It was only one week before the annual Spring Festival. Each time the brothers had asked Father if they could enter the horse into the race, Father had said no. It didn’t matter how much prize gold there was, Nephi was getting old and they had no chance of winning. It would just hurt the horse.
Aaron and Tofia decided there was only one way to get their father’s consent: They had to prove that Nephi was fast enough. Every time Father went to the village market, the boys bribed Rachel, their younger sister, to do their chores. Then they took the horse out past the farm and raced Nephi over and over again. If they could prove that Nephi could do it–that they had a chance of winning–then Father would let them race; he had to.
With only one week before the festival, the brothers took one last morning to practice with Nephi. As soon as Father left for the market, they paid off Rachel, grabbed Nephi’s lead, and took him to the flattest place they could find. Each time he raced, Nephi sprinted faster and faster, but he still wasn’t fast enough. They had to break the record today or they wouldn’t race at the festival.
By now the sun was getting high in the sky, and the boys knew they had to hurry; Father would be back soon. Tofia said that Aaron should try ride today. Aaron was lighter, so maybe that would make the horse go faster.
Aaron sat hunched over Nephi, his mouth poised next to the horse’s ear. Nephi was breathing heavily, and Aaron slowly ran his hand down the horse’s neck to try and relax him.
“You’re going to do it this time, Nephi,” Aaron whispered to the horse, “you’re going to beat the record.”
Up ahead, Tofia reached their improvised finish line–a small pile of rocks–and raised his hand. “Ready?” he called out, his voice echoing off the hills to the north.
“Just this last time,” Aaron said softly. “Just one more and we’ll take you home.”
“Race!” Tofia called.
Aaron jabbed his feet into the horse’s sides. Nephi jolted forward, testing Aaron’s grip on his mane. Aaron held tight, pulling his body close the horse’s neck.
“Ten…eleven….” He could hear Tofia counting the time as they approached the finish line.
“Faster, Nephi, faster!” Aaron said, pushing into the horse’s sides. They sped past the finish line. Aaron pulled back on the horse’s mane. Nephi whinnied, reared up slightly, and turned to the side. “How did we do?” Aaron called, “Did we do it?”
Tofia didn’t answer. There was foam on the horse’s flanks now. Aaron hoped they hadn’t overdone it. If Nephi was still sweating when they got home, Father would really be upset.
Aaron turned the horse until he could see his brother. Tofia was still standing at the finish line, but instead of looking at them, he was staring off towards the hills.
“Tofia, what’s wrong?” Aaron asked, as he trotted the horse over.
“Look,” Tofia said, without moving his eyes.
Near the hills was a low-lying dark cloud. It looked like a dust cloud–like a herd of animals was coming towards them.
Nephi reared nervously. Aaron slipped to the ground and stood next to Tofia. “What is it?”
Tofia shook his head. “It looks like a buffalo stampede, but there shouldn’t be any out before summer. I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s heading right for us,” Aaron said.
They stood there silently, watching the cloud slowly grow in size.
“Maybe we should head home,” Aaron offered, taking a step back.
“Father’s going to be back soon.”
Tofia put his hand to his chin. “You remember the stampedes last summer? They went a lot faster than this. This looks almost like–listen!”
Aaron listened. All he heard was Nephi panting. Then slowly, he picked out another noise, a deep rhythmic noise: trum, trum, trum.
Trum, trum, trum.
Tofia whipped around and mounted the horse, pulling at Aaron’s arm to follow him. Aaron jumped on behind him. “What is it?” Aaron cried as Tofia turned the horse towards home. “Who’s drumming?”
Tofia kicked the horse and it leapt forward. “Hurry up!” he yelled.
Aaron felt Tofia kick the horse’s sides again. “Faster!”
“Tofia,” Aaron called over the sound of the pounding hoofs, “who are they?”
Tofia yanked the horse’s mane and Nephi slowed. He turned them around sharply until they could see the dust cloud again. Above Nephi’s breathing they could hear the sound of drums growing.
“Look, see those banners? That’s an army.” Tofia said, “and they aren’t Nephites.”
