Read the Prologue below.
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The appointed hour arrived.
From across the mountain, the people gathered into the galleries of the arena. Though considered a barbaric custom in the nineteenth century, the trial by tribunal was tradition. It was with sick fascination that the villagers filled the seats; the overflowing crowds amassing themselves outside the amphitheater walls.
The sky was a murky gray above them; summer was over. A breeze traveled through the air, and the villagers shivered, clutching their shawls and their children close.
The chatter and clamor ebbed to hushed whispers as the Badshah entered the arena at its height, where his ornate throne awaited him. His bearded face was stoic and severe, his lips pressed into a thin line, his eyes sharp.
The onlookers lowered their heads in respect as he took his seat. His wife, the Wali, sat beside him. A low murmur pulsed through the crowd as one more took her seat beside the Badshah. It was the Shehzadi.
The low chum-chum of her chudiyan echoed through the arena as she moved toward her throne, her blood red gharara trailing behind her. Her golden crown glistened, bright and shining as her blue-green eyes. She held her chin high, proud as ever, as she took her seat. The villagers had not expected her to come. How she could stomach such an affair was beyond them! To see one’s lover torn to shreds or thrust to another was no easy sight.
Yet, there she sat, beside her grandfather. They sat directly opposite the two doors; those fateful portals, so hideous in their sameness. All was ready. The signal was given.
At the base of the arena, a door opened to reveal the lover of the Shehzadi. Tall, beautiful, strong: His appearance elicited a low hum of admiration and anxiety from the audience. The young man advanced into the arena, his back straight. As he approached the doors, the crowds silenced. A crow cried in the distance, and the lover turned.
He bowed to the king, as was custom, but his gaze was fixed entirely upon the Shehzadi. The sight of him seared through her. He reached for her, she reached for him, but their hands did not touch; they were tangled in the stars between them, destiny keeping them apart.
From the instant the decree had gone forth to seize her lover to trial, she hadn’t spent a second thinking of anything else. And thus, she had done what no other had done—she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors.
Now, the decision was hers to make.
Should she send him to the lady? So that he may live his days with another, leaving the Shehzadi to her envy and her grief? Or should he be sent to the lion? Who would surely tear him to shreds before she had a moment to regret her decision?
Either way, they could never be together.
Then, his quick glance asked the question: “Which?”
There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it had to be answered in another.
It was time to seal both his fate and hers.
Excerpted with the permission of CamCat Publishing.
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