|The Misplaced Legion|
|Followed by||An Emperor for the Legion|
The novel begins with tribune Marcus Scaurus leading three cohorts of one of Julius Caesar's legions in Gaul on a "reconnaissance in force" when they are confronted by a Gaulish force twice their size led by Viridovix. The initial fight was hard but the superior numbers of the Gauls left the Romans surrounded. Viridovix fought his way through the Roman defensive ring and confronted Scaurus. By unvoiced consent, both sides paused to watch their leaders fight a duel. Viridovix carried a druid's sword and was surprised to see Scaurus had one too as spoils of war. As the two blades neared for their first blow, they began to glow and a bright golden dome covered the Roman circle when they touched along with the clap of thunder. The Romans (and one obstreperous Celt) were transported to an unknown land.
The Romans made camp and the first night revealed unknown constellations indicating to them they were in a strange land. In the morning, a Videssian patrol led by Neilos Tzimiskes encountered their camp. Through signing and mime the two sides came to a peaceful arrangement for the Romans to march to a nearby town of Imbros and sign on as a mercenary company to the Empire.
The Romans wintered at Imbros where they learned the language and were inspected by an imperial commissioner named Nephon Khoumnos. Khoumnos approved them for the Imperial Guard and they were inducted the next spring after marching to Videssos the city with Tzimiskes as their guide and liaison. A moment of trouble arose when Scaurus and his men stood at attention rather than perform a proskynesis when the Avtokrator Mavrikios Gavras came to their barracks to inspect his new troops. However, being a military man himself, Gavras saw the Romans were an excellent military force and accepted their refusal as an acceptable accommodation to what he perceived as a religious belief.
The next night, a banquet was held in honor of the Romans entering service to the Empire. The servitor at the entrance to the Hall of Nineteen Couches, where the banquet was held, announced them as "Ronams" and Ronams they remained throughout the Empire from that day forth. The other guests tended to group into one of four cliques, civil servants, military officers, ambassadors and the womenfolk of the other three. Scaurus, not fully belonging to any of the three and shy with women, drifted and soon became bored. This led him to drink more than he might otherwise have and to try to leave early after the banquet itself had ended. Unsteady on his feet, Scaurus skidded on a greasy spot on the floor and accidentally spilled wine on the white robes of the Yezd ambassador Avshar. He deliberately took offence and challenged Scaurus to a duel. The Khatrish ambassador Taso Vones attempted to make peace but was rebuffed by Avshar.
The duel began and Avshar, a giant of a man, used his size to advantage as well as showing remarkable speed for his size. However, Scaurus fought with equal skill and strength forcing the ambassador back. Avshar began chanting in a dark language causing the torchlight to dim making it difficult for Scaurus to see. However, his druidic sword flared hot and gold and turned the spell. The fight continued and Avshar became frustrated. He tried to overpower the Roman by brute force but failed and Scaurus saw an opening. He feinted high, then low and sent a killing blow towards Avshar's head. His parry was too late but in avoiding it, Scaurus turned his sword slightly and so the flat of his blade struck Avshar's temple. He toppled unconscious but Scaurus spared him viewing killing a stunned man dishonourable.
A few nights later, Scaurus was awakened in the barracks by an unusual sound. In the dim light he saw a Khamorth nomad with a dagger stalking towards him. He arose from his bedding and the nomad charged. The two struggled for a moment but the noise awoke other Romans in the hall and the nomad was quickly overpowered. When Scaurus tried to pick up the dagger, it began glowing a sickly yellow-green and gave off a faint reek of decay. Gorgidas wrapped it in a strip of cloth and Scaurus was able to carry it to the Videssian Academy to consult with Nepos, a chair of sorcery there. As he walked, light from the rising sun hit the dagger and it began to burn giving off acrid yellow smoke. He dropped it but it quickly burnt out leaving the pommel and cloth wrapping intact but only a thin rod of steel remained where the blade had been.
Scaurus found Nepos in the Academy refectory having breakfast. He showed him the dagger and told him what had happened. Nepos exclaimed in horror but then picked up the dagger and rushed to the Romans' barracks with Scaurus following close behind. He questioned the bound nomad privately with only Gorgidas assisting him and discovered that Avshar was behind it. The Yezda wizard had bound a demon to the blade and if it had just pricked Scaurus it would have sucked out his soul and taken it to the deepest pits of Skotos' hell. Phos' sunlight destroyed the demon and with the nomad's soul also tied to the demon, he was dying. Nepos could do nothing for him but Avshar's actions forfeited the protection he enjoyed as an envoy and he could be arrested.