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The Farmer's Daughter

Normally I wouldn't post anything this far out, but a reader asked about the new book I mentioned in the monthly update, the one returning to the Hellenistic world with Thais and Berenice. I'm still in the very earliest stages of this book, still in research and structure, with a few sketches, but this is the very beginning, the first scene of the book. There are some old friends from Stealing Fire. I'd love to hear what you think as I begin.

In the hill country of Macedon, 339 BC

The fields on the other side of the river were burning. That was how we knew the Thracians were over the border. First it was the white smoke from the fields, and then the darker smoke, curling up oily and black, from barns and houses. The river was low, no more than waist deep. It wouldn't stop them.

Our farm was on the hillside above the river, a low stone house and outbuildings with a wall of unmortared stone to keep the livestock from straying. There were apple trees that dipped low over it, a garden on the sunny side with a fig tree where it would be sheltered from the cold gusts from the north in winter. The flocks were out in the fields higher up, and my oldest brother with them. The younger was only two. He didn’t understand when my mother grabbed him close and handed him down to our old cook in the root cellar. She couldn't climb down with him in her arms, ten moons gone in pregnancy and ready for her pains any day now.

My father stood beside the door with the hired man and our cousin who had come to help with the farm work, a boy my own age, thirteen. He looked terrified. My father had a sword in his hand. "We'll make our stand at the door," he said. "They can't come at us but one at a time."

Yes, I thought, but there are dozens of them. There are three of you. And there is nothing to keep them from firing the thatch over our heads. My sister, Daphne, grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. Daphne was sixteen and reckoned a great beauty.

My father looked at us in our homespun wool, Daphne slender and fair as a narcissus in spring, me short and dark and pasty as a lump of unbaked dough. The raiders would not care.

He stood back from the door. "I want you girls to run," he said. "Go east, to Heraclitus's farm. If you run now, you can be down among the boulders before they see you." He looked at the hired man, solemn under his spotty beard, the cousin looking as though he would vomit. "Run and don’t look back."

"Father," I gasped, not sure what to say.

"Go!" He seized my shoulder and shoved me. "Daphne, Berenice -- run!"

We ran. We ran away from the river to the other side, down the long slopes that were the near pasture in winter, a jumble of stones and tussocks of tough grass, Daphne like a deerhound and me more slowly behind.

Into the air rose a long ululating cry, followed by another, like the notes of a horn as the hunters call to one another. The Thracians had crossed the river.

I looked back. They were spread out, most of them running nude except for their plaid cloaks, baggy pants and tunics laid aside in the heat. Besides, they owned few clothes. It was extravagant to foul them with blood and gore. Their long, curved swords looked like sickles to harvest men.

Run. My father's words echoed in my head though my eyes clouded. He thought the two of us had a chance to survive.

Down the hill among the tumbled stones, my breath loud and my heart pounding.

The Thracians crested the hill. If they looked down, they could see us.

Daphne had gone to earth in the shadow of a larger boulder, pressed tight against the stone, and I slid in beside her. From there I could not see the house. I could see nothing except the field ahead, the tumbled gulley down to the little stream and the slopes on the other side.

Daphne was whispering wildly. "Artemis, keep us safe. Artemis, keep us safe. Artemis!" I crowded in as close beside her as I could.

Mother. Oh Artemis, protect my mother! Ten moons gone with a child who might never draw breath, who might be ripped from her body for sport…. Artemis. Mother.

There were shouts from above, crashes and the sound of steel on steel. My father was trying to hold them back. The hired man was trying.

I closed my eyes tightly. Mother of the World….

Daphne drew a quick breath and I opened them.

The Thracians weren't all at the house. There were shadows spread on the ground, three men picking their way down the hill. In a moment they would come abreast with us. They would see us behind the boulder. Daphne's hair had fallen from its braids, spilled gold across her shoulders. They would catch us here like fox cubs run to ground.

Something woke in me, some desperate anger, born of the sounds above, of my sister's face. I let go of her hand.

A breath. And I broke from cover, running wildly down the field away from the boulder, away from the house, running as fast as ever in my life away from Daphne.

