17 December 2017

Diamond Tales: Three Thousand Years To Saturnalia by Alison Morton

...especially for the start of Roman Saturnalia...


Today's Tale takes us to the alternative world of Roma Nova...
Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia
by 
Alison Morton

This is an exclusive story that takes place after the end of RETALIO, the sixth novel in the Roma Nova thriller series. 




I was forged in rock and remained surrounded by rock until the river water and gravel wore it from me over thousands of years. When I lay bare, the first human plucked me out of the river. He seized me from the gravel and clutched me to him. I fell when somebody struck him and he dropped onto the river bank.  Another hand grasped me and thrust me into the darkness of his robe pocket.
   The sharp tool pierced me, split me into two. No pain, but a sundering. Now I became twins. We passed from hand to hand, thrown out onto a dark cloth and offered to the highest bidder. We shone in the bright sunlight of the Indus Valley. We were admired, but regretfully never found a home.

Time flowed. We heard the name Yavanas. Brown hands passed us to olive hands, hands not quite fully finished. They spoke in soft lisping voices and wore pale tunics. One had light brown curling hair and blue eyes. We were wrapped in a shiny, slippery cloth, then back into the darkness. We bounced along in a waist pouch amidst shouts in a strange language. The smell of salt, and rhythmic movement, stillness, then came the crash and violent rocking of storms and anguished shouting of humans nearly devoured by fear. We do not count time but after a while, the rhythmic movement stopped and we juddered to a halt. The man carrying us hurried on to firmer ground. We were displayed again. The sun was bright, but not so hot and drenching in heat as in the Indus. An older man shook his head and among the lisps, refused us. We learnt we were among the Hellenes.

More time passed. New friends joined us and left us; some polished, some cabochon, rubies, sapphires, amethyst, carnelian, garnet, river pearls, peridot, rock crystal but no other diamonds. We were separate in our silk; we were the hardest substance in nature, gods amongst stones, never sold.

One day, we were off on our journeys again, the salt and movement of the sea. Still secure in a man’s waist pouch we docked. The shouting was harsher, more directed. Our man argued with grating voices which demanded taxes and fees. We moved again, this time on animals. The smell, the warmth from their bodies moving under us, the clip-clop of their hooves on stone roads.
   Laid out on a dark cloth again, we shone in the sun. Pink, pale fingers rubbed us, dropped us in an almost white palm, dropped us back onto the cloth.
   ‘How much?’ came a strong, hard voice. Our man named a sum which meant nothing to us – we were beyond price. Some arguing, then we saw our man’s hand shake the pink one and he left us.

We are imprisoned. Surrounded by gold, we are fixed for eternity. Our solace is that we are together. The points of our splitting in the past face upwards and we shine in a new gold ring on display in a fine blue glass dish. In his vast hall we learn is called an atrium the strong voiced man summoned a younger man.

Roman Ring Featuring Two Diamond Crystals.
© Trustees of the British Museum
     ‘Paulus, this is for you to give to Antonia. The stones are called diamonds and have come from the east brought by that damned oily Greek merchant.’
   ‘Father, I didn’t expect—’
   ‘Well, you are my only son,’ the gruff voice said. ‘Diamonds are supposed to be divine and protect the owner from all kinds of mishap. So that should suit you.’
   The younger one took our ring in his trembling hands. ‘The two stones will signify our love for each other.’
   ‘For Mars’s sake, don’t spout that lovey-dovey stuff in old Antonius’s presence. He’ll call the whole thing off and we’ll lose the land deal. Now we must get on. The decemvirate is posting their Twelve Tables today and Antonius is part of the ceremony. Come along, tell your body slave to fetch your toga and we’ll be off.’
   The girl’s skin is soft and she strokes the ring gently the whole day of the feasting following the short ceremony of marriage. Her touch is pleasing. She leaves the ring on her finger through her household work, her couplings with Paulus, and three childbirths. On the fourth one she dies and we are buried with her, her baby and all the rest of her jewellery. Food and drink in earthenware pots are set by her side. Paulus weeps and is led away by his father now old, white-haired and walking with a stick.

