Uh-oh, Here Comes Another Prophecy in Chapters 10 & 11 of Domna

So, next week there’s this little glitch in the system called “Christmas” – you may have heard of it. Since several years of blogging has shown me that blog posts get mostly ignored during the holidays, I’ll be taking next Wednesday off and won’t be posting a chapter from my upcoming historical fantasy novel, Domna, Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter (now available for pre-order, hint hint).

However, to make up for that missing post and to ensure you have some back-up reading material, I’m posting TWO chapters from Domna this week.

In these chapters Domna gets more strange tidings from the new oracle in town, and she finally makes her escape from her evil father’s home. We also get to meet a new character who plays a key role throughout the rest of the series, so be sure to keep your eye out for the devilishly handsome Macrinus (I might have a slight crush on him).

For those of you who are new to this game, each week I’m sharing a chapter from the first part my upcoming serialized fantasy novel, Domna, Part One: The Sun God’s Daughter. With a few random weeks off here and there for updates, we’ll actually be past the official release date (9 January) before we get through this first installment of the six-part series, so if you’re impatient, you might want to pre-order your own copy (full details below).

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 THREEFOUR, FIVESIXSEVENEIGHT, and NINE

Chapter 10 – Quintus’s Prophecy

That afternoon, my father called me to his office. He delivered the news of Marcia’s death and my imminent marriage in a mocking tone and with a gloating jut to his chin. I clenched my fists at his attitude, but held my composure as he sneered at me waiting for my reaction. 

“I suppose we’ll only have to endure each other a little while longer until word arrives from Sirius that I should come to him,” I said pleasantly. My father hissed with irritation and commanded me to my room as if I was a troublesome child. I went to the courtyard instead and scraped my thumbnail along the rinds of a few immature oranges to release their scent that would drift into a window at the far end of courtyard: the window of my father’s office.

Over the next months Sirius seemed to have a personal connection to the messenger god Hermes. It was the only explanation I could come up with for how he was able get messages across Osteria so quickly. Even from the northern islands, his news reached me before similar information was announced by officials who called out the realm’s affairs in Dekos’s agora each morning. In addition to its speed in reaching me, the news from Sirius was always more detailed. For the first time, I wondered if this man was more than just an errand boy for the Solon.

In his latest batch of letters, besides informing me Marcia’s will was still in the hands of lawyers, Sirius gushed with enthusiasm for an old friend who had been named governor of Seattica. His name was Tenax and I had to read the line twice that stated this Tenax was a centaur. I knew a few had tamed their wild ways over the past couple decades and had proven themselves superb fighters, loyal vigiles, and well respected teachers, but I had never met one myself. 

Sirius wrote that Tenax, in addition to being a high ranking vigile, was once a teacher and, during the time that Sirius served under him in the legions, Tenax helped Sirius with his writing and math – subjects he had previously struggled with since he’d been a rather lax student as a child. “I know it comes as no surprise to you that I was a lazy pupil,” he wrote, “but you’re probably even more amazed that, as a twenty-year-old, I sat like a child as this war veteran taught me my numbers and grammar. To realize that Tenax taught me long before you were born does make me feel incredibly old.”

After Sirius had served his time under Tenax and had taken command of his own small legion, the two men had remained close friends by writing regularly. “He probably only did so to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my lessons,” Sirius wrote, then admitted to being proud of his old friend becoming the first centaur governor in all of Osteria. “I would very much like to visit him in Seattica after you get settled. We’ll have to cast some star charts to see when would be a good time to go, but each one I cast lately comes up with a jumbled mess even though Hera is nowhere near my sign.”

Tenax, although Sirius assured me he was clever and popular, hadn’t achieved his new position as governor on merit alone. Trouble in the capital and beyond had laid wide the opportunity and had threatened the peace of Osteria. 

Jealous of the power he’d attained, Darra set a trap for Ennis by suggesting he name his own son solon when Candus died. Fair-minded in his own rule and devoted to his family, Ennis couldn’t help but want the best for his child. Unable to resist such an honor, Ennis agreed. 

