Book Title: A Sword Among Ravens
Series: The Long-Hair Saga
Author: Cynthia Ripley Miller
Publication Date: 9th December 2020
Page Length: 267 Pages
Genre: Romantic Historical Mystery
In a grave, on the edge of a Roman battlefield, an ancient sword has been discovered. Legend claims it belonged to King David of Israel and carries a curse—those who wield it will tragically die—but not the chosen.
AD 455. Arria Felix and her husband, Garic the Frank, have safely delivered a sacred relic to Emperor Marcian in Constantinople. But now, Arria and Garic will accept a new mission. The emperor has asked them to carry the sword of King David of Israel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Arria will dedicate it in her murdered father’s memory.
As Arria and Garic travel into the heart of the Holy Land, they face many challenges and dangers. Their young daughter is missing then found in the company of a strange and suspicious old monk. A brutal killer stalks their path. And a band of cold-blooded thieves is determined to steal the sword for their own gains. But when Arria confronts the question of where the sword should truly rest—old friendships, loyalties, and her duty are put to the test like never before. At every turn, Arria and Garic find themselves caught in a treacherous mission wrapped in mystery, murder, and A Sword Among Ravens.
**Caught in a storm at sea, Arria Felix and her young daughter Licia huddle together in their cabin while Arria hums a tune in an effort to calm Licia’s fears.
THE SHIP VENTUS: A Squall—Day 2, The 21st day of Maius
Arria was not sure of the time or when the gale reached its height. She had lost the measure of it. But after a while, the wind lost its roar and receded to a moan. The ship rose on top of a huge watery billow and then slowly fell. The waves began to calm. Like a bored and impatient warrior in search of new vessels to torment or destroy, the storm sailed away—its anger peaked—the battle won.
An eerie quiet surrounded them. Light ebbed through the cracks in the cabin door. Arria stopped humming and kissed Licia’s cheek. “It’s over, my sweet. The storm is gone.”
Leo sighed and ran his good hand over his face. “Apollo’s balls, I need a drink,” he grumbled. “Excuse me, my lady.” His penitent glance veered toward Licia. “Sorry.”
Licia appeared puzzled.
Arria gave him a stern look but added, “It falls on innocent ears, but say no more.”
Sudden footfalls sounded on the stairs outside the cabin. The door swung open.
Garic stood there, his hair and clothes soaked to the bone, but a tremendous relief shone on his face. “Thank Christus. It’s over. Are you, Licia, and the girl all right?” he directed toward Arria. She nodded, her smile weak. “Brother?” he added. The monk uncurled himself and took a breath. Garic gave Leo a sideways glance. “And you?” The centurion nodded, his face grim.
Arria stood, unwrapping her arms from Licia. “I’m so grateful we’re safe. I need some air.”
“Come, I’ll help you and the girls to the deck. We can all dry out there.”
Garic led Licia and Catalina up the stairs with Arria behind them. Leo and Brother Bruno followed. Once on deck, they raised their faces to the sun and breathed deeply. Catalina found a place to sit. Arria wiped Licia’s brow again and then her own. “Shall we go to the railing and look for some dolphins?” Licia nodded, and they walked to the port side of the ship. A mild breeze floated past them. It seemed hard to believe that just a few minutes past, they huddled in the cabin in fear for their lives.
Their eyes scanned the water when Arria spied a rope hooked farther down the railing toward the stern and thrown over the side. Her eyes followed the line. A man dangled at the end, a hangman’s knot around his neck. His body bumped against the ship’s timbers. Arria covered her mouth. She grabbed Licia’s hand and turned her away. “Sweetheart, come and sit on this box and rest.”
“Can’t we see the dolphins, Mama?”
“Perhaps later. I’ll send Leo to fetch your doll. Play with her for a bit while Mama works with Papa to get things ready for dinner and the night. Can you do this for me?”
Arria called Leo over and whispered what she had seen. He looked surprised. “Tell Garic, and please bring Licia her doll,” she said. The soldier scampered off.
Garic returned and rushed to the railing. Several sailors had also seen the body and were attempting to lift it onto the deck. The guards, Telemachus and Justus, were close by. They had helped in the effort to save the ship as well. Arria brought Licia to Brother Bruno’s deck tent and settled her inside. Once her daughter had her doll and was engaged in play, she moved to the crowd of men surrounding the body and stood beside Garic.
The sailors called him Paolino, a seaman from Hispania. Garic whispered to her that a sailor told him that Paolino had no family and sailed when it suited him or when he needed additional denarii for drinking and whoring. The crew only valued him because, on occasion, he carried drugs, made from juices and powders that brought on euphoria and helped with pain.
Several bruises covered his face, and a bloody patch over his heart implied a stab wound, but what shocked Arria, even more, was the rough cross, carved on his forehead.
A few sailors scratched their heads. Some scowled while others mumbled prayerful words of protection. The ship’s captain looked dark.
Arria understood that the captain knew it would not help their voyage if the men felt fear or let their superstitious minds run wild.
The captain barked, “Get going! Wrap him up!” Finding the monk in the circle of onlookers, he added, “Brother, will you say a short prayer for our shipmate?”
Brother Bruno nodded, stepped forward, and clasped his hands. The seamen followed and bowed their heads. “Lord, may Paolino’s soul find its way to Heaven and rest in eternal peace.” A moment of silence filled the crew, and in the ancient custom, the men repeated the word Vale, farewell, three times.
The captain shouted, “Commit Paolino to the sea!” Two sailors slid him overboard. Afterward, the crew looked toward the captain, who placed his hands on his hips. With a stern gaze and gruff voice, he commanded, “Hear me—I’ll have no vengeance or disputes on my ship. One or maybe more of you murdered him. If anyone knows anything, come to me when you think it’s right. We just fought our way through a storm, and as long as I’m captain, there will be no dissension. Now get back to sailing, and God help you, don’t try anything else.
Cynthia Ripley Miller is a first generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, and books. She has lived in Europe and traveled world-wide, holds two degrees, and taught history and English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press Mysteries.com, and The Scriptor. She is a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist with awards from Circle of Books-Rings of Honor and The Coffee Pot Book Club. She has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website, www.cynthiaripleymiller.com
Cynthia is the author of On the Edge of Sunrise, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, and A Sword Among Ravens, books 1-3 in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome, France, and Jerusalem. Cynthia lives outside of Chicago with her family, along with a cute but bossy cat.
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