Short stories about Betrayal

Do you ever wish things might have turned out differently in the past, or that we could know all those enticing titbits of hidden history? In all the short story collections I’ve participated in, I’ve always written on this theme.

So in the two previous posts about short stories, we’ve looked at alternative outcomes to 1066, then at multiple aspects of the 1229 year history of Rome (in the West).

This time, we’re going for a whole stretch of history. Spanning eras from post-Roman Britain to the present day, this collection brings to life  legendary moments of deceit as well as imagined episodes of treachery.

In The Idealist, you meet Roma Nova’s much-loved Carina and Conrad again. Carina is in top snappy form as you’d expect but she’s devastated to discover a dark piece of Mitela family history from the 1840s which could rebound into the 21st century and bring ruin and exile for her, her children and family into perpetuity. (So nothing too drastic… 😉 )

I know, writing a dual timeline short story was madness, but you do get 12,000 words from me!

In stories by the other authors, you’ll encounter princes, soldiers, noblewomen, knights, highwaymen, pirates, and ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. All of these characters have something in common, though – betrayal. Collectively, these stories illustrate the truth that whatever its source – family, foe, lover, comrade – betrayal has devastating consequences.

Based on two continents and in five countries, the Historical Fictioneers include Judith Arnopp, Cryssa Bazos, Anna Belfrage,  Derek BirksHelen HollickAmy MaroneymeChar NewcombTony RichesMercedes RochelleElizabeth St John and Annie Whitehead.

And with these colleagues three of the four benefits of writing such collections were fulfilled many times over:

  • an opportunity to stretch your writing muscles
  • fun to join in a project with writing colleagues (new and old)
  • a chance to strut your stuff to their readers and beyond

The fourth, ‘sometimes you make a few bob’ doesn’t apply as we made the decision to offer the collection free of charge on Amazon, Apple, B&N Nook, Kobo and many other ebook retailers. You can go to them all via this link: https://books2read.com/BetrayalAnthology

Here’s an extract from my story set in 1849/the present about Statia Mitela who was much too much of an idealist for her own good. And she never dreamed it could affect her 21st century descendant, Carina.

Outskirts of Rome, Italy, 2nd July 1849

‘Mercury be thanked,’ Statia rasped when she saw the ancient milestone ‘Roma VI.’ And these would be six good Roman miles. She swallowed hard which made her dry throat worse. Despite the broad-brimmed riding hats the four of them wore, the brutal heat of the early July sun beat down, exhausting them all. Statia pulled up her mount under the shade of one of the occasional clumps of pines and patted his shoulder almost absent-mindedly. The poor horse, a hired animal, was as weary as she was. And as dusty from the road.

‘Domina?’ Her leading companion drew up beside her.

‘I need a drink, Valerius,’ she said and swivelled round in her saddle. The other two riders were only a few paces behind. ‘And so do the animals.’

‘The Anio below us would be best and we can rest by the bank.’

They picked their way down to the river where Valerius supervised the two servants watering the horses. After a few moments, he left them to it and sat by Statia on the wool rug she had pulled from her saddle pack.

‘Yes,’ she said as he stared at it. ‘I know. Well and good for the mountains we’ve come through from the Adriatic, but inappropriate for Rome in June. But even though we’re incognito, I don’t want to enter Rome with grass stains or mud on my breeches’ arse.’

Valerius laughed. The first time, Statia noted, since they’d left Roma Nova eleven days ago under the cover of darkness. She hadn’t known what a terrible sailor he was until they’d slipped out of Pula in Istria on the merchant ship. He’d kept a pale, grim, nearly green face until they’d landed safely at Aternum, or Pescara as the Italians called it now.

A former Praetorian centurion, Valerius was used to travelling fast through mountains on ramshackle cold trails. These days, he guarded her home, the Domus Mitelarum, but more than that, he gave her, informally, wise counsel almost as a father would. He’d tried to stop her mission, calling it demented, but had given in with a grunt when she said she would go with or without him. Now they were near Rome, Statia was starting to have her doubts. Perhaps she should have stayed on the farm at Castra Lucilla where she knew what she was doing.

No, she must go on, whatever the cost. She had promised and that was an end on it. She knew the consequences could be harsh, but she was sure the imperatrix would see the justice of it. Well, Statia hoped she would. Constantia Apulia’s disinclination to help the new Roman Republic played on Statia’s mind. Consulted in strictest confidence, Councillor Branca, the imperatrix’s chief advisor, had pointed out to Statia that it would be reckless and would have to be carried out in the utmost secrecy if she insisted on going ahead.

