When Drail was six years old, he hated sports.
He was a smart boy, or so the village elders told him. He had several smart friends. They loved to play “Find” for the elders – finding plants and rocks, to show they understood the names. Finding information like history or geography through talking to townspeople. Finding what floated in the small spring and what did not, by experimenting.
Education, the elders called it. Wasting time was what his dad said.
Drail’s dad, like his grandsire, was a Gamesmen. His dad had tried to teach him to play, and declared him incapable. So Drail played Find.
The day his grandsire returned, the whole town of San Mateo celebrated. Indeed, all the surrounding towns on the Flats celebrated. Raston, of the Red Storm had come home. His team had played in the famous Gold Harbor Arena. It was famous, Drail knew, because the elders had told him so.
Raston had actually played Skullan. Drail was told he was the only Truman to ever do so, although later his grandsire would tell him differently.
In honor of his return, a big Comet game was to be played in celebration. Drail’s father and his team would compete against three good teams from the Flats, one of which was said to have won Port Leet. His dad, he knew because his dad told him so, was as good as Raston.
The town prepared so hard for the celebration that the preparation itself became celebration.
The women cooked in the town square, roasting the small wild pigs than ran through the desert. Drail and his friends had caught three themselves, though his father sneered that they used traps rather than bows and arrows. Drail’s aim had not been great with the weapon.
The men gathered barrels of ale, and sampled them to find the best for that night. The young girls put flowers in their hair, and the young men setting up tables and benches called teasing remarks which Drail didn’t quite understand.
The girls had answered back in the same teasing tones.
When the time of the big game came, the aroma of the searing meat was already making Drail’s stomach feel hollow. It would be such a feast, but not until the Comet game was over. So the small boy wished it was over now, even as he stood at his Grandsire’s side.
At the start of the game Drail’s dad had run so fast his braid had swung straight out behind him. Merle, a teammate of Raston’s and the only one to return with him, had muttered at the braid, as by Missean rules he hadn’t earned the right to sport one. But Raston just smiled, and told Merle to watch.
His father’s team had launched a ball three times towards the Comet tail, and three times missed. The Port Leet team sunk one early, and now blocked the cone from the others. The game couldn’t end until the three remaining balls had been sunk.
“What are they doing?” Merle had asked. “Why don’t they just sink another ball? They’d almost guarantee their win, and we could eat.”
“They’re showing off,” Raston sighed.
Drail watched his father jump up to shoot the ball, as a Port Leet man leapt between him and the tail. The man not only caught the ball, but somehow hurled it back to strike his dad’s arm.
And his dad yelled, falling. The ball rolled and stopped in the dirt.
Drail ran out in the sand to pick it up.
Instantly all the other men charged towards the small boy. Raston leapt to his feet and shouting, “Throw it away, boy! Quickly!”
And Drail did. The Comet Tail was far away, a full thirty paces his grandsire would later tell him, but Drail knew that was where the ball was supposed to go and he threw it there with all his might.
The ball went in.
And the roar of the crowd told him he’d done something right. Which felt good, after his father’s insistence he could do nothing right.
That night as they ate roasted pig and spice cake, no one could agree who won. Drail’s ball had been the five point one, but it hadn’t been sunk by a proper player. Some claimed victory for Drail’s father, and some claimed it for the Port Leet team.
Raston did not enter into the debate. He laughed, ate and drank, and declared it a great match. But he also told Drail that he was a great player. And when Drail explained that his father said otherwise, Raston gave the only frown Drail ever remembered seeing on his grandsire’s face.
“I know Comet,” he told the small boy. “I know Comet skills, Comet play.”
Drail nodded his head, his eyes big in his face.
“You, my boy, will be greater than me. If you do nothing at all, you will be a better player than me.” Raston lifted him up, set him on his knee. “But if you work at it, if you practice and train,” he looked Drail straight in his eyes – straight in his soul. “You will be the greatest to ever play the game.”
The next day Drail played Comet with his friends after they finished playing Find. And to this day, three days have never passed that Drail did not play or practice.