Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Great Divide

Also published on the Christian Women's Resource Network

Since mankind first became aware of the divide between good and evil, we have been creating divisions. Cane and Abel were divided over whether it was sufficient to give God an offering or whether they should offer God their best. Today we are divided over such things as stay-at-home moms versus moms who work outside the home; private school, public school, or home school; legalism versus grace; and even blue carpet or beige in the sanctuary. If you live in St. Louis, you know the most important division is that of Cardinals versus Cubs!

Yesterday I saw a commercial that reminded me of another great division. A company is now promoting paper towels for the home bathroom to avoid re-infecting hands after washing. Yep, it's the argument of germ-free sanitation versus save-the-earth-from-more-trash!

God knew the people he created would find ways to divide up over almost every topic they could possibly discuss. It seems we can't agree on anything. Jesus prayed during his final days for all who would ever believe in him through the message of the disciples (that's us!). He said, "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one -- as you are in me, Father, and I am in you." (John 17:20-21, NLT) I'm sure that he and his Father are both woefully disappointed by the petty arguments we have over theological points, and especially non-theological points, that have broken our churches into hundreds of denominations.

It's frustrating to visit a church and have the preacher speak from the pulpit as if his or her particular brand of faith is the only one that counts. One quote I heard this week was "We (insert name of denomination here) put God in a box." Uh, don't ALL believers tend to do that? Why must we further segregate ourselves whenever we get the chance?

I can hardly imagine what the world would be like if all believers would drop their labels and seek to worship Christ in a pure, holy way. What a wonderful world that would be! I'd like to challenge you to step out of your denominational, or even non-denominational, comfort zone this week and try to seek God as Jesus prayed we would seek Him -- as a unified group wanting nothing more than to believe that Jesus is the Christ, sent by God for our salvation.

Oh, and by the way, if you find a good way to dry your hands in a sanitary and earth-saving manner, let me know. Until then I'm just wiping them on my jeans!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bridge to a Distant Star

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bridge to a Distant Star
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2011)
Carolyn Williford

From the beginning, I knew this book would end in tragedy when Tampa Bay bridge collapses in a storm. Carolyn Williford creates three compelling stories that cause the reader to fall in love with the characters that will ultimately end up on that bridge.

I appreciated the way she created the trilogies to mask who drives onto the bridge at the wrong moment until near the end of the stories. While there is some foreshadowing, it's hard to tell who will be in the accident and who will survive.

The conversations in the text were very realistic. I loved the really awkward, even realistically uncomfortable way Emilie's friends dealt with the breakup and subsequent repair of her marriage. They definitely didn't say the 'right' things or what would have been expected of 'good' Christians -- however Williford was right on the mark with what happens in the real world.

This is a book that stays with you for a while. Each story deals with heavy issues faced by people trying to live strong for God while faced with real world temptations, fears, and hardships. In the end, not everything is fair, but as always God is in control and sometimes that is all we need to know.


Carolyn Williford has authored seven books, including Jordan's Bend, Devotions for Families That Can't Sit Still, and Faith Tango, as well as numerous articles. She and her husband, Craig, live in Deerfield, Illinois, where he serves as president of Trinity International University. They have two children and four grandchildren.


It All Comes Tumbling Down

As a storm rages in the night, unwary drivers venture onto Tampa Bay’s most renowned bridge. No one sees the danger ahead. No one notices the jagged gap hidden by the darkness and rain. Yet when the bridge collapses vehicles careen into the churning waters of the bay below.

In that one catastrophic moment, three powerful stories converge: a family ravaged by their child’s heartbreaking news, a marriage threatened by its own facade, and a college student burdened by self doubt. As each story unfolds, the characters move steadily closer to that fateful moment on the bridge. And while each character searches for grace, the storms in their lives loom as large as the storm that awaits them above the bay.