"There!" one of them shouted. "A girl!"

I heard their feet behind me.

Every breath was a fire in my lungs. My heart pounded. It was thunder in my ears, my shadow flying before me, their shadows following. There could only be one end but the chase could be prolonged, and now it was fear that made me fleet, fear and desperation. Downhill, a sure track among the tussocks and stones that I knew and they didn't, enough to keep the distance from closing too much.

But not enough. One grabbed at me, a fingerfull of my himation which ripped away, unveiled and cloakless and faster for it, fouling him and checking him a moment.

My chest felt it would burst.

And then there was a new thunder, hooves behind me, a dark shadow overtaking, javelin at the ready. There was a horrible scream as the point went through the raider's back not ten feet behind me, and I tripped, rolling into a low bush as the horse went up on its hind legs. I twisted, trying to see.

I wished I hadn't. Blood went up like a fountain as the rider severed the arm of the second Thracian at the shoulder, the horse lunging forward with its weight behind the blow. He cut the third raider down from behind as he fled, no mercy.

There were other riders up at the house, a white plume shaking over the stone wall beside the fig tree, a group of raiders backing away toward the river at a hurried run, sticking together.

I lay stunned for a moment.

The rider turned his horse, the big brown tightly in check. He was young, a light steel helmet over curling brown hair, his face sunburned and his legs and saddle pad splashed with reeking blood. "Are you all right?"

I got to my feet carefully, my legs shaking. "Yes," I said.

He had brown eyes and a plain face. He wiped the sword on the saddle pad before he sheathed it, grimacing. "We saw the smoke. It took us too long to get here. Too long for those poor souls. But I hope we're in time for your family at least."

I swallowed hard. The shouts came from toward the river now, but I could not see. "Who are you?"

"We're Prince Alexander's men." He swung down from his horse the better to lead it back over the tumbled ground toward the house. "We're his Companions."

Daphne rose up out of the shadow of the boulder, and I saw his eyes widen. She was very beautiful. "You have saved our lives, noble warrior," she said. "I have no words to speak the gratitude in my heart."

He inclined his head politely, offering her his arm, the one with which he did not lead his horse. "It's my honor to be of service."

I scrambled ahead. I had to see what had happened.

My cousin lay in the dust before the doors taking his last breaths, my father bending over him, holding cloth to a wound that bubbled blood. The hired man leaned on the door posts, a bleeding cut on his face amid the tears. One corner of the thatch smoldered, but a red haired boy Daphne's age was methodically putting it out with buckets from the well, directing two others. He had a steel breastplate smeared with gore.

They had not gotten in the house. My relief was so great my knees almost gave way.

The rider caught me. "Easy," he said. He lowered me to the ground under the fig tree.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Don't be." His brown eyes were very kind. "It takes some that way. And you're just a little girl."

It was true I hadn't bled yet, and I was rather short, but I wasn't a child. "I'm not," I said.

"A young maiden then," he temporized. "And a very brave one." He had a direct gaze, a way of looking at one as though he could see your heart.

The red headed boy turned around with a bucket in his hand. "Do you think you could get over here and help instead of flirting with the girls?"

"I could." He gave me a wink and bent his head to Daphne

"To what noble warrior do I owe my life?" Daphne asked.

"We're Prince Alexander's men."

"She means who are you?" I put in.

He laughed as he went to help the redhead with the bucket. "Ptolemy, the son of Lagos."


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 4th, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I need to recheck to see which wife was Berenice, I think the second. The first one was a cousin, I just don't remember the names.

I hope you get to write the Persian one about the Achaemenid Princess.

Edited at 2013-09-04 01:10 pm (UTC)
Sep. 4th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
Third, actually. Third and final. I love Berenice!

I've done about a third of Lioness, but with no publisher in sight I don't have time to finish it when there are so many other things. Maybe if something else does well enough. Lioness is going to take a solid six months, and I just can't afford to do six months work without getting paid. (Who can?)
Sep. 4th, 2013 02:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Now I really need to do that look up.
Sep. 4th, 2013 01:56 pm (UTC)
Wonderful - more please! Can't wait to meet our friends again.

