A Peek Inside My New Historical Fiction Book

Hello friends! I'm so excited to share with you that A Torch in the Empire Series Book Three: Whether We Live or Die is now published!!!

Here's the back cover blurb: 

 It’s A. D. 67. A year has passed since brother and sister Jesse and Abigail were sold as slaves in Rome. Both long to be reunited and return home to Jerusalem. 

Abigail, still working in the patrician Aurelius’ house, tries to honor Christ even though she knows it’s only a matter of time until her master finds out she is a Christian and she faces the consequence--death in the arena. 

Haunted by guilt for the lives he took as a gladiator and for how he failed to keep his promise to his dead father that he would care for his sister, Jesse is determined to rescue Abigail. He manages to escape the gladiator school, bringing his newfound friend Lucas with him, but a multitude of obstacles still stand in the way of him saving his sister. And even if he succeeds in rescuing her, the Jewish Revolt rages in Judea, and Jesse fears they’ll be unable to return to their beloved home. 

As for Lucas Aurelius, his newfound Christian faith has given him hope through the trials he’s endured so far, but his difficulties are far from over. 

The third book in A Torch in the Empire Series, Whether We Live or Die, is a story of hope in the midst of suffering, courage in the face of death, and sacrificial love during a time of great darkness. Weaving fictional characters together with real historical persons and events, this series takes you back to the turbulent first-century Roman Empire when the early church faced the worst of persecutions under Emperor Nero.
This series has been a joy to write, and I'm thrilled to now be able to share the finished product with y'all. My prayer is that this story will freshly inspire you to seek closer fellowship with our Savior, and find your hope and courage in Him. Writing the story certainly helped me grow in my faith and I hope it will do the same for its readers. 

I also enjoyed all the historical research. Bringing real historical events and people into the story, including some from the Bible, like the Apostle Paul, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Amplias, Persis, Eubulus, Linus, Claudia, and others, was quite fun. 

The book includes illustrations by yours truly, and my mother, younger siblings, nieces, and nephew each did an illustration. I thought I'd give you a little peek inside the book here. 
This illustration is by me. You'll have to read the book to find out what's happening. :)
This cute little illustration of a bird is by my niece Abby.

This great illustration of a fish is by my nephew Daniel. 

This sweet little dog illustration is by my niece Elizabeth. 
This ferocious wild boar was drawn by my little brother Levi.

This remarkably done leopard illustration is by my younger brother Louis. 

These charming lilies were drawn by my little sister Sadie. 

This impressive illustration of the catacombs was drawn by my younger sister Sophia. 

This lovely illustration of the Mediterranean Sea was done by my mother. 

And here is the first chapter with an illustration by yours truly. 

Chapter One: Nighttime Escape

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.”
Psalm 19:1-2

  1. D. 67, The City of Rome



   If I fail, it will mean my death, Jesse thought, eyeing the approaching guard warily. But I will not fail. My plan will work. It has to work.

   Keeping his gaze on the guard, Jesse whispered to Lucas. “Don’t say a word. Leave this to me.”

   “And where will we go once we leave here if your plan works?” Lucas whispered back.

   Jesse turned to face him. Lucas lay prone on the floor of the gladiator school’s courtyard. The crisscrossing cuts on his exposed back were barely visible in the dim light from the waning moon and a few scattered torches.

   “I haven’t figured that out yet,” Jesse answered.

   “There is a home,” Lucas said with some effort, shifting slightly to get into a less painful position, “of a Christian woman named Mary. She’ll take us in.” He told Jesse where the street was, then added, “You’ll know it because it’s the only place on that street where there are flowers growing.”

   Lucas stopped and closed his eyes. Jesse knew he must be feeling faint and weak from loss of blood. Pushing away the nagging accusation that the flogging Lucas had endured a few hours prior had been because of him, he focused his attention on the guard and his plan for escaping the ludus.

   The burly guard in his armor with a gladius and a ring of keys on his belt crossed the remaining distance and stood before the two boys.

   “Take him to his cell.” The guard spoke gruffly, gesturing toward Lucas.

   Jesse yawned and stared blankly at the man. “What?”

   The guard let out an exasperated sigh. “I said, ‘Take him to his cell.’”

   “Oh. You mean pick him up and carry him?” Jesse asked.

   “Yes, I mean pick him up and carry him! What, are you dull-witted, man?”

   It took a great deal of willpower for Jesse to keep a straight face. He realized he was actually enjoying himself—a little bit. Or he would be if it wasn’t so serious. As it was, his little game was dead serious, in the most literal sense of the term. The penalty for attempting to flee the ludus and breaking his gladiator vow was death. Goodbye, freedom. Goodbye, life. And goodbye to any chance of ever seeing his sister again. He had to succeed, not only for himself, but for Abigail.