Time passes, a long, long time. The girl had faded into mere bones. The rich cloth around her has rotted into the earth. We are still fixed in the gold but the ring is loose on her finger bone. Will we ever be free and shine in the sun again or have we returned to the earth forever?
   Movement above us. Muffled voices. Not Hellene, not Latin, but soft yet staccato. A sharp edge of steel scrapes the girl’s arm bone. Daylight. Earth is removed.
   ‘Careful, careful. It’s a skeleton.’
   More earth is removed, gently. The faces are pink, full of curiosity and energy. Their hands lay us bare.
   ‘Oh my god, it’s two, a baby and all that jewellery. Call the superintendent.’
   An older man, whom they call the soprintendente dei scavi looks down almost lovingly into the grave, then his expression becomes sad.
   ‘Record it all as usual, then we’ll have to consider what to sell to fund it all.’
   We have been scrubbed, albeit gently, with a liquid smelling like the latrines of Tartarus. Now our ring is perched on a red velvet stand in a locked glass case. We are flooded with light from above. We are in a slave market with bidders battling to own us.
   A young man is egging them on; his face is flushed with excitement as he stands on his rostrum, his hammer in hand. At last the shouting has finished and we are taken away to our new owner.
   The finger is as thin as the girl Antonia’s, but the skin is wrinkled and shrunk onto the bone. An old hand of an old woman. One day the hand is still and cold and our ring is slipped off.

We are approached by a curved glass many times bigger than us. Inside is an enormous blue eye, rotating. If we were human we would be frightened into our soul.
   ‘I agree, it’s genuine, about two thousand years old, I estimate,’ a woman’s voice in Italian says.
   ‘We have the provenance certificate from the dig in the late nineties,’ says a man.
   ‘My client will take it,’ she says.

A man called Andrea collects our ring one cold midwinter evening. We have been in the woman dealer’s safe for a week. At first, she can’t find our ring. The man’s voice in Italian rises in panic. He is in a hurry; he is late to travel with his parents, but he cannot go without our ring. The woman’s searching fingers eventually find us at the back of the safe. Our ring is slipped into a soft leather pouch then into his jacket inner pocket. Even through the pouch and his shirt, we can feel his heart beating hard.
   The journey next day was fast, too fast and the engine vibrations shook us like an eternal earth tremor, but the man talked to his parents as if it were all perfectly normal.
   After a short while we hit something on the ground for an instant but thank the gods, the noise stopped and fresh air flooded in.
   Latin. We are back among Latin speakers. We haven’t heard that since the time of the girl we were buried with.
   A short journey, then the warmth of a fire. Now the man is speaking.
   ‘Mama and Papa, Countess Aurelia, you know Silvia and I love each other. I am living with her in the Roma Novan custom as her companion. And today I’m looking forward to celebrating my first Saturnalia with her.’ 
   Roma Novans? What are they?
   ‘But the love of two people has two sides,’ he continues. ‘I commissioned a search and yesterday, in Rome, I collected a very special piece from a friend in the antique business. It is a token of my love that I bring a Roman ring today across the centuries to my true love.’
    Oh, he pulls the pouch out of his pocket and we fall in our ring into the palm of his other hand. He speaks again.
   ‘I am assured this is very rare, the diamonds do not sparkle as modern ones do, but my love outshines any diamond.’
   But we do shine.
   He takes a young girl’s hand. Her hair is dressed like Antonia’s from all those years ago. He slips our ring on her fourth finger, a soft warm skin. He whispers in her ear, ‘Now with these ancient diamonds for Saturnalia, we are married.’ She kisses our ring, and us, her eyes sparkling, then kisses him.


© AlisonMorton



About Alison:
Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the breathtaking mosaics at Ampurias in Spain and the engineering brilliance of the Pont du Gard in France, she was curious about the role of women in the complex, powerful and value-driven Roman civilisation. That started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…


Now, she lives in France with her husband and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines:


Social media links
Website  
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site
Twitter @alison_morton


 RETALIO:
Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.

Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.

Read the Review
Buying link for RETALIO (multiple retailers/formats)



e-book Novella
just released
read our Review
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Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

Do we still love Ruritania an article for Discovering Diamonds by Alison Morton
A thank you to Lindsey Davis by Alison Morton

16 December 2017

Diamond Tales: A Suitable Gift by Susan Grossey


London. Early 1800s and crime is rife...

