Excerpt Upcoming New Novel The Governor’s Daughter

Philon won out, and the next day Belos made his way back over to the villa. Altes, the sentry, remembered him. He wasn’t too sure about Belos’ request to see the daughter of the governor. The governor was away on business, and he had given no instructions about his daughter practicing with the sword. Finally, Belos convinced him to take him to someone in authority at the villa.

The chamberlain, whose name was Decimus, was just as doubtful as the sentry. He was a short, rotund man with beady eyes. He perspired easily. He looked at the young blacksmith’s son standing politely before him.

“You say that the Lady Quinta asked you to practice sword with her? I’ve never heard about this. The master said nothing to us about it.” He looked up at the tall eighteen year old boy rather disdainfully.

Belos was about to turn around and leave when Quinta entered the atrium.

“Oh, there you are! I was wondering whether you would come today! Come on, we haven’t time to waste!” Quinta walked quickly over to Decimus and Belos, who stood there with Altes the sentry. Belos smiled at the young girl as she approached. The tall brunette had a radiant smile. She was trim and positively beautiful. She was wearing a light orange-colored chiton, with dark orange sandals. She wore a black belt around her slender waist.

“Come along!” Quinta said cheerfully. “Decimus, I shall be in the courtyard for about a half hour at least, practicing with the sword with this young man.” The chamberlain looked pained.

“But, my lady Quinta!”

“Yes?” Quinta replied a little sharply, looking at the pudgy chamberlain.

“Oh, nothing!” Decimus called for one of the female servants, a petite, dark-haired Greek girl named Melitta, who came running.

“Go with the lady Quinta! Be at her service! You are her maidservant, aren’t you? Why weren’t you with her anyhow?” Decimus was exasperated. Melitta bowed and followed Quinta, as she quickly led Belos into the courtyard. They walked for some distance down to the armory, which was next to the horse stable. The chief stable boy procured two swords for Quinta. They were practice swords with dull blades. Melitta stood behind her mistress, watching excitedly as Quinta explained to Belos what she wanted to do. Suddenly, she turned to Melitta.

“Don’t just stand there, Melitta! Run and get us some wine and water. We’ll be thirsty! Hurry!” Melitta bowed hastily and ran back across the courtyard towards the kitchen.

Quinta disappeared into a small room. She returned dressed in a soft leather outfit. Belos was surprised to see that she was wearing leather trousers like the barbarians.

“Father says it is not seemly for me to wear my tunic during swordplay. It is so warm in Arabia that I hate wearing my stola and especially my palla anyhow. This leather outfit is also very warm.”

“You…ah…look nice in what you are wearing.” Belos did not know what to say.

Quinta blushed. She did not reply. Melitta came rushing back with water and wine.

“Set it over there” Quinta said curtly. Belos noticed that she suddenly seemed somewhat nervous. She turned to Belos and smiled. “Are you ready? I apologize. I have forgotten your name.”

“It is Belos, my lady.” Belos smiled. “It means ‘lord’ or ‘master’.” Belos blushed. He lifted his sword. Quinta had raised her sword to a slightly angled position. She began to slowly advance towards Belos.

Belos looked her in the eye. She was not smiling now, but rather she was serious and determined. The two held each other’s eyes as they began to circle. Suddenly Quinta thrust at him. Belos parried her thrust quickly. Belos realized after Quinta made a painful jab with the dull sword that he had an opponent who knew what she was doing. He was reluctant to really thrust hard. He was afraid he would hurt her. After all, she was the governor’s daughter. He held back. It made Quinta angry.

“Don’t hold back on me! She thrust at him swiftly, making contact with the dull blade. It hurt. Belos became a little angry. He parried her thrust with a powerful move and made contact, causing the girl to cry out. Finally, after about ten minutes or more of heated engagement, the girl cried “Enough”! She backed away and stood there panting and perspiring. She turned to Melitta.

She laughed. “Give Belos and me something to drink! We need a rest!” She reached out her hand and took his. “Good swordplay! Good swordplay!” Belos laughed, mostly out of relief. He grasped her hand.

“Come over here and set down, Belos! I am exhausted!” Quinta pointed to a bench nearby. She moved over to it and sat down. She motioned for Belos to sit down beside her. Melitta hastened over with jars of wine for the two “combatants”.

