THE CENTURION’S DAUGHTER

Please read the following excerpt from an upcoming novel in manuscript form. I think you will like it.

No one saw Phaedra come in the gate as she made her way through the large garden. She had been afraid to enter the villa from the stable. The whole villa seemed sound asleep. Even the stable boy did not wake up when she unsaddled her horse. The watchman was out in the vineyards, having heard some noise that aroused his curiosity.

The night sounds of the insects and the frogs around the pool in the center of the garden were loud. As the young Phaedra walked through the garden, trying not to make too much noise on the fine gravel path, the noise of the insects temporarily ceased until she had passed.

Up above a full moon shone, its silvery beams disturbed only by fluffy, floating clouds as they slowly passed overhead beneath its spell binding light. There was a warm spring breeze wafting over the garden, bringing the delicate fragrance of the blooming purple iris to Phaedra’s nostrils. She breathed in the fragrance of the flowers and looked carefully around her. Perhaps the goddess Iris was letting her know that her mission would end successfully. So far so good! Phaedra sighed and smiled in spite of her nervousness. She had yet to navigate the villa successfully. She prayed no one would be up at this late hour.

Phaedra was a Greek slave, a petite brunette just a little over five feet tall. She was probably about 18 years old. Her mother had been a slave belonging to the Mistress Melusine, and Phaedra was born while her mother was in Melusine’s service. She did not know who her father was. She was a beautiful girl, well proportioned, with lovely olive skin and dancing dark eyes. Her lips were full and red. She wore a white chiton which shone in the moonlight.

There was one flaw in her appearance: a jagged two inch scar ran from her right cheek bone down to the right side of her chin. She had been recently beaten by her Roman master, who was fast becoming a notorious drunkard. His drunken assault upon his daughter’s maidservant had caused a family crisis, which was still not resolved, although the initial tears and stress had at least subsided.

The master of the estate was a Roman military officer, who had retired to the outskirts of Smyrna, a major city on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea. The city set mostly on a hill at the southeastern edge of the Gulf of Smyrna, spreading out below the hill on to the coastal plain. With the help of the Emperor Trajan, the officer had purchased land a few hours distant from Smyrna.

The villa and the surrounding estate, well over 500 ugura [300 acres], was situated not too far from the coast and the Hermus River. The estate was very productive, thanks to a dedicated steward, and the increasing level-headed influence of the officer’s daughter Sabina. It was not that the centurion had completely lost his acute sense of business. He had his moments of clarity and soberness, but he had recently become increasingly disabled by his alcoholism. The trouble was everyone except Sabina was afraid to tell him.

Phaedra looked anxiously around her as she walked across the bright moonlit patio of the villa and made her way into the entrance of the large atrium. She stopped and stood between the huge stone columns at the front, peering into the dimly lit atrium. Several large braziers were still burning inside, eating down the large quantity of oil placed in them. Satisfied that no one was there Phaedra slowly entered the atrium through the vestibulum or entrance hall.

She avoided a large section of moonlit mosaic floor and crossed the atrium along the darkened side. She had to pass by the master’s bedroom on the right. She did this fearfully, glancing repeatedly at his door, knowing that he was in there. Lately, he was often up late at night, cursing and screaming at times in a drunken rage. She unconsciously ran her right forefinger along the two inch scar on her face, remembering the night he had suddenly and unexpectedly grabbed her and assaulted her.

For the most part, except for the steward and some old stalwart servants, who had been with the master during the time of his military service, the staff remained in fear of the master’s drunken tantrums.

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