   Jesse stood up, reached over, and placed his arms under Lucas’ head and shoulders. Lucas didn’t stir. His eyes were still closed. Was he truly unconscious or only pretending? Jesse couldn’t tell.

   Jesse groaned and turned to the guard. “I can’t carry him.”

   The guard rolled his eyes and let out another sigh. “You can’t carry him?” He walked over to Lucas’ feet, muttering under his breath, but loud enough for Jesse to hear, “And this is the gladiator who has won multiple fights? The undefeated champion of the arena? A clumsy fool he seems to me.”

   The guard lifted Lucas’ feet and the two carried him between them to a corner of the courtyard and through a doorway leading to a flight of stairs. Once down the steps they bore Lucas past several cells until they reached his.

   The guard released Lucas’ legs, allowing them to fall to the floor and fumbled about with his ring of keys. Jesse cautiously set Lucas’ head down, certain now that he truly was unconscious. The guard placed a key in the keyhole and attempted to turn it.

   Now is my chance.

   Jesse quickly reached forward and pulled out the guard’s gladius.

   “Hey! What do you think you’re—” he began, but before he could finish, Jesse knocked him in the back of the head with the short sword. He slumped to the floor.

   Hurry! Hurry! A voice pounded away in Jesse’s mind as he hastened to unlock the cell door.

   There! The cell door swung open. Cringing as it creaked, Jesse turned back to the motionless guard. Lifting the man up, he placed him on the board hanging by chains from the wall in the cell—Lucas’ bed. He picked up Lucas’ cloak from the cell floor and tucked it around the guard.

   “Sleep well,” he whispered. Jesse closed the cell door and locked it.

   Picking up the ring of keys, he turned to the adjacent cell and unlocked it. His cell. He went to the back corner of the cell, pried away a loose stone from the floor, and removed the bag of coins from the hollow. After tucking it into his tunic, he quickly fluffed up his blanket, hoping to make it look like he was in bed. Then Jesse re-locked the door. He hoped to never see the inside of that cell again.

   Next, he secured the guard’s gladius and ring of keys to his own belt and then heaved Lucas onto his shoulders. He struggled slowly up the steps and into the courtyard. An anxious glance about confirmed it was still empty. He made his way over to the massive locked gate and set Lucas down.

   The clamor of men talking and laughing drifted from the dining hall on the other side of the courtyard. Hurry! Jesse took the keys off his belt. Now which key is the right one? He tried one, then another, and another. Any moment, someone could come and catch him and it would all be over. If ever there was a time to pray, surely now would be it. But Jesse hadn’t prayed for years, and he doubted it would do any good to start now.

   Finally! He had found the right key. He turned the lock and pushed the door open. Freedom. After more than a year as a slave gladiator, was it possible that he could really be free? Could he really find Abigail and fulfill the promise to his father that he would take care of her?

   A particularly loud guffaw from someone in the dining room reminded him to hurry. He turned back to Lucas and lifted him onto his shoulders. His escape would be so much easier if he left Lucas behind. But he couldn’t do that. Lucas knew where Abigail was. And Lucas was in his current helpless condition because he had taken a punishment Jesse deserved. He felt he owed it to him to do what he could to help him also escape this foul prison of a gladiator school.

Jesse stepped out into the night and pushed the door shut behind him.

   He breathed in deeply. I made it out. For a moment, he gazed up at the stars peeking out through the blackness. It made him think of shreds of light shining through the holes in an old, worn curtain. The analogy fell so far short, though. The stars were beautiful, so beautiful. If his mother had been there, she would have said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Jesse could almost see her standing there, gazing up at the stars as she reverently quoted the psalm.

   The clattering of cart wheels reached Jesse’s ears and reminded him that his escape wasn’t over yet. Repeating Lucas’ words to himself, Jesse set out for the home of the lady named Mary where hopefully they would be safe, for the time being anyway.

   The bulky weight of his unconscious friend on his shoulders made for slow going. Friend? There was a time when Jesse would never have called a Roman his friend. Never mind that he was half-Roman himself. If not entirely a Jew by blood, he was wholly a Jew at heart. And Jews did not consider Romans friends. The Romans had taken their liberty, their land, oppressed them… But Lucas—Jesse had to admit that in the short time he had known him, Lucas had been a true friend.

   Jesse trudged on through the dusky streets. Every so often he would pass by a person—a staggering drunken man, a merchant hurrying home late, a slave boy, whether out on an errand for his master or on business of his own, Jesse didn’t know. A couple of people glanced at him curiously, but at least he’d not run into any soldiers.
  Suddenly, Jesse’s foot caught on a loose stone. He stumbled and lost his grip on Lucas. Lucas’ limp frame slid off his shoulders and landed on the ground, his head striking the hard stone. A small spattering of blood appeared on his forehead where it had hit the rock. Jesse heaved him back up onto his shoulders and walked on.

   At last, he was nearing the place. Ahead of him, he glimpsed a cluster of lilies growing beside the door of a tenement building.

   This is it.

   Jesse halted before the door and hesitated. Oh, how his back ached from carrying Lucas all that long way! And he had a few lash marks not entirely healed on his own back, too. At the ludus, if you failed to keep up during exercises or slipped up in any way, it was the lash. Even though Jesse had done tolerably well in his training and very well in the arena, he’d still experienced the sting of the whip more than once.

   But if he were caught now while trying to escape he’d be facing a whole lot worse. A shiver of trepidation ran through him as he raised his hand and knocked.

   For what seemed a dreadfully long time there was no reply.
  Jesse knocked again. Finally, a faint voice queried from inside, “Who is there?”
  Jesse swallowed. Here goes. “My name is Jesse. Lucas said a woman named Mary who lived here would take us in.”
  The door slowly creaked open, and the face of a gray-headed woman appeared. “I am Mary,” she said. Then she looked them over and her brown eyes widened. “Lucas? Why--what--” she stammered. Collecting herself, she opened the door wider. “Please, come in.”
  She closed the door behind Jesse and to his great relief, gestured to a mat on the floor and said, “You can lay him there.” Jesse gratefully laid Lucas down, but remained standing himself.
  Suddenly feeling extremely awkward, he stretched his aching muscles slightly and stared at the wooden floor.
  Mary was bent over Lucas. “He was flogged?” The question was evidently directed to Jesse.
  “Yes, ma’am,” he said.
  The woman rose. “I will fetch some ointment.” Pausing before Jesse, she said, “Please, make yourself comfortable.” She bustled past him and into the area of the room that appeared to be the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a jar of ointment and a small flask.
  Jesse sat down on the floor and watched her clean Lucas’ wounds in silence.
  “Now,” Mary said, turning to Jesse, “I want to know everything. Who are you, and how did you and Lucas manage to get here?” She eyed him keenly.
  Unsure how to begin, Jesse wet his lips and fumbled with his sandal strap.
  As if she sensed his discomfort, Mary attempted to help him out. “Abigail, that is a girl who comes to our meetings, informed us that Lucas’ father had sold him to a gladiator school. I’m very curious to know how he is now here. I know Lucas from the meetings, but you I have never met. I mean you no harm. But if you are to remain in my home, you must tell me who you are.”
  “I’m--” Jesse began. Why did the words catch in his throat so? “I’m Abigail’s brother.”
  Instantly, Mary’s expression changed. “Abigail’s brother! She will be overjoyed! Your sister had found out you were a gladiator. She asked for prayer for you, and the entire assembly of Christians here has been praying for you, Jesse. Abigail is very dear to all of us.”
  Jesse couldn’t speak. So Abigail knew he was a gladiator. Did she know he had killed men--at least one of them thoroughly innocent--in the arena? Shame washed over him like a wave of the Mediterranean rolling onto the seashore. Mary said the Christians prayed for him. What would they think of him if they knew he had killed a Christian? And what would his parents think of him, were they still living? Surely, Father and Mama would be horrified. No, he wouldn’t go there. The all-too-familiar feeling of hopelessness settled over him. He was a failure. Not only had he failed to protect his sister, but he’d surely lost her good opinion as well.
  But I will make it right, he thought.
  “I must find Abigail as soon as possible,” he told Mary.
  “Of course,” Mary said. “And what will you do then?”
  “I’ll buy her freedom and we’ll return home-to Jerusalem.”
  Mary seemed to be looking at him with something akin to pity. Jesse wished she wouldn’t. He didn’t need her sympathy or her prayers. He just needed to find Abigail and get her home.
  “I am sure you are tired,” Mary said, standing up. She retrieved two wool blankets from the corner and handed them to Jesse. “Get some sleep. You can tell me the rest of your story on the morrow.”
  “Thank you, ma’am,” Jesse said, taking the blankets. The respect and good manners his parents had drilled into him as a child had not left him--at least the outward manifestations hadn’t.
  He unrolled one of the blankets and lay on it, covering himself with the other.
  He was tired. Very tired.

   Sometime later, Jesse startled awake. What were those noises outside? People shouting? A mob? He groaned and closed his eyes again. A short time later, the sounds of the mob were replaced by a different sound. It was raining. Jesse fell asleep to the gentle splashing of water on the cobblestone street.  


Well, I hope you enjoyed that little sneak peek! Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what you think! Again, you can order a signed copy of the book here or find it on Amazon here.

As always, remember, "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it," (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
All for Him,
Savannah Jane



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