Wednesday’s here (wait, it is Wednesday, isn’t it?) and that means it’s time again for another chapter from Domna, Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter.
As you’ll recall (if you don’t recall, catch-up links are just below), after Chapter Four’s bombshell news and Chapter Five’s harsh truth of why Sofia’s father is doing his damnedest to get rid of her, in Chapter Six we found out that dear old dad isn’t being quite so upfront about why he suddenly wants his daughter as far from him as possible and Sofia puts on a pretty good show of dignity in front of everyone.
Chapter Seven begins with Sofia feeling pretty smug at having gained the upper hand and, with a good plot in mind to escape her betrothal, she even deigns to be nice to Sirius when he shows up to say goodbye. But of course, you know me, I just can’t let my characters stay happy for long.
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.
Now, kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy a bit of reading. Oh, and if you need to, you can catch up with Chapters ONE, TWO THREE, FOUR, FIVE, and SIX. There’s also a description below if you’re curious about the book and this series.
Oh, Before We Begin…
Last week I mentioned something about possible book release news. I lied. Beyond the news that my head is about to explode trying to organize the release of these six books, my other update isn’t quite ready yet. But there will be news in a couple weeks!!! No, really, I promise. Okay, onto this week’s chapter!
Chapter 7 – The Departure
There was one piece of news I celebrated that night: Saltia informed me Kolos had overheard that Sirius would be leaving Bendria the following day to head to Seattica, the northern polis sandwiched between Athenos and Vancuse that often vied with Portaceae for rule over Osteria. I delighted at being free of him so soon. Bassio would certainly keep tight reins on me, but it wouldn’t be hard to meet with Papinias and organize our escape.
After all, as a bride-to-be I would have to go to the agora to select fabrics for the new clothes I would need for travel, for the marriage ceremony, and for my new life as a wife. If Papi happened to be in the marketplace too, well, it would only be polite to say hello to such an old friend. I didn’t delude myself that we would be able to get away to the grove, but we could clasp hands while exchanging notes full of our plans to flee. We might even walk side by side a few moments to discuss the wares and weather while building the anticipation for our departure in the middle of one night when we would start our new life in Francisca. Or Portaceae.
These thoughts, and the thrill of soon being rid of Sirius, had me in a pleasant mood when my betrothed stopped in to say his goodbyes the next morning. With a welcoming expression on my face, I joined Sirius, Plautinius, and Bassio in the courtyard where we broke our fast on tea and leftover lavender cake.
“This is delicious,” Sirius said. “I’m surprised there’s any left.”
“Many guests left the dinner before getting their portions. They said they couldn’t stomach any more,” I said, giving my father an arching glance. He narrowed his eyes and mouthed, “Hush.”
“Their loss,” Sirius said, too busy with his sweets to notice the silent exchange.
“Plautinius, I have that book you asked about,” my father said, making a poor show of subtlety. He and the Hawk – a name I couldn’t help giving to this looming, beak-faced man – departed, leaving Sirius and me alone.
The magistrate smiled at me. A sugar-coated purple petal perched at the corner of his mouth. If he dared to kiss me I would use my knee on him as Papinias had taught me to do if any man tried to attack me. I only did it gently on Papi, but he swore it was an effective move if done with force and speed. But Sirius only offered to pour me more tea, so I held my knee in check and curtly refused his offer.
“Sofia, I know this isn’t what you planned.” I shot a glare at him for presuming to know what I wanted in life, but his was a face you simply couldn’t be angry with. It just looked so content, so assured, like that of a dimwitted dog. “But I hope you will come to accept me.”
“I don’t think I can, not in my heart. Even if I honor the contract, it’s only because I am legally bound to.”
“Why? I am a good man. It won’t be a bad life with me.”
“There’s nothing in it for me.” The simple comment contained many layers of meaning: there could never be any love between us, I would lose my dream both of marrying Papinias and of assuming my position as priestess, and I would have no future as a respected and revered part of the temple. Sirius was nearly forty, an age when most men were established in their careers. But from what Kolos had learned, when my betrothed returned to Seattica, he would be moving into a position lower than magistrate. Sirius was moving down in the world, not up. For someone with my hopes and ambitions, marriage to him would turn my life into nothing more than loveless obscurity.
“Is it status you want? I’ve held good positions in Portaceae. I know I’m only of the equine class, but I am middle equine, not lower.”
“I honestly have no concern for the old class system and wish we could do away with it altogether, but status I have by right of birth and by the position I would have had as priestess. My status of patrine won’t be lost upon marrying you, but I will lose power, I’ll lose the chance for position and respect from my people who would have looked up to me as something akin to a goddess. With you, I’ll merely be the wife of a man who is little more than a secretary to the secretaries of the Solon.”
