In honor of my 1 year anniversary here on WordPress I give you…
Chapter 1 of Sapphire Ashes which is available on Amazon. (See links below)
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I tried to relax as Attia washed my long brown hair. I looked out of the window and out upon Mount Vesuvius, trying to revel in the beauty of the mountain. Granted, I had to look through some of the crumbled buildings that were being repaired from the tremors, but Mount Vesuvius was standing tall and proud over the colony, proving that the Earth was still as stable as ever. Even this late in the summer months with the dried up grasses littering the mountain, it was still beautiful.
Father and I had “the discussion” again. The one about me getting married? Yea. That one. I finally just stormed out and came here, to the bathory, for my weekly appointment.
I sighed heavily again, and slowly began to feel content and relaxed. Every seventh day I came to the private bathory where Attia attended to me with the best of care. It’s the busiest establishment in all of Herculaneum and the wealthy came from all over the Empire to relax. My family has been here for generations. We’ve done quite well for ourselves, and it’s allowed me to enjoy some of the privileged things others can’t. I know I’m one of the lucky ones.
“Sidonia. You’ve been up on the mountain again haven’t you?” Attia said with a knowing smile, as she rinsed my hair and got to work cleaning my arms and back.
“Gathering herbs for Mother and Grandmother.” I said.
“Herbs.” She said sighing but with a smile on her face.
“Yes. Herbs.” I sat up straighter to allow her better access to the small of my back. “We are lucky we can find … what we need on the mountain without having to go all the way to the larger Pompeii markets.”
“I understand my lady, however, you must be careful. You don’t want the Empire to start asking questions. What if they found you up there?”
“We would merely be on a walk enjoying what the gods gave us.”
“but Sidonia” She started to stammer, but I interrupted her.
“Surely Emperor Titus hasn’t deemed it illegal to wander the countryside.” I said pointedly. She nodded without saying anything further.
“Thank you for your concern Attia, but we have been careful for generations. The Roman Empire isn’t going to scare us into stopping our practices or helping those who need our help.”
“It’s just, I heard from the guards that came through here a couple days ago that Emperor Titus didn’t care much for Earth Worshipers. I would hate for something to happen to your family. You have business enemies, and we wouldn’t want something to happen to you.”
“Is that a threat Attia?” I said eying her carefully.
Shock crossed here face. “OH NO MY LADY! Never. It’s just … your family has much status here, and with that status comes power and influence, and well, there are others that want it. Your workshop is very well known here in the colony and word is getting out even to Pompeii of your families work.”
We sat in silence as she finished her duties, and I looked back out over the mountain. She was right. There are many who know of our practices, possibly too many now. In fact, my Grandmother, Mother and I had carved out quite a business out of it. While my Father looked over the markets of Herculaneum, the woman in my family were not ones who just sat at home and catered to the family life.
My Father was happy for the extra coin it brought in, as it allowed us luxuries that other families didn’t have, such as meat on the table often, our daily morning fresh bread, finer cloth for our clothing and stronger leather for our sandals. While his status in the colony would normally allow all of that, prices in the Empire were rising and the coinage that came in through the workshop allowed us to keep all of those things as Father refused to raise prices too much in the market.
My brothers, Lar and Severuis, helped my Father at the marketplace with whatever he needed him to do. Lar was 8 years older than I and married with 2 girls, while Severuis was only 5 years older.
Severuis lost his wife last year during child birth. Sadly, the child didn’t make it either. Farther wanted him to remarry, but I believe that Severuis is still heartbroken over her death. Their marriage was a rare situation where the arrangement for the marriage was made because they loved each other before hand, not out of family agreements and status gain. I craved the same thing, but knew that I probably wouldn’t have that luxury. Grandmother and I had tried to repair Severuis’ broken heart, but there are some things that just can’t be fixed with potions and herbs.
As Attia combed the knots out of my hair and one of the other girls, who I didn’t know applied colors to my face, I thought about the fight between my Father and I and his insistence upon me to get married and bear children. Granted, I am 16 years old and I should be married by now, especially with my family’s high status. My Father had set up a very powerful arrangement last year, but Marcus had decided that he rather go off to war with the Empire than marry me. I may have had something to do with that though and smiled at the thought.
“Miss Sidonia. Please keep your face still.” The girl I didn’t know said with a scowl on her face.