A SUITABLE GIFT
an excerpt from
Portraits of Pretence
by
Susan Grossey


Portraits of Pretence is the fourth in my planned series of seven novels and is narrated by Samuel Plank, a magistrates’ constableMagistrates’ constables worked in the brief period – only about fifteen years – between the Bow Street Runners and the establishment of the Metropolitan Police (in 1829) and their role was to execute the warrants issued by magistrates. Sam, however, is a more deep-thinking and curious man, concerned about what drives people to crime, and how to make them reconsider. As Sam performs his duties under instruction from the magistrate, John Conant, he is accompanied by a younger constable, William Wilson, who is gradually learning how to curb his youthful exuberance and mature into a man who thinks before he speaks or acts.

On the home front, Sam is devoted to his wife Martha. It is their shared – but usually unspoken – sadness that they have no children, but their love for each other is plain in every action. Martha, of course, cannot hope to hold any position of authority in society, but is of inestimable help to her husband when he brings his cares and concerns home to her. In this novel – which focuses on the burgeoning trade in French art, both genuine and fake, in the years after the Napoleonic Wars – Sam has dealings with an expert in French miniatures, a Monsieur Causon. And on his final visit to Causon’s home, he plucks up the courage to mention a topic that has been much on his mind and in his heart:

Conant had been right in his estimation of Causon, and as we were walking towards the door I decided that I too would put my trust in this man. “Mr Causon,” I said, “my wife and I have been married for twenty-five years.”
“My felicitations, sir, to you both.” Causon stopped and smiled but looked puzzled.
“I am not a man of lavish display, Mr Causon,” I continued, “but I love my wife very much. And I saw the great pleasure she took in looking at that miniature – how she enjoyed having something beautiful to admire. I could not offer her Elizabeth, the girl in the miniature, but I think it would be fitting for me to mark the occasion of our anniversary with something,” I waved my arm to take in the crowded cabinets and walls of the drawing room, “something of note. You are obviously a man of experience in these matters, and it would be of great assistance to me if you could suggest…” I shook my head despairingly. “I know my wife, sir, but I know nothing of this world of beautiful objects.”
“Then we are a good match, constable, and between us we shall fix on the right thing.” The Frenchman led me back to the armchairs and we both sat down.
“Your wife, sir,” he began, “is she very feminine – taken with pretty little things and dainty items – or more practical in her tastes?” I stared at him mutely. He tried again. “Her night-dress, let us say: does it have much lace at the collar and hem?”
I felt myself redden slightly, but I could see the method of his approach. “A little lace, yes, but Martha – Mrs Plank – places more importance on the quality of the fabric than on its adornments.”
“Perhaps that is why she chose to marry a constable,” said Causon. “And it is almost certainly why that constable still values and admires her so many years later.” He stood and walked over to a glass-topped cabinet, looking at its contents for a few moments before saying, “Ah,” quietly to himself and sliding out the drawer. He picked up a small item and brought it over to me, placing it in my open palm. It was a ring, quite simple and yet substantial and obviously of excellent quality. Around the plain gold band were held six coloured stones: two large central ones flanked by four smaller ones.



“It is known as a regard ring,” said Causon. “Each of the stones provides a letter to spell out the word, so you have a ruby, then an emerald, a garnet, an amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond. Regard.”
I turned the ring to the light and imagined Martha’s surprise on seeing it. Causon had chosen perfectly. Regard.
Not as showy or as brilliant as passion, to be sure, but much more lasting.

© Susan Grossey
* * *
Susan says:

By day I am an anti-money laundering consultant – advising businesses on how to avoid ending up with criminal money – and my obsession with ill-gotten gains has informed my fiction.  I am in the middle – well, four down, three to go – of a series of seven novels set in 1820s London and narrated by magistrates’ constable Sam Plank.  Quite how I will cope when he retires in 1829, I don’t like to think.  I am somewhere between my prime and not a spring chicken any more; I live in central Cambridge with my husband and the tabby Magnificat, and often hide away in the University Library to spend time with Sam.  Outside financial crime, I knit, eat good quality dark chocolate and am a tandem stoker (the back half who does all the hard work).

