The Scourge of God

The Scourge of God

by William Dietrich

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061753657
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 186,094
File size: 724 KB

About the Author

William Dietrich is the author of fourteen novels, including six previous Ethan Gage titles—Napoleon's Pyramids, The Rosetta Key, The Dakota Cipher, The Barbary Pirates, The Emerald Storm, and The Barbed Crown. Dietrich is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and naturalist. A winner of the PNBA Award for Nonfiction, he lives in Washington State.

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The Scourge of God

Chapter One

Brother and Sister

Ravenna, A.D. 449

"My sister is a wicked woman, bishop, and we are here to save her from herself," the emperor of the Western Roman Empire said. His name was Valentinian III, and his character was unfortunate evidence of dynastic decay. He was of only middling intelligence, without martial courage and with little interest in governance. Valentinian preferred to spend his time in sport, pleasure, and the company of magicians, courtesans, and whichever senatorial wives he could seduce in order to gain the greater pleasure of humiliating their husbands. He knew his talents did not match those of his ancestors, and his private admission of inferiority produced feelings of resentment and fear. Jealous and spiteful men and women, he believed, were always conspiring against him. So he'd brought the prelate for tonight's execution because he needed the church's approval. Valentinian relied on the beliefs of others in order to believe in himself.

It was important for his sister, Honoria, to recognize that she had no champions in either the secular world or the religious, the emperor had persuaded the bishop. She was rutting with a steward like a base kitchen trollop, and this little surprise was really a gift. "I am saving my sister from a trial as traitor in this world and from damnation in the next."

"No child is beyond salvation, Caesar," Bishop Milo assured. He shared complicity in this rude surprise because he and the girl's wily mother, Galla Placidia, needed money to complete a new church in Ravenna that would help guarantee their own ascent into heaven. Placidia was as embarrassed by her daughter's indiscretion as Valentinian was afraid of it; and support of the emperor's decision would be repaid by a generous donation to the Church from the imperial treasury. God, the bishop believed, worked in mysterious ways. Placidia simply assumed that God's wishes and her own were the same.

The emperor was supposed to be in musty and decaying Rome, conferring with the Senate, receiving ambassadors, and participating in hunts and social gatherings. Instead, he had galloped out four nights ago unannounced, accompanied by a dozen soldiers handpicked by his chamberlain, Heraclius. They would strike at Honoria before her plans ripened. It was the chamberlain's spies who had brought word that the emperor's sister was not just sleeping with her palace steward -- a reckless fool named Eugenius -- but also was plotting with him to murder her brother and seize power. Was the story true? It was no secret that Honoria considered her brother indolent and stupid and that she believed she could run imperial affairs more ably than he could, on the model of their vigorous mother. Now, the story went, she intended to put her lover on the throne with herself as augusta, or queen. It was all rumor, of course, but rumor that smacked of the truth: The vain Honoria had never liked her sibling. If Valentinian could catch them in bed together it would certainly prove immorality, and perhaps treason as well. In any event, it would be excuse enough to marry her off and be rid of her.

The emperor excused his own romantic conquests as casually as he condemned those of his sister. He was a man and she was a woman and thus her lustfulness, in the eyes of man and God, was more offensive than his.

Valentinian's entourage had crossed the mountainous spine of Italy and now approached the palaces of Ravenna in the dark, pounding down the long causeway to this marshy refuge. While easy to defend from barbarian attack, the new capital always struck Valentinian as a dreamlike place, divorced from the land and yet not quite of the sea. It floated sepa-rately from industry or agriculture, and the bureaucracy that had taken refuge there had only a tenuous grip on reality. The water was so shallow and the mud so deep that the wit Apollinaris had claimed the laws of nature were repealed in Ravenna, "where walls fall flat and waters stand, towers float and ships are seated." The one advantage of the new city was that it was nominally safe, and that was no small thing in today's world. Treacheries were everywhere.