When these characters intersect in Carolyn Williford’s gripping and moving volume of three novellas, they also collide with the transforming truth of Christ: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Bridge to a Distant Star, go HERE.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guest Blogger - Anita Agers-Brooks

I Look Like My Daddy
by Anita Agers-Brooks
I am illegitimate, but I am not an accident. And no matter how you came to exist, neither are you.
I was forty-six years old, when through a dramatic series of events, I found out Dad, the man who raised me, isn’t my biological father. My identity is surrounded by mystery, but I know exactly who I am.
In the grief-drenched days, after I received DNA results confirming Dad isn’t my birth-father, I went to the Bible for comfort. My tears stained the pages when I read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). I sobbed over God’s promise to be, “A father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5).
A dear friend said in response to my story. “God sure must have wanted you. He went to a lot of trouble to create you especially who you are.”
I’ve learned she is right. I am not an accident.
There are six powerful things I discovered while the mystery unraveled:
  1. I belong to God, no matter how I was conceived.
  2. I exist to glorify Him by becoming the person I was meant to be.
  3. I can go to His Word, and His people, to get more information.
  4. I found my life’s purpose by asking Him to reveal my unique destiny.
  5. I decided in a single moment never to give up.
  6. I started by taking one step. Then one more. And another, and then another.
God knitted me together on purpose, with purpose, to fulfill a purpose. My unique DNA combination makes me especially qualified to do the work He planned for me before I was even born. I am wanted, because my Daddy-God adopted me. I am beautiful, because I look like my Daddy-God. I am the daughter of the King of Kings, which makes me a princess. I am secure in my identity, which is found in Christ alone.
But my story isn’t all about me. My story is also about you.
No matter how you started, or where you are today, you are meant for abundant life. You can live the dream God planted in your heart when He set you in the soil of your mother’s womb. You are not an accident. You know who you are. You look like your Daddy.

Anita Agers-Brooks is on a mission to find her biological father. On her journey, she shares God’s message as a Communications Specialist, Certified Personality Trainer, public speaker, and writer. Anita lives in Missouri with her husband Ricky. Contact her via website or email

Thursday, June 23, 2011

She Makes It Look Easy

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
She Makes It Look Easy
David C. Cook (June 1, 2011)
Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen's new book touches on the insecurity that all women feel. Ariel, the mother of three rowdy boys, longs for organization and peace in her life. Justine has an over abundance of peace and organization, but she longs for love and passion. Both put up false walls of pretense about their lives and they long for something more.

The choices they make, however, reflect their true levels of dedication to God and their families.

The book causes the reader to evaluate her life and determine if indeed there are places in her life where she may be secretly harboring desires that could take her farther from God if acted upon, and show how the consequences can impact a whole community.


Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries writing team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions. Her first novel,The Mailbox was released in June 2010. Her next novel, She Makes It Look Easy, will be released in June 2011. Additionally, she serves as director of She Reads, Proverbs 31 Ministries' fiction division.


Ariel Baxter has just moved into the neighborhood of her dreams. The chaos of domestic life and the loneliness of motherhood, however, moved with her. Then she meets her neighbor, Justine Miller. Justine ushers Ariel into a world of clutter-free houses, fresh-baked bread, homemade crafts, neighborhood play dates, and organization techniques designed to make marriage better and parenting manageable.

Soon Ariel realizes there is hope for peace, friendship, and clean kitchen counters. But when rumors start to circulate about Justine’s real home life, Ariel must choose whether to believe the best about the friend she admires or consider the possibility that “perfection” isn’t always what it seems to be.

If you would like to read an excerpt of She Makes It Look Easy, go HERE.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

How Huge The Night

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
How Huge the Night
Kregel Publications (March 9, 2011)
Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

While this is classified as a book for teens, I found it fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed it. The authors have done a fabulous job of portraying what it must have been like to be a teen in the midst of the horrors of WWII.

Julien's family has moved to France to get away from the horror of Hitler's army, just to be overtaken when they occupy the country. Nina and her brother, Gustav, are young Jewish teens who leave home alone after promising their dying father they will escape the Nazis.

The chapters of the book ricochet between the vastly different worlds of Julien and Nina until they are brought together by fate in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. In reality, this village is known for saving the lives of over 3000 Jews during the war. This story is based on actual events.

I was fascinated by this story, especially by the things Nina and Gustav had to endure as they sought safety. The book is very suspenseful and is written to keep you turning the pages. I highly recommend it to teens and adults interested in either a great story or this particular period in history. I'm really looking forward to the next book by this mother/daughter team.


