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A reader asks, "You said once that you had a fourth ancient world book that wasn't published. Can you say anything about it?"

That book is Lioness, and I'm still searching for a home for it! Lioness is set in Persia in the sixth century BCE. If you remember in Stealing Fire, Artashir is of the house of Darius the Great, the great grandson of one of Darius' daughters. This is the story of that daughter, the princess Artazostre. This is toward the beginning of that book.

Before all else, you must understand that my father was the mightiest warrior of a warrior people. Ten generations ago we dwelled not in cities, but beneath the arch of sky on the great plains, where the sun rises and sets in a sea of grass, and in winter cold winds scour the skies clean from the mountains of the east to the shores of the Caspian Sea in the west. Ten generations ago, we were thus, a people who lived beneath the sky possessing neither cities nor palaces, no temples save fire and water. We had little, and thus the gods were not jealous.

In that time Angra Mainyu, who hates men, was triumphant. City after city and kingdom after kingdom fell before his mace, fires went up to heaven and the kites feasted on the bodies of those who lay unburied. People wandered starving from place to place, or locked themselves in fastnesses and did not dare to plant their fields. Angra Mainyu gloried in the suffering of men.

But all of the gods do not hate men, and Ahura Mazda who is Lord of Heaven, Anahita who is Lady of the Waters, and Mitra who drives the chariot of the sun came together and pushed the Dark God back, inexorably and slowly, driving him from the earth. Beneath the stars of heaven the waters still flowed, clean and sweet, and the sun in its season quickened all things that are green and growing.

We came from the plains, from the rising sun, and we came into lands all but deserted. Ruins greeted us, and little groups of men who dwelt in the shadows of tumbled stones, who scratched a living in the shade of monuments left by their forebearers, or by the first men in the world who are gone. We came into this land, and we made it our own, for we had what they did not, our horses.

To be Persian is to glory in our horses. Yes, it is true that those men who came before, who built cities before Angra Mainyu's reign, had horses. But we can see from the bones they left behind, and from the horses that were here when we came, that they were nothing to ours. They pulled chariots in teams, and their finest steeds barely stood as tall as a man. Our horses are bigger and stronger, fast and bold, bred for the great seas of grass. Our horses are swift as the wind, and a man may ride all day and know that his horse is still stouthearted. When our archers gallop in and fill the sky with black arrows the men of all nations turn and flee before our faces.

And yet we were no mighty kingdom, but tribes of kin living in half-filled lands, between the Assyrians and the Medes and the Elamites, east of Babylon and its ancient treasures. It was my grandfather, Kurus the Lord of Anshan, who stood up and said, "Why are we weak when we might be strong? If we stood together, instead of fighting kin against kin, lord against lord, we could be more. We could have no more petty tribes all in fear of one another. We could have empires like those that are gone, cities and palaces, ships and temples and wonders unimagined. We could learn the fates written in the stars that the Babylonians know, and we could look on the sea. We could harness mighty rivers to water our fields and build gardens where there is desert, rather than just say it is so, and so it must be. Can you not see the fire? Can you not be men and seize it?"

And so we did.

My grandfather reigned for thirty years, and when he died our empire stretched from Gaza on the borders of Egypt to Sardis on the Aegean, from the Caucasus Mountains to Arachosia on the edges of India.

I say this so that you will understand we are a warrior people, so that you will know what any good animal handler can tell you: there is no such thing as a tame lion.

By the time he had reigned fifteen years we were so strong that the Pharaoh of Egypt himself called upon us for aid. A pretender sought the throne of Egypt from Wahibre, whose it was by right, and Wahibre fled with all his family to Persia, for he had in the past received Kurus as a friend. Now Wahibre had a daughter, Neithyti, who was as beautiful as the night. Her eyes were like stars, and her lips like lotuses, and when he saw her Kurus was entranced.

"I will give you my daughter Neithyti as your bride," Wahibre said, "If you will give me an army with which to regain my kingdom. Henceforth we shall be brother monarchs, and Egypt and Persia together shall prosper."

