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The saga continues...

Seven years have passed; the Roman world is a place of nominal peace. Rome is a sun poised at midheaven. Trajan, the soldier emperor, prepares to march out with his armies to seize the limitless lands to the east. The arm of steel is extending, preparing to seize a last great fistful of slaves and gold.

Auriane has been living out these seven years in the borderland between worlds, in the peace and contentment of Marcus Julianus' great estate. Her daughter Avenahar approaches young womanhood among rare books, vast gardens, hunt-bred horses, philosophers in residence, and visitations by the mighty; she is too young to have learned how such balmy times can presage eras of transforming disaster. To the south of the villa are the quiet, domesticated lands lying under the wing of imperial Rome. To the north are Auriane's beleaguered people, a lair of defeated ghosts waiting to rise. The peace of these times is no true peace, for too much blood has been shed to attain it.

Trajan's military advisors have forbidden Auriane from ever returning to her home ground, for fear her presence would be too heartening to her tribespeople, that she might be the spark that would set this dry tinder ablaze. Nearly half the legions will be engaged in seizing distant Dacia, drastically reducing the troop strength in Germania, and the imperial advisors know these lightly guarded lands must be kept pacified. Auriane feels increasing desolation as she realizes she will never see her beloved country again, and that she can no longer hear the prophetess Ramis' whispered voice in the rustle of the ash. When the time comes for her daughter Avenahar's intiation into womanhood, a ceremony that must be carried out on ancestral soil, Auriane determines to find a way home, even if it means her death.

Marcus Julianus accompanies the Emperor on the Dacian campaign. Within a few months a messenger comes with a dreadful tale: Julianus has been captured by the enemy. The Dacians demanded a vast sum for his ransom; in order to reduce his value as a hostage, Julianus has taken poison. The tale cannot be verified, and Auriane refuses to believe it. Julianus is noble enough to do such a thing, but she cannot accept that he would leave her behind with no farewell. But the world believes the tale, and Auriane finds herself alone in a hostile land, stranded in a society that does not recognize her right to the property and estates she held with Julianus. And then, it is discovered that she has been secreting gold and silver across the frontier into Germania, to aid her starving people. To Rome, this is an offense punishable by death...

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