The room hushed into an eerie silence as we stepped into the round twenty-foot section in the center of the stadium. Hundreds of Sidhe eyes, like a sea of faceted gemstones, stared down at us.
A storm raged outside. The dark and blustery sky added to the ominous mood that permeated the building. Tall marble columns, spaced around the perimeter of the open air stadium, supported a roof two stories above our heads. The height of the ceiling created the impression of being exposed to the storm and yet protected at the same time.
A circle of soldiers, dressed in the charcoal gray and moss green uniforms of the King's Guard, created a barrier between the crowd and the open area in the center which would act as a stage for the trial. They stood at parade rest, holding their shields in front of them with the bottom resting on the stone floor and their spears beside them.
I took in these benign details, attempting to distract myself from the stone fire pit, piled with burning logs, that marked the center of the open area.
A fire blazed at every trial as a symbol of the power and authority of the court. I expected it, but everyone knew of my pyrophobia, so I had also nurtured a small hope they would forgo it this time.
The guards led us past the fire to stand on a low platform on the opposite side of the pit. We turned to face the dancing flames. I pulled myself up tall to create the illusion of confidence, and perhaps subconsciously attempting to distance myself from the fire.
Alexander stood beside me, warily evaluating the scene. He brushed a comforting hand against mine; no doubt he knew how my heart raced. I laced my fingers with his and hid our hands in the folds of my skirt. The warmth of his touch did more than anything else could have to sooth my distress.
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