Category Archives: Sandy’s Books

The Centurion’s Choice & Roman Board Games

a teaser image for The Centurion's ChoiceIf you’ve read any of my Roman novels, you know that at some point or another, my characters play latrunculi, an extremely Roman board game for two. It was a strategy game, where the aim was to capture the other player’s counters. In EAGLE’S HONOR: BANISHED, Marcus teaches Lia the game, and I imagined they would give the love for this game to future generations of their family. Indeed, I was reminded of my own grandmother, who was a keen player of board games and particularly loved Malefiz, which we often played together.

And so it wasn’t hard to imagine Lia playing latrunculi with her grandchildren. One of them you’ll meet in THE CENTURION’S CHOICE, which will come out next month (I hope). Actually, you might already met him, namely, if you’ve read EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED. THE CENTURION’S CHOICE is the story of Caius Florius Corvus and his partner, Lucius Satrius (yes, this is going to be my very first m/m story) and is set during the Marcomannic Wars ten years before the events in EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED.

Caius is the new centurion in one of the auxiliary cohorts stationed along the border formed by the river Danube. Lucius is his optio, his second-in-command – and they don’t really trust each other at the beginning. It takes a few false turns until their mistrust turns to friendships (and eventually to more). And latrunculi plays a special role for their growing friendship.

In the following snippet, they play for the very first time. I hope you’ll enjoy it! (It’s raw & still unedited.)


One evening in early summer after Lucius had delivered his daily report in the centurion’s tent and was just about to turn to go, Florius looked up and said casually, “Say, optio, do you play latrunculi?”

Lucius halted. “Certainly.” His mouth stretched into a grin. “Who doesn’t?”

The centurion’s brows went up. “Then let me rephrase that: Do you play it well?”

With a shrug, Lucius crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Well enough, I guess.”

His nonchalance earned him a scowl. “Quite sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Florius growled. “Do you fancy a game?”

And before he could change his mind, Lucius said, “Why not? Shall I fetch my counters?”

“And bring your cup. No use playing with a dry throat. I have some mulsum left that wants drinking.”

And so Lucius went and fetched his cup and his game counters and soon found himself sitting in the centurion’s tent, facing Florius over a battered leather gaming board on the stool between them.

“I hope you’re a good player, optio,” Florius said, filling Lucius’ cup.

“Do you mean to tell me I ought to be afraid?” Lucius inquired mildly, and didn’t quite manage to suppress a grin.

For a moment the centurion’s gaze appeared to rest on Lucius’ twitching lips, but then Florius’ eyes flicked up, and he raised his brows. “Very.” He gave Lucius the cup. “It’s only fair that I warn you.”

“Is it?” It was a bit of an effort to keep his voice steady and ignore the tingle at the base of his spine. Surely he had only imagined that look. And if he hadn’t…

Well, it didn’t mean anything.

And he would not dwell on how he had thought the Roman centurion quite fuckable at his first glance of him.

And—Gods!—that time in the baths…

Lucius quickly ducked his head and busied himself with sorting his gaming pieces. He had spotted them at a shop in the vicus of Cuccium several years ago and had not been able to resist the beauty of those sea-green glass pieces. The ordinari were slightly larger than the vagi, which had deep blue swirls run through them. The same kind of swirls ran through the body of the bellator, which rose proudly above all the other pieces.

“Of course, it’s only fair,” Florius said. “Everybody in my family is a fierce player.” And after a small pause, “My grandmother Lia taught me the game while I was a little lad.” The centurion spread his own pieces, all made of smooth polished black stone, with the ordinari bearing red markings. “She was an extraordinary woman,” Florius murmured, then gave himself a little shake before he looked up to meet Lucius’ gaze. “Shall we begin?”

“By all means.” It took a little effort to keep his voice light. What a strange man Florius was! Such a grumpy sod on the one hand, but on the other, a man who thought with obvious fondness of his grandmother.

The centurion raised his cup with wine. “Bene te—and may the better man win.”

Bene te.”

They both drank and then threw a coin to determine who would be given the first move. Soon, they were deeply engrossed in their game, plotting and scheming to catch each other’s pieces. They were both well-matched, moving their pieces with similar skill and expertise.

“You think this is a wise move, optio? You’re leading your bellator into danger here.”

“Ahhh, you think it might be risky?” Lucius hid his grin behind his cup.

“It’s a damn foolish move, if you ask me.”

Lucius’ grin widened. “Och, don’t worry about me, centurion. I’m a big lad.”

The other man snorted.

And a few heartbeats later, “What…? Oh, damn you, optio, you sneaky bastard. You are good.”

Lucius just grinned and sipped his wine and continued to catch Florius’ pieces.

All of them.

More Romans…

cover picture for Eagle's Honor: Ravished, by Sandra SchwabToday it’s all about these two: Adelar & Livia, the hero & heroine from my second Roman romance. Eagle’s Honor: Ravished is due at my editor’s at the end of this month, so I better knuckle down & get on with the story.

Eagle’s Honor: Ravished is set about 70 years after Eagle’s Honor: Banished, and the heroine is the great-granddaughter of Marcus & Lia (and yes, there are references to the first book in this one). After the death of her parents and her siblings, Livia comes to Rome to live with her aunt and uncle. She has been raised in a fort at the border of the empire and thus finds it very difficult to adapt to life in Rome. Here’s a snippet from her first meeting with Adelar (raw & unedited):

One morning, when she had spent almost a month in Rome, Livia was shaken out of her reveries by her aunt’s excited shouts. A moment later, Aunt Floria burst into her room. “Oh, my dear! It is the most exciting thing ever!” She beamed at Livia. “You must come and see. I insist upon it!” She held out her hand. “Come, come.”

Livia let herself be dragged from her room to the gallery that surrounded one of the house’s inner courtyards.

“It is the best surprise,” Aunt Floria said. “Truly, I have the best of husbands! Look, look!” She pointed.

There in the courtyard stood a man surrounded by two of the male household slaves, his hands bound. He wore a rough, sleeveless tunic that clung to his muscular frame and left the brand on his left shoulder in clear display.

At the women’s approach, he raised his head, and Livia found herself staring into the coldest blue eyes she had ever seen. They were, she thought numbly, such a curious contrast to his hair, which shimmered in the sunlight like burnished gold.

Despite the warmth of the day, a curious little shiver raced down her spine.

“Isn’t he glorious?” her aunt whispered. “I saw him in the arena when we last attended the games, and I knew from the first that I simply must have him. — Yoohooo!” She waved to the man and didn’t seem to notice the hostile expression that flickered over his lean, narrow face nor the subtle tightening of his lips.

A Snippet from the Roman Romance (with some digital art)

Lia from "Eagle's Honor: Banished" by Sandra SchwabI’ve tried my hand at digital art this weekend (see above) and worked on my Roman romance (see below). Enjoy some Lia & Marcus!

He looked at their intertwined fingers – his hand large and blunt and burnished by the sun, hers dark and slender, a fine tremor running through it.

He glanced up. There was a vulnerability in her expression that cut into his heart. “May I kiss you?” he asked softy.

The question seemed to steady her, for her mouth twisted into a taunting smile. “You didn’t ask the last time.”

He tugged a little at her hand. “I’m asking you now.”

The smile vanished. She stared at him, while he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.

After several moments that seemed like a small eternity, she swallowed hard and licked her lips. “Please,” she whispered. “Marcus…”

 

Writer’s Desk, 25 October

Writer's Desk: preparations for the re-release of The Lily Brand
I’m still working on The Lily Brand: I’m now proofreading the final file, cleaning up typos and grammatical errors as I go along. It has made me strangely happy to realize that the rhythm of my prose hasn’t much changed in the course of the past ten, eleven years: I can easily pick up where my original text was changed and edited. These are just small things, mind you: a word that was cut, a sentence that was slightly expanded, but in many cases I’m still changing them back to my original text.

