Historical, 315 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
A young Swiss mercenary falls in love with a woman, then loses touch with her, only to find her again in Rome, married. Heartbroken he joins the Swiss Guards before the Sack of Rome. Imperial soldiers run off with the woman. The young Swiss Guard leaves Rome to rescue her.
The oak and pine trees thinned and patches of brown water glittered in the sunlight. Mats of water hyacinth with their slick green leaves and lavender flowers spread across the ponds and wild iris grew in clumps on the road banks. Tall white thunderheads massed on the horizon and the land beneath the faint blue sky stretched on in a maze of green and brown, the land and water mixing like an interlocking puzzle.
When I'd driven approximately two miles, a road opened to the right. A few tall yellow pines stood guard at the corner and then turned the duty over to tangled brush and spiky palmettos. I eased the Mazda along the built-up road and it occurred to me that, even if I wanted to turn around, I couldn't. Then the road dropped down closer to water level and larger patches of dry land appeared. I crossed a low wooden bridge that spanned a narrow waterway, and then I saw a house standing on short stilts.
There was a rough circle drive that curved up in front of the veranda and back out to the road. I was relieved to find a place to turn around. The pink board house had green louvered shutters, and a rust-stained tin roof rose above it. Two high-backed rockers shared the veranda with tubs of purple and white petunias, while a trumpet vine climbed up one side of the house. Off to the right of the house stood a chicken coop with a sagging wire fence around it. There were three large white chickens scratching at the bare dirt inside the pen and several red hens loose in the yard, darting back and forth after bugs. I wondered how many of the birds had made a meal for some hungry alligator.
I pulled up near the front steps and sat in the car. In a minute, the screen door opened and a tiny black woman the color of a long submerged swamp log stepped onto the porch. Her small ebony head had a covering of springy white hair and her features were like currants stuck onto a withered damson plum. Her eyes glittered like bits of mica. The long, flowered-print shift she wore was sleeveless and fell nearly to her bony ankles. Her withered feet were bare but a pair of water-warped brown loafers stood beside the door. She shuffled to the edge of the porch and peered at me.
I opened the car door and stepped out, keeping one foot inside, and leaned over the top of the car. "Does Havana Guidry live here?" I called.
The woman beckoned with a shriveled hand. "You come in. Havana see you now."