The battering ram rumbled and creaked as it lurched over the crest of the hill. It lumbered into the glade, warriors swarming around it. Their cries were gruff, their language guttural and harsh. They pointed at her. Their faces were fierce, contemptuous, but their bravado could not mask their terror of her and the Goddess they knew she served.
The warriors formed a circle and stomped rhythmically, exorcising their fear. Their sweat reeked of terror. One thick-browed warrior ripped boldly at Lady's gown, his frothy spit marking her bared shoulder. Another, wild-eyed, tore the roses from her arms. Pale petals splashed the grass, pearly surrogates for tears Lady wouldn't let herself shed.
Bonding her unborn child's consciousness with her own, she turned her attention inward, beyond this too-brief life and far from Hieron Oros, her beloved Sacred Mountain. Silently, she prayed: Mother, receive us swiftly!
SPRING EQUINOX, 2000 A.D.
JULIA Giardani reached the Berkeley Rose Garden at dusk. She always loved the walk from her hillside condo to her father's house, especially loved the view from here, even tonight, with worry driving her every step.
She paused at the top of the steep, terraced park and juggled her armful of books. A scattering of smoking chimneys across the hills gave a peppery bite to the air. Fanning out beyond the Garden and bordered by the slate-blue mirror of the Bay and the distant purple hills of Marin was Berkeley's north side, crowded, yet charming as ever. Too much so for her taste these days, but her father still loved it.
Her father. He always seemed to know just when she'd arrive. There he was now at the edge of the trees, ambling up the ramp in her direction. He showed no sign of the haunted look that lately had caused her such concern. Still handsome and energetic in his late seventies, he seemed especially chipper this evening. When he reached up and waved, she could tell he was smiling, already turning on the charm to get back in her good graces.
The rascal. His word, but it fit him to a tee, especially lately. He'd shocked her silly two days ago with sudden revelations of old family skeletons. Secret religious traditions--ancient, Pagan ones. And some kind of legacy--her rightful inheritance, he'd called it.
Then he'd clammed up, refused to say another word or answer even one of her questions since. He hadn't returned her calls either, he'd finally explained this morning, because he was still trying to organize his thoughts. Well, she planned to help him. Tonight. Thus the books, which his silence had forced her to buy at a local bookshop other than his, a Bay Area fixture for over thirty years. She wrinkled her nose at the books, an odd assortment of Jungian psychology and early Greek religion-everything she'd found on ancient Goddesses.
"Such a face," her father teased, coming up beside her. "You look as if you're holding a nest of vipers." He reached for the books, raised a bushy eyebrow at the trendy store's bookmark sticking out of the largest. He tapped the only hardcover with his knuckles. "At these prices, it's a good thing you nabbed at least one decent title. The rest are useless."
"You could have told me what to read yourself."
He gave her a tired grin, tucked the books under one arm and started down toward his house. "I truly wish I could have. I already told you that, Lady."
Bristling at the old nickname, trying to ignore the distress in his voice, she fell in behind him and hurried to catch up. "Darnit, Dad, you promised to stop calling me that years ago, but lately-" "Look, you might as well face it. You will always be Lady to me." Meaning he'd always consider her his little girl, too, she supposed. His deep-set, green eyes sparkled as they hadn't in days. He reached out and ruffled her hair as if she were twelve instead of twenty-eight.
Excerpted from The Giuliana Legacy by Alexis Masters. Copyright 2001. Reproduced with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.
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