“Bring us some water, Melitta! This wine is good, but it will make us even thirstier.” Melitta hastened to obey. Melitta was probably about 16 years old. She was very short and very petite, with black hair and dark eyes. She was a pretty girl. She obviously admired Belos, smiling at him and looking into his eyes covertly as she handed him his jar of water. She felt like there was some kind of a special bond between him and her, since they were both serving Quinta, the governor’s daughter.

“Thank you” Belos smiled at the slave girl. Quinta noticed. It amused her. She looked at Belos out of the corner of her eye. She noticed his handsome features and his muscular build. She complimented herself on having picked a good “gladiatorial” opponent.

“So, Belos…how many are there in your family? I know about your father, Philon. My father speaks of him sometimes.”

“There is my mother, Agathe. I have an older brother named Theron and an older sister named Sophronia. Both Theron and Sophronia are married. They live in Bostra. I have one younger sister still at home. Her name is Tryphosa. She is a pest.” Belos looked at Quinta and smiled. “And what about you, my lady? I mean…your family.”

Quinta paused a moment. “My father is Lucius Caecilius Nepos, and he is the governor of Arabia. He serves at the pleasure of the emperor. My mother is Aula Claudia Aquila. She comes from an old equestrian family. My father is of noble birth, but he is not from an equestrian family. I have two brothers, who are deceased. Both of them were tribunes and fought with the Third Cyrenaica. I am the only daughter at home. My other two sisters are married and gone. I am the youngest. That is why they named me ‘Quinta’. I am their fifth child.”

Belos nodded. He smiled. “You come from a distinguished family. I have heard that your father was a war hero.” Quinta smiled, appreciating his compliment. She loved her father. She jumped up. She was her father’s pet, and she knew it.

“We’ve got to get back at it, Belos. I only have you here for half an hour! Let’s make the most of it. She picked up her sword and made ready to face him again. Belos stood ready to receive her “attack”. Melitta watched nervously as the two young people circled again, ready to begin. She got so excited watching them that she picked up Belos’ jar of wine and drank from it. It was special to her to do that.

Suddenly, Belos with a great circling riposte tore the sword out of Quinta’s hand. He placed the dull end of his blade at the girl’s throat, and stood there smiling. Quinta looked at her sword, which had fallen to the ground. She looked at Belos and smiled. She lifted her head up proudly.

“Well done, Belos! Well done! That is a good ending to today’s practice!” Belos smiled. He pointed his sword to the ground and bowed. “You are very skilled, my lady!”

“You’re good, Belos!” Quinta smiled, as she led the way back to the villa. Belos followed behind her. Melitta hurried along beside Belos, looking up at him and smiling. Belos smiled back. Obviously, she admired him.

They entered the atrium, and the chamberlain Decimus hurried up. “My lady, I guess you are finished with your sword practice?” He looked at her questioningly.

“Pay this young man, Decimus!” Quinta ordered. Decimus looked puzzled. “Pay him?”

“That’s what I said, Decimus. Pay him!” Quinta looked at the chamberlain. Decimus bowed, and made his way out of the room.
“He’ll be back, Belos” Quinta said. “Sit down over there. Decimus will be back with some money for you.”

“I enjoyed myself, my lady. I don’t need any money. You are a worthy and a beautiful opponent.” Belos looked at Quinta. The girl blushed. She did not answer. Decimus hurried back with a small bag of coins. He thrust them into Belos’ hands without smiling.

“Please take them, Belos” Quinta said sweetly. Belos looked at her. Her attitude seemed different. He stood. He smiled and bowed. He turned to go.

Quinta caught his arm. She looked into his eyes. “The day after tomorrow? Same time?” Belos looked at her. Finally, he smiled. “Yes, my lady. As you please.” Quinta smiled. She became conscious of holding on to his arm. She quickly dropped her hand to her side, slightly red in the face. Melitta smiled at Belos covertly as he turned to leave. It was just the trace of a smile. He nodded, looking into her eyes briefly.

Philon was pleased when his son handed him the bag of coins. “This is far more than you are worth, my boy.” Belos did not reply. “She wants me back the day after tomorrow, Father.” Philon looked at him. “Are you sure this just involves sword practice?” Belos turned red.