Heather Munn was born in Northern Ireland of American parents and grew up in the south of France. She decided to be a writer at the age of five when her mother read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books aloud, but worried that she couldn’t write about her childhood since she didn’t remember it. When she was young, her favorite time of day was after supper when the family would gather and her father would read a chapter from a novel. Heather went to French school until her teens, and grew up hearing the story of Le Chambonsur-Lignon, only an hour’s drive away. She now lives in rural Illinois with her husband, Paul, where they offer free spiritual retreats to people coming out of homelessness and addiction. She enjoys wandering in the woods, gardening, writing, and splitting wood.

Lydia Munn was homeschooled for five years because there was no school where her family served as missionaries in the savannahs of northern Brazil. There was no public library either, but Lydia read every book she could get her hands on. This led naturally to her choice of an English major at Wheaton College. Her original plan to teach high school English gradually transitioned into a lifelong love of teaching the Bible to both adults and young people as a missionary in France. She and her husband, Jim, have two children: their son, Robin, and their daughter, Heather.

Fifteen-year-old Julien Losier just wants to fit in. But after his family moves to a small village in central France in hopes of outrunning the Nazis, he is suddenly faced with bigger challenges than the taunting of local teens.

Nina Krenkel left her country to obey her father's dying command: Take your brother and leave Austria. Burn your papers. Tell no one you are Jews. Alone and on the run, she arrives in Tanieux, France, dangerously ill and in despair.

Thrown together by the chaos of war, Julien begins to feel the terrible weight of the looming conflict and Nina fights to survive. As France falls to the Nazis, Julien struggles with doing what is right, even if it is not enough-and wonders whether or not he really can save Nina from almost certain death.

Based on the true story of the town of Le Chambon-the only French town honored by Israel for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust-How Huge the Night is a compelling, coming-of-age drama that will keep teens turning the pages as it teaches them about a fascinating period of history and inspires them to think more deeply about their everyday choices.


“The Munns have written an engrossing historical novel that is faithful to the actual events of World War II in western Europe during the tumultuous year 1940. But How Huge the Night is more than good history; it is particularly refreshing because the reader sees the conflict through the lives of teenagers who are forced to grapple with their honest questions about the existence and goodness of God in the midst of community, family, and ethnic tensions in war-ravaged France.”—Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

“Seldom have the horrors of war upon adolescents—or the heroism of which they are capable—been so clearly portrayed. I loved this coming-of-age story.”—Patricia Sprinkle, author of Hold Up the Sky

“The book expertly weaves together the lives of its characters at a frightening moment in conflicted times. As we read of their moral dilemmas and of their choices, we too wonder, Would I do has these in the story have done?”—Karen Mains, Director, Hungry Souls

If you would like to read an excerpt from How Huge the Night, go HERE

Watch the book video:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Pompeii: City on Fire

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Pompeii: City on Fire

B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me a review copy.***


Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After earning a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University, she spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry before beginning to write fiction. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.

She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures.

Visit the author's website.


A city shadowed by a roiling volcano
A young politician running from his destiny
A Jewish slave girl with a desperate plan
Are any of them safe from harm?

Pleasure-seeking Romans find the seaside town of Pompeii the perfect getaway. But when the rich patrician Cato escapes Rome, intent on a life of leisure, he is unprepared for the hostility he encounters. In the same place, but at the opposite end of society, Ariella has disguised herself as a young boy to be sold into a gladiator troupe. Survival is her only ambition.
But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii, and neither Ariella’s secret nor Cato’s evasion is immune to it. Political corruption, religious persecution, and family peril threaten to destroy them, even before an ominous mountain in the distance spews its fire.

As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, Cato and Ariella must bridge their differences to save the lives of those they love—before fiery ash buries Pompeii, turning the city into a lost world.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668572
ISBN-13: 978-1433668579



August 9, 70 AD

Ariella shoved through the clogged street, defying the mob of frantic citizens. Men, women, and children crowded the alleys, senseless in their panic to flee the city. They carried all they could, packed into pouches slung across their chests and clutched in sweaty hands. Soldiers ran with them, as though they had all joined a macabre stadium footrace, with participants who clubbed and slashed at each other to get ahead. Beside her, one of the district’s tax collectors tripped and fumbled a latched wooden box. It cracked against the cobbled street and spilled its meager hoard of gold. The tax collector was dead before he hit the ground, and the Roman soldier pulled his sword from the man’s gut only to scrabble for the coins.

