Rhyme, dime. Kick, stick. Clever, lever. Geoff rolled the list of rhymes through his head, over and over. He looked out a the audience, then at his fellow competitors lined up beside him. There were a lot.

It was the day of the annual Rhyming Competition. Poets and songsters came to the capital from every direction, to the very edges of the land. The potential rewards were great enough to lure almost anyone. Five-hundred acres and a title, enough money to hire and build, and naturally the long list of potential wives that such a treasure could entice.

Geoff had been preparing for this for years. It was likely many of the fellows on the stage with him had, as well. His family was out in the crowd somewhere, but the stage was too tall and the mass of people to great to pick them out. His parents hadn’t wanted him to go. The risks were too great, they said. With only one winner every year and so many talented competitors…

The only thing that gave him a chance – that gave any of them a chance, really – was that nobody every came to this stage twice. Reluctantly, his gaze turned to the small, silent group to the side of the stage. They looked back mournfully, and mutely. Every one of their tongues and voice boxes had been cut.

It was the fate Geoff had to look forward to if he lost.