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Authors: Christie Anderson

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BOOK: Ambrosia Shore
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I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. If I was planning to go through with this, I had to decide now. I didn’t know what I was going to say to the Council, or how it would ultimately affect the rest of my life, but I had to do it. I had to find a way to save Rayne. I finally gazed back at Councilman Bennett with unwavering eyes. “I think I can help him. I want to testify.”

The councilman placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled. “That’s good news; especially for Rayne.”

I shook my head. “You won’t tell him, though, will you? I don’t want him to know that I’m here.”

“Then mum’s the word,” the councilman said. “Now, is there anything you’re planning to mention tomorrow that you would like to talk to me about first? Perhaps I might have some helpful advice?”

“Um, if it’s okay, I think I’d like to think things over on my own.”

“Of course,” he nodded.

I stood from my chair. “What time should I be here tomorrow?”

“Actually,” he said as he stood, “we prefer our witnesses to stay here in the building before they testify. It’s for your own protection of course.”

“Oh, uh…okay,” I finally agreed, feeling like I really didn’t have a choice.

Councilman Bennett opened the door and ushered me forward to the hall, where the two men in suits were waiting. “Agent Duke will show you to your room. Someone will come by around nine tomorrow morning to escort you to the courtroom.”

With a guard on each of my sides, I walked forward down the hall, having no clue if I just made the best, or worst, decision of my life.

The guards steered me up another flight of stairs to the third floor of the building, where we wound through several hallways before finally stopping at door 317. When Agent Duke opened the door, my feet froze in place. So far I hadn’t been treated poorly here in any way, but the last thing I expected was to be taken to a room so lavish it was fit for a princess. Ornate, baroque-style furniture lounged below crystal chandeliers and walls laced with gold. I suppose it made sense, since everything I’d seen of the building thus far was equally luxurious, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it.

Agent Duke ushered me forward. “We’ll be right outside this door all night.” The way he peered into my eyes, I couldn’t tell if he meant it as encouragement, or as a warning.

He closed the door behind me, and I turned to face the opulent, empty room, wondering if Rayne’s accommodations were anything like mine. I wanted to picture him in the very next room, peacefully reading a book, or resting by a crackling fire. Was there any chance that he was being treated as fairly? Or was he lying in some prison cell at this very moment, believing he would be sentenced to stay there for the rest of his life?

I didn’t want to think about it. It was too unfair, too unjust for someone so selfless and good to endure punishment as his reward for saving someone’s life—for saving
my
life.

I let myself fall to the shiny silk bed, wishing Rayne’s arms would magically wrap around my sides. Even if I did find something to say that could save him, what price would we have to pay? Would we ever be able to truly be together? The thought sent a shot of pain through my chest, like Ash releasing a gunshot straight through me all over again. Rayne and I had just barely embraced the truth of our love, and now, we were already being ripped apart.

 

 

12. THE COUNCIL
 

 

 

A loud thud ripped through my subconscious, and I gasped out of troubled sleep to sit upright on the bed. Another firm rap knocked on the door. What time was it? Had I slept in? Were they here for me already? I wasn’t ready yet. I needed more time.

I stumbled for the clock beside the bed, still in my clothes from the night before. They were early. It was only six thirty. My feet hurried across the plush carpet to the entryway almost as quickly as my heart was beating. I yanked open the door, surprised to find a woman in a skirt suit, holding a tray of fruit and muffins with a pleasant smile.

“Good morning,” she sang without a blink, ignoring my shabby appearance and bewildered stare to push forward to a table across the room. “Councilman Bennett asked me to bring by your breakfast and check in on you.”

I watched intently as she set down the tray, moved swiftly back to the hall and returned with several garment bags on hangers. “I’m Tessa, Councilman Bennett’s personal assistant,” she went on. “I’ve been assigned with the task of preparing you for your meeting this morning.”

She walked with purpose to the entrance of the bathroom and motioned inside. “You should find everything you need to freshen up in the lavatory. I’ve brought up an assortment of clothing choices which I’ll leave for you inside the closet.” She hung the garment bags carefully then strode back to the table near the breakfast tray. “I’ve brought up a choice of hot beverages, or you can help yourself to anything in the cooler. I’ll be back in one hour to assist you with your hair.”

“My hair?” I finally managed to say.

“Yes, of course. It’s important to look your best when speaking to members of the Council. But don’t worry; I’ve been trained on all subjects of cosmetic artistry.”

Tessa smiled briefly before turning on her sensible heels to get on with her to-do list. As the door closed behind her, I took a moment to sit numbly along the edge of the velvet bench at the foot of the bed, gathering my focus. It was amazing I had slept at all the night before. How could I let my mind rest when I knew Rayne’s future was teetering in the palm of my hands?