Ariella turned her head from the gore, but felt little pity for the tax man, cheated of life by the Romans for whom he had betrayed his people. Still, concern flickered in her chest at the sudden violence in the street.

Something has happened.

The city had been under siege for months. Three days ago her mother announced that the sacrifices in the Temple had ceased. But today, today was something new. Perhaps three days of sins not atoned for had brought the wrath of the Holy One down on them all.

Unlike those who ran the streets with her, Ariella’s destination was neither Temple nor countryside. She returned to her home—if the dim tenement could be called such—from another useless excursion to secure food.

At sixteen and as eldest child, it fell on her to search the famished city for a scrap of dried beef to feed her brother, perhaps a thimbleful of milk for the baby, crumbs for her father whose eyes had gone glassy and whose skin was now the color of the clay pots he once turned on the wheel.

But there was no food to be found. Titus, the emperor’s son, had arrived in the spring with his army of eighty thousand and his siege wall served well its double function—the people were trapped and they were starving.

Not even such a wall could prevent news from seeping through its cracks, however. From Caesarea, word escaped of twenty thousand Jews slaughtered in a day. Fifty thousand killed in Alexandria. Ten thousand met the sword in Gamla. Such numbers were incomprehensible.

Here in Jerusalem, the bodies thrown outside the city were too numerous to count, piled high in rotting mounds, as though the city itself were defiled and would forever be unclean.

Yet we are not all dead. Ariella’s hands curled into tense fists as she rounded the last corner. She would cling to life as long as she had strength, and like her untiring mother, she would hold tight to that elusive thread for each member of her family.

She pushed against the rough wood of the door and slipped out of the rush of the street. The home’s tomb-like interior had the peculiar smell of starvation. In the corner, her baby sister whimpered as if in response to Ariella’s entrance. Micah met her at the door, his sunken eyes fixed on her and his lips slightly open, as though anticipating the food she might have brought. Or perhaps he simply lacked the strength to close his jaw. She shook her head and Micah turned away, hiding his disappointment as all boys of eleven do when they are threatened by tears.

Her father did not speak from his mat on the floor. Ariella scooped the listless baby Hannah into her arms and gave her a finger to suck. Small consolation.

“Where is Mother?” She scanned the room, then looked to Micah. A low groan from her father set her heart pounding. “Where is she, Micah? Where has Mother gone?”

Micah sniffed and glanced at the door. “To the Temple. She has gone to the Temple.”

Ariella growled and pushed Hannah into her brother’s arms. “She is going to get herself killed, and then where will we be?”

She bent to her father’s side. The man had been strong once. Ariella could barely remember. She touched the cool skin of his arm. “I will bring her back, Father. I promise.” Her father’s eyes sought her own, searching for reassurance. The hunger seemed to have stolen his voice. How long until it took his mind?

She turned on Micah, grabbed his shoulder. “Do not let anyone inside. The streets--” She looked to the door. “The streets are full of madness.”

He nodded, still cradling Hannah.

She kissed the baby. “Take care of them, Micah.” And then she left to retrieve her mother, whose political fervor often outpaced her common sense.

The mid-summer sun had dropped in the sky, an orange disc hazy and indistinct behind rising smoke. The city burns. She smelled it, sensed it, felt it somehow on her skin as she joined the flow toward the temple – a heat of destruction that threatened to consume them all.

Her family enjoyed the privilege of living in the shadow of the Temple Mount. A privilege that today only put them closer to folly. She twisted through the crazed mob, darted around wagons and pushcarts laden with family treasures, swatted at those who shoved against her. Already, only halfway there, her heart struck against her chest and her breathing shallowed, the weakness of slow starvation.

She reached the steps to the south of the Temple platform and was swept upward with the masses. Why were so many running to the Temple? Why had her mother?

