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So Shines the Night
By TRACY L. HIGLEY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Tracy Higley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRhodes, AD 57
IN THE GLARE OF THE ISLAND MORNING SUN, THE sea blazed diamond-bright and hard as crystal, erratic flashes spattering light across Daria's swift departure from the house of her angry employer.
She carried all she owned in one oversized leather pouch, slung over her shoulder. The pouch was not heavy. A few worn tunics and robes, her precious copy of Thucydides. She clutched it to her side and put her other hand to the gold comb pinning the dark waves of her hair, her one remaining luxury.
The bitter and familiar taste of regret chased her from the whitewashed hillside estate, down into the squalid harbor district. Why had she not kept silent?
Along the docks hungry gulls shrieked over fishy finds and work-worn sailors traded shrill insults. The restless slap of the sea against the hulls of boats kept time with the anxious rhythm of her steps against the cracked gray stones of the quay.
She had run once, haunted and guilty, to a fresh start in Rhodes. Could she do it again? Find a way to take care of herself, to survive?
The voice at her back was young and demanding, the tenor of a girl accustomed to a world arranged to her liking. And yet still precious, still malleable.
"Mistress! Where are you going?"
Daria slowed, eyes closed against the pain, and inhaled. She turned on the sun-warmed dock with a heaviness that pulled at her limbs like a retreating tide.
Corinna's breath came quick with exertion and the white linen of her morning robe clung to her body. The sweet girl must have run all the way.
"To the School of Adelphos, Corinna. I will seek a position there."
Corinna closed the distance between them and caught Daria's hand in her own. Her wide eyes and full lips bespoke innocence. "But you cannot! Surely Father did not mean what he said"
Daria squeezed the girl's eager fingers. "It is time. Besides"she tipped Corinna's chin back"you have learned your lessons so well, perhaps you no longer need the services of a tutor."
Corinna pulled away, dark eyes flashing and voice raised. "You do not believe that, mistress. It is you who says there is always more to learn."
They drew the attention of several young dockworkers hauling cargo from ship to shore. Daria stared them down until they turned away, then circled the girl's shoulders, pulled her close, and put her lips to Corinna's ear. "Yes, you must never stop learning, dear girl. But it must be someone else who teaches you"
"But why? What did you say to anger Father so greatly?"
Only what she thought was right. What must be said. A few strong phrases meant to rescue Corinna from a future under the thumb of a husband who would surely abuse her.
Daria smiled, fighting the sadness welling in her chest, and continued her trudge along the dock toward the school. "I am afraid discretion is one of the things I have not yet learned, Corinna. Your father is a proud man. He will not brook a mere servant giving him direction in the running of his household."
Corinna stopped abruptly at the water's edge, her pretty face turned to a scowl. "You are no mere servant! You are the most learned tutor I have ever had!"
Daria laughed and looked over the sea as she walked, at the skiffs and sails tied to iron cleats along the stone, easy transportation to the massive barges that floated in the blue harbor, awaiting trade. Papyrus and wool from Egypt, green jade and aromatic spices from far eastern shores, nuts and fruits and oils from Arabia. Her eyes strayed beyond the ships, followed northward along the rocky Anatolian coast to cities unknown, riddles to be unraveled, secrets and knowledge to be unlocked. More to learn, always. And somewhere, perhaps, the key to redeeming the past.
They approached and skirted the strange symbol of the Isle of Rhodes, the toppled Helios that once stood so proud and aloof along the harbor and now lay humbled, its bronze shell speckled to an aged green, reflecting the impenetrable turquoise sky. The massive statue had lain at the quay for gulls to peck and children to climb for nearly three hundred years since the quake brought it down. Daria found it disturbing.
"May I still visit you at the school, Mistress Daria?"
She smiled. "One challenge at a time. First I must convince Adelphos that he should hire me."
Corinna's tiny sandals scurried to keep pace. "Why would he not?"
"It is not easy to be an educated woman in a man's world of philosophy and rhetoric. There are few men who appreciate such a woman."
"How could anyone not appreciate someone as good, as brave, as you?"
The child gave her too much credit. She was neither good nor brave. She would not be here in Rhodes if she were. Though she was trying. The gods knew, she had been trying.
Corinna lifted her chin with a frown in the direction of the school. "I shall simply explain to Adelphos how very valuable you are."
And how outspoken? Interfering? But perhaps the girl could help in some way.
"Will you demonstrate some of what I have taught you, Corinna?"
The girl's eyes lit up. "Just wait, mistress. I shall amaze and delight that crusty old Adelphos."
Daria studied the impetuous girl and bit her lip. But it was a chance she must take.
The School of Adelphos lay at the end of the docks, its modest door deceptive. Daria paused outside, her hand skimming the rough wood, and inhaled determination in the sharp tang of salt and fish on the breeze. Who would believe that such distinguished men as the poet Apollonius and Attalus the astronomer had studied and written and debated behind this door? Sea trade had kept Rhodes prosperous for centuries, but in the two hundred years under Roman control, the Greek island had grown only more beautiful, a stronghold of learning, of arts and sciences and philosophy.
