The Air Cats – Part 12

Knowing that she might lose the reflection of the sun off her dagger at any moment, Natalie made a show of putting it away. At the same time, she felt the pressure of hands on her shoulder fade. To the watching Darl, it appeared that the glow about her and the wings behind her vanished in concert with the weapon being sheathed.

Natalie walked up to Chief Barlang, and motioned to him to stand. “You know this war cannot continue, but why were you starting it in the first place?”

My people have long been restless. We have never known war here, but our histories say we came here from a world where the Darl ruled all. A feeling has grown down the last few years that we were falling short of the glory of our ancestors.”

“Do your histories say that the Darl of that other world took it from others?”

Barlang was silent for a moment, thinking. “No,” he conceded, “they do not.”

“So your ancestors may have ruled their world simply because they were the only ones on it?”

“It was never interpreted that way.”

“But?”

“But you may be correct; it is possible.” Barlang shook his head at the thought. “No one ever questioned the achievements of the Darl on our home world.”

“It doesn’t mean they didn’t do great things.” Natalie met the Chief’s eyes and looked at him steadily. “They just didn’t have to kill other tribes to do them.”

“Even if that is true, how do we prove ourselves on this world?” Chief Barlang waited for an answer.

Natalie had been considering that very question while talking to the Chief, knowing it was bound to come. She fixed on a program her history teacher had shown to the class near the end of school. “Have you considered holding games?”

“Games?” Barlang was incredulous. “Do you expect us to play with the other tribes like children?”

“No, no. It’s something that is done every four years on my world. They’re called the Olympic Games, and the different nations of Earth send their very best men and women to participate in contests of strength and skill.” Natalie tried to remember what she’d seen in the program and what the teacher had said. At least she’d paid attention, unlike some of her classmates. “A lot of the contests are the same skills used in combat. Running, jumping, wrestling, riding, archery, javelin throwing, all the things a warrior needs to know.”

“Javelin throwing?” Leaders for the other tribes had come up to where Natalie and Chief Barlang stood, and one of the Jista was the speaker. “Is that for accuracy?” The interest among the other Jista was obvious.

“Yes, it is.” Natalie really wasn’t sure, but anything that generated interest sounded good. “I think there’s also a contest for distance throwing.” The Jista nodded and smiled.

“The Darl can learn to throw a javelin as well as any Jista.” Chief Barlang snorted.

“We shall see about that.” The Jista leader retorted.

Barlang laughed confidently, and turned back to Natalie. “So we have these contests. What then?”

On Earth, there are contests in each nation to pick their best, so there are always contests being held. Then, when all of the nations meet, the top three in each contest get medals. They’re made of the three most precious metals in the world,” Natalie had a thought and added, “or at least the ones that were most important when the games were first started. Of course, the winner gets the best medal, of course.”

“Yes, of course, but surely there is more than that.”

“There are points for each medal. Three for first, two for second, and one for third.” That’s how it was done in track and field at Natalie’s school, anyway. “When the games are over, the nation with the highest point total is declared the winner of the games.”

“So they are recognized as the best?” This was what Barlang wanted to hear.

“Until the next time the games are held, yes.” Natalie thought for a moment about what else to needed to be told. “Now, it’s important everything be fair and equal, so there are judges and referees to watch and make decisions. There are records kept of how well each person does, and the very best create standards that others try to equal or beat so they become the new record holder.”

“They are recorded in the histories for future generations to read.”

“Yes. But if anyone is found to have cheated, all their medals are taken back and all their records are erased.”

“As it should be.” Chief Barlang’s expression was severe. “If any Darl so dishonored the tribe, he would be in danger of having more than his name erased.”

“There are some contests where the judges also award points for the skill shown in accomplishing the feat, so who wins is based on how much skill they displayed as well as just that they succeeded.” Natalie felt it was important to add that part. “The judges and referees for these events are expected to be fair to all and not aid their own people in any way.”

“Honor would demand it, I agree. There would be no honor to any victory gained in such a way. Such a judge would be shunned.” Barlang nodded.

One of the Nezca leaders spoke up. “You mentioned running and riding; you mean races?”

“Yes, though there are riding skills events as well.”

“What distance are the races?” The Nezca persisted.

“There are different distances, from very short sprints to long endurance runs, and even the marathon.”

“What is a marathon?” The name meant nothing to the Nezca leader.

“Oh, yeah. That’s a really long race that takes hours to complete.” Natalie remembered what the program had said about the marathon. “The name comes from a battle where the defenders beat back an invasion. They sent a messenger with the news. He ran all the way from the battle, which was at a place named Marathon, back to the city and although he collapsed and died, he was able to deliver the news first.”

“Such dedication to duty would bring honor to any warrior.” Chief Barlang’s tone was respectful. He looked around, first at his people and then at the other tribes. He raised his voice to be heard. “Very well. The Darl will agree to these games. And we propose that the long race keep the name of marathon to honor this fallen warrior.” There were general nods of agreement.

Chief Barlang looked at Natalie. “We will return to the negotiations, this time to work out the details of the contests to be held. We intend to win, but we will strive to make sure the interests of all tribes are represented.” He smiled. “Honor demands it.”

“Thank you.” Natalie smiled back.

Barlang turned, and sought out Jalath among the nearby Darl. “Jalath, I cannot remain here and devote all my attention to these negotiations. I need someone to represent my interests and those of the Darl who I can trust. I believe you are that man. Will you accept?”

Jalath had been trying to figure out where the abrupt turn of events had left him. Now he saw a way to keep himself high in the Chief’s esteem. “I would be honored to serve you in this manner, my Chief.” After all, a key position was a key position, even if it was not quite what he had anticipated.

Chief Barlang clasped his right hand on Jalath’s shoulder. “Thank you, Jalath. I will not forget this.” He glanced around at Jalath’s men. “Now, you should keep your band with you,” the Chief smiled, then added, “I am certain you will require them, and more, in fulfilling your new duties.”

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