Daughters of Rome
PRAISE FOR DAUGHTERS OF ROME
"Quinn's follow-up to last year's Mistress of Rome focuses on four Roman women: Cornelia, the "perfect Roman wife," is poised to become the next empress; her sister, Marcella, is a historian with a budding appetite for manipulating powerful men; cousin Lollia finds herself constantly bartered off to different influential men, though only her slave truly knows her heart; and cousin Diana lives for the excitement of the chariot races. Quinn sets her novel in the "Year of the Four Emperors," A.D. 69, a tumultuous time of shifting loyalties. What unfolds is a soap opera of biblical proportions: when Otho deposes Emperor Galba, Cornelia's husband loses his head—literally; Marcella steps in to pull Otho's strings, but future emperor Domitian keeps an adoring, if untrusting, eye on her. All four women must make major sacrifices and risk losing everything—including their lives. Quinn's prequel lacks the darkness of her debut, but not the intensity. She juggles protagonists with ease and nicely traces the evolution of Marcella—her most compelling character—from innocuous historian to manipulator. Readers will become thoroughly immersed in this chaotic period of Roman history."
-- Publishers Weekly
Just a little girl’s hand like any other, plump-fingered and a little sticky, but for a moment he saw blood all over it.
“Interesting,” Nessus gulped. The girl stared up at him, expectant, and he looked at her palm again, hoping it had been a trick of the light. Maybe a shadow. But no, there it was: not a shadow but blood.
You’re seeing things, he told himself. You’re seeing things.
“What?” the child said, curious.
He swallowed a sudden burst of nervous laughter. Wasn’t an astrologer supposed to see things when he looked at the stars, or into a palm?
But he never had before, not once since he’d gotten started in this business. Astrology wasn’t about truth, after all — it was about pleasing the clients. Telling pregnant women that their stars foretold healthy sons; telling legionaries their futures held medals and glory. What successful astrologer told anybody there was enough blood in their hand to soak all Rome?
I could have run a wine-shop. The sun was hot overhead, but Nessus felt chill sweat start to creep down his neck. I could have become a trader. But no, I had to become an astrologer. Reading stars, reading palms when business gets slow, oh, why didn’t I just open a wine-shop? The only blood anybody saw in a wine-shop came from drunks giving each other a swollen nose.
And the morning had started with such promise. Nessus had come early to the Forum Romanum, staking himself a place on the shady side where the afternoon sun wouldn’t beat down on his head like Vulcan’s hammer, and laid out his little display of star charts on threadbare silk. By noon he’d been commissioned for three horoscopes (payment on delivery), read the palm of a grain merchant and spoke mysteriously of fat profits coming on the next harvest; squinted at the hand of a giddy young woman and whispered of a rich husband. Nessus had just been mopping his already-balding forehead on his sleeve and contemplating a jug of wine at the nearest tavern when four little girls arrayed themselves expectantly before him.
“We want you to read our futures,” the tallest had announced, and the rest promptly collapsed into giggles.
“There’s no time,” their nursemaid scolded, but Nessus looked them over with a practiced eye. Patrician girls, or he’d eat his straw sun-hat: silk dresses, tooled leather sandals, veils over their hair to shield their skin. And patrician girls, even little ones like these, had coins to spend.
“Such futures ahead of you!” he intoned mysteriously. “Your stars sing to me of fame and fortune, beauty and love . . . two sesterces apiece, and cheap at the price. Which of you first?”
“Me, me!” Four hands presented themselves, variously grubby.
“No, me first, I’m the oldest! I’m Cornelia Prima, and that’s my sister, she’s Cornelia Secunda, and that’s Cornelia Tertia and Cornelia Quarta, they’re our cousins —”
Definitely patricians — only patricians had such a complete lack of imagination when it came to naming their daughters. Four girls born to one clan — undoubtedly the Cornelii! — and as was traditional, they’d all just been named Cornelia and then numbered in order. Nessus listened to their chatter with half an ear, not bothering to figure out which girl was which. They ranged in age from perhaps thirteen to five or six: a girl with dark hair wound in a crown around her head, a taller girl with the beginnings of a bust, a scabby-kneed towhead and a plump little giggler.
“Yes, what a future!” He put on his most oracular voice, and the first of the girls leaned in with round eyes even as the nursemaid sighed impatiently behind. “A golden-haired man who loves you, and a long journey over water . . . now, for you, let’s see that hand. A dark stranger who adores you from the shadows, who turns out to be a prince in disguise . . . And for you a rich husband, yes, you’ll have six children and dress in silk all your days . . .”
He’d been congratulating himself on a nice fat fee when he got the last palm. His breath stopped in his throat then, and for a moment the whole busy Forum — the housewives bustling past with their baskets, the hoarse-voiced hawkers crying their wares, the stray dogs and noisy children and clouds of white summer dust - seemed to freeze in place.
“What is it?” the girl said again, looking at him quizzically. Nessus felt icy fingers dancing up and down his spine; he had to force himself not to drop her hand like a hot coal and go running around the Forum for a while shrieking. But threadbare young astrologers just getting started in the business of telling the future didn’t last long if they went around shrieking in front of the customers, so he forced a bright smile.
“Little mistress, you have a very grand future ahead of you. All little girls dream of wearing a crown, but you’re going to be Empress of Rome someday! Wife of the Emperor, with more jewels and slaves and palaces than you can count. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“I want to be an empress,” one of the other little Cornelias objected.
“Horsie,” crowed the youngest, waving chubby fingers at a cart- horse plodding by.
Nessus dropped the hand of Cornelia Number Three or Two or whichever one she was. I didn’t lie, he thought queasily. I just didn’t tell . . . all of it.
He looked at the other girls, the ones to whom he’d promised rich husbands and dark lovers and many children, just as he promised all girls, and now he could feel the sweat pouring down his body. Because he didn’t need to look at their hands anymore; he could see futures for all of them.
You’re ill, he told himself. That fish you ate last night. A piece of bad fish, and now you’re hallucinating.
But he wasn’t. Clear as day he saw widowhood for three of the four girls; a fair amount of misery for one and fame for another; a total of eleven husbands and eight children between them — and of course, that one little hand spilling over with blood.
The four girls went skipping off into the Forum after some new diversion, veils fluttering behind them. The nursemaid counted a few coins into Nessus’s hand,s and gave a censorious sniff at his threadbare tunic for good measure, and swished off after her charges. Nessus quickly packed up his star charts and headed to the nearest tavern.
He had had his first vision of the future, and he needed a drink.
“I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword.”