My lids clamped shut and I pictured Rayne’s face, my source of strength and motivation. I could do this for him. I just had to remember what I planned to say—and what I planned to keep a secret—then be ready to deal with whatever consequences might follow. Without wasting another moment, I found what I needed in the bathroom and headed for the shower. If looking nice was going to help my case in any way, then I wasn’t about to fight the idea. I would have to trust that Tessa knew what she was talking about.

I was a little surprised when I went to the closet to get dressed, expecting to see something somewhat professional like Tessa’s dark skirt suit, only to find that each of the garment bags contained a dress that would probably be perfect for a bridesmaid at a classy spring wedding. It felt both strange and intimidating to dress up so elegantly first thing in the morning only to be ushered into a courtroom, but I would do whatever it took to make this day go as smoothly as possible. The first two gowns were a little over the top for my taste, but the simple floor-length chiffon, with a single ribbon to tie around the back of my waist, seemed to fit perfectly.

I lifted my pants from off the counter and took the large Water Briolette out of the front pocket. None of the dresses Tessa had left for me in the closet had any pockets or places to hide things. I thought about concealing the crystal somewhere in the room, but I had no idea if they would even let me return here after the hearing. So, I did the only other thing that I could think of and slipped the stone discreetly into my bra.

When Tessa returned, she brought a muffin over to the vanity and urged me to eat while she styled my hair and makeup, but my stomach was on edge and I only managed to swallow a few bites.

As Tessa worked around me, she gave instructions for the rest of the morning. “When we have you ready, two official Court guards will escort you across the building to a private waiting room outside the Court of Ambassadors, where they will stay by the door at all times until the Council requests your presence. The wait could be ten minutes, it could be two hours. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to know ahead of time, as the Council can change their course at any given moment based on whatever information is presented. Once you are in the Council’s presence in the official hearing, you should always remember to show respect for their authority and wisdom. Follow any directions exactly as they are given, and don’t speak except when prompted to do so.”

By the time my brain was thoroughly wrenched into knots by all of Tessa’s instructions, she had my hair configured into a masterful set of curls. She pinned the tendrils back loosely behind my head, with the remaining curls swept forward gracefully over my left shoulder. I had to admit, she knew what she was doing. I almost wished I could hire her for my senior prom, if I was even going to make it back home after all this was over.

After my makeup was perfectly done, Tessa made a quick call from the phone sitting on the desk, and within ninety seconds, a knock came at the door.

She looked me over one last time, slid a strand of hair back behind my ear, and guided me forward to accompany the official Court guards down the hall. These guards were not in dark suits and ties like Agent Duke and his partner. Instead, they wore formal blue uniforms, decorated with gold buttons and white gloves. I followed their stiff movements rigidly down the hall, too nervous to even glance back to see if Tessa was sending one last look of encouragement in my direction.

The walk across the building seemed like an eternity, the walls pushing tighter around me with every step forward. I almost felt relieved when the guards left me alone in the small, lonely waiting room, so I could at least sit down a moment and gather my thoughts. Of course, I had no idea when I sat down that I would end up sitting in the same exact place for the next several hours. At least, it felt like hours, but there wasn’t even a clock in the room, so I really wasn’t sure. I could only go over the things in my head so many times before it became counterproductive.

I closed my eyes, trying to still my mind.

I was doing this for Rayne.

I was doing this for my love.

Despite any arguments or evidence that could be used against him, despite any rules or laws that he had in fact been required to break…he was innocent.  He had done the right thing. If there was any justice in this world of his at all, they would have to see what I saw. Rayne did not deserve to be punished; he deserved to be praised.

The door to the small room finally swung open, and my back went stiff in the chair. One of the official Court guards marched two steps into the room, looking straight forward at the wall as he announced, “Presiding councilman Zieg Thompson, and the appointed members of the Ambassadors Council, now request your presence as a witness in the court.”

I stood slowly, wishing I could ease my tight muscles, but knowing that it would be absolutely impossible to relax until this whole thing was finally over with. As I followed the guard down the hall, I focused on placing one foot carefully in front of the other, trying to steady my ankles as they wobbled in the strappy heels Tessa had matched to my dress.

We passed through a set of tall double doors and down a cascade of wide marble steps into a room so grand and regal that it was daunting. An elaborate domed ceiling, several stories high, loomed above us, the room below surrounded by endless rows of pillared archways along every wall. The guard led me down a narrow aisle that cut through the center of the room, lined on both sides by rows and rows of empty chairs, like the place was designed for an audience and I was headed for center stage.

