September, 1356. Poitiers. The greatest knights of the age were ready to give battle.
On the English side, Edward, the Black Prince, who'd earned his spurs at Crecy.
On the French side, the King and his son, the Dauphin. With 12,000 knights.
And then there is William Gold. A cook's boy - the lowest of the low - who had once been branded as a thief. William dreams of being a knight, but in this savage new world of intrigue, betrayal and greed, first he must learn to survive.
As rapacious English mercenaries plunder a country already ravaged by plague, and the peasantry take violent revenge against the French knights who have failed to protect them, is chivalry any more than a boyish fantasy?
The school has a rough start, but as the day goes on, he soon recovers when he sees that he's not the only one going through first-day jitters.
Arimnestos of Plataea grew up wanting to be a bronzesmith, like his father. Then, in the chaos of war, he was taken to a city in the Persian empire and sold as a slave. To win his freedom he had to show that he could fight and kill. Now, to preserve that freedom, he must kill again.
For the Persians are coming. A vast army sent by King Darius to put down the rebellious Greeks and burn the city of Athens to the ground. Standing against them on the plain of Marathon is a much smaller force of Athenians, alongside their Plataean allies. To defeat such overwhelming force seems impossible. And yet to yield would mean the destruction of everything the Greeks have dreamed of.
In the dust and heat of Marathon, in the clash of shields and the rush of spears, amid the thunder of hooves and the screams of the dying, those dreams will undergo their fiercest test - and Arimnestos and his Greek comrades will discover the true price of freedom.
Pisa, May 1364.
Sir William Gold is looking forward to a lucrative career as a hired sword in the endless warring between Italy's city states. But when a message comes from the Grand Master of the Hospitaliers, William is forced to leave his dreams of fame and fortune behind him.
The Hospitaliers are gathering men for a crusade, and Sir William must join them. Yet before they set out for the holy land, the knights face deadly adversaries much closer to home . . .
In the twisting politics of Italy, no one can be trusted. And there are those who would be pleased to see the crusade fail . . .
Can Sir William and his knights survive this impossible mission into the heart of the enemy?
Arimnestos of Plataea is a man who has seen and done things that most men only dream about. Sold into slavery as a boy, he fought his way to freedom - and then to everlasting fame: standing alongside the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon where the Greeks crushed the invading Persians.
Sometimes, however, a man's greatest triumph is followed by his greatest sorrow. Returning to his farm, Arimnestos finds that his wife Euphoria has died in childbirth, and in an instant his laurels turn to dust. But the gods are not finished with Arimnestos yet. With nothing left to live for, he throws himself from a cliff into the sea, only to be pulled by strong arms from death's embrace. When he awakes, he finds himself chained to an oar in a Phoenician trireme.
And so begins an epic journey that will take Arimnestos and a motley crew of fellow galley slaves to the limits of their courage, and beyond the edge of the known world, in a quest for freedom, revenge - and a cargo so precious it's worth dying for.