Writer’s Desk, 12 October

A picture of Sandra Schwab's deskSometimes, writing is a bit like archaeology: you dig around and find the most amazing and unexpected things. Yesterday I thought I ought to have a scene in which Marcus, my centurion, says goodbye to his mother. And lo and behold, not only did that scene become rather long, it also produced an unexpected piece of jewellery and, with it, an unexpected link between different stories:

It was an old piece, Marcus saw, the shape somewhat rougher than was fashionable now. A golden snake which would wind around the wearer’s arm. It must have been modified at some point because something had been inserted between the two rounds in the middle.

Marcus’s mother slipped her hand through the circlet and eyed it with a soft smile. “It is said that your grandfather many times removed gave this to the Cheruscian girl he took to wife as a token of his love. See?” She held out her hand. “He had his own signet ring set into it.”

Now that Marcus knew what it was, he could indeed see that the set-in piece was part of a rather battered man’s ring.

“The engraving on the stone?” he asked.

“Some kind of large fish. I’ve always thought of it as a dolphin – a harbinger of luck.” She took the armring off. “Ever since your forbear took home his Germanic wife, it has been a tradition in my family that the eldest son would give this piece to the woman he married. As the Gods did not bless my parents with sons, my mother gave it to me to give to my son.” She held out the armring to him. “And so I do.”

Marcus frowned a little. “But I’m not the oldest. Shouldn’t this go to Primus by rights?”

His mother gave a short laugh – and not a pleasant one. “My dear, can you imagine your brother’s wife wearing an old piece such as this? Besides, this has always been a token of affection, if not love. The only affection there is between your brother and Cordelia is for her family’s old name on his side and for our wealth on hers. I don’t think the dolphin and the snake would be happy with them. But perhaps your wife will find joy in wearing it?” She gave him a soft smile. “From the sounds of it, the armring would once again be a token of affection, wouldn’t it?”

Marcus indrawn breath seemed rather loud in the small room, and for a moment he could not speak. “Of love,” he finally said rawly. “It would be a token of love.” He felt the same desperate helplessness that had gripped him earlier in his father’s study rise inside him once more. He spread his hands. “In all honor, I cannot accept the armring, mother. I don’t know whether I will ever win her. I…” His throat worked.

His mother eyed him shrewdly. “Does she not love you then?”

He gave a bitter laugh. If only it was as easy as that!