And then she heard it. A sound that was part shrieking anger, part mournful lament, a screaming funeral dirge for the city and its people. She reached the top of the steps, pushed through the Huldah Gate, dashed under the colonnade into the Court of the Gentiles, and drew up short. The crowd pressed against her back, flowed around her and surged onward, but Ariella could not move.

The Temple is on fire.

The next moments blurred. She felt herself running, running toward the Temple as if she alone could avert this monstrous evil. Joining others who must have shared her delusion. She saw Roman legionaries club women and children, voices raised in a war cry. The yells of zealot rebels and the shrieks of those impaled by swords returned like an echo. The dead began to accumulate. Soldiers climbed heaps of bodies to chase those who fled. She tasted ashes and blood in the air, breathed the stench of burning flesh, and still some pushed forward.

She fought the smoke and blood, climbed the steps and entered the Court of Women. All around her, peaceful citizens were butchered where they stood. Ahead, a current of blood ran down the curved steps before the brass Nicanor Gate. The bodies of those who had been murdered at the top slipped to the bottom.

Ariella swayed on her feet at the carnage. That her mother was one of these dead she had no doubt. Elana’s outspoken defiance of Rome had earned her a reputation among her people, one that matched the meaning of her given name, torch.

She could go no farther. The entire Temple structure flamed now, from the Court of Israel to the Holy of Holies, its beauty and riches and sanctity defiled, raped by the Romans who even now risked their own flesh to steal its treasures.

A groan at her feet drew her attention, and she saw as if from a great distance that indeed her mother lay there, a bloody slash against her chest and a vicious purpling around her eyes. She lifted a hand, claw-like, to Ariella, who bent to kneel beside her and clasp her fingers.

Ariella had no words. What use to say good-bye, when they would all be in the same place soon?

Strange, she was very cold. With the flames so near and so fierce, still her fingers felt numb as she wrapped them around her mother’s hand.

Elana whispered only “Never forget…” before she was gone, and Ariella nodded because it was the expected thing to do. She studied her mother’s face, the eyes open and unseeing, and felt nothing. Was that right? Should she feel something?

After awhile she thought perhaps she should go home. She tried to stand, slipped in some blood that had pooled on the marble beneath her, and tried again.

The noise seemed far off now, though she could see the faces of citizens, mouths gaping as though they screamed in agony, and soldiers, feral lips drawn back over their teeth. But the sounds had somehow receded.

She weaved through the upright who still lived, stepped over the prone who had already passed, and drifted back to her house. Behind her, the Temple Mount was enveloped in flames, boiling over from its base, though there seemed to be even more blood than flames.

The stupor that had fallen over her at the Temple seemed to slough away as she traveled the streets. From open doorways she heard an occasional wail, but largely it was quiet. Too quiet. As thouh a river of violence had washed down the street while she’d been gone and swept away all that lived.

Her own street was not so peaceful. From end to end it burned.

She searched the crowd for her father, Micah, the baby. Grabbed hollow-eyed friends and wailing neighbors. One old woman shook her head and pointed a withered hand to the end of the burning street. “Only Micah.” She coughed. “Only he escaped.”

Micah. She called his name, but the word choked in her throat. Where would he have fled?

They had whispered together, one unseasonably warm night a few months ago on their roof, of running away from Jerusalem. Child’s talk, but now… Would he have tried to leave the city, to make it two hours south to family in Bethlehem?

Minutes later, she stumbled toward the Lower City. The Dung Gate would lead her south, to the valley of Hinnom and onward to Bethlehem. If she could escape.

Too many joined her. They would never be allowed to pass. She climbed crumbling steps to the rim of the city wall. Would she see a thread of refugees weaving out of Jerusalem, beyond the gates?

There was a procession of Jews, yes. But not on foot, fleeing to safety. On crosses, writhing in death throes. An endless line of them, crucified in absurd positions for the Romans’ entertainment, until they had run out of crosses, no doubt. Ariella gripped the wall. She would have retched had there been anything in her stomach.

She considered throwing herself from the wall. Was it high enough to guarantee her death? She would not want to die slowly on the ground, listening to the crucified.