The life of the great was a risky one, Valentinian knew. Julius Caesar himself had been assassinated, almost five hundred years before. The gruesome endings of emperors since was a list almost too long to memorize: Claudius poisoned; Nero and Otho both suicides; Caracalla, the murderer of his brother, who was assassinated in turn; Constantine's half brothers and nephews virtually wiped out; Gratian murdered; Valentinian II found mysteriously hanged. Emperors had died in battle, of disease, debauchery, and even of the fumes from newly applied plaster, but most of all from the plottings of those closest. It would have been a shock if his cunning sister had not conspired against him. The emperor was more than ready to hear his chamberlain's whisperings of a plot, because he had expected no less since being elevated to the purple at the age of five. He had reached his present age of thirty only by fearful caution, constant suspicion, and necessary ruthlessness. An emperor struck, or was struck down. His astrologers confirmed his fears, leaving him satisfied and them rewarded.

So now the emperor's party dismounted in the shadow of the gate, not wanting the clatter of horses to give warning. They drew long swords but held them tight to their legs to minimize their glint in the night. Cloaked and hooded, they moved toward Honoria's palace like wraiths; Ravenna's streets dark, its canals gleaming dully, and a halfmoon teasing behind a moving veil of cloud. As a town of government instead of commerce, the capital always seemed desultory and half deserted.

The emperor's face startled sentries.

"Caesar! We didn't expect -- "

"Get out of the way."

Honoria's palace was quiet, the tapestries and curtains bleached of color by the night and the oil lamps guttering ...

The Scourge of God. Copyright © by William Dietrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Scourge of God 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Focusing on the journey of Jonas, a young man who is trying to prove himself as a valuable Roman, the plot follows him as he acts as the historian for an embassy of ambassadors that travel to meet Attila the Hun in hopes of peace. He soon finds himself in a different world all together. Dietrich accomplished a masterful work as he carries Jonas through a wonderfully compelling plot. He has created very realistic characters and has done a wonderful job at describing the Huns and everything about them: lifestyle, dress, language, mannerisms. If you have any interest in Rome, Huns or simply the time period, I highly recommend this book as an excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had a slow start, but the pick-up timing was excellent. The mechanics were excellent. I found one glaring grammatical error. Other readers have reviewed the plot. No need for my doing so. A young Roman diplomat, a beautiful Roman girl, a dwarf and the dwarf's fully grown wife are on a secret mission to infiltrate Attila's palace and kill him. The group did not exactly blend into any populace. In the final battle scene, there were so many soldiers that fellow soldiers got in each other's way. Jonas, both diplomat and soldier, out thought every other character, often in surprising ways. I recommend this book for the history and the fiction that prevents the history from being boring. I applaud the author for his research and his weaving together history and fiction. Exceptional work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a rare fictional foray into life among the Huns of ancient times. There isn't much known about these people, since they left no written records and few artifacts. However, the author does the best job possible, given the limited resources, in reconstructing this nomad people's world and ways. The result is a great tale that moves from Constantinople across Europe to a final battle between Romans and Huns in what is now France. The story makes abundantly clear what was at stake in the conflict between a world of culture, learning, and burgeoning Christianity and the brutal, repressive, world of the Huns (though environmentalists will appreciate the fact that they used natural resources with admirable economy). At the heart of the story - and apparently crucial in saving civilization from the barbarians - is an unlikely group consisting of a young Roman scribe, a beautiful slave girl, a dwarf and his practical wife. Likable characters and lots of action make this a very readable book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wish I could find more like this.
Wiliam_Maltese More than 1 year ago
A GLASS HALF-FULL! I enjoyed this book from the standpoint of it providing a fairly accurate record, based upon the author’s extensive research, that renewed what I previously knew of Attila the Hun, and that provided additional historical information with which I was less familiar. Where the book falls short, at least in my opinion, is in its fictional threesome, two men and a woman, which provides the core impetus used to carry the novel from start to finish. Not only does such a hackneyed three-way relationship — the two men on opposite warring sides, one a Hun, one a Roman, both in love with the same woman who’s a Roman made a slave by the Huns — but I’ve always been leery of tales of love-at-first sight, let alone two incidents of that phenomenon presented as key points in the very same novel.
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Its great. I like six pages but seven pages is still better. You forgot to uppercase names and Is. Read my story , The Golden Cat, at golden girl results two to seven. Skip result five because no story is there. No rude comments. Say what i should do better instead. Ask questions at qu second result and ill answer it in qu result four. No advertizing without a review for my story. I like your story because you have awesome detail and words! Keep the awesome work up! Please read my story too. The auther Ps. Its just the auther and not thee auther. I spell it er and not or to make my name unique. Bye!