The audience was a dull murmur at the edge of his awareness. He allowed his mind to wonder as he stood to the left of the stage, masked in the shadow cast from the single bright light illuminating the centre.
Mirthal Janks had little in the way of honour, certainly not when it came to the written word. Honour suggested something noble, and that was something he had no experience with. Fame sat uncomfortably on his shoulders but a dweller passing the first round was noteworthy. He had done far more, now everybody knew his face.
It wasn't that he didn't care about the attention, it was just something that he had no control over. In the Depths they would have laughed off the fawning, but the Maesters had forbidden laughter. Amusement distracted the Base Social. Creative thought was increasingly fettered to promote production and harmony. It certainly added a level of difficulty to the life of a wordsmith.
He had done well so far, mainly drawing on his childhood deep in the darks, amid the hopeless. Six bouts in a row, and so far he had avoided the censors knives. His wife certainly appreciated the new living quarters – bigger by almost a cubic metre. The judges had treated him as a fresh voice, a new perspective examining their society - pronouncing it good. He wasn't stupid, he gave them what they needed to hear.
At 10 wins they could have a child.
Today would be different. Today he faced off against Opale Hunt. The destroyer. The favourite. Beloved of the masses and judges alike. And from the Upside. The right sort, with polished vowels and polished friends in the highest echelon.
Today, Mirthal Janks knew he would lose. And this was round 7. The stakes had gone past fingers and toes. Way past limbs.
Two walk to the lectern. One lives. One dies.
He waited for the prompt.
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