Only one thing - surely Diana should be Artemis.
Sep. 4th, 2013 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Glitch fixed! :)

I take it you spotted Hephaistion? He's always wishing his friends would help him put out fires....
Sep. 5th, 2013 01:23 pm (UTC)
Oh yes - I follow the red thread er.......I mean the red head :-)
Sep. 5th, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC)
He wishes Ptolemy would stop flirting with the girls and come help put out the fire! :)
Sep. 5th, 2013 02:49 am (UTC)
Oh, this was absolutely lovely. ♥ I really hope that this one gets picked up.
Sep. 5th, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I hope it does too!
Sep. 6th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
Oh I definitely want more of this! Shame about Lioness... maybe in a little while?
Sep. 7th, 2013 10:10 am (UTC)
I think there will definitely be more!

Maybe so -- I'd like to finish Lioness too. And work on some other things that I don't have a solid sale for. But right now big publishers are only buying what look like solid hits, and I've been told that Lioness is unsalable because 6th century Persia is not a popular setting or subject. Since that's what it's about, probably my only avenue is self publishing, and I can't afford to spend half a year writing a book that may result in no income. This is my job, not my hobby, and I just can't afford not to get paid!
Sep. 7th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
6th century Persia not popular? They're clearly not asking the right people! A kickstarter project maybe, or just something similar done here? (I'd pay, I'd pay!).

Oh well, you have plenty to keep you busy for now!!
Sep. 8th, 2013 11:39 am (UTC)
Oh yes. The field is narrowing. I had one publisher turn down Elza because they said that it wasn't an English regency. The only way to sell the period was if the book was set in England. France was "too weird." The big publishers are narrowing and narrowing. So Persia isn't even worth sending out, apparently. It's such a no-start.

I could take it to small press, but there's no advance. So I'd have to finish the book on hope figuring I might get paid someday. Something that big and research intensive will take six months or so, and I can't afford it right now. The Thais and Berenice book is better because I've done the Age of Alexander before, so the research isn't nearly as intensive. I've done 95% of it for Stealing Fire.

Kickstarter is an idea! I might look into that. Crowdsource an advance, as it were.
Sep. 10th, 2013 07:57 am (UTC)
I think it works really well - I backed a Judith Tarr novel (Living in Threes) last year and it was great not just to get a book out of it, but see the progress reports too. And of course you could have different levels of payments depending on whether your backers want an ebook or a hard copy, and so on.
Sep. 10th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
It's a really interesting model. Do you recall how much she raised?
Sep. 10th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
I can tell you exactly - she raised $6,212 (bear in mind Living in Threes was only offered as an ebook). Her goal was 3,500.
Sep. 10th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
Wow! That is very good! Thanks!
Oct. 29th, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC)
The Farmer's Daughter
Thanks for giving me the link to this. You drew me right in. Question - Isn't Ptolemy 10 years older than Alexander? In the second chapter of FFH, I think he was 18 when Alexander was about 8. If they are Prince Alexander's men, Ptolemy would be more than 13, the same age as Daphne in the story.
I've gotten the same kind of responses to my queries for time period novels. The big houses want best sellers. I got a 2-book deal on the first 2 from Dutton, but not enough sales for the third to close the trilogy set in the late 1300s to the early 1400s in NE America. See www dot peninakeenspinka dot info if you want to know what they're about. Another is set during the conquest of Canaan. It has not stirred any interest and I can't get an agent interested. I've got 4 of your books and hope you find a home for this one.
Nov. 1st, 2014 01:19 pm (UTC)
Re: The Farmer's Daughter
Ptolemy is older than Daphne, who is sixteen. Going by Badian's dates, he's twenty or twenty one.

Oh yes, the big houses want best sellers! There's no room for the B list anymore with big houses. Thankfully there are a lot more small presses, and frankly their sales are just as large. I have sold TWICE as many copies of one of my small press books as a major house book set in the same period. In a year's less time. Of course, small press books don't come with big advances.
Nov. 1st, 2014 01:23 pm (UTC)
Re: The Farmer's Daughter
Also I just put Picture Maker in my Amazon cart! It sounds wonderful!
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )