Today as a part of the blog tour, I am sharing an extract from Shadows in the Ashes by Christina Courtenay. This one was just released on January 18th. This one is brimming with romance, adventure and vivid historical detail, Christina Courtenay’s gripping dual-time novel travels from the present day to the fires of ancient Pompeii.
The sunlight caught her gold bracelet, sending a flash that almost blinded her.
She closed her eyes, but jumped when the earth started shaking and there was an almighty boom behind her.
Finally escaping an abusive marriage, Caterina Rossi takes her three-year-old daughter and flees to Italy. There she’s drawn to research scientist Connor, who needs her translation help for his work on volcanology. Together they visit the ruins of Pompeii and, standing where Mount Vesuvius unleashed its fire on the city centuries before, Cat begins to see startling visions. Visions that appear to come from the antique bracelet handed down through her family’s generations…
Sold by his half-brother and enslaved as a gladiator in Roman Pompeii, Raedwald dreams only of surviving each fight, making the coin needed to return to his homeland and taking his revenge. That is, until he is hired to guard beautiful Aemilia. As their forbidden love grows, Raedwald’s dreams shift like the ever more violent tremors of the earth beneath his feet.
The present starts eerily to mirror the past as Cat must fight to protect her safety, and to forge a new path from the ashes of her old life…
Author’s Note on the extract: This scene is the beginning of the hero’s journey towards becoming a gladiator.
Frisia, 73 AD
‘Why do you want to go this way? We should be getting back before dusk.’ Raedwald frowned at his younger half-brother, Osbehrt, who seemed inordinately pleased with himself.
‘I think I saw that big stag here yesterday. You know, the one everyone’s talking about with the huge antlers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we manage to kill it and bring it back to Father? He’ll be so proud of us. Come, it was this way.’
Osbehrt didn’t slow his pace and Raedwald had no choice but to follow. He’d always been told to watch over his younger half-siblings. As the eldest, it was his duty, but sometimes, like now, it was a chore he could well do without. It wasn’t as though anyone gave him credit for it either, least of all their father, Raedwulf. After the early death of Raedwald’s mother, he’d quickly remarried, and had fallen completely in thrall to his new woman. She’d done everything she could to promote the interests of her own offspring, while Raedwald was given all the hard or boring tasks. The only thing she hadn’t been able to persuade his father to do was to have Osbehrt declared his heir instead of Raedwald. Some stubborn part of Raedwulf refused to give in on that point, but that didn’t mean he liked his eldest son. Far from it – he was forever criticising, making Raedwald do more weapons training than anyone else, and expecting him to be at the beck and call of his stepmother in between.
It was unbearable, and Raedwald hated the pair of them, but he took it in silence. That was the only way he could thwart her – by not showing that she was affecting him in any way, nor giving up his rights as the heir. If she could, he was sure she’d insist on him being made a sacrificial offering to the gods. Fortunately, that wasn’t up to her.
He sighed now as he trudged behind his brother. ‘If you saw the stag yesterday, who’s to say he’ll still be there now? Deer roam far and wide. No doubt he’ll be long gone.’
‘No, no, it’s not the first time, actually. I’ve spotted him several times, and there’s a small lake nearby so he probably goes there to drink. It’s not far now, I promise.’
Raedwald rolled his eyes, but Osbehrt wasn’t looking so he didn’t see that. Honestly, this was probably a wild goose chase, but best to let the boy learn that for himself. The youth – a mere fifteen winters to Raedwald’s eighteen – raced ahead as if eager to reach their goal. From time to time, he glanced over his shoulder to check whether his brother was following, but he didn’t slow his pace. This was becoming very tedious, and it would soon begin to get dark. They should definitely be turning back, not going forward.
Just as he had decided he’d had enough, Raedwald suddenly felt something hard connect with the back of his skull. Shadowy figures materialised from the trees and surrounded him, one of them throwing some sort of net over his head while he was still stunned from the blow. What in the name of all the gods …?
‘Run, Osbehrt, run!’ he yelled, anger making his voice soar among the trees.
He tried to fight his way free of the net, galvanised into action by a fear for his brother, but although he was strong, he didn’t stand a chance. They were too many against one, and he was grabbed from all sides and held in a tight grip while someone tied his hands behind his back. His head was pounding from the vicious blow. He squinted against the fading light as he looked up to see whether his brother had managed to escape. To his surprise, Osbehrt was standing in front of him, grinning, while tossing a clinking pouch from one hand to the other. Realisation hit him harder than that thump on the head.
‘What have you done?’ he growled, a fury greater than any he’d ever felt surging through him. Why, the little rat …
‘Sold you. Mother thought it best.’ The rat in question looked unrepentant. Triumphant, even. ‘These men will take you away and sell you to the highest bidder, and they’ve guaranteed we’ll never see you again. Father’s hall and all his domains will be mine, as they should be. You’ve always thought you are so much better than me, but you’re wrong. I’ll make a great chieftain. And perhaps with you gone, Father will finally train me as he ought instead of giving all his attention to you.’
‘You’ll regret this, you little worm, and your bitch of a mother too. I will come back and kill you, brother, one way or another. You have my oath on it.’ Raedwald spat on the ground and watched as Osbehrt jumped back, glaring at him.
Some of his swagger had left him, and there was uncertainty lurking in the youth’s gaze, but he lifted his chin. ‘No, you won’t. These men will see to that. You’ll die in a Roman arena somewhere, torn to pieces by wild beasts. I only wish I could be there to watch. Farewell. I’ll tell Father not to mourn you.’
‘Don’t be too sure.’ Raedwald made his voice as menacing as he possibly could and had the satisfaction of seeing Osbehrt flinch. ‘From now on, you’d better watch your every step, because one day I will be right behind you, ready to slit your throat. May the gods curse you!’
Another blow to the head cut off the sight of the snivelling little snake, but that was probably just as well or Raedwald would have choked on his rage. Oblivion was preferable for now.
About the Author:
Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip/dual time and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a Vice President and former Chair and of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014) and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the Runes. SHADOWS IN THE ASHES (dual time romance published by Headline Review 18th January 2024) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).