Taught to hear messages from the goddess from a young age, Elantia’s life is shattered when she is captured from her home in southwest Britannia and sold as a slave in Macedonia. She wants nothing more than to escape and return home—after she kills the man who took the only good thing left in her life.
Tossed aside by the Empire, wounded tribune Quintus Valerius ends up in sleepy Philippi to retire. Manipulated into becoming the prison keeper, he vows to return to Rome as soon as possible to reclaim his reputation and his life. He is intrigued by the quiet Jewish teacher who speaks of truth and peace, but is convinced he can never have neither.
When Elantia’s shocking actions shake up the town and her life is threatened, Quintus risks what little he has left to save her—only to put Paulos and his friends in even greater danger.
What readers are saying about Carole Towriss:
“Carole really is a master at creating intriguing characters; she is able to get into her characters’ thoughts and emotions in a way that makes you feel like you really know them.” ~Vicki Tiede on By the Waters of Kadesh
“This is one awesome read, with a very strong woman protagonist in a time where women had few leadership opportunities.” ~Andrea Stoeckel on Prize of War
READ AN EXCERPT!
There are … things which the Lord hates,
… which are an abomination to Him:
A heart that devises wicked plans, [and]
Feet that run rapidly to evil.
It was the screaming that woke her up.
Elantia scrambled from her straw-covered cottage in the tiny village on the southwestern coast of Britannia. In the grim light of early morning, nail-studded leather pounded the ground as soldiers dragged sleeping families out of their roundhouses. Blood red cloaks whipped in the spring wind as the invaders set fire to anything they could burn, tearing apart what they could not.
Screeches and wails intertwined with the clang of metal against metal, the crackle of flames eating up thatch, and their horrible, dreadful words. Thank the gods their chieftain father had insisted they learn Latin when the Roumani defeated their neighbors years ago, but she hated the sound of it.
Tia fought through the throng of townspeople surrounding her father.
The Roumani leader, a centurion judging by his uniform, stood face to face with him. “Give us your best quietly or we will take them by force.”
Tatos stood his ground. “You have no right. We are at peace with Rome. After months of bloody battles with out neighbors, Vespasian decided conquering the Dumnonii were not worth the losses to his legion. He vowed the Romans would never attack us.”
“What makes you think we answer to Vespasian?” He leaned nearer. “Now stand aside.”
“I will not.” Tatos pulled himself as tall as his aging body allowed. We’ve done nothing to you to warrant such violence. I must protect my people.”
The centurion shoved him aside. “Rome needs strong backs. When we’re done, you’ll have nothing left to protect.”
In the six years since the Roumani had invaded their land, they had brought nothing but pain.
He beckoned to another, whispered to him. The younger man grabbed Tatos and Mamma and dragged them away.
“Mamma!” She tried to follow her parents, but a rough hand jerked her by the arm and dragged her to a sheep pen, where most of the other young adults of the tribe already waited. She ran to Tancorix.
Her brother wrapped his arms around her, held her close.
The second soldier grabbed Tancorix and pulled him from Tia, lining them up in a loose row.
The centurion strode over to the group. Eyeing each of them from head to toe, he hesitated when he came to Caturiga. The girl had been sick most of the winter. He grabbed her thin arm and turned it over once, twice. He yanked her out of line and thrust her toward his second in command. The centurion continued his inspection, nodding in satisfaction. Stopping before her brother, he fingered the wide, braided gold torq around his neck. He yanked at it, but the opening at his neck was but a finger’s breadth wide. He pulled harder, twisting.
Tancorix put his hands to his neck, wincing in pain as the stiff metal cut into his skin and cut off his air. He grasped the man’s forearms, his breath coming fast, sinking to the ground.
She tried to pull the Roumani’s hands away. “This is the chief’s son! That torq was put around his neck as a child, and he grew into it. It’s not coming off!” Her heart ached to see her big brother abused in such a manner.