Susan
Twitter : @ConstablePlank

Buy the Books:
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Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

15 December 2017

Diamond Tales: Diamonds In The Desert by Charlene Newcomb


Our tale today: The place - the desert, near Jerusalem, the time - night, June 1192


DIAMONDS IN THE DESERT 
from Men of the Cross
by 
Charlene Newcomb

THE WINDSWEPT CLIFF STOOD like a lone sentinel guarding a gate. The horses pawed the ground nervously. Henry stared across the darkened valley. Lights glimmered on the horizon to the east like a thousand torches guiding them home. Jerusalem. 
Henry tightened his grip on Sombre, wound his hands through the reins. For the second time in six months the army lay within reach of the Holy City. Twelve miles. A day’s march, mayhap two. His heartbeat quickened, and he thought he heard the war drums…but it was only the whispers of the knights around him. 
King Richard was silent. He wore a white surcoat with the Templar cross over his mail. He’d pushed his hood back to the dismay of his companions. His crimson cloak billowed out in the wind, revealing a gilded scabbard and the jewel-encrusted hilt of his sword. Watching him, Henry could see that Jerusalem might well be a hundred miles away. A thousand. A sudden sadness, mayhap regret, tinged Richard’s eyes. 
Robin dismounted and drew up beside the king. Richard heaved a heavy sigh. He slid from Fauvel, his Cypriot warhorse. Robin took the reins, handed both mounts to Henry’s care. 
“Saladin mocks us.” Richard’s powerful voice carried on the wind. He swept his hand to the north. “He sees us. Knows we grow weak. He might swoop down and cross the plains at any moment, cut our supplies from Jaffa.” 
“But why risk his men?” Robin asked. 
Richard stood motionless, a deep frown creasing his face. Henry knew the answer before the words spilled from the king’s tongue. “He will not,” Richard said. “He needs only to wait us out. I would swear that he whispers into the ear of Burgundy and his French, blotting out all sense of reason. They will not heed the advice of the Templars and Hospitallers. Why should the French believe those who have lived here twenty or more years? What reason would those men have to suggest that laying siege to Jerusalem is foolish?” Richard grabbed the hilt of his sword. “Yet here we find ourselves within a few miles of the Holy City. If we advance, Saladin will poison every watering hole from here to there. Our animals will die. He can strike from the north, from the east and at our rearguard. Then what will we have gained?”
Nothing, Henry thought. Only more dead. Each stronghold the crusaders took, like the one at Darum a few weeks earlier, made little difference in Saladin’s daily raids. The king’s scouts estimated Saladin had fifteen thousand men in the hills and thousands inside  Jerusalem’s walls. Keeping the lines of supplies and communications open between the port cities and the casals along the route to the Holy City was a deadly business. 
Richard had not expected an answer from Robin. He’d settled it in his own mind. “In the morning, we shall convene the council and put an end to this.” 
Henry sat rigid in his saddle. Was this journey truly over? He tipped his head eastward. “The lights of Jerusalem flicker like a candle in this wind.” 
“A beautiful sight,” Stephan said. “It reminds me of nights on the galleys when we would see lights from villages along the coasts.” 
 A candle?” Richard eyed the Holy City. “Saladin would squash that flame. He could destroy all that is holy to us and we would be left here in complete darkness.” He whipped back into his saddle and spurred Fauvel west towards the army’s campsite.
Robin grabbed his reins from Henry, swung onto his horse’s back and galloped after the king.


Stephan scanned the diamond-studded sky. The waning moon washed the knights in pale golden light. “We can remember we stood here under the same stars that light Jerusalem.”
“And what of the men who died?” Henry asked. “Was all this for naught?” 
Stephan shook his head. “They trusted their king. And their God. And, if I am to believe you, they have found heaven.”
“And you?”
“I trust my king. Heaven?” Stephan’s eyes reflected the soft light of the moon. “Is it not here, with friends like you?”

