The Amber Tower part of The Amber Chronicles
The hero Prince Rafel
Rafel Riva, crown prince of Rivand, felt restless and the only reason he could imagine 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 one had been evaluated as to their suitability as a bride. Her choices 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 for your bride and make her the happiest of women.”
And him the glummest of men. “Yes, mother.”
“Three princesses are among the most eligible. The duke’s daughter will also do. But a princess will bring honor to Rivand.”
His stomach clenched. Choosing a bride meant there could be just one woman in his life. A dreary and boring fate. He liked women, all women.
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. So engrossed in his plan to escape when a hand clamped his shoulder he reached for his sword.
“Son, I’m glad I caught you.” The king smiled. “Have you seen any among the young ladies you would choose as a bride?”
Rafel shook his head. He had avoided watching the arrivals of the past few days. “I’ve been busy.”
“I have several suggestions. The time has come for you to put aside your wild ways and settle into providing 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’s 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 and good for many more 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 slipped outside. The brother next in line for the throne emerged from behind the hedge. “Rafe, aren’t you excited?”
Rafel shrugged. “Nor particularly.”
“But you might find love with one of the ladies.”
“Or eternal unhappiness. What is love beyond a trap lauded 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 chose 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, Rafel thought. “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’d better be back in time.”
Rafel laughed. “If I’m not, you can take my place.” He dashed to the stable.
The Heroine - Jalese
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 dresses swirled around the room on the arms of courtiers equally garbed in brilliant shades.
Jalese sighed. As usual she hadn’t been asked to dance. Why would any of the courtiers want to escort a plain, ordinary and often clumsy young woman, even if the king was her uncle?
When her cousin, Cyna, glided by on the arms of a handsome man Jalese sighed. Cyna’s bright pink gown clung to her lush body while the paler gauze draperies moved like a cloud around her hips and legs.
Envy shot into Jalese’s thoughts. Cyna was all she wasn’t. Cyna’s blonde hair hung in ringlets down her back. Her eyes were the blue of sapphires.
We should be friends, Jalese thought. But we’re not.
One day soon their uncle would name as his heir the niece who found a husband who would be trusted with the rule. A princess needed a prince and there were none available in the nearby kingdoms.
The music ended. The king rose from where he sat with his friends. Jalese left the secluded window seat. The sorceress of Lamau appeared at the king’s side. Her appearance was magical. She raised her hands and sent clouds of scented flowers through the room. “A prince has been summoned and will soon arrive.”
A hundred voices murmured and the sound rose in pitch. Jalese drew in a breath and felt her hopes vanish like rain puddles after a summer storm.
The Villainess _ Cyna
Cyna clapped her hands. She whirled. Like a homing pigeon she appeared at Jalese’s side. “Isn’t the news wonderful? A prince has been found.” She patted Jalese’s shoulder. “Do you know what this means?”
Jalese did but she refused to cede the crown to her cousin who had arrived at the castle eight years ago. Though Cyna had been born on the same day in the same hour and minute as Jalese when she appeared the king had been surprised to learn of her birth. His estrangement from his oldest sister had been complete.
Jalese’s thoughts raced with questions. When would this mysterious prince appear? What kind of man would he be? Her uncle was a good king who cared for the land and the people. Would a stranger possess these qualities? If he did could he maintain them with Cyna as his bride?
The sorceress bowed to the king. “Be prepared for his arrival. He will be found and must be freed.” She vanished.
Once the buzz of voices became whispers the king walked toward the refreshment room. “Come, food and drink awaits.” He led the way to the buffet tables.
A cluster of courtiers surrounded Cyna. Jalese tried to escape but her cousin grasped her arm.
“Join us for the repast.” Cyna’s honeyed voice added to Jalese’s edginess. “The sorceress’ announcement will bring you much attention. When I wed this prince there be any number of my court who want to wed a princess.”
Cyna’s unspoken words were clear to Jalese. “I’m not hungry.”
“I won’t 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’ll never wed.”
Jalese stumbled several times in the journey to the buffet room. Twice she almost fell. Her thoughts were as scrambled as breakfast eggs. One of the courtiers pulled out a chair at one of the tables for her. Why all this attention, Jalese wondered. Being with these laughing maidens and men made her wary. If only she could escape.
The courtiers strode away. With grace Cyna lowered herself onto one of the chairs. “Someone must take you in hand. When I’m queen you’ll need a home elsewhere.”
Jalese’s hands fisted. “The palace has been my home since I was two.”
“And mine since I was twelve.” Cyna smiled. “When I’m queen I’ll make many changes. Uncle is too generous to the people and the taxes are much too low. The entire palace must be redecorated.”
Jalese stared at the table. Cyna would also spend money on jewels and fine clothes. She would beggar the kingdom. Jalese looked for an escape but her cousin blocked the aisle. A man servant filled goblets with deep red wine. The courtiers arrived with plates of food.
Cyna lifted a carydad and turned to Jalese. “Try one. They’re delicious.”
“And poison to me.” Jalese jerked back and her hand hit one of the goblets. Dark red liquid spilled across the table and spattered her bright green gown.
Cyna’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh dear, you’ve ruined your gown. A blessing though. That color makes your skin look muddy.”