The Roumani frowned and scoffed, but let go of the necklace to backhand her.
She stumbled but managed to stay upright.
With a smile that sent a shiver down her back, he neared her. He ran his fingers down her cheeks, her neck, then along the front of the cloak she wore, the one Mamma had spent the winter months making for her. He moved behind her and jerked it off her arms.
He tossed it to his aide, and the younger man left.
Tia reached for Tancorix’s hand. He wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed her temple.
The soldier returned with a long rope. Her skin burned as he wrapped it around her wrists and pulled, far too tightly. It went from her to Tancorix to all the others in turn.
She searched for Tatos and Mamma. What had the soldiers done to them? She’d never trusted the Roumani, and today had proved her right. The Dumnonii had been loyal, kept every provision of the truce, and then today …
The centurion jerked the end of the rope. Her knees hit the ground. Her face smashed against her fists. He yanked again, pulling her up, shouting some command at her. Tancorix’s gentle hands steadied her as she stood.
They followed the chief soldier. At the edge of the seaside village all that remained of her people—the old ones and the youngest—huddled together. She quickly searched for familiar clothing. Her eyes rested on the colorful tunic Mamma wore. And Tatos? He waited behind her, his eye blackened.
Then she saw the bodies at their feet.
Realization dawned. The Roumani intended to make her atir watch as they slaughtered what was left of his village.
One by one the legionaries dragged a villager from the crowd, rammed a sword through, and let the body fall.
Her father still stood, battered. Bound.
Her legs gave way. A moan escaped.
The villagers gone, the centurion neared him.
He looked at Tia and mouthed the familiar command. “No tears.” His eyes shone, reflecting the raging flames. “Carami te.” He returned his gaze to the invader.
I love you, too.
Her blood pounded. Her breath came fast and shallow.
Another legionary blocked her view. His elbow came back, and a body crumbled at his feet. A bloody gladius came to rest at his side.
Tia turned and buried her face in Tancorix’s chest. She longed to grab him, feel his arms around her, feel safe, but since they were bound, he could only whisper in her ear.
“Don’t look,” her brother whispered. “You don’t want to remember her that way.”
A shriek sounded from the direction of the villagers.
After a few moments, a red-cloaked soldier grabbed at her again, pulling her away. She glanced toward the dwindling crowd.
Tancorix shook his head. “Don’t.” He tried to place his body between her and the pile of executed villagers.
The group stumbled forward as the legionary yanked on the rope.
“Keep looking ahead.” Tancorix whispered from behind.
She focused her gaze on the cloak of the man leading them. It took everything she had to put one foot in front of the other, to keep from looking back.
The best her village had to offer marched, and marched, and marched. Young people from other villages joined them at various points along the way, the train of captives growing longer.
Tancorix was right. She needed to cherish the memory of her mothers and father in her heart, a memory of them as wonderful parents and strong leaders.
She’d need their toughness, their love to face what was to come.
Because warriors don’t cry.
The darkness evaporated, but the agony remained. Quintus stretched his left hand across his chest, biting back a groan as he pressed his fingers against his shoulder. He brought his hand away dipped in blood. Any attempt at movement brought excruciating pain, and he let his arm fall against the damp grass. He tried to sit up but his body screamed in protest. The metallic taste of blood lingered on his lips and tongue.
Wolves hovered at the edges of the battlefield, eager to attack the decaying flesh of the fallen legionaries. Slaves tended fires, keeping the animals at bay as well as bringing light to the battlefield while the Romans buried their dead.
The Brittani would have to wait to take care of their bodies.
How did he end up flat on his back, on this field, blood running down his arm? And where was his horse? He closed his eyes, tried to make sense of the images swirling in his mind. What was the last thing he could remember? Flashes of careening chariots and braying horses. Men shouting orders. Ground rushing toward him, slamming into him.
And pain. Overwhelming, all-encompassing anguish.
