Is it time for Chapter Five of Domna, Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter already? My calendar says it is, and I’ve learned never to argue with my calendar.
After Chapter Four’s bombshell of a betrothal, this week Sofia faces the reality of what her new engagement means and learns the brutal reasons why her father is doing his damnedest to get rid of her.
For those of you who are new to this game, each week I’m sharing a chapter from the first part my upcoming serialized historical fantasy novel. With a few random weeks off here and there for updates, we’ll actually be past the release date (9 January) before we get through this first installment of the six-part series.
However, if you’re on my mailing list, you will be getting all of Part One as a FREE ebook later this month (yes, that was my not-so-subtle attempt to get you to sign up, if it worked, you can do so HERE).
Chapter 5 – The Lure
Bile and laughter perched at the top of my throat in the same instant. I swallowed them both back.
My mind threatened to collapse inside itself with the same overwhelming terror as being trapped in a nightmare. That’s it, I thought with giddy delirium, I just needed to wake up. Perhaps I’d fallen asleep waiting for Saltia to do my hair. Or maybe this was a joke? Did my father grab the wrong calendar and think today was the winter Festival of Hermes when all things turn into tricks and jests?
Inside, I screamed that this man before me wasn’t Papinias. I couldn’t marry him. I couldn’t marry anyone but Papinias. I cursed myself. This conversation wouldn’t be happening if I was already officially betrothed to Papi. If only I’d spoken with my father on my birthday instead of waiting the two days I’d forecast in my star chart. Grandfather was right: Unless you’re a true seer, no good can come from trying to guess the gods’ minds.
A weaker part of me I didn’t like to admit I possessed said to respect the head of my household and accept this declaration without argument. My stronger self, my true self, pushed aside this willowing aspect of my nature, rattled me back to my senses, and forced me to maintain my dignity and my desires. Later I could berate my father, plead with him, but not in front of this intruder. For now I would show my father I too could play his game of icy detachment.
“And when are we to be wed?” I asked as coolly as if questioning the cook how much longer the chicken needed to roast.
“That’s a matter of doubt,” my father said. “We’ll discuss it later.”
“She can hear the truth,” the magistrate said, stepping toward me. “What your father means is I’m already married.”
My brow furrowed and I flicked my eyes between these two men. Were they both mad? Divorce was commonplace enough, but why tie me to a man still married? That sort of agreement was only made by parents looking to be rid of wayward daughters or to get a betrothal payment to see a family through financial difficulties. It was not made by high-status families of good standing. The ice I’d only just hardened in my veins melted, boiled, and steamed from me.
“So I’m to sit on the shelf like a box of toys waiting to be taken down when you’re ready to play?”
“Sofia!” my father snapped, but Sirius put a hand on his arm to quiet him.
“My wife is ill,” he said to me. “Has been for some time and I can’t strain her with a request for divorce. She’s unlikely to make it through the year. When she dies, you will join me, and we can marry.”
He moved to take my hand but I yanked it away and stepped back, scolding him with my eyes.
“We aren’t married yet, Magistrate.” I turned to my father. “Is there a contract?”
My father’s eyes narrowed at my shrewd question. From my own studies and from talking to lawyers who visited the temple, I’d learned how Bendrian law compared to Osterian law. By both systems, since Sirius and I had spoken no promises to one another, I knew that if no contract had been drawn up I was still free.
And if I was indeed free I wouldn’t hesitate to humble myself. I would go down on my knees and beg my father to give me to Papinias, not to this old man. In my mind, I pleaded to Athena, goddess of law and justice, to let there be no contract, then to Aphrodite to let me be with the man I loved. I had a man who would marry me. Not in a year. Not when it was convenient for him. Now.
“Why do you think we’re celebrating tonight? The contract was finalized this morning. Now, I’m sure you two will have plenty of time to talk at the feast this evening. Sirius, I’ll see you in the seventh hour. We’ll make the announcement at dinner.”
“I look forward to it. Thank you, Bassio,” he said with a bow, then turned to me, stepping in close. I backed away, detesting his assumed intimacy. “And my Sofia, I ask that you will do me the honor of sitting next to me.”
I am not your Sofia. I am Papi’s Sofia.
