As the rest of the party disperses, Yachak is drawn to the nearest of the menagerie pens, which he has not yet had an opportunity to examine. He has seen others like it though, and often feels bad about the range of unhappy emotions the animals exude, something which he seems to be the only one able to detect. What catches his eye on this occasion is the aura of shear boredom emanating from one of the most unusual creatures he has ever laid eyes on: a small black and white striped horse. Unable to read a sign warning against such action, he slips a hand through the slats of the pen. Curious, the horse steps over and lets him stroke its muzzle. It seems friendly and interested in the attention.
“I think he likes you, sir.” The voice at his side belongs to Mully the stable hand, who has been at the carnival all day, quietly pursuing his own interests but checking in with the party from time to time to see if he is needed. At Yachak’s unvoiced query, he adds, “It’s called a zebra.”
They chat for a few moments, but Mully’s eye is really on Nhymeri, who is lost in her own thoughts a few yards away. Shyly, he asks her if she’d like to see the prize livestock kept in an area further into the park. She agrees, and the three of them set off together. They view the farm and commercial animals, and observe without comment an anguished hubbub surrounding the furriers’ hutches, where it appears that a very valuable animal has disappeared.
From the far side of these tents, the beach and the ocean are visible, and there is a large crowd of people gathered along the water’s edge. To Mully’s delight, Nhymeri is indeed quite interested in watching the horse races taking place along the beach, where a quarter mile course has been laid out.
Just as they arrive, a new heat is underway and a motley pack of about a dozen riders go thundering past them, hell bent to reach a painted pole at the far end. Jostling and shoving, they round the pole and come galloping back toward the starting point. This is the second of three qualifying heats, Mully explains, and the fastest three of each heat will race in the final match. Nhymeri asks if she could join the final heat, and gives a distinctive whistle as Mully goes to inquire whether there is still room in the roster for one more rider. When he returns to tell her she can race, Yarroman has appeared out of nowhere and is stamping his foot, raring to go.
Nhymeri and Yarroman easily win the heat. Perhaps all the more competitive riders had crowded into the earlier heats to give their mounts more time to rest before the final contest. Before long the bell is rung for the nine finalists to line up. Mully looks them over nervously, recognizing an obviously rougher crowd than the slim girl had faced in the qualifying heat. How good is this strange desert duo that has suddenly so captivated him?
Yarroman appears to have his work cut out for him as they take off for the distant pole. Most of the other horses are sprinters, while he is built for endurance. Far from being worn out from the recent race, he runs as if that had only been a casual warm-up. As they reach the pole, he adroitly avoids the tangle and gains several positions toward the lead. On the return trip, most of the horses ahead of him begin to fade, and he passes them all one by one, leaving only one horse in front, a highly bred racer belonging to a different desert lineage than the brumby, one which Nhymeri once got a chance to observe up close during a tense encounter with a nomadic tribe the previous year. They manage to catch up to this horse only at the very end of the race.
The finish is so close, the judges have to put their heads together before announcing the red-headed waif in the boy’s togs to be the winner of the competition. Her exhilaration is such an adrenaline rush that she forgets to be freaked out by the crowd of well-wishers pressing around, seeking to pat her horse and give her ankles a congratulatory squeeze. She is presented with a purse that sounds just as jingly as James’ prize, and a wreath to hang on Yarroman’s mane to boot. Mully is beside himself, jumping up and down and yelling in excitement.
As the people disperse, one of the other riders approaches Nhymeri, and seems to want to communicate with her. He’s good-looking and well built, the leader of a group of three that she and Yachak had noticed earlier as rivaling her own outlandish departure from the local styles. While they wear no face paint, their arms and throats are covered with tattoos, and their hair is gathered into top-knots that sprout short, spiky pony tails. Their clothes are roughly sewn sheepskin, and their saddles and weapons sport colorful beadwork. But they are all expert riders, and the leader seems to have recognized Nhymeri as a fellow denizen of the wild open spaces.
He is trying to call her attention to another sporting activity that is taking place farther down the beach. This one appears to be an archery contest that involves the release of pigeons into the air. The event seems almost to have been designed to showcase more of her skills, but there is something about the situation she does not trust, and she declines the invitation. The rider shrugs and gives her a cheerful salute before riding off with his men. The daylight is quickly fading, and the three start walking back toward the carnival.
From further down the beach, however, they suddenly hear a scream. From what they can tell, a woman appears to have fallen off a horse, and a handful of people have gathered around her. Nhymeri hoists Yachak up behind her and the two gallop to the scene, leaving Mully running to catch up. The two healers jostle through the gathering crowd, exuding the confidence of ones who know what to do in such a situation, needing no words to tell the people that competent help has arrived.
The woman is lying in the sand with one leg twisted under her at a bad angle. Nhymeri immediately moves to soothe and calm her, while Yachak gestures to secure the woman’s permission to touch her leg. She nods readily, and he probes gently for any sign of worse injury than the obviously broken leg. Satisfied that this is the main problem, they work together to get her straightened out. While they have no anesthetic that can put the patient to sleep quickly enough, they give her a twisted cloth to bite on and a whiff of some spirits to make her light-headed before attempting to set the bone.
Translating through Mully, they send the onlookers to find some sticks for splints, while they confer together over herbs and procedures. In this case, Yachak’s supplies seem better suited to the occasion, but they both select a few chants and gestures from their repertoires of ritual mojo, which are designed to impress on both patient and witnesses that mysterious and powerful forces are being brought to bear on the operation. Soon they are ready to set the bone, apply poultices and layered bandaging, and tie the construct securely to the splint poles. The woman seems not in too much pain at this point, but they give her some herbs to brew in tea that will help her get through the next few days. By this time a cart has arrived, and they supervise getting her loaded into it. Through Mully, they issue detailed instructions for continued care, and send the woman on her way.
The sun has set during this episode, and they walk together back towards Vastavika’s townhouse, lost in discussion of the finer points of their respective practices, sounding each other out as to relative strengths and weaknesses, and catching a glimpse of what it might be like to collaborate in the service of a diverse band of travelers such as the one it appears they are now in the process of adopting.