“Yes sir! She is the governor’s daughter! She is far above my station.” Philon suddenly slapped his son, stunning the boy.

“Never say that again in my presence! We are free! Don’t forget we are Romans, too. Especially since the edict of Caracalla! We are just as good as they are! I fought for Rome alongside your governor friend! I was a field commissioned officer!” Belos looked up surprised at his angry father. His first reaction was to be angry, but then he smiled.”

“I am just being respectful, sir” he said. His father looked at him, amazed at the boy’s calmness. He turned and walked out of the room with the money.

Two days later, Belos made his way over to the villa. This time the sentry was expecting him. Altes smiled. “Come with me” he said gruffly. Quinta was waiting for Belos in the courtyard next to the armory. She was dressed in a beautiful white tunic, which came to her ankles, with sleeves down to her elbows. Her hair was done up in a Greek bun, revealing her slender, white neck. She wore gold colored sandals. Her beauty took Belos’ breath away. It was Quinta’s intention. She smiled when the tall, lithe and muscular boy approached. He bowed and smiled, a little nervous. She could tell he was taken by her.

“You are not dressed for swordplay, my lady?”

Quinta smiled. “Ah, no…I am not today! My father is home and he says that your father is an excellent archer, and so you must also be skilled in archery. He wants to meet you later. He wants to…check you out.” Belos noticed that Melitta was standing behind Quinta, holding two bows and two quivers of arrows.

“Can you handle a bow, Belos?” Belos was mildly surprised.

“My father has taught me the art of archery. I am by no means as good as he is.”

“If he taught you, you will be good enough. I want you to teach me how to shoot with a bow.”

“Yes, my lady”. Belos nodded his head in deference. Quinta noticed him watching her.

“You are not pleased with my dress? Is there something wrong with it? What do you think of it?” Quinta said coyly, looking at him out of the corner of her dark eyes. Melitta looked up quickly at her mistress. She looked over at Belos.

“Uh…no, there is nothing wrong. I assure you I am very pleased with it. You look very pretty, my lady. Extremely…charming.” Belos was slightly red in the face. He had not expected this. But then again, she was a girl. What should he expect?

Quinta studied him boldly for a moment. Then she smiled. “Come! Let us go to the archery range over there. You shall show me how to hold the bow and how to shoot arrows.” Quinta turned to Melitta. “Follow us, Melitta. I shall need you.” The petite, dark-haired girl bowed and shouldered the two quivers of arrows, which were fairly heavy for her. She picked up the two bows which had not yet been strung. Belos saw that they were too heavy for her. He reached over and quietly took one quiver and one bow. Melita smiled gratefully. Belos winked at her.

When they got to the archery range, Quinta took a bow and the remaining quiver of arrows. She noticed that Belos had already taken his from Melitta. She said nothing, but she looked at Melitta. She turned to the girl.

“Now go out by the target and retrieve the arrows we shoot.”

“Me?” Melitta was caught off guard. “Mistress, I…”

“Melitta! I can’t get any of the men servants today. Father is home. Now go out there!”

“Yes, my lady!” Melitta practically ran out to the targets. She was obviously nervous. She looked back at her mistress a little fearfully.

“Melitta!” Quinta called. “Don’t stand so close to the target, silly! Do you want to become the target!” Melitta jumped away from the target, edging farther to the side. Belos looked at the slave girl compassionately.

Quinta looked at Belos. Her eyes twinkled. She laughed. It was infectious. Belos felt sorry for the small slave girl, but he could not help laughing, too.

“Now, please show me how to string the bow, and how to launch an arrow.” Quinta looked at Belos, with a twinkle in her eye. She had the bow in her hand. The string hung down. The quiver of arrows lay on the ground beside her. Belos swallowed. He noticed how trim her figure was and how smooth her slender arms were. She knew that he was looking at her again. It did not displease her. She threw her head back and looked at him, waiting on him expectantly.

“Here, my lady” Belos replied, moving closer to the young girl. He took the bow from her hands. He was clearly momentarily nervous.

“You string the bow like this.” He turned the bow towards himself and began to bend the bow, getting the proper tension so that he could hook the thick string in the notch on the other end. When he was satisfied that the bow was properly strung, he took the string off the end and handed it to Quinta.

