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Sigil (EBOOK)

Sigil (EBOOK)

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The elusive Seal of Solomon, said to be a relic of immeasurable power, remains a subject of skepticism and doubt. Yet, amidst the sea of skeptics, one organization believes in its existence—the notorious and treacherous Vortex.
A cryptic sigil supposedly holds the key to unraveling the enigma of the Seal, but as Abigail and Riley embark on their perilous adventure, they soon realize that appearances can be deceiving.
Unforeseen challenges lie ahead, and amidst the twists and turns, a familiar nemesis resurfaces, threatening to tip the scales of their already daunting quest. As danger looms in every shadow, Abigail and Riley must summon their wits and courage to navigate this action-packed archaeological escapade.

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Chapter 1.

82 A.D.
CORINTH
The Lady Sabina Soaemias Bassiana leaned against the tired wooden wall of the ship and looked up the mountain which loomed over the harbor and the city below it. In fact, it seemed to stretch out even to the boat, its malevolent fingers reaching for prey. Sabina shook her head. Now I am being fanciful, she told herself, and I need to keep my imagination in check, especially with the nightmares I have been having about losing our friends in Pompeii.
Sabina took a deep breath of the sea air. Aulus says this mountain isn’t a fire mountain, she reassured herself, but somewhere deep down, was the small voice that said, But how would he know? No one had heard of fire mountains until Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii. She shook her head again. I am probably simply concerned about breaking the news to Anna.
How would Anna react? It was good news, to be sure, but it was certain to come as a shock.
At least I have Aulus for support, Sabina thought, looking at her husband chatting amiably to one of the sailors, admiring the way the big muscles in his arms rippled under his toga. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband. I only hope Anna and Decimus can marry, but Aulus says that is not at all likely.

* * *
Anna hurried after the servant girl down the brightly painted corridor toward the formal entrance hall. Sabina and Aulus, here, in Corinth? Surely, this couldn’t be true! Have my prayers been answered so soon? she wondered.
As they reached the entrance, the servant girl stood aside to reveal an equally excited Sabina standing arm in arm with Aulus.
The two women lost no time falling into each other’s arms and sobbing.
“Sabina, I have not seen you for a long time,” Anna said between sobs. “I was so happy when your mother, the Lady Octavia, wrote to me and said you were married to Aulus.” Anna cast Aulus a shy glance.
Sabina sighed. “Mother said you had written to inform her you were now in Corinth. It was awful for Mother and my sisters, thinking you had been killed in Pompeii. Mother still feels bad for leaving you there at our country estate.”
Anna’s expression grew grim. “Yes, your mother was not to know what would happen. I still have nightmares from time to time about it. You must think I am silly.”
“No, of course not.” Sabina’s tone was vehement.
Aulus put his arm around Sabina protectively. “Do you know, sailing into the Lechaeon harbor here in Corinth, Sabina was afraid when she saw the huge mountain towering over Corinth. She grabbed my arm so hard that I am sure I will have red welts there for a week.” He laughed and held Sabina away from him as she had playfully poked him on the arm at that comment. “I had to assure her that the mountain here is not a fire mountain like Vesuvius.”
Anna smiled at Aulus’s attempt to inject humor into the situation. “I was afraid of it too at first,” she admitted. “That rocky mountain is called the Acrocorinth. It is two thousand feet high. It and the six-mile wall used to protect Corinth, back when the city did not enjoy times of peace as it does now. People do walk up to the top of it. There are temples on the top. Do forgive me, you have been traveling for, how long?”
“Four and a half days,” Sabina said. “And I am not the best sailor, but it wasn’t tiring at all. It took the ship four and a half days to sail from Puteoli to Corinth.”
Anna embraced Sabina again. “Will you do me the honor of staying with me while you are here?”
“Yes, thank you, we would be delighted. If you have room?”
Anna nodded and led Sabina back down the corridor with Aulus following along behind. “I have a big apartment. The villa is owned by an agreeable family.”
They had reached the garden courtyard surrounded by columns, and Anna gestured to some wooden benches. “It is such a lovely day, would you like to sit here? There is so much to catch up on.” Anna inhaled the heady scent of the flowering basil, whose white flowers stood in complete contrast to the red roses planted strategically around the garden courtyard. I feel so happy with Sabina here, she thought. This is just like old times.
Sabina and Aulus sat on the seats while the servant girl returned with glasses of kykeon, barley water, and platters of honeyed quinces and stuffed dormice.
“You know, this could be Rome,” Sabina remarked. “It is so Roman here. I was afraid it was a Greek city, and I heard Greek spoken on our way here from the harbor. Corinth is only about forty miles west of Athens, after all. It is on the southern end of the Greek peninsula too.”
Aulus raised his eyebrows. “You know, Anna, I have tried to reassure Sabina that Corinth is a thoroughly Roman city. Augustus made Corinth the capital of the imperial province of Achaea and is the seat of its proconsul. Corinth even has a full Roman name, Colonia Laus Sabina Corinthiensis, and the coins are Roman, not Greek. Very Roman indeed. One would think we were back home in Puteoli.”
“Puteoli?” Anna asked. “Is that where the two of you are living now?”
Sabina swallowed a piece of honeyed quince. “Oh Anna, we have so much to catch up on, like you said. Yes, obviously my parents can never go back to their villa in Pompeii, so they bought a summer villa in Puteoli, not far from the villa that Aulus bought for us. Anyway, enough about us! Do tell us what has been happening with you.”
Anna sighed, a long, deep sigh. “It has been hard. I fled from Pompeii during the eruption. I sent a letter to your mother in Rome to tell her what had happened. I was so relieved when I received a letter in reply, that you and Aulus were married.” Anna dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
Sabina also sniffled, and Aulus put his arm around her again. “I am sorry you were not at our wedding, Anna, or Decimus for that matter. We were married in Rome, just a very small wedding. We did not think it right to celebrate after so many lost their lives, and still not knowing what had happened to so many of our friends.”
Anna nodded in agreement. “I am simply happy that you two are alive and well. Sabina, how are you? You seem a little upset, or perhaps just thoughtful.”
Sabina laughed. “You know me too well, Anna. I have some news for you. My mother did not wish to tell you in her letter, so she asked me to come and tell you in person.”
Anna nodded, but could not shake off the feeling that her life would never be the same again. She took a deep breath, stood up, and walked around to examine a rose bud resting against a column.
Sabina held out the scroll. “My parents wanted me to come here to give you this document.”
Anna took the parchment scroll from Sabina. “It is sealed,” she said with some wonder. The comment was addressed to herself. A moment’s silence ensued, and then Anna looked up at Sabina. “Do you know what this means?”
Sabina stood up and walked over to Anna and sat next to her on the seat. She patted Anna’s knee. “Anna, prepare yourself for a shock. You are not a servant. You never were. This document is my parents’ guarantee that you are a free person.”
Anna was indeed in shock. Her head was spinning, and she was finding it hard to concentrate. “You mean, I have been freed? Your parents have freed me?”
Sabina shook her head. “No Anna, what I am trying to tell you, is that you never were a servant.”
Anna hadn’t expected to hear this. The room started to spin. She went to stand up but wobbled badly. Sabina took her by the arm and guided her back down to the seat. “Never a servant? What do you mean? I was a servant for years.”
Sabina shook her head. “That is what I thought too, of course, but it turns out that my parents were asked to raise you.”
“Raise me?” This is getting more puzzling, Anna thought. “But why would they raise me as a servant? It does not make sense.”
Sabina shrugged. “Mother said that there were political reasons. Mother did not want to put it in writing in case it was intercepted.”
“Intercepted? It is too intriguing.” To Anna’s embarrassment, she burst into tears.
Sabina comforted Anna until her tears subsided. “I know this is a horrible shock for you. It is good though, right? Better than to think you were free and then find out you were a servant.”
Anna laughed softly in spite of herself. “True.”
Sabina patted Anna on the knee again. “Mother said we are to go seek out the magistrate, Aquila Claudius Drusus. Mother says he is a distant relative of hers. He will tell you the circumstances of your birth and give you funds that have been kept for you. He will explain everything, about your parents, where they are.”
Anna’s head was reeling. “My parents? I have parents? I thought I was an orphan.”
“Do you remember anything at all from when you were very young?” Sabina asked her.
Anna leaned over and put her head between her hands. “I think so. I always thought they must have been dreams though—my memories, I mean. I am so confused. Maybe they were dreams.”
“What do you remember?” Sabina prompted gently.
“Just images really. I remember going on a long journey. I remember being in a faraway land. It is strange, as I do think I remember my parents, but it is vague. I always thought those were dreams as it did not seem as though I was a servant.” Anna sighed deeply. “You know, that makes sense, if they were memories. But I do not understand the political reasons and secrecy? There’ is too much intrigue; I want to know the truth.”
Sabina nodded in sympathy. “It will all make sense, no doubt, when we find the magistrate. Anyway, what news do you have of Decimus? Is his house far from here?”
At the mention of Decimus’s name, Anna’s stomach churned.

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