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Authors: Richard Blake

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical

The Curse of Babylon

Also by Richard Blake

 

Conspiracies of Rome

The Terror of Constantinople

The Blood of Alexandria

The Sword of Damascus

The Ghosts of Athens

The Curse of Babylon

 

 

Richard Blake

 

 

 

 

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2013 Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

 

1

 

Copyright © Richard Blake 2013

 

The right of Richard Blake to be identified as the Author of the

Work has been asserted by him in accordance with

the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be

otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that

in which it is published and without a similar condition being

imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance

to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

 

eBook ISBN 978 1 848 94705 4

Trade paperback ISBN  978 1 444 70973 5

 

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

 

www.hodder.co.uk

To my dear wife Andrea

And to my little daughter Philippa

And to my mummy

Contents

 

Acknowledgements

 

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

 

The couplet in Chapter 19 is from
The Review
, by Richard Duke (1658–1711).

 

The verse in Chapter 27 is from the
Epic of Gilgamesh
(c.1500 BC), translated in 1920 by Albert T. Clay, and published on the Project Gutenberg archive of public domain e-texts. Translation:

 

May he make thine eyes see the prophecy of thy mouth!

May he track out (for thee) the closed path!

May he level the road for thy treading!

May he level the mountain for thy foot!

 

The verse in Chapter 27 is from Homer,
Iliad
, Book I, 1–4. Translation: Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679).

 

The quotation that heads Chapter 42 is attributed to Tacitus, but is from Dio Cassius (c.AD 150–235),
Roman History
, book 59, c. 30 and translated from Greek by the author.

 

The poem in Chapter 57 is in Middle Persian (c.7th century). Author and translator unknown. Source: Wikipedia. Translation:

 

I have a counsel from the wise,

From the advice of the ancients.

I will pass it upon you.

By truth in the world,

If you accept this counsel,

It will be your benefit for this life and the next.

 

The quotations in Chapter 58 are from Herodotus (c.484–425 BC),
Histories
, Book VIII, c. 54 and Book VII, c. 223–4 – translated by the author.

Prologue

 

Canterbury, Wednesday, 17 June 688

 

What do you say to a boy of fifteen when you’re sending him to his death? The easy answer is you say nothing. After so many repetitions of the dream, there was nothing more to be said. I was staring into the face of someone who’d been dead over seventy years. He’d volunteered to serve. He’d then volunteered for nearly certain death. If that weren’t enough, I had been only nominally in charge at the Battle of Larydia. I’d been a mile away when he went into battle. At the head of a frontal assault, I was hardly out of danger myself.

The easy answer never mattered. I looked into his eyes and saw him try for a nervous smile, then reach up to touch crisp and very dark hair. Another moment and I’d hear a voice behind me explain the plan of attack. It had all the boldness of desperation. We were three hundred men against forty or fifty thousand. Once the Persians were out of the mountain passes, nothing at all might stop them till they reached the walls of Constantinople. Hit them in the passes, though – and hit them in a manner suggesting we were the first wave of a bigger force – and they
might
crumple and make a run for it. But this part of the attack was the ultimate in desperation. Of the hundred men about to run down into the battle not one would return. A boy who was now shivering in the cold of a mountain dawn wouldn’t live to feel the noonday heat.

I’ve said I wasn’t there. I’d been watching events at the front of that gigantic invasion force. No place in this dream, though, for spying on Shahin as he put on his reluctant show. I knew that he was down in the pass, his back to me, ready to present a
certain object
to his master. I could almost see the cold glitter of the thing in its box, and the dark luxuriance of the box on a table spread with yellow silk. But almost seeing isn’t actual seeing. I was dreaming of events above the pass. I focused once more on the boy.

Fifteen is no age for dying. I’ve had six times that and more, and I could live a little yet. Familiarity aside, what makes the dream bearable on every repetition is that the boy never sees me. Behind me, the voice was now going over the plan. It made no mention of wider issues. It was the sort of talk you’d want if you were ever about to attack a force inconceivably larger than your own – cover those beside you; keep in their cover; don’t drop your weapon; don’t stop for booty; listen for the signal to pull back;
and go to the toilet now
! That always got a big laugh. The boy was looking through me, at the owner of the voice. Also behind me, the little priest was holding up an icon of Saint Michael. He would soon claim that no earthly hand had painted it, and that all who fell this day would be received straight into Heaven, washed clean of their sins. That would be followed by a loud cheer. Then as the sun rose higher in a sky turning a painful blue, they’d get into position for their downward rush into the butcher’s market.

And, all the while, I looked into the eyes of a boy whose mangled body I’d see later that day . . .

Chapter 1

 

It was dawn already. My jailor was in the room. ‘Get up, you lazy old bastard!’ he shouted in English, pulling the blanket off me. ‘Who should listen to you, blubbering away in your sleep, when every better man’s already finished saying his prayers? Get up, and give thanks to God that you aren’t yet in Hell!’

Unpredictable stuff, opium. You can hope it’ll blot out all the discomforts of age and give you a good night’s sleep. Mostly, it does. Then, every so often, it’ll give you the sort of spiritual burp that leaves you wondering if you’re not better off without it. I opened my eyes and waited for Brother Ambrose to come into what passes nowadays for focus. I found the gloom and the loud twittering of birds outside most provoking. But he’d not be nagging me this morning into my fine outgoing clothes, or stuffing me into that wheelbarrow again. That could warm my heart, if not my hands or feet.

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