Tiger and I stood still in the centre of the room while people sat down behind us.
"What is the audience here for?" Tiger asked in a subdued voice as the Supreme Ruler sat upon his chair in front of us. I doubted he was nervous, though. I reckoned it was the fact we were in an impressive room where gold could be seen everywhere, even upon the portraits of previous Supreme Rulers who watched the Court proceedings from the walls. The marbles floor and pillars, the colour of fresh snow, seemed to create cold atmosphere.
"One is a scribe, recording the trial; another three are artists who draw those present; a dozen jurymen in case more than my opinion is necessary; and the rest are part of the Royal Guard which is present everywhere in the palace."
Tiger nodded. He wouldn't have been able to protest anyway.
The Supreme Ruler produced from one of his pockets a small bell made of glass. He rung it and after the tinkling sound had ended, he stated "Court in session."
First, he turned to me.
"State your name and title," he ordered.
"Selena Flowing Waterfall," I said, blushing a little as I said my middle name. "Second High Princess of Wavia."
The Supreme Ruler turned to Tiger. Neither passed comment. "State your name and title."
"Tiger Flame, High Prince of Fireland."
"Ages at time of trial," called the Supreme Ruler to the scribe, "are sixteen and seventeen respectively."
So I'd been accurate with my estimation. What a trivial thought to enter my mind on an occasion like this. Perhaps I was becoming quietly hysterical.
The Supreme Ruler went on to say "Miss Waterfall and Master Phoenix are here in court today to explain and settle an argument which caused the latter party to publicly humiliate the former."
"Pardon?" Tiger said indignantly, though maintaining the courtesy required of him.
"Did you or did you not shout at Miss Waterfall at her crowning after-party, Master Phoenix?" the Supreme Ruler asked.
"Oh," Tiger said, looking uncomfortable. "I did."
"Let the trial commence," the Supreme Ruler said to the audience. He looked back at Tiger. "What were your reasons for shouting at Miss Waterfall?"
Tiger looked confident again. "She was paying me undue attention and she complimented me."
"What exactly was this compliment?"
"She said I had grace."
The Supreme Ruler turned to me. "Do you deny saying these words, Miss Waterfall?"
"No sir; but if I may, they weren't intended as a compliment."
Tiger raised an eyebrow. "Yet you even said yourself that you don't often notice if a person has grace."
"Is this true?" the Supreme Ruler asked.
I blushed. "Yes, sir, but it was still only an observation."
"Sir, don't you find it ... suspicious how she observed it in my case?" Tiger interjected.
"I am impartial," the Supreme Ruler replied before turning to me.
"What caused you to state your observation, Miss Waterfall? I will not pass judgement or comment on the observation itself but it seems to me slightly strange that you declared it."
I blushed again. "I was justifying an inadvertent comment upon the, in my opinion, appropriateness of his name."
The Supreme Ruler's brow furrowed slightly. "Do you recall your exact words?"
"Yes, sir. ‘How appropriate' was what I was thinking when Master Phoenix told me his name and, from his reaction, what I must have said."
"So you observed his grace and then were reminded of the animal he shares his name with?"
The Supreme Ruler turned to Tiger. "And you grew angry at this?"
"Naturally," Tiger replied. "A Dolphin should never say something to a Phoenix which could be interpreted as a compliment. I was disconcerted."
The Supreme Ruler contemplated this. All of a sudden, he turned to me and asked "Do you lack a prejudice towards Phoenixes?"
I cringed. We were very close to dangerous territory and however careful the Supreme Ruler was, Tiger would be analytical of every word I spoke.
"Not in general, sir," I replied honestly. I cast a wary glance in Tiger's direction. He looked mildly frustrated as this was evidently not enough to incriminate me. I looked back at the Supreme Ruler. His expression was unfathomable.
"I seem to recall disliking his parents at my sister's crowning," I added.
"Your Supremacy, I have a question for Miss Waterfall," Tiger said, with a sudden cruel smile upon his face. "How exactly does she regard me?"
I perfectly understood my nervousness. I had not seen Tiger as I saw any other person. I had noticed different things, and I feared this didn't bode well for me.
The Supreme Ruler frowned. "To ask such a question would be entrapment. If she did not answer, you could find grounds to arrest her, and if she did, you still could arrest her."
"Isn't that only if she is guilty of breaking the rule I am thinking of, Your Supremacy?" Tiger asked innocently.
"It is also a difficult question to answer," the Supreme Ruler pointed out. "The response may easily be misinterpreted."
"Naturally. It's your choice. I merely thought it might settle the argument."
He was clever, I realised with a sinking feeling.
The Supreme Ruler looked at me apologetically. Had he guessed I might not be innocent?
I nodded slightly, accepting that this was his job and the purpose of this trial was to settle an argument.
I turned to Tiger. "I don't wish to court you," I told him, and at this moment, it was true. He was being sneaky, using his intelligence against people, showing subtle disrespect for the Supreme Ruler. In short, he was acting most despicably.
"That wasn't the question," Tiger said, his eyes suddenly cold and hard as they had been at Wavia Palace.
Bravely, I said "What I observed at the party was merely your grace and physical features." This was true: I hadn't noticed his dark aura until a bit later on. I had found him attractive but handsomeness was not the sole basis of a relationship if you were sensible. I hoped Tiger was thinking that. Nonetheless, I was not sensible. I hoped my face didn't betray this.
"Explain why it was a pleasure to meet me," Tiger said. "Such a word rarely appears in conversations between Dolphins and Phoenixes."
"I was being polite," I told him.
Tiger glared. "Courtesy between our people is not common. In fact, to be polite is to be rude."
I would have cowered if I had been in a corner. "I wasn't thinking properly," I told him. "I'd just been duly polite with several other guests."
"So the attention you paid me was merely out of forgetfulness of the Phoenix-Dolphin conflict?"
I looked at the ground. I couldn't lie. Why had he had to use the word ‘merely'?
"No, Master Phoenix. It was also out of an interest in discovering more about your culture."
Tiger was at a loss for words. I had barely escaped incrimination. What must he think of me, though? The hate for Phoenixes and disinterest in their activities was meant to be so deeply ingrained in a Dolphin that it was a part of who they were.
"Do you have Eagle or Dragon blood in you?" he asked quietly, astounded.
A tear came to my eye.
"On my mother's side, no - she came from too poor a family to come into contact with Dragons or Eagles. But I am not sure of my father. He is descended from Rex Waterfall and one of his ancestors could have definitely married someone from one of those two races."
In all races, the crown was passed through the male line, or else the queen married one of her own people. But this meant that the other queens could be of any race at all (except in Fireland and Wavia, where they could be one of three).
The tear slid silently down my cheek. It was terrifying to not know who you were, to consider that your values may be unnecessary or even wrong - a Dragon or Eagle certainly wouldn't hate a Phoenix unless they had committed some great crime.
"I think all necessary questions have been answered," the Supreme Ruler said, almost shakily. "I conclude this trial with the advice to Miss Waterfall to be careful and consider her actions a little more and the request for Tiger to avoid publicly humiliating his peers and be less quick to make accusations."
He rang his little bell again and the audience filed out, except those of the Royal Guard.
"You may depart," the Supreme Ruler told us wearily.
Tiger strode out, but in his eyes there was confusion. I ran out, collided with Adam who was standing there and began to cry. His arms came around me and he rubbed my back reassuringly.
"Sh, it's all over now," he murmured, but the tears continued to fall.