As soon as the ink had dried on the scroll, Darra informed Candus that Ennis was plotting to overthrow him and this urged our silly solon out of hiding. He rode into Portaceae with a group of hand-selected guards and ordered Ennis be arrested and brought immediately to trial – a trial on which Candus sat as judge and jury. In less than an hour after his arrest, Ennis, his wife, and his son were declared guilty of treason and lashed to three of the executioner’s rings that lined the Traitor’s Way. 

The modicum of stability Portaceae had under Ennis’s care gave way to political upheavals throughout Osteria, including Seattica whose governor had one of Osteria’s largest legions at his command. Soon after Ennis had been lashed to the rings, it was discovered the governor had been preparing to send out his legion to support Ennis as Solon. Candus’s swift justice had the governor’s head rolling into a basket before Ennis took his last breath. 

When Candus was considering who should replace the governor, Tenax played the political game wisely by only offering neutral responses when asked anything about the solonship. His shrewd answers and reputation for loyalty earned him the governorship of Seattica.

Although Tenax settled Seattica’s mutinous rumblings, other areas of Osteria were not so easily swayed and refused to obey a solon who showed no respect for the goddess Athena’s system of justice, the system of justice and law that all of Osteria had adopted. This rule of law declared it illegal for any man, the Solon included, to preside as judge and serve as jury at the same trial. Thanks to Darra’s scheming and Candus’s haste to be rid of Ennis, the realm now teetered on the precipice of civil war.

Disliking the terse mood of the capital, Candus soon hurried back to his retreat to fill his days with fighting, drinking, and gaming rather than ruling. Darra remained in Portaceae City, even residing in the Solonian Palace, and used her time to fill her purse by selling off positions of power such as consul seats, command of the vigiles, and magisterial appointments to the highest bidder. Throughout the turmoil, Tenax’s position as governor remained without threat because he had instantly garnered respect from his people and because his cool demeanor kept him from the hotbed of the worst of Osterian politics. 

As Sirius sorted out Marcia’s affairs over the weeks following her death, the legions of Vancuse and Demos revolted, refusing to serve an Osteria ruled by Candus. Demos putting down arms opened Osteria up to two problems: the Middish tribes to Demos’s east and the Areans to their south. The Areans may now be Osterian, but they still retained their warlike ways and wouldn’t hesitate to lay claim to the grain-growing region of Demos. After all, it’s said that whoever controls the grain, controls Osteria.

Luckily, the Areans felt the same as the Demosians: They too wanted Candus gone, either dead or ousted. The Arean and Demosian governors banded together and in little time had come up with a list of commanders who they’d like to see replace Candus. Albinus, Rigen, and Tenax were among those named. 

In his following letter, Sirius, who otherwise seemed unfazed by all the mess, wrote saying that although Marcia’s affairs were settled and his new position secured, it might be best to delay my leaving for safer times. 

In all the time Sirius had been writing me, I had never written back, but after reading this message I scratched out a hasty note informing him I would not stay in my father’s house a moment longer than I had to and that if this marriage was ordained by the gods, I would surely reach him in safety regardless of the bickering amongst the legions and the Solon. 

He replied by sending a group of guards with a short letter.

“Here are your traveling companions. Have a Seeing done and star chart cast for the optimal day to leave. Pay heed to any omens.”

I smiled at his superstitious concern for me. A knot formed in my stomach at the inevitability of our marriage, but I could not live with Bassio’s cold glares any longer. It struck me as odd that, had this not all come about as it did, I would now have been married to Papinias for a year. I sighed and my throat caught at the thought of him. I told myself it was foolish to dwell on him; doing so would only make it harder to accept my fate with Sirius. Besides, my former lover had obviously abandoned all thoughts of me.  

Like Sirius, I too was having trouble getting concrete answers from the stars and the runes they were supposed to influence. Although tempted to try my hand once more to determine the safest time to travel, such a matter was too risky to trust to a faulty reading. I needed the gods’ insight, so I did as Sirius asked and went to my grandfather’s old house where the new oracle, Quintus, had set up his business. He beamed when he opened the door. 

“Sofia, I’m so glad to see you.” He ushered me into the same room my grandfather used to work from. Although Quintus had brightened the room by pulling back the heavy window coverings and filling the walls with his own sketches of Bendria, the room still carried the earthy scent of the spruce incense my grandfather used. My heart ached as I inhaled.

“Could we do this in the courtyard? This room is too full of memories.”

