Since last week's teaser, the editorial revisions on Floodtide have been completed--the quickest and most painfree editing process I've ever experienced! It'll be nice not to have that hanging over me during my upcoming travel to Worldcon.
I'm not going to lie: I love to embed intellectual "Easter eggs" in my stories that may pass under the radar of 90% of my readers and only be fully appreciated by maybe 1%. I never want anyone to feel excluded by those hidden treats, but I do want to reward close attention and familiarity.
I think I mentioned in a previous teaser that at one point in the plot noodling for Daughter of Mystery I had a vision of my characters winding through underground passages that had fallen out of the awareness of most citizens of Rotenek. The episode ended up not fitting into that book, but it was part of my background vision of the city and at some point I realized it had a role to play in the eventual concluding book. But that meant laying down the groundwork well before that point.
When I needed some sort of "hidden resource" as a MacGuffin in Floodtide, given that I was already thinking in terms of water symbolism, the thought of a long-lost spring somewhere under the city felt promising. An ancient fountain that had been covered over by the changing needs of city planning--not a deliberate secret, just forgotten and unused.
It made complete sense for that hidden spring to provide the reader with backstory for the legend of Saint Rota and a key to her origins. As I mentioned in the teaser about river deities, Rota was originally the local water goddess or the Rotein river. (People may have guessed that the Rotein is a sort of parallel development of the Rhone. Not the Alpennian name of the real-world Rhone, but a fictional duplicate of the river with a different course.) She might have managed to linger in popular imagination purely by oral tradition, but what if there had once been concrete evidence of her existence available for reinterpretation and adaptation as a Christian saint?
* * *
At the top of the steps a fountain stood against the wall. The fountain didn’t look like much: just a half-round base about six foot across. Behind it, on the wall, was a carving with a picture of a woman and writing scattered around her. Below the woman, water tumbled out of a hole into the basin. There was another spout at the front where it spilled down a channel cut into the middle of the stone steps and into the chanulez. I would have thought the water would be green and slimy without anyone to clean the fountain, but it was clear enough to drink.
“Who is she?” Celeste asked, looking up from the water in the basin to the carved stone behind it.
In some ways, the lantern made it harder to see, because of all the shadows it threw off. You could tell the stone was supposed to be a lady with a long flowing dress. It wasn’t a very good statue, though. I don’t think they’d have paid a sculptor like that to do saints in the cathedral. Maybe it had been better at first but the stone had worn away. You could tell she was holding a branch of something in her hand. And there was something round near her feet—maybe some sort of beast—but I couldn’t tell what it was any more.
You could still read the letters, though. Maisetra Iulien leaned closely with the lantern and started reading them out one at a time. “R…O…D…A…D…E…D…”
“No,” said Mesner Aukustin and took the lantern from her again to go around the other side of the fountain. “It’s an old Roman stone. I’ve seen some like it in Akolbin. You read it all the way across. RODANAE DED…and then MA— The rest is too faint to see. Chautovil would know how to read it. He thinks I should study the ancient Romans more. But Rodanae is a name—Rodana—and Ma-something, that would be the man who set up the stone.”
“Rodana?” Celeste said wonderingly. She whispered, “Mama Rota?” And then more loudly. “It’s Saint Rota. It must be. When people talk about water from Saint Rota’s well they usually just mean the river. But it’s a real well. A real well that flows into the river.” Her eyes followed the flow of water from the rim of the basin down to where it led into the chanulez.
“Are you sure?” Maisetra Iulien asked.
Celeste made a quiet noise. I could tell she thought it was a silly question but didn’t dare say so to a maisetra.
“It’s a holy well. My eyes can tell me that.”
* * *
And of course I spent entirely too much time researching exactly what the Roman dedicatory inscription to a river goddess would look like. The inscriptions were frustratingly compact for standard formulas. I've given the readers more of a hint with the partial "DED..." (for "dedit" or "dedicavit") where a real inscription would probably just have "D". And while the partial name of the person who set up the inscription (MA...) could be many things, I've allowed for the (erroneous) guess that it might be Mauritius, the region's patron saint.
I envision the plaque layout something like this, with X's where the image is, and unreadable or omitted letters in brackets:
[DEAE] XXXXX RODA
NAE XXXXXX DED[IT]
MA[??] XXXXXX [????]
This isn't the first time I've played around with ambiguous inscriptions, of course. Tanfrit's gravestone was rather fun to design as well, and it still has some secrets to tell that will keep until I tell her story.