The first Sunday snippet for Book 3. A longer than usual taste of draft chapter 1—raw, unedited, and subject to change as always.
We’re still in Rome. Time has passed. Strap up your sandals. 😀
Allerix rubbed his tired eyes before squinting up at the window for the hundredth time. Soon it would be dark. But with the waning light of another vibrant autumn sunset glowing outside, he could still pick out the dark lines between the individual square stones, each block a different shade of brownish-grey.
“Four, five, six…”
His words echoed off the cold-hearted walls. This mindless counting had become his last link to sanity. A repetitive, lulling chant to soothe the ache of loneliness. Loneliness and boredom. Was this his fate? To be forsaken by his gods and his captor?
For over two months he’d been confined to this dank hole whenever he wasn’t slogging through another day of back-breaking chores. No more banter with the lads over hot tasty meals. No laughter. No wine.
No Rufus and his generous mouth and that bright, dimpled smile that had snuck its insidious way into Alle’s tender, companionless heart.
The recurring nightmares of his brutal capture months earlier had returned, though. And the shackle attached to the chain linked to an iron ring bolted to the wooden floor.
“Ten, eleven, twelve…”
Was this relentless isolation the punishment for his foolish crime? He’d expected the Roman to flog him for his idiocy, not abandon him.
It had been quick. Executed with emotionless precision.
Two moons past, the Roman had called Allerix to his office, unclasped the chain dangling around Alle’s neck, and dismissed him with a flick of his fingers. No words. No explanation. His narrow, golden-brown eyes so fucking hard and cold. Disappointed. Disgusted. Like Allerix’s father’s eyes had been when he’d discovered Alle’s true unnatural nature.
“Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one…”
Alle touched his throat, free of the delicate weight of that lion pendant. Rufus’s token of affection. He was no longer a favorite concubine. Prince Allerix the Clumsy Thief had been demoted and cast into the colony of forgotten laborers who roosted like bats in the hollows of the slave barracks on the Roman’s urban estate.
If he didn’t figure out a way to regain his former status, his plans to assassinate their demon king were futile. A naive boy’s fleeting heroic fantasy. Time wasted, hope extinguished.
Perhaps he should simply slice Rufus’s throat and be done with it.
Would he earn immortality for killing the red-haired butcher, the feared Lion of the Lucky Fourth? Would Great Zalmoxis grant Allerix, son of Thiamarkos—second useless, deviant son of Thiamarkos—eternal glory in the afterlife for committing the convenient murder of Rome’s second-in-command?
Was that the only, inevitable option left?
Allerix’s scream disintegrated into the cool November evening. The overbearing silence of solitude returned until a guard down the hall shouted, “Quiet down, slave!”
“Twenty-fucking-two,” he whispered, his upper lip curled in a defiant snarl.
A stray beam of golden light pierced the shadows, racing past the twenty-two stones that framed the window. The small opening allowed light and air into the space, but it was too high up on the wall for anyone to see anything outside this secluded cave. Information out of reach.
He smiled briefly at the memory of that sunny room he’d enjoyed down at the villa stable house with its lumpy, dusty mattress and its window looking out over the rolling waves of their endless, sparkling sea. This was a lampless prison cell with a impenetrable thick door. A dreary, colorless box designed to keep him out of sight when he wasn’t shoveling horseshit, or hauling buckets of slimy sludge from the cisterns, or cleaning out the guards’ latrines.
Alle blew out a breath and pushed himself up off the ratty blanket covering the floor.
He didn’t hear it until he felt it. The rumble was low and subtle for a few moments before it barreled to a roar as the floor rose and fell in terrifying, unearthly waves. Alle dug his fingers into the gaps between the floorboards, but the quaking planks continued to roll violently beneath his body. The old metal chamber pot in the corner clattered across the room and crashed against the opposite wall, staining the pale wall stones with fat splashes of urine. When Alle tried to stand, he lost his balance, landing hard on his knees. The entire structure groaned and squealed as ceiling beams and stair treads and clay floor tiles were pushed together and pulled apart and snapped in half.
And then it was over. As if it had never happened.
Except for the piss dripping down the wall.
And the muffled wails of hysterical women and children screaming from the nearest apartment buildings. Despite the sudden quiet and stillness, their desperate cries grew louder and more fearful. A cacophony of panic.
Allerix startled when the door burst open.
A tall silhouette filled the frame, a shadowy key dangling from a cord wrapped around the man’s wrist. He crossed the threshold; muted rays from the sunset lit his clean-shaven face in a mask of sheer bronze.
“Greetings, Dacian. Something bizarre is happening. You need to see this,” Bry sputtered as he crouched to unlock the shackle.
“Greetings, Bryaxis. What was that?” Allerix tapped the floor.
“The ground shaking, you mean? That’s only a tremor. Their gods are restless shitheads who toss and turn and cause tremors all the time here in Rome. No need for alarm. Now the creatures clogging the skies? They’re fucking spooky.”
When the lock clicked open, the shackle around Alle’s ankle released and fell apart. Rising to his feet, Bry tossed down the spare cloak draped over his shoulder and offered his hand. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Allerix asked, straightening his brown tunic tattered at the hems before wrapping the faded tan cloak around his shoulders.
“We’re climbing up to the large terrace on the western wing of this haunted house. I’m pleased to see you’re still alive, lad.” Bryaxis smirked as he wandered about the cell, cautiously touching the encrusted, dirty walls with the tip of his pointer finger. “Max said you’d been assigned… new duties.”
“I’m a shit shoveler. Again. Why are we going to the terrace?”
“And you’re still an inquisitive, peculiar mongrel, aren’t you? Listen, I was ordered to bring you to Fabius, all right? While you’ve been lounging about down here in these plush, cozy barracks, our red-headed prick promoted me to senior secretary because Simon keeps cocking up the expense accounts. Fabius trusts me. Ha, the poor pissed bastard! Lucius must be fucking laughing himself sick.”
“Dominus called for me? He said my name?”
“You have been summoned by the great Mars himself, god of unapologetic arrogance, and I am your humble, impotent escort to this evening’s portent party.”
Bry finished his exaggerated, silly bow and strode out the door. After relighting the terracotta lamp cupped in his hand with the flame of a torch affixed to the wall, Bryaxis sauntered into the dark, windowless corridor, hollering over his shoulder, “Move those hairy barbarian legs and follow me, lad! Perhaps a Dacian can decipher this dark sorcery.”