Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Guest blog: Elisabeth Storrs - 'The Wedding Shroud'

The Wedding Shroud:  
A Tale of Ancient Rome


‘All the drama and sensuality expected of an historical romance, plus a sensitivity to the realities of life in a very different time and world…’ Ursula Le Guin








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In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbour, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs. Leaving behind a righteous Rome, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as an ancient religion that gives her a chance to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.

Exploring themes of sexuality, destiny versus self-determination and tolerance versus prejudice, The Wedding Shroud is historical fiction at its best which vividly brings Ancient Rome and Etruria to life while accenting the lives of women in ancient history. It is the first book in a trilogy set in Ancient Rome and Etruria and was judged Runner-Up in the 2012 Sharp Writ Award for general fiction. The sequel, The Golden Dice, will be released in 2013.


Prologue:

Her whole world was orange.
Shifting her head to one side, feeling the weight of the veil, hearing it rustle, her eyes strained to focus through the fine weave.
Orange. The vegetable smell of the dye had been faint when she first donned the wedding veil, but now its scent filled her nostrils and mouth, the cloth pressing against her face as she walked to where the guests were waiting.
The atrium was crowded. So many people. Shaking, legs unsteady, Caecilia found she needed to lean against her aunt Aurelia. Through the haze of the veil she could barely make out the faces of the ten official witnesses or that of the most honoured guest, the Chief Pontiff of Rome.
And she could not see Drusus. Perhaps he could not bear to witness her surrender.
‘Stand straight, you’re too heavy,’ hissed her aunt, pinching the girl’s arm.
Biting her lip, Caecilia was led forward. The groom stood before the wedding altar, ready to make the nuptial offering. Her uncle Aemilius smiled broadly beside him.
Aunt Aurelia, acting as presiding matron, deposited her charge with a flourish then fussed with the bride’s tunic. She was revelling in the attention and smiled vacuously at her guests, but the girl was aware that, for so crowded a room, silence dominated.
Drawing back her veil, Caecilia gazed upon the stranger who was to become her husband. To her surprise, his black hair was close-cropped and he was beardless. She was used to the long tresses of the men of Rome—and their odour. This man smelled differently; the scent of bathwater mixed with sandalwood clung to his body.
Head bowed, she tried in vain to blot out his existence no more than a hand’s breadth from her side, but she need not have bothered. He made no attempt to study either her face or form.
‘The auspices were taken at sunrise,’ declared Aemilius. ‘The gods confirm the marriage will be blessed.’
Bride and groom sat upon chairs covered with sheepskin and waited while the pontiff offered spelt cake to Jupiter.
There was a pause as they stood and circled the altar, then the priest signalled Aurelia to join the couple’s hands.
Caecilia wished she could stop shaking. She had to be brave. She had to be dignified. But her body would not obey her. She was still quaking when Aurelia seized her right hand roughly and thrust it into the groom’s.
The warmth and strength of his grip surprised her. Her palm was clammy and it occurred to her that her hand would slip from his grasp. Slowly, she turned to face him. He was old; lines of age ploughed his forehead and creased his eyes. He must be nearly two score years. What was he like, this man? Her husband?
Aware that she should be making her vows to him in silence, she instead prayed fervently that the gods would take pity and not make her suffer too long or too hard in his keeping.
His hand still encompassed hers. Before releasing her fingers, he squeezed them slightly, the pressure barely perceptible. She held her breath momentarily, amazed that the only mark of comfort she had received all day had been bestowed upon her by a foe.
She scanned his face. His eyes were dark and almond-shaped, like the hard black olives from her aunt’s pantry. His skin was dark, too, sun dark. A jagged scar ran down one side of his nose to his mouth.
He was far from handsome.
His toga and tunic were of a rich dark blue making all stare at him for a difference other than his race. Yet his shoulders were held in a martial pose, no less a man for his gaudiness, it seemed, than the Roman patricians around him in their simple purple-striped robes. And the bridal wreath upon his head could have been a circlet of laurel leaves, a decoration for bravery not nuptials.
A golden bulla hung around his neck, astounding her. For a man did not wear such amulets once he’d stepped over the threshold to manhood. Only children wore such charms in Rome. He wore many rings, too, but one in particular was striking. Heavy gold set with onyx. No Roman would garland himself with so much jewellery.
There was one other thing that was intriguing, making her wonder if his people found it hard to farewell childhood. His arms and his legs seemed hairless, as if they had been shaven completely.
Perfumed, short-cropped hair, no beard. Caecilia truly beheld a savage.
Once again she steeled herself, repeating silently: ‘I am Aemilia Caeciliana. Today I am Rome. I must endure.’

Elisabeth Storrs

Elisabeth Storrs graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law majoring having studied Classics and has long held an interest in the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. Over the years she has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, governance consultant and business writer. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney.






6 comments:

Linda Acaster said...

Ooh, fantastic excerpt. I love the rich detail. I wish you well with it, Elisabeth.

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

What a lovely excerpt, Elisabeth.

Jane

Christina said...

Sounds very intriguing, I love reading about the Romans!

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

Elisabeth Storrs said...

Thanks so much Linda, Jane and Christina - I'm glad that you liked the excerpt:)
Best wishes
Elisabeth

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this book!!! I am so very anxiously awaiting The Golden Dice, I can't hardly stand it!!