Present day Gdansk. Adam Salen, director of museum trust, receives photographs of the Amber Knight which disappeared in 1945, and demanded for 50 million dollars. His assistant, Madga, believes that, given a corpse, amber and armour, the knight could be recreated. Adam and Magda want the knight for the museum, but when mafia hit man is found dead on Adam's doorstep and more corpses are discovered in woods near Hitler's Wolf's Lair, it seems thar there may be truth behind the myth that death awaits every unbeliever who looks upon the knight's face.
Hitler’s Wolfschanze, Rastenburg, East Prussia, the dark hours before dawn,
24th January 1945
The standartenfuhrer had never experienced a winter like it. An intense bitterness was carried on winds that bleached and shrivelled flesh and permeated bones and, as if the cold wasn’t enough, despair had set in. He detected it in every communication from Berlin; recognised it in the faces of his fellow officers and unkempt uniforms of his command; saw it in the sluggish steps of the men hauling crates out of the bunker into the waiting line of trucks. Wrapping his fur-lined greatcoat closer to his numbed body, he waved his arms and stamped his feet to circulate blood to his insensate and frozen extremities.
‘Can’t they move any faster, Hauptsturmfuhrer?’ he barked.
His aide clicked his heels, cracking the frosting of ice on his boots. ‘Are you soldiers or snails? Move it! At the double.’
‘The boxes are breeding in there,’ a private muttered loud enough for a sergeant to hear. The unterscharfuhrer snapped a reprimand, which was drowned out by a boom from a Russian gun. Night hadn’t slowed the Soviet advance. Even the birds were fleeing westwards. Possessing neither the men nor heart to fight, all the standartenfuhrer hoped for was survival and an uneventful retreat to the Western front where he could surrender his command to the British or Americans. After a few years in a POW camp, he and his men could go home – if they still had homes to go to.
A private stumbled, dropping a long, narrow box. The wooden casing shattered on a concrete step revealing a panel that glowed gold against the silver snow.
‘You stupid oaf, Schutze! Do you know what that is? How valuable…’
The private snapped to attention, shivering as the unterscharfuhrer gave vent to his anger.
‘That was a piece of the amber room Tsar Peter stole from Frederick the Great.’ The standartenfuhrer picked up the panel emblazoned with a darker inlay depicting an eagle which Third Reich historians had unanimously pronounced Prussian.
‘You’re not fit to wipe a pig’s arse, Schutze! Retrieve the pieces.’
As the private scrambled for the broken corner pieces an officer stumbled through the darkness towards them, sliding up the icy path that led from the SS barracks.
‘The mines are in place, Obersturmfuhrer?’ the standartenfuhrer asked, irritated by the breakage that was going to take some explaining if they ever reached Berlin.
‘The sturmbannfuhrer respectfully requests another two hours, sir. The cold…’
‘The cold is freezing all our balls, Obersturmfuhrer.’ The standartenfuhrer’s eyes narrowed. ‘Tell the sturmbannfuhrer he has half an hour, after that he’ll be on his own.’
The obersturmfuhrer snapped to attention before backtracking down the path.
‘The snow chains…’
‘Have been put on the wheels of all the trucks, Standartenfuhrer,’ his aide reassured him.
The standartenfuhrer lost sight of the lieutenant in the darkness that shrouded the trees, but he could still hear his boots crunching over the drifts. The man was passing the ruin of the conference room where von Stauffenberg had planted the bomb he’d hoped would put an end to Hitler and the war. The colonel shuddered from more than cold. How many people, civilian as well as military, would have lived if von Stauffenberg had succeeded? He was grateful Hitler’s scientists hadn’t perfected a machine that could read men’s thoughts otherwise he and most of the surviving officers on the Eastern Front would find themselves facing piano wire nooses suspended from meat hooks.
‘Twenty-five trucks packed, Standartenfuhrer.’
‘I’ll inspect the bunker.’ Pushing past the line of burdened privates negotiating the narrow staircase that led into the bunker, he strode inside and stood on the threshold of what had been Hitler’s living room. Blinking against the blaze of artificial light, he saw a clerk hovering, clipboard in hand over hillocks of packing cases. ‘What’s left?’
‘Only the modern furniture, Persian rugs and what you see, Standartenfuhrer.’
The standartenfuhrer scrutinised the chalk inscriptions on the chests. ‘Take the van Goghs and Rembrandts next and –’ he looked at the largest case. Over two metres long and one and a half wide, it could have coffined a giant. ‘Helmut von Mau?’
‘I left it until last, sir, because of the weight. The stone sarcophagus alone is enough to test the strength of any axle and there’s the amber…’
The colonel reverently touched the box. As a twelve-year-old schoolboy, he and his classmates had been taken on a pilgrimage to Konigsberg castle to pay homage to the amber-encased body of the knight who had crossed the Vistula in the Teutonic crusade of 1231. They had sat around the glass case that held the coffin, listening as their teacher related stories they knew by heart. Helmut von Mau, the lieutenant of Hermann von Balk, conqueror, founder and saviour of Prussia. Helmut, the heroic and fearless soldier who helped free Prussia from the barbarians before making the ultimate sacrifice; a man so handsome that the beautiful pagan princess, Woberg, only had to look upon his face once to change her name to Maria, her religion to Christianity and forsake her people to become his camp follower. A man who wrought vengeance against the pagans even in death, when desperate in defeat, his men had strapped his body to his horse and sent his corpse galloping into the enemy camp. Legend had it that every heathen warrior who had looked upon him had been struck dead. Pity he didn’t have one or two von Mau’s in his command now.
‘This goes next, pack the paintings around it. Don’t leave any case graded A. High Command would be displeased if any of them were lost.’