"It shall be done," Kurus said, for he liked promise and girl alike. So he took Neithyti to wife, and sent an army of his best soldiers marching toward Egypt with Wahibre.

But the usurper Pharaoh Amasis defeated the army, and in the battle Wahibre was killed, so nothing came of it except that Neithyti escaped ruin and lived instead as Kurus' wife, though she never returned again to the lands of her birth. I know this story well, as Neithyti was my grandmother, and it was she that told it to me when I sat beside her at Ecbatana.

Each summer the court traveled there, to the summer palace in the mountains, when heat lay low and heavy over the plains, and fevers lurked in the marshes of Babylon. Each year passed thus -- summer in Ecbatana, fall in Susa far to the south, winter in Babylon in the greatest city of the empire, and spring in Pasargadae, in the homeland of our people where our horses are raised. Of course, though the king might go, not every member of the court traveled from place to place. Indeed, my grandmother never left Ecbatana. In the years when I was small, the royal children journeyed only between Pasargadae and Ecbatana, as my father was often on campaign from breaking spring until fall.

In the first year of his reign he fought thirteen battles, and before I was six there had been five rebellions more, five more campaigns to pacify parts of the empire. When I was two he was nearly a year in the north against the Scythians, and when I was four the princes of the Sind rose against him in the East, to be put down with sword and fire. The next year it was Egypt, and some of the cities of Ionia in the far west who had been tempted into disobedience. So I saw little of him, just occasionally a few moments when he came to see me and my brother between one war and the next.

My father Darius was a tall man, well proportioned, though with rather long arms. His hair was black with no touch of gray, for he was not yet thirty in my earliest memories, and his eyes were hazel. At first I was shy, for he was the king and everyone feared him, but soon he gave me cause to laugh. I took the dagger from his belt to play with, ornamented as it was with golden griffins, but he took it back.

"That is sharp, little one," he said. "And not for children to play with."

"I know it's sharp," I said. "That's why I want it!"

He laughed then and asked what I should want a sharp knife of my own for.

"So that when I am shipwrecked on the sea I will have a knife. Also, what should I do without one if I were lost in the mountains?"

"Do these things often happen to you?" he asked, and his teeth were white between his moustache and beard.

"They might," I defended. "I never know."

He turned the knife about and presented it to me hilt first. "Take it then," he said. "I have others. And perhaps you will find it useful next time you are shipwrecked."

All the men about him who had come in with him laughed, as the palace at Pasargadae was forty days' travel from the sea, and I had never been on a ship in my life. One man, a heavy set noble in middle age, said, "Is it wise to give even a very little lion claws?"

My father looked at him sharply. "I should think that my daughters should give me good service," he said. "As yours do."

And I knew then who this was, Gobryas, who was the father of Darius' first wife, she who had been his principal wife before my mother and my aunt, the princesses, were wed to him. I did not know her, or her children. They lived in Susa all the year around, and we were in Pasargadae.

"Indeed, Great King," Gobryas said, but he looked down at me.

I looked up and met his eyes, sea green beneath his gray hair, and I thought that he saw me more plainly than my father did.

"After all," Gobryas said quietly, "A lion cub is just a small lion."



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2012 12:27 pm (UTC)
*sigh* I love the voice here.
Mar. 20th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is very much the story of what happened after Gull's dark age, a different renaissance.
Mar. 20th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
I love this so much. :)
Mar. 20th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I really want to find a home for this book!
Mar. 20th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is wonderful! I do hope this book finds a home; I would love to read this in full.
Mar. 20th, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is the very beginning of the tale that ends with "your" story in The Ravens of Falkenau, the story of a new beginning after Gull's dark age.
Mar. 20th, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, I love this. The girl in me who both wanted a horse and played with knives as a little kid REALLY loves this. Artazostre seems incredibly awesome.
Mar. 20th, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you like it! She is pretty awesome, and I hope I can find a home for the book. Another different archetype, the queen!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )