October, A.D. 440: Sur-geon Getorius Asterius his wife, Arcadia, and their slave, Brisios, arrive at Constantinople with guide Herakles and his five Roman clients. Caught in a bread riot, they flee aboard a galley sailing to the Asklepion, a pagan healing center at Pergamum. Priest-physician Apollonios, an enemy of Epiphiana, a Christian presbytera, is accused of burning her church. Presumed dead, the woman is hiding to plan a bizarre "resur-rection" ritual to dis-credit Apollonios. When abusive patient Basina Bobo drowns in a thera-peutic pool, her meek husband, Flavius, and slave-lover Hermias are missing. Getorius as-sumes the slave killed both masters, but after his mutilated body is found, Flavius is sus-pected. He surprises Epiphania in an abandon -ed Egyptian temple, rants against all women. and stabs her. Wounded, she is carried to the ancient acropolis's "Throne of Satan" for her Egypto-Christian ritual. When she dies, fanatic monks incite spectators into destroying the Asklepion. Herakles disappears.
A harrowing climax in-volving Getorius, Arcad- ia, Herakles, Apollonios, his assistant, Aristides, and Aelia Pulcheria, sis-ter of Eastern Emperor Theodisius II, occurs at the pillaged temple of Asklepios, where a traitorous plot is nar-rowly thwarted.
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Traveling to the Holy Land, Getorius and Ar-cadia stop at Cyprus. A street play turns bawdy with the antics of Aphro-disia, an actress-pros-titute. Moshe ben Asher, aged leader of Hebrew refugees, asks for help in escaping on the couple's galley. At sea, an ill Aph- rodisia curses crewmen who lured her aboard, Ar-cadia treats the woman but she disappears at Ascalon.
Abd al-shira becomes the couple's guide. At Jerusal-em's Holy Sepulcher, Del-phinus, nephew of Bishop Juvenal, is infatuated with Arcadia, He has a K bran-ded on his ear as did gal-ley-master Saturnilos. In-side Christ's tomb, Arcadia discovers the body of a man on the burial slab, also marked with K. Del- phinus admits he knows Kerinthos, and coaxes Ar-cadia to a Karpocratian sex cult that holds wives and purchased Bedouin girls in common. When she demands to leave the cultmaster fears she will reveal their location. Drugged, Arcadia is ab-ducted by camle to the desert fort of warlord Amir al-Shams, who supplies the cult's girls. Apelles, his boozy Greek engineer, admits Arcadia will be sold to a foreign king, yet re-fuses to help her escape. Getorius and al-Shira's search for her lead to the cult's den, where Satur-nilos is found dead of scorpion stings.
A climax involves Arcad-ia's rescue, the fate of Al-Shams and Aphrodisia, and Bishop Juvenal's tale of ransomed slave brothers: Kerinhos suc-ceeded as a merchant; al-Shams became a brutal warlord. When the couple is offered imperial funds to go to Egypt and verify the Coptic Church's ac-count of the Holy Family's
exile from King Herod, Getorius balks. Can Arcadia persuade him to go?
Prologue. Bethlehem, A.D. 1: Luke, a young medical student traveling to Alex-andria, is summoned to the home of Joseph, whose wife, Mary, gave birth to a son now suf-fering an infection. He treats the child just as soldiers arrive to search for male children under two. Luke bribes the commander to spare Immanuel and warns Joseph to escape on a caravan with him, going to Egypt. Luke keeps a diary of the journey.
Pelusium, A.D. 440: Getorius and Arcadia arrive in Pelusium, sent by Augusta Pulcheria to ver-ify a traditional route venerated by the Egyptian [Coptic] Church as that of the Holy Family's flight. Pelusium's Bishop Eu-sebius resents Constan-tinople's meddling, as does Patriarch Cyril at Alexandria. Before Gov-ernor Abinnaeus and his wife, Dorothea, move to a winter villa, he trysts with Pennuta, his Kushite con-cubine, who wants him to marry her. Papnuthios, an Egyptian physician prac-ticing vivisection, reports the discovery of an an-cient papyrus in the mum-my of a Kushite prince, who purportedly be-friended Joseph and taught Jesus ethereal div-ining and healing arts. The account will support a heresy of Nestorios, now exiled in a desert monas-tery for denying that Christ is both True God and True man. When Pennuta is found mur-dered, Abinnaeus is blamed, but her brother, Shandi, his scheming business partner, con-spires with a secretary to obtain the papyrus and help Nestorios escape to confront Cyril. When news comes of Pulcheria's de-tention in a palace coup, the couple's imperial sup-port evaporates, lesving them stranded in a hostile Egypt.
An intriguing tale that blends 5th century his-torical events in Egypt with surviving Isis and crocodile god worship, and a forthcoming split of the Coptic Church from Greek Orthodoxy at Con-stantinople.