The Betrothal: Chapter Four of Domna

Here we are with the fourth installment of Domna, Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter, my upcoming serialized historical fantasy novel. And I’ll tell you right now, this chapter turns Sofia’s world on its head.

As you’ll recall, Sofia received a strange prophecy from the oracle on her birthday in Chapter ONE then made light of the prophecy with her lover in Chapter TWO. Looking to buy herself a birthday treat in Chapter THREE, Sofia’s sharp tongue gets her into trouble with a magistrate to the Solon. Now, a couple days later, Sofia prepares to ask her father for permission to wed the love of her life, Papinias, but why is everyone acting so strange?

You’ll find out just below, but for those of you new to this experiment, here’s the scoop…

My plan is to share the entirety of Domna, 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 this first part of my six-part series.

Now, 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).

A little warning: The chapters I’m sharing with you on this blog are nearly done. I’m currently working through one more proofreading session, 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).

As always, a brief description of the book for those who are new to this game, and then onto the chapter!!

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. Each part will be released in four-week intervals. The titles include:

Chapter 4 – The Betrothal

Two days later, the house bustled with activity in preparation for a dinner my father had planned. Although it was a special day for me, being the day I would ask Father to allow me to officially marry Papi, this dinner wasn’t unusual. As one of the most influential men in Bendria, Father hosted such events at least once a month. Usually the household faced the preparations with practiced calm, but this time the air in the house buzzed with a different flavor of activity, not a bustling excitement, but a nervous skittering as if something bad would happen if anyone dared hold still. 

Slaves dusted the statues of Apollo and Aphrodite decorating our foyer with such vigor, one toppled off its plinth and was only just saved by the quick reflexes of our head slave, Kolos. They scrubbed the floors and burnished every metal surface to the point that I worried they’d wear the tiles and plates down to nothing. The kitchen braziers burned hot to cook an array of meats and grains and vegetables that were of higher quality than we normally served – not that we ever stinted, but these were the prime cuts that would normally be reserved for Apollo’s festival day, a wedding feast, or the induction of a new governor. 

Although beer was our normal drink at table, slaves were hauling up jug after jug of newly imported Illamosian wine from the cellar where we also aged our cheeses. The chores left me no time to see Papinias, and the awkward atmosphere didn’t fill me with anticipation, but with apprehension. Something big was to be announced this evening and my father, distant as usual, had given me no hint what it might be regardless of how little he knew I liked surprises.

Still, I should have expected some sort of news. The stars said this day was an auspicious one for change, requests, and announcements. And didn’t I have an announcement of my own to share? My own request to make? Once I had finished my last task of putting decorative edible flowers on dozens of lavender and honey cakes, I hurried upstairs so my personal slave, Saltia, could brush my hair and decorate it with flowers made of jewels. When she was done, I would corner my father and declare my intention to marry Papinias, then plead for his approval. 

Normally, having my hair done relaxed me, but this entire day refused to be normal. Saltia’s frazzled behavior was contagious and it didn’t help that she kept ducking her eyes away whenever I caught her furtively glancing at me. She fidgeted and fussed and dropped the brush so often I wondered if her fingers had gone numb from all the other work she’d been made to do. Finally I reached out, meaning to steady her shaking hand, but she flinched sending a container of pins tumbling to the floor. She hurriedly dropped into a squat to pick them up. When I turned from the mirror to help her, her shoulders were shaking. 

Dropped pins were nothing to cry over. I touched her arm to let her know she’d done nothing wrong, but her jaw tensed and her cheeks flushed as she bit her lip. Saltia was only a few years older than me and had been part of the household since I could walk. I hated the idea of owning someone, of forcing them to be with me, and had always treated Saltia as, if not my equal, at least my dearest friend. I was closer to her than I’d ever been to my sister and could read her body language as easily as reading a child’s primer.

“Saltia, are you crying?”

“No, Domna. I just have a cramp in my foot.”

I cringed at her using my formal title. We had always called each other by our first names even in public, a habit that drew scornful glances from some Bendrians.

“One that makes your voice catch? Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I just—” she paused, fiddling with the tines of the comb and making them plink as she did so. “I worry you’ll be disappointed if Bassio doesn’t let you marry Papinias.”

Saltia had been acquired from the unclaimed lands far north of the polis of Vancuse. These were tough people, a people who thought nothing of selling off their own, a people who were direct in their speech and didn’t hide the intention of their words. Saltia had inherited this trait and had always been forward speaking with me. The hesitating tone in her voice rattled me. She wasn’t quite lying, but her words weren’t entirely the truth. I was determined to pull the full story out of her without outright demanding it.

“Why would he deny me my happiness? Father’s only objection could be that Papinias isn’t of our class, but his family is as well-connected as ours and his status will only increase when he completes his apprenticeship. Have you heard some other objection?”

Before Saltia could reply, Kolos knocked on my door and asked me to join my father in the courtyard as soon as possible. A lightning bolt shot through my stomach. This was my chance. As soon as I obtained my father’s blessing, I would be officially betrothed to Papi. But my gut churned when, as Kolos bowed his departure, a careful glance passed between his dark eyes and Saltia’s blue ones. 

Her hands clumsy with worry, Saltia fumbled through the final twists and decorations to my hair. I wanted to pry more information out of her at least regarding this dinner tonight and why it had everyone in such a lather, but my worry drifted to my next moments in the courtyard, to what I needed to say, how I needed to say it, how I would handle any objections or arguments from my father, and how I would react when my father finally agreed – I’d been toying with joyful yet humble gratitude.

