Alright everyone, after weeks of teasing you that this would begin, the day has finally come and I have to say I’m a little nervous. Below, you’ll find the first chapter of Part One of Domna, my upcoming serialized historical fantasy novel (phew, that’s a mouthful).
The plan is to share with you the entirety of Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter by posting one chapter each week, with a few random weeks off here and there for updates, which means we’ll be into January before we’re all the way through Part One.
If you’re on my mailing list, you will be getting ALL of Part One as a free ebook in early November (yes, that was a cheap lure to get you to sign up, if it worked, you can do so HERE).
Now, the chapters I’m sharing with you on the blog are nearly done. There’s one more proofread to work through, so there may be some lingering booboos. If you catch any errors don’t freak out (but I would appreciate it if you let me know about them).
Alright, so a quick description for anyone who hasn’t put up with me droning on and on about this book for the past six months and then on to Chapter One!!!
Domna – Part One, The Sun God’s Daughter (Release Date 9 Jan 2019)
As a realm teeters on the verge of rebellion anything is possible, except one woman’s freedom to choose her fate.
Sofia Domna has her future planned. She will follow in her father’s footsteps and lead the Temple of Apollo. She’ll marry her childhood love, Papinias. She’ll have respect, status, and power.
So when her father bitterly forces her betrothal to a stranger and orders her from the life she’s always known, Sofia is thrown into a new world where any wrong move could mean her demise.
Refusing to give up her home, her future, and her love, Sofia immediately plans her escape, but she soon learns exactly how cruel destiny and the people surrounding her new husband can be.
Set in a world brimming with political turmoil and violent ambition, Domna is a six-part serialized novel that tells the tale of Sofia Domna, a woman whose destiny is abruptly changed when she reprimands the wrong man.
As Sofia’s life moves through the trials of a forced marriage, motherhood, and yearning temptation, she learns that destiny isn’t given; it’s made by cunning, endurance, and, at times, bloodshed.
If you like the political intrigue, adventure, and love triangles of historical fiction by Philippa Gregory and Bernard Cornwell, and the mythological world-building of fantasy fiction by Madeline Miller and Simon Scarrow, you’ll love Domna.
Domna is a six-part serialized novel. The titles include:
- Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter
- Part Two: The Solon’s Son
- Part Three: The Centaur’s Gamble
- Part Four: The Regent’s Edict
- Part Five: The Forgotten Heir
- Part Six: The Solon’s Wife
Chapter 1 – The Prophecy
I stepped into the darkened room. After the bright afternoon sun of a Bendrian summer day, I could see nothing, but the pungent scent of spruce incense bit at my nostrils. Today, like every Bendrian youth on the eve of his or her sixteenth birthday, I would have my fate told by the oracle. From the seer’s predictions I would be given my path into adulthood. My future would be decided by an old man who served as the voice of the gods. Having my own mind and strong ambitions, I knew what I wanted. But would the gods let me have it?
“Enter,” rasped the voice of the oracle.
A chair scraped against the stone floor. I still couldn’t see properly, but I knew this room well enough to head toward the sound without faltering. Slipping my hands along the smooth, curved edge of a table, I took cautious steps until my toe brushed the leg of a chair. The wooden chair creaked as I slipped into it. My legs started trembling the moment I was seated. I told myself I was being ridiculous. My destiny was already written by my birth and by my training.
Still, the oppressive stillness of the oracle’s room and its bitter chill despite the heat of the bustling afternoon outside had me on edge. A cool, papery hand clasped mine. I jumped in my seat and cursed my childish nerves. The dry hand gave a squeeze.
“I had doubts you would come.”
“Shouldn’t you have seen I would?” I teased and laid my free hand over his. My vision finally adjusted to the dim room and I smiled at the warm, crinkled face of my grandfather. Like all Osterian seers, he had been born with red hair. The strands had gone completely silver years ago, but the tufts of his unruly eyebrows retained their fiery tint.
“Such a cynical girl,” he said with a sigh and released my hand.
I leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek. “You know I’m not the type who would break with tradition.” As a priestess my career would be centered on maintaining tradition. Growth was changing Osteria, with the twelve poli demanding independence and the High Solon of Osteria doing his best to keep the realm united under his rule. Still, as long as the people had their rituals and festival days to keep them grounded, the troubles of politics were easier to ignore. In my future role as priestess, I would be the focus of that tradition in the polis of Bendria, so I needed to adhere to it.
My grandfather, usually so still and calming, shifted in his seat and picked at his fingernails.
“And if you don’t like what I have to say? Will you still want to uphold the tradition?”
My stomach lurched.
