book cover Part One

1347. The Crimea. Kierkive is a Mongol, a lieutenant in the Kipchak army of Gorgonovitch Khan, ragtag remnant of the deteriorating Western Empire of the Golden Horde. Gorgonovitch and his army have laid siege to a Genoese merchant outpost just east of Kaffa. But the men are dying from plague and running low on supplies, so the general dreams up a gruesome plan: catapult their plague-dead into the enemy camp. That will distract their defenses! Kierkive challenges the plan on the grounds that it dishonors their dead and violates ancestral tradition and the Mongol Code--besides it is cowardly! So Gorgonovitch has Kierkive bound and tied and cast over the castle walls along with his exhumed comrades.

Half-dead, Kierkive is taken captive by the Genoese, and his life is spared only through the intervention of the young Theresa of Siena, a lay Dominican, referred to by the soldiers as "the angel of the wastelands."

Part Two

The Genoese head home to Italy. From Asia to Europe the black plague marches like a conquering alien spawn, and with it comes bound in chains the Mongol warrior Kierkive, the penitent, the Plagueman, "apexed, skewered, lost and nailed upon the crossroads of two ancient worlds."

Giovanni Piccolomini, Theresa's father, meets Theresa in Genoa with a small caravan. The merchants head south to Siena where before Bishop Guido Kierkive will stand trial as a penitent and claimant of sanctuary. Traveling in chains and under guard, Kierkive nonetheless makes his escape at the very moment bad Bartolino Rozzi and his bandits attack the sleeping caravan. But rather than abandon the girl who saved his life, Kierkive turns back, defeats the bandits and saves the lives of his captors. Even as he is poised to slay the bandit leader, Theresa pleads for Rozzi's life, and there in the shadows of the Val di Fafora Kierkive is again confronted with that mystic selfless kindness so utterly new to him, a faith he understands little more than the mysterious passion of that young girl who pleads for the lives of her enemies.

Part Three

They arrive in Siena, Kierkive a hero, Kierkive and Theresa a romantic item: "Soon, word of the exploits of Theresa Piccolomini and the Mongol warrior spread through the markets and the shops and the seventeen districts. The name 'Kierkive' is on the minds of every politician and priest, the lips of every soldier and mother, and the hearts of every maid and maiden in the city. Minstrels are already composing the songs, bards the tales, and children the rhymes."

At the court of Bishop Guido, Kierkive is granted asylum and begins his catechol probation. That night, Kierkive, Theresa, her father Giovanni Piccolomini, and an entourage of friends and companions go out on the town for a winter night's Il Palio festa celebration.

Then comes the plague. Its dark fury sweeps through Italy and north across Europe. Kierkive stays by Theresa, assisting her in her ministry to the suffering, the dying, the stinking. More and more he grasps the girl's selfless mystic vision, though the clouds of an obsessive passion also lie upon their shared horizon.

Part Four

1348. The Abbey of Belcaro, wherein Theresa, Kierkive, and companions have fled the city and taken shelter. Mother Harmonium and her sisters turn the old castle into a refugee camp and hospital. But Kierkive and his friends Fuccini and Petracelli must go back to Siena to rescue the bishop from a plot of torture and blackmagic revenge perpetrated by the descendants of survivors of the French Inquisition's anti-Albigensian Crusade a century before. In the meantime, the Abbey Belcaro is attacked by mercenaries from the south--plague madness continues to spread across the land. Upon their return, Kierkive, Fuccini, Bishop Guido and Petracelli are faced with a bloody tapestry of devastation, pillage and rape. Theresa, battered in body and soul, feels the inexorable pull of revenge, succumbing to the seduction of violence at that very moment when Kierkive's soul is pulled toward the mystic vision of mercy he'd been learning from her.

Part Five

Word of the famous Mongol convert reaches north to the Palace of the Popes in Avignon (the Papal Court was in France from 1307-1379). Kierkive is called to the capital of fourteenth century Christendom, where his martial fame requires of him a "voluntary" term of service in the elite Papal Guard. There Kierkive faces one of the great ironies of the Christian faith, a corrupt and violent Church claiming allegiance to a merciful God. There Papal Curia and Cardinal College fight over issues of peasant revolts, plague, the slaughtering of the Jews and what to do about King Charles IV. Kierkive is drawn into the conflict and political intrigues, torn between the humble faith of his mentor, Theresa, and the opulent conquering religion of a Church in decadent decline.

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