Despite their friendship since childhood, a running dispute over land near Castra Lucilla had soured their relationship. Branca desperately wanted back the spelt fields that had been sold by her ancestor to Mitela in the fifteenth century. However, despite their bickering Statia had felt obliged to consult Branca about her self-imposed mission as the latter was the Imperatrix’s chief councillor. Statia hadn’t been fully reassured by Branca’s words but she hoped the councillor would act honourably and support Statia if there were repercussions.

——
Branca. Hm.  Was Statia right to trust her? And what was the secret mission that nineteenth century Roma Novan Statia was engaged on? And how di the repercussions run down the centuries?
Download a free copy of Betrayal and you will find out! https://books2read.com/BetrayalAnthology

 

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. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

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 newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Ave fabulae breves! (Let's hear it for short stories)

In my previous post, I outlined four good reasons for joining with other writers to produce a book of short stories.

  • an opportunity to stretch your writing muscles
  • fun to join in a project with writing colleagues (new and old)
  • a chance to strut your stuff to their readers and beyond
  • sometimes you make a few bob

My first time was for a collection of speculative stories around that iconic English history event –1066. Nine of us wondered about how things could have gone differently. More here, plus an excerpt about a Roman in a very strange situation…

But today, I’m looking at RUBICON, described by Discovering Diamonds Reviews as “An engrossing mix of style, pace and subject: political, warfare, greed, sacrifice, alternative, mischief, humour…”

How did I become involved?
In early 2019, I was invited to join a writing project organised jointly by the Historical Writers Association and Sharpe Books. In July 2019, the result was a collection of ten fabulous stories of Ancient Rome.

Now, a number of my fellow authors were old friends and their books were already on my bookshelves or my Kindle; total joy to read their familiar characters’ mini adventures. But through this new collection, I discovered new authors and thus new windows into different aspects of the Roman world.

So what’s in Rubicon?
Soldiers, statesmen and spies, not to mention pioneers, palace shenanigans, politics in Britannia, pirates, battles, faith, greed, sacrifice and the lives of ordinary – and extraordinary – Romans, such as Ovid, Marcus Agrippa and a young Julius Caesar, and imaginary ones like Roma Nova’s founders Apulius and Mitelus.

Plus, an exclusive interview with each author – why write and why Rome? Ancient Rome from the Republic through to the dusk of Empire was, of course, always about people who were so different, yet so like us.

Authors & Stories Featured in Rubicon:
Nick Brown – Maker of Gold
Gordon Doherty – Eagles in the Desert
Ruth Downie – Alter Ego
Richard Foreman – A Brief Affair
Alison Morton – Mystery of Victory
Anthony Riches – The Invitation
Antonia Senior – Exiles
Peter Tonkin – The Roman
L.J. Trafford – The Wedding
S.J. Turney – The Praetorian

Where can you buy Rubicon?
Ebook: Amazon UK    Amazon US
Paperback: Amazon UK   Amazon US

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Mystery of Victory

Rome, AD395

‘No!’

A tall man about forty years, Lucius Apulius, a young senator from an old family, darted forwards to block the soldiers. The centurion drew his sword and thrust it in Apulius’s face. The tip travelled down to touch the skin at the base of Apulius’s throat. The young senator didn’t flinch, but an arm as inflexible as iron barred him going further. His father.

‘Sheath your sword, centurion,’ Apulius senior commanded. ‘The Curia is no place for weapons.’

The soldier snorted. ‘Begging your honour’s pardon,’ he said, ‘but that don’t mean much these days. I take my orders from the Augustus. Stand aside.’

Neither of the Apulii moved. The centurion sheathed his sword and moved away to supervise the legionaries shuffling round them, sweating as they pulled a builder’s handcart up the steps and between the banks of seating towards the altar of Victory.

The statue soared over them, golden, wings outstretched, one leg forward, escaping her wind-caught robe, her feet barely touching the globe. Victory’s arm, bent at a shallow angle at the elbow, offered the laurel crown to the winner. In her other hand, she grasped a palm branch, the tip resting on her shoulder.

