Agathon’s Daughter is suspense set in the Golden Age of Athens at the time of Pericles. I began researching the book about seven years ago, and even traveled to Athens and Delphi, but I got side-tracked by my novel Vestal Virgin. Now I’m back to writing Agathon’s Daughter, and loving it.
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Greece due to my love of theater and mythology. Ancient Greece is full of drama, and yet a favorite saying from that time is, “moderation in all things.” The Greeks strived for balance, and yet their drama and mythology is rife with larger-than-life conflict.
Here is an excerpt from Agathon’s Daughter which I plan to release late this year:
Wind swept down from the Acropolis, driving dust along the narrow lanes past sleeping houses, slipping through the bolted doors, shivering the bedchamber. Hestia drew her shawl close. On this moonless night, even the stone edifice of the House of Agathon offered no barrier against Thanatos, the winged god of death.
The oil lamp sputtered, casting shadows on the ceiling, and darkness crept across the old man’s face.
“Hestia,” he called out, clutching at the bedcovers, struggling to lift his head. “Come closer—” A rasping cough strangled his voice. He stared at her as if witnessing an apparition.
“Rest, Master,” she said.
“I have wronged you.”
Hestia dipped a cloth into a bowl of water, infused with thyme to stem fever, and mopped her master’s brow. Since the onset of his illness, the furrows in Agathon’s brow had grown more pronounced, and lines wrought by years of laughter sagged into a frown. The battle-worn face she loved so well, craggy as the hills of Athens, seemed possessed by a secret grief.
He regarded her with stark intensity. “If I should die this night—”
“Don’t speak of death.”
Groaning, he rolled onto his side. “Do you hear them howling?”
“The hounds of Hades. I hear the splash of Charon’s oars; the icy waters of the Styx lap at my feet.”
Despite the late hour, Hestia considered sending for the physician; the remedy he’d prescribed didn’t seem to be working. She headed for the doorway.
“Where are you going?”
“To get your wife.”
“No.” Agathon struggled to sit. “Don’t wake Melaina.”
Hestia turned to look at him. In truth, she felt relief. The prospect of waking Agathon’s wife held all the charm of opening Pandora’s box—except no hope lay hidden at the bottom. Only wrath. But, the feverish glitter of Agathon’s eyes made her uneasy. She walked back to the bed and touched his forehead. Heat rushed through her fingers, the pulse of life escaping him.
“You’re burning up.”
“If only I could sleep.” Agathon closed his eyes, but he looked far from peaceful.
Hestia blinked away tears.
Melaina claimed it was disrespectful for a slave to show emotion. Slaves, Melaina said, were meant to blend into the furnishings, stay hidden in corners, like a piss-pot ready to receive its master’s slops. Despite her effort, tears escaped her eyes. How could she prevent herself from crying for the one person in this world who had shown her kindness? The person who had saved her life. Pain shot through her ankle, waking the injury she’d received as an infant, and she moaned.
Agathon opened his eyes, and the soul she knew so well peered out. “Get some sleep,” he said.
“If I sleep who will care for you?”
“You’re a good girl, Hestia. Faithful, honest.”
His kind words brought more tears.
“The rains are over,” she said, attempting to compose herself. “As soon as you regain your strength we’ll visit the Acropolis, make an offering at the Pantheon.”
“Pour me some wine.”
“Perhaps you need another dose of the physician’s tonic.” Diodorus, Agathon’s son, had braved the night and gone to the physician’s house to procure the remedy.
“No more. It tastes bitter.”
“I’ll mix a little in your wine and add some honey; you won’t notice it.”
“Don’t treat me like a woman—”
She knew better than to argue.
Pain bit her ankle and, hoping to relieve it, she favored her right foot. At the sideboard, she poured wine from an earthen amphora into a drinking cup then added water and a dollop of honey—the last of the supply she and Diodorus had gathered last autumn. Soon it would be time to reopen the hives and discover if the bees had survived the winter. She glanced at her master, made certain he wasn’t watching, before reaching for the vial of tonic. She dosed the wine liberally. Limping toward the bed, she offered Agathon the cup.
“Your ankle pains you,” he said. She busied herself straightening the bedcovers. “Hestia, look at me.”
His face was blotchy, ravaged by fever. Though the physician insisted his illness wasn’t plague, the servants whispered otherwise. Day and night they lit fires and made offerings to the household gods, mumbling excuses why they couldn’t sit with him: laundry needed to be done, bread had to be baked, spring cleaning was past due. Even Melaina kept her distance. But Hestia saw no lesions, no swollen glands, no sign of plague—and yet, his condition worsened.
“Drink,” she said, “and you’ll feel better.”
“Stop fussing. Sit.”
She drew a goatskin stool close to the bed and sat, hands folded in her lap.
Agathon sipped the wine, made a sour face, then set the cup on the bedside table. He reached for her hand, small within his sturdy paw. He squeezed her fingers. “Remember the day we climbed the Hill of Nymphs?”
Not long ago, after a wet morning, she and Agathon had ventured out to wander through the sacred olive grove. Sunlight danced through rain-drenched leaves.
“I asked you what Socrates says of love.”
“And I told you you’re too young to ponder that subject.”
“Seventeen is hardly young, Master.”
