20 January 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Stephanie Dray

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're happy to help contributor Stephanie Dray celebrate the release of her historical fiction debut, LILY OF THE NILE, in which Cleopatra's daughter struggles to survive in the treacherous Roman court. Join us Sunday when Stephanie will be here to answer questions and give away a copy! Here's the blurb:

With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...

In the aftermath of Alexandria's tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she's ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she's put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene's captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor's sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans...

Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother's lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. But can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?

Then my mother stared into the flame as sweet smoke filled the tomb, the scent of light magic surrounding us. She took a more formal tone. "Tonight, I've a gift for each of you. To protect you when I'm gone."

From the chest, my mother took a Collar of Gold amulet and placed it around Philadelphus' neck. She touched her forehead to his and said, "Ptolemy Philadelphus, I give you my sight." Then she whispered the spell over the amulet to imbue it with power. "Oh my father Osiris, my brother Horus, my mother Isis, I'm unswathed and I see."

Philadelphus' soulful brown eyes fluttered wide. He staggered back as if he saw something frightening. Helios and I both turned to check behind us, fearful that Romans had entered this sanctuary, but we saw only my mother's handmaidens.

Then my mother put a golden vulture amulet around Helios' neck and he bowed his head, fists balled in frustration. "Alexander Helios, I give you my power, my sekhem." She held his hand as she spoke the holy words. "The sovereignty of the whole world is decreed for him. May he war mightily and maketh his deeds to be remembered. His mother, the mighty lady Isis, protecteth him, and she hath transferred her strength unto him."

At last, my mother came to me. She fastened upon my neck a small jade frog pendant. I squinted, for my brothers' amulets seemed so much more impressive. Curious, I read the words carved on the frog's green underbelly, and I arched a curious brow.

"Read it aloud," my mother said.

My words came out bold and strong. "I am the Resurrection."

In that moment, a power surged through me that I had never known. Magic.

The Nile's green waves lapped at my consciousness, drawing me into the marshy reeds of a waking dream where life teemed. I saw the frog and the minnows, the life-giving silt settling onto the fields beyond, and everywhere I turned in the water, the birds flocked and water lilies blossomed. With my fingers, I traced lazy circles into the dream river bringing fish leaping to the surface. I passed dried brown foliage as I made my way to shore, and it sprouted green with life again. I gazed upon the washed up carcass of a snake and it arose, coiled and shimmering.

It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, but the intensity was too much. My knees buckled under me. My mother's guiding hands caught me to stop my fall. "Cleopatra Selene, I entrust you with my spirit, my ba. You are the resurrection."