“Now you try it, my lady.” Quinta looked at him and smiled. “It takes a little strength to bend that bow, doesn’t it? You don’t think I can do it, do you?”

“I did not say that, my lady” Belos smiled.

“Dispense with the ‘my lady’ speech while we are out here together” Quinta said. “Only use that when others are around. My name is Quinta.” She looked at Belos and smiled slightly. Belos was actually charmed by her impertinent speech. He thought it masked her nervousness. He considered it to be “cute” coming from such a pretty girl. Melitta, on the other hand, was getting a little upset with her mistress, although she would not openly betray it. She knew Quinta was flirting with Belos. She liked the boy herself…and didn’t think that a blacksmith’s son was suited for a governor’s daughter.

“Yes, my…” Quinta and Belos both laughed. “You say, ‘Yes, Quinta’.” Quinta smiled.

“Yes…Quinta” Belos said a little awkwardly, although he smiled. Quinta winked at him. It felt good saying her name like that.

“Let me show you that I am not a weakling as you think of me.” Quinta picked up the bow. Imitating Belos, she quickly strung the bow. She held it up triumphantly.

“I am impressed…Quinta” Belos said, smiling. Her charm was “disarming” him. He was not quite as nervous as he was before.

“Now” he said, moving closer. “I must show you how to notch an arrow and aim the bow.” He took the bow from her hands and getting quite near to her, he placed the bow in her left hand. “I assume you are right handed” he said.

“I am” Quinta said, gripping the bow in the center with her left hand and looking up at him. Her big, almond-shaped eyes, which were like pools of liquid brown topaz, held him captive. She realized that. Blushing, she shifted her eyes away and asked “now what?”

“Take one of these arrows” Belos continued. “Examine it for the trueness of the shaft, and lightly examine the guidance feathers. Don’t hold the shaft by the feathers. Don’t touch them. Grasp the arrow with your right hand, and pull it out of the quiver.” Belos stood close to her, helping her to hold the bow and to fix the arrow on the string. He took her right hand, leaning over her shoulder, and putting his arm around her. Both of them became very conscious of their closeness to each other.

“Now draw back on the bow, holding the notich-end of the arrow between your thumb and your index finger…like so. Make sure it is properly notched on the string.” Belos felt the nearness of Quinta’s body. He felt rather strange. His face was next to hers. She turned to look at him, because he had hesitated.

“And what next?” Quinta asked. Her face was so close to his that he could feel her warm breath. Their eyes met. Belos felt strangely warm.

“You…you pull back with all your might until you have reached the maximum tension…”

“Like this?” Quinta drew back on the bow.

“Yes…that’s it! Good! Now look down along the arrow…and aim.” The two were almost cheek to cheek. Melitta was watching them in amazement from her position out by the target.

“Like this?” Quinta turned her head to the left. Her lips were almost so close that Belos could have easily kissed her. He hastily moved slightly away. She noticed it.

“Yes, that’s it. Make sure you have the target sighted down along your arrow. That’s why the arrow must be examined for its trueness.”

Quinta turned closer to the boy. “And then?” This was unnerving to Belos. He was breathing a little rapidly. Maybe from nervousness, he thought.

“You…you shoot by releasing the arrow smoothly and quickly from your fingers. Quinta let the arrow fly. It pierced the target close to the bullseye.

“Great shot!” Belos exclaimed. Breathing a sigh of relief that he could back away from the girl a little. He smiled at her. Quinta turned to him in glee. “I did it!” She lifted her bow in triumph.

“Bring me the arrow, Melitta!” She called to her maidservant.

“No! Tell her to leave it there. Let’s see how much closer you can get this time!” Belos was getting excited. Melitta stood still, wondering what Quinta would say. Quinta said nothing. She looked at Belos and smiled.

“That was great…Quinta! Are you sure you have never shot an arrow before?”

“I have not! That was my first time!” Quinta laughed. She was thrilled.

“And she is a chip off the old block!” Governor Lucius Caecilius Nepos and the chamberlain Decimus had come up unobserved behind the two. Melitta had seen them, but was petrified with fear. She thought there might be trouble because Belos had been practically holding the Lady Quinta in his arms as they approached.