When the Romans seized her after Pyrrhus of Epirus abandoned her in Tarentum, she ceased being Nike, who had fought alongside the Olympian gods against the Titans, and became Victory. Octavian brought her to his city after defeating the Egyptian queen Kleopatra and her lover Marcus Antonius. When he recast himself as Augustus, he placed golden Victory in the Senate and recast her as the symbol of Rome, her numen. While she stood, Rome would never fall.

Fresh from his victory at the Frigidus River, four hundred years after his god was born, Theodosius the Christian had marched into the Senate, paused and stared at the statue of Victory with his hard fanatic’s eyes.

Now, twenty of Theodosius’ soldiers plodded into the Curia. They ignored the shocked faces of the senators whose first loud protests faded to mutterings, which died when the centurion gave a curt command to the work party to line the approach to the ancient square altar, swords out and ready.

‘In Jupiter’s name, stop!’ the younger Apulius shouted, the only one to break the silence.

The centurion turned slowly, a cynical look on his face as he looked Apulius up and down. The only sound in the curia came from metal on cloth and the creak of leather boots. Every eye was on the two men.

‘Jupiter? That old women’s tale?’ the centurion said after a pause. He snorted. ‘Christ is our god, and the only one. You’d do well to remember that. Sir.’ He added in a tone half a breath off a sneer.

He flicked his fingers impatiently at the four legionaries surrounding the altar. They hesitated. A trace of incense hung in the air as it had for hundreds of years. They glanced at the watching senators, the walls, the floor, each other, but none dared to look up at Victory. Apulius wished she would come off her globe and take flight, scattering them like panicking sheep.

—————–

But what happened to the statue of Victory? Bag a copy of Rubicon and read on…

You can buy RUBICON here:
Ebook: Amazon UK    Amazon US
Paperback: Amazon UK   Amazon US

 

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. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

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 newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Being a contributor: historical short story collections

You write a novel, say 80-90,000 words. It goes through a writing and editing process, acquires a cover, gets published and marketed. And hopefully, the money starts trickling in, at least to cover the cost of production and possibly some additional revenue. Shocking fact: 95% of writers don’t make a lot of money.

So why, when you are invited to participate, should you contribute to a collection where your wonderful words will be mixed in with other writers’ wonderful words? You will only be one of many and perhaps even missed in the rush.

I see four main benefits:

  • an opportunity to stretch your writing muscles
  • fun to join in a project with writing colleagues (new and old)
  • a chance to strut your stuff to their readers and beyond
  • sometimes you make a few bob

I’ve done three collections: an alternative history one around the 1066 Norman Conquest (or not…!), a Roman one and a multi-period one focused on betrayal. Let’s take the first as an example.

1066 Turned Upside Down 

This was wonderful – my ‘home territory’ of the world of ‘what if?’ But suppose there had been a Roma Novan around trying to intervene in 1066 between Harold’s Saxon England and William’s Normandy? Could she have influenced either of these tough, ambitious and determined men and changed history? What a challenge!

1066 is such a turning point in English history that Helen HollickJoanna CourtneyAnna Belfrage, Richard Dee, G K HollowayCarol McGrathEliza Redgold, Annie Whitehead and I couldn’t miss the fantastic opportunity to play around with history, masterminded by Helen Hollick and Joanna Courtney. We had a diverse lot of stories between us!

What if King Edward’s great-nephew, Edgar, had been thought old enough to rule, and chosen as king? What if the Northern Earls has defeated the Norwegian, Harald Hardrada and King Harold’s own brother, Tostig, at Gate Fulford – or what if Harald Hardrada had won the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire? What if Harold had defeated the Normans at sea? What if Svein of Denmark had invaded, or a tough negotiator and woman warrior from a European political power like Roma Nova had intervened? What if William had died when he was unhorsed at Hastings or had been defeated at London Bridge in November? What if the Bayeux Tapestry carries a hidden, secret meaning about the truth of 1066 – or a time  machine could alter the past?

Here’s an extract from my story, A Roman Intervenes:

Galla Mitela, Countess of the South and councillor to the Imperatrix of Roma Nova and Claudia Apulia, the Imperatrix’s daughter have been sent first to Saxon England then to Normandy to attempt to stop William invading England.

The ducal palace built by Duke William’s father was imposing; the stone tower dominated but as we were shown into the Aula Turris, the Grande Salle, I was struck not only by the heat but also by the sheer luxury of its proportions and decoration. Here ruled a man of power indeed. At the top of the walls ran a blind arcade of semi-circular arches under which were hangings of rich reds, blues and greens, some embroidered with gold and silver thread. But even richer were the gowns and jewelled belts of the women in the hall and the tunics and mantles of their men. And at the far end on a raised dais were William and Matilda.