Because Flavius, that childish, arrogant tribune, had issued an order so ridiculously deadly it sent a quarter of a legio into the path of Brittani chariots. Or under them.
Rolling to his left side, he drew his left knee to his chest. Fighting through the pain, he pushed up onto his elbows. He breathed deeply until the nausea subsided. He scanned the field. So many bodies.
How many battles had he fought in his six years in Britannia as a tribune? Almost every day, during campaigning season at least. But this had to be the worst. These Britanni warriors were like none they had ever fought. Never had so many Roman lives been lost.
Movement and noise behind him drew his attention. He twisted to look over his shoulder, groaning. Slaves dug an enormous hole—yet another mass grave.
He struggled to stand, or even sit up, but his right leg refused to obey him. He tried again. His leg would bear no weight.
“Tribune.” A medicus ordinaries hurried to him. “Do you need help?”
“I-I can’t stand. My leg won’t move.”
The young orderly, a mop of dark, curly hair falling in his eyes, glanced at Quintus’s leg, and his face paled.
Quintus straightened one arm to push himself higher. At first he saw no open wounds, no cuts from a blade nor punctures from a spear. Then he realized the damage, the reason he couldn’t stand. His right leg was bent inward at a grotesquely unnatural angle.
Something was drastically wrong.
The boy beckoned to another, who appeared with a litter. One knelt to slip his arm under Quintus’s shoulders. The other lifted his legs.
He clutched his jaw until he could no longer contain a cry. They placed him on the stretcher and hurried him to the medical tent.
The medicus legionis approached him, reaching for his leg. He shook his head. “You’ve made quite a mess of this, Tribune.”
Quintus winced. “How badly am I injured, Makarios?” He sucked in a breath as the Greek physician drew his fingers over Quintus’s skin, poking and prodding.
“Your arm or your leg?”
“I’ll start with your arm.” The medic held out his hand and another assistant placed a knife in it. Makarios cut a slit in Quintus’s tunic from elbow to neck and let the fabric fall away. He gently pressed one finger after another in different places, making faces as he did so.
“Your arm is fine. A few stitches. Now for your leg …” He touched the deformity in Quintus’s leg gently.
He released a loud groan.
“I’m sorry. I know that must hurt.” The medic poked again closer to the knee. “And that?”
“Actually, I can’t feel it.”
“You can’t?” He frowned.
“No. I can’t feel anything from my just above my knee down.” He shrugged, but the look on Makrios’s face stopped him. “That’s bad?”
“Yes. You’ve broken a bone, and that must have injured a nerve.”
“And that means …?” He searched the older man’s weathered face for a clue as to how bad his situation really was. Makarios had been the legion’s physician for as long as Quintus had served the Second Augusta, and Quintus trusted him with his life.
“I’m not sure. I’ll need to perform surgery to reset the bone. Hopefully I can see what happened then.”
“Will I get the feeling back?”
He frowned and shook his gray head. “I don’t know.”
“Will I walk again?”
“Yes, but you may have problems with your foot.”
“It may … shuffle.”
The physician’s words slammed into him harder than the chariot. That couldn’t be true. “Can’t you do something?”
“Not when it’s damaged this badly. I’m going to get you something for the pain, and one of my assistants will get you ready for surgery.” Makarios grasped his left shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of you. As always.”
A slave—Greek by the look of him—entered with a bowl of liquid and offered it to Quintus.
“Opium. For the pain and for the surgery.” The slave held the bowl to his lips while Quintus downed the painkiller. He mumbled his thanks and lay back on the hard wooden bench.
The pain wasn’t nearly as devastating as the physician’s words. If he couldn’t walk properly, he couldn’t be a soldier. And if he couldn’t be a soldier …
The poppy’s juice began to cloud his thinking. As soon as he closed his eyes, images of screaming Brittani filled his head. Barefoot, half-naked, spear-wielding warriors charging across the terrain. Iron chariots rolling over Roman bodies.
