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Of Daggers and Deception
(Duchy of Athens Series #2)
By A. L. Sowards
Christian Historical Fiction, Medieval Adventure
Paperback, Audiobook & ebook, 324 Pages
December 6, 2021 by Covenant Communications


After years as a soldier and mercenary, Rasheed has retired from battle to run the bathhouse in Thebes with his friends Gillen and Eudocia. The simple life suits them, so when Venetian strangers come to town looking to hire the renowned crew, their answer is no. But when one of his friends is abducted, Rasheed is left with no choice but to take up his weapons and join forces with the Venetians, including the beautiful and clever Cecilia, whose betrothed has also been seized by the unknown foe.

As the reluctant allies face ambushes and the looming threat of capture, Rasheed and Cecilia forge a surprising connection. But as the party races to rescue their friends, Rasheed discovers that nothing is as it seems. As his trust in Cecilia begins to waver, he realizes that in the end, they will both be forced to make a choice between love and duty.

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Just after midday, a woman walked into the bathhouse entrance alone. The angle of her hat revealed smooth, fair hair that glistened when she walked past the window. Her clothing was Western rather than Greek in cut, and the quality of the cloth hinted at wealth. A small mouth curved up in interest as she gazed at the decorative brickwork of the ceiling and wandered toward the apodyterium.

I cleared my throat, and her gray eyes rested on me. She was beautiful—the prettiest face I’d seen all year—and she smelled of exotic perfume. I swallowed. “We are happy to serve women in the afternoon, but we haven’t yet made the switch. If you return in an hour, the inner rooms of the bathhouse will be cleared of men.” Based on her clothing, I’d chosen to speak Italian, something I’d picked up over the last few years with the influx of Florentine residents.

She smiled, a gesture that showed comprehension and warmth, though it was not so different from the admiration she’d shown the ceiling.

“You’re welcome to wait, of course.” I gestured toward the stone bench cut into the wall of the anteroom, lined with cushions of undyed linen. I wouldn’t mind her staying. She was pleasant to look at, and maybe with enough time, I’d think of something worthwhile to say to her. Beyond that, something about the mix of confident eyes and a reserved posture piqued my curiosity.

“I’m afraid I’m not here for a bath. My uncle is looking for someone and thought we should check here, but I seem to have gotten ahead of him.” Her words were Italian, with a Venetian dialect. Odd since the Venetians and the Florentines, at least those in the Duchy, were currently hostile to one another, and Thebes had a Florentine lord.

I glanced at the apodyterium. “Who is your uncle looking for?” I didn’t know the names of all the men who used the bathhouse, but most of the patrons were regulars. I could give a reasonable estimate of how long any of them would take.

She studied my face. “You, I think.”

“Me?” I fiddled with my quill to cover my surprise. “I don’t know more than a handful of people from Venice.”

Surprise worked its way into her lips and her voice. “How did you know my uncle and I are from Venice?”

“The way you pronounce your words.”

She frowned. “I did not realize our speech was so distinctive.”

Was she worried someone working for Nerio Acioli or Theodore Paleologus would arrest her? Venice was currently on bad terms with both. “I don’t work for the Florentines or the Greeks, so you have nothing to fear from me. Why is your uncle looking for a bathhouse owner in Thebes?”

“He didn’t say anything about a bathhouse owner, but he and Signor Querini mentioned a scarred Moor.”

Why was someone from Venice looking for a Moor with a scar? I fit that description, with a line that ran from my left temple to my lips, but I was hardly the only dark-skinned man with a scar across his face.

Two men walked in wearing hosa and houppelande of high quality. Probably the uncle and Signor Querini.

“There you are, Cecilia. You shouldn’t wander off,” one said to the woman. He appeared not much older than me, with intelligent gray eyes the same shade as the woman’s. Perhaps that meant he was the uncle. He stepped closer to the desk where I sat to greet patrons, take their fees, and note everything down in the ledger. “I’m in search of a legend, a story I overheard not long ago about how the Navarrese Company took this city eleven years ago. Perhaps you can help me.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

Michali leaned in from the apodyterium, probably wanting to see if he should expect more patrons. I scratched my right ear, our signal for caution. I didn’t like people inquiring about how the city went from Catalan to Navarrese hands. Anyone asking might also be seeking revenge. Not everyone had been happy about the change, and as someone intimately involved in the details, I preferred my role to remain anonymous. “There are many rumors about what happened. What stories do they tell in Venice?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, and he looked at Cecilia with a hint of anger. “Why did you tell him we’re from Venice?”

