Marcus Carinna hears a voice whisper, “Your turn,” as he rides past his family tomb. An unseen presence also startles the Germanic priestess Aurima, whom he is bringing to Rome. But hardheaded Romans scoff at ghosts, and Marcus can’t believe it’s a warning from his brother, who killed himself three years earlier.
37 AD: To great acclaim, 25-year-old Caligula Caesar has become Rome’s new master. No one is more pleased than Senator Titus Carinna, who helped him succeed to the throne. It’s a shame the Senator’s older son–Caligula’s closest friend–committed suicide after being charged with treason. But that still leaves Marcus, his second son.
Headstrong and hot-tempered, Marcus would rather prove his courage by leading legions against Rome’s enemies than take his brother’s place. Yet when his father orders him to befriend Caligula, he has no choice.
Caught in a web of deceit, conspiracy, and betrayal, he will uncover a secret that threatens his family, the woman he desires, even his life… and may bring chaos to the young Roman Empire.
Excerpt from ROMA AMOR: A NOVEL OF CALIGULA’S ROME
© 2016 by Sherry Christie
Marcus Carinna is a guest at a barbarian feast . . . .
Flavus scowled at his son. “Heriberhto has kingly blood from both his grandfathers.” He wiped grease off his face with the back of his hand. “I raised him to be what his father was not: a man whose nobility is . . . what is the word for hardening a sword?”
Italicus spat out gristle. “Tempering.”
“Whose nobility is tempered by loyalty to Rome.” Flavus turned more fully to fix his eye on me. “Useless to resist the might of Rome. Cherusci”—he swept his beef bone in an arc around the tables—“and Bastarnae and Marcomanni and Batavi and . . . and all the others here, they know it.”
Something furry brushed my shins under the table. Italicus kicked it away. I drank more ale. Two men were throwing knives at a roast goose crammed like a greasy hat over a statue of Mercury. Where was Heriberhto? Was he with Aurima? What was happening out in the darkness?
Flavus tore into the meat again, chewed, swallowed. “She is a firebrand, true. But Heriberhto will tame her. As his wife, she will cause no uprisings.” He passed wind noisily.
Away from the brightness of the bonfire, there were secluded spots among the greenery where a man might take a girl. Where a maiden who had lost her freedom might willingly give her last treasure to the Great Traitor’s son.
By Mithras’s Dog, I was not her father! If anyone should guard her virtue, it was her uncle Maelo, now shouting over his ale at the next table.
I cursed. Whether it was duty or obsession, I could not let her surrender her virginity. I pushed down on the shoulders of father and son to hoist myself off the crowded bench. Stepping back, I stumbled on another dog that had settled unnoticed behind me.
Laughter as raucous as ravens’ honks rose over the clamor. “Strong ale, eh?” Flavus chortled. “I brew it myself.”
Something made me look up just then, perhaps a nudge in the ribs from Fortuna. Aurima was striding into the courtyard.
At first she was ignored in the hubbub. Flavus yelled drunkenly at a fellow who had slipped in a puddle and soaked his breeches. Some men farther away were bellowing out a song, pounding their knife hilts on the table.
Italicus was still sober enough to notice. “Why is the priestess here?”
She stalked toward us with long masculine strides that whipped her skirts around her ankles. A few of the men hailed her, but the anger in her bearing silenced them. When she halted, they gaped at her.
Not I. It was desire that darkened my thoughts, not fear.
She was so close that when she fisted her hands on her hips, I saw the gooseflesh on her bare arms. Her coppery hair bristled in the damp like frazzled rope, its thousand tiny ends lit with fireglow.
Flavus remembered he was her host. “Daughter of Ammisia,” he said in a blurred voice. “What is wrong?” With an attempt at jocularity he added, “If you cannot deal with it, I am not sure what we men can do.”
“‘Men’?” Aurima’s glare savaged them. “I see cattle. Cattle who let themselves be driven wherever Rome wishes.” She jerked her chin at me. “He says come here, go there, do this, do that—and you obey!” Her voice dropped. “I, the sister’s daughter’s daughter of the great king Marbodo, call you cowards. I call you slaves, who sell the freedom of your children to Rome!”
Flavus spoke to her in Germanic. Aurima retorted, “It is you I insult, you gelded ox! And I speak Latin so those from the far lands will understand what I say.” She glowered around at them, from Bastarnae of the upper Danube to Batavi from the Rhine mouth. “The gods weep to see you in such a place.”
She seized the evergreen boughs spiraling around the nearest column. They cascaded down into her hair, onto her dark-green stola, and around her feet. Strewn with sprays of fir, firelight glittering on her contorted face, she stretched her hands to the swollen sky. “Hear me, Austro, She who brings life, and mighty Tiwaz, Father and giver of law! I have fought for my people’s freedom. Am I not as brave as these around me? Or am I braver than they? For I would sooner die than deliver my brother’s wife to be banished, or my sister’s daughter to be sold!”
Though she spoke now in the harsh sibilance of her own language, I somehow understood. Dazzled, I could hardly breathe for the violence of my lust.
“Maelo,” someone croaked.
Maelo said nothing. He would not stop her.
Her hands settled upon her head and began to rend her hair, tearing it from its plait until it seethed around her face in a chaotic mane. In a cracking voice she cried, “From this day, Tiwaz the Just, do I curse all those who have betrayed me.” She took a deep breath to pronounce the oath.
“No,” I shouted. I leaped up onto the bench and then upon the table. Drinking horns and cups reeled around my feet. “In Caesar’s name, I forbid it.”
There was a dumbfounded stillness.
I glared down at her. Her curse on my vexillation had cost me my scouts and nearly a hundred good soldiers. I would not allow her to damn these men who might be needed in the northern campaign. “I forbid it,” I said again.
In a voice as low as thunder she said, “Then I put my curse on you, Marcus Carinna.”
A worm of unease squirmed inside me, but I gazed back into her face. I was a soldier of Mithras, not to be cowed by a barbarian spell. I even smiled at her. Oh, I was to pay dearly for that smile.
Flavus at last found his wits. “I cannot believe . . . Will someone fetch Thusnelda? . . . Of course Aurima does not . . .” He got up, stumbled over someone’s foot, and pitched against a table. Steadying himself, he spluttered, “Foolish girl . . . needs a firm hand . . . Thusnelda! . . . Italicus, fetch your aunt.”
Italicus rose, shaking his head, and shambled out of the courtyard. Then the others got up with a grinding of benches and table legs and departed, group by group. Last to leave were Maelo and the Marcomanni, muttering in consternation. Aurima pursued them with her mad glare, until all were gone but Flavus.
I jumped down and straightened my disheveled clothing. My back was to her, but I saw Dio’s fear as he looked past me. “Superstitious idiot,” I growled. And as Thusnelda came in with her hair all undone, I went out of the courtyard too, leaving Aurima alone with Harman’s widow and Harman’s brother.
About the Author
After earning a Phi Beta Kappa creative award in college for an early draft about a nobly born charioteer, Sherry Christie spent many years of research and revision developing ROMA AMOR into the story about fathers and sons that it wanted to be. It’s a joy to immerse myself in the lives of first-century Romans–and a distinct change from my day job as a . In addition to writing, Sherry is a professional copywriter. She lives on the coast of Maine with a native-born Viking and two cats.