“No, higher,” Neytiri said, clipping Tom on his elbow so he held the bow with the correct posture. “No, stronger here,” she said again, placing a hand to his firm belly. He looked over at her quickly, not expecting the contact and as such let the arrow fly early, harmlessly burying itself into the ground a few feet away.
“Sorry,” he said quickly, drawing another from his quill. His nerves were still shot and whilst the next arrow flew further it missed the tree he was aiming for by a wide margin. Neytiri snorted before cupping a hand to her mouth, eyes avoiding Toms glowering stare.
‘If you miss with next shot, you must clean all eating bowls tonight,” Neytiri said behind him, giving him a reason to make the next arrow count.
“And if I hit it?” Tom asked.
“I surprise you,” Neytiri said, placing her arms around his as he held the bow before him. “You not be disappointed.”
Taking aim Tom sighted down the thin shaft of the arrow, calming his breathing and trying to hold his body just like Neytiri had taught him. He could feel her warmth behind him, urging him to succeed. Loosing the arrow he watched it fly true, embedding itself deeply into the very centre of the tree. He whooped in success, the alien sound making Neytiri shrink back before she joined in with her own smile.
“Come,” she hurriedly said, grabbing his hand and taking him from the great tree.
“Where are we going?” he asked, trying to keep up with her.
“Your surprise,” she said simply, leading him away from the great tree and into the local bush. A herd of direhorses waited patiently, drinking some form of nectar from the plants that grew around the open clearing.
“This is Pa’li,” she said, gently stroking one of the lumbering animals with her hand. “Come,” she said, motioning him over and taking hold of his long queue. As the hairs fell away he saw the nerve tendrils moving slowly in the air, Neytiri moving them closer to a similar bundle that ran from the direhorses own head.
“This is Tsahaylu,” she explained, “The Bond. It make you and Pa’li as one.”
Letting the nerves intertwine Tom felt his mind expand, the very essence of the great horse filling his soul. He could feel it within him, the deep steady heart beat, the strong powerful legs. It was an exhilarating feeling and one he couldn’t compare to anything he had felt before.”
“You are now bonded, she will do as you will,” Neytiri said, stepping back and allowing Tom time to find his place on the creatures back.
“So I just think forwards and she…” he began before the great horse was off at a fast trot, nearly dragging Tom behind. He had ridden before, but never anything with more than four legs and he felt uncomfortable with the alien rhythm, more reminiscent of an ants movements than any horse. It took a few minutes but he soon had the direhorse moving at a steady trot around the clearing, much to Neytiri’s delight. Coming closer to her he leaned down, cheekily grasping at her tail.
“Race you,” he said as she swatted at him, before turning towards the winding river in the distance and urging the direhorse into a full gallop. Neytiri didn’t miss a beat, bonding with her own stead and setting off in pursuit in one fluid motion. They chased each other along the banks of the river, sending clouds of spray up behind them. Neytiri caught up quickly, hanging off the side of her horse to snatch at Tom’s own tail. He banked off sharply at the last moment, plunging into the jungle with a hearty laugh. Neytiri was caught unaware by the sudden change in direction, pulling her horse round in a sharp arc.
Tom laughed as he headed deeper into the forest, giving her an easy trail to follow. Without warning he found his path blocked, the direhorse rising up on its rear-two most legs. Before him half a dozen warriors sat proudly on their own horses. Tsu’tey sat foremost, anger evident in his every feature.
“You should not be here faketuan,” he said angrily, moving closer to Tom and violently severing the link between Tom and the direhorse. Tom felt the beast shudder beneath him and bent closer to calm it. It was inevitable there would be those who were displeased with his invitation to the clan, but he had to show his determination lest they chase him from this opportunity.
“Race me,” Tom said finally, motioning the direhorse forwards using just his body and not his mind.
Tsu’tey turned mockingly to his crowd and repeated the hybrids words.
“It would not even be a fair race,” Tsu’tey said, turning back to Tom.
“Then let’s make it fair. You must sever your bond also.“
Tsu’teys face dropped at the request, obviously never expecting such a challenge. He now found himself as the one in trouble rather than Tom. Snarling quietly he removed his queue from the direhorse’s long tendril and carefully brought it to stand next to Toms.
“To the Hometree,” Tsu’tey said, barely giving Tom time to think before he had kicked his horse into a full gallop and was off.
They charged into the jungle, each lying low against their direhorse’s back. Tom could feel the trees whipping overhead, never having travelled so fast. Whilst Tsu’tey was faster he lacked the experience to guide his direhorse without the Bond and so quickly fell behind as he had to manoeuvre it manually between the trees in the direction he needed. Tom shifted his weight expertly, the direhorse responding beautifully to the alien commands.
As he reached the clearing around the Hometree Tom felt the air behind him explode as Tsu’tey came charging up beside him, decidedly worse for wear. As they reached the final straight any stragglers going about their business hurriedly dived out of the way of the two oncoming racers, shouting angrily at the pair. Tom could feel Tsu’tey gaining on him and whispered quietly into his horses ear, urging it to slow a fraction.
Tsu’tey pulled his horse to a stop a moment before Tom came sliding up beside, whooping in delight at having beaten the dreamwalker. Slowly his cohort arrived behind them, sharing in the glorious victory. Tom just dismounted his direhorse slowly and led it away from the crowds, not wanting to face the inevitable taunts and insults. He found Neytiri waiting for him around one of the large roots, a mischievous grin on her face.
“You fpak,” she said, using the Na’vi word for holding off. “Why slow, you could have beaten Tsu’tey fairly?”
Tom gently patted his direhorse’s nose, feeling a bond growing already. “And if I had won?” he asked, letting Neytiri mull over the question.
The dreamwalker was right of course. Her future-mate would not have taken kindly to being bested by an outsider, especially at something as trivial as a Pa’li race. Thom had allowed him this victory and in so doing allowed Tsu’tey to feel dominance over him. A small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.
“You are of kind heart,” Neytiri said, placing a gentle hand against Tom’s cheek. He looked up slowly into her eyes, for the first time truly allowing himself to look into them. Neytiri felt her heart falter, the new feelings for this dreamwalker clashing against the responsibilities for her clan, for Tsu’tey. Could she allow her own feelings to supersede those of her People?
Over the next few days she taught him more, explaining the culture of her people, their ways and pastimes. The dreamwalker took great enjoyment watching the dances at night, even participating when invited. His laughter become infectious and soon Neytiri found herself more and more comfortable in his company. They spent many hours riding through the forest, Thom always willing to learn more about the life that enveloped them all.
“This is report thirty-seven, time is… just gone midnight. Neytiri says she thinks I’m ready for the final test. We went hunting today and I made my first kill. I know what the Omaticaya mean now when they talk about Eywa, that all life is sacred. If I pass the last challenge I will tell my secret to them all, I can’t delay it any longer. Quaritch still thinks I’m watching them from a distance, passing back reports saying how great their numbers are. I’m already thinking of what we can do but I’m going to need your help with my plan Grace. All of the Omaticaya People will.”