Inside its most famous school, she blinked twice and waited for her sun-blind eyes to adjust.
"Daria!" Adelphos emerged from the shadows of the antechamber with a cool smile and tilt of his head. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was several years her senior, with the confident ease of an athlete, a man aware of his own attractiveness.
She returned the smile and straightened her back. "Adelphos. Looking well, I am pleased to see."
He ran a gaze down the length of her, taking in her thin white tunic and the pale blue mantle that was the best of her lot. "As are you."
"I have come to make you an offer."
At this, his eyebrows and the corner of his mouth lifted in amusement and he gave a glance to Corinna, still at the door. "Shouldn't we send your young charge home first?"
She ignored the innuendo. "My employ as Corinna's tutor will soon come to an end, and I desire to find a place here, in your school. As a teacher." She swallowed against the nervous clutch of her throat.
Again the lifted eyebrows, but Adelphos said nothing, only strolled into the lofty main hall of the school, a cavernous marble room already scattered with scholars and philosophers, hushed with the echoes of great minds.
She gritted her teeth against the condescension and beckoned Corinna to follow, with a warning glance to keep the girl quiet, but the child's sudden intake of breath at the fluted columns and curvilinear architraves snapped unwanted attention in their direction, the frowns of men annoyed by disruptive women.
Adelphos disappeared into the alcove that housed the school's precious stock of scrollsscrolls Daria had often perused at her leisure and his generosity.
Daria spoke to his back. "Do you doubt my abilities"
"What I doubt, my lady, is a rich man's willingness to pay a woman to teach his sons."
Daria waved a hand. "Bah! What difference does it make? I can do a man's work just as well. And if they learn, they learn!" But a cold fear knotted in her belly.
Adelphos traced his fingertips over the countless nooks of scrolls, as if he could find the one he sought simply by touching its ragged edge. "And you, Daria? Do you want to live a man's life as well as do a man's work? What woman does not long for love and family and hearth?"
Her throat tightened at his words, too close to the secrets of her heart. Yes, she longed for those comforts. For a love that would accept her abilities, complement rather than suppress. But for now, for now she had no one and she must assure her own welfare.
She coughed to clear the dryness of her throat and stepped beside him, examined the great works of philosophy and literature, their tan Egyptian papyri wrapped in brown twine, sealed in waxy red.
Adelphos reached past her to a nook above her head, and his muscled arm brushed her shoulder.
The touch was intentional, clearly. Manipulative. Even so, his nearness left her breathless and her usual sharp-tongued wit failed. When she spoke, it was a harsh whisper, too raw with emotion, though the words emerged falsely casual. "And why should I not have both?"
At this, Adelphos huffed, a derisive little laugh, and turned to lean his back against the shelves and unroll the scroll he had retrieved.
"A woman of ambition. Does such a breed truly exist?" His gaze darted to hers. "But what am I saying? You have already wedded a husband, have you not?"
Daria pulled a scroll from its recess and pretended to study it.
"You are interested in the work of Pythagoras? That one is newly arrived from Samos."
Daria shrugged. "I find his work repetitive. What new has he added to Euclid's previous efforts?"
"Indeed." Adelphos pulled the scroll from her hands and replaced it in its nook. "But you have not answered my question."
"I am a widow, yes."
"A widow with no sons. No dowry." He glanced at Corinna, clutching the doorway. "And no employment. Is there anything more desperate?"
Daria lifted her chin and met his gaze. "It seems you are in an enviable position, then, Adelphos. You have found a skilled teacher, available for a bargain."
Adelphos circled to Corinna, an appreciative gaze lingering on her youth and beauty. "And this is your prize specimen? The pupil of whom I have heard such wonders?"
The girl straightened and faced Adelphos with a confidence borne of knowledge. "Shall I demonstrate the superior skill Mistress Daria has given me with languages?"
Daria silently cheered and blessed the girl. "Corinna has been working hard to master the tongues of Rome's far-flung empire."
Adelphos's brow creased and he opened his lips as if to speak, then sealed them and nodded once. No doubt he wanted to ask what use there might be for a girl who could speak anything but common Greek. As Daria herself was such a girl, the implicit question struck a nerve. She turned a shoulder to Adelphos and nodded encouragement to Corinna. "Let us hear Herodotus in the Classical first, then."
The girl grinned, then gushed a passage of Herodotus in the proud language of her Greek forebears, the language of literature and poetry, before Alexander had rampaged the world and equalized them all with his common koine.
"And now in Latin, Corinna."
The girl repeated the passage, this time in the tongue of the Romans, the new conquerors.
Adelphos tilted his head to study the girl, then spoke to her in Latin. "Anyone can memorize a famous passage in a foreign tongue. Few can converse in it."
Corinna's eyelashes fluttered and she glanced at her hands, twisted at her waist. When she answered, it was not in Latin, but in Persian. "Fewer still can converse in multiple languages at once, my lord."