Sirius shifted from his bench and marched over to me. I half expected a slap for my insolent honesty, but instead he knelt before me. The move surprised me so much, I didn’t even think to recoil when he took my hands in his.
“With a wife like you beside me, I could achieve anything.” Combined with his sincere expression, the words were almost heart-warming. “The oracle said you will marry a king. You can be the one to make me great.”
I rolled my eyes and slipped my hands out of his.
“The prediction was fake. Paid for by my father to lure in the nearest fool. You should know that if that’s what you’ve based your proposal on. False representation is a legal way out of the contract,” I said with hope at the edge of my voice.
“But this fool, as you call me, also read a similar message from the gods before I ever spoke to your grandfather. I often do my own star charts, and only went to him to confirm what I’d seen. I went to your grandfather the very morning I arrived in Dekos, before your Seeing was even done, I believe. I didn’t know who he was then, he didn’t know me, and I didn’t tell him what I’d seen in my charts. He told me if I look for a woman in the market I will find the one who will make me the most powerful man in Osteria. A few hours later I saw the figurine in the market, bought it without haggling, and there you were.”
I have to say I was surprised. Why had Bassio not told me this? He mentioned Sirius’s prophecy, but not how my grandfather’s Seeing meshed so tightly with Sirius’s star chart reading. And the very nature of the Seeing was unusual. It was so clear, so precise, not a jumble of words left to be sifted through for the tiniest scrap of meaning. I watched Sirius with new eyes as he pushed himself up with a grunt and returned to his own bench. This time I took the tea he offered.
“You enjoy making star charts?” I asked, trying to change subjects.
“I’m a firm believer that the gods guide our destiny and we might be able to guess what they’re up to if we pay attention to the stars.”
“But even if you have an inkling of the gods’ minds, you can’t sit around waiting for them to move you about like a pawn on a chessboard. We have to play an active role in our own lives.”
“I suppose, but don’t we become who we are because of where the gods put the stars? Isn’t that why we have the oracles? They see what’s intended for us so we can realize the opportunities when they present themselves? Without that Seeing, I might have just thought you an annoying, spoiled girl who didn’t know her place. With the prediction, and your chastisement, I saw my future opening before me. Still,” he said with a shrug, “I always cast the worst charts, the most inaccurate ones, when Hera is in my birth sign. Seems I can do nothing right when that goddess is lurking around.”
“My charts’ nemesis is Zeus,” I said, thinking of the irony that Zeus should be the favored god of Sirius’s home polis. “We clearly have some unresolved conflict with these gods.”
I don’t know if it was my words or the fact that I was speaking to him conversationally, but a beaming smile filled Sirius’s face. Despite myself I smiled back and didn’t mind continuing the conversation. What harm could it do after all? Even if I wasn’t planning to leave for Portaceae (or the Califf Lands) with Papinias, Sirius was so old he might die before his current wife did. One conversation to please an old man couldn’t hurt.
In short time, my father and the Hawk returned like rain clouds darkening a pleasant day. I abruptly stopped talking, not wanting to give either of them the satisfaction of seeing Sirius and me getting along. We both rose and I gave a small bow of my head to Bassio in greeting. Sirius moved to stand near me and when I didn’t back away, my father smirked.
“It’s time to go, Sirius,” the Hawk announced.
With Sirius by my side and my father and Plautinius in front of us, we passed from the courtyard to the foyer. When we reached the door, Sirius moved in closer. I readied my knee, but there was no attempt at a kiss, not even a chaste one of farewell.
Instead, he took my hand and opened it to expose the palm. From the pouch on his belt he pulled the figurine, placed it in my hand, and curled my fingers around the cool object. The last I’d seen of it was three days previous – Dear Apollo, had it only been three days? – after leaving it on the table in the courtyard when my father buried my hopes in the horrid news of my betrothal. Although I noticed the orange tree had taken a prominent place in the courtyard, I had given no thought to where the figurine had gone.
“Take this,” he said, his voice full of warmth. “Keep it to remember the stars have placed us together.”
I have to admit, the sincerity in his voice and the admiring, hopeful look in his eyes, had me feeling fondly for Sirius. If I had turned away then and gone to my rooms, I might have wondered once or twice over the next months if perhaps we were destined for each other, if maybe I should respect the gods’ wishes and try to accept this man. Perhaps this Sirius would be a kind husband and, even though I would be frustrated over my lot in life, we might find a friendly peace with one another.