Cecilia’s cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink. “He guessed.”

I did my best to come to her aid. “The dialect is quite distinctive. We see enough Venetian merchants to recognize your speech from the Florentines and the Genoese.”

The uncle glanced at me with a curt nod, then turned back to his niece and lowered his voice. “I know my brother chose to involve you in much of our family’s work, but things have changed. You must learn your new place, and it does not involve meddling in the affairs of men.”

“My father appreciated my abilities.” Cecilia matched her uncle’s soft volume, but she was close enough that I could recognize hurt and resentment in her words.

The other man stepped forward and offered Cecilia his arm. “And I’m sure I will also appreciate both your insight and your talents once we are married. She’s done no harm, Signor Bertaldo. Besides, Venice and the Navarrese are working together now, and if this man is who we think he is, he has Navarrese connections.”

Cecilia’s face remained pink, and her gaze rested on the floor.

The man at her arm gave me a polite nod. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Signor Querini of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Signor Querini.” I hesitated, then gave my name. “I am Rasheed ibn Musa.” None of them reacted. Good. They hadn’t heard of me. Gil and Eudocia stepped through the main entrance, no doubt alerted by Michali.

The Venetians glanced back to see who the newcomers were.

“Patrons?” Signor Bertaldo asked.

“No,” I said. “Messer and Madonna Marinelarena, the other owners of the bathhouse.” Neither Gil nor Eudocia were Italian, but I used Italian titles anyway and muddled their surname so the newcomers were unlikely to remember it. I glanced at Gil. “Signor Querini and Signor and Signorina Bertaldo were about to share the latest outlandish rumor they heard about how the Catalans lost Thebes.”

Signor Querini took several moments to study Gil and Eudocia, then turned to scrutinize me. The moment he did, Gil’s hand crept to the hilt of his sword.

“Our information is more than outlandish rumor,” Querini said. “The city fell due to the efforts of a small group with unusual talents. That is who we seek.”

I resisted the urge to ask why he sought the crew that had turned Thebes and instead tried to deflect him. “A Navarrese army captured Thebes. Several hundred soldiers. Not a small group.”

Querini wouldn’t be sidetracked. He released Cecilia’s arm and stepped closer to me. Despite his rich clothes, he moved like a warrior. “The Navarrese Company sent spies ahead of them. Two Basques and a scarred Moor. They worked with the archbishop of Thebes, a Greek slave, and a few others to turn the city. The army wouldn’t have gotten inside the Cadmea without them. We seek their help.”

The man’s information was good, and I wondered at his source. Regardless, that incident was in the past, and I wasn’t looking for adventure. Nor were Gil and Eudocia. “I wish you luck in finding what you need, but I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong bathhouse.”

Other Books in the Series

Of Sword and Shadow
(Duchy of Athens Series #1)
By A. L. Sowards
Christian Historical Fiction, Medieval Adventure
Paperback, Audiobook & ebook, 251 Pages
February 8, 2021 by Covenant Communications


Greece, 1379

She is known by many names, none of them her own. In truth, she is an unnamed slave, nothing more than a weapon in the hands of her owner in his attempts to provoke political mayhem. When she encounters a handsome young man while on an assignment, she thinks little of him—until he attempts to take what she has stolen. But in her line of work, failure is not an option.

Gillen is intrigued by the mysterious woman who thwarts his mission. But when his path crosses hers again, his intrigue turns to gratitude as the thief he comes to call Eudocia saves his life. The two form a bond of friendship and join forces to wrest control from a group of ruthless rulers. But as their camaraderie blossoms into something more, Gillen and Eudocia must fight for love even as they wage war for a better future.

Read my review here.

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About the Author

A. L. Sowards is the author of multiple historical fiction novels, with settings spanning the globe from the fourteenth to twentieth centuries. Her stories have earned a Whitney Award, several Whitney Finalists positions, and a Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal. She enjoys hiking and swimming, usually manages to keep up with the laundry, and loves it when someone else cooks dinner. She currently lives in the beautiful state of Alaska with her husband, three children, and an ever-growing library.

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Did you read the first book in this series? Have you read any other books set in Medieval history?

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