One of Holland's tangiest tales of tangled intrigue--with the gold-domed Byzantine wonders of Constantinople (and its exquisite ceremonial folderol) as background. In the ninth-century reign of the Empress Irene, Constantine I's empire has ""shrunk like a puddle in the sun""--and Irene herself is a silver-tongued Dragon Lady who had her son's eyes put out (as a kindness to save him from execution for treason). So now Irene sends lovely, devoted servant Theophano on a labyrinthian spying mission, re the movements of would-be usurper, wealthy John Cerulis. And during one of her double-agenting forays Theophano meets Hagan, a giant Frankish ""barbarian""--whose brother is killed by the assassins on Theophano's trail. So, seeking revenge, Hagan is off to see Irene. Meanwhile, however, Irene is continuously plotting to save the Empire from Iconoclasts--assorted pious sects rallying around the iconoclast hermit Daniel. Daniel will become a pawn in the delicate maneuvering of power stances by Irene, Cerulis, and the loyal treasurer Nicephoros (who will become--through curious contrivances--the next Emperor). And, while dark deeds are blooming like mushrooms, there are splendid doings at the Hippodrome--where chariot whiz Prince Michael, an arrogant royal cousin, competes for the Golden Belt against humble Ishmael. But eventually Ishmael comes under the spell of Daniel and may throw the race; the passionate love of Hagan and Theophano is fraught with doubt; so tragedy awaits. With glitter, glinting knives, pseudo-sophisticated political chat, and a brace of sweat-flecked chariot races: veteran Holland at her peppiest.