When we reached the end of the aisle, the guard motioned to the closest chair in the front row. “Wait here until the Council calls you to the stand,” he instructed. Then he marched away, leaving me to wait again, completely alone in the massive, momentous room.

I couldn’t help but stare at the sight before me. There was a wood podium with a microphone just in front of the aisle and a solid wood table sitting on either side, but just beyond them…stood the most intimidating part of the entire courtroom.

Three commanding horizontal rows, of what could only be described as thrones, were raised up one above the other in a semicircular pattern. Each imposing chair looked exactly like the other, with wide armrests built from dark mahogany wood, decorated with ornate carvings, and tall backs covered in burgundy velvet. The only distinguishing feature of each chair was the gold symbol embroidered at the center of the velvet. They were Roman numerals, marking each chair in order, counting up from I to XXX. There were three chairs on the front row, ten on the second, and seventeen at the top. Thirty chairs total, just waiting to be filled with eyes to stare down at me.

I didn’t have to wait long before a Court guard appeared from a door at the front side of the room, followed by an echo of shoes along the stone floor. A line of men—all dressed in the same black vested suit, ivory silk ascot tie, and open black robe—walked purposefully in single file across the room. No one looked at me as they passed. Each councilman crossed by in an orderly fashion, moving up the stairs to fill in the last row, followed by the second.

Near the end of the line, I recognized Jax’s father, Councilman Bennett, as he stood in front of the third chair in the front row. Another man stood next to him in the second chair, but the first seat was the only space left empty.

It was my father’s chair; chair number one.

It had to be. The Ambassador was the head of the Council, and my father was probably the only member of the Council currently missing in action. I realized that the numerals on the chairs must signify rank within the Council. The man in chair two waved his hand, and all the council members took their seats in unison.

“I’m Councilman Zieg Thompson,” the man in chair two began. “I’ll be presiding over this session of the court. The witness will please step forward to the podium.”

I tried to force the stagnant saliva down my throat, smoothing out the folds of my dress as I stood. Each breath seemed to stick to my lungs as I willed my legs forward to move to the stand. When I reached the front, my eyes glanced up in Councilman Bennett’s direction, the only familiar face in the group hovering above me. I honestly wasn’t sure he would acknowledge me in this setting, but his expression moved slightly with a reassuring nod, sending a tiny lift of confidence in my direction.

“Please state your full name for the Court,” Councilman Thompson instructed.

I was certain they were going to ask me this from the beginning, and it had crossed my mind several times to make something up, make sure they had nothing that could tie me back to my real life or my mother. But in the end, I knew these were powerful people who could probably verify any and all the information I gave them if they wanted to, and if they found out I lied about something as simple as my name, it could invalidate my entire testimony. In fact, I almost wanted them to look me up, so they would have no doubts that what I was going to say was the truth.

I cleared my throat, trying to steady the shake as I replied. “Sadie Eleanor James.”

“Ms. James,” he continued, “please repeat after me… I, Sadie Eleanor James…”

“I, Sadie Eleanor James…”

“…with all respect to the Sacred Pool of Banya… do avow before this Council and the authority of the Ambassador… to speak only the truth, or face grievous penalties, including the possibility of exile.”

As I repeated each line after the councilman, I tried to shut off my thoughts completely. I was always the type of person who wanted to tell the truth. I had to do what I felt was right. But in this case, I wasn’t sure those two things could exist together at the same time.

Councilman Thompson sifted through some papers sitting on the wide armrest of his chair. “Ms. James, we’re here today to shed some light on an incident that recently occurred, involving Mr. Rayne Dolan Stevens. Are you familiar with the name?”

This time, I answered without wavering. “Yes, sir.”

“Please explain to the court your affiliation with Mr. Stevens.”

I paused, glanced down at the podium, then looked out at every face above me at once. “Rayne Stevens saved my life. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here to testify today; I wouldn’t have lived to testify of anything ever again.”

It was hard to tell what any of the Council members were thinking. They all appeared to listen with interest, but none of their expressions seemed to change by my statement.

Councilman Thompson nodded faintly, as if acknowledging my answer, before moving on to his next question. “Ms. James, a video feed was presented to the court earlier today with footage of Mr. Stevens at the grounds of the Sacred Pool. He was seen carrying a woman onto the premises, but her identity was not able to be verified. Do you have any knowledge that might lead us to identify this person?”

“Yes, sir,” I said carefully. “That person was me.”

Councilman Thompson shifted forward in his seat. “Several credible witnesses have confirmed that this same woman, presumably you as you have just stated, was first presented to authorities from outside the Threshold border. Can you confirm this information? And if so, please explain your purpose for traveling outside the Threshold walls without documentation.”

BOOK: Ambrosia Shore
3.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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