John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff—and his neighbors?
Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.
Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place—his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?
“It was because of the demons, sir! Released swarms of demons, they did, what with all their digging round that pagan temple! Should have been destroyed a long time ago, if you ask me.”
The City Defender glared at the captured arsonist, a man named James. “Demons, is it? Explain yourself."
“Sir, I am a law-abiding seller of fish. Well-known for the excellence of my wares, landed fresh each day. Don’t sell anything over a day old. Work hard, pay my taxes, attend church faithfully, and—”
“Yes, yes, a pillar of the community. But what has this to do with your criminal behavior last night?”
John, newly returned from Lechaion, was present as injured party as the City Defender conducted an arraignment interview. The arsonist was a rough-looking man, his upper arm and shoulder wrapped in bandages. The door of the whitewashed room stood open to allowing the mixed odors of the city to enter on the rectangle of strong sunlight lying across a mosaic floor depicting a pastoral scene.
But not enough sunlight to dispel the darkness of Megaran justice unfolding before him, John thought.
“And then there was those unspeakable rites they was doing in that ruin,” the seller of fish continued. “Orgies, sir. Blood. Torture. Bound to free demons. And as we all know, they can take over a man, hook their sharpened claws into our souls, cause us to do terrible things we would not dream of, could not dream
of, as sober and responsible citizens.”
The man appeared ready to burst into tears at the thought of what acts he might be capable of doing while in his possessed state.
“And so those others with you, companions you say you cannot identify, were all possessed by demons, leading to the crimes committed last night?”
The accused man nodded violently. “And my wife is worried about what I might do next. What if I get up at night and murder everyone in their beds? What if I start selling fish I know to be unfit to eat? What if I suddenly attack Halmus, who has done so much for Megara?”
The City Defender raised his hand for silence. “So your defense boils down to the fact you and your fellow conspirators were possessed by demons forcing you to set fire to this man’s property and assault his servant?”
The fish seller nodded.
“I see,” the City Defender went on. “I have heard this defense before and there is much in what you say. Given your sterling character, I find it to be acceptable. I am accepting it on condition you consult your church on appropriate ways to free yourself of the demon possessing you. In addition I order you to make a large donation to the church. No compensation is due to the owner of the property under the circumstances. If he can collect
it from demons he is free to do so. You may go.”
The seller of fish bowed, mumbled his gratitude, and scuttled away.
John hid his consternation.
“Now,” said the City Defender, “about the charges levied against you."