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Sacred Queen preview

ashabardon asked for a preview of something from the Numinous World. I've been playing with a book tentatively called Sacred Queen which, like Stealing Fire, is set in the Age of Alexander. I posted a piece before, called The Farmer's Daughter, which would be be the beginning of the book. This piece comes later, and is actually a scene which we saw in Stealing Fire, only from a different point of view. I'd love to hear what you think. It's interesting seeing Lydias from the outside!



The land breeze began at dawn, and we were wakened when they ran the oars out. Eurydice stayed below, but Antigone and Magas were wild to see, so we went on deck together. I held tight to Magas' hand so that he wouldn't get in the way of the ship's crew going about their work. After all, he was five, and an energetic little boy who was fascinated by the ship and everything about it. He had already proclaimed loudly to everyone who would hear that he was going to be a sailor when he grew up. Perhaps he would be. He must be something. An orphan with no land and no money, nothing except his father's honest name, Magas had no prospects at home. Perhaps here some honorable captain might be persuaded to take him to sea in a few years, a rough life but the best I could offer him, if a suitable man might be persuaded. It was as well that he was excited about it.

"Mama come see!" he shouted, pulling me up the three steps to the stern deck, my himation nearly blowing away in the stiff wind. The oarsmen's chant blew back to us loudly, the sails raised to the upper spar and tightly furled. The green ocean surged around us, and off to the east a sliver of sun showed over the horizon, orange and gold.

"Helios' chariot is beginning to lift into the sky," I said, and felt my breath catch again with the loveliness of it all. Poor, yes. A middle aged nursemaid whose only function in life was to stand behind the ingénue on the stage and give her someone to talk to, but I had my children and the sea and the dawn and the beginning of an adventure.

Magas didn't look to the sky. He looked ahead. "There! Is that it?" he shouted.

The captain gave him an indulgent look from where he stood by the steersman at the tiller. "That's land, son. We're almost there."

We watched the sun rise and the land grow closer, a low golden spar of sand and green behind it. Great flocks of seabirds took flight, gulls and a larger bird I didn't know. I asked the captain.

"Ibis," he said. "They live in the marshes around the other side on the lake, but you can't hunt them. The Egyptians think they're sacred."

There was a barrier island with a stubby fort on it, sandstone walls burnished bronze by the dawn. Now we could see the town clearer huddled along the curve of the harbor, a mass of hastily constructed building and docks with no grandeur about it, no beauty. It was not even as nice as Amphipolis.

Antigone tugged on the captain's sleeve politely. "Please, sir. What comes next?"

"We'll come around the headland signaling who we are, then moor at whichever dock they indicate. We'll give thanks to Poseidon for a safe voyage. By the time we're finished with that, General Ptolemy should have sent an escort for the Lady Eurydice." He looked ahead with a practiced eye. We were close enough now to see the shoreline clearly. "That's probably those men there."

A military escort was forming up in the square behind the docks. The sun rose clear and bright.

"All back! Left side back!" The captain stepped away, calling out the orders to trim us around the end of the barrier and angle us toward the near dock.

The wind shifted as we turned, lifting my himation, blowing against my face like a kiss. Thanks to Poseidon, yes. And thanks to whatever god welcomed us, warmer and gentler in Her greeting. Perhaps the gods would bless us here. No more cold winters scraping by, begging a roof and a place by the fire for the children, no more standing in the crossfire between the Queen Mother and the Regent, too insignificant to be worth noticing as they strove. Sooner or later we'd be collateral damage. Sooner or later we'd be loot.

Antigone was leaning against the rail beside her brother, eight years old and bold as he. Surely here there would be pages and youths, the sons of Ptolemy's men, who would need brides. Surely here there would be boys who would overlook her lack of dowry, whose fathers wouldn't be too grand for an alliance like that. She had a respectable name, a father who had served Alexander as they had, only he had died. Here there would be boys who would court her, not enemies who would take her.

Eurydice came on deck, her face pale beneath her blue himation. "Aunt?"

"We're coming into the docks now, love. Then we'll make sacrifice to Poseidon and go ashore. General Ptolemy's men are waiting to greet us." I could see them now as we drew near, veterans standing motionlessly, their commander in old armor with the red plume of a cavalry hipparch.

Eurydice swallowed.

"It will be well," I said gently, dropping my voice. "He has the reputation of a good man. It could be much worse."

And it could, of course, though a girl of seventeen doesn't like to marry a man of forty something, even if he's a good man. And he was, for all that I'd only met Ptolemy once. He had the reputation of it. Philip had always spoken well of him. But that wasn't it, not mostly.

"You know it's because of him that you're alive," I said. "He saved your mother's life and mine so many years ago. Twenty years now. I was thirteen the year the Thracians came over the border."

Eurydice nodded solemnly. I couldn't fault her fear. Many a bride is terrified, even when the husband is of her choosing. Still, it would help to put a better face on it, and I told her so.

"We can't help what comes to us, Eurydice. All we can do is to make the best of it we can. You'll marry a good man who will respect you and treat you well. You must smile and make the best of it."

"This strange country…."