“Time passes swiftly.” A frown tugged at Agathon’s mouth. He reached for the cup of wine, but didn’t drink. “According to Socrates, there are two varieties of love—the higher leads to harmony, the lower to destruction.”
“How can you tell the difference?”
“If you can answer that, my dear, you’re wiser than Socrates.” He studied her, his eyes troubled. “Can you find it in your heart to love an old warhorse like me?”
Hestia stared at her lap, unsure of what he wanted. Unsure of how to answer.
“My question upsets you.” He grabbed the cup of wine and drank. His eyes peered at her above the cup’s rim. “Give me your honest opinion—at this late hour of my life, can my soul be purified?”
“Your soul is pure. Your life has been exemplary—”
She interlocked her fingers, observing their redness, observing how the knuckles blanched. Weighing her words, she said, “I believe all souls to be eternal. Therefore, the hour can never be too late for a soul’s redemption.”
“By the gods,” he said softly, “you’re a match for any man, any philosopher—even Socrates.”
“You flatter me.”
“I speak the truth. You take after your mother, dark curls and fire in your eyes. Skin pale as alabaster—”
“My mother preferred me dead.”
“Who told you that?”
“Melaina?” Agathon shook his head.
“She says my mother chained me to a hill—left me, as an infant, to die of exposure.”
Agathon took a gulp of wine, his hand shaking. A cough took hold, deep and guttural. He tried to hand the cup to Hestia, but the wine spilled. A crimson stain crept across the bedcover—not only wine, but blood.
Hestia removed the cup from his trembling hand and her hand trembled too. Her eyes met Agathon’s and reached into his heart. The cup slipped from her hand, crashed on the granite floor and shattered.
“You knew my mother, didn’t you?” Her gaze reached deeper, unlocking his secrets, exploring hidden chambers. “You loved her.”
“Yes.” He stared at her with stricken eyes.
“Tell me,” she said.
“Tell you what?”
She released him from her gaze.
Bending to collect pieces of the broken cup, she sorted through disparate emotions—sorrow for her master’s illness, anger at his reticence, loneliness. As she stood, she felt light-headed, as if she were falling into a dark well. Who would find her? Who would notice she had gone?
His voice came from far away, calling her back.
“I’ll get another cup,” she said.
She moved toward the sideboard, felt his eyes follow her, but in truth she was a shade. Invisible. The amphora felt slick against her palms. Her back to him, she poured tonic into the wine, added a large spoon of honey. She wanted him to sleep, wanted him to close his eyes—so she couldn’t see his heart. She needed to think.
She handed him the cup, and Agathon drank deeply, his face flushing bright red as the medicine took its course.
He wiped his mouth, settled into his cushions.
“Her name was Olympia.”
“Olympia,” Hestia said, the named forming on her tongue, swelling like a wave, crashing in her gut.
“Come closer.” Mustering his strength, Agathon twisted a ring from his little finger. Gold flashed in the oil lamp’s light, blinding Hestia, sending shivers through her soul. He pressed the ring into her palm.
She stared at the gold band, worth more than a slave could hope to earn in a lifetime, marveling at the ring’s fine workmanship—twin serpents intertwined to form a figure eight, the symbol of eternity.
“There’s an inscription.”
“To Olympia from Agathon,” Hestia read. And then a month, “Boedromion.”
“A golden day in autumn, the day of your conception.”
“How would you know—”
“Have you not guessed?”
She stared into his eyes, afraid to speak the truth she saw.
Agathon reached for her hand, but she recoiled.
The room seemed to be spinning, her thoughts and feelings churning. When she spoke, her voice came out as a whisper. “I am your—”
“And my mother?”
“Died giving birth to you. I was here, in Athens, when I received the news.” Agathon sank into the cushions.
Hestia stared at the ring, turning it over in her palm, feeling the weight of the gold, the weight of what Agathon said. Of course, she’d been abandoned, a bastard and a girl. Unwanted children were often left to die out in the elements.
“Why didn’t I die?”
“I sought you out, plucked you from your chains.”
“And kept me as your slave.”
“I couldn’t claim you as my own. Melaina—”
Her eyes met his. His face seemed to be melting, like a wax mask left out in the sun. His mouth moved, but his words were drowned in the roar of questions rushing through her mind. She wasn’t the first bastard to be born to a wealthy master, not the first child to be unclaimed. It was a common story. But she had trusted Agathon. Gorge rose to her mouth, molten rage that stung her throat. She swallowed, forcing down her anger.
“Forgive me,” he said. “Forgive an old man.”
She turned her gaze on Agathon. Blue veins lined his hands, carrying his blood. Her blood. The blood she had been denied.
“Who was she, my mother? Your slave?”
“A goddess. She belonged to no man.” Agathon sighed heavily, closed his eyes.
Hestia stared at his ravaged face and saw her own. She reached for his shoulder, shook him. “Olympia who? From where?”
He mumbled something.
The shutters clattered. The wind had ripped them open. She glanced at the high window. Clouds drifted over the moon, smothering its light.
She turned back to Agathon, knelt beside his bed. Tears streaming down her face, she pressed her cheek against his chest, listened for his heartbeat, and heard only the rattle of the shutters.
I want to thank Suzanne for stopping by and sharing her wonderful story.