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Tour & #Giveaway: On the Horns of Death (Ancient Crete Mystery #2) by Eleanor Kuhns

Book Details:

Published by: Severn House

Publication Date: April 2, 2024

Number of Pages: 224

ISBN: 9781448310890 (ISBN10: 144831089X)

Series: An Ancient Crete Mystery #2

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Ancient Crete, 1450 BC. When young bull leaper Martis finds Duzi, the newest member of the bull leaping team, dead in the bull pen early one morning. Made to look like he met his end on the horns of the bull, it's clear to Martis that this was no accident . . .

Martis once again finds herself thrown into a dangerous game of hunting down a murderer as the deaths start to mount. An old friend of Martis' sister, and possible lover to Duzi, is the next person to be found dead, and Martis' investigations lead her to believe love and jealousy are at the heart of these crimes against the Goddess.

Is someone targeting the bull leaping community? Or is there something else at play? With only the Shade of her sister Arge to confide in, Martis struggles to untangle the growing web of secrets which stretch around her.

Universal Purchase Link - click HERE

"A clever, feisty, likable heroine, vivid descriptions of life in ancient Crete, and a complex murder make this a good pick for historical-mystery fans"~ Booklist


"A wealth of historical detail"~ Kirkus Reviews

Late again, I hurried down the stony slope into the caves under Knossos. Even from the top of the twisty path, I could hear the grunting and the nervous kicking of cage walls by agitated bulls. I increased my pace despite the slippery footing. I could smell the thick coppery scent of blood, far more intense than the usual odor of damp rock. Why was there blood? Something terrible was happening.

The oil lamps in the center of the cave cast a dim smoky light, but there were several, enough to see by. Although all the bulls were restless, most of the bull leapers were crowded around the foremost pen. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked Arphaia and Obelix as I reached the stone floor. Arphaia and Obelix had helped fill the hole left by the loss of my sisters.

Arphaia rolled her eyes at me and shrugged. ‘Don’t know.’ A short, sturdy girl, her skin was the color of ripe figs. Obelix was taller and paler and so slim she looked like a boy from the back. Like me, they’d tied their hair back into braids. ‘I’m busy here,’ Arphaia continued. She was helping Obelix pull her skirt over her loincloth, and I guessed the older girl had unexpectedly gotten her monthly. It was always an inconvenience for us women on the team.

‘Can I help?’

Arphaia shook her head. Glad to be excused – I was burning with curiosity – I hurried across the stone floor toward the cluster of older bull dancers by the cage. Ready for the upcoming ceremony, they wore only loincloths and boots.

‘Something upset the bulls,’ Geos said with a frown, running a hand over his bald head. He had trained all of us.

‘Especially the bull chosen for sacrifice . . .’ Elemon glanced anxiously at the pen. He was the most experienced of us but a recent injury had left him skittish.

I dropped my metal belt on the floor with a clatter and went to join the team. The bull in the pen was white – a pure white like the foam that came ashore from the sea. The largest and strongest of them all, he’d been chosen for our performance at the Harvest Festival today. After the six days of the celebration, he would be sacrificed to the Goddess. Other sacrifices would be made through out to the Dying God to thank him for the grape harvest, and the wine he’d taught us how to make. But this bull, the greatest of all, would be sacrificed last.

I approached the pen. The strikes against the wooden planks had loosened several. I tried to squeeze into the throng at the front, but no one would move away to let me through. I went around to the side and peered through a crack.

The white bull was trotting around the pen, lashing his tail, kicking up his front feet and grunting angrily. But he did not come near this side. Hmm. Why not? I crouched down to peer through a larger gap at the bottom.

And there, right in front of me, was the body of a man. I gasped and fell back. ‘Geos,’ I said in a trembling voice. When he did not hear me, I raised my voice. ‘Geos.’

‘What, Martis?’ He sounded harried.

‘Come here. There is a body inside the pen.’

‘What? Who is it?’

‘I don’t know.’ I shook my head. I hadn’t wanted to look. The body appeared to have been both gored and trampled by the bull. ‘I think this is why the bull is so nervous . . .’

Geos came around the corner. Although, at sixteen, I stood taller than him by several inches, now he stared down at me sitting on the rock floor.

‘Are you sure?’ He sounded disbelieving. ‘Why would anyone join a bull in the pen? These are not tame animals.’

‘I don’t know.’ I scooted backwards so he could crouch down beside me. Groaning, he lowered himself first to one knee and then to the other. Cautiously, using both hands, he collapsed to a sitting position. From there, he looked through the breach between the weathered wooden boards.

‘By the Goddess,’ he muttered, ‘you’re right. How could this happen!’ He struggled to rise. ‘We’ve got to get that body out of there. None of the bulls will settle . . .’

Turning, Geos shouted at the other bull dancers. ‘One of you, go find Tinos.’

As the High Priestess’s consort and the wanax who served as the chief administrator of Knossos and its environs, Tinos would be responsible for investigating this tragedy.

I rose shakily to my feet and peered into the pen next to the one occupied by the white auroch. This one was empty. Glad to have a problem to focus on, I said, ‘Maybe we can put the bull in here. And this wall’ – I gestured to the partition we’d been looking through – ‘is already damaged.’

Geos glanced into the empty pen and then turned his gaze on the battered fence. ‘Perhaps. But first we need to pull the body out. Once that is gone, maybe the bull will settle down.’

By now, the other bull dancers had joined us. Elemon shouldered me out of the way. ‘The boards are already damaged,’ he said. ‘Maybe we can pull them away and slide the body through.’

Geos nodded and his eyes shifted to the pen behind me. ‘We can take some of those pieces and use them to barricade the hole afterwards.’ As Elemon wrenched the boards away from the cage bottom, Tryphone grabbed the victim’s arm to pull him through. After a few seconds of futile struggle, Thaos, one of the other men, knelt down to help him. The body awkwardly inched forward.

I could barely watch. I could see that several bones were shattered and his arms flopped limply behind him.

Once he was free, we bustled around gathering wooden planks to place over the gap. I didn’t believe the bull could escape through the narrow opening at the bottom, but we covered it, nonetheless. No one wanted an angry animal charging around the caves, and he was still not settling down. Of course, the smell of blood hung heavily in the air.

‘What happened?’ Arphaia asked as she and Obelix approached us.

Before Geos could reply, excited chatter from the youngest of our team – all still congregated at the entrance to the arena – distracted us. Geos hurried around the pen, the rest of us following. Tinos had arrived. He was clad in a long robe banded with diagonal stripes of red and blue and wore his ceremonial knife on the belt around his waist. Apparently, he’d been pulled away from an important ritual. ‘What happened?’ he asked. ‘He’ – gesturing to Curgis – ‘told me you discovered a body in the bull’s pen?’

‘That’s right,’ Geos said. ‘I sent him to you.’

In his formal clothing, Tinos seemed older and much more serious than the man I knew and liked. ‘Show me,’ he said.

Geos glared at the kids. ‘Stay here,’ he said firmly. ‘This is not something any of you should see.’

Thirteen-year-old Costi curled his lip mutinously but didn’t argue.

‘I’ll watch them,’ Obelix offered. She was quite pale.

Arphaia glanced at her. ‘We both will,’ she said.

I did not offer. Although I did not want to look at the body, I did want to be near Tinos. I quickly joined the line of bull dancers following him and Geos to the side of the bull pen.

Tinos stared at the battered and bloodied remains on the floor for several seconds and heaved a sigh. ‘Who discovered the body?’ he asked.

‘Martis,’ Geos said.

Tinos shot me a look from under his thick black eyebrows. This was not the first time I had witnessed a violent death. ‘Of course, it would be,’ he said.

‘I could smell the blood when I got here,’ I said, rushing into speech. ‘And the bull was angry and upset. They’ – and I gestured to Elemon and Tryphone – ‘were here by the pen.’

Tinos glanced at the bull dancers, and then his gaze flicked to the pen where the white bull could be heard snorting and shuffling. ‘I see.’ He turned to Geos. ‘That white bull can’t be used in the ceremonies now.’

‘I know,’ Geos agreed. ‘He’s been tainted. But we have a few others.’ He pointed to the pens at the back of the cave. ‘Backups. The second choice is black, though. Not white.’

Tinos nodded. ‘He will have to be the one. A bull that murdered a man is no fit sacrifice to the Goddess.’

I thought of all the bull leapers who’d been gored or trampled by a bull during the ceremony and wondered why a wounding or a death in the course of a performance was acceptable to the Goddess. Because this had not happened during the Goddess-sanctioned ritual?

‘What possessed him to enter the cage?’ Tinos wondered aloud, pushing his hair to the back. When no one replied to what was clearly a question without an answer, he asked, ‘Does anyone recognize him?’

‘I don’t think any of us really examined him,’ Geos admitted apologetically.

Tinos raised his brows and looked around at us. Thaos and Curgis, the newer bull dancers, shook their heads and backed away. I refused to show such weakness in front of Tinos – I did not want him to think less of me – so I steeled myself and stared down at the body. Elemon cut through the crowd and joined me.

It was difficult to recognize the victim through the blood and the bruising. I thought his skin was naturally darker than the fair Elemon, but I couldn’t be sure. Finally, Elemon shook his head and stepped away to join the others. I continued staring at the body a few seconds longer – not at the face, but at the kilt around his hips. We all wore loincloths during the bull dancing. It was necessary to move freely, and we did not wear clothing like a long skirt that would catch on the horns. The victim’s garment was subtly different, longer and decorated with blue stripes.

‘I know who that is,’ I said, my voice breaking. ‘It’s Duzi.’

Eleanor Kuhns is a previous winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition for A Simple Murder. The author of eleven Will Rees mysteries, she is now a full-time writer after a successful career as the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York.

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