Author's note: Diamonds were unknown to 12th century Englishmen. The first instance of the word appeared in the 14th century according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But Helen asked for diamonds, and we agreed that a little poetic license was all right. The wording in the published novel is 'star-studded' skies, but for this blog hop I give you 'diamond-studded' and hope this excerpt gives you a sense of war, love, hope, and friendship during the Third Crusade.

© Charlene Newcomb

About the Author:


Charlene Newcomb. Char. That’s me.

Librarian.
Navy vet.
Mom to 3 grown, amazing children.
I live in Kansas. Yes, Toto. Kansas.

Born & raised in South Carolina, I wanted a life of adventure and travel. I realized that dreams of hitting the big time with my all-girl rock band Liberation were just that – dreams. And becoming an astronaut wasn’t in the cards. So I joined the Navy to see the world and spent six years as a communications technician/voice language analyst. I fit college into my life (BA in History, and many years later an MA in Library Science). That desire to travel in space translated into writing science fiction: I published 10 short stories in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, many featuring a Rebel underground freedom fighter named Alex Winger. I have published 3 novels, one a contemporary drama, Keeping the Family Peace; the others, Men of the Cross and For King and Country (Books I & II of Battle Scars), allow me to share my love of history with readers. Book III of the series will be published in late 2018.


Special offer!
Men of the Cross is only $.99/99p 
from Dec. 12-24 on Amazon
(other e-books formats available)
Available on Amazon, along with Book II the series
Connect with Char: 
Website
Newsletter
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Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

14 December 2017

Diamond Tales: The Empress Emerald by J.G. Harlond



London. 1918...


Excerpt from
The Empress Emerald 
by 
J.G. Harlond
Leo Kazan from Bombay is working as an ‘intelligencer’ for the British; he also deals secretly in precious gems. In this scene, he has escorted Davina Dymond back to his rented mews flat after a shooting incident in the West End, where she was badly shocked.


Chapter 15

“ . . . I’m a Dymond, you know. A white Dymond. My brother is a black Dymond. Celtic dark. Old Spanish blood they say.”
“What?” Leo looked at Davina huddled round her cup, mumbling.
“Nothing. Just that I’m a Dymond – with a ‘y’.”
“Is that your family name?”
“I told you at my brother’s party.”
“Oh, yes. Sorry.”
“Davina Dymond. It’s ridiculous. I’m a white Dymond. From my mother’s side. They aren’t Dymonds, of course, they’re Fulfords. They’re all very fair.”
“Diamonds aren’t white.”
“Aren’t they? What colour are they then?”
Leo looked at her: she was bunched up on the sofa, her knees tucked underneath her like a beaten animal. She was harmless, and very pretty. He liked the way her wavy gold hair seemed to move as she spoke. “What did you say?”
“Diamonds. What colour are they?”
Leo got to his feet. “Stay there a minute and I’ll show you.” He went into the kitchen.
Among the food Mrs Smithers assumed Leo needed, among the packets of biscuits and pots of potted meat, behind a tin of Oxo cubes and a packet of custard powder were two shabby old biscuit tins and three new Indian brass containers. One container contained rice; one contained marine salt crystals; the third contained brightly coloured boiled sweets. Leo had brought them all the way from Bombay in his trunk. He pushed the biscuit tins to the very back of the cupboard, took out the brass containers and unscrewed them. The one containing sweets he returned to the musty cupboard. He took the other two into the sitting room and put them on the small dining table.
Davina looked up, sleepily. “Are you going to do a conjuring trick to make me happy again?”
“Yes. Come and sit here.” Leo indicated a chair.
“Can’t move. Too sleepy.”
“Oh, no,” he pulled her up off the sofa, “you mustn’t go to sleep. Do you feel sick?”
“No, just sleepy. Why?”
“Basic first aid.”
Davina let herself be moved to the table. “You know the strangest things, Leo.”
“Yes, I do. Watch.” He took a small key from a jacket pocket and opened a nondescript bureau standing against a wall. From its inside shelves he pulled some sheets of heavy vellum writing paper and a small set of scales. He put them on the table in front of the girl. Then he put on the table a bedside lamp with no shade, three glass plates and a pair of tweezers. After that, he closed the sitting-room curtains, switched on the electric light and plugged in the shadeless lamp.
Davina shrugged off her coat and sat down. “All right, I’m ready for the show,” she said.
Opening the two brass containers, Leo said, “What do you see?”
“Don’t know.”
“Lick a finger and taste.” He demonstrated, licking a finger and putting it into the pot of rough, unrefined rice. A few grains stuck to his finger.
“Is it rice?” she said.
“Well done. Do you have rice in England?”
“Of course we do. Rice pudding. Children have to eat gallons of it. Didn’t your nanny or your mother ever make you eat rice pudding?”
“Yes. Now, what’s in this pot?”
“Salt?”
“Correct and incorrect.” Leo shook a small measure of rough salt onto a plate. With the tweezers he selected a large crystal. “Not salt, Davina, not salt.”
“Is that a diamond?”