A slim figure, her eyes were full of curiosity. Like the other women present her hair was hidden beneath a veil below a gold circlet, but of such softness it could only have been the nearly sheer silk from Constantinople. But William had none of the delicate elegance of his wife. From the heavy gold circle with a large cabochon shining from its centre on his head, down the dark crimson robe and over mantle clothing his sturdy frame, belted by gold, down to his dark boots, he exuded wealth and strength. His eyes fixed on us from the moment we stood on the threshold of the hall until we reached the two thrones where they sat.

‘Salvete dux ducissaque,’ I began. William frowned, but Matilda smiled although she said nothing. De Boscville stepped out of the lines of courtiers, his face creased in irritation. He translated my greeting into French, then turned and said in Latin, ‘Continue.’

‘Forgive me, Duke William,’ I said in French. I paused and smiled. ‘I had not realised you did not speak Latin.’

William frowned again and shot a hard look at me. I knew perfectly well he couldn’t even read or write his own native tongue.

‘I present Claudia Apulia,’ I said. ‘She brings greeting from her mother, the imperatrix of Roma Nova.’

He nodded curtly and stared her up and down like a piece of meat. She flushed slightly, but looked back steadily at him. Matilda laid her fingers on his forearm.

‘We have been asked to convey a message to you from Harold the Saxon King.’

‘The only message I want from the earl is the surrender of my rightful crown.’

‘That, Duke William, is not for negotiation.’ Some of the courtiers present murmured, and one man, another priest who I thought must be Lanfranc, his Galilean councillor, bent and whispered in the duke’s ear. I waited until the murmuring had stopped and I had their attention again. ‘Harold does not wish for warfare, but as you know from his campaign against the Welsh, he will not hesitate to enter the field in force if England is threatened. He proposes a treaty, starting with a calming period over the winter.’

‘He is forsworn. That is an end on it. You are women but even you as Romans understand an oath is an oath.’

‘Of course, but some would say he swore under duress.’

‘You push too hard, woman.’

‘I merely state the obvious, Duke.’

‘We will think about it.’

‘All the while you are mustering your invasion fleet?’

The murmuring rose to a clamour. Somebody muttered ‘godless bitches’. Claudia took a sharp breath in at that but we stood still and waited.

‘Peace!’ the duke’s voice rang out. ‘The countess and princess are our guests. We will eat.’ He stood and beckoned me to accompany him, Matilda smiled at Claudia, took her arm and followed us, the courtiers trailing in our wake.

A hard, uncompromising man with few social manners but willing to talk of common interests, he was deeply interested in how Roma Nova had been founded and in my own early career, sword in hand. I think he almost forgot I was a woman as we discussed campaigns and tactics. His eyes gleamed when I showed him the intricately worked pugiodagger. His acquisitiveness wasn’t merely for a crown.

‘Please accept it as a gift, Duke,’ I said. ‘Whatever happens in the future, it will be a souvenir of the Romans who once visited you.’

‘I accept, most willingly.’ He gave a half-smile. ‘But you will not cozen me with your words and gifts.’

‘I regret we cannot convince you of a peaceful way. I urge you to reconsider the advantages of a treaty. It will bring you more security in the end.’

‘As your people have found.’ He gave me a sardonic look. ‘But you are now at the beck and call of the Greeks in the East.’

I bit my lip. ‘Only for the moment, Duke. Sometimes, we have to endure discomfort for the sake of peace. The Eastern Romans have many troubles and have lost the earlier resolution of the times of Constantine. Roma Nova may yet outlive them.’

‘Ha!’ He searched my face while a servant refilled my cup. ‘You are a strong woman, Countess, but why are you here? Should you not be tending your family?’

‘I am the imperatrix’s chief councillor, Duke. My children are grown and my life is given to the service of my ruler.’

————

That’s him told! But does she succeed in stopping him?

Buying links for 1066 Turned Upside Down:   Amazon Kindle    Nook    Kobo    Apple

More next time about the other two collections 😉

STOP PRESS: 1066 Turned Upside Down is on tour 3-6 January 2022 where you can read extracts from all the stories!

 

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. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

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 newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.