Read the beginning of the first chapter of
THE DEADLIEST HATE
The Eighth Year of the Reign of
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus [Claudius]
Part One: Alexandria ad Aegyptum
Three Weeks Before the Summer Solstice
The corners of Phoebe’s lips trembled as she handed me the wood-framed tablets. She’d been cradling them in her arms as if she were carrying a baby.
“Miriam, the jewelers’ courier just delivered this letter for you. It’s from a goldsmith’s shop in Caesarea.”
Phoebe was the foundling my mother rescued from the Bruchium Quarter, the Palace Area of Alexandria. But over the years, she’s become more than our family’s beloved servant. Five years my senior, she’s become a big sister to me.
She rushed into my sitting room in the private wing of the first floor of our family’s townhouse in the Jewish Quarter. One of the maids had just cleared away the remains of my breakfast of dates, almonds, goat cheese, and a wedge of wheat bread flavored with cinnamon, but the aroma of the tea she’d made from wild mint and elderflower still perfumed the air.
As soon as Phoebe said Caesarea, I knew the letter had to be from Judah. He’d sailed to Caesarea last September to find his half-brother Eran. Judah learned he had a half-brother only two years ago when his mentor, Saul, a master jeweler and Eran’s father, confessed on his deathbed to also being Judah’s father.
When I touched the tablets, it was as if I could feel the heat where Judah’s hands had been, a sensation that triggered that dormant but familiar longing that was both pleasure and pain. I caught my breath and closed my eyes to conjure up the image of him I muse on before falling asleep. He’s standing in his shop as he did that first day when Papa sent me to the agora to collect his mortgage payment. When I walk in, I see his lids lift, his pupils widen, and I hear the rhythm of each breath slow and deepen to a sigh.
In the inky darkness of my cubiculum, relieved by only the softer darkness that floats in on the moon-cast shadows of the cypress trees outside my sitting room windows, I intoxicate myself with Judah. First I concentrate on his broad shoulders and narrow waist, his rugged cleft chin and high-bridged nose, his luminous green eyes and the glossy black curls that frame his brow. Then I re-live the feeling of having been near him, of my pulse quickening and my flush mounting as I fill my lungs with his air, a hint of sandalwood riding on a heady male scent like honey on freshly-baked bread.
I rose from the cushioned mahogany sofa of my sitting room and walked around the marble-topped, wicker writing desk to bring the tablets into the trapezoid of light the morning sun had painted on the mosaic floor. Then I broke through Judah’s seal, untied the leather bands that bound the hinged tablets, and opened the leaves to their waxed surfaces.