Quinta whirled around. “Father!” She cried out and ran to him, embracing him. The governor laughed, lifting up his favorite off her feet and kissing her.

“You are an excellent shot, my dear. I saw that! I am amazed!” Quinta laughed with glee. “Belos is an excellent instructor, Father! That was my first shot!”

Belos bowed low before the governor.

Excerpt From Novel Sabellius in Africa

Aristaeus agreed. Portia said nothing. Her mind went back to her last meeting with Plautianus. She quickly dismissed that.

“Have you heard from Sabellius, dear?” Aristaeus turned to his wife.

“No, I’m expecting something from him one of these days soon” Portia answered.

In fact, Sabellius had written his mother. The letter reached Portia several days later. The circumstances of her picking up the letter were somewhat tumultuous.

Aristaeus took Portia with him to check on the mail. They rode together down to Apollonia, making their way to the office of Demetrius the harbor master, who received all the mail from the ships or the couriers coming into Apollonia.

When the two arrived at the harbor master’s office, Hector the old servant who assisted Demetrius informed them that he did not know where the mail was, since Demetrius kept it on his desk. Demetrius was over at the inn taking his morning break.

“Let’s go over to the inn” Aristaeus said. Portia wasn’t too happy about going to the inn, since she had experienced difficulties there in the past. She did not say anything. She dutifully accompanied her husband.

The two dismounted and made their way into the inn. Demetrius was in the back drinking and playing some kind of a game with about four or five other Greek locals. From the raucous noise, Portia judged that they were drunk.

Ariston the innkeeper and Circe his waitress were up front at the bar located on the left, as Aristaeus and Portia entered.

Ariston was drunk. “Hail, Aristaeus, the Greek sea captain, and his beautiful wife!” Ariston said loudly. Demetrius and the Greeks with him looked up.

Aristaeus turned to him, and nodded curtly, not replying. He hadn’t expected such a bold, thinly veiled insult from the innkeeper. He took note that he was drunk, and said nothing.

Not to be discouraged, Ariston tried another remark. “She’s looking good today, Master Aristaeus. Still got a great figure!”

“He’s drunk dear” Portia whispered to Aristaeus. “I know” he replied quietly. “Just keep going.” As they neared Demetrius and his Greek friends, it became evident that they were in on this.

“Well, if it isn’t Master Aristaeus back from his sea travels! I see you’ve got that pretty little Roman wife of yours with you! She hasn’t found another Roman officer yet, has she?” One of the Greeks said, laughing. The others joined in. It was fairly dim back in that part of the inn, and Aristaeus couldn’t make out which one of the five Greeks had made the remark. They spoke in Greek. They had been drinking.

Portia blushed. She smiled rather bitterly, and looked down. Aristaeus got red in the face, and the color came into his neck. He clenched his fists, but said nothing.

“Demetrius, I’m looking for some mail. Your servant Hector says he does not know where it is. He thought perhaps it was back on your desk.”

Demetrius was a short, pudgy, balding Greek. He looked at Aristaeus for a moment, but said nothing.

It was amazing to Aristaeus. He could not believe the open insults that were coming his way. At one time he was a respected citizen, and he had been always courteously addressed. He realized the source of it: it was Portia’s indiscretion and Ariston’s dirty gossip. But why was it being directed at him? Probably because he was a Greek, and had not put away his Roman wife as they thought he should have done. Some of the Greeks hated the Romans. But the insults were difficult to swallow.

Biting his lip, Aristaeus spoke again. “Demetrius, we would like to pick up our mail. Hector says we have some at the office.”

Demetrius was obviously a little soused. Finally he answered. “Sure, Aristaeus. Go back and tell Hector that there are two scrolls on my desk. They are on the right hand side. I think they came in from Rome yesterday. He can get them for you.”

“She’s sure looking good today!” A voice came from the table. Aristaeus spun around.

“Are you speaking about my wife?” He spoke quietly, but firmly. It got quiet at his challenge.

A big Greek, sitting on the far side of the table spoke up. “Yes. I said she is looking good today. That’s a compliment. A Greek like you getting one of those proud Roman beauties ought to appreciate what I said.”

“Look, man. My wife’s beauty is for me to openly appreciate. She belongs to me. I don’t appreciate your big mouth.” Aristaeus was getting angry.

