The vast expanse of the barren, dusty plain lay before us.
Blind snarled under me.
I could feel my lips curl into a cracked smile of their own accord as I reached down to pat the shabby
white fur on his neck. Blind was all sweat and dust. And some blood matted his form here and there. For
all that, the albino stood his ground well. I was bathing in pride and affection.
Howls sounded distant and faint behind us.
I smiled again.
The wind howled wildly as it struck the plain sideways, dust rising in sheets and forming small, scattered
whirlwinds here and there. No trees in sight. Not even a single sign of scrub. Barren, level land,
Two days. Yes, it's about time.
Tired as blind was, the hound was restless. Both our breaths came heavy and hoarse, our mouths, eyes
and noses all packed with grit and dust. It clung to our forms like a second skin, cracked everywhere now
with the last day's rain and all the sweat. The copper bells in my braid and the ones hanging from Blind's
leather-harness chimed sweetly in the whipping wind. All the dust making my vision blur wasn't much
help, either. But there was a silent anticipation now twisting deep within.
Then the wind suddenly reversed direction in the next moment and in the next, it stopped. The world
seemed to halt. It was as if a giant had sucked in a breath.
I smiled again in that moment even as Blind's hackles rose in excited anticipation. It was time, I judged.
I lowered my self in the saddle. A sharp, insistent tug.
Blind plunged -
- The wind lashed again. But this time like the crack of the Holy Desert's thunder-whip. Thunder sounded
not far to the left where the sun had just begun its descent. The moment was transformed totally as the
winds arrived in the wake of that first slap. The sandstorm had arrived.
The storm raged all around us. The winds' buffets were strong enough to throw a grown man off his feet
but I was strapped tightly to my companion hound's saddle. Thirsty, hungry and dried-up as Blind was,
the strength of his enormous limbs and his heavy bulk would never give way. I bent lower in my saddle
to facilitate his headlong plunge towards our destination. As it was, the albino great-hound was restless.
We entered the storm.
It felt home.
The wind howled all around us and the world dimmed as time passed swiftly and the storm thickened. Its
fury was so intense, I could almost feel it crawling with its icy touch all over me. The storm's emotion was
so palpable and live, I almost felt myself being purged. The sensation was pure, its passion elating. I
could smell the breath of the Tiger of Summer in it. I could feel each and every ripple of Blind's muscles,
every strech of his tendons, each little strain on his aching,grinding bones, every sharp yet confident
breath, every determined step. I could sense the blood coursing through his veins. I could feel the
forging of our souls, the molding together of our strengths, our wills in that storm. Even as the winds
ebbed and flowed and rang in our ears, I heard the thump of each pulse in blind's body. All
close-and-distant howls and whimpers and growls were lost as we fought the winds. A new song slipped
from between my lips that I couldn,t recall later. I felt the tug of the wind on our skins. I felt its insistent
call. Our call to war. To the Holy Desert.
It was a feeling of renewal, of a rebirth, a transformation so complete that I could feel the bridge to my
past burn in the storm's fire. The sandstorm was just a means, I knew. This was destiny. This was
Night had arrived by the time the winds finally released us from their fiery purging grasp. It was a starry,
moonless night. We stopped at the storm's edge for a breather.
I had difficult recalling anything at first.
But then, slowly things came back to me.
We're almost there!
It had been three tiring, excruciating even, days of hunger - no, starvation - , thirst, blood, wires, traps,
dust, knives and death. The Race of the Unsullied, it was called.
Blind was sagging now, and I was dry as broken-grounds. I patted his fur then. His hackles relaxed
slowly in their constant racking.
Just this last mile, boy. Just this one...
The Desert clans demanded thei warriors to be the Carriers of the Holy Fire. Rigorous training went into
their making. Few initiates survived long enough to take part in the Race, even less to complete it. Each
year, only a thousand or so of the eight thousand participants completed it, of the forty- or
fifty-thousand initiates counting all the participating tribes and their clans. The seventeen big and small
Desert clans all took part in the Race. At least one warrior in each survived long enough to take part. Our
clan was the largest one, the West Wind Clan. Every ten years, the new commander of the Unsullied was
chosen through the Race. The winner won the honour and the Whip of the Desert. This was such an
The Race was meant to unite the rider and the great bloodhound into a force so resilient and wary that it
could suffer the Holy Desert's ravages for years without unease and fight under its sun with
undiminished strength. The warrior born after the completion of the run was a single entity - the rider as
well as the steed. This was a forging of souls, I reminded myself. This was a means of salvation, my
granfather had told me. This was redemption. I had chosen the path along with Blind and we would both
gain the honour now.
Blind's breaths slowed and eased.
Howls sounded close behind us once more.
The stars shone brightly and the wind sang softly as it swept past.
For a moment I felt I could almost hear the echoes of my lost song in the distance.
I bent lower in Blind's saddle.
Going lower still, I whispered insistently into his ear - "Redemption!"
I felt the wind full in my face and my heart surged with unsurpassable pleasure.
by: Anant Tripathi