The youngest prince of Rivand stared at the sky. The moon had risen and was new. He lifted the bottle of wine and drank deeply. If only he could find something to be other than the wastrel prince, a man without a place in the kingdom. He drank again and finished the bottle. When he gestured for another, he saw the palace page appear. Kristen tried to make himself invisible. There could be no other man or woman in this tavern being sought by the king.
He watched the page search the faces of the men gathered around the tables. Perhaps he wouldn’t be seen here on the balcony. His hopes were dashed when the page hurried through the crowded room and appeared at Kristan’s side. “Your sire requests your presence.”
Kristin rose and followed the boy to the tavern door. At least he hadn’t imbibed enough to make his stagger. He mounted his horse and rode through town to the imposing stone building that had been his home for all his life.
As he entered the throne room, she saw his father waited. His oldest brother usually sat at the king’s side. Where was the crown prince? Did this mean his heir was about to be born? Kristen shivered. One day, a crown prince might be called to face the Witch of the Woods. He recalled the cryptic words he’d read in his grandfather memoirs and remembered his vow to free the woman caught in the amber gem.
“Kristen,” his father’s voice was low and rumbled with anger. “Your conduct is unbecoming to a prince. I’m tired of hearing of your constant pursuit of wine, women and dice.”
Kristan straightened. “What else is there for me? My oldest brother follows you. The second will be his advisor. The third will head the army. The fourth, the navy. The fifth the treasury and the sixth the agriculture of Rivand. There is nothing left for me.”
“Not so. There is marriage. One has been arranged with the daughter of Wevald. Put your affairs in order. You leave at the end of the week.”
“I don’t want to marry someone I’ve never seen.” Kristan turned and fled the room.
“You will do as ordered,” the king shouted.
Kristan raced along the empty corridors until he reached his chambers. He sat on the edge of the bed and wished the numbness of the liquor he’d drunk would return. He had to make plans. This marriage his father had arranged wasn’t for him. From deep inside came the certainty that for him there was another destiny though what he didn’t know.
He rose. He had to leave the palace tonight. Where he would go, he wasn’t sure. He found a haversack and quickly packed a few changes of clothes. From the chest at the foot of his bed he took the sleeping blanket he had used on hunting trips. His hand brushed a tear-shaped globe. He lifted the amber crystal and held it to the candlelight.
“Emme,” he whispered. His thoughts flashed to the night his grandfather had died and how the valet had brought the amber orb to him. For years, he had kept the globe beside his bed and stared at the woman trapped inside. Without knowing why, he tucked the sphere in his haversack. He stuffed coins in his boots where many men kept knives. He hurried to the stable and saddled his horse. He rode quickly through the town and exited the gates and rode toward the forest.
The crescent of the new moon rose but the light cast was dimmed by the trees. Though the leaves were those of spring and small, the trees were crowded. Kristan heard a rustling. The wind or an animal, he thought. The small light cast by the crescent moon cast shadows.
“Hoy.” The shout startled him. Someone leaped from one of the trees and knocked him from the horse. The animal squealed.
Kristan was unable to free his sword. His attackers slashed with knives. He was able to land a few blows before something hit his head so hard he was dazed. He collapsed and held his breath.
The thieves grabbed his pack and began to rummage in the contents. He was glad he had thought to hide his coins.
“Amber and a large chunk.” Suddenly one of the men screamed. “No.”
The amber globe fell to the ground. The men ran. Moonlight illuminated the globe and the shimmer around the sphere appeared to grow. Kristen tried to get to his knees. His head felt as thought he’d been spinning for he couldn’t believe what he thought he saw.