My father, Bassio, served as high priest of Apollo here in Dekos, capital of Bendria, and I had followed his every movement since I could walk. I trained alongside the acolytes, I memorized the incantations, I never flinched at the sacrifices, and I understood how bedsport honored the gods. Unlike most people in Bendria, I could speak, read, and write in all the dialects of Osteria, the ever-growing realm Bendria had recently joined. I was even fluent in the language of the Califf Lands, a separate realm far to the south.
Until the past year, my father had taken enormous pride in my intelligence and dedication and had given every indication that I should join him as priestess at the temple. I never confronted him about this change in attitude and he had never said anything outright. I assumed his frigid distance toward me must be due to the strain of his new duties under Osterian rule or even his way of forcing me to prove myself without his guiding hand. What else could it be?
I may have not yet reached sixteen, but I had my future planned. I knew what I wanted and I’d always believed it would be mine. I wanted the honor and status of being high priestess of Apollo, and I wanted the love of Papinias, my childhood friend who I’d sworn to marry only days after meeting him. I had a course mapped out for my life. Shouldn’t the gods appreciate and honor that as I had always honored them? Shouldn’t I of all people get what I want? Still, how bad could it be? Oracles were known for giving unclear prophecies forcing you to interpret the true meaning. The sooner I learned mine, the sooner I could mold it to my future plans.
“Go on, give me my Seeing. I’m not destined to work in the sewers, am I?”
The old man paused, took a deep inhale through his nostrils as if for courage, then declared, “You will marry a king.”
I stared at him wondering if he’d been too long in the sun. This prediction was about as meaningful as the ones I cast with my sister, Jalaia, when we were children playing at being oracles. Having inherited our mother’s dark hair without a hint of red, we would never be true seers, but a few years ago I had been lucky enough to befriend a sorceress who taught me some of her spells and trained me in the use of star charts that might see the future. True seers scoffed at these “tricks” saying the only way to know the future is to hear it from the gods’ lips, not from the movements of objects in the sky or the casting of rune sticks.
“Of course I’ll marry well. I’m the daughter of the high priest and a member of the patrine class,” I said, hoping to goad him into telling me something more, something I could twist to suit my plans.
Besides, he might not be wrong. Secretly, Papinias and I had betrothed ourselves to one another on my birthday last year and hadn’t I at times called Papi the king of my heart? Still, I wanted to hear my grandfather’s and the gods’ blessing of my future with Papinias who, with his education and training in the medic’s arts nearly complete, would have more power than any Bendrian king these days.
Unless I was passed off to a land not ruled by Portaceae — Osteria’s center of power — such as the foothills of the Great Mountains where the Middish lived in their uncivilized tribes (which, even in his worst mood, my father would never do to me), a “king” in Osteria was nothing but a man with a pointless title.
This had been a sore point as Osteria spread its rule across the land and absorbed one region after another. There was no war to bring this unity about, just treaties signed between district governors and the Solon, the overall leader of the realm of Osteria who resided in Portaceae City. With poli now overseen by governors who reported to the Solon, sat as judges in local matters, and collected taxes, kings suddenly found themselves as little better than figureheads under the new agreements.
“Your sister didn’t marry well,” the oracle reminded me. “She’s the eldest. She should have married far better than you could ever hope to and she was given to a nobody. A clerk for the undersecretary of the Solon is all she got.”
“But I’m prettier,” I said, taunting the old man with the vanity he always chastised me for.
“You are a most impertinent young woman. Zeus give strength to the man you wed.”
“You’re too easy to tease. Now, I think you owe me the Seeing my father didn’t pay for.”
I had indeed seen my father walking in his purposeful long strides from this direction on my way here. I was only joking about the bribery, but as my grandfather averted his gaze and fidgeted with his sleeves, my smile dropped. As if on cue, a silver drachar with the image of Apollo stamped on it fell from a fold in his tunic. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. People always gave a donation of some sort when they visited the oracle, so Grandfather always had coins and trinkets clinking about in his pockets. But the speed with which his hunched frame bent down to snatch it up, and the scarlet flare of embarrassment in his cheeks told me my comment had hit the mark. I eyed him and arched one of my finely tweezed eyebrows.
“He’s very forceful in his demands,” my grandfather said apologetically. I’d never thought of him as old before, but the feeble comment and cowed look on his face aged him two decades in the space of only two heartbeats. I reached out for his hand and patted it to show I wasn’t angry. As head of the family, my father could dictate who I married, but he knew my feelings for Papinias. Father didn’t exactly prefer Papi, but he must know Papinias made me happy? Why would he want a false prophecy regarding who I’d marry?
“I know my father isn’t fond of Papinias, but he has to like the idea of having a daughter follow in his steps. There’s no way he would pawn me off on some king with no power just to spite Papi. Now, I’ve already decided my fate, Grandfather. You just need to read the stars and confirm it for me. Tell me Papi and I have the gods’ blessing.” I tried to sound confident, but the final words came out with a pleading tone.
