Publication Date: October 15, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Series: Althaia of Athens Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery
READ AN EXCERPT.
All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish. Finding the body of a woman in the Sacred Precinct 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 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 Nikos, son of a famous priestess, arrives with an urgent message. Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, and as Althaia falls for Nikos, whose dangerous secrets hold the key to the young woman’s death, she discovers that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a bond of blood.
Althaia of Athens is on a pilgrimage to fulfill her deceased father's last wishes. However, when they arrive in Delphi, the body of a young women is found upon an alter and Althaia's tutor, Theron is asked to investigate. Althaia, trained in Egypt in the art of autopsia, assists with the cause of death. When it is discovered that the woman was connected to the Pythia of the Oracle of Gaia, Althaia, Theron and her slaves and plunged into the ongoing conflict between the Oracle of Apollon and the Oracle of Gaia. Althaia has also been having a disturbing dream about a young man; when she meets the young man in her dreams, Nikos, the pieces start falling together for the mystery of the woman left on the alter.
My favorite part of this historical mystery was Althaia's character. She is an intelligent, spunky and does not allow her position as a woman in her time to get in her way. Althaia also had a very modern voice and way of thinking which made it easier to connect with her. The history behind the Oracles of Delphi engaged me more than the mystery in this story. The Oracles were once real women, usually a peasant woman, chosen for the Gods to speak through, the parts of the story concerning the traditions of the women surrounding the Oracle were what really transported me back to ancient Delphi. The mystery in the story took a back seat for me, it was a little slower moving and didn't hold as much mystique as the characters trying to solve it. However, in the end, the solution did surprise me and I ended up loving how the guilty parties were revealed.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Marie Savage is the pen name of Kristina Marie Blank Makansi who always wanted to be a Savage (her grandmother’s maiden name) rather than a Blank. She is co-founder and publisher of Blank Slate Press, an award-winning small press in St. Louis, and founder of Treehouse Author Services. Books she has published and/or edited have been recognized by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), the Beverly Hills Book Awards, the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, the British Kitchie awards, and others. She serves on the board of the Missouri Center for the Book and the Missouri Writers Guild. Along with her two daughters, she has authored The Sowing and The Reaping (Oct. 2014), the first two books of a young adult, science fiction trilogy.Oracles of Delphi, is her first solo novel.
For more information visit Kristina Makansi’s website and the Blank Slate Press website. You can also follow Krisina Makansi and Blank Slate Press on Twitter.
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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 had always promised. Next time he would claim it, he always hoped. But instead….
He pulled himself to the top of the wall and lay flat. The moment of escape calmed him. 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 carrying a body.
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, 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.
Her brother was still laughing when Nikos’ dagger pierced his heart. Didn’t they know nobody bested him with a blade?
Before he could grab the tiara, Charis snatched it from her brother’s grasp and backed away. “You’ll pay for this,” she’d hissed, tears in her eyes, 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. I’ll tell your mother.”
She was cornered, wild-eyed, 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 was used to getting what he wanted.
“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. Proof you killed him, that you’re the one selling the stolen goods from the temple.”
“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. He watched, too startled to stop her, too afraid of hurting her.
“Give it back.” He demanded, taking a step toward her. He held out his hand.
“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 took yet another step toward her. “Do you think I will let you leave 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’s brother had been a different story. He’d held a weapon to Nikos’ throat. But Charis was different. An almost-lover, an almost-friend. But she 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 like 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. He’d tried to hold her still, to pry open her jaw and grab hold of the chain to pull it free, but in her panic, she bit at him, clawed at him. “By the gods, Charis, stop! Don’t fight me,please,” he begged her. But she bucked beneath him, making it impossible to get a purchase on the chain. Did she think I wanted to kill her? 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, even without her fighting him. 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. It was time to let it go.
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, after a few days, they would stop waiting and give the body to Phoibe for burial. Nikos’s treasured necklace would go to the underworld with her. Maybe it was just as well.
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.