The end of the First Century AD found the Roman Empire taxed to its far limits- the Emperor in constant need of money for his mad extravagances, and his officials venal, cruel, greedy for their cut. A few stood out as honest and loyal- Trajan, whom many hoped would succeed the beastly Domitian- Maturus in Roman Spain -- few others. This story is set in Spain, where Roman slaves are building bridges, aqueducts, roads- and where the slave-patrician born Gaius Julius Lacer- supervises the bridge over the Tagus, and yearns for the time when he has won his freedom. His owner, a famous architect, had kept his promise to Gaius' father to rear him as a patrician, to teach him his profession- and the slave was outstripping his master. But he had made enemies, particularly Classicus, who feared that his secret tampering with the treasure and the taxes would be revealed. Gaius he sends off -- ostensibly to find gold fields for the Emperor. Just how Gaius became involved in machinations concerning the guerrilla chieftains, how he helped save Spain for Rome, how he loved and married the slave girl, Penelope -- and how he sought friendship from the man who turned out to be his half brother adds up to a lush and complex story, in which there seem odd touches of half familiar tales as history and imagination blend. Overwritten at times -- with enough of plot for several stories -- it yet conveys much of an area and a period rarely portrayed.