Portia took his arm. She said quietly, “Let’s go, Aristaeus. They’ve been drinking.”

Aristaeus continued to look at the big man across the table. The other men were silent. There was tension in the air.

The big Greek stood up. He was a little over six feet, and probably weighed about 250 pounds. He glared back at Aristaeus.

“Look, Aristaeus” he said, “I was trying to pay a compliment to your good looking wife. I could have said some other things about her. You don’t need to be upset. Now why don’t you just run along?”

“What other things?” Aristaeus said, continuing to stare back at him.

The big Greek shrugged his shoulders. He spat on the floor. “A lot of other things…like…it’s well known that your high and mighty Roman wife is a whore!” He spat the words out. You could have heard a pin drop. Aristaeus’ fists clenched. He prayed silently. Lord, please help me!

“You either take that statement back, and or I’m coming around that table to teach you a lesson.” Aristaeus was losing it. Portia took his arm again.

“Please, Aristaeus! Let it go! I probably deserve the statement. It’s not worth getting upset about. Let’s put it in the Lord’s hands!”

Another one of the Greeks, who was a short, stocky man, couldn’t resist getting involved. He had heard Portia.

“Now she wants to put things into her Christian god’s hands. I thought her god didn’t approve of running around with Roman officers while her husband is at sea!” Several of the Greeks, including Demetrius, laughed.

“Leave my Christian God out of this!” Portia couldn’t help responding. She knew better, but the excitement of the moment got the best of her common sense. Portia had invited their attention.

Now it was out of hand. “How’s your Roman lover, honey? Guess he’s out now that hubbie’s home!” One of the men jeered. Several others laughed. It was too much for Aristaeus. He stepped around the table, and took the big Greek by his clothes, twisting them and pulling him forward with his powerful arm.

“Either apologize or I’m going to make you do it. You can’t insult my wife and get away with it.”

“Aristaeus, please!” Portia cried out.

“I like how she gets excited! She has that hot Roman blood!” One of the Greeks called out, laughing. The big Greek knocked Aristaeus’ hand loose.

“Look, friend!” the big Greek cried out, “If you want to be married to a Roman harlot, then that’s your business. But leave me out of it. We’re Greeks! We’re not that fond of the Roman conquerors!” The big Greek pulled his fist back, and threw a punch at Aristaeus, missing his jaw but landing on his left shoulder. Aristaeus stood his ground and quickly shoved him backwards, causing the man to crash into several chairs, knocking them over.

Ariston ran around the bar, and quickly joined the dispute. “What’s going on here? I don’t allow any fighting…” He grabbed Aristaeus from behind, and spun him around. “Get out of my inn! You’re a troublemaker, and your wife’s a tramp! Get out!” Aristaeus pushed him back on to the table. The men sitting at the table had scrambled out of way. Ariston crashed backwards on the table, collapsing it, and scattering the chairs with ceramic mugs of beer flying and shattering.

Two of the men grabbed Aristaeus and held him. The big Greek had gotten back on his feet. He landed a punch on Aristaeus, who grunted and fell back on the two men. He wrenched himself loose from them, and lunged at the big Greek, shoving him into one of the men, who staggered backwards and fell, scattering chairs.

Portia screamed. “Aristaeus! Let’s leave, please!” Aristaeus ignored her. He had lost it. He was on “automatic pilot” now. He turned, and landed a punch on one of the Greeks. Both that man and Demetrius, who was right behind him, fell backwards on to the floor, destroying a couple of chairs.

Just then the military patrol, which had been passing by on foot out in front heard the noise, and burst in the door. The centurion in charge cried out, “Break it up! Break it up! In the name of Caesar!”

Aristaeus had one of the men in his grip, and his fist was drawn back. He turned, and looked at the centurion. He disgustedly pushed the man back, who back pedaled into another table, loudly scooting the table back, scattering chairs.

“What’s going on here?” The centurion cried out. He was a short, slender but muscular Roman. He was accompanied by two large Roman soldiers, who had their hands on their swords. The centurion looked around him. His recognized Aristaeus, and he smiled.

“Well, Captain Aristaeus! You old sea dog!” He came forward, and reached his hand out in greeting. Aristaeus was breathing somewhat heavily, but he smiled and took the centurion’s hand.