Isca is fallen; Antimone draws Her veil over the dead. Rictus, a young soldier of the city, is now ostrakr - homeless, devoid of purpose. He dons the red cloak of the mercenary and sets out to find a road for himself.
On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a fierce, barbaric people whose discipline and prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. If they did not war endlessly on themselves, they would conquer the world. Beyond their home in the remote Harukush Mountains, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf are united under the Great King of Asuria, who can call up whole nations to battle, and whose word is law.
But now the Great King's brother means to take the throne by force, and has sought out the Macht. Rictus - and ten thousand more mercenary warriors - will march into the heart of the Empire. They will become legends.
Kearney (This Forsaken Earth) retells Xenophon's Anabasis with great attention to detail but little novelty. The Macht, a race of mercenaries, are hired to sail across the oceans and serve as a conquering army for Arkamenes, who is bent on stealing his brother Ashurnan's throne and taking over the Ashur empire. When Ashurnan slays Arkamenes, the Macht are left stranded in the middle of the empire surrounded by hostile armies. Their quest to return home becomes the stuff of legend as they fight overwhelming odds to win their freedom. The story is simple enough to follow, but the characters themselves are forgettable: hard to identify with as men, easy to cheer for as a group. With no sense that the Macht will be anything other than victorious, the drama resides solely in how many named characters will die in the endless, indistinguishable battles. Kearney's considerable talent fails to come through in this unremarkable bloodfest.