The decision was made for her. From behind, a Roman soldier grabbed both her arms, laughing. She waited for the air in her face, for the spin of a freefall in her belly, that feeling she loved when her father rode the donkey cart too fast over the crest of a hill.

Instead, the soldier spun her to face him, shoved her to the stone floor, and fumbled at her tunic.

No, she was not going to die like that.

She exploded into a flailing of arms and legs, kicks and screams. She used her fingernails, used her teeth, used her knees.

From behind her head another soldier called. “That one’s a fighter, eh, Marcus?”

The soldier on top of her grunted.

“Better save her for the general. He wants the strong ones to sell off, you know.”

Ariella realized in that moment that since the siege began months ago, she had believed she would meet her death in the City of God. But as Jerusalem died without her, something far worse loomed in her future.

Life in the slave market of Rome.

Chapter 1


Nine years later

Night fell too soon, bringing its dark celebrations to the house of Valerius.

Ariella lingered at the fishpond in the center of the dusky atrium, slipping stale crusts to the hungry scorpion fish one tiny piece at a time. The brown and white striped creature snapped at its prey with precision, the venomous spines along its back bristling.

The fish food ran out. There was no delaying the inevitable.

Let the debauchery begin.

Nine years a slave in this household, nine annual tributes to Dionysius. The Greek god, embraced by the Romans and renamed Bacchus, apparently demanded every sort of drunken vice performed in his honor. And Valerius would not disappoint the god.

Indeed, Valerius flaunted his association with the mystery sect, though its practice was frowned upon by the government and disdained by most citizens.

Ariella inhaled, trying to draw strength from the deadly fish her master kept as a pet. For we are both kept as such, aren’t we? The scorpion fish’s body swayed like a piece of debris, its disguise needless in its solitary enclosure.

Within an hour Valerius’s guests poured into the town house, sloshed up most of the wine she’d placed on low tables in the triclinium, and progressed to partaking of the extract of opium poppies, tended in red-tinged fields beyond the city. The sweet, pungent smoke hung like a smothering wool toga above their heads.

A traveling guild of actors somersaulted into the room, their lewd songs and costumes an affront to decency and a delight to the guests. Ariella lowered her eyes, embarrassment still finding her even after all she had endured, and cleared the toppled cups and soiled plates. She passed Valerius, sprawled on a gold-cushioned couch, and he rubbed a hand over her calf. Her muscles twitched like the flank of a horse irritated by a fly.

Her master’s high-pitched laugh floated above the general noise of the intoxicated. Ariella winced. Valerius performed tonight for his honored guest, another politician from the south somewhere.

“Perhaps we shall make a man of you yet, Maius.” Valerius waved his slender fingers at the larger man. “I shall take you out into the city and declare to all that you are one of us.”

The politician, Maius, reddened. Ariella leaned over him to refill his cup. Clearly, he was here to humor Valerius but not align himself with the vile man.

When the actors had twirled their final dance and claimed applause, the herd of guests took their revelry to the streets. Valerius dragged Ariella through the door, always his special companion this night. Her breath caught in her throat. It was not the streets she feared. It was what would come after.

Mother, why could I not be strong like you?

The insanity built to a crescendo as they wound their torch-lit way toward the Via Appia, where the procession would climax. The Bacchanalians howled and pushed and tripped, their vacant eyes and laughing mouths like the painted frescoes of her nightmares. Hair disheveled, carrying blazing torches, they danced along the stones, uttered crazed predictions and contorted their bodies impossibly. Back in Jerusalem, her father would have said they had the demons in them. Here in Rome, Ariella rarely thought of such things.

It was enough to survive.

They passed a cluster of slaves, big men, most of them, herded into a circle amidst a few flaming torches. Strange time of day for a slave auction. Ariella met the eyes of a few, but their shared circumstance did not give them connection.

Snatches of speech reached her. A gladiator troupe. A lanista, the trainer for the troupe, called out numbers, making new purchases. A memory of home flashed, the day she had been sold to Valerius’s household manager. She had thought herself fortunate then, when so many others were sold off to entertain in the arena. Foolish child.

The unruly procession passed the men bound for death and Ariella’s gaze flitted through them. Did they feel the violent shortness of their lives press down on them? Before her stretched nothing but endless misery. Was their lot not preferable?

