Rowena is in an alternate timeline, where the Roman empire was defeated in the second century AD, by a Celtic nation united by Daman. An archaeologist, Daman controls the future through his knowledge of the past, twisting the world into a never ending war. In this world, you are either a citizen, or a slave. The training Rowena is on will decide her fate…
To her dismay, recruits were ranked by social class ID, and there was a buzz of furtive whispers as she took her place at the front of the line. It had been the same at school. Her family’s ranking had been a source of envy and hatred – she would find no friends here either. Cursing inwardly, she held herself rigid, and wiped expression off her face. The heavy-set man next in line leaned toward her, his shoulder brushing hers.
“Welcome to training, my future bride. I am Sloane.” His hot, mint-scented breath fanned her cheek, and she quivered in revulsion, and slanted a glance at him. Tall, with massive shoulders and bright red hair tangled into short dreadlocks, his face was one of brutal, hard planes. She checked his number, confirming her fears. He was one of her suitors, and the white star beside it indicated he was destined for a leadership position. The Mistress in Charge barked a command, and Sloane snapped to attention. Rowena also focused. She didn’t want any trouble.
“I am the Mistress in Charge,” the woman bellowed.
Silence, while thirty recruits stared back at her.
“You say, Yes Mistress,” she snarled.
“Yes, Mistress,” thirty voices variously yelled or whimpered back.
Shaking her head, the Mistress in Charge paced up the line, peering into the face of each recruit. Rowena stared straight ahead when it was her turn, until the Mistress grunted and walked to the front.
“I’ve never seen a sorrier bunch of recruits. I wouldn’t give a cup of cold piss for the lot of you.”
There was a snigger from somewhere in the ranks.
“Find that funny, do you? See that white post?” She pointed, it was just visible at the end of the camp track. “Last one back fails.”
“Get out of the way,” Sloane yelled, pushing a smaller recruit face first into the mud. Rowena sidestepped out of the crowd as the recruits pushed each other and stepped on the man. She grabbed his shirt, hauling him to his feet, then took off herself.
Rowena kept to the side, overtaking people until she was in the front third. What were her chances of getting through it? Thirty recruits and three months. A regime of running through the mountains, camping in the mud, bare handed fighting, weapons practice, and career learning.
Ahead, Sloane elbowed another into a ditch, and Rowena flinched as the man’s ankle snapped. Twenty-nine.
School had been nothing but a pre-training program. The expensive boarding school her father sent her to prided itself on 100% success in their students gaining citizenship. Running, strength training and various forms of fighting had been a big part of the school program, so much so that Rowena sometimes wondered how many graduates could read.
Tapping the post, she was in the first three. Sloane and a lean, dark-haired recruit who hadn’t broken a sweat. Did she want to win, risk drawing attention to herself?
Sloane was panting now, his heavy muscular frame not built for speed. “Your place is either under me or behind me,” he grunted, pushing past with an effort.
Rowena ground her teeth and pelted down the track, cursing to herself. The dark-haired man kept pace beside her, loping along. They finished together and snapped to attention in front of the Mistress in Charge.
“Well done. Your father will be pleased.”
“Thank you, Mistress,” Rowena shouted.
As the recruits staggered back, guards smashed the last one to the ground and dragged him away. From recruit to slave in a matter on moments.
“Attention.” The Mistress in Charge glared at the lines of recruits, the thick, twisted scar on her neck shining white in the sun. “Let us see if you have learnt your first lesson in what it takes to be a citizen of Albion.”
What is the penalty for failure?”
“Dishonour,” the recruits shouted back.
“What is your choice?”
“What is the proud heritage of Albion?
What did our ancestors deal out to the Romans?”
“What fate awaits the enemies of Albion?”
“Death.” Rowena shouted with the rest, her throat raw.
A Bite of... Cindy Tomamichel
Q1: Which three fictional characters would you most like to invite to dinner?
I love these questions, but they are always so hard to decide! I am going with some nostalgic childhood reading passions today.
I think a lovely and cheerful dinner would include Pollyanna. Her glad game and travel stories would be great to hear. Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House) is a bit of a cheat since she was a real person, but we could discuss homestead recipes. To round off, I think Dickon from The Secret Garden, and he is welcome to bring all his animal friends with him. Maybe Tumnus the fawn could pop in for a cup of tea and a scone?
Q2: Which authors would you credit as having the biggest influence on your writing?
Andy McDermott and Matthew Reilly for pace and action, RE Howard for being able to describe settings with such poetic imagery, and Peter O’Donnell for reminding me to create great villains.
But the ones that really help to improve and encourage are the ones in my local writing group, and also my critique group. I’ll give a shout out to the Scifi Roundtable Facebook critique group of E.M. Swift-Hook, Darren Handshaw and Zora Marie, all great authors and awesome readers of my turgid drafts!
Q3: What is your favourite fast food?
I think a vegetarian burrito is my favourite. Beans, capsicum, avocado all wrapped up in a tasty parcel. All those vegetables must also be healthy right?
Cindy Tomamichel is a multi-genre writer. Escape the everyday with time travel action adventure novels, scifi and fantasy stories or tranquil scenes for relaxation. Find a world where the heroines don’t wait to be rescued, and the heroes earn that title the hard way.