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Odyssey of an Etruscan Noblewoman

Odyssey an Etruscan Noblewoman

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347 pages
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A new classic about the ancient world

Larthia a married, childless Etruscan noblewoman, disguises herself as a man to exercise her gift of scribing in the sixth century B.C.E.--when all scribes were male. Opening the Tomb of the Ancestors marks her fate. Abducted and forced on an unwanted journey by foot, cart, barge and ship, Larthia faces torture, rape, exile, prostitution, and the knife. Manipulated by powerful kings, cunning men, women and gods, Larthia uses charm, sex and scribing tools to outsmart them. Her odyssey takes her from Tarchna (modern Tarquinia), to Rome, Sicily, to Athens and beyond through the turbulent Mediterranean waters. Against her will, she voyages to Egypt where she is initiated as priestess into the rites of the Cult of Isis. Helped by a mortal god, and sponsored by the pharaoh, Larthia maneuvers her way back to Etruria only to find chilling surprises. Aided by a stranger, the merchant-vintner from Curtun, she must challenge destiny and discover where she will be for eternity.

An excerpt...

1. Tomb of the Ancestors

     Who shall be the first to enter?"
     No one stirred. None answered. Twelve supreme Etruscan prince-priests, magistrates of the League of the Twelve Peoples, in ceremonial clothing that befitted the occasion, stood as statues in a circle outside the great mound. Lesser magistrates and court staffs crowded about them. Glad to be invited, I stayed happily in the outer circle with my fellow scribes from other city-states.
     As well dressed as they, I blended in with confidence. My trim linen tunic, male length to the knee, met high-strapped sandals. Zilath's gift of gold clasp pinned fabric at my shoulder. The pouch with my prized scribing tools hung from a gold-threaded rope belt. My plain mid-length straight hair and nearly hairless jaw gave me a boyish appearance.
     "It's a glorious day to be in the garden of Cisra's City of the Dead," the scribe next to me whispered.
     Anxiously we waited for this event to begin. The enormous mound loomed above, an artificial mountain created by the Ancestors, topped with sprouted turf of brightest sod, and secured on a base of large porous gray stone blocks. Sliced into the mound, a long stone path led to the place that held secrets.
     Chosen as this year's leader, Prince-priest of Veia sang out, "We gather to pay homage to our Ancestor, the Revered One, Princess-priestess Larthia, who brought strength to Etruria. Again I repeat, who shall be the first to enter? Who will step into The Shadows?"
     Shrewdly the prince-priests eyed each other. Their delicate, gold-leaf crowns, representing their native cities, gleamed in Aplu's sunrays. Each canvassed the assembly, searching for a would-be candidate.
     One stroked his beard. "After all, the tomb hasn't been opened since her death." A second wrinkled a brow. "So moldy and dank."
     A third tapped a foot and smoothed the hem of his tunic. "Wet from the rains."
     All gave excuse. What a horrendous ordeal!
     Brave Prince-priest Zilath cleared his throat to gain attention. Selection had been made. He was going to do it. How proud I was of him at that moment. "My noble Scribe Larth is named after the famous Princess Larthia. I choose him," Zilath announced.
     Trumpets blared.
     Had I heard right? Zilath jested. He couldn't mean me.
     "Intriguing." Maru, Cisra's prince-priest smiled.
     "You're pleased that I would volunteer one of my court." Zilath returned the same kind of smile Maru had given him, one that showed intense dislike and intense rivalry. "We Tarchna are valiant."
     I ducked low so I wouldn't be seen. Zilath's piercing eyes searched the crowd and fixed on me. "Step forward, Scribe Larth."
     "Me?" I must have squeaked in a voice unlike my own. Sweat poured from my hairline to toes. I was unsuited for this onerous task, not a magistrate, prince, augur or warrior. I didn't rule, bless or fight.
     The way conveniently parted to let me pass. Oh God Tinia! When Zilath commands, there is no choice. I must obey. I moved solemnly towards my leader. Had Zilath coerced the Fates to cast a curse over my head?
     Without belligerence, I asked, "Who am I but a scribe? I record laws, transactions and accounts. Why would you want me to open a tomb?"
     "Take the candle with you."
     The magistrates encircled, so close I could see each embroidered emblem of authority on their white linen tunics. Precious jeweled pendants set on their chests like victorious trophies. Gold armlets draped over muscled biceps, marks of warrior status. Their high-laced sandals, appropriate for this heat season, reeked of foot odor. Hawk-like eyes devoured me. Wordlessly they screeched at me to be victim, the sacrifice to cross the threshold.
     These cowardly rulers of the most powerful cities, who parade in magisterial poses, were afraid to enter. To stall, hoping that they would see folly in sending a puny stripling into the tomb, I acknowledged and praised each magistrate with flowery speech, exaggerating his splendid contributions to bring about abundance and industry. If only some other, fearless hero would step out to be assigned this dreadful duty.
     "Put us off no longer, Scribe Larth. Take the candle!" Forcibly Zilath shoved it at me.
     This task was unavoidable. "I'm honored, Zilath, that you have decreed that I be at this gathering, that you give me this accolade." Respectfully, I reached for the unlit candle and flint that was thrust in my face.
     The necropolis mound threatened like a monster about to swallow its prey. Mustering dignity, I turned towards the stone path, seeing each uneven stone as a challenge to be conquered. If a rock would fall on my head, it would be only an unimportant scribe to die. The path within the tumulo narrowed, shaded by moss-covered stone walls. With my free hand, I touched the cold stone to support my inner trembling. Paving that lead downward ended at the carved stone post that marked the closing of a tomb. One of Prince-priest Maru's slaves awaited, glaring. "Why are you here? Where's the warrior who enters the tomb?"
     "I am chosen."
     Startled, he asked, "Where are your weapons, youth?"
     I held up the meager candle. "I have none."
     "You're crazed to do this," the slave mumbled. Terrified by his own chore, he shakily managed to strike hammer and awl at the marker. The stone door that sealed the sepulcher unhinged and opened. Two other slaves, wild-eyed from this assignment, struggled with the cumbersome door and pressed it against the wall, leaving enough room for me to slip into the dark space. Jittering with fear, they retreated, heading rapidly back towards the assembly.
     Those slaves would die for knowing this entrance. What fate would be mine?