In the 3rd century, pampered Roman princess Valeria falls in love with Mauritius, captain of the Theban Legion. She sends him off to battle, where he suffers under the schemes of a notorious pagan general with an ambition for power and a lust for Valeria. In a scene based on true events, the evil Galerius kills Mauritius and his entire legion for their Christian faith. And in a shocking turn of events, the grieving Valeria is forced to become Galerius’ wife against her will. Never has a marriage been set up for such failure. Valeria loathes her new husband, but he seems to undergo a change of heart, adopting a child for her and giving her power and authority, and even love. She struggles with the commitment she knows she must keep, and the love she knows she will never find again.
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About the Author
Susan Wales, a born storyteller and wife of film producer, Ken Wales, is a popular speaker throughout the United States and a frequent teacher at writers’ conferences. A partner in Gaga Animation with Jeff Holder, she also has spoken internationally on storytelling in production. She co-authored Faith in God and Generals and The Amazing Grace of Freedom, companion books for those two films, and also co-wrote the popular political thriller series The Chase, The Replacement, and The Candidate. Best known for her Match Made in Heaven series of compiled true stories, Susan co-wrote two etiquette books, Social Graces and Social Graces for your Wedding, and an entertaining book, The Pleasure of Your Company. Her top-selling gift books with author Alice Gray are A Christmas Keepsake, Keepsakes for a Mother’s Heart, and Grandmother, Another Name for Love.
Read an Excerpt
By Kathi Macias, Susan Wales
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Kathi Macias and Susan Wales
All rights reserved.
Shame on you! Valeria chastised herself as she serpentined through the secret passageway that led to her mother's boudoir. Had the agonizing thought of leaving the palace during the exciting winter social season reduced her, the emperor's daughter, to a common spy? Absolutely! Overhearing snippets of her parents' conversation in the hallway, she knew she had no choice; eavesdropping was her only weapon. Valeria was determined to discover why her father was so insistent that she accompany her mother to Egypt.
Near the end of the tunnel, Valeria broke through a maze of cobwebs to reach the secret entrance to her mother's room. She pushed the door, rusted shut by years of neglect, but it would not budge. As a young girl, she had frequently played in the tunnel, but a couple of years ago, she had put away her childish ways. Frustrated, she kicked the door repeatedly until at last it opened. A puff of dust blew into the room and settled over the Turkish carpet like a storm cloud, but there was no time to clean. The echo of her mother's singsong voice drifted down the hallway, warning of her imminent approach. Valeria scurried to a hiding place behind the damask draperies — just in time! The door swung open, and her parents, Emperor Diocletian and his beautiful wife, Empress Prisca, entered the room.
Valeria's heart raced. She knew she should not be eavesdropping, but it was too late to turn and run. Besides, she needed to discover her father's reasoning for the trip, and then perhaps she could persuade him to allow her to remain at home and attend the winter ball.
After all, her mother's dressmaker in Milan had created a stunning velvet gown for the event, specifically designed to match the color of Valeria's eyes, as well as the aquamarines in the bejeweled crown her father had presented to her on her fourteenth birthday. What more perfect occasion to show off her latest finery than the winter ball at the palace?
"You simply must not tell her," she heard her mother protest.
"But if I do not, the child will surely drive me mad," her father countered.
"You are a mighty warrior, my dear. Surely you can withstand the harpings of a fourteen-year-old girl."
The emperor sighed. "Truthfully, I would rather fight a battle with the most ferocious barbarian in the empire than to deny a request from our strong-willed daughter."
Behind the curtain, Valeria suppressed a giggle. Her incessant harassment of her father was obviously working. It should be only a matter of time until she wore down his resistance and he granted her permission to stay in the palace with the servants while he and her mother were away.
Prisca laughed. "What right do you have to complain? You know she inherited her strong will from you. It has certainly served you well."
"Alas, it benefits me as a man, and more so as the Roman Emperor, but Valeria is a young woman."
