The great three-sided war continues, Rome against Persia against the tribes of the desert now commanded by Mohammed of Mekkah. The tide is turning against the Eastern Empire--the Emperor Heraclius lies bedridden in Constantinople and his brother Theodore has lost a great battle to the tribes. In the West, Rome lies devastated by the long-pent eruption of Vesuvius. And in the hidden valley of Damawand, the Persion sorcerer Dahak plots his revenge.
Among the lost are the Princess Shirin, vanished in the explosion of Vesuvius that wrought so much destruction, and Thyatis, still living but broken in mind and body. Her struggle will mirror the torment of the Empire, as it rebuilds its strength and purpose after so much destruction.
But there is hope for the West. Prince Maxian, horrified at being the cause of so many deaths, has come to realize that the Oath need not be broken; it can be changed by a skilled sorcerer. And in Judea, young Dwyrin is coming into his full powers, honed by sorcerous combat with his friend Odenathus, who now leads the shattered remnants of the army of Palmyra. And among the Goths north of the Danuvius, a new legion is being forged, by a very old general.
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Born in Tucson, AZ of scientist parents, have always drawn or told or written stories of adventure. Have had one or two adventures myself, but none more exhausting than raising my kids!Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Storm of Heaven
THE PORT OF KORINTHOS, 31 B.C.
The sea gleamed like spoiled glass, a flat murky green. Smoke from the town hung in the air, drifting slowly along the beach in thin gray wisps. The Queen, her pale shoulders covered by a rose-colored drape, stood in the surf. Tiny waves lapped around her feet, making silver bangles lift and fall with the water. The sea was as warm as a tepidarium pool. "No man has ever set foot on the island." The Matron's tone was harsh. "This is my son," said the Queen, her voice urgent. "I need your help." Sweat beaded on the Greek woman's face, even in the shade of a wide parasol that her servants had lodged in the sand. The Matron stood on the polished plank deck of a small galley, riding low in the water a dozen yards away. Despite the Queen's entreaties, the gray, stiff-backed woman had refused to leave the ship and come ashore. "We give shelter to women, grown and child, but never to men." The Queen winced, for the harsh snap of the older woman's voice carried well over the water. There was no wind to break up the sound, or drown it with the crash of surf on the rocky shore. "He is your get, you must care for him. This is the rule of the Order, as it has been from the beginning." The Matron turned, flipping the edge of her woolen cloak, black and marked with white checks, over her shoulder. The Queen flinched, feeling the rebuke in her bones. She turned, staring back up the beach to the awnings and pavilions of her camp. The bright colors of the pennants and the cloth that shaded her son and the waiting servants seemed dull and grimy in this still, hot air. "Have I not given enough?" Despite her best effort, the Queen's voice cracked and rose, shrill and carrying. "Must I give up my son for your faith? He is all that remains of our dream--his father murdered, his patrimony stolen. Hide him for me ... just for a few months, perhaps a year!" The women in the galley's rowing deck, responding to the shrill whistle of a flute, raised their long leaf-bladed oars as one. The Matron's figure descended from the platform and paced, slowly, to the foredeck of the vessel. She did not turn or look back, and the angle of her head was canted towards the horizon. A single bank of oars dipped into the water, and the galley turned, swinging easily in the calm sea. The flute trilled, and the ship slipped across the water, gaining speed with each flashing plunge of the oars. The Queen felt great weariness crash down upon her, pressing on her shoulders with thick, gnarled fingers. She swayed a little, feeling the sand beneath herfeet slip, but then righted herself. Her right hand clutched at a diadem around her neck, slim white fingers covering a golden disk filled with an eight-rayed star. It would not do, she thought, to be carried up from the baleful shore by my servants.
The Queen walked in darkness, her head bent in weariness. A bare gleam of firelight from the bonfires by the ships touched a curl of hair. Now her feet were bare, the wet slippers long discarded, ruined by the salty water. At the very edge of the firelight she stopped and turned, staring out at the gloomy sea. It lay flat and still, windless, as it had done for days, stranding her fat-bellied troop ships in the port. "Your son is beautiful, daughter. I see him standing by the fire, light gleaming on his limbs." The Queen stiffened, feeling the air grow chill. She raised her head sharply, nostrils flaring at the languid voice in the darkness. There was a woman, there in the shadow, just beyond the edge of the light. A rustle of cloth and a flash of white caught the Queen's eye as a hood was drawn back. "Who ... ? I know you." The Queen's voice turned brittle and hard. "Why are you here?" Laughter drifted, dying leaves in the fall, cascading down on chill autumn air. "You need me, Pharaoh, to save your son and your dream." A hand came out of the darkness, thin and elegant, with long, tapering nails. Their surface winked in the dim firelight, glossy and black. Thin gold bracelets jingled a little as the woman stepped closer. The Queen raised her own hand sharply, though the imperious gesture seemed futile against the presence in the darkness. "I will not give him to you. I did not summon you. Go away." The figure stopped and paused, and the Queen sensed a lean head turning in the night, considering her. A faint wind began to rise, brushing the Queen's curls and softly fluttering the silk draped around her shoulders. Pale red caught in the eye of the figure, gleaming with the bare echo of one of the bonfires. "Then he will die, spitted on the blades of your enemies, or strangled in some cold cell. Is this your desire? To see your son placed on a pyre of scented wood? To see the flames leap up around his beautiful face?" The Queen shuddered, feeling her gown cold as a shroud under her fingers. "Give him to me," hissed the darkness, "and he will grow strong and powerful. He will learn many arts lost to the race of men ... everything that you dreamed for him will come true ... ." "No!" The Queen ran. Sand sprayed away from her feet, but the cold breath on her neck gave her feet wings. Behind her, far from the firelight, a figure moved, gathering its consorts. Silently, on padded feet, they went away in the night. The pale woman turned on the height above the town, looking down upon the dim lights in the windows and the torches burning on the steps of the temples. "So did old Pelias run," the woman mused, amusement stealing over her. "When his daughters came singing, bearing a cauldron of ruddy, red iron ..." She settled her cloak on thin shoulders and turned her face to the stars in the dark sky, smiling. Copyright © 2001 by Thomas Harlan
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