“What are we going to do? Should we tell Father?”
“Yes, him and everyone else in the village. If we can warn them, then the men can be ready and the women can hide. How many do you think there are?”
“I don’t know,” Aaron stammered. “Let’s go home. Father will know what to do.” Tofia shook his head. “We have to know what to tell them. I’d say there’s a thousand, mostly on foot, and a few horsemen.”
“Do you think they’ve seen us?” Aaron asked.
“It doesn’t matter. They’re coming for war, that’s all that matters. If we can warn the village, we can save them. Hold on!” As quickly as he had stopped, Tofia spun the horse around and kicked it into a gallop. The sudden movement threw Aaron back. Tofia didn’t seem to notice. “Faster,” Tofia cried to Nephi, “faster!”
Aaron hadn’t realized how far they had come to practice racing. He knew it would take at least ten minutes to get home, and another ten if they rode to the center of the village. He hoped Father would be home by now; Father had a sword. He had fought Lamanites before.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” Tofia called. Nephi’s flanks were now totally covered in foam. He was breathing heavily and seemed to be slowing.
“Should we slow down a little?” Aaron offered, “Father’s going to be really upset.”
“Don’t you get it? The horse doesn’t matter. We have to warn the people. If we don’t, they’ll kill them all–Father, Rachel, everyone.”
Nephi reared slightly–the way he did around other animals. Aaron turned and looked to the side. There, coming at a full gallop, was another horse. Crouched over the horse’s neck was an enormous dark-skinned man holding a large axe.
“Tofia, someone’s coming,” Aaron said.
Tofia turned and saw the man. He turned Nephi away from their pursuer. Aaron looked back again. The man was gaining. “Who is it?” Aaron asked
“A scout,” Tofia said. “They don’t want us to warn anyone. He’s trying to cut us off.” He turned them towards a thicket of trees.
Aaron looked back again. The horseman slowed slightly as he dodged through the trees, but he didn’t stop. He was close enough now that Aaron could see maroon paint on his cheeks.
“Faster, faster,” Tofia said. “He won’t chase us onto the farm.”
They burst from the thicket of trees and Tofia turned the horse straight towards their farm. The man on the horse did the same. Up ahead was the stone wall around the back of the farm. Tofia didn’t turn towards the gate. Instead he ran Nephi right towards it.
“Jump!” Tofia cried. The horse did jump, barely carrying them over the rocks. Nephi’s back hoofs hit the top of the wall, scattering some of the stones.
Aaron turned to see the Lamanite’s horse scale the fence easily. The man was not stopping.
“Hurry, Nephi, hurry!” Aaron yelled.
Nephi sped up for a few seconds and then slowed again. White foam was coming out of his mouth. “Aaron,” Tofia said, “do you have your knife?”
Aaron fumbled in his robes with one hand, grabbed his knife, and handed it to Tofia. It looked small, very small compared to the axe in the man’s hand. “What are you going to do?” Aaron asked.
“Maybe this will scare him off,” Tofia said. He turned and raised the knife. Aaron had never seen Tofia’s face look so stern.
The man did not respond; he only kept chasing them, an he was still gaining. Aaron felt thirsty. His lips were dry.
“He’s going to reach us,” Tofia said. “If he kills Nephi, we’ll never warn anyone. We can’t get there in time on foot.”
Aaron turned to look at the man again. He was only a few horse lengths behind them. Aaron could hear the other horse’s breathing. They were still a half mile from the farm house–the man would reach them before they could reach Father.
Tofia grabbed Aaron’s hand and put in on the horse’s mane. “You ride. I have to slow him down. It’s our only choice.”
Before Aaron could say anything, Tofia raised his foot to the horse’s back. With a yell he leapt back, brandishing the knife.
Nephi leapt forward under the reduced load. Behind him, Aaron heard cries and then screams. He didn’t look back.
The farm house came into view. He couldn’t hear the other horse behind him anymore. The house grew larger and larger. Father was walking up the path carrying food from the market. For a moment, Aaron wondered if Father would be upset about Nephi. Then he realized Tofia was right, the horse and the race didn’t matter any more.