Hannah’s destiny will take her far away from the desert where she and her father tended a goat herd in the fifth century. Hannah is first stolen from her father by slave traders and taken to Alexandria where she is bought by Tarek. Luckily, Tarek’s father, Alizar is a patient man with a secret of his own. Alizar sees that there is more to Hannah than meets the eye. Even as a slave, he sends Hannah to be educated at the Great Library under Hypatia. Unfortunately, Alexandria is in the midst of religious turmoil and Hannah was raised as a Jew. As religion and power clash, Hannah is sent away again to the Temple of Isis where she is trained as a priestess and sent on a mission to gather a tablet that will help secure the pagan faith.
As soon as Hannah’s story began, I was completely hooked. Fierce, brave and full of hope, Hannah’s character is instantly endearing. The journey that Hannah is sent on is full of high-stakes, adventure and cunning skill. There is a lot going on in this book and it kept me just wanting more and more. I loved being taken back to ancient Alexandria, I could picture the marketplace, the Great Library, chariot races and Alizar’s house perfectly. Then the beauty and mystery of the Temple, I could imagine the dancing priestesses in full costume. As Hannah chases the Emerald Tablet her fate becomes entwined in her mission and the excitement increases. History, magic, adventure and romance intersect in this epic tale about a young women’s journey.
WRITTEN IN THE ASHES
K. HOLLAN VAN ZANDT
This excerpt is continued from Buried Under Books on Oct 14th.
“No,” whispered Alizar. “A magician or possibly a priest. I suspect he seldom has visitors. It could be the first time in half a century he has even spoken to outsiders.”
The priest nodded his head, as though he understood. Then he said, “Fruit we have for you, our guests.” Then he whispered to the crouching boy with the staff who leapt to his feet and rushed off, returning with a tray of the most beautiful food any of them had seen in weeks. There were perfect white grapes, blood oranges, dates, figs, glassy plums, and a sweet red fruit that Hannah had never seen before that looked exactly like a tomato.
When they had eaten the feast and praised the food to their host, Alizar opened his palm and rained silver coins on the straw mat before them. “We would like to consult the Oracle of Amun-Ra,” he said. “Can you take us there?”
Omar-the-Goat pressed his lips together and cast his limp gaze down to the floor for a long time. “No oracle,” he said.
“No oracle?” asked Alizar.
“No oracle,” said the old priest, scooping up the coins with his good hand as though he could see them perfectly, dropping them into the leather satchel at his hip. “No, no, no oracle today. Come tomorrow.”
Alizar began to protest, but Omar-the-Goat shook his head and resolutely held up the palm of his hand. “Tomorrow, tomorrow,” he said, and then he shooed the men and children out of the room as though they were chickens.
The next nine days played out in precisely the same manner. Every morning the caravan would awaken to the flaming desert sun and the round, peaceful eyes of the children watching them sleep. The children would then rush them into the city to see the blind old priest who would feed them fresh fruit and announce happily when they inquired about the Oracle of Amun-Ra, “Tomorrow.”
“What should we do, Alizar?” asked Gideon. “The Kahmsin winds are approaching. If we do not leave soon, I fear we will be stranded here.”
Alizar poked at the campfire with a stick, and a spray of sparks flew up and vanished in between the constellations. “The full moon approaches. I believe this is why he is making us wait.”
“What if I go exploring the cliffs to the north of the city? I have seen people up there,” said Tarek, “and dwellings.”
“No, I think we should be patient,” said Alizar. “If by the full moon he does not agree to take us to the oracle, then I permit you to explore, Tarek.”
Tarek let out a sigh but did not argue.
On the morning of the full moon, the caravan gathered at the mouth of the city and followed the children to see Omar-the-Goat. Right away, the routine shifted. Alizar smiled a knowing smile at the others as the children proceeded to lead them, not up the stairs like before, but behind the little town of Aghurmi and up a steep slope where a row of little huts stood huddled together like doves on a short branch. Eventually they came to a wide vista overlooking the entire valley where a large rectangular temple made of the same ruddy clay as everything else rose up impressively. Its twenty or so columns of red granite ornamented with intricate hieroglyphic carvings depicted stories of fishing, hunting as well as scenes of prayer and feasting. A mammoth granite obelisk taller than any in Alexandria stood in the courtyard beside a shimmering spring just as Alexander the Great had described in his journals.
“Omm Beyda,” whispered Alizar.
The Temple of Amun-Ra.
The children scattered and disappeared with whoops of excitement, leaving the caravan outside the temple to wait in the growing heat of the day. At first they stood and paced eagerly, but as time wore on they realized that an immediate audience with the oracle was not in store. Tarek took out a sheet of parchment and a sprig of charcoal he had sharpened on a stone and began to take impressions of the carvings. Hannah and Alizar opted to recline against the shade of the wall and chat while Gideon and Jemir played several rounds of tipstone, a game where two opponents used alabaster balls rolled at a distance toward a triangular configuration of twenty rectangular stones, ten white and ten black, in attempts to tip the opponent’s stones while leaving their own upright. Tarek remained reticent, seated on the wide cliff overlooking the palace of the king and queen with its four sprawling courtyards and tremendous statues set at specific intervals to catch the sunlight, statues that according to legend would speak at certain times of day.
“Do you imagine we will be going home soon, Alizar?” Hannah’s eyes looked hollow and dim. In the last several days, her optimistic curiosity had been replaced with deepening concern.
Alizar placed a hand on her shoulder. “Do not worry, Hannah. We will be back even before the moon turns another cycle. You will see.”
“If you say so.”