My ability to just do so pleases me to no end. 🙂

Writer’s Desk, 22 October

20141022_180050
On Sunday, there will be a post by yours truly on the Queer Romance Month blog, where I will briefly talk about my motivation for including a gay couple in The Lily Brand. Writing the post served as the proverbial kick to the butt, for it finally made me knuckle down and start making The Lily Brand ready for re-release. It should be back up by Sunday, at the latest.

I hope.

*fingers crossed*

Anyway, I spent last Sunday fiddling around with the cover design, and this is the result. I hope you like it as much as I do. 🙂

the new cover for The Lily Brand

Ferocious lions and winged bulls

a sketch of the bas-relief of a winged bull with the cover of DEVIL'S RETURNAs I’m working on getting DEVIL’S RETURN ready for publication (I still have to look up a detail about the historical background and write two more paragraphs for the Author’s Note), I’ll give you a snippet from Chapter 2: Alex attends the staff meeting of ALLAN’S MISCELLANY for the first time and tells them about the archaeological wonders he has encountered in the Near East during a discussion about the contents of the next issue of ALLAN’S:

I have very fond memories of the Eglinton Tournament,” Beaton said to no-one in particular.

An amused gleam appeared in MacNeil’s eyes. “As you would, Robbie. As you would.—Will we have something on the impending arrival of Jenny Lind?” Of course, they would. Wasn’t all the metropolis aflutter to hear the Swedish Nightingale sing? Mr. Lumley was to be congratulated for the coup he had pulled off.

MacNeil grinned. “No doubt the eager audience with their raptures will take Her Majesty’s Theatre apart in the next few weeks.—What about you, Crenshaw? Anything new from Mr. Wodehouse?”

So Alex told them about Layard’s latest excavations, and their plan to prepare for his visit later this year. He described the alabaster sphinx that had been found in one of the buildings of Nimroud, and the strange creatures in the bas-reliefs: ferocious lions and winged bulls with human heads, dragons and fearsome monsters with heads of lions, bodies of men, and feet of birds. He told them of the quarrels in the workers’ camp—inevitably, those quarrels were about stolen property or women: an older wife objecting to the purchase of another, younger bride and involving her father, brothers, and cousins; a father who sought a greater bride price from his prospective son-in-law than had been bargained for; or a man who repented his decision of a bride and refused to fulfill his side of the bargain.

“In other words, it’s not much different from the state of marriage in England,” MacNeil remarked with a thin smile. “Conjugal relations being ruled by money, and all that.”

Beaton snorted. “Truly, your cynicism never fails to astound me, Mac. May I remind you that not all conjugal relations are ruled by money?”

“Speaking of yourself, are you, Robbie?” The editor’s grin widened and turned a tad malicious. “But then you had to wait three years until you could wed the divine Miss Marsh.”

The other man gave him a dark look. “I will tell the divine Mrs. Beaton to feel free to brain you with our cook’s best frying pan when you next call on us.”

MacNeil threw his head back and laughed. “And here I was thinking I was safe because you had scruples about hiding my dead body!—What do you think, Crenshaw?”

“About hiding your dead body or conjugal rights being ruled by money?” Alex grinned. “From my experience, I say you are absolutely right about the latter,” he added wryly. “What else is marriage in this country, but another form of prostitution?” For a moment, his mind taunted him with memories of exactly how right MacNeil’s opinion on conjugal relations was in his experience. But, ruthlessly he pushed these thoughts aside. He was no longer that youth who had not come up to scratch because he was merely a younger son, and had thus been cast aside for a better prospect.

His statement had caused some uproar among the men, as those who apparently enjoyed happy marital relations loudly objected to such an interpretation, while the others elaborated on the joys of bachelorhood.

