Really short summary: The light, the fresh air, his voice, the loud roaring of the crowd came into her senses, smothering her.
She took a deep breath while Jory finished to adjust her armour. It was normal to be nervous, he had said to her, but Arya felt like she was about to pass out. Her hands were trembling, she would end up dropping her sword before the fights start. She would embarass herself in front of everyone and give those lady bitches more reasons to laugh at her and think she was inadequate! She was going to ruin everything!
"Arya! I'm talking to you!" Jory's voice and the snap of his fingers in front of her face brought her back to reality.
"You need to focus now, girl." He leaned down a bit, so he was looking in her eyes (Arya was surprised to notice that they had almost the same height now).
She swallowed, closing her hands in fists. "I'm nervous."
"You can do this, Lady Stark. I wouldn't send you there if I didn't believe it."
"They're all bigger than me...'
"And slower. And a bunch of them is so drunk that they'll probably be holding a cup of wine instead of a sword. Don't go to the middle of the arena at first. Watch them, let the drunks for the others, don't waste your energy on them. There'll be rookie knights fighting today and they're always eager to prove themselves. They will fight with all their strenght right at the beginning. You know what happens next?"
"They get tired first?"
"Exactly. But you know better."
She nodded. Syrio had told her something like that. Save your energy for the latest fights, the true opponents will be the last ones standing. She would keep the advice in mind.
"Stay away from your prince until there's no one else to fight against. Don't attract his attention. He can't know he's fighting you."
She nodded again. Gendry would probably yell at everyone to stop fighting if he found out she was in the arena. No, she would have to remain anonymous until the end.
Arya wasn't sure of how he would react. Or her father or the king. Her betrothal could be ended in the moment she took off her helmet. Gendry could never look at her again. The King could order her to be sent away, back to Winterfell! She would lose the only good match for her!
She shook her head, sending those thoughts away. It wasn't time for pessimism. Not now when Jory handed her the new sword and she could hear the crowd cheering as the contestants entered the arena.
How can anyone fight with a helmet on?, she thought as she dodged from an opponent that was probably twice her size. It was so hard to see with that thing, all she wanted was to take it off and threw it at someone's head.
Arya had tried to do what Jory had told her, stood aside and watch, but some knights had other ideas. She was easily the smallest of all the competitors, so everyone decided to try their hands at her first. Two had already seen that size didn't matter and the third was in his way to it. A spin and a quick move of her wrist were all she needed to put the big knight to the ground.
It wasn't easy. Not that she was expecting it to be. She got too close to a defeat several times and her legs were starting to hurt. One less standing., she thought each time someone fell to ground.
She looked around the now silent arena to see Brienne of Tarth defeating Loras Tyrell. She was close to victory now, she just had to defeat Gendry or Brienne, two of the strongest contestants (unless they decided to fight her first).
But Brienne was already moving towards Gendry and she just watched, secretly cheering for him. The crowd was obviously on his side and Arya almost moved to attack Brienne when she disarmed Gendry. But he was quicker than she thought he was, and the way he dodged Brienne's attack and dove to retrieve his weapon looked too much like a move of her water dance. She smiled. No one would see it under the helmet anyway.
The warhammer looked like a really inconvenient weapon for her. Swing that thing in a useful way in a fight seemed impossible, but she had seen him using it on his training sessions. Gendry was much stronger than she thought at first. He could make the heavy hammer look almost graceful while knocked opponents out with just one blow. The weapon was like part of his arm, swinging and spinning in a beautiful and deadly way. She watched while he blocked Brienne's shield and hit her on the chest, making her fall on the ground. He used her own sword to make her yield.
She looked from the crowd to where the court was sitting. Everyone was roaring or clapping (except for Joffrey and the Queen). Gendry helped Brienne to stand and bowed politely to her. When she was out of the arena, he turned and looked directly at her, his head cocking lightly to the side, like he hadn't noticed the small unknown knight.
Arya's grip on the sword tightened. It's time, she thought.
Gendry was tired. All he wanted was to take off his armour and rest. When Brienne of Tarth yielded, he thought it was over, that he was the champion of his tourney. The cheering crowd did nothing to correct him. But he was wrong. There was another knight to defeat, a small man with no sigil visible on his armour. A mysterious knight... Great.
He saw how the little man's grip on the sword tightened. He was ready. And so I am., he thought, charging forward.
He was surprisingly good. His attacks aimed for the gaps on Gendry's defense and he wasn't too quick to effectively cover them. If he doesn't knew better, he would say he was fighting Arya.
