Marie Savage

Oracles of Delphi cover

(October, 2014)

ABOUT ORACLES OF DELPHI

All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish and enjoy time away from her tiresome new husband. Finding the body of a young woman on the altar of Dionysos in the theater of the Sacred Precinct on her first day in town is not in her plans. Neither is getting involved in the search for the killer, falling for the son of a famous priestess, or getting pulled into the ancient struggle for control of the two most powerful oracles in the world. But that’s exactly what happens when Theron, Althaia’s tutor and a man with a reputation for finding the truth, is asked to investigate. When a priest hints that Theron himself may be involved, Althaia is certain the old man is crazy-until Nikomachos, son of the famous priestess of Dodona, arrives with an urgent message. As Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, visions, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, Althaia finds herself falling for Nikomachos whose dangerous secrets may hold the key to the young woman’s death. When another body is found and Althaia discovers Nikomachos is being blackmailed, she devises a plan to coerce the killer to reveal himself and, in the process, forces Nikomachos to confront his own past. As the plan unfolds, she comes to realize that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a blood bond.

ABOUT MARIE SAVAGE

Writing as Marie Savage, Kristina Makansi is a historical/mystery (with a heavy dose of romance) writer with a passion for all things Ancient Greece. THE ORACLES OF DELPHI, is set in 340 BCE just after the last Sacred War for control of the Sacred Precinct and the Oracle of Delphi and before the rise of Alexander the Great. (Kristina’s middle name is Marie and her grandmother’s maiden name was Savage, and she always wanted to be a bit of a savage.)

Kristina is also an award-winning editor and co-founder of Blank Slate Press, a partner in Treehouse Author Services where she is an editor and book/cover designer, and co-author, with her two daughters, of The Sowing, Book One of the Seeds Trilogy.

AN EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Delphi in the Region of Phokis in the Month of Mounichion in the First Year of the 110th Olympiad (340 BCE)

Nikos’s heart pounded against his rib cage like a siege engine. He pressed his back into the stone wall, closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing. He couldn’t believe he’d been such a fool. Next time I’ll surrender the prize, Charis always promised. Next time he would claim it, he always hoped. This time….

He pulled himself to the top of the wall and lay flat. The gates of the Sacred Precinct were locked, and he’d had to climb out the same way he’d climbed in. On the way out, though, he wasn’t lugging a body.

He glanced behind him, toward the theater, and then down to the Temple of Apollon where he’d left Charis’s body for the priests to find. Stars winked in and out as clouds drifted across the black dome blanketing the night sky. He crouched, reached for a nearby branch, and swung down to land on the ground with a soft thud.

It wasn’t the first time he’d taken a life. But he’d never killed a woman, never killed anyone unarmed. Not that he’d killed Charis. Not exactly, anyway. His shoulders, red with teeth and claw marks, throbbed. And his face. He ran his tongue across his lip. At least the bleeding had stopped.

He could still smell her. Still see how she licked her lips as she loosened her braids. Still taste the sweetness of her breast, and feel her hot breath as she put his fingers, one by one, in her mouth, wetting them, running her tongue over them, sucking gently until his whole body trembled. When she pulled him down into the soft pile of hay and wrapped her legs around his waist, he had been ready to give her anything—even the gold tiara. His partners would never know. There were other treasures from the Sacred Precinct to sell.

Of course, none of that mattered now. None of that mattered the moment he felt her brother’s blade against his throat and the trickle of blood drip across his collar bone. The moment Charis scrambled up from beneath him and laughed in his face. Brother and sister, what a pair. Charis’s brother had picked up the tiara and threatened to go to Nikos’s partners with proof he was double-dealing—unless he split his take fifty-fifty. And not just on the tiara. On everything. He’d still be a rich man, Charis promised, laughing at how easy it was to blackmail him.

Her brother was still laughing when the dagger pierced his heart. Didn’t they know nobody bested him with a blade?

Before he could grab it, Charis snatched the tiara from her brother’s grasp and backed away. “You’ll pay for this,” she’d hissed, her voice sharp as serpent’s fangs. She held the tiara above her head, waving it like booty from a hard-fought battle. “I’ll tell Heraklios. I’ll tell everyone you killed him, that you’re the one selling stolen temple treasures on the black market.”

She was cornered, her eyes wild, desperate. Nikos yanked his blade from her brother’s chest and circled her. “It’s your word against mine, and your brother’s reputation as a thief and a brigand will not help your cause.” She’d always been an untamed thing. That had been one of the reasons he’d wanted her, and he wasn’t used to not getting what he wanted.

“I’ll make them believe. I’ll tell your mother.”

“Ha!” He laughed. “My mother may not love me, but she will not believe you. No one will.”

“She’ll believe me if I have proof.”