“We will not have anything about conjugal relations in our magazine,” Jon Allan cut in, his voice decisive. “It’s crass and indelicate and would only serve to shock my aunt and uncle.” He gave MacNeil a pointed look. “In all likelihood, Aunt Allan would make my uncle throw you out of the premises. Or she would come after you with a large wooden spoon.”

(The comment about marriage being another form of prostitution is a nod to Thackeray’s THE NEWCOMES, where this is one of the themes that runs through the novel.) (Yup, I simply cannot resist inserting Thackeray references into my stories – in DEVIL’S RETURN, we will even meet Mr. Thackeray himself. And my favorite 19th-century artist: Richard Doyle. *fan-girl squeeing ensues*) 🙂

Glimpses of Victorian London

A sketch of Temple Bar
I’m currently inserting the copy edits for Devil’s Return into the file in order to make the novella ready for release this weekend. What has struck me as I was working through Chapter 2 is that writing the setting of a historical novel to some extent resembles archaeology: you’re trying to reconstruct something that, for the most part, is no longer there.

As has been noted in several reviews of my works, my stories tend to be filled with lush descriptions of the setting, for I simply love bringing a bygone world alive for my readers (I guess this is also one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching the history class in our British Studies program so much). Victorian London is no exception.

What would it have felt like to walk through the streets of London in the 1840s? What were sounds? What were the smells? These were all questions I asked myself when I was developing the idea for Allan’s Miscellany. Thus, to set the scene, in each novella the hero is introduced via a street scene and he is shown making his way to the editorial office of Allan’s.

The hero in Devil’s Return is Alex Crenshaw, who writes for Allan’s as Mr. Wodemarsh, Our Man Abroad. He spent the past years in far-away places, but now he has returned home to England:

Alex entered the City through Temple Bar, which had once been crowned by the heads of executed traitors. The only sightless heads staring down from it now where the two Charleses on their pedestals high up above the bustling street. Arrogantly, their stony eyes watched the efforts of carts, carriages, and pedestrians pressing through the gates. A bleating flock of sheep blocked the path of an omnibus, and the driver swore a blue streak, waving his fist at the woolly blusterers. Passengers were hanging out of the windows, complaining about the delay, while behind the bus a long line of carriages had formed. A hearse, going in the opposite direction to the Strand, tried to pass by and nearly ran down a boardman, sandwiched between advertisements of the latest fabric cleaner and hair water.

The din reminded Alex of an Eastern bazaar, but as for the smell—

He wrinkled his nose.

It would appear that today Fleet Street was permeated by the poignant aroma of eau de sewer.

And that’s what an Englishman calls civilization, he thought wryly. He stepped around a shoeblack, who huddled against a wall covered in advertising posters.

In the rise and flow of vehicles and pedestrians from all walks of life, nobody paid much attention to the tall, blond man walking down Fleet Street, his face deeply tanned by Eastern suns. But then, how could they have known that here walked Alexander Crenshaw, a man whose adventures in America and in the Far East many a reader had followed avidly. Indeed, to his own surprise, Alex had found that in the seven years he had spent away from England, he had become something of a celebrity. Society hostesses vied for his attention, invited him to their balls and parties, and men were eager to talk to him, to invite him to their clubs.

A great bother, all of it, really, yet if it ultimately helped to bring in additional funds for Layard’s excavations, Alex would not complain. He owed the man a lot, so the least he could do was to properly prepare for Layard’s arrival in a few months’ time and to get the newspapers interested in his findings. Writing that column for Allan’s magazine, it would appear, had done the trick.

Further down the street, across from St Dunstan’s, a muffin-man ran his bell vigorously and proclaimed his ware. As Alex walked past him, a whiff of warm muffins and crumpets rose from the street seller’s basket to tickle Alex’s nostrils.

His stomach rumbled and reminded him that it had been a long time since luncheon. For a moment he was tempted to hand over ½ d for a muffin – for surely even without butter, it would have pleased an empty stomach – but then remembered Allan’s warning about the very plentiful dinner that awaited those who attended the editorial meetings of Allan’s Miscellany.

