Embedded in the Stone

Veretta hopped off the cart first. The other fifteen year olds jockeyed for position behind her, but no one contested her right to be first. They hadn't moved until she stood, though she'd delayed in the hope that someone else would take the lead. So it had always been. Tall, dark of hair, a natural leader, her peers deferred to her almost by reflex. And after that, she couldn't let them down.

Youths from dozens of other carts hopped off and jostled into a semblance of order before a helmed and halberded guard. Behind him stood a courtyard and castle. In the center of the courtyard, a stone. And embedded in the stone, a sword. The sword.

Veretta tried to stay near the back, but the companions from her long cart ride pushed her to the front with them, chanting her name. The guard invited her forward. With a trembling lip, she stepped forward and took the hilt in both hands.

When the sword shifted, she froze. Had anyone seen? Their hushed silence told her no. Heart in her throat, she strained, body trembling with effort, but against only her own muscles, never the stone's grip on the blade. It felt like an hour before the guard told her she had to let go. He didn't notice the sword slide a millimeter back into place as she released it.

With a humble grin and shrug, Veretta slid back into place in the crowd, and quietly left while everyone else failed.