24 July 2014

Excerpt Thursday: IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY by Chris Westcott

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Chris Westcott with the latest novel, IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of In the Shadow of Tyranny to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

In the Shadow of Tyranny – A Novel of Ancient Rome

When the Emperor Nero causes the death of his parents, Gaius sees his future dreams and aspirations brutally shattered. Unexpectedly thrown a lifeline by Vespasian, his father’s closest friend and a celebrated military leader, an offer of a role in the campaign for Judea, finds him playing a pivotal role in the epic battle for Jerusalem.
Summoned back to Rome by Domitian, the new Emperor and his lifelong friend, Gaius finds his friend a changed man, a man capable of cold-blooded murder, and Gaius is swiftly dispatched to distant Britannia with orders for the island’s legendary governor, Agricola.

Forming a mutual respect with Agricola, Gaius embarks on a campaign that will end in triumph and terror, as with the opportunity to expand the Empire within their grasp, Gaius will find himself facing a choice on which the lives of his family and the fate of an Empire will hang.

**An Excerpt from In the Shadow of Tyranny **

Growing up, I had anything but a normal life. An only child, I was raised in the town of Baiae, in a villa built specifically to give wondrous views of the spectacular Bay of Naples. My father, Lucius Antistius Vetus, had originally bought the property as a holiday home, in which our family could escape the crippling heat of a Roman summer. However, my mother, Sulpicia, when giving birth to me, had fallen dangerously ill. Whilst recuperating in the few years after, she had moved herself the hundred miles from Rome to take advantage of the comfort of the villa and of the hot healing springs, for which the region was famed. She fell in love with Baiae and became convinced that a return to Rome would lead to a return to ill health and so, despite the misgivings of my father, she decided that she would live in the villa permanently. She had insisted that I come to stay with her and so at the age of four, I was whisked out of Rome and relocated to my new life beside the sea.
Now don’t get me wrong, it might have been highly irregular for the only son of a wealthy Roman family to be raised in Baiae, but the villa was a wonderful place for a young boy to grow up. Being right by the shores of the bay, I became an impressive swimmer and proficient fisherman. I would spend whole days in and out of the sea, and through a combination of swimming and the attention of my tutors, I became strong and athletic. My skin was a permanent deep brown, a testament to my outdoor lifestyle, and I was nearly always in vigorous health. This was in stark contrast to my mother who, despite her insistence that the sea air and healing springs worked wonders, was a fragile and sickly woman.
Although I never knew her otherwise, she hadn’t always been like that. My tutor, Doxiadis, told me that in her day, my mother had been one of Rome’s great beauties, a woman who had every man of note clambering for her affection. Looking at her shuffling around the garden in her thick shawl, I always found that a rather hard image to conjure. The illness seemed to be as much of the mind as of the body, for she could spend whole days alone in her private rooms doing nothing and seeing no one. I barely had any relationship with her even from a young age.
One summer, when I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, a local fisherman showed me the shell of a sea creature that seemed to shimmer and radiate twenty different colours at once. He also showed me how to carve a hole in the end of the shell with a knife so that I could thread it onto a cord to make a necklace. I spent hours scouring the beach trying to find flawless examples of the shells. It took me days to find enough of an appropriate quality but eventually I had a completed necklace. To me, it was a thing of beauty and I was bursting to give it to my mother. I raced up the beach and into the villa only to be told by her attendants that she was resting and was not to be disturbed. I spent the next few hours literally hopping with anticipation at how much my mother would love my gift.
Eventually I received word that she would see me and I bounded into her room. She was sitting by a window in a high-backed wooden chair, looking out over the gardens. She turned when she saw me enter but didn’t smile. She hardly ever smiled. I had the necklace hidden behind my back and when I was within a couple of paces from her chair, I produced it with a flourish, beaming with pride at what I had created. Her vacant eyes barely glanced at it as she took it from me and put it on the small table at her side. She turned back to the window and without so much as looking at me, dismissed me from her presence. I never gave her another gift from that day forward.
Given that my father spent nearly all of his time away from the villa attending to business, and given that Mother was hardly capable of anything, most of my time was spent in the company of Doxiadis. Doxiadis was a Greek slave who had been owned by my father since before I was even born. He was very tall, though he was the skinniest man I have ever seen. His hair, always short cropped, was the colour of shining silver and he had a long, beak-like nose that protruded over a neatly trimmed beard, which matched the colour of his hair.
From my earliest days, he seemed elderly, though he never would reveal his actual age, and he played the role of a tutor, friend, and given that as a slave he had never been allowed any family of his own, surrogate father to me. His official duties were teaching me Greek, honing my writing and speaking skills, and ensuring that I learned the history of Rome and her great families. This last area was of particular importance to my father who, conscious that I was being raised outside of Rome, did not want me to lose sight of our distinguished family history. Our family ancestry could proudly claim six consuls and from what Doxiadis told me, there was a better than even chance that if my father’s career continued on its current trajectory, he would be the seventh. 

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