Saturday, May 28, 2011

1st Chapter Saturday - The Amber Tower

THE AMBER TOWER
{The Amber Chronicles Series, Book 4}

by Janet Lane Walters (Dame Amber)

One hundred years have passed since the young witch, Emme, arrived in Rivand seeking love. Though at heart a good witch, she had no idea how love was earned. She commanded the crown prince to accept her love and give her his. The prince rejected her. In anger, she enclosed him in an amber globe, transporting him to another world. Still, her anger controlled her actions and she cried a curse on the Riva family. Every hundred years she would call the crown prince of that time to her and demand his love. She became known as the Witch of the Woods. As the years passed, the curse was forgotten.

A hundred years has passed since the first prince entered the amber world. Though in the future, Emme will find her prince, the past cannot be changed. Herein lies the story of Rafel, crown prince of Rivand and the second of the five lost princes...

Chapter 1

Rafel Rivand, crown prince of Rivand, felt restless. The only reason for his desire to flee the palace lay in the ball to be held that evening. Four and twenty young women of lineage and wealth had been invited. The thought of meeting and greeting them chilled him.

He glared at his mother’s back. His escape from the palace had been delayed while she gushed about the gaggle of girls who would attend. Each had been evaluated as to their desirability as a bride. Her choice had been based on the prestige they would bring to the family.

The queen turned. “Rafel, you are five and twenty. ’Tis time you were wed. You must choose one of these young women as your bride and make her the happiest of women.”

And me the glummest of men. “Yes, Mother.”

His stomach clenched. Choosing a bride meant there would be just one woman in his life. He liked all women, but there was no one he wished to wed.

He hurried along the corridor toward a side door and an escape from the noise and bustle of preparation—all to celebrate an event he found distasteful. He was so engrossed in his plan for flight that when a hand clamped on his shoulder, he reached for his sword.

“Son, I am glad I caught you.” The king smiled. “Have you seen any that you favor among the young ladies and you would choose as your bride?”

Rafel shook his head. He had avoided watching the arrivals of the past few days. “I have seen none of them. I have been busy.”

The king frowned. “I have several suggestions. The time has come for you to put aside your wild ways and settle into producing heirs for Rivand.”

“Leave your list with my body servant. Mother left hers.”

The king nodded. “I will. Perhaps by comparing the two you will find the perfect candidate. My list contains those who come from prolific families. I expect you and your chosen bride to present the kingdom with a son by this time next year. There is nothing like a son to drive wildness from a man.”

“Yes, Father.” Rafel’s hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. Was there a need for an heir to have an heir? He had three younger brothers all in line for the throne.

Rafel watched his father walk away. Only a few strands of gray touched the king’s dark hair. His father was a hale man, good for many years of rule. As thoughts of twenty or thirty years of being crown prince arose, Rafel groaned.

He reached the exit nearest the stable and stepped outside. The bother next in age to him emerged from behind the hedge. “Rafel, are you excited?”

“About what?”

“The ball.”

Rafel shrugged. “Not particularly.”

“But you might find love with one of the ladies.”

“Or eternal unhappiness. What is love other than a trap celebrated by the verses of poets? I have no desire to marry. If you like, you are welcome to them all.”

Peder frowned. “Everyone says you must marry.” He scuffed the dirt with the toe of his boot. “What if you choose the maiden I love?”

Rafel leaned against the palace wall. “Do you have a choice?”

“I do. She loves me, but her parents are angling for the heir to the throne. You have all the luck.”

Luck. “Hardly.” Tonight he would meet young women all vying for his attention. He pushed away from the wall. “See you at the ball.”

“Where are you going?”

“For a ride.”

“You had better be back in time.”

Rafel laughed. “If I’m not you can take my place.” He dashed to the stable.

As he saddled his roan gelding, he heard the head groom speaking to another man. “Tonight our crown prince picks a bride. I have placed my money on the princess of Manir. Who have you chosen?”

The other man snorted. “No choice for me. One hundred years have passed since that witch took the first crown prince. That curse is still upon our kingdom.”

Rafel frowned. A witch. How superstitious the lower classes were. There were no witches other than in stories designed to frighten children into obedience.

He led the horse from the stable, mounted and rode through town to the south gate. As his steed flowed from a walk to a canter, he recalled the painting of a man called “The Lost Prince.”

Rumors said the young man had vanished mysteriously. Rafel wished he could do the same—or at least stay away long enough to miss the ball.

