She was already sweating, and she had just finished her first pushup.
“Not a good start to this training program”, she thought bitterly. The Contest was fast approaching, and somehow she had been selected to take part. The names were randomly drawn of course, but the population of Nuro was almost ten thousand, and she was far from prepared to be a part of the spectacle. Since it’s inception twelve years prior, the Contest had quickly become on of the island’s most prominent events, even gathering spectators from the other isles located thousands of miles away.
The princess shakily finished her third pushup before collapsing to the floor. Her breath laboured, she slowly sat up and noticed the disapproving look on her father’s face.
“How do you expect to compete when a few pushups is all it takes for you to collapse? At this rate you’ll never be ready.”
“I didn’t know my name would even be in the draw. You’d think being royalty would offer a few perks, but I guess not.”
Her father gave her an icy stare.
“Your name was included because you are a part of this community, and as such expected to participate. Even my own participation is possible, which is why I am always ready; a habit that would have helped you right about now.”
Yuna sighed heavily, trying to imagine the gruelling training regimen her father had in store for her. The other participant would surely be honing his skills for the upcoming trial. All she knew of him was his name, but she did not recognize it. As she gathered herself from the floor, she looked her father in the eyes and said, “well, we better get started then, shouldn’t we. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my fans.”
Twenty-six days later, she stood nervously behind the gate, her heart beating furiously in her chest. She had seen some improvement through her training, but she wasn’t sure it would be enough to vanquish her foe. Yuna looked out across the arena, trying to get a look at her opponent who waited behind the gate opposite her. She tried to imagine what sort of person he was, and if he was caught as unaware as she was by her entry into the Contest.
“Not likely,” she mused. “He’s probably been training all his life, just like everyone else on this island.”
As she pondered her adversary, she heard the low rumble of applause all around her as the King reached the platform in the centre of the arena.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of Nuro! Welcome, as well, our friends who have come far and wide to witness this year’s Contest! Today, I have quite the surprise for you! The two combatants have spent the last month training, desperately honing their skills so they may come out victorious and bring glory to their names in the eyes of the gods!”
The crowd roared at this, and the ground shook beneath Yuna’s feet. She began to sweat, dreading the coming humiliation. She wasn’t ready, and she knew it. The gods would look down on her with shame for the pitiful show she was about to put on. She had seen gains, but not enough to best someone who had been training his entire life. She just hoped that it would be over quickly, and she could retire to the palace.
“Now, without further ado, I present to you our challengers! Our first contestant is a humble chef who’s speciality lies in creating the finest Indian cuisine imaginable. Some of you may know him, and others will come to know him as his reputation continues to grow.”
The gate began to rise, and Yuna looked up to finally see her adversary.
“I present to you Kyren!”
At this the crowd were on their feet, clapping and yelling as he approached the platform. He raised his hands in acknowledgement, and seated himself gracefully behind one of the tables. He was about Yuna’s age, strongly built with a well combed beard that framed his bald head. He certainly looked like he had been training his entire life, Yuna noticed with a sinking feeling in her gut. As he picked up the napkin and stuffed it into his collar, the king continued on, much to Yuna’s dismay.
“Our challenger is someone that I’m sure all of you are familiar with. She is the person that we have all held dear to our hearts from the moment she was born, and it brings me great pleasure to present her to you now. Here is Yuna!”
The crowd went wild at the mention of her name, and as she stepped timidly into the sunlight, she could feel their gaze, making the feeling in her gut sink even lower. She scrambled up the steps, seated herself at the table opposite Kyren, folder her napkin and placed in her lap. At this, the King began to walk off stage, and two attendants hurried out of the gates and took their places beside the large barbecues situated behind each table. They each tossed several hotdogs and buns onto their grills and fired them up, but the sounds were quickly drowned out by the crowds cheers.
“You may begin!” shouted the King as he stood beside the large scoreboard, two large zeros projected on the stadium’s many screens so that the entire crowd could view them.
The attendants hurried forward, placing a hotdog, dressed with ketchup and mustard, before both Karen and Yuna. She stared down at her plate and felt like she was on the verge of being sick, but quickly pushed her thoughts out of her mind as she picked up the hotdog. She glanced over at Kyren, and noticed that he had already started devouring his meal. Worried that she was already behind, she began stuffing the wiener into her mouth, trying to gulp it down as quickly as possible.
The crowd’s shouts were constant, and she could hear pockets of attendees chanting Kyren’s name as he scarfed down his sixth dog. She was still on her fifth, and was quickly losing steam. Yuna looked up at him, and was disappointed that he showed no signs of slowing down. Halfway through her next bite, she stopped and gazed around at all the spectators that had gathered for this event. It was her responsibility to give them a show, and she resolved to give the crowd what they wanted.
Hours later, she looked groggily up at the scoreboard, and considered the match. It read 47-44 in Kyren’s favour. The silence hung heavy in the air as the crowd waited, knowing the conclusion of the Contest was not far off. Yuna was at her limit; she couldn’t continue pushing the miserable sticks of meat into her stomach. As her attendant placed another hotdog in front of her, she suppressed her reflex to unload her hours of work onto her plate. She looked up, and across the gap Kyren smiled back at her, knowing that he had won his place in hall of champions. She grasped the napkin in her lap, and threw it in the air to signal her surrender. At this, the crowd jumped to their feet and roared, and the arena shook all around her.
The king made his way up to the platform, resting his hand on Yuna’s shoulder as he passed.
“You fought well, I know how hard you trained for this.”
He turned to the crowd, microphone in hand.
“The match is over! Yuna has conceded, leaving Kyren as our champion! I’m sure everyone here is as satisfied as I am with this battle, knowing how hard both of these individuals have fought here today.”
As he finished his address, he made his way over to Kyren’s table. Kyren slowly got to his feet, and Yuna could see the difficulty he had with the motion after enduring the Contest. Her father clasped his hand, and raised it into the air, drawing even more cheers from the crowd. As Yuna looked on, she sat back and turned her gaze to the sky, wondering if the gods would approve of her performance.