“Of course, what a fool I must be.” He gathered up some papers and we went to the rear courtyard where a gentle breeze rustled through the jasmine vines. I hadn’t scented my hair with jasmine oil since Papinias had left. Who would I have done it for? Unexpectedly, I found myself wondering if Sirius would like the scent. 

“You received my note?” I asked as Quintus and I sat on benches lined with large blue cushions that brought out the orange tones in his red hair. He spread the papers before me.

“Yes, and have determined three days from now is the most auspicious day for your travels to begin.”

“So soon?”

“You’ll have to pack quickly. I see trouble on the road if you don’t leave by this morning here.” He pointed to a box on the calendar he’d drawn up. “Now, I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’ve also looked into other aspects of your future.”

“Please, Quintus, it’s not necessary.” I was curious, but couldn’t bear the disappointment if he’d seen that Sirius would remain as complacent and unambitious as I assumed him to be.

“It’s already done, so listen. I remember you and Papinias from when I came to Bendria to study under your grandfather. Such happy children together and you would have had a happy adulthood with him, but it did not turn out that way.”

“So how will it turn out?” I asked teasingly.

“I can’t tell you every exact step you’ll take, but the gods have plans for you. With Sirius you will have an illustrious life, but it’s not going to fall into your lap and there will be tragedy. You may have struggle and hard times, but you will be a very powerful woman if you stay true. And I see from that glint in your eye that this appeals to you.”

“If I can’t be happy–” I shrugged.

“Don’t worry.” He patted my hand. “You will face some tough choices, but the gods do tell me in the end you’ll find yourself with the man you love, it will be a long road and at first you may not even realize you’re on that road, but you will get to him.”

“To Papinias?”

Just then a servant came in with a tray of sliced apples, white cheese, and golden wine. After thanking him, Quintus continued to speak, but never answered my question.

“Your father is wrong to not let you take charge of the temple.” He chuckled. “What am I saying? Before this mess with Sirius you practically were in charge of the temple. Your grandfather boasted of it in letters to me. Of people coming to you, a little girl, for advice more often than they did Bassio. You are the child of a god and a natural leader. You have found and always will find ways to better yourself.”

I sat up taller with a burst of pride at learning what my grandfather had told this man. I have to admit to feeling quite low these past months, so it was good to hear I wasn’t the only one who saw my future included wielding power and earning respect. Even the gods spoke to Quintus of people revering me and it was a relief to know those gods intended more for me than just being a wife.

“Will I always love Papinias?” I asked, trying to steer the oracle back to the long road to love he mentioned.

“In your own way,” he said cautiously. “Your feelings will be confused for a time. You will both hurt one another in different ways. You will want to love him as you once did, but love, like everything, changes. You may find your love is not the same as it is now.” I balked at the thought of ever loving Papi with less than the most intense passion. “But you must make room for Sirius, even a tiny space in your mind if not your heart. Love will always be at your side, Sofia, but power must be taken and held tight when the opportunity arises. Love will wait, power won’t.”

He refused to add anything further and indicated the platter before us. I enjoyed the snacks Quintus provided but left his home with more questions than I had when I entered. Even after a lifetime of growing up next to an oracle, I still found their predictions annoyingly vague.

*  *  * 

Over the next couple days, my rooms filled with a torrent of activity as I organized what to take and what to leave behind. Slaves bundled the to-take items into cases. Dresses, tunics, sandals, and less valuable jewelry went into one trunk. The more valuable jewelry from my mother would stay on me, hidden in a purse under my tunic. Another case bulged with my own copies of Alerio’s work; star charts; ingredients for the potions (or were they medicines, I wondered) I’d been experimenting with; and my favorite books on philosophy, history, and science. It pained me to leave behind the rest of my collection, but there simply weren’t enough boxes to contain them all. I knew my father would never pay to send them to me, so, as I had done with Papinias’s books, I gave the tomes to Quintus who was starting a library for Bendrians to borrow from. He promised I could have them back any time I wanted, but I doubted I would ever return to retrieve them. 

Saltia, I was glad to learn, was my wedding present from my father and she wanted to come with me. With all the frenzy of preparing to travel in such a short time, there wasn’t a spare moment left to get to the Bendrian governor to apply for her manumission, but I swore to her I would do so as soon as we had settled in our new home.

