The solstice full moon had just touched the horizon, Stephen Riva, crown prince of Rivand, stared at the Witch of the Woods. With her hair the color of spun amber and eyes the brilliant blue of summer skies, her beauty fascinated him. The words she spoke made him uneasy. He frowned and turned toward his father. The king glared at the woman.
The witch pointed a finger at the king. “You have not won. Fire will not destroy the garden or drive me from the home I have created.” She spun and waved her hands. All traces of the fire set by the king and his men vanished. She grasped Stephen’s hand and pulled him into the garden. “Confess your love for me.”
He shook his head. “How can you speak of love? Love does not strike in an instant and set a heart on fire. Love grows like a flower from a seed, planted and carefully tended.”
A dreamy expression appeared on her lovely face. “The moment I beheld you I knew you were mine. Your dark hair, your handsome face and your muscular body have enchanted me. I could drown in your moss green eyes.”
Stephen shook his head. In all his twenty and one years he had never heard such nonsense. “You will not have me. I have a duty to Rivand, the land I will one day rule.”
“Do you have brothers?”
“Then one of them can take on your duty to the land. You have no reason to reject me.”
Stephen shook his head. “There are three reasons. Duty, honor and love. My duty as crown prince of Rivand is to take the throne. Should I run away from doing this I would lose honor? I do not love you. Those are my reasons to reject you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So be it. If you will not be mine you will not be Rivand’s king. A curse I lay upon the House of Riva. Every hundred years a prince will be given a chance. To give his heart to me or be taken into the amber orb and spend his life on another world.”
Stephen looked at her. “I pray one day you will learn love does not happen in an instant and cannot be given on command.”
She smiled. “And you may learn love can occur in an instant and become eternal.”
Though there were no clouds, thunder rumbled. A streak of lightning flashed across the sky and struck the ground near Stephen’s feet. He saw the sparks coalesce into a sphere imprisoning him behind the walls. Stephen stretched his arms toward his father and the Witch of the Woods. The walls of the orb were too distant to touch. He turned and stared at a mass of trees.
The rustling leaves became voices urging him to walk. His strides lengthened until he ran. Was this a dream? The branches of the trees scratched his face and arms. He groaned. Truly he had been brought to another place.
Stephen had no idea how long he walked. The clusters of trees thinned. Beyond them he saw a road and some distant buildings. Before stepping onto the hard-packed earth he removed his coronet, his sword and most of his jewelry. As a stranger in an unknown land he dare not appear hostile. He wrapped his possessions in his cloak and hid them in a hollow tree. With his boot knife he marked the spot. Then he stepped onto the road and sought his new destiny.
* * *
Princess Valia stared at the seventeenth prince who had come to Lanton to court her. Since the day her father had decreed she must marry, every available prince from the neighboring kingdoms had arrived at the palace. This young man was her last possible choice for a spouse. She didn’t want him. She’d dreamed of marriage and had yearned for a man who would adore her. A man who made her heart flutter in her chest. Each one who had arrived had the qualities presented by this final candidate.
He was handsome. The way he preened like a peacock meant he knew about his looks. He acted as though his willingness to wed her was a gift and her acceptance a given.Valia scowled. How dare he think she had no choice? How dare he