Sunlight filtering through the dense foliage of the summer growth roused him from his reveries. How long had he been gone? His stomach growled, and he realized he had missed the midday meal. He tried to turn the horse, but the steed burst into a gallop along the narrow trail. As suddenly as the urge to return to the palace had arrived, the feeling vanished. Rafel experienced an eagerness to find the trail’s end.

The pounding pace continued. Rafel loosened his hold on the reins. Trying to halt the horse seemed impossible. The trees opened into a clearing. The steed halted at a picket fence. Rafel frowned. He had never heard of anyone living in the forest. He studied the scene. Rose bushes lined the fence and filled the air with their sweet scent. A path led from the gate through a garden with flowers on one side and a kitchen garden on the other. The flagstones ended in front of a small weathered cottage.

Who lives here? Rafel dismounted and walked to the gate. He paused with his hand on the latch. It would not be polite to wander into someone’s house without an invitation. A trace of smoke rose from the chimney. “Hello,” he called.

The cottage door opened. As the person walked along the path and neared, he saw a woman with hair the color of sunshine and delicious curves that intrigued him. When she reached the gate, he met the gaze of eyes as blue as the summer sky.

“Welcome.” She opened the gate.

The music of her voice danced along his spine. “Who are you?”

“Some call me the Witch of the Woods. I am Emme. Are you the crown prince of this time?”

His brow furrowed. What did she mean by “of this time”? “I am Rafel Riva, crown prince of Rivand.”

She smiled. He sensed something predatory in her gaze. He stepped back.

“Enter my garden.”

Her honeyed voice lured him a step or two. He grasped the gate. “I wish I could, fair one, but I must return to the palace.”

Her laughter trilled. “’Tis not to be. You have been called. You have a choice for you can end the curse I placed on the House of Riva. You look so much like the prince who came here years ago. Your hair is black and your eyes are the green of summer leaves.”

“What is your curse?” he asked, trying to hide his amusement. “I have heard little of one.”

“The first prince I called refused to accept my love and to give me his in return. So I sent him into the amber globe. Every hundred years, I return to call the crown prince. He is given a chance to end the curse. A hundred years has passed.”
He recalled what the groom had spoken of at the stables. “What must I do?”
“Accept my love. Give me yours and marry me.”

Her answer produced a bark of laughter. “Marriage. You have chosen the wrong prince. I prefer my single state.”

“That is not the answer I wish to hear.”

Rafel studied her. She was beautiful, but so were other women. “So you cursed my family because my ancestor refused to love you. What really happened to him?”

“I do not know. He entered the amber globe and vanished.” She waved her hand and a ball of yellow appeared near his feet.

“Surely there is another way.” If she had lived a hundred years, how could she remain so young? She must be a witch. But I have never believed in witches before.

“The only way is for you to love and marry me.”

He shook his head. “I cannot.”

“Not even to break the curse?”

Rafel squared his shoulders. “Not even then. If I said I loved you that would be a lie. My mother wants me to marry for prestige and my father for heirs. You demand love. I can please none of you.”

She waved her hand. “So be it.”

The amber globe grew until he was surrounded. Rafel tried to escape, but his blows bounced off of the smooth surface. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he faced a forest but not the one he had left for the leaves here were touched with the bright colors of autumn.

“Come,” a soft voice commanded.

Rafel turned in a circle.

The voice spoke again, this time spurring him to run toward the trees—toward the voice.
* * * *
The strains of a waltz filled the air with a poignant melody. This evening, the king of Lamau hosted a ball. Women in brightly colored gowns swirled around the room in the arms of courtiers garbed in brilliant hues.

Princess Jalese sighed. This evening, her uncle, the king of Lamau, had held the ball in hopes of finding a suitor for her. She had not been asked to dance. Why would any of the courtiers choose a young woman who was ordinary and often clumsy?
When her cousin, Cyna, glided by with her handsome partner, Jalese felt sad. We should be friends but we are not.

It had nothing to do with how the bodice of Cyna’s cherry red gown clung to her body and the skirt swirled like a cloud when she spun, her russet curls hanging in ringlets down her back. Nothing to do with the envy that shot through Jalese. Not even the fact Cyna was all she was not. Beautiful. Graceful. Charming. What prevented them from being friends was a matter of timing.

