In a fictional kingdom in a past time period (probably the middle ages or earlier), a king has an arena built for criminals. Being only half-barbarian, the king allows criminals sentenced to the arena two doors to pick from: behind one is a beautiful maiden the criminal must marry and behind the other is a ferocious tiger. Essentially, they have to pick between marriage and death. The king views this as rather progressive.
The king's daughter takes a commoner as her lover, which is illegal, so the king sentences the commoner to the arena. The commoner looks to the princess during his sentence, hoping she will give him a clue as to which door to pick. The princess is characterized as being both merciful and jealous. She wants her lover to live, but she also thinks she'd rather see him dead than in another woman's arms (especially the woman behind the door, who is someone the princess hates since she believes she, too, wants her lover). She signals to one door, but the reader never finds out which fate befell the commoner.