In case you have somehow managed to avoid, evade, and duck the onslaught of promotion I have been doing for the Eye of Isis novels (and I’ll be writing about that on #thiswritinglife tomorrow), here is the first chapter of the first novel in the series for your reading pleasure. More to follow…
“Sheri! Where are you, girl? Sheri!”
“Uncle Neb! You’re back!” A slim woman materialized from the depths of the house. She ran forward to throw her arms around the speaker. He raised her off her feet and squeezed her so hard it caused a breathless protest.
Nebenteru the Trader (Imports and Exports, Dealing Exclusively in Luxury Goods Fine and Rare, Prices Available Upon Request, Commissions Negotiated) was a man made to chuckle and he did so now, all two bellies and three chins shaking as he set her down again. “Wait till you see the treasures I have brought downriver!” He spread his arms wide and raised his face to the sky, as if imploring Hathor herself to witness his words. “The merchants of Alexandria will weep with envy and we shall be rich beyond dreams of avarice!”
Tetisheri regarded him with affection. His hair was black and his skin was dark in part from their common Theban ancestors and in part from long days spent shepherding shipments up and down the Nile and across the Middle Sea. His eyes were large and dark brown and thickly lashed and drew up slightly at the outer corners. Like Tetisheri’s own but that hers were a clear blue, a blue as deep and dark as the Middle Sea itself.
As dark as he, she was taller by a hand and slender where he was stout, she was simply dressed in a slim tunic of white Egyptian cotton, her only ornament a tiny chalcedony pendant in the shape of an exquisitely carved black cat hanging from a silken cord around her neck. By contrast Uncle Neb was a bit of a dandy. His tunic and trousers were made of the finest linen from the looms of the city’s most talented weavers, the sash that bound them a marvel of red and gold thread. His hair was close-cropped and always neatly trimmed, and his beard was drawn into a point off his chin and that point adorned with a large, tear-shaped pearl that trembled violently as he talked and laughed. It trembled now as he caught her shoulders in his hands and looked her over. “All is well with you then, Tetisheri?”
She smiled down at him, hands raising to clasp his. “All is well, Uncle Neb.”
“Breaking any hearts?”
She made a face. “Not lately.” Not since her disaster of a marriage had ended two years before, and not ever again if she had anything to say about it.
He raised an eyebrow but forbore to comment. “And the business? Sales are booming?” They turned as one toward the back of the house, her arm settling around his shoulders and his about her waist.
“The business goes well, Uncle, although there has been more trading than selling, and what we sell is bought mostly with denarii. You’ve heard the news? That Caesar is leaving soon?”
He nodded. “I passed him and the queen coming up river as I was coming down.”
“I saw them leave. It was quite the procession.”
“Difficult to believe the royal barge didn’t sink beneath the weight of the statuary she loaded on board.”
“Living and dead,” Tetisheri said, and they both laughed. “I hope Caesar was properly impressed.”
“As he was meant to be.”
“As he was meant to be. But my point is, Uncle, is that with Caesar and his men leaving soon, we might like to look at the inventory. As long as there is one Roman left in all of Egypt we can never stock enough olive oil, but there might be less call for garum.”
“Caesar is not the man to leave a prize as rich as Egypt unguarded, Sheri.” Uncle Neb shook his head. “Nor is he so unwise or so unambitious as to leave a puppet behind with no minder, lest she cut her strings.”
“The queen is no puppet, uncle.”
“You’ve known her longest and best,” he said agreeably, and left thebut unsaid. “Regardless, I venture to say that there will be Romans enough left behind when Caesar goes to maintain a healthy profit on any amount of garum we care to stock.”
Tetisheri’s frown deepened. “Very likely you’re right.” A young woman entered the room. “Yes, Keren?”
“You have a caller. He waits in the atrium.”
“Thank you.” She kissed Neb’s cheek. “Go gloat over your treasures. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“Well met, Keren!” Neb said. “You won’t believe what I found for you!”
“Indeed, in a little shop in the souk in Berenike. An enormous collection of healing herbs such as would have wrung your heart at the very sight.”
“You went all the way to Berenike?”
He waved a negligent hand. “An easy diversion from Syrene, and well worth the journey. The trade goods on the docks of Berenike, Keren, you should have seen the variety, from as far away as Punt and Sinae! It was marvelous to behold.”
“Were there any seeds with these faraway herbs that you found, Uncle?”
He grinned at her. “Seeds for all of them.”
“Uncle! And did you bring them some of each back for me, too?”
He pretended offense. “What do you take me for, child? Of course I did.”
Their voices faded as Tetisheri made her way to the atrium, a large, square room open to the sky. A fountain made of simple white marble tiers shaped into staggered rounds trickled pleasantly from one level to the next and finally into a small pool beneath. Citrus and pomegranate trees flourished in every corner.
Her pace slowed when she saw who was waiting for her.
He was looking into the pool, a contemplative expression on his face, and he did not hear her at first so that she was able to study him for a few moments. He was tall with a trim figure that gave the impression of motion even when at rest. His brown tunic was made from a rough weave and girdled by a wide belt bearing a gladius in a boiled leather sheath. Wide guards stamped with double-headed eagles bound both wrists, their leather well oiled and supple from use. Old scars gleamed whitely against his skin, across an eyebrow, a cheekbone, his jaw, both arms, slanted deeply across a calf, a history of service under arms, although he was anything but the grizzled old soldier. His hair was fair and thick, cut close to his head. He could have been any age from twenty to forty.
He looked up. His eyes were the color of olivine, pale and clear and of a quality that one instinctively felt pierced directly to the heart of any matter, suffering no ambiguity, equivocation, or outright lie.
“Tetisheri,” he said. He voice was deep and steady.
“She wants to see you.”
She cast a look behind her, ready with excuses of a newly returned uncle and a massive intake in inventory to be accounted.
Her lips tightened briefly, and then relaxed. “I’ll get my cloak.”
There are now three Eye of Isis novels, most recently Theft of an Idol.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.