In honour of Valentine's Day, a teaser from the final book in the series:
|Flavia at the Villa Limona in The Sirens of Surrentum|
‘Are you sure it’s supposed to be so sharp?’ whimpered Flavia.
‘This is the same one they used on me three years ago,’ said her stepmother with a smile. ‘And so far the gods have blessed my marriage to your father.’
‘But couldn’t you just use a very dull spearhead?’ pleaded Flavia. ‘Instead of the whole thing on its shaft?’
‘No. We have to part your hair seven times with the point of a sharp spear. That’s the way it’s done.’
A lovely blonde girl stepped forward. Pulchra was almost a year older than Flavia. ‘When I got married last spring,’ said Pulchra, ‘three women held the spear. Nubia, come help me.’
Flavia’s dark-skinned friend Nubia came forward. She and Pulchra grasped the shaft behind the spearhead while Flavia’s young stepmother shifted her grip slightly. Then the three of them carefully used the point of the spear to part Flavia’s light brown hair, first in the middle, then three times on either side. Flavia tried hard not to tremble and it only pricked once.
‘There,’ said Pulchra. ‘That wasn’t so bad, was it?’
‘I suppose not,’ said Flavia, but she kept her head perfectly still in case she lost the partings. ‘Are you going to plait in the blue ribbons and pearls you brought me, Pulchra?’
‘Me? Do the job of an ornatrix? Certainly not! Leda will do your hair. Now sit in this chair by the balcony. We can use the light of the setting sun.’
Flavia glanced at Pulchra’s slave-girl Leda and smiled. Although she and Pulchra had been writing to each other regularly for the past few years, Flavia had forgotten how imperious her friend could be.
‘However,’ said Pulchra, ‘I will do your makeup, because that requires the skill of a true artist.’ As Leda and Nubia moved behind Flavia to do her hair, Pulchra went to get the make-up tray.
‘Don’t listen to her,’ laughed Flavia’s stepmother over her shoulder. She had draped the gauzy, saffron-yellow wedding veil over the balcony so that she could sprinkle it with rose water. ‘You’ve become a lovely young woman.’
Pulchra sat on a small stool in front of Flavia and rested the tray on her lap. ‘All I meant,’ she said, ‘was that tonight is the most important night of her life. We don’t want the bridegroom having second thoughts.’
‘He won’t have second thoughts,’ said Flavia’s stepmother. ‘He’s besotted with Flavia.’
‘Humph,’ said Pulchra, and to Flavia: ‘Are you nervous?’
‘Of course not.’
‘You’re not nervous that in a very short time your bridegroom is going to burst in here and snatch you from our arms and carry you off to his bed while boys in the procession sing lewd songs and pelt you with nuts?’
‘No,’ said Flavia. ‘I’m euphoric. It’s my dream come true.’
‘I do wish you’d tell me more about this man you’re marrying.’ Pulchra unscrewed a little tin pot and sniffed the contents with satisfaction. ‘You’re so secretive about him in your letters.’
‘You’ll meet him soon.’
|Flavia meets her bridegroom in The Man from Pomegranate Street|
[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2 and 3. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]