On the morning of the second day after meeting with Quintus, my rooms looked little better than the poorest slave’s hovel with no décor and little comfort. Saltia dressed me, did my hair, and applied the light touches of make up I wore. Throughout these attentions, I felt as if I was still asleep and moving through an odd dream. I was leaving home. I was to be married to a stranger. I was stepping into an uncertain future where I had always had my future carefully mapped out. Before leaving my room for the final time, I wrapped Sirius’s figurine in Papinias’s drawing and dropped it in my travel bag. 

Waiting in the courtyard, I tried to eat a small biscuit. After a few bites my stomach gurgled with nerves and I put my meager breakfast back on the tray. I checked over the orange tree. It was now thriving with new growth, but I noticed the fruit had all been removed. As he had done every time the tree had borne fruit over the past year, Bassio had cut the little orbs off just as they began to ripen to keep from having to smell them. I wondered bitterly if the man could let anything vibrant and sweet grow to maturity. 

The sound of men’s heavy steps on the tiled floor of the foyer stirred me away from these unkind thoughts and sent a jolt from my heart to my toes. They were here to take me away. My eyes stung with emotion as I gave a last glance at my home’s lush retreat before turning to go to the foyer.

When I rounded the corner to the entryway, I nearly ran into my father who stood facing me with his back turned to Saltia and a group of vigiles. For the briefest moment my heart leapt like a trout from a pond. He was blocking them. He had changed his mind and wouldn’t permit me to go. Maybe this had all been a test of my devotion to Bendria and to Papi and I would be allowed to marry Papinias this very day then take my place as priestess the next morning. 

But when I met Bassio’s harsh eyes, my hopeful fantasy fluttered away.

A tearful goodbye was not in store for us. He stuck out his hand, not to take me in his arms, not even to shake my own hand, but to pass me a small pouch. The coins inside clinked as he dropped it into my palm.

“Don’t shame me. You’ve already done that enough for one lifetime.”

This was all he said. No Goodbye, no I’ll miss you, no Safe journey. It was as if I had never been his daughter, as if I were nothing more than a tenant finishing up my lease, as if he had never guided my little hands when I first wrote my letters on a wax tablet, as if we never chanted prayers to the gods together. His stubborn grudge against my mother, a few words from those Grey Sisters (who I heard were the subjects of some strange rumors), and my love for Papinias had turned me into nothing but a burr in Bassio’s sandal.

Knowing I would spit words of anger at him, I made no reply. I would not demean myself. Bowing so low to the ground I was almost kneeling, I gave him the respect he was owed as the head of my household and my high priest with this formal gesture.

I waited for the touch on my shoulder to signal he accepted my fealty, that he recognized my honoring him even though he deserved none, but it never came. I watched his sandaled feet step aside to be replaced by the booted feet of ten vigiles. I rose and refused to face Bassio. 

Instead, I locked eyes with a triangular-faced man who appeared to be heading up my entourage. He wore a plain breastplate and an apron of protective metal over his cream-colored tunic. 

“Domna,” he said in way that conveyed both a greeting and a question of whether or not I was ready. I nodded. He returned the gesture then turned on his heel and told the men to move out. 

With the group of vigiles and Saltia at my side, I stepped out the door into a brilliant red dawn, nervous and heart weary, but ready for a new life beyond the walls of my father’s disapproval.

Chapter 11 – To Dallos

Although I was escorted by ten vigiles in top form, my procession wasn’t as grand as I’d envisioned. In my imaginings over the past few months, I had seen myself as a legendary daughter of a noble Osterian family, abandoned by her father but yet still proud and loved by her people. In my visions, I’d be sitting high on my horse leading out a band of protective men who rode behind me with awe and respect and who were ready to die to protect me. 

Instead, my small horse and Saltia’s pony were trapped in the midst of the larger war horses, unable to see or be seen. I did hear a few people call my name, but since they couldn’t see me waving back from behind the throng of vigiles, the cries of support quickly lost their enthusiasm. When we made it to the city walls the men finally spaced themselves out, but by then everyone had gone back to their daily routine. When I looked back, only Quintus – easily visible with his beacon of red hair – and Kolos remained at the city gate waving us farewell. 