It was strange to think, Alex mused, how long he had been writing letters and reports (to be ably illustrated by Robert Beaton) to the address in Pleydell Street without ever having actually visited that worthy establishment of Allan & Son, Printers & Publishers before.

And now you also know what’s up with that sketch at the top of this post. 🙂 (The sketch will go into the enhanced edition – I was thinking of including a few more sketches done by yours truly in the enhanced editions of both A Tangled Web and Devil’s Return.)

Now I better get back to my copy edits and leave you with a picture of my desk right now (with the Roman romance WIP in the background)

a picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with notebook & copy edits of DEVIL'S RETURN

The dreaded (dratted) copy edits

More from Centurion Marcus Florius Corvus

A sketch of the military standards at the Saalburg museum

Roman military standards at the Saalburg

I’m having a lot of fun with my centurion (in the past few days, when I was so worried about my Mum, he was a real life-saver). Here’s the next bit from that conversation with the prefect of the auxiliary fort in the north of Roman Britannia.

Gannius read through another section of the report. “It says here that you were popular with the men under your command; fair and strict; that you received your vine-staff at the tender age of 28 upon the retirement and explicit recommendation of your former centurion Gaius Loreius Sylla, who had made you his optio when you were just 23 and had served in the Eleventh for a mere six years. In addition” — he flipped to the next tablet — “the tribune takes great pains to point out your excellent fighting abilities as well as the outstanding quality of your unflinching leadership of your men in battle.”

Closing the report and shoving the bound tablets to the side, Gannius looked up. “So tell me, Centurion Marcus Florius Corvus, what exactly did you do?”

“Sir?”

“Heavens, man, you must have done something to get demoted to a centuria in a mere auxilia.”

“Ah,” Marcus said slowly.

“Yes, ah. And I want to know what it is and whether it’s going to bite my cohort in the arse one of those days.”

🙂

P.S.: That something has to do with the heroine.

Introducing my Centurion

A pile of research books about ancient Rome

The Results of Sandy’s Meltdown

With my life being a tad difficult at the moment (my mum had to undergo major surgery a few days ago), I went into full melt-down mode earlier this week & ended up buying a whole pile of new research books (see picture above). You might have noticed that these are neither about the Regency era nor about the Victorian Age (but hey, a few of them are about Britain!).

I have decided to indulge myself and jump into a fun new project.

Yup. And it’s set in Roman times.

123 AD, to be exact: my hero is a centurion who is sent to northern Britannia during the building of Hadrian’s Wall. Have a look:

Six weeks later Marcus presented himself to Flavius Gannius, prefect of the 10th cohort of Batavians at Vindulum. Gannius was a broad-shouldered, bulky man, his hair liberally sprinkled with gray, his grayish green eyes piercing as he studied Marcus from head to toe. He was not the kind of man with whom you wanted to fall into displeasure.

“You are rather later, centurion,” he finally said. “Is it a habit of the Eleventh Pia Claudia Fidelis to let her men move about at a snail’s pace?”

Marcus stiffened. He forced himself to take a calming breath before he answered, “I apologize for my late arrival. My ship was delayed by storms in Gaul. I assure you it was by no fault of my training at the Eleventh that I’ve arrived this late at Vindulum.”

“Hm.” The other man glanced down at the tablets on the table in front of him. “You gave your name as Marcus Florius, but this report I have here from the senior tribune of the Eleventh gives your name as Marcus Florius Corvus.”

Of course. It had to.

“A name I acquired from the men serving with me.”

Gannius stared at him, prompting Marcus to elaborate, not without an internal sigh. “A small joke on account of my nose, sir.”

One of the dark, bushy brows rose. “Corvus?”

“The men didn’t think ‘Aquila’ would do it proper justice, sir,” Marcus said dryly. “Hence, Corvus.” Raven.