“Alright girl, you want the real Seeing? It’s yours. But you may not like it any better.” He scattered a bundle of thin wooden pieces across the table. A square one had carved into it the date and time of my birth; twelve rectangular ones were filled with colorful images depicting a strange morphing of the gods and the animals in the night sky; and several round ones of varying sizes represented the planets, sun, and moon.
“I thought you said star charts were for charlatans.”
“In unskilled hands they are,” he said, not looking up from the tokens on the table. “In the right hands with the right talent, they can be a useful tool, but no replacement for a true oracle, mind you. I’ve already done your Seeing. I’m only doing this for verification. Although I wonder if you wouldn’t be better off accepting the false one. Marrying a king wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”
“I may crave power, but I also want the truth.” I looked into his dark eyes that were set deep in the wrinkles of his brown face. “Is the Seeing that bad?”
He shrugged noncommittally.
“It is mixed. You are destined for power and status. No, don’t smirk just yet,” he said, scolding me with a waggle of his finger then pointing to one of the tokens. “Your power will only be achieved and maintained through struggle. Sometimes the struggle will seem to never fade and may even threaten your life. It will also take sacrifice, choosing one dream or one desire over another when both are what you want. You must always trust your heart, Sofia, and never back down.”
“And?” I wanted more details. This Seeing was so vague it could apply to anyone. Everyone had struggle, everyone had to make choices, everyone faced threats at some point in their lives. My grandfather rolled his eyes and sighed.
“I can’t see everything, so don’t expect it. But there is one point that is very clear.” He took my hands. His cool and coarse fingers reminded me of being a little girl and walking hand-in-hand with him through Dekos’s agora. Engulfed by his comforting grasp, I felt like a child again. A shiver ran over me at the gravity in his voice. “Do not raise your husband’s child.”
“Why wouldn’t I raise my own child?” I blurted. Flashes of the beautiful babies Papi and I would make together danced like a festival day procession through my head.
“Stupid girl,” he said, dropping my hand. “Your husband’s child doesn’t necessarily have to be your own. I know you are kind and wouldn’t turn any child out, but you’re also ambitious. This child could put everything you strive toward at risk. It could put your very life at risk.”
My ears had adjusted to the stillness of my grandfather’s home, just as my eyes had adapted to the dimness. Even with the room set far back in the house, the din of the street had been seeping in: people shouting across lanes, the metal of vigiles’ protective aprons jangling, and various animal noises from goats bleating to peacocks cawing. Now, with my grandfather’s words filling my mind with questions, I could hear none of the exterior sounds. The deafness to the outer world forced his words to sink in. Suddenly, a crash of something shattering and men’s cursing shook me out of my reflection.
“Papinias is too devoted to me to stray like some common satyr,” I said too brightly for the somber mood that, like the heady scent of spruce, lingered in the small room. “Speaking of, when should I ask Father about Papinias?” In truth, I’d already done my own reading which showed the best day for making requests would be in two days’ time, but I desperately wanted to hear my grandfather say all would be well for us, that Father would give us his blessing, that our marriage would be a happy one, and that I wouldn’t have to make any effort to keep Papi faithful to me. Sure, we’d have troubles like any couple, but overall we would be an enviable pair.
My grandfather stared at the wooden tokens as if he could force some better news out of them. The resigned look on his face was like a kick to my heart.
“Bide your time with him,” my grandfather said in a kind yet warning tone. My eyes burned, but I bit the inside of my cheek. I would not come out of the oracle’s house crying like some silly child.
My grandfather stood and shuffled his way around behind my chair. Placing a kiss on the top of my head, he inhaled, breathing in the jasmine oil I’d worked into my hair. When she was alive, my mother always wore jasmine and I wondered if my grandfather was thinking of his daughter.
“Are you going to see Papi now?”
“Yes, you clever old oracle.” I couldn’t keep my lips from smiling despite the strange reading.
He patted my shoulder and toyed with the strands of hair I’d left dangling from the upswept hair style that had grown popular since Bendria changed its status from a mere region to a polis of Osteria.
“Enjoy your time with him.”
The way he said this, like a remorseful command, sent my grin fleeing like a startled dove.
“You’re tickling me and giving me gooseflesh.” I gently brushed my grandfather’s hand away, then rose from my chair and kissed him goodbye on the cheek, taking in the scent of jasmine oil that lingered on his skin.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading!!! If you enjoyed it, please feel free to share.
I’d love to hear your thoughts (and if you caught any typos, do let me know). Chapter 2 will be rolling around next Wednesday, and on Saturday Finn McSpool will be showing off an early Halloween treat. See you then!
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