I was a heartbeat from giving the old man a kiss on his cheek when my father opened the main door. Like vinegar on newly emerging seedlings, the scene he revealed destroyed any soft feelings I might have sprouted for Sirius.
Alongside two horses with the sleek muscles and fine heads of Astorian stock, stood a smaller horse, squat and round like pony. On this mount, with one of the magisterial guards pointing a spear toward his chest, sat Papinias his face taut with surly hatred. Without a word, without a glance back to me, my betrothed and his cousin marched out of my house and mounted their steeds.
I tried to run, but Bassio held me back. It didn’t take much. I was small and the shock of what was happening left me without the strength to wrestle away from his fierce grasp. I shouted Papi’s name again. Sirius made as if to turn his head to look toward me, but Plautinius shouted a command and the horses pranced into a trot.
I beat at my father’s arms with the figurine. In moves as quick as riding into the heat of battle, the group trotted away with several mounted guards flanking Papinias in front, back, and to the side to block any attempt at escape. I strained to watch him as long as I could, but my eyes flooded.
I went limp and my father released his grip. The instant my mind registered the freedom, I bolted, but the dust kicked up by the hooves and the carts’ wheels clung to the moisture in my eyes and blinded me. A stone caught my toe. I tripped and collapsed in the street; the gritty surface scraped my elbows raw. As my love rode away, I screamed Papi’s name until my voice went hoarse. Behind me came the whoosh and bang of the main door being slammed shut.
It was Kolos who eventually helped me up and into the house. Bassio stood rigid in the foyer as Kolos led me through. With blood dripping from my arms, dirt coating my dress, and mud caking my cheeks I must have looked like a mad woman. Indeed, I think I may have been. I charged at Bassio. I wanted to claw his eyes out. He raised his hands in defense, but Kolos pulled me up short to prevent my attack.
“Why is Papinias in Sirius’s party?” I huffed from my nose like a taunted bull.
“Plautinius believed your future husband could use a medic and I also pointed out your friend’s talents as a scribe. I remembered how you constantly reminded me of the boy’s skills and intellect and that I never gave him full credit for them. Now I have. It’s time that boy saw the world. He needs to see there are other options for him.”
So many insults and curses raged through my mind I couldn’t give voice to any single one. I didn’t have to. From the street and in through the open door marched Papinias’s father, Rius, looking as ravaged in body and soul as I felt.
“You can’t do this, Bassio. My son is not a slave. You cannot just take my boy.”
“I cannot, no. But as magistrate to the Solon, Sirius can conscript any man he needs from this polis.”
Legally, this was true but it was a little-used policy since Portaceae had many citizens who were more than willing to serve the Osterian realm. Rius’s shoulders slouched. Even if he didn’t like it, it wasn’t a policy he could fight. It was part of our agreement when we slipped under the Osterian wing.
As a newly acquired polis, the people of Bendria would not be considered full Osterian citizens until we proved our loyalty for twelve years. Until that time we wouldn’t be granted the same rights the Portaceans possessed. We would be subject to different taxes, our votes would only count for half, and different laws kept us from the liberties citizens enjoyed. Without true citizenship, Papinias could be conscripted into whatever service the Solon or his representatives needed. It was a common topic of debate and one that added fuel to the desire of several of the poli to split from Osteria and form their own city-states, with each one being represented by the god that most favored the area.
But at that moment the law meant nothing. This was too personal to frame it in the confines of a rigid legal system. Rius shuffled his gaunt frame over to me, held me by the shoulders, and kissed both my cheeks.
“I still consider you my daughter-in-law and you will always be welcome in my home. How such a spark of a girl came from someone as horrible as Bassio I will never understand. The gods surely made a mistake in giving you to him.”
New tears spilled over my cheeks as Rius turned to the bright light streaming through the open door and slumped his way out as if all life had drained from him. I knew exactly how he felt.
“Fool,” my father muttered and stormed out of the room to begin his day’s work at the temple.
Only once I was alone did I realize I still clutched the figurine. I wanted to dash the thing to the floor, crush it under a stone, and scatter the pieces to the winds. But I didn’t have the strength, emotionally or physically. Instead, I laughed at it. This stupid piece of rock, the size of a chicken’s egg had completely ruined my life. If I was a child of Apollo, he certainly was doing nothing to favor me.
Saltia soon appeared carrying a fresh towel and clean tunic as she led me to the small private bath in our house. She undressed and cleaned me as if I were a baby. And like a baby I whimpered with every squeeze of the sponge.
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 8 will be rolling around next Wednesday. See you then!
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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: