passage from The Arms of Quirinus
© 2005 by Sherrie Seibert Goff
The lakeside quay lay deserted, but distant sounds of party drums and revelry still spilled from the town. I tugged off my wreath of sweet laurel and scrambled up to perch on a low wall, savoring the fecund smells of timeworn stone and garden loam mingling with the pungent aroma of wood fires.
My father sat out on the garden terrace with his new wife and my uncle, relaxing before supper and watching the water ripple pink in the late-afternoon breeze. With the cool of evening, the chattering of a myriad of birds swelled from the birch and pine trees. It was that time of day when the colors of flowers fade, when the light is such that one cannot distinguish between wolf and dog.
All that day, we had thrilled over the foot and horse races and reveled in merry dancing and wild leaping about gigantic bonfires. We had marveled at the wondrous musicians putting to good use their flutes and lyres, rattles and drums, while young lovers drifted in flower wreathed boats singing and quaffing fine honeyed wine. After our joyful sacrifices at noonday, my foolhardy brother hied off to the woods, and I, still an unripe girl of nine summers, begrudged him his wild exploits and freedom.
As I tucked my new wool tunic beneath my thighs for padding against the unfinished rock, I was startled and thrilled by the eerie howl of a hunting wolf in the distance. Or could it have been the festival games around the fires, lovers or comrades calling, hooting to one another in nearby woods?
My father and his companions seemed not to have heard, but I kissed my holiday charm and made a sign of obeisance to Feronia, the old Sabine wolf goddess. Deep Lake Albano sparkled with reflected torches and the late sun. I kicked off my tight new sandals and gazed out over the jeweled lake across the dark-green treetops towards the somber presence of Mount Albano.
My cousins, decked in wilting lavender wreaths and party garlands, burst through the garden gate. They squealed and giggled, brandishing their toy swords and riding their stick horses. I sucked in my breath as Metius circled my stepmother’s chair and lunged with his wooden short-sword to attack my brother’s prize puppy. The pup yelped in distress, then turned to cavort after the children’s heels.
When a nursemaid came to call the young ones to supper and bed, my heart began to pound. The wind whispered, and the hair of my flesh stood up. I broke off a fragrant sprig of pine and tried to hum that lusty ditty we children had giggled over before our mothers and aunts whisked us away from the revels. The children were gathering up their little wheeled carts and toy animals, protesting an end to play. As I jumped down from the rock wall, my heart cried out, take heed.
The ground moaned underfoot, and the ridges seemed to stir. As I reached for my sandals, a nimble-footed spirit passed before my face. I halted to listen, trembling in my father’s own garden and staring at the same old two-story redoubt in which I’d been born. Yet the house seemed unfamiliar to me. Strangely distressed, I hurried to catch up with my father, but at the terrace edge something compelled me to turn and gaze once more at Jove’s sacred mountain.
I have since learned to recognize the stirrings of the Goddess in my heart, but just as the roe buck leaves the wolf gasping in the winter wind, that fateful day I was left unable to seize the meaning of the Mother’s warning.
passage from The Scent of Hyacinth
© 2005 by Sherrie Seibert Goff
I awoke to the song of morning birds and cool shadows, and told myself, I have been here before, but when or how I cannot tell. I know the grass beyond the door, the sweet keen smell, the sound of sparrows brawling in the eaves.
I rolled over on my pallet and stretched. Everyone else was up. Thermantia was sorting out herbs and leaves into little piles, eager for me to instruct her in the making of fasciculi, little tufts of sacred herbs used for a variety of kindly charms. To help sell our wares, I had been teaching her and Chia that the composition of each nosegay varied according to its intended use and that the method of weaving and tying the aromatic clusters was of utmost importance.
I rolled up my pallet and stowed it beneath a bench. “Good morning, Thermantia.”
The old woman turned around and held up two of my finished sheaves. “Do you want me to make pins for these?”
“Nah, those charms are seldom worn. See how the vine securing the dried violets is tied in a bride’s knot? Add a touch of myrtle blossoms, or any herbs sacred to Bona Dea; then it can be hidden beneath a beloved’s pillow or cached secretly near the desired-one’s doorstep. The love knot gives it that subtle power to attract one’s intended lover.”
She cackled and laid the badge down carefully. "Best not let Chia get her hands on these."
I nodded towards a basket full of little wisps by the door. "Just remember to keep the ones we did yesterday separate from these on the table. Those are all our protective badges that ward off sickness, fleas, evil eye, theft, and general bad luck."
Themantia nodded thoughtfully and raised one eyebrow. "Then these attract, those repel." She was an apt pupil.
The men were up from their beds and gone. Dava already sat near her rustic loom, carding a great mound of raw wool piled in the laundry vat, ignoring a conversation she couldn’t hear. Thermantia hobbled over to her kitchen box and set about grinding something up in her small hand mill. I went to the corner kitchen gutter and splashed my face in the cold water that flowed from the spring above the house.
I shook the water from my hands and began puttering with the sprigs laid out to dry across the oak table. The old woman set about cutting mushrooms and wild celery, and splitting roasted pine nuts for our breakfast. She stirred the sliced mushrooms over a small brazier and sprinkled them with herbs from her pantry nook under the tower-wing stairs.
I said, “All the charms we’ll work on today attract good things like a lover’s affections. To insure success in the hunt, or to bring about a good harvest or even to catch a fish, one need only carry a talisman of plants sacred to the deity involved.
”Thermantia cackled. “And the common folk’ll rely on us to tell ‘em what’s sacred to the deity involved?”
‘You scamp.” I straddled the bench and began braiding for some hopeful hunter a fasciculus of dittany, fir and pine.The old woman kneed another bench close to the crooked table, brought over her plate of mushrooms, celery and nuts, and mixed two small cups of sour wine.
passage from The Warrior's Dance
© 2008 by Sherrie Seibert Goff
Timius’ grandmother had a quaint custom of marking each day as good or bad by dropping a white or black stone in an urn. Each night the elegant matron lingered at her household shrine to select a pebble of the right hue, white being the symbol of happiness and black that of misfortune or trouble. At the turning of the seasons or on family anniversaries, Grandma Fannia could dump out her cache of burnished pebbles and reflect back upon her life.
Thinking to confirm that the balance had tipped in young Timius’ prospects for survival, I tiptoed across my neighbor’s deserted hall and stole a peek inside that red, white, and black goddess urn. Its innards gleamed ominously dark. The scent of fragrant wood and resins hovered about the shrine.
Startled by a soft noise, I clanked down the lid and spun around to find Timius’ sister Horatia leaning against the door post and regarding me with a wry grin.
I had intended to slip in for a word with Timius before joining his brothers on the cavalry grounds, not come calling on the house. Now here I was, a wellborn lad, spotted wearing some sweat stained, faded brown tunic that reeked of the stables, along with dusty worn boots and a strip of ragged wool tied around my patrician head.
Flustered and annoyed at the girl’s catching me peeking in someone’s private jar, I decided to tweak her a little. “What say you we switch around your old gran’s rocks and make her think she’s had a good time this month?”
passage from The Tiber Bridge
© 2011 by Sherrie Seibert Goff
Divine Selvans, who guards the sheep and the masters of the sheep, dwells in a belt of black fir trees atop the hills near Caere. I still saluted that shaggy god of the thickets, not knowing that he had long since turned his back on me for my faithless dreams. One bad day, Larth Velthuru, dressed in his fancy red sandals and Etruscan finery, shouted, “By all the Gods!” and rushed down upon my blameless flock, throwing stones, intent on hurting their tender legs and noses. He yelled, “Thezie! Get those sheep out of here! Have you no respect?”
In my youth I spent my every day on his mountainside, tending my mixed flock of sheep and goats, dreaming of far journeys and adventure, thinking that someday I would go to sea or take up a trade. In the late afternoons, when the nightingales began to whistle, I knew in my heart that I would sooner join the iron smelters in Polonia than remain a shepherd forever. Alas! The pastoral spirit of fields and woodlands was listening.
I scrambled up the slope and stumbled on a gnarled root. “Stop, Sir! I shall move them.” He flung a pebble at me too and stormed away muttering about filthy peasants.
I whistled sharply to roust my poor beasts, but they were stubborn, for the grasses grew slender and sweet in the shade of the tombs in the necropolis. They bawled their protest and snatched quickly at the good graze to swallow whole and ruminate over later.
Larth Velthuru had driven my youngest goat to leap off the grassy tumulus that covers the mounded roof of one of the tombs. Goats prefer browse to pasture, cropping bushes and nibbling on branches and tender leaves. The aging buck who sired the kid had been known in his day to climb fences and trees and was a menace to the neighbor’s orchard. No surprise that his agile offspring had climbed to where he ought not have been.
The little goat scampered down the slope after the sheep, holding up a hurt hind leg. I cursed all rich men and caught up with him to probe his bony leg for a break. The smelly animal struggled to escape my grip on his horns, and his mother tried to butt me until I pulled her ear to make her behave. Her kid’s hurt seemed little more than a bruise or sprain, but his hooves needed trimming to stave off foot rot, and he was limping, so I picked him up and called softly to his fellow critters to follow me.
Raised to my shepherd ways, I needed only whistle a little traveling tune as I marched along at the head of my flock for them to trail me back to the fold or out to fresh pastures. From the time I was old enough to walk, my proud grandfather had insisted that in our native Etruria a skilled shepherd leads his flock rather than driving them as done in Greece.