JULIA PRIMA – Two excerpts

From the Prologue  – Siro, a tribesman from across the Danube border speaks…

Crossing the river at night Credit: Photosampler

The tips of the oars paddle the water softly at each stroke. Rain obscures our passage as we cross the fast-flowing river. In the dark night, the only things I see are the steersman’s eyes in his blurred face. He’s swinging his head round, wary for any shouts of discovery. The two rowers hunch against the rain. But it’s often like this whenever I take trade goods across. Anything to avoid paying taxes to those Roman bastards.

At last, a light shows on the far bank and our small boat struggles against the current to head for it. On the narrow stony shore, I hoist my pack onto my shoulder and jump out, then hand over a leather purse with the balance of the passage money. The steersman nods, then grunts and slips the purse into his belt pouch. He’ll discover it’s copper, not the silver I promised. But I’ll be gone by then, never to return. He turns and heads back to the water. I scramble up the bank through trees so similar to those surrounding my old village. And the rain falls as heavy as it did that night when the Romans came.

I won’t ever forget it. I was twelve. A warm day fading into evening, the smell of blood and already decaying horseflesh, cries of wounded and dying warriors, carrion crows circling in the dark clouds above the battlefield. Above all, the implacable faces of those Roman bastards – metal creatures who stood unmoving in straight lines waiting for their commander.

My grandfather stood, his feet in mud, his shoulders drooping. His son, my uncle Ittu, twenty-one summers and the only one of his male children left alive, his eyes gleaming dark, wrapped his arm round his father’s shoulders. My mother, my grandfather’s eldest child, grasped her father’s hand, and stared down the line of Romans as their commander approached, not in fear but in defiance. Her shoulders were rigid. The breeze caught her hair, shades of burnt brown. She ignored me then as she always had for the whole of my twelve-year boyhood.

Two hands came to rest on my shoulders, old hands, wrinkled. I smelt her before she whispered, ‘Not a word, Siro. Whatever happens. Just know you will always be in my heart.’

I shrugged off her hands.

‘As you say, Great-Aunt.’

She always believed in me – too gullible for her own good. Even when I’d strangled her best-laying hens just for the fun of hearing them croak as they died. I’d sworn all innocent-faced that another boy had done it. He’d got a right good beating. I’d hidden behind his house and laughed until I was nearly sick.

The Roman commander, a tall man with red hair tied back, had stridden up to my grandfather and demanded surrender. I didn’t know any Latin then, but it was obvious what he was saying. I shivered. Great-Aunt had told me they would take us all away to the slave market to be separated and sold. Men would do unspeakable things to us. She pressed a hand into my shoulder bone, but I wriggled out of her grip. I didn’t need her, the old fool.


From Chapter 1 – Julia is simply dressed for supervising the household making the inventory, and has hurried down to the town market. She sees a new arrival…

The new Roman officer. A tall man, he must have been several years older than me, possibly in his late twenties. His face tight with anger above his red neck scarf and scale armour shirt. His boots were dusty as were his breeches. He walked a little wide as if chafed from being on his horse all day. He stopped, set one hand on his belt, the other on the pommel of his short sword. He glanced at the Gaul, then turned his gaze on me. Brown eyes, reflecting the pale light. Something twisted inside me, immobilised my breath, then settled in my core. Perhaps a meeting of something familiar, a recognition. He didn’t move, just stared at me. I returned the stare. I couldn’t find a word to say. Heat crept up my neck and into my face. Venus Suleviae. He must have thought I was half-witted.

Eventually, he moved, pointing at the Gaul.

‘Is this man cheating you?’

‘What business is it of yours?’ It was out before I could think.

‘None,’ he said, frowning. He looked at me again, then turned away.

Oh, gods, I had behaved like a true barbarian and was ashamed. And he was walking away from me. I had to stop him.

‘Wait, Roman.’

He walked on, ignoring me.

Please, Great Mother, make him stop.

‘I said wait!’ I cried after him.

He walked on. I knew I’d been rude, but he could at least stop and let me apologise. He didn’t need to be so uncivil, even for a soldier. I hastened after him, determined to make him hear me. Nobody turns his back and walks away from me.

When I caught up with him, I seized his arm. He instantly grabbed his sword pommel. The gladius was halfway out of the scabbard by the time he saw it was me. He released it, then looked at my hand on his forearm as if it were a viper about to bite.

‘How dare you touch me!’ He looked at me as if I were the meanest drudge. ‘Remove your hand or I’ll have you whipped.’

‘You can’t,’ I retorted. ‘You have no right.’

‘We’ll see about that.’ He went to raise his hand – to summon some of his men, I supposed – then he let his hand drop. His eyes gleamed and he looked down his Roman nose. I caught my breath and tipped my chin up at him. I knew my face was flushed – I could feel the heat – but I was going to teach him a lesson. When he found out who he’d insulted he’d be broken and sent back to Rome in disgrace. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly what his fate was going to be, but as he prised my fingers off his arm they tingled. The rough skin on his hand chafed my softer one. My fingers were jammed together but I hardly noticed. Before I could protest, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him. Gods, he was strong. His arm slid round the back of my waist, and he crushed me against his body. Solid, unyielding. He smelt of horse, a day’s sweat and pine resin. His eyes narrowed then gleamed again. His breath shortened.

I should have struggled, but I didn’t want to. His other hand gripped my buttock. I stared into his eyes. I was lost.


Discover more about JULIA PRIMA and where to buy the book…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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