In 527, Vitalian sails to Alexandria to study but, instead, falls in love with an exotic pagan, Passara. Spurned, the young Byzantine noble enlists in the legions. In 530, barbarians swarm across the frozen Danube. The count is captured and enslaved in the Dacian gold mines. The Emperor orders the veteran, Zimarchus, to lead an extraction mission. Free, Vitalian becomes Empress Theodora's personal bodyguard. The elite cavalry officer then commands in Africa, Corsica and Italy but the war drags on. Vitalian returns to Constantinople and seduces Justina but is sent back to the front. Mortally wounded, in 553, the commander dictates his memoirs. Vitalian's autobiography spans war in the East, imperial adventure and the Italian debacle. Troubled, Vitalian refuses to confess. Did he kill Queen Amalsuintha as Theodora ordered?