I shall not say much about the much celebrating and chaos that happened after Alec finally pulled me up. I was instantaneously swarmed by excited Bedouins that crushed me on every side. My master was beaming from ear to ear in a way that I had never seen before. But at last they got me away quietly. The party ran long into the night, but I was assured of a quiet place to rest. We stayed there for a few days to catch up with everyone, and most of the people dispersed over those few days. At last we left too, and I gladly pointed my nose home.
It was now a week since I had won the great race for my master, and my strength and energy was back full force. I had given everything I had for Alec until there was almost nothing left. But now, I was back in fine form, and had spent my days with the band, or playing with Alec. It was very peaceful, but I sensed there was still more change to come
Raising my nose to the breeze, I whinnied loudly. There were horses coming down our pass! Many horses. And at their head, the young sheik. Raj's brother. I was still on high alert, but eyed the horses he brought. They were fine, very fine indeed. Raj came on his roan to meet the young sheik. The roan snorted softly at me, and I knew he was very pleased. For my master had been very kind to Raj, and had given the roan to him. I knew the roan very much liked Raj and his ways, his soft seat and kind hands. They were a good match for each other. And it seems that these horses the young sheik was bringing were the prize my master had won when I had beaten the chestnut stallion. There were some very fine mares in the group and I was highly interested in them.
After both sheiks had talked for some time, he asked leave to speak to Tabari on her own very politely. They walked into my meadow and I instantly came over to Tabari expecting a ride with Jôhar. She paid me no attention, and the young sheik only glanced over at me before walking away. I was not offended, but merely dropped my head to graze, although I watched the two with interest. They spoke in low voices, and I could hear the nervousness for once in his voice. Why would he be nervous? Tabari was nice. Then I snorted softly. This was not merely a conversation. I understood clearly he wished to court her. She flushed a rosy pink colour and looked away from him in shyness. Shyness! Tabari, shy? She was the most outspoken female I had ever met in this desert place. And yet she was shy before him. I did not really understand, but I understood the sense of love between them. It was faint but it was there. And had been there for some time.
Turning away back to my herd, I was pleased. Tabari had found her mate. That was clear to me, and it pleased me. Everyone should have a mate. That seemed right to me. I turned my snout towards the stables. There was a stamping and nervous whinnying. I knew my master had chosen four young horses for Sunraider's owner. I knew as well as any well bred horse here that gifts were not given lightly among our desert tribe. The man should be pleased. They were very good horses.
And Alec? Alec came to see me the next day. I sensed he was leaving. Was I going with him or not? I waited to see what he would choose. He pulled me close to him and I sensed his sadness. He was going back without me. I felt torn about that. I loved him. I really did. I loved him more than I did my master. I would do everything for him. And I had! I had saved him from a watery death. We had survived together on an island and kept each other company. I had settled into a home with him, where he played with me every day. And we had run on the track together. Together we had triumphed twice: one against the two stallions on the track, and once here. And here we had won against all odds. We had faced certain death together, and come out on top. We were one being as we galloped together. I pushed my nose into his. Why couldn't he stay? We could ride across the desert again together!
He choked back tears but brushed my forelock in the way he always did. Then gave me a fierce hug. Though I did not like hugs, I stood still, knowing Alec needed it at the time. He rubbed my forehead and murmured loving words in my ear. "Run free, boy." I looked at him, then back at my band.
I wanted to stay with him. I really did. But at the same time… I loved my home here. I loved the freedom. Now that I wouldn't be training for the races, the sheik had said he would ride me. And I had my band. I had liked my stall at him, and old Napoleon. But there were fences and a small paddock. Here I had the whole valley. And my mares. And now that there was peace between our two tribes, I knew we would be traveling back and forth often. And there was nothing quite like standing sleepily under the black sky with its net of stars above, a mare beside you, her foal at her feet. Yes, I loved the boy. But I also loved my freedom. And I understood that he was making this choice out of love for me. The love between us wrapped around each other for one all too brief moment before I snorted softly and he nodded at me. He was giving permission for me to go.
Wheeling around, I trotted down to the herd. Halfway there, I stopped and looked back. The boy stood there, tears streaming down his face, his friends surrounding him. But he smiled and waved at me proudly. I wondered if I would ever see him again. He was my best friend. But a mare called me, and I turned again and galloped back to the band. I sniffed the mare and watched carefully as the humans mounted their horses and left at last. Alec was gone.
It was a few days later when my master came for me. I thought we should go for our ride at last, but he had other plans. He put a halter on me and led me to the round pen. I pranced happily, sensing something was about to happen. All eyes were on me, expectantly. I was let into the pen, and the sight that met my eyes filled my entire being with gladness.
My white mare! She was there, waiting for me. She whinnied softly to me, but stood still. I took one whiff of her and knew. She was in heat. She was accepting of me as I smelled her white coat. Jôhar, the beautiful filly that I had grown up with, and had wanted from the very beginning. I called her to me, and pranced, showing off my best features. She watched with warm eyes.
Jôhar. My mate. Mine. All mine.