Jalese, having lived at the palace since her second year when her parents had died in a carriage accident, had been assumed to be her uncle’s heir. But, four years ago, Cyna’s arrival, following her mother’s death had changed all that. Cyna’s mother had been the king’s estranged sister. Cyna’s beauty had enchanted the courtiers. Some of them had urged the king to make her his heir. The idea was possible for the cousins had been born on the same day, hour and minute. Cyna had brought her birth record when she had arrived.

This posed a problem for the king. To avoid a rebellion, he had decreed the throne would go to the princess who wed a prince to share the rule with her. That presented a second problem for there were no available princes in the nearby kingdoms.

The music ended. The king rose from where he sat with his friends. Jalese left the secluded window seat. To the sound of tinkling bells, the sorceress of Lamau appeared at the king’s side.

She raised her hands and sent clouds of scented flowers through the room. “A prince has been found and will arrive soon.”

A hundred voices murmured and the sound rose in pitch. Jalese drew a breath and her hopes that a prince would choose her over her cousin vanished like rain puddles after a summer storm.

Cyna clapped her hands. She whirled. Like a homing pigeon, she appeared at Jalese’s side. “A prince has been found. Do you know what that means?”

Jalese did but refused to cede the crown to her cousin. Her thoughts raced with questions. When would this mysterious prince arrive? Could he possess the qualities to make him a ruler who cared for the people and the land as her uncle? If so, could he maintain them with Cyna as his bride?

The sorceress curtseyed to the king. “Be prepared.” With a flick of her hand, she vanished.

Once the buzz of voices changed to whispers, the king walked to the refreshment room. “Come, food and drink await.” He led the way to the buffet table.

A cluster of courtiers surrounded Cyna. Jalese tried to escape, but her cousin grabbed her arm. “Join us for the repast.” Cyna’s honeyed voice added to Jalese’s edginess. “Just think. When I marry the prince, I will see one of the courtiers chooses you and carries you away to his estate.”

“Perhaps I do not wish to wed.” Cyna’s words had ruined Jalese’s appetite. She pulled away. “I am not hungry.”

“I will not let you run off the way you usually do. Did none of the courtiers ask you to dance? If you continue to lurk in dark corners, you will never wed.”

During the journey to the buffet room, Jalese stumbled several times. Twice she almost fell. Her thoughts were as scrambled as breakfast eggs. One of the courtiers pulled out a chair at the far end of one of the tables for her. Why all this attention? Being with these laughing maidens and men made her wary. If only she could escape this unwanted company.

The courtiers strode away. With grace, Cyna lowered herself onto one of the chairs. She turned to Jalese. “Someone must take you in hand. When I am queen, you will need a home somewhere else.”

Jalese’s hands fisted. “The palace has been my home since I was two.”

“And mine since I was sixteen.” Cyna smiled. “When I am queen, I will make many changes. Uncle is too generous to the people. The taxes are much too low. The entire palace must be redecorated."

Jalese stared at the table. Cyna would also spend money for clothes and jewels. She would beggar the kingdom.

Jalese looked for a way to slip past her cousin’s chair that blocked the aisle. A man servant filled the goblets with deep red wine. The courtiers returned with platters of food.

Cyna lifted a carydad and turned to Jalese. “Try one. They are delicious.”

“And poison to me.” Jalese jerked back and her hand hit one of the goblets. Dark red wine flowed across the table and splattered on her bright green gown.

Cyna’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh dear, you have ruined your gown. A blessing though. That color makes your skin look muddy.”

Jalese pushed her chair back, edged past Cyna and fled from the room. Instead of going to her chambers, she entered the garden. Surely her cousin would invade her privacy with dulcet words of sympathy for another ruined gown and jab holes in any self-confidence that remained.

Jalese wanted what she could never have. She wanted to be queen. Her uncle had spent years teaching her the things a ruler should know, leaving her with little time or inclination to learn the graceful ways of a lady.

When she reached the trees of the woods surrounding the palace garden, she sank to the ground. Though autumn had arrived, the night was unseasonably warm. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders and cried until no more tears came.

3 comments:

John Klawitter said...

What finely tuned good writing we have here! The Eclectic writer writes with electricity at her fingertips!
John Klawitter, Hollywood Hyphenate
www.johnklawitter.com

Taryn Kincaid said...

Janet, is this one already out? If not, I have some suggestions. If so...fun story and wishing you great success with it.

JL Walters said...

Is out. Edits not mine.