Today on my blog I have an extract from Triumph in Dust by Ian Ross. This sounds right up my street and is definitely on my TBR.
Ferocity, heroism, and savage bloodshed: the next gripping instalment in the Twilight of Empire series. For fans of Ben Kane and Conn Iggulden.
When the simmering conflict between Rome and Persia threatens once again to ignite into open war, there is only one man the Emperor Constantine can trust to hold the eastern frontier.
Aurelius Castus, retired general of the empire, has fought long and hard for Rome. When the summons comes to command an army once more, he obeys with a heavy heart. Is he still the fearsome fighting machine of old? Will his young, ambitious officers respect and follow a great soldier of former days?
But when tragedy strikes the imperial household, Castus must race to defend the last bulwark standing against the might of Persia. In the pitiless heat of the Syrian desert, engulfed by whirling sandstorms and facing a fearless, treacherous foe, Castus knows that the fight ahead will be the fiercest he has ever known, and will very probably be his last.
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2BrgX07
Ian Ross was born in England, and studied painting before turning to writing fiction. He has travelled widely, and after a year in Italy teaching English and exploring the ruins of empire reawakened his early love for ancient history, he returned to the UK with growing fascination for the period known as late antiquity. He has been researching and writing about the later Roman world and its army for over a decade.
Social Media Links
Aria Fiction Social Media Links
Constantinople, July ad 336
At the word of command, the purple silk drapes rose smoothly upwards, drawn by hidden cords. A stir ran through the men gathered in the great hall of the summer consistorium as they saw the figure of the emperor enthroned on the dais before them. As one, civil ministers and military officers, priests and eunuchs, all in their gorgeously patterned court garments, sank to kneel on the marble floor. Only the bodyguards of the Schola Gentilium remained standing, lining each side of the hall with their shields grounded and their silvered spears upright. The assembly rose to their feet, lifting their hands in salute to the emperor and crying out the acclamation in unison.
‘Constantinus Augustus, eternal Augustus! God gave you to us! God save you for us! Your salvation is our salvation!’
Twice, three times, then four times the shout went up, echoing back from the high panelled ceiling. Then the honour guards that flanked the dais banged the butts of their spears, and all fell silent.
Seated on the throne, Constantine set his jaw and stared, unblinking. He was sixty-three years old, but still he held himself stiffly upright, his stern face impassive beneath its mask of powder and cosmetics. The weight of the jewelled diadem on his head sent runnels of sweat down his brow, and his shoulders ached beneath the heavy hug of his gold-embroidered cape.
Flies circled lazily in the beams of sunlight from the tall windows of the apse, and smoke rose from the tripod braziers on either side of the throne, fogging the air with cloying incense. Letting the silence stretch, Constantine studied the faces of the men assembled before him. He saw avarice and awe, reverence and resentment. Someone near the back of the hall stifled a cough.
They think this is easy.
But ruling an empire was no easy task. It was a stern duty, a labour of Hercules, and he felt it in his aching bones. Thirty years on the throne: the lavish games and shows of his tricennalia had only just been concluded. Thirty years, and every one harder than the last, with fewer rewards. Had he not done enough? He had brought peace to the Roman world, crushed his enemies and reunited the empire. He had built this great city of Constantinople, dedicated in the name of the One True God. He had raised the Christian faith from persecution to glory, and filled the empire with magnificent churches. He had been generous too; so much gold had flowed from his hands that he doubted there was a single citizen who had not been enriched by his largesse. He had done all that, but still it was not enough. Always the same restless ambitious fury he had known all his life, driving him on, forbidding him happiness. What more could God ask of him? When would he be granted peace?
He had slept badly the night before, troubled once again by vivid dreams. They were the most terrible dreams, the ones that came to him at the darkest hour of night, when those he had destroyed returned to him. He saw again the proud faces that he had thrown down. Maximian, Maxentius, Licinius. Whispering to him in their anguish. Remember me. Remember me. His own wife, his own eldest son… Remember me when you confront your God. Speak my name at last, and despair…
Constantine flinched, irritated that he had let his mind wander. He focused once more on the scene before him. A eunuch knelt beside the throne. ‘Majesty,’ he said again in a sibilant whisper. ‘The ambassadors of the King of Persia?’