“I believe, given your martial status, that my proper place is still to my father’s left, not yours. But thank you, for considering me,” I said with no sincerity.
As Sirius took his leave, the two men exchanged glances: Sirius’s gloating, my father’s apologetic. The moment the magistrate was out of sight, I was about to demand from my father what type of joke this was, but before the words could even pass my lips, he whirled around and grabbed me by my upper arm so hard I feared the bone might snap.
“You will never embarrass me like that again. Despite your spoiling, despite the status you assume to possess, I am still the head of this household, and you, by law, must respect that.”
Hot tears welled in my eyes. My father had only spoken harshly to me once before when I was about eight years old. I had taken a bracelet from the temple altar, nothing of value, just a trinket someone had offered to Apollo, but glittery enough to catch my childish eye. My father berated me to no end on piety and respect. I cried then, not so much from shame, but from the unfamiliar distress of having him angry with me.
Now, although I stood before my father as a woman betrothed, I was hurtled back to being that same child frightened of her parent’s disapproval. This time though, I refused to cry. I needed to be taken seriously. I blinked hard, forcing the tears aside.
“But why him? Why now?” I asked as steadily as I could.
“I hadn’t any real plans for you. It didn’t have to be him. Anyone who made the offer to take you away would have done, but, as I said, he showed up on your birthday as if the gods had answered my prayers. He’s heard of your Seeing. He believes if he marries you, he’ll become solon.”
I wanted to laugh. That lazy oaf a solon? How could that old man become heir to Candus who would certainly live another forty years or more? Candus had time to bear a houseful of sons or to find a good advisor or commander to appoint as heir. Was my father going feeble not to see the logic in that?
“Why in all of Osteria would he believe something so impossible?”
“As it happens, Sirius had his own Seeing that very morning from your grandfather.”
“A true one or a bribed one?” I asked waspishly.
“A true one as far as I know. It predicted that Sirius would soon find the woman who would make him great. Meshed with your Seeing, you can understand how a man might be hopeful.”
“But you bribed Grandfather to give me that prediction.”
“Exactly. I knew it would be the perfect bait. Some man would hear of the potential power you could give him and he wouldn’t hesitate to take the lure. The prophecy’s not entirely a lie, so don’t act so righteous. Had you been born an hour earlier, the Seeing wouldn’t be incorrect. You arrived in the darkest hours of the night. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the midwife could have been wrong about the time of your birth.”
My head reeled and my legs trembled. Had I been a weaker girl, I might have collapsed. My own father was plotting to be rid of me. He was pawning me off to whichever fish snapped first at the line he’d dropped. Then, like a naughty boy jamming a stick into a cartwheel, the spinning, whirling thoughts jerked to a stop and settled on a single one. Not only had my future with Papi been ripped out of my hands, but Sirius had said I would join him.
“Am I to leave Dekos?” I asked in a voice barely above a whisper, my emotions getting the better of me.
“Unfortunately, not until he’s ready to marry you. Then you’ll go wherever he’s stationed.”
“But I can’t leave here. I’m destined to be priestess,” I muttered. “You’ve trained me yourself.”
“You followed me in my work. Was I to ignore you? I never made any promises about your future. You simply made assumptions. Wrong ones.”
These words stung like the sharp smell released when the kitchen slaves lifted the lid from the barrel of fish sauce my father adored. While loved by most Osterians, the scent and sight of this fermented condiment always sent a physical revulsion shuddering through me. Just the memory of the rotten scent jolted me back to standing up for myself.
“But this man, what future will I have? He’s unambitious, he doesn’t respect custom, and he’s seeking out a new wife before his old one is even on the funeral pyre. What kind of man have you bound me to?”
My father spun on me. His height sent a looming shadow over me and I stepped back to be out of it. He had never hit me, but he’d also never borne such fury in his eyes.
“Do you think I’m going to let you marry that little medic?”
“Is that what this is about? Your dislike of Papinias? He’s got more of a future than that magistrate you’ve captured on your hook.”
“Do you know what you are, Sofia? Do you know what your mother was?” This sudden change of topic confused me. What had my mother to do with this? She died after a short but aggressive illness not long before I met Papi. In my mind she was perfection itself. A kind woman with large eyes who everyone loved. So why was my father speaking of her with such malice?
