I could have sworn I posted Dinah’s first chapter somewhere but apparently while I’ve posted the first meeting of Dinah and Gerhard, and a glimpse of the Roman Commander, Tabor, I neglected Dinah herself.
So here it is.
The New England of a different timeline than our own, circa 950 A.D.
The ring must be perfect.
It had taken over a year for her work to attract the elder Seneca’s attention. If he was pleased with this signet ring for his grandson and eventual heir, it would be the beginning of a long and valuable patronage. She’d finally have enough coin to stand on her own. Enough, maybe, to begin a family.
Dinah bent her head lower, determined to finish today. The eagle’s wing feathers had to be just right, wispy enough to suggest flight, thick enough to suggest power.
Her wooden door swung open so hard it smacked against the far wall. She glanced up and saw a Roman soldier in her doorframe, blocking the rays of the setting sun.
“Centurion, I told you the jewels for your bracelet would not be here until next week.” She went back to her work, not wanting to lose focus at this stage of the engraving.
“I care not for a bracelet.” The soldier stepped inside.
Her head snapped up. This was not the over- eager centurion.
The big engineer wore his full on-duty uniform, including the chest plate. In his wake stood his young assistant, Ceti, also in uniform.
“Commander Tabor summons you, Dinah,” Licinius said. His face and his voice had no emotion at all.
No. She took a deep breath as her stomach began to swirl with acid. “I don’t understand. What has happened?”
She kept her voice clear and unwavering, even while fear crept throughout her body. Never show weakness. She’d learned that a long time ago.
“You don’t need to know. You simply need to obey,” Licinius said.
She curled her hand around the ring. “I’m not Tabor’s soldier, I’m not under his orders, and I have work to finish.” Gods, Tabor, you cannot truly need me. You cannot truly be asking this of me, to become less again now that I’ve worked so hard to become more.
Tabor finally had the damned Legion he’d pleaded for to defeat the Mahicans who’d been harassing the settlement. There was nothing she could do that the soldiers could not do better.
“Dinah, I do not have time to spar with you,” Licinius said, his voice strained. “He said fetch you, your skills are needed.”
Ceti, Licinius’ assistant, placed his hand on the hilt of his gladius. She scowled, wishing for a knife in her hand for the first time in over a year. Licinius waved Ceti back, took off his helmet, and placed it under his arm.
“Tabor is your patron. You owe him duty,” Licinius said, his voice gentler. “Do not make me use force.”
No more a slave but she still wasn’t free.
“I’m not—” Not what I was. “Licinius, no. Tell Tabor it’s been too long. I’m out of practice, my old skills are useless to him.” She slapped her palm on her granite anvil. Her bowl of acid, needed to etch the design into the ring, almost tipped over.
“Tabor obviously disagrees,” Licinius said.
Ceti drew his gladius and the sound of the blade scraping the scabbard echoed around her home. Oh, yes, that would make her surrender, a soldier who didn’t even know how to draw his sword properly.
“Ceti, don’t be an idiot.” Licinius removed his hands from her worktable. “I will allow you time to put your tools away, Dinah. Then we go.”
She looked up to her loft bed. A real bed, with a real mattress, the first she’d ever owned. “Licinius, you know what this could cost me.” She stepped off her stool.
He leaned toward her, his clean breath flowing over her face. “I know. I am sorry for it. I will be sorrier if you refuse and I have to hurt you.”
If he could hurt her. Once, she could have taken him down within seconds, despite his size. She stepped back and gathered the ring and her tools together, making each move deliberate, buying more time, yet giving Licinius a reason to think she was cooperating.
A weapon, she needed a weapon. Ducking her head, she looked around her home. But there was no salvation to be had from the shelves of raw stones to her left, her woven chair by the fire, and the hanging oil lanterns near the door. She closed her hand around the bowl of acid. Scar Licinius. Far too cruel. He’d been more than kind to her. Besides, it was Tabor who’d ordered this.
“Hurry,” Licinius said.
“You could tell Tabor I was not here,” she whispered, fearful that Ceti might overhear.
Licinius put his helmet back on, the crest brushing the top of her roof. He shook his head. “I cannot. Just as you cannot forget your debt to Tabor. If not for him, you would not be here at all.”
That was simple truth. She closed her eyes and shuddered. All the fight, all the dreams, all her hopes faded from her body. “As you command.” “As Tabor commands.” Licinius shook his head again and turned to Ceti. “Sheathe your weapon, boy, and wait outside.” The boy took a long look at her, as if trying to figure out what was going on, then followed orders.
Just like she was.
She put her tools away in the drawer of her worktable. She pressed a section of the table leg with her foot. A hidden compartment popped open and she slipped the ring inside. Maybe this would not take too long, maybe she would get back to it, soon.
And maybe Augustus himself would come down from his place with the gods to make things right with the Empire that he’d founded.
Meaning, no chance at all.
She retrieved her cloak from a hook in the corner, taking a moment to place her palm flat on the stained glass window, letting the chill on the glass seep into her hand. In her dreams, a crib holding a healthy child sat under the window, the babe looking up to glorious multi-colored light. A child to care for, to be loved, and never to be sold, as her parents had sold her.
Turning, she tied her woolen cloak around her neck, feeling for the handle of her hidden knife. She pulled the hood of the cloak over her head as she stepped through the doorway.
Full dark had fallen.