There was also no awe or dazzled respect to be had from my guards. In fact, I received little attention from them altogether. The men seemed as aware of my presence as they would be of a friendly dog who’d attached itself to their retinue. As if Saltia and I weren’t there, they didn’t hesitate to boast about humanly impossible feats in battles, nor to crack rude jokes. Once I got over my initial surprise, I laughed along with them and at myself for my silly expectations.

However, one of the guards, the triangluar-faced one who seemed in charge of the men but not their commander, rode by my side most of that first day. He looked to be in his early twenties, his black hair was cut short in the traditional vigile crop, and he had large bright green eyes with a jewel-like appearance thanks to their flecks of gold and copper. After introducing himself as Macrinus, he explained to me our travel plans. 

One option to get from Dekos to Portaceae (from where we would catch a ship to the northern islands) was to ride west to the port in Eugenia, the southernmost town in the Illamos Valley polis, and then catch a boat up the Illamos River to our realm’s capital. But this route would have required journeying over steep mountain passes. Besides bandits and the risk of an early snow storm, with the current political turmoil there was too much danger of ambush from someone who might mistake our party for the Solon’s men to risk going that way. 

Instead we were riding through Bendria and a hundred Osterian miles north to the port of Dallos – a riverside town situated on the eastern border of Cedonia. Dallos was known for its fleet of sailing ships that regularly taxied people to Portaceae by taking advantage of the almost perpetual winds in the wide gorge cut by the Col River. 

At home, I’d always believed myself skilled at horseback riding, but nothing had prepared me for such long days in the saddle. It took only a single day of riding to leave me aching from my toes to my shoulders. A litter could have been rented from many of the towns we passed, but I refused to travel in one. First, as my grandfather would attest, I was vain and did not want to appear weak in front of anyone. Second, I had no desire to slow the journey by having the men cart me about in a den of cushions. But most importantly, this was the first time I’d seen any part of Osteria beyond Bendria and I wanted to take in every tree, every hill, and every field, all of which marveled me enough to endure the agony of saddle sores and screaming muscles.

We arrived in Dallos the evening of our fourth day of travel. Since we wouldn’t be able to set sail until mid-morning when the winds picked up, we had to stay the night in town. After Macrinus asked around, he found a place with a few rooms to spare. 

Saltia and I soon found ourselves squeezing our way down a piss-soaked alley and crammed into a shabby room wedged into the upper story of a rowdy tavern. Two of my guards remained outside the door, not to imprison us, but to protect us from any of the drunken guests below who might wander in and mistake us for the women who occasionally turned their trade in these upstairs chambers. 

The room smelled of stale wine and the mattress made my skin itch, but I was too tired and too glad to have a real bed to sleep in to care about what had happened in that bed in the hour before my arrival. I was asleep only moments after crawling under the thin blanket.  

The next morning I woke to such utter confusion I thought I’d lost my mind. Why was my room so drab? Why were the slaves making so much noise? It was only after Saltia answered a knock at the door and I heard a man say we needed to leave within the hour, that I recalled I was miles away from my sprawling bedchamber in Dekos and realized the noise was the tavern below starting its day. 

My stomach roared with hunger. In the exhaustion of the night before I hadn’t bothered to eat and my body demanded to be refueled after the previous days’ exertions. Plus, after several days of stale bread and dried meat, I yearned for something moist and fresh. Despite my demanding belly and the rich scent of food wafting up from the kitchens, I took the time to wash myself using a basin of water and cloth Saltia brought up. She had to fetch several more jugs for both of us as the water kept turning red-brown from the dirt we’d collected on our skin over the past few days. It wasn’t the same as dipping into a bath, but by the final rinse, we both felt refreshed and presentable.

Just as in Dekos, the tavern in Dallos had a counter with holes cut in it for pots of stew, cooked grains, and bowls of other treats. I opted for a mound of fruit with a huge dollop of yogurt, a pile of marinated broad beans and olives of assorted colors, and four rounds of soft flat bread smeared with creamy goat cheese and honey. I ate without pause as if I’d never tasted food before.

My guards, who nibbled on single pieces of plain flatbread like toothless old women, shook their heads at me.

“You aren’t going to want all that food on your stomach once we hit the water,” said Macrinus.