Tightening his lips slightly, the emperor raised a finger from the arm of his throne. At his signal, the Magister Admissionum climbed to the lower step of the dais, raised his gold staff of office, and cried out in a voice that echoed down the hall.
‘Let Vezhan Gushnasp, the envoy of Shapur the Second, King of the Persians, and those who accompany him, be called!’
A sonorous note from the water organ in the side chamber, and a file of white-uniformed Protectores entered through the far doors of the hall. Once they had formed up in a double row facing the central aisle, the Persian delegation followed them in from the vestibule.
Constantine had kept the Persians waiting for nearly ten days now, all through the celebrations of the tricennalia, and had been happy to do so. Let them witness the might of the Roman Empire, he thought. Let them marvel at the passions of the crowd, the glory of the imperial salutations. Let them see everything, and take word of it back to their upstart king in Ctesiphon. He had already seen the inventory of the official gifts: ten gold-embroidered carpets, six saddles panelled in ivory and set with gemstones, eighteen peacock-feather fans, a couch made of elephants’ tusks… the list went on. Constantine was unmoved by it; he was satiated with luxuries. Now the men who had brought those gifts all the way from the royal court on the Tigris stood before him.
Vezhan Gushnasp, the chief envoy, had a bone-white face and pointed black beard; he wore a gown of gold-worked crimson silk and a tall white hat. Not daring to glance up at the dais, he advanced slowly between the ranks of soldiers until he reached the disc of purple marble set into the floor. Then, with a crumple of silk, he prostrated himself full-length, touching his forehead to the stone. Constantine hid his smile; he rather liked this Persian form of genuflection. Perhaps, he thought, he should introduce it to the Roman court as well? His sons would like that, he knew; they had a taste for the obsequious.
Getting to his feet, the ambassador walked slowly forward to the foot of the dais. Climbing the first two steps, he prostrated himself once more. Reaching out with one hand, he took the trailing hem of the emperor’s purple robe and touched it lightly to his lips. Then he shuffled backwards from the dais, stood up, and retreated to the purple disc once more.
‘The letter from the King of Persia, sublimnity,’ the eunuch beside the throne whispered, proffering a sealed roll of parchment on his silk-veiled palms. Constantine took it, moving only his forearm and keeping the rest of his body immobile. He raised the scroll, tapped the royal seal against his mouth and then laid it aside once more; there was no reason for him to read it, and he knew very well what it would say. Another slight signal.
‘Let the envoy of the King of the Persians speak!’ the Magister Admissionum declared.
Vezhan Gushnasp raised his eyes for the first time, and a thin smile showed though his beard.
‘His Immortal Mazda-Worshipping Majesty, Shapur the Second,’ the envoy cried, ‘King of the Iranians and the Non-Iranians, of the Race of the Gods, Brother of the Sun and Moon, Master of the four corners of the World, bids his brother, the Great Constantinus Augustus of the Romans, greetings and good health.’
Constantine tightened his grip on the arms of the throne. It was not mere hubris that had caused him to delay the audience with the Persians. He had wanted to wait until the festivities were finished. For this meeting, he would need all his fury, all his assurance. Already he could feel his blood beating faster, stirring the ashes of his heart. But he kept his expression blank, his voice mild.
‘And how is my brother the King of Persia?’ he asked. ‘In good health too, I hope?’
‘By the grace of the ever-loving Ahura-Mazda, the king prospers.’
‘I rejoice to hear it. And why has the king sent this new embassy to us so soon?’
‘Majesty,’ the envoy said, drawing himself upright and tipping back his head, ‘it has come to the divine ears of my sovereign, the all-powerful King Shapur, that certain devotees of lies have been spreading rumours about affairs in the east. Rumours, majesty, that may upset the understanding and concord between the great nations of Rome and Persia, which bestride the world like twin colossi, illuminating the hearts of all men like two great lamps burning with the fires of truth …’
‘Enough!’ Constantine declared suddenly. ‘I know very well why you have come here, Vezhan Gushnasp.’ The foreign syllables left a sour taste on his tongue, like dirt. ‘You were last here two years ago, I remember. Do you remember what I said to you then?’
‘I seem to recall, majesty…’
Please do go and take a look at all the amazing blogs that are contributing to this blog tour, they are all listed below.