"As the daughter of the mighty Roman Emperor, Valeria will marry a powerful man. She will need her strong will."
Diocletian's voice reflected his good humor. "Is that spoken from the voice of experience?" Before Prisca could respond, the emperor teased, "I love the way your eyes spark with fire when you are angry, my love."
Valeria muffled a giggle as she pushed the draperies aside to peek at her mother's reaction. She felt her face grow hot as she watched in horror; her father pulled her mother close and placed his lips on hers. She squeezed her eyes shut and scolded herself for spying on her parents during such an intimate moment. How she wished she could disappear!
A few moments later, her father's sandaled footsteps sounding across the marble floor as he walked away, Valeria was showered with relief. Then she heard his voice boom throughout the bedchamber. "Why not just tell her the truth?"
"Because I want our daughter's childhood to be innocent and carefree."
Diocletian chuckled. "In the meantime I will have to live in fear of her aggravating me."
"So be it. I do not want our daughter frightened at such a tender age."
Valeria was even more perplexed now. She had to know what could be so dreadful that her parents wanted to protect her from it. Curiosity overcame her, and she stepped out from behind the curtains.
"Valeria!" the couple cried in unison. The shock on their faces was evident, as her mother jumped up from the divan and walked over to her daughter.
"What were you doing hiding behind there?" Prisca demanded.
Valeria ignored the question, and asked, "What is this ominous threat that you are afraid to tell me about?"
Her parents looked at one another for a moment and then burst into laughter.
"Come here," her father coaxed, reaching out for her.
Valeria remembered protocol and fell prostrate before her father. She wondered if he were still smiling or if his initial humor had turned to anger, but from her vantage point all she could see was the jeweled hem of his robe and his pointy red slippers encrusted with diamonds. One thing the emperor would not tolerate from any of his subjects, including his daughter, was the refusal to bow down before him, so she had to remain perfectly still until he dismissed her.
There were no servants in the privacy of her mother's room, and Valeria felt her father's hand reach for her to help her to her feet.
Accepting his invitation, Valeria took his hand. Diocletian pulled her close and peered over the top of her head as he announced to his wife, "There is no greater fear than fear of the unknown. I must tell her." He paused, as if waiting for his wife's approval.
"Oh, do tell, Father," Valeria begged, filling the silence as she pulled away from him and shot her mother a pleading look.
"Very well," Prisca agreed, as she resumed her seat on the divan and patted the spot beside her.
Once the women were seated, Diocletian explained. "As you know, I am leaving for Gaul in a few weeks to join my troops in order to quell an uprising by the Burgundy rebels."
"I do know, yes. And I will miss you terribly, Father."
The emperor smiled. "I will miss you, too, my darling. But if you must know, I am sending you and your mother to Egypt, not for pleasure but for your protection."
"But I thought our palace in Nicomedia was the safest place in the Empire," Valeria argued. "You have told me so on numerous occasions."
"At one time this was true, but our reconnaissance spies have heard rumors of a plot by the rebels to invade Turkey. With all the uprisings throughout the empire, and the majority of the army, as well as me, away in Gaul, our castle in Nicomedia could be in imminent danger. Should our home be invaded, your lives and the servants' could be in jeopardy. I cannot risk such a threat."
Valeria hung her head. "Please forgive me, Father. I had no idea you were saddled with such an enormous burden."
Her father lifted her chin with his thumb and index finger. "You are not to worry your pretty head about me, nor anything else for that matter. You and your mother will be safe and happy at the palace in Egypt. Some of the finest armies in the empire are stationed there."
"Thank you for your concern for our well-being, my lord," Valeria answered, humbled by her father's care, though still doubtful that Egypt would be nearly as pleasant as he claimed.CHAPTER 2
Accompanied by a fleet of a dozen ships, the royal ship was extravagantly fitted for the empress and her daughter's comfort on their journey to the island of Elephantine in Upper Egypt.
Valeria spent most of her time on deck, basking in the sun and viewing the picturesque Greek Isles along the route. One moonlit night after dinner the ship's captain stopped to exchange pleasantries with Valeria and Prisca. The women marveled at the stars that twinkled across the black velvet landscape of the sky.
The captain pointed upward. "See the brightness of the North Star tonight? That same star has led ships to their destinations for centuries. It is the star that led the wise men to the Christ child." After his explanation, the captain tucked his chin in what Valeria imagined to be embarrassment over his mention of Jesus. It was no secret that Diocletian was a devout pagan with little tolerance for the Christian religion.
Prisca quickly reassured the captain. "My husband employs many Christians for their loyalty and integrity."
The captain lifted his eyebrows, appearing surprised.
Valeria understood that her mother was trying to put the captain at ease, so she added, "Father speaks highly of the Christian soldiers in his army too. He says they are honest and loyal."
The captain's jaw relaxed, and he smiled. "It is God's command ... to do everything with excellence, as if unto our Lord."
"An intriguing impetus," Prisca observed. "I should like to learn more about your faith and this Jesus you worship."
"Then you are traveling to the perfect place," the captain assured her. "The Coptic monks in Aswan are considered the greatest biblical scholars and teachers in all the Roman Empire. Madame could perhaps arrange a meeting with them."
Prisca smiled. "Perhaps I shall," she said, turning to Valeria. "Are you ready to go below? I am tired, and it is time for me to begin my bedtime beauty rituals."
"Oh, Mother, could I please stay and stargaze awhile longer?"
Prisca hesitated and then spoke to Valeria's lady-in-waiting, Eugenia, who was seated nearby. "Valeria is behind in her studies. She has my permission to stay if you will give her a Roman astronomy lesson."
"I am sorry," Eugenia answered, "but I am not qualified to teach astronomy."
Prisca raised her eyebrows.
"What I mean is ... I am hardly the person to do so, Madame. I do not believe —"
Prisca's eyes narrowed, and her reprimand was sharp and to the point. "Were you not taught astronomy as a child?"
"Of course, but I cannot —"
"What you are really trying to say is that you object to our method of teaching astronomy. Is that it?"
Eugenia hung her head.
"I will not tolerate your religious beliefs interfering with the education her father and I have chosen for our daughter."
"Forgive me, Empress." Eugenia bowed before her mistress, her eyes lowered in obvious embarrassment. "I will gladly provide Valeria's lesson."
Prisca, still stiff with anger, nodded before turning to her daughter. "Good night, love," she whispered before she went below, her entourage of servants following.
When they were gone, Valeria reached over and touched Eugenia's hand. "By morning, Mother will have forgotten this little altercation."
Eugenia, only a few years older than Valeria, bit her quivering lip and blinked back her tears, but forged ahead with the lesson. First she fetched some papyrus and sketched two constellations before pointing to the sky. "You see the North Star, the one the captain pointed out earlier? It is actually the tail of Lesser Bear, Ursa Minor."
"Son of Jupiter," Valeria interjected. She looked up at the sky and then ran her fingers over the illustration Eugenia had sketched for her.
"Very good." Eugenia smiled at her eager pupil. "Across from it is Larger Bear, Ursa Major — the boy's mother, Callisto."
"Stop." Valeria held up her hand. "Jupiter's wife is Juno. Where does Callisto fit?"
"Let it suffice to say that Callisto was Jupiter's 'wife on the side.' "
"You mean his mistress? Are you insinuating that Jupiter was an adulterer?"
Eugenia's eyes opened wide. "How do you know the meaning of the word?"
"Stop treating me like a child. I am fourteen years old!" Valeria flung her head to one side, and her copper-colored hair cascaded like a waterfall down one shoulder.
Eugenia rolled her eyes and continued. "Callisto was not always a bear. An insanely jealous Juno turned her into one."
"Can you blame Juno? If Jupiter were your husband, would you not do the same?"
"Me?" Eugenia grinned. "I would have turned Jupiter into a bear myself."
Valeria laughed. "What happened next?"
"Juno tricked Callisto's son into killing the bear — his own mother."
"I suppose that is one way to get rid of the other woman, but the poor boy must have been devastated."
"Yes, but Jupiter took pity on his grieving son. He placed the boy and his mother in the sky so they could live together forever." Eugenia paused and concluded Valeria's lesson. "From the North Star we can always know the direction we are facing. It will help us find our way. The North Star never sinks below the horizon, so you can always locate it."
Leaning closer, Valeria whispered, "You do not believe a word of the lesson, do you?"
Eugenia lowered her lashes. "My Father in heaven created the moon, the stars, and the sky — not Jupiter."
"My father believes he is Jupiter." Valeria laughed nervously. "At least, the embodiment of the god upon earth. Do you believe he is?"
"I would rather not discuss it," Eugenia said, standing to her feet. "It is late."
"Now I understand why you preferred not to teach an astronomy lesson." Valeria grinned. "In honor of your god."
Eugenia appeared distressed. "I have failed my God. My Christian friends will die before they deny him, but I ... I do not even have the strength to refuse to fill a young girl's head with the lies of pagan gods."
"But how can you be so sure they are lies?"
"With your mother's permission, one day I shall tell you." Eugenia dried her tears with her handkerchief and reached for Valeria's hand. "For now," she said, as she kissed the girl's fingertips, "it is bedtime."
* * *
Once their traveling expedition reached the river, their luxurious cruising boat was dry-docked, and they stepped aboard the feluccas, the sailing vessels of the Nile.
As the hours slipped by, mother and daughter stood in awe, craning their necks to see the pyramids, the temples, and the palaces on the riverbanks. They marveled at the ancient mastery of engineering and perfection in design against a backdrop of sand dune cliffs and the lush green banks that gave way to russet mountains, set afire by glowing sunsets.
The women were fascinated by the wildlife, especially the vast herds of camels bunched at the shore. They were fearful of hungry crocodiles and enormous hippopotami that swam close to the boat and had to be coaxed away by the sailors. Valeria screamed every time she spotted a menacing snake the length of a small boat slither off the riverbanks and into the water.
On the final day of their journey, Valeria sensed a change in her heart. "Something is coming," she told her mother.
Prisca raised an eyebrow. "Not another herd of hippos, I hope."
Valeria laughed. "I am not sure what it is, but I feel a great sense of adventure awaiting us at Father's palace on Elephantine."
"I must write to your father with this news. It will truly make him smile."
Before they could continue their conversation, the boat reached the city of Aswan, and the women gasped as one of the sailors pointed to the Island of Elephantine in the distance. They beheld the magnificence of Diocletian's fortress rising up like a jewel out of the banks of the island. Fringed by palm trees, the palace glittered in the sunlight like a priceless diamond.CHAPTER 3
Valeria was besotted with Egypt. She adored the beautiful gardens, which overflowed with fragrant flowers, and vegetables and fruits beyond the size and flavor of any she had ever tasted. What she cherished most were the early morning strolls she and her mother took through the gardens and on the golden beaches. She delighted in plucking seashells from the sand and dipping her toes into the water. The warm sunshine had soon colored her pale skin with a peachy glow.
Getting settled into the palace had taken far more time than the women had anticipated. There were Roman dignitaries to entertain, and prominent Egyptians hosted parties given in the women's honor. Four weeks passed before Prisca was able to arrange to meet the Coptic monks recommended by the ship's captain.
When the day arrived, Valeria pouted. "Why should I have to go study with the monks? I can hardly keep up with my lessons now."
"I have arranged for us to go late mornings so you can study with your tutor earlier and then spend the rest of your school time with the monks."
Valeria shrugged. "As long as it is part of my studies. But I have heard the monks are old and crabby." She pinched the end of her nose. "My friend Aneksi told me they smell as musty as the catacombs."
Excerpted from Valeria's Cross by Kathi Macias, Susan Wales. Copyright © 2010 Kathi Macias and Susan Wales. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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