Adelphos chuckled, then glanced at Daria. "She does you proud, lady."
A glow of pride, almost motherly, warmed Daria's chest. "Indeed."
Corinna reached out and gripped Adelphos's arm, bare beneath his gleaming white tunic. "Oh, it is all Mistress Daria's fine teaching, I assure you, my lord. I wish to be an independent woman such as she someday. There is nothing she cannot do."
"Corinna." Daria smiled at the girl but gave a tiny shake of her head.
Corinna withdrew her hand and lowered her eyes once more. "I have told my father this, but he does not understand"
"Her father has been most pleased with her progress." Daria tried to draw Adelphos's attention. "He saw a superior mind there from an early age and was eager to see it developed."
But he waved a hand in the air. "I have seen enough. You may go."
Chapter TwoCORINNA REACHED TOWARD DARIA, BUT ADELPHOS stepped between, his expression on Daria unreadable. "Not you, my lady. You shall stay."
A flutter of excitement chased down Daria's spine.
Corinna embraced her and clung tight, too tight. "Good-bye, then, Mistress Daria." The words were muffled against Daria's neck, tear-filled and final, with all the drama to which young girls are prone.
Daria patted the girl's back and whispered, "You go on, then, Corinna. We shall see each other everywhere. In the theater, in the market. You have my promise."
Corinna flitted from the hall, and her departure felt like an ending when something new had not yet begun. A place-between-places that was most uncomfortable.
Daria turned to Adelphos, who leaned his shoulder against the shelf of scrolls beside her, his body close enough that she could smell the cook spices of his morning meal.
"If we strike this bargain, you and I, we must understand each other." His voice was hard and clear, his eyes calculating.
"You will give yourself to art and science and letters, and in this you will become a curiosity, and therefore an asset to this school. But you will not give yourself to a man. You shall not marry."
It was a quick twist in her chestlike the wringing of a tiny bird's necknot particularly violent or painful. But irrevocable.
"You shall have me undivided, Adelphos. I will make you wealthier, I promise."
He shrugged and lifted his body away from the shelf. "Not that I expect your celibacy to be a problem. I have never met a man who would want a wife as clever as you."
She dropped her gaze to the marble floor and held her tongue. For once.
He jabbed a thumb toward the back of the hall. "You may take the small room here as your own, if you wish." He led her to the tiny space that held only a sleeping mat and indicated a small, unlit lamp in a wall niche.
If she had sought for a place to belong, she had been disappointed. Adelphos's grudging tolerance had all the icy detachment of a slave purchase. But it was enough that she would survive. It was enough.
At the entry, he turned, one hand on the door frame. "The school is rented in the off-hours to a private group. Take care not to disturb them."
"What kind of group?"
"I believe you cannot help but question everything, can you, woman? I am still unconvinced that you are not more trouble than you are worth."
With that he left, and it was his mysterious patrons who disturbed her late that evening when she raised her head from where she sat against the wall of the alcove, poring over her cherished scroll of Thucydides. She had lit a lamp against the fading day, but the hall beyond lay in half-darkness, filled with whispers.
She let the scroll furl upon itself, then slipped the loop of twine over and held it lightly in her hand. She crept to the door, peered around the frame to survey those who paid Adelphos for a private meeting place.
A tight circle of men in the center of the vast hall allowed only glimpses of a light burning between pressed bodies. The secretive slant of their shoulders and the raspy murmurs slid a chill across her skin.
They all whispered at once, the same words, over and over, in a language even she did not recognize. Some sort of chant, a religious ritual. Priests?
She craned her neck to see into their midst. What did priests do when they gathered in private? Why did they not serve the gods in the temple, where rituals belonged? Would not strange deviations from the rules invite the gods' wrath?
But they wore ordinary tunics and outer robes, the dress of prosperous businessmen, not the elaborate robes of priests. Even so, their hands reached into the circle and they swayed along with their chants, lost in religious ecstasy.
A mewling cry, like that of a young lamb, squeaked from within their circle and froze Daria's blood. A sacrifice? Here in the School of Adelphos, in the center of the marble floor? Were there not temples and altars for such rites?
It came again, that pitiful cry, and for an instant their bodies parted and Daria glimpsed the whiteness, not of a lamb, but of a tunic covering pale skin.
She straightened, stepped into the doorway, reached a hand toward the group.
She must get closer.
Her sense of danger roared a warning, but she slipped along the edge of the hall, kept to the shadows, circled to a gap where a small table had been set with dark-colored amphorae, strange amulets, and yellowed scrolls.
Through the breach she saw their captive and at the sight sucked in a ragged gasp, too loud, too sudden.
The girl was no older than Corinna. Young, and pretty once, but now with stringy hair that hung about her eyes and scratches gouged into the pale flesh of her arms and face. Where was her family? Her mother? Two men held her arms, heedless of her injuries, and a third forced her lips open to receive the contents of a tiny amphora.
Excerpted from So Shines the Night by TRACY L. HIGLEY Copyright © 2013 by Tracy Higley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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