“What proof will you have, Charis?” He spoke softly, trying to calm her. “Stop this nonsense. Your brother was foolish enough to hold a knife to my throat, and he paid the price. But we can come to terms.” He took a step forward, his hand held out to her. “Come. We can still do business, you and I.” He let a small smile flit across his lips, but kept his eyes on hers. He knew she was not to be trusted. He’d always known that, but still … He watched her, trying to anticipate her next move. He could wait all night, but she’d be expected at the naming ceremony. She’d be missed. “Phoibe is waiting. It’s time for us to come to an understanding. I’ll give you—”

She jumped at him and in an instant, fingernails scraping against skin, stole his most prized possession. She yanked the silver chain from around his neck and clasped the polished orb tight in her fist.

“Give it back.” He demanded, taking a step toward her.

“No.” She scrambled backward. “When your mother sees this, she’ll know I’m telling the truth. She’ll know you murdered my brother. Everyone will have to believe me.”

“No one will believe you, Charis.” He said and took yet another step toward her. “Do you think I will let you leave here with that?” He held out his palm. “Give it to me before we’re both sorry.”

“You’re the one who’ll be sorry.” Cornered, she crouched low like a cat ready to pounce.

Nikos took another step and stopped, waiting. He could easily overpower her and take the necklace back, but he didn’t want to hurt her. Unlike Diokles, he didn’t believe in violence unless his back was against a wall. Charis had to know he wouldn’t let her take the necklace. To her, it was just another bargaining tool, and he’d play along until he got what he wanted.

Then she screwed up her face and spat at him, turned and darted out the open door of the storage shed. He looked down at his chest where the spittle was sprayed dark across the white fabric. She’s mad, he thought. He leapt after her, overtaking her quickly. He grabbed her shoulders and wrenched her around to face him. She fell back and he was on her, trying to pry the necklace from her clenched fist, but she kicked and bucked like an unbroken colt and then, wresting her arm free, she shoved the round silver ball and finely wrought chain into her mouth and clamped her jaw shut.

Stunned, it took him a moment to realize what she’d done. Then he grabbed her face and tried to pry her lips apart. She fought and scratched at his face, clamping her jaw shut even tighter as she struggled against him, clawing and growling like one who’d lost her senses.

She was possessed and though he had no fear of the gods, there was something about her that scared him.

Desperation flowed from her, charging the air light lightning, He could smell her fear; it wrapped around them both like a fetid fume. He sat back on his heels, but she reached for him, gurgling and gagging, eyes wide, arms whirling at him like windmills.

Then he knew. But it was too late. Too late to do anything to keep her from choking. Once she was still, he opened her mouth and probed her throat for the chain or the precious silver ball, but his fingers were too big, too awkward. He pulled her jaw wide and stuck his blade in, trying to catch the loop of the chain. But it was no use. Finally, he sat back and stared at her sprawled in the dirt. Hay and dust settled in her hair like a halo. He reached out and pulled her chiton down over her legs, and for the first time in more years than he could remember, he cried.

He could slice open her neck and retrieve his necklace, but he was reluctant to desecrate her body. Having grown up amongst priestesses who honored the dead and conducted burial rites with care and precision, it was a line he feared to cross. Damn her! He picked up his knife and held it poised above her neck, then slowly pressed the tip into the tender hollow at the base of her throat, the soft place his lips had lingered countless times. She’s dead; what does it matter? He steadied his hand and took a deep breath. It would be a clean cut, over in a moment, and he’d have his treasure back. The necklace is mine. She has no right to take it to the grave with her.

He closed his eyes and prayed. In the distance an owl hooted and he jerked back his hand. An evil omen. He shuddered, then wiped his eyes and stood. So be it. I am a man now, he told himself. The necklace had been a boy’s trinket. The smooth silver ball and ornately crafted chain represented nothing more than a dream, a memory that wasn’t even his.

He’d gone back into the shed and retrieved Charis’s cloak, then picked her up and wrapped it around her. He didn’t care about her brother—the wolves were welcome to feast on his bones—but he wouldn’t leave Charis to be devoured like carrion. They had a history. They’d almost been lovers.

Now he cocked his head and listened. Not even a leaf rustled in an occasional spring breeze. Around him, Delphi slept shrouded in darkness. Under the new moon, dull patches of snow clung to nooks and crannies up and down the mountainside. The oracle wouldn’t start hearing supplicants for another few weeks and without a swarm of pilgrims, Delphi was just another remote mountain village.

In the morning Apollon’s priests would find Charis on the temple steps wrapped snug in her winter cloak. Philon and Kleomon would wait for her brother to claim her, and then, eventually, they would give the body to Phoibe for burial, and Nikos’s treasure necklace would go the underworld with her. He took a deep breath and checked to make sure the gold tiara was still tied securely to his belt. Then he ran his fingers through his hair, brushed the dust from his clothes, and headed down the path toward the Dolphin’s Cove Inn.