“This is a polished diamond. Big enough for a solitaire ring or it could be cut into smaller stones.”
“Gosh. So what’s in the rice?”
“Diamonds as well. Look.” He sprinkled some of the rice he had brought from Bombay onto the second plate and selected a tiny pebble. “This is a stone from the ground. Rice has to be washed, there’s always grit and stones in it. But this,” he held a fragment of what looked like dusty quartz up to the light, “this is a very precious bit of grit.”
Davina squinted at the object in the lamplight.
“You see,” Leo said, “true diamonds do not start life as white. Let me show you. First you have to find them, and they are dirty and dusty, then, before you clean them or cut them, you have to see if they are flawed and how much they weigh.”
He selected one tiny stone with his tweezers and weighed it. “Diamonds are measured in carats, which I am sure you know. A carat is one-fifth of a gram.” He held the stone up to the light again. “This is one is octahedral.” He placed it on the third glass plate and held the plate over the lamp. “This helps to judge the clarity, even the tiny ones have to be examined for impurities. As with all things of value: purity is the essence.”
Leo selected another stone and held it over a sheet of white paper. “This is what is called glace. You see the colour almost matches the paper. But it’s only white because it’s on white, if I move it next to your eyes it will become blue.” He held the gem up to her eyes then put it back on the paper and picked out a much bigger stone. It was an irregular lump of dirty grey. He weighed it.
“Thirty grams: quite a whopper – but inferior. In Africa this is called mackbar. I like the name, mackbar – it sounds like what it is – inferior. Now, come round here and look at these three stones. They are quite different in size and value and yet all three are magic. They can only be damaged by each other; it takes a diamond to scratch a diamond. Did you know that? These are the truest elements of our Earth. They were formed below the deepest layers of the Earth’s crust, maybe a hundred million years ago. It has taken volcanic eruptions to bring them to the surface and perhaps millions of years of rain to wash them out into the common dirt. And now here they are in London, ready and waiting to be shaped and polished to make women prettier and men richer – or poorer, of course.”
Leo smiled at the lovely blonde girl at his side and slowly put an arm round her waist. “Can you see their beauty? I think they are truly marvellous, even in their natural state.” He watched the girl closely. The stones had no effect on her. 
“Davina, Davina,” he whispered into her hair, “look at them. This is as close as you may ever come to the stars.”


© J.G. Harlond


about the author

Originally from the south west of England, J.G Harlond (Jane) studied and worked in various different countries before finally settling down with her husband, a retired Spanish naval captain, in rural AndalucĂ­a, Spain. Despite being ‘rubbish’ at history at school because she wanted to turn everything into a story, she survived the History element of her B.A. and went on to get an M.A. in Social and Political Thought. Her historical fiction, set in the 17th century and the first half of the 20th century, features many of the places Jane has visited – along with flawed rogues, wicked crimes, and the more serious issues of being an outsider. Apart from fiction, Jane also writes school text books under her married name. Her favourite reading is along the Dorothy Dunnett lines: well-researched stories with compelling plots and complex characters.


Jane is currently writing about the theft and fate of the Crown Jewels during the English Civil War for the third in her Ludo da Portovenere trilogy.

Find J.G. Harlond on:
The Empress Emerald,
Buy the book

Other books by J.G. Harlond 

The Chosen Man, 
Local Resistance,
read our Review
Dark Night, Black Horse
The Doomsong Sword



Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 


A thank you to Dorothy Dunnett by J.G. Harlond