He opened his eyes and shook his head, trying to dislodge the memories.
His thoughts became jumbled and his breathing slowed. His eyes drifted closed again.
As he slipped into welcome unconsciousness, he prayed to Jupiter he would wake up to a world without war.
Tia bolted upright, unable to breathe. She clawed at her neck, desperately trying to remove whatever it was that choked the breath from her chest.
But nothing was around her neck.
Chains, however, bound her ankles.
“You were having bad dreams again.” An arm gently slid around her shoulders. And in the pitch black, it all came flooding back. The Roumani attack of their village, the strongest young men and prettiest young women marched to the shore with iron on their feet and hands. She’d walked until her feet bled, and then the man-stealers shoved them into the bottom of a dark, rickety ship.
“I’m sorry, bratir.”
Her younger brother, now bigger than she was, kissed her cheek and pulled her back down to the wooden floor of the rocking vessel. “Go back to sleep.” He pulled her close. How could he be so brave?
She eventually drifted back to sleep, the gentle movement of the ship and her brother’s rhythmic breathing overcoming her panic.
Her back and arms ached when she awakened. In the faint light of the ship’s hold she could see Tancorix still slept. Stretching as best she could, between his arm over her and the chains on her feet, she tried to alleviate the knots the journey had tied in her muscles.
Heavy, booted footfalls sounded on the stairs. A Roumani guard carried a basket of hard bread and skins of water. He tossed them on the floor next to her and stomped back up.
Iron rattled and scraped along the floor as the captives awakened. The hot air reeked of sweet, vomit and urine. Tia silently counted the bodies—six times more than were taken from her village, all crammed in the hold of this ship the same way she stuffed glass beads in a leather pouch. They lunged at the bread as if they were wolves attacking a dying animal.
A small crust of bread wasn’t worth certain injury.
Beside her Tancorix leaned forward on one palm, his broad shoulders making a path. He reached with one long arm, emerging from the fray with two loaves. As he’d done every day since they’d left, he offered her the larger one. If it weren’t for him, she’d have starved by now.
“I keep telling you, you don’t need to thank me. I have to protect you. I’m your brother.” He smiled.
Leaning back against the rough wood, she nibbled on the dry bread. The small bit of food did nothing to quell the sickness bubbling in her stomach. How many days had they been on this nightmare of a journey? She turned to count the scratchings on the ship behind her, moving her fingertips. Fifty-eight. Fifty-eight days since she’d seen their parents, their roundhouse. Their cousins.
She ached for the green grass and blue skies of home. The warmth and light of the sun. This … prison … was hot, unbearably foul, and above all, nearly devoid of light. The sailors opened the door at the top of the stairs during the heat of the day. Surely it was not for their comfort, but because they didn’t want their cargo to die, didn’t want to lose their profit.
“Are you going to eat that or just squeeze the life out of it?”
“What?” She turned to see Tancorix grinning.
“The bread. You look like you’re choking it.”
“Only because I can’t get to any of them.” She gestured above board. “I hate the Roumani. We never should have trusted Vespasian or his soldiers.”
“I don’t think these are real soldiers,” he whispered.
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t think they’re really Roumani soldiers. Just dressed like them, and capturing whoever they can find to sell.”
“Does it make a difference? They’re Roumani, soldiers or not.”
He shrugged. “If you not going to eat that, give it to me.”
She shoved the smushed bread in her mouth and lay back down, her back to him.
She’d watched the Roumani kill her mamma and tatos fifty-eight days ago… though she’d closed her eyes before their crimson life-blood soaked into the ground.
Like any Britanni woman, she could fight next to the men. She had the scars to prove it. She could wield a knife and a sword.
And she would do it now, if she had one.
If they hadn’t been caught off guard.
That would never happen again. She would regain her freedom. She would do whatever it took to get back home to Britannia. Or die trying.