“I’m sorry.” I said and tried to keep my face still for her.
I had gone over to Marcus’ family’s house for introductions and finalization of the plans. When I walked in, the cloth that hung over the windows were closed tight, the rooms were dark, even with the sun still high in the sky outside. The only light available were a few candles burning throughout the room. In my home, and in most of the other homes I had visited of my friends, the woman held equal status among the family. Only in Marcus’ home, all the women kept their head low and never made eye contact with anyone, at all. They were treated worse than any servant I had seen treated, anywhere. I suspect the Emperor treats his servants better and with more respect.
When it was time to eat our meal, I went to sit next to Marcus, as an equal, his Father, Vibius, glared at me, and pulled me away from the table. He told me this was where the men eat, and that the women were to eat at the other table.
Vibius had his hand raised to smack me when one of Marcus’ brothers reminded him that it might be a good idea for him not to mark me until after the wedding. Instead Vibius took me and the brother’s wife into the back room.
I looked back at Marcus for help, but his eyes were on the bowl of porridge. When I looked to the brother, all I could see was a flash of rage in his eyes before he went back to eating his meal.
When we got to the back room Vibius tied my hands to the headboard, and literally threw the brother’s wife onto the bed. He tied her hands with mine, and put a sack over her head and tightened it tight around her neck. She never looked up from the ground. She never even looked at me. I looked to Vibius and his eyes were full of anger, lust and pure evil. I moved my hands into the woman’s and tried to give her as much comfort I could as he threw her clothing above her waist and defiled her. Vibius’ eyes never left mine as he defiled her and he went about his so called punishment. I will never forget his smile was fixed in utter amusement.
As I left that evening, he grabbed my hand and pulled me close to him. He was close enough that I could smell his vial breath, as he spat the last words he would ever speak to me, “Speak out of turn again, and you will be next. You will find your place here Sidonia, and you will realize I run this family.”
I came home that night knowing I would rather die than live in that house. I refused to speak of the visit with my family and went directly to the back room to find something to put an end to it. No, I wasn’t looking for a way to kill myself. I was looking for a way that I could end the wedding, and I found it. It was an older spell that required ancient herbs that were very rare. We had them of course, but I knew Grandmother and Mother would notice any amount of them missing. It took me a week, but I had perfected it.
A couple days before the wedding was to occur, Marcus and I, with Lar as my chaperon, sat for lunch at the base of the mountain. Marcus had brought bread and fruits for us to eat and I prepared the tea and handed it to him. As he drank I mumbled the spell under my breath and waited for it to take hold. Once it had, Marcus’ eyes glazed over and he looked at me with questioning.
In that moment, I saw a broken man and almost backed out of my plan. I saw a man who had been belittled, beaten, and abused his whole life. I felt sorry for him. Then I thought of a way I could save him from this life. I batted my eyelashes like a love stricken girl and lovingly suggested that maybe he should join the Roman Empire as a warrior. He was strong and already such a good fighter. His eyes lit up, and the next day he had packed his things for Rome disappearing without a word to me or my family.
What I hadn’t counted on was him returning after 2 months and killing his Father. I learned later that was nature’s balance for what I had done. My Grandmother recognized the effects when she saw Marcus as the guards took him from the home, and directly came to me with questions. It took her a good long while but I finally opened up with her with what had happened that night at Marcus’ house. She didn’t damn me or tell my Father and Mother what had happened, but she did remind me that with every spell that is cast, nature must have balance. We are healers, and while my intention at the point of my suggestion was to free him from the pain of his Father, nature had to find its balance.
“Sidonia.” Attia said bringing me from the memory. Do you want the high braids like they do in Rome this week, or just pulled back?
“Pulled back with the silver please.” I said and when she hesitated I continued. “Attia, you know I’ll pay you for it.”
“Of course my lady.”
Attia pulled a section of my hair from the front on each side half way back, clipping a piece of silver to each section, then pulled that section back to meet in the middle of the back of my head and clipped 3 more pieces of silver to secure it. She then placed a really fine wreath with small gems attached to it that sat right at the sections of hair that had been pulled back.
When she was done, she and the other girl helped me get dressed in my palla and sandals. I thanked them as I paid Attia and headed out to meet Father in the market.
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