The first book in Richard Blake's brilliant series featuring Aelric, the six-century English adventurer, combines an expert's knowledge of the Roman world with intrigue, sex, black comedy and extreme violence. Rome, 609 AD. Empire is a fading memory. Repeatedly fought over and plundered, the City is falling into ruins. Filth and rubble block the streets. Killers prowl by night. Far off, in Constantinople, the Emperor has other concerns. The Church is the one institution left intact, and is now flexing its own imperial muscle. Enter Aelric of England: young and beautiful, sexually uninhibited, heroic, if ruthlessly violent - and hungry for the learning of a world that is dying around him. In this first novel of six, he's in Rome only by accident. Without getting that girl pregnant, and the resulting near-miss from King Ethelbert's gelding knife, he might never have left Kent. But here Aelric is, and nothing on earth will send him back. The question is how long he will stay on earth. A deadly brawl outside Rome sucks him straight into the high politics of Empire. There is fraud. There is pursuit. There is murder after murder. Soon, Aelric is involved in a race against time to find answers. Who is trying to kill him? Where are the letters everyone thinks he has, and what do they contain? Who is the one-eyed man? What significance to all this has the Column of Phocas, the monument just put up in the Forum to celebrate a tyrant's generosity to Holy Mother Church? Aided by Lucius, his aristocratic lover, Aelric does at last get his answers. What he chooses to do with them will shape the future history of Europe and the world...