A muscled slave with the yellow hair of the west shifted and she glimpsed a face beyond him. Her blood turned to ice, then fire.


She yanked away from Valerius’s sweaty grip. Stood on her toes to peer into the men.

Valerius pulled away from the raucous group, wrapped a thin arm around her waist, and brought his too-red lips to her ear. “Not growing shy after all these years, are we?” His baby-sweet voice sickened her.

She leaned away. Caught another look at the boy.

Turn your head. Look this way!

Valerius tugged her toward the road, but her feet had grown roots. I must be sure.

But then he turned, the boy about to be a gladiator, and she saw that it could not be Micah. He was too young, older than she remembered her brother but not old enough to be him. Though the resemblance was so strong perhaps he was a distant cousin, she knew he was not her brother. In fact, the boy looked more like her than Micah. If she were to cut her hair, she could pass for his twin.

She let Valerius pull her back to the procession, but the moment had shaken her. Memories she had thought dead turned out to be only buried, and their resurrection was a knife-blade of pain.

She sleepwalked through the rest of the procession, until their drunken steps took them to the caves on the Via Appia, dark spots on the grassy mounds along the road where greater abuses could be carried out without reprisals.

Valerius and his guest, Maius, were arguing.

Ariella forced her attention to the men, leaving off thoughts of Micah and home. It did not pay to be ignorant of Valerius’s moods.

“And you would sully the position you’ve been given by your dissolution!” Maius’s upper lip beaded with sweat and he poked a finger into Valerius’s chest.

Valerius swiped at the meaty finger. “At least I am not a coward! Running home to pretend to be something I am not.”

“You think me a coward? Then you are a fool. I know how to hold on to power. Yours will wash away like so much spilled wine.”

Valerius cackled. “Power? Ah yes, you are a mighty man down there in your holiday town by the sea. I daresay you couldn’t put a sword to a thief if he threatened your family!”

Ariella took a step backward. Valerius misjudged Maius, she could see. The man’s eyes held a coldness that only came of cruelty.

Before Valerius could react, Maius had unsheathed a small dagger from his belt. He grabbed for a nearby slave, one of Valerius’s special boys, wrapped a meaty arm around his forehead, and in one quick move, sliced the slave’s neck. He let the boy fall. Valerius screeched.

“There.” Maius tossed the dagger at the smaller senator’s feet and glared. “I owe you for one slave. But perhaps now you will keep your pretty mouth shut!”

“What have you done?” Valerius bent to the boy and clutched at his bloody tunic. “Not Julius! Not this one!”

The moon had risen while they marched, and now it shone down on them all, most of the guests taken with their own lustful pursuits and senseless to the drama between the two men. Ariella traced the path of moonlight down to her feet, to the glint of iron in the dirt. Maius’s dagger.

She had not held a weapon for many years. Without thought she bent and retrieved it. Held it to her side, against the loose fabric of her robe.

She could not say when the idea first planted itself in her mind. Perhaps it had been back in the city when she had seen the boy who was not Micah. Perhaps it only sprang to life at this moment. Regardless, she knew what she would do.

She would not return to Valerius’s house. Not participate once more, behind closed doors, in the mystery rites that had stolen her soul. Her nine years of torture had come to an end.

No one called out, no one pursued. She simply slipped away, into the weedy fields along the Via Appia, back to the city, the dagger hidden under her robe. She unwrapped the fabric sash at her waist and wound it around her hair. A few quiet questions and she found the yard where the newly-purchased gladiators awaited their assignment. A little flirtation with the loutish guard at the gate, enough to convince him that she was one of the many Roman women obsessed with the fighters, and he let her in with a wicked grin.

She found the boy within moments. His eyes widened as though she were his first opponent. She pulled him to the shadows, to the catcalls of his fellow fighters.

The dagger was steady in her hand and sharp enough to slice through large hanks of hair. The boy watched, wide-eyed, as she disrobed in front of him, modesty ignored.

He was young enough to easily convince.

Within minutes she had donned his leathers and taken his place on the ground with the other fighters. The boy stumbled across the yard, awkward in his new robes and headscarf.

It was done.

Elana would be proud.