"Will be our home," I said firmly. "And you know, we might like it!"

Eurydice's face didn't change. "So far from home."

"Think of it as an adventure," I said cheeringly.

"I don't want an adventure. I want to go home." She sounded like a child for all that she was seventeen.

"You will have to make this home," I said, and then there was no further time because the planks were being lowered and the commander of the escort was coming aboard. "Antigone! Magas! Come here and behave!" The children skidded up, giggling, as he paid his respects.

"Lady Eurydice, I bring you greetings on behalf of your bethrothed, General Ptolemy. He hopes that you have had a good voyage. I am the Hipparch Lydias, and I place myself at your service." He was my age and handsome in a rugged sort of way, black haired and tanned dark by the sun, with an atrocious Ionic accent.

Eurydice stood like a stone, frightened into immobility.

"We are most complimented by your service," I said. "Very proper. I am Eurydice's aunt, her mother's sister. My name is Berenice and I have come with my niece to help her in her duties."

He made some pleasantries about our rooms being prepared for us and having a day to get our land legs before the wedding, which was nice. I told him which boxes and trunks below were Eurydice's and should be brought ashore and taken to the palace.

"Such as it is," he said with a faint blush. 'You may find some of the accommodations…wanting. We haven't been here long."

"I'm sure it will be lovely," I said. And if it isn't, I thought, I'll make it so. There's not much some paint and work won't fix.

He was still going on with his apologies. "I have arranged for a noble lady, Amina the wife of General Artashir, to show you to your rooms and to help with anything you may require.

"That's very nice," I said.

"This Amina," Eurydice began timidly, "is she…."

"Persian," he said firmly. "We are a city of many peoples, Lady, as Great Alexander's court was. But I assure you that Amina's Greek is quite good, and she will be able to help you communicate with the Egyptian servants, as well as the Persian and Bactrian ones."

"Why not all Greek slaves?" Eurydice asked. It would certainly be difficult not to be able to talk to half the servants.

Lydias looked a bit defensive, and with his height it was rather intimidating as he loomed over Eurydice in his plumed helmet, though I doubted he meant it that way. "Very few of our servants are slaves, Lady. They're simply too expensive to import, and few Egyptians are slaves and they do not speak Greek in any event. Most of the palace servants that Amina and I have hired are luckless women from the baggage train, the wives of men who have died or are too crippled to work. They are cooks and laundresses, maids and seamstresses and the like. They work for a wage and bread and board for their children. If they have boys old enough, some of them are working in the stables or doing other work of the house. It is much cheaper than importing slaves from Greece, Lady. And I am sure they do their work better too."

At that my heart swelled a little with pride. At what? That I had been right about Ptolemy? Right about coming to this place? I would be one of those women if not for the kindness of my sister. The only difference between me and them, between my children and theirs, was luck. To work a respectable job rather than having to beg or sell oneself was no small thing at all.

"Very sensible," I said. "It's a different world, Eurydice, and we shall have a lot to learn."

The captain came forward from the stern with the offering bowl. "Thanks be to Poseidon," he said formally. "We have shown our gratitude for the voyage."

"I will too," I said impulsively. I went to the side and loosened one of my bronze hairpins. Gifts to the sea should be gold or silver, but I had none of either and few enough ornaments to my name. But this was not a thanks gift but a welcome one, and I closed my eyes for a moment feeling the sun on them as I held the pin over the rail, Antigone on one side and Magas on the other. Whoever you are, I thought, the god who greets us with bright day and bright blessings, help us to prosper in this place and help us to learn to love you and our new home. I dropped the pin and heard it hit the water before I opened my eyes.

The commander was looking at me curiously, as though he saw something I didn't. "If you'll come this way, ladies," he said.

"Of course," I said. I followed him down the planks with Eurydice and Antigone and Magas, stepping off the dock in bright morning onto Egyptian soil.

Lydias stopped. "Welcome to Alexandria," he said.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ashabardon
Nov. 14th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
Yay - thank you kindly! Who do we know as Thais in the other Numinous eras? She wasn't in your whose who list.
jo_graham
Nov. 14th, 2013 07:52 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!

I don't think we've seen Thais again. Or if we have, we don't know it. (Though Berenice may appear genderswapped in the fourth Elza book.)

Edited at 2013-11-14 07:53 pm (UTC)
cypherindigo
Nov. 14th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
Now I need to go back and reread the section in Stealing Fire. Like I needed an excuse. :)
jo_graham
Nov. 14th, 2013 08:36 pm (UTC)
When I wrote Stealing Fire I wished I could have more Berenice instead of just the one scene. But during the course of the book, the first four years after Alexander's death, Lydias doesn't really know her. Later of course he will know her very well, but he'd only just met her during the timeframe of Stealing Fire. So I couldn't do more of her as I wanted to.
settiai
Nov. 15th, 2013 02:55 am (UTC)
I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm seriously keeping my fingers crossed that this book will be picked up at some point. ♥
jo_graham
Nov. 15th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
I hope so! I'd really love to do it. But I figure it's going to take me 4-6 months of work, which I can't do without funding. I just can't do 4-6 months work without being paid. (Who can?)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )