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.
Fifteenth Century Europe. Tom Swan is not a professional soldier. He's really a merchant and a scholar looking for remnants of Ancient Greece and Rome - temples, graves, pottery, fabulous animals, unicorn horns. But he also has a real talent for ending up in the midst of violence when he didn't mean to. Having used his wits to escape execution, he begins a series of adventures that take him to street duels in Italy, meetings with remarkable men - from Leonardo Da Vinci to Vlad Dracula - and from the intrigues of the War of the Roses to the fall of Constantinople.
After the bloody trials of Alexandria, Sir William Gold is readying for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to ease the burden on his soul. He hopes, too, that the Holy City might allow his relationship with Emile, cousin of the Green Count of Savoy, to develop.
But the Roman Emperor of Constantinople has been taken hostage by an unknown enemy, and the Green Count is vital to the rescue effort. It is up to Sir William to secure his support, but he soon finds that his past, and his relationship with Emile, might have repercussions he had not foreseen...
Suddenly thrust onto the stage of international politics, Sir William finds himself tangled in a web of plots, intrigue and murder. He must hold true to his chivalric principles, and to his knights, if he is to save the Emperor and survive to tell the tale.
Political alliances are beginning to rupture. No state is immune: England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Constantinople . . . Every mercenary knight for hundreds of miles must sharpen his sword and prepare for battle.
But Sir William Gold has other problems. Just to reach Europe, he must capture its most unassailable fortress. He must also protect his liege-lord, the Green Count, from assassins hell-bent on his demise.
The balance of power in the West will change. William Gold must trust to hope, and his men, that he lands on the winning side . . .
But even these stunning victories only served to buy the Greeks time, as the Persians gathered a new army, returning with overwhelming force to strike the final killing blow.
For the Greeks, divided and outnumbered, there was only one possible strategy: attack. And so, in the blazing summer of 479 BC, Arimnestos took up his spear one final time at the Battle of Plataea.
Arimnestos is a farm boy when war breaks out between the citizens of his native Plataea and their overbearing neighbours, Thebes. Standing in the battle line for the first time, alongside his father and brother, he shares in a famous and unlikely victory. But after being knocked unconscious in the melee, he awakes not a hero, but a slave.
Betrayed by his jealous and cowardly cousin, the freedom he fought for has now vanished, and he becomes the property of a rich citizen. So begins an epic journey out of slavery that takes the young Arimnestos through a world poised on the brink of an epic confrontation, as the emerging civilization of the Greeks starts to flex its muscles against the established empire of the Persians.
As he tries to make his fortune and revenge himself on the man who disinherited him, Arimnestos discovers that he has a talent that pays well in this new, violent world - for like his hero, Achilles, he is 'a killer of men'.
To many he was a god. To others he was a monster. The truth is even more extraordinary.
As a boy, Alexander dreamed of matching the heroic feats of Achilles. At eighteen he led the Macedonian cavalry to a stunning victory against the Greeks. By twenty-five he had crushed the Persians in three monumental battles and was the master of the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Men began to call him a god. But behind the legend was another, more complex story.
Narrated by his boyhood friend Ptolemy, this is the story of Alexander as you have never heard it before: raw, intimate, thrilling - a story of extraordinary daring and unimaginable endurance; of wanton destruction and murderous intrigue - the epic tragedy of a man who aimed to be more than human.