“Your mother was whore to one of the gods. Apollo adored her, he took her and made you with her. Everyone knew, everyone knew my wife found more pleasure with him than me. She embarrassed me, but I was supposed to not blame you. I raised you as my own. I tried to love you. I indulged you, thinking that was how I should treat the child of a god, but it was never the unconditional love of a parent. I thought if I raised you as mine you’d be better than her. But you’re not. You have embarrassed me, Sofia, and I will not abide it.”
“I’ve done nothing but respect you.” I scrambled through my memory thinking of what I might have possibly done to receive such corrosive venom from him.
“For a year now you’ve flaunted your lust with that equine of yours. That makes you worse than your mother. At least she debased herself with a god. You have shamed me. Who would honor a man whose own wife and daughter show no respect to him? You lower my status by letting him grope you in that olive grove. Do think your behavior is a secret? All of Dekos knows about you two.”
“The acolytes of the temple do the same thing to bring honor to the gods,” I replied feebly.
Spittle formed at the edge of my father’s lips as if his own fury were bubbling from within. He’d been holding this anger in for a year. He despised me. He was willing to send me away with an unsuitable old man because of my mother’s indiscretion. But Papi and I were different. We were wed, in our own eyes and the gods’, and only acting a husband and wife should. I was thrown so far off center by his misplaced hatred, that the new knowledge of my divine parentage barely registered with me.
“Those acolytes are sacred to Apollo. I have made them sacred to the god that stole my wife from me. You are just an insolent daughter. Yes, I bribed and commanded your grandfather to give that Seeing. I had planned to spread the word around of your destiny in the hopes that someone would take you away like a good luck token. But it appears your little medic spread the word for me. And to just the right person. Someone gullible, superstitious, and looking for an easy road to success.”
“You can’t possibly think this Sirius will be anything. You’ve done nothing but cast me into obscurity.”
“If he’s foolish enough to believe an oracle, who am I to argue? Besides, obscurity is the same place you’d be if you married that medic.”
“Not if I were priestess.” I wanted to add that even if I wasn’t priestess, if I could stay in Dekos I would at least be with my love, but tender sentiment would never sway my father. I dropped to my knees, the position of pleading. Dignity be damned. I was not ready to leave Bendria. I was not ready to give up my love, nor my status. “I am a loyal daughter. I have only ever wanted to work in the temple with you. To have the people’s respect. To honor the gods in the post I’ve been working toward my entire life.”
I saw a slight waver in my father’s harsh expression, but it hardened again at the mention of the gods.
“To honor your father, you mean?”
“You raised me. You are my father. Apollo was my mother’s lover, nothing more.”
“Nothing more? Do you not see your talent in anything you try? Do you not see how people flock to you? The sun he symbolizes shines in you like a beacon. You are his daughter, not mine.” I reached for his hand, but he jerked it away as if I were a rabid dog baring my fangs. “There is no room for further discussion. Get off that floor.” He snatched at my arm again and yanked me to my feet. “You are of the age to marry. You need to learn that if you want greatness you have to earn it. I’m not going to hand it to you. Even if Apollo demanded I make you priestess, I would not work alongside you. Your disrespect of me is at an end. Tonight your betrothal will be announced and you will enter into it not on the wish of your father, but on the command of the head of your household.”
He stared at me a moment as if checking to see I understood. I did. A father’s wish was only that, a request. But in Bendria, a command from the head of one’s household was an order just as that of a commander to a vigile. If I disobeyed it, he would have the right to kill me.
Bassio – I could no longer think of him as my father – turned his back to me and stormed out of the courtyard on his long legs. A breeze circled in from the roof opening. I shivered as a cloud passed over and darkened the courtyard. From within the house I could still hear the sounds of the dinner preparation, but my mind was in such a distant realm they sounded as far away as Portaceae itself.
The shock of the past moments was so great that I could do nothing more than stand as motionless as one of the foyer statues. If I stepped from the spot my feet had rooted in, everything else would go forward too. The words Bassio said would be true, my hopes of a life with Papinias would be over, I would be tied to a man I didn’t know and didn’t want to know.
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Domna – Part One, The Sun God’s Daughter
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: