Welcome back to another clash, where you get a rare look at a portion of what you might, one day, find sitting on the shelf of your local book store.
This time last year, Diane Graham's I Am Ocilla won our second Unpublished Clash. Next month, the same novel will release with Splashdown Books. Congratulations, Diane!
So much talent flows through COTT waters. We're proud of each of our authors and wish them all the best. Including the two as-of-yet unpublished writers joining us this week. Maybe next year, we'll have another release to announce. Today, however, the first bits of these novels are for our eyes only.
Helping us celebrate the accomplishments of these writers is WhiteFire Publishing. They are donating one copy of one of author Roseanna White's novels. The winner of our current drawing may pick one of the following books: A Stray Drop of Blood or Jewel of Persia. More information on these books tomorrow! In the meantime, you may enter the drawing multiple times by voting, commenting on any post, sharing on Facebook, or Tweeting about this Clash or the giveaway.
Without further ado, ancient Rome...
August 10, 82 A.D.
My mother is a liar. Jonathan’s tears added shame to his anger as he ran through the crowded streets. No man of twelve should be fleeing and crying like a child. His anguish drove him like a stormy wind through the throng of people and animals, to his place of solitude. The overturned oxcart beckoned from its final resting place beside the city wall, at the end of the narrow alley ahead. He’d never needed its sanctuary as badly as he did this day.
In his haste to turn the street corner into the alley, a low stool caught his shin. He tripped onto the table of the poultry seller, knocking a plucked chicken to the ground. The closest dog snatched it up and ran amidst the clamor of shouts that ensued.
Overhead, geese danced like grisly, pink puppets as they swung from the twine surrounding their webbed feet while their cleaved necks dripped blood. The profane rain fell red and wet on Jonathan’s arms. He regained his footing among the continued ruckus of angry shouts, punctuated by a growling dog defending its prize.
While Jonathan fled, the merchant barked in Greek, cursing him, his mother, father, even his unborn children. Jonathan slowed to catch his breath and allow his eyesight to adjust to the deep shadows of the alley. Once it did, he could not have been more unjustly rewarded. Instead of the sanctum he needed to think and pray, coming into focus were the forms of his tormentors.
The big one curled his lip in contempt. “Look Julius, it’s the bastard. And he’s crying.” The sneer brought giggles from the other two boys standing on either side of their leader.
Jonathan said nothing as he halted before them. He would let them add a hundred bruises to the one now forming on his shin before confessing the reason for his tears.
The blond stopped giggling first. “Maybe they finally told him who he has to thank for those elephant ears.” He put his hands to the sides of his head and flapped them, stepping closer to Jonathan.
The big one uncrossed his arms, his amused expression turning serious. “Is that why you’re crying, bastard? You found out who your father is and he’s a bastard just like you?” The trio erupted in sustained laughter, wheezing while holding their bellies.
This was Jonathan’s chance to run. He was outnumbered and alone, yet one thing held him there.
Their errant jests spoke truth.
Only an hour ago, his mother told him who his father was. She’d plunged Jonathan directly into the waters of the only taboo subject that ever existed between them. That hadn’t been enough to make him run away. What sent him running was her simple answer to his painful question. Why, if she’d always known, was she telling him now?
He’d been unprepared for the answer.
The gods are finally dead.
High King Onomazo gulped down air. His chest heaved when the reality struck him. He grunted while he yanked his sword from the serpentine corpse of the god of valor. The flames that swathed the holy blade dissipated, their job finished. A biting wind chilled him to the core and carried the stench of decay. The cost of victory had been high.
The slaughtered bodies of his personal guard sprawled about him on the hill, a portrait of the battlefield below. Tattered banners waved from rally points, but few soldiers remained to answer their call. Onomazo shut his eyes and slowed his breathing. It’s done. Never again will we live under their tyranny.
The clank of metal boots rose behind him. A contingent of silver-mailed soldiers approached, dragging a man clothed in a blood-spattered white robe. The man’s right arm hung limply at his side. A dull ache spread from Onomazo’s chest into his throat.
When the soldiers reached the top of the hill, one with a sunburst on his shoulderplate stepped forward, head bowed. “I’m sorry to approach you, my king, but Captain Tonus fell to an enemy archer. We’re looking for General Ustled.”
Onomazo shook his head. So many lost. “General Ustled is dead.”
The soldier’s chin dropped and his shoulders sagged.
“What is your name, soldier?”
“Beig, my king.”
Onomazo raised his blade to Beig’s shoulder. “You are now captain in place of Tonus.” He pointed his sword at the robed man. “Where did you find him?”
“Fleeing the field.” Beig produced a black scabbard lined with golden circles and presented it to the king. “He claims he’s a priest of Chaz, but he carried this.”
Onomazo slid the sword out of its scabbard. Harsh red letters engraved on the weapon blazed to life. He slammed the sword back into its sheath. “Bring him to me.”
The soldiers brought the robed man before the High King, but the captive remained motionless.
Onomazo willed himself to remain calm. One battle remains. “Look at me, Ertsin.”
The robed man raised his head. A purple welt graced his right eye. His nose was shattered. Dried blood mingled with sweat that dripped from the brown hair which matted his head. When their eyes met, Ertsin thrust out his jaw. “Hello, Uncle.”
Still Defiant. Onomazo gestured to the soldiers holding his nephew. “Release him.”
The soldiers hesitated for a moment, then let him go. Ertsin landed on his knees, but glared at his uncle.
Onomazo extended the black scabbard to his nephew. “Take it. I want nothing to do with this unholy object.”
Ertsin’s eyes darted from the High King to the soldiers that surrounded him. “You will murder me and claim it was self-defense.”
“I am giving you one last chance. You are guilty of the blood of every man on this battlefield. You deserve many deaths.” He took a deep breath. “But the Most High is merciful, even to his enemies. I shall be likewise.”