In my previous post about The Rise of the Stone – Prequel to the Path of the Stone, I shared a small sneak peek of this book I am working on. Now I’d like to share a bigger excerpt. This is a part of chapter 1 and it details the dream I had a few weeks ago, the same dream that inspired me to write The Rise of the Stone.
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Macedonia, 341 BC
Do you know what it feels like when your best friend is marked to die?
It was a morning like no other, or so it seemed when we woke up to our usual routine. She disappeared into her workroom where she would do no ordinary work. There was a long wooden table in there that offered enough space for folding clothes she could have sewn to make a living, but my friend would never do such mundane tasks. Instead, there were flasks with liquids in many dark and bright colors.
Every morning I made tea for both of us and I brought her cup into that room. The display of golden swirls in milky potions, scarlet liquids bubbling, turquoise fluids that reminded me of my dream to see the ocean, and ominous black solutions in those vials were always a marvelous sight to behold. When I walked in that day, my friend stood behind the table, her hand poised over a vial, ready to do her magic. She looked up and smiled when she saw the cup with hot tea in my hand.
“There you go, Bhava,” I said while I placed it on the commode next to the door, knowing fully well that the table was off-limits for food or drinks.
The room was windowless, for her own protection. She had always wanted to look outside while she was working on her potions, but I knew that that would be a straight ticket to the dungeons. Our house stood on a busy street corner. One street bent around our block and ended on a road that snaked its way to the town gate.
The other street led straight to the main square where the magistrate resided. On Fridays a series of canopies provided welcome shade for the market stalls that offered their wares, goods that were brought over the Silk Road here to Heraklia Lyncestis, spices from India, indigo and maroon materials – rare colors that were only obtained in the East – and many other products, some of dubious origins. The charlatan praising the miraculous effects of some healing drought was never absent from those markets.
Many Slavs, mostly Thracians, came to see the wares. On rare occasions I could even spot a few Greeks visiting our market, although I didn’t understand what they were looking for in our little, insignificant town.
Noise from the street traveled up through the window of the main room. People were talking in excited voices and there was a repetitive thud of metal hitting wood. It didn’t sound like the usual street activity. Besides, it was Tuesday. There shouldn’t be any preparations for a market or any other event down there right now.
“I wonder what they’re doing,” I said.
“It’s probably nothing we should worry about.”
“They sound a little agitated.”
“A lower price of the rotten fish they’re offering might do that,” Bhava scoffed with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You worry too much, you know.”
“How could I not? Look at what you’re doing in here, every single day.”
“I am helping people. I ‘m not doing anything bad.”
“I know that, but do they?”
“Everyone here does.”
“I mean the authorities!”
She walked around the table and headed to the commode where she picked up her tea. She blew over the hot liquid before bringing the cup to her lips. I turned and walked out, eager to find out what was going on.
“You worry too much,” she repeated to my back.
I closed the door behind me and hurried towards the window. The view was certainly not what Bhava had thought. There were no market stalls with fish or any other wares. A wooden platform that hadn’t been there before stood right outside our house. It seemed to have been raised out of nowhere. How could they have built it so quickly without us noticing?
A wooden block was in the middle of it and I knew what this meant. I had seen this before in the town square, but never next to my house. A man hit the block with a massive ax – the thud I had heard up in Bhava’s room. He was practicing his aim for the human victims who were to lay their heads on the chopping block.
A crowd had gathered around it, curious, some of them were shouting and laughing in anticipation. Executions were part of the local entertainment, and now I had the “privilege” to watch it from my second-floor window, like a spectator on a balcony. When I saw the shackled prisoners, though, I understood what this meant.
All of them were women and I knew most of them. They were healers like Bhava, sought after by girls who craved love potions for the men they had their sights on, by women who gave birth or women who chose not to give birth and have their unborn child removed, men whose wives were ill, women whose husbands were ill or injured, and so on.
Bhava had helped an endless list of people, and so had these women I saw below. Soldiers approached with another victim whose hands were bound by ropes.
“Danijela Marova,” one of them shouted, “We found her hiding in the stables.”
“Good,” a dark voice answered, “We’re still missing a few. Get them now.”
My eyes peered over the crowd and then I found the owner of that menacing voice, a burly Hellenistic priest with beady eyes and fleshy lips who leered at the women awaiting their deaths. Rubbing his hands, he said, “Hurry, we must cleanse the town of these abominations.”
“Why don’t you flay these witches?” someone in the crowd yelled.
Heaving his chest like a proud peacock, the priest replied, “We have decided that taking their heads is just as effective. It’s like cutting off the head of a snake. Once you do that, the underworld is powerless.” He turned to the soldiers. “Get the other ones, Mariela and Scarletta Svala, Antonia Hermina, and …”
I hid behind the curtains when he glanced up at my window. “We’ll get that one later, she won’t go anywhere. We’re right here.”
Bhava! They were going to kill her too!
I stormed into her room, startling her when she was about to drink her tea.
“We must get out of here, now!”
“They built a scaffold outside our house, right at our front door! And they’re killing all the healers, they’re rounding up the last ones as we speak, and then they’re coming after you!”
“But? How? They can’t do that. There is a process, a trial, they can’t just rip people from their homes and execute them.”
“Don’t be a fool! A trial? That will charge you as guilty anyway! You know that!”
“But they must follow a process.” Bhava seemed truly baffled. Her reaction didn’t surprise me. She was a talented healer and she had unlimited knowledge about plants and potions, but in the real world, she was lost.
That was why she had me. I was the one who kept her feet firmly planted on the ground, but now her life was in danger, and I had to do more than that. With her feet on the ground, she could still lose her head … I had to get her out of here, which was impossible because our door led straight to the scaffold.
“We have no time to analyze why they’re moving so swiftly, but if we stand here and argue you will die. Come with me, now.”
“But my potions …”
“We have no time.”
With a panicky movement, she placed her cup on the commode, spilling most of her tea, and then she rushed to the table, picking up as many vials as she could and dropping them in the sewn-in pockets of her skirt. I followed her and grabbed her by her arm.
“Now, Bhava!” The tone of my voice indicated that I would tolerate no more delays.
Then I heard the thud of the ax again, followed by a jeering audience. It had begun … the first head had been taken. Bhava knew it too. Her eyes met mine, filled with fear, now that she knew what awaited her.
“How will we get out?” she whispered.
“We climb out of the window in the kitchen.” The kitchen was on the other side of the house, it was the only room we had access to since we shared it with other tenants.
“What if someone is there?”
“We’ll worry about that then. It’s our only chance.”
Without waiting for her reply, I pulled her with me. We headed out into the hallway and then ran past doors of other rented rooms towards the kitchen that stood at the end of this long corridor. No one was there. The tenants were either outside within the crowd or hiding in their rooms.
Relieved to find the kitchen empty, Bhava rushed to the window. I grabbed a few knives and gave her one while I stored the rest in my skirt pocket.
The window gave out into the courtyard. I knew that a cart filled with hay stood right below it, because the landlord owned a few cows, and he often brought in hay for their stalls from a nearby farm.
We jumped and landed on the soft hay. Bhava immediately climbed out of the cart and she looked up confused when I didn’t.
“Come on!” she said, “You’re the one who was pushing me to escape.”
Thank you for reading this far! 🙂 The Rise of the Stone was released on 16 May 2022, and you can order it here. If you’d like to read the previous story which led to this prequel (through my dream), The Path of the Stone is available on Amazon.
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