He stopped mid-step and turned quickly to the where the court was sitting, his sudden move taking him out of the reach of the other fighter's sword. He saw his father, Queen Cersei, Joffrey, Ned Stark, Margaery and her cousins and other lords and ladies he didn't bother remember the names. Arya wasn't there. He turned back slowly, raising his arm almost too late to stop his sword. Hers.
He slowed down his rhythm, suddenly afraid of hitting her. Him. He wasn't sure. Arya was not watching, but she could be somewhere else. But she promised to come.
He needed to know. And there was only way. If the tiny knight was Arya, she would show herself. He just had to bide his time.
The fight lasted. Like in their first training session, he was merely blocking her attacks and noticed how they became more angry, less controlled.
They were really close to each other and he tried to see something through the opening of her helmet.
The stillness was answer enough. He was about to drop his warhammer when he heard her whispering back to him, in an urgent, angry voice.
"Fight me! Let me do this!"
She looked around quickly.
"Because a queen can do so much more than just smile and eat cakes! And that's all they want from me! Help me show them that I can be more, that I can do more!"
He stood there for so long that the crowd started to boo. Then moved so quickly that she almost hadn't time to raise her shield, the impact of his hit running up her arm. She smiled despite the pain. Gendry was giving her what she asked for, a real fight.
Soon, the crowd started cheering again. The combat was hard for both of them, they knew each other too well to not predict exactly how the next blow would come.
The fight went on. Arya wasn't sure of how long she could last. He was tired too, it was easy to notice, but neither of them wanted to be the first to break.
He used his shield to break her guard and pushed her to the ground, her sword falling away from her reach, but she rolled away and hit him in the head with her shield. His moment of disorientation was enough for her to trip him and throw his hammer away. She knelt over him, opening his helmet and holding a knife against his face. She saw his lips moving, but her blood was pumping in her ears and Arya couldn't hear him.
Her breath was shallow and quick and she noticed her hands were shaking. Gendry was holding her hand, pushing it gently away from his face, but she pressed back. The helmet felt heavy and too tight around her head and the air was coming hot, heavy.
Gendry's hand was in front of her face and she crane her neck, trying to escape him, but he was merely opening her helmet.
"Breathe! It's over, you've won."
The light, the fresh air, his voice, the loud roaring of the crowd came into her senses, smothering her.
I've won... I've won!. She let go of the knife and smiled at him. Arya felt about to pass out. Gendry hold her by her arms and steadied her.
"Breathe." he removed her helmet, her long braid falling over her shoulder. "Can you stand?"
She nodded and raised. The first person she saw was her father. He didn't look angry. If anything, he was proud, clapping, like the other lords and ladies, like the King, like the crowd, the other knights, everyone. They're applauding me. The realisation seemed to run through her veins, warming her.
She retrieved her sword and raised it, what made the roar of the peasants grow louder. Gendry held her other hand and raised his warhammer, the handle crossed with Arya's sword.
"Your champion and my bride, Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell!"
The noise became thunderous. People were throwing flowers at them, at her.
King Robert called her name and she turned. He was holding a crown of flowers.
"As the champion, you must choose someone to be the Queen of Love and Beauty."
Arya took the flowers and looked at the King. There were only amusement in his blue eyes. She knew Robert never hid his feelings, if her behaviour had made him angry, he would yell at her right there, in front of everyone. But he was smiling approvingly, like he was ready to pat her back.
Queen Cersei and Joffrey were obviously completely different stories. The disdain, the disgust in their faces made her smile.
"As a tradition, the champion chooses his betrothed as Queen of Love and Beauty. It would be a good consolation prize for my brother.", said Joffrey.
"Gendry will be king after his father. He doesn't need this crown. Should I give it to someone who is craving one?" She smiled at him, feeling more daring than never.
Joffrey's expression would never fail to make her laugh.
She walked closer to the crowd, undoing the crown, separating the flowers.
"We're all loved and beautiful today." She put one rose in her braid and threw the others to the audience. "Today, we're all queens!"
She curtsied to them and watch as they returned the gesture. She noticed a little girl on a man's shoulder, carefully holding one of the roses, a big smile on her face.
Gendry was at her side and held her hand again. She looked down and noticed how strange their hands, still covered in armour, seemed when joined. She pulled away to take off the metal gloves. Gendry did the same. When their hands joined again, it seemed familiar, comfortable, right. But not so right as when their lips touched and the crowd roared.