waiting. They were called watchers, and their function was to watch the competitors, their feats and fails, and that would be taken in consideration in the end. Not only the final position was important, but also what happened during the race.
Not far from the starting line, behind the racers, was the small village where Taisa lived. It was good that race happened near her home, since many people had to come from not so near places. But even living far away, they would come: the benti riders, or benti-zai in the benti language, were respected among the zivar, and for that reason children were always encouraged to race. In that very moment, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and many others clustered around the children and the benti, following silently with their eyes the small object that went towards the ground.
"It's now," said Gawa, one moment before the feather touched the dirt and everyone departed, going towards the field, dismantling chaotically the starting line.
With two fast looks, one to each direction, Taisa saw many of the other kids falling from their mounts. The benti's wings helped keep riders in place, in case there was a problem with the stirrups, but if one was too amateur, they would certainly meet the ground. And they really seemed to be the youngest there. They may had never mounted a benti before, thought the girl. They must have just became eleven and are already here. Taisa would have felt anger, but there was no time for that.
The remaining children were now fighting to enter the trail, and more of them fell. Taisa pulled the saddle to the left, indicating she thought it was better for them to enter the tall grass. Gawa followed her instruction, showing she agreed. Those kids would still stumble on each other and fall down for some time, before there was any order in the race. When the confusion ended, Taisa and Gawa would be far ahead of them. At least, that was the idea, and the two friends proceeded out of the trail, with the grass rubbing in the height of Gawa's chest.
But they were not the only ones to think that way. A duo was running not so far ahead of them, and also one or two on the other side of the trail. Rapidly looking back, Taisa spotted one more pair. If they would have problems with some racer, the girl knew, it would be with those ones. For the ones who fell, it would be difficult to reach them.
After some 150 or 200 of Gawa's steps — basically three times that in human steps—, Taisa pulled the saddle to the right, and they got back to the trail. The grass blades could hide stones and cracks, and therefore they should run with caution. On the trail, however, they could proceed faster, and the duo took the velocity posture: Gawa, who until that moment had her neck sinuously raised, stretched forward; Taisa, trying to keep her body horizontal, was holding the front of the saddle and had her legs slightly flexed, with feet in the stirrups helping to support her body's weight. The beak of her mask pointed forward as the Red Wall grew on the horizon, still distant, but coming. There were some racers ahead of them, but Taisa was sure she would reach them.
For some time they ran, with no problems, following the dirt path. But soon the other teams came out from the grass, and the race really began. ns220.127.116.11da2