Fynne stood, staring at the tall boy who stood across from her. She willed her eyes to see the way he thought. It was imperative that she could predict his every thought. Fynne closed her eyes and walked through the exercise she did before each duel. Slowly, she picked apart her surroundings, acknowledging and dismissing each distraction successively. Wind blew around her, brushing her hair against her face and into her eyes. Scents of the pastries and delicacies from food vendors mixed with sweat from the tightly packed bodies that cramped in the stands. Most of all, the small gold coin, imprinted itself in the palm of her hand. She knew this feeling, the warmth and comfort of gold pressed against skin. In a way, the coin was the one thing she understood most in the world.
A horn blew twice, interrupting her thoughts. Quickly, she drew her head up. Her future depended on this moment. As she walked across the arena, Fynne’s eyes met the boy standing across from them. Her enemy. Soon Fynne would be battling him, and there was no room for weakness.
Slowly, Fynne breathed, willing her heart to slow, and signaling to the judges that she was ready to go; she had done all of the calculations that she could do now and she had prepared herself mentally. At least, as much as possible. Fynne clenched her fists, then unclenched them, warming her fingers under the hot sun. She knew her mismatched outfit would be deemed inappropriate by many. Her torn leggings and threadbare tunic and shirt might even cause a scandal. But she pushed away the distractions.
Fynne walked unsteadily across the pavilion to the cheers of the crowd. They were eager to see the results of this historic match—if she could prove that everyone had a chance to win the coin duels. This was her one option to change her life. The one way she could move above her status and prove that she could be more just a beggar on the streets. If she won, they would have to honor the tradition. She would have to gain the apprenticeship with one of The Esteemed.
No one believed in her. In fact, the majority of the large crowd had bet money against her, but whatever happened, she would believe in herself. Of course, Fynne knew that her opponent had not lost a duel since last year’s coin duels. She knew that he had only lost because he sneezed, but she also knew that she would win. She had to.
Suddenly, the crowd erupted with cheers again, this time louder, her opponent had entered the pavilion. She tried to breathe, but the hot, arid air suddenly seemed to refuse to enter her lungs. There was nothing left to do; she knew everything there was to know, she had practiced for hours on end, but she was still not ready. But she couldn’t quit now.
A judge walked over to her. She clenched the coin hard into her hand to keep from wiping the drop of sweat off of her forehead. The judge held out his hand.
“My name is Judge Frederick,” he said. His large bulbous nose twitched suddenly. Fynne couldn't help but smile, but tried to cover it up with a cough. He continued, pretending to ignore her break in composure. “I am going to be judging your performance, making sure you don’t….cheat…” He glared suspiciously at her. Fynne decided that the way his nose moved reminded her of a rabbit. Not that she was going to say it to his face.
“Yes sir, Judge Fredrick,” she said, bringing her hand to her forehead in a mock salute, “No cheating will occur on my half of the pavilion.”
“Good, then let’s get to business.” He held out his hand for her coin, her weapon. He had to make sure it wasn’t weighted unfairly. Fynne wouldn’t do such a thing. Her win would be of her own merit. And if she did lose, then she would have an excuse: Judge Frederick’s nose had been too much of a distraction, and had completely thrown her off.
Soon, her thoughts were interrupted by the announcer.
“Here we are for Simieal’s nine-hundred and seventh annual coin duels. This year, we have two promising contestants. Let’s hear it for Miss Fynne Synder,” she looked up and nodded at the sound of her name, “and Sir Bradley Floombuhm.” Fynne scowled at the ground; the cheers at his name were considerably louder than hers. Plus, who in the world has the name Floombuhm.
“Contestants, please come to the center of the dueling area. We are about to witness history.” The judge’s voice was obnoxiously cheery and way too cheesy. Fynne glared at Bradley as they both walked forward. His eyes met hers briefly and she was tempted to smile or look away, but he was the competition. She darkened her glare, hoping he could feel the menace radiating off her face. He just winked at her. How dare he attempt to break her concentration. There was no room for friendship in this competition.
Soon, Fynne knew, the action would begin. Both contestants would call the coin flip for their opponent. Heads or tails. The other would flip their coin, both contestants doing their best to land it opposite of what their opponent had called.
They would receive one point for guessing right, and one point for flipping so that their opponent guessed incorrectly. The first person who got to thirteen points would win. A game of chance and strategy, some called it. Others whispered of something more. Either way, Fynne had no choice but to win.
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