“I suppose I’ll have to go down in full ignorance since certain disloyal slaves won’t tell me anything,” I said with mocking anger as I stood from the dressing table. “If I find out this is anything more serious than slaves’ gossip, I’m selling you off to the Areans when you’re mine.”

I would inherit Saltia when I married or when I turned eighteen, whichever came sooner. It was a disgusting notion to imagine her being classed in the same group of objects as my mother’s jewels and the household cutlery. As soon as I understood what slavery was as a child, I had sworn to her that I would free her as soon as I legally could. Still, whenever she vexed me, it was our inner joke to threaten to send her to the Areans – the worst people anyone, slave or otherwise, could be forced to serve. This time though she didn’t mock back that I’d be lost without her. She only nodded her head as if accepting her possible fate. I told myself to speak more gently to her when I returned.

I straightened the sheer, floor-length, blue silk dress I wore over my lightweight linen tunic – as a patrine, I could wear any color I wished except purple – then centered the silver chain at my waist. Saltia had woven a matching silver chain through my hair along with the flower-shaped jewels and used a soft, dark pencil to draw a fine line along my upper lashes to accent my eyes. Surrounding me was a halo of jasmine from the oil brushed into my hair. Saltia gave a watery smile and I hugged her before leaving the room.

With my stomach fluttering in anticipation, I raced down the stairs from my rooms. I reminded myself that today I was taking on adult matters and needed to behave as such. I paused, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. From the central courtyard of our home came the tranquil bubbling of the fountain that wild birds visited as they flew in through the open roof to flick cool water over themselves during the hottest times of summer. I opened my eyes and strode toward the sound.

As I passed, slaves bowed to me. By custom they shouldn’t look at me, but I’d have to have been blind not to notice their stolen glances, some wary, some pitying. What was with everyone today? Although I made every effort to treat them kindly and not like property, I knew the only way I was going to keep control of my nerves as I ran this gauntlet was to ignore them like any proper slave owner, pretend they didn’t exist, imagine they were simply furniture. With every step I had to resist my usual impulse to smile at them or ask how they were getting on. I have no idea how slave owners managed such cold detachment every single day. 

When I entered the plant-filled courtyard, my father stood in front of a small ebony table with his back to me. I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of roses and rich earth, and stepped toward him, my sandals snapping against the tiled floor. He turned at the sound. I kissed his grizzled cheek in greeting. His face pinched with disgust and he flicked his head away from me as if I’d been wallowing in satyr droppings.

“Father, before any guests arrive, I wanted to—” My words cut off when my gaze landed on the table. Bright white against the dark wood of the table stood a small, familiar figurine. My first impulse was to flick it away, like a fly that had landed on a plate of sweets. The blow would have knocked it into a new, oversized pot placed beside the table. In it grew a tree with bright glossy leaves and immature oranges just beginning to turn from green to golden.

Before I could question my father, before I could even find my voice, the magistrate from the market stepped out from behind a column. Oddly enough, after spending the day cleaning and witnessing how hard everyone worked to perfect the house, my first thought was not to wonder why he was here or how my father knew this man, but that he better not be wearing the hob-nailed sandals and causing scratches in our freshly polished floors. The dark man smiled at me as if we were old friends. 

“Just so you know, I haggled for the orange tree.”

I found no humor in his words. Some part of me shouted that I should run, but the bolder part of me fought the urge to order him from my home and to insist that he didn’t belong here. My hand twitched, wanting to slap him for so rudely interfering on my time with my father. But a lifetime of training in how to behave diplomatically allowed me to collect my poise. I gave a cold, polite smile then promptly ignored him, angling myself to speak to my father and exclude the magistrate.

“Father, how do you know this man?”

“He came to me a couple days ago. On your birthday, in fact. He’s a magistrate for Portaceae.”

“Yes, I can see that, but what business does he have here?”

My father inhaled deeply through his nostrils, the way he did when trying to control his impatience with an underling. His cheeks had already bloomed with spots of red. This was no mood to have him in to discuss marrying Papi and I resented the magistrate for causing this upset to my plans, but being on the aggressive would not win me any favor with Father. I eased the tension from my shoulders and spoke lightly. “I’m sorry, it’s been a strange day and made stranger by seeing an unknown man pop out from behind one of our columns. I only meant, who is this?”

The hint of warm amusement on my father’s lips did nothing to thaw the cold glare he had fixed on me.

“This is Sirius Verus. Your future husband.”

***

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 5 will be rolling around next Wednesday, and on Saturday Finn McSpool will be hanging out with famous folks in Dublin. See you then!

***

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5 thoughts on “The Betrothal: Chapter Four of Domna

  1. Ahhhh noooooooooooo! Any chance Sofia can OD on vitamin C from those oranges and dodge her fate? Great building of suspense in this chapter, Tammie… I was racing through it to find out what was going to happen!

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    1. Can you OD on Vitamin C? So many oranges. Maybe it would be better to try to OD on cookies first. And as long as you weren’t racing through the chapter trying to get the ordeal over with, I’ve done my work here! :))

      Like

      1. Cookie OD? There have to be worse ways to go… 🤔 And yes, rest assured that your work is successfully done. You may now take a break and enjoy a non-lethal dose of tea and biscuits!

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