Rome in 609 AD. The empire has fallen. The city itself is rapidly falling into ruins. The streets are blocked with filth and rubble. Killers prowl by night. The barbarians outside await their moment. The Emperor, far off in Constantinople, has other concerns. The church is the one institution left intact, and is now flexing its own imperial muscles. Little did Aelric know, back in Canterbury, how getting someone's daughter with child would land him in this post-imperial snake pit. But "If I catch you in my realms" King Ethelbert had snarled at him, "I'll have your balls on a church plate, and fuck the priests." So off to Rome he must go - as secretary to Maximin, a priest sent back to gather books for the English mission. A chance encounter on the road outside Rome leads to a daring fraud. Its consequences follow them to Rome. They are followed. There is murder after murder. Soon, Aelric is involved in a race against time to find answers. Who is trying to kill him? Where are those letters and what do they contain? Who is the one-eyed man? What significance to all this has the Column of Phocas, the monument just put up in the Forum to celebrate a tyrant's generosity to Holy Mother Church? Proceeding via lechery, drunkenness, blasphemy, drug abuse, market rigging and pedantry, Aelric at last gets his answer. What he chooses to do with that answer will shape the future history of Europe and the world ...This novel blends historical detail with mystery, dark humour, and reflections on the decay of learning. Warning: it contains strong language, descriptions of extreme violence, and some sex, both straight and gay. Though conforming to the genre rules of historical detective fiction, it manages much else besides. A sequel is already in progress.