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Old 09-18-2008, 07:16 PM   #287
littlemanpoet
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The distance race

While the runners walked around, stretching their legs and talking and joking among themselves, Wilcred and Lithor brought out three more red flags, which were actually pieces of cloth generously donated for the cause by Frodides and Modtryth, with pointed warnings that they were to be returned whole. These red flags were placed in four spots, two near the Scar, two a good ways away from it, so that a rectangle was formed.

"These flags are your four corners, runners," said Lithor. Go five times around the flags for a sum of two furlongs of a race. This is more than twenty times as far as the short race, so run wisely. On your marks!"

The runners lined up, no betting this time, this felt more serious.

"Set!"

The runners looked down the length of the course rather than at each other.

"Go!"

They were off - at an easy pace. They rounded the first corner, by which time they had formed a line: Matrim, Osmund, Erbrand, Degas, and Eodwine, followed a little way back by Javan, Garmund, and Cnebba all in a ragged flanking line. They turned the close corner and ran the little way along the Scar to the cheers of the small crowd who had picked their favorites.

On the second lap Osmund decided that the pace was too slow and moved to the front. Erbrand moved past Matrim too. Degas and Eodwine fell back about ten feet from the leaders. Meanwhile, Garmund pulled ahead of the other two boys in an easy lope appropriate to his size; Javan and Cnebba ran neck and neck. When they came around the near corner and raced along the Scar to the cheers of the crowd, Erbrand and Matrim made a good show of it by pulling even with Osmund: all three turned the corner in line. Degas was ten feet behind them, Eodwine four feet back of him. Garmund was only eight feet behind Eodwine, and Javan and Cnebba raced together just four feet back of him.

By the time they reached the far corner of the third lap, Erbrand had pulled ahead followed by Osmund, and Matrim, the three of them trotting like three peas in a pod. Degas and Eodwine were lagging farther behind. Garmund was pulling away from the other two boys, a mere ten feet behind Eodwine; Cnebba was allowing Javan to be in front of him, by a mere stride. They rounded the corner near the Scar without change.

Lap four. Degas looked winded, and Eodwine even more so, their mouths hanging open their strides looking like they were working very hard just to keep moving. Erbrand kept a strong pace, followed one stride behind by Osmund, with Matrim one more stride back. Erbrand looked over his shoulder as they turned the first far corner. Garmund kept his lord in sight, a mere fifteen feet back, but looked not near as tired. He had put a couple more strides between himself and Javan, who was now moving away from Cnebba. They turned the near corner with no change between the top three, Degas now pulling away from Eodwine.

Final lap. Erbrand stepped up the pace some more. Osmund was unable to match him. Matrim stayed close behind Osmund. Degas struggled on heroically; Eodwine just kept his legs moving. Garmund picked up the pace too. Was he catching up to Eodwine, the watchers wondered? Cnebba seemed to be giving up, his legs moving half heartedly. Javan seemed to be giving it all he had, but he looked about as winded as Degas.

They turned the the second far corner. Erbrand increased the pace. Osmund redoubled his efforts. Matrim did the same. Degas' head had started lolling this way in that in rhythm with his flailing arms and struggling legs. Eodwine tried to run faster and began to catch up to Degas. Garmund had seen what Erbrand had done, and at the very same point as his model, he increased his pace too. Javan struggled on. When Cnebba came last to the second far corner, he could see that Erbrand had almost reached the first near corner. Javan was five strides ahead, Garmund five strides ahead of Javan. The fire seemed to flare in the boy's eyes. He started to sprint.

Matrim passed Osmund down the long stretch, and came to within three strides of Erbrand. The moment Erbrand rounded the final turn he looked back and saw that Matrim was gaining, and bolted into a sprint. The crowd gawked in amazement: how did he find the strength to full out sprint? Matrim pushed himself even harder but his legs began to burn. Osmund passed him just as Erbrand crossed the finish line. Osmund crossed three strides later, Matrim two strides after that. The three fell to the ground, heaving. Meanwhile, Degas almost tripped as he came around the final corner, but was far enough ahead that he was a sure fourth place.

Eodwine heard someone running just behind him. He looked back and saw Garmund, whose face was puckered into a determined frown aiming to beat his lord. Eodwine could not let this happen; it was his weakness that he was too competitive when he should not be; he found new drive and willed his legs to move faster despite the burning pain in them. He crossed the finish line just three strides ahead of Garmund. Cnebba overtook Javan as they rounded the final corner. Javan's pride kicked in and he put on a burst of effort. The two crossed the finish line right next to each other.

"I'm - I'm not sure who came in second of the boys. We'll call it a tie," Lithor concluded. Stigend was sure and said so to Garstan that Cnebba had won between the two by a nose. Thornden meanwhile was sure that Javan had eaked out the victory between the two, or had let Cnebba keep up. It became the source of friendly dispute for many weeks over ale cups late at night.

"Erbrand!" puffed Eodwine, "you are a noble runner! Your skill amazes me!"
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