“Why?” I’d never been on a river voyage beyond short trips on little barges during festivals or on small row boats to play on the lakes near Dekos. I’d read about seasickness in Alerio’s book, but had experienced nothing to make me understand how the motion of a boat affected some people.

“Oh, you’ll see.” He clutched his belly and mimicked heaving. 

“I won’t be sick,” I said assuredly and crammed the final olive into my mouth. In truth, I hadn’t give it much thought and now worried I’d make a fool of myself on board the boat. I cursed my appetite and tried to remember what Alerio would recommend. My box of books would have already been loaded onto our ship, so I scanned my memory for what he’d written on nausea and indigestion. Recalling a drawing of a plant I’d made for the book, I went back to the counter and asked the burly innkeeper if the tavern made one of my favorite dishes: a grain-and-tomato salad flavored with chopped mint leaves. 

“We do, but none’s ready yet. Perhaps more bread for the lady,” the innkeeper said and grinned as the men laughed at my stubborn gluttony.

“But do you have the mint here for it?”

“Purchased some yesterday.”

“Could I buy a few sprigs?”

Although full of amused skepticism, the innkeeper wasn’t about to refuse receiving double what he’d paid for the herb. Once my drachars were in his hand, he gave me a cluster of square-stemmed spearmint. I wrapped it in a piece of moist cloth and stuck the parcel in my bag.

“Poseidon’ll want more than a few leaves as an offering for a safe journey,” said one of the vigiles and the others laughed along with him. At least I was good entertainment for these men.

In little time, the east winds had picked up and we made our way to board the day’s first ship that was sailing to Portaceae. Saltia, who had never set foot on a boat before, clung to me, her eyes darting about in nervous fascination as we started down the swaying dock to the waiting vessel. When I lifted a foot to step from the dock to the bobbing bow of the boat, Saltia muttered, “I can’t do this.” She pinched her eyes shut to avoid looking down at the water. Her frantic grip tugged me toward the left edge of the narrow walkway. 

“If you pull me into the river with your fretting, you won’t have to. I’ll leave you behind.”

She eased her grip on my arm and I gave her a gentle shove to goad her onto the vessel. Once on board, we stepped aside to peer over the side of the ship where oars dangled lazily in the water. We’d be sailing most of the way, but the oars were needed to pull us out of the harbor and into position on the river. They would also propel the boat if the winds refused to cooperate. 

Water slapped the side of the ship that lurched as a mountain of cargo was loaded. Saltia immediately cringed and stepped back. “I need to sit in the middle. I’m not rolling into the water if this thing tips over.” 

Although I would have liked her company, I told her go find a secure spot. She hunched down and scrambled awkwardly to a central bench. In her haste, she collided with one of my guards, a blonde man who had long limbs like Saltia. He laughed at her discomfort and extended his hand in introduction, but she was clutching the bench too tightly to do anything but nod a greeting.

I had learned this was one of two daily sailings that used the river and its gusting winds to move people from the poli in the east to those in the west. It would be no private pleasure cruise. Numerous vigiles transferring to new legions, magistrates and governors journeying to the capital, and several merchants traveling with their wares filled the deck and claimed what appeared to be favorite spots. I didn’t mind the crowd, but their chatter annoyed me since I had pictured myself relaxing to the peaceful sound of the water as I admired the passing scenery. 

I was learning a lot about taming my expectations and my imagination on this journey.

Finally, the docking ropes were released and a shout came from below decks. From the side, the row of oars snapped out straight. With another bellow, the oars arced forward in synchrony and dipped into the water. We curved out of the harbor and set off for Portaceae, the city where I had once expected to run away with Papinias. From what I understood, we would arrive there in time to catch a grain ship that would be docked in Portaceae to unload some of its grain and pick up other cargo. This larger boat would then take us to the western end of the Col River and into the Western Sea to plow its way north to one of the islands off the Seattican shores and to my future.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!!! If you enjoyed it, please feel free to share and, as ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts (oh, and if you caught any typos, do let me know).

 Finn McSpool and I will be making another appearance later this week to share our plans for the future of this blog…don’t worry, it’s good news if you enjoying hearing from me!! See you then!


Domna is Now Available for Pre-order!!!!

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