Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Sign of the Blood by Laurence O'Bryan


The first Christian emperor faces ruthless enemies on his journey to power.

 Cool mist settles over the legion advancing toward the Persian army. Constantine, the son of an emperor, the Roman officer leading the attack, tells his men to halt - something is wrong.

Before long, the battle rages. He frees a slave named Juliana. She is half-Persian and half-Roman. As they are pursued to Britannia over land and sea, he learns that she can see the future - his future.

It is 306A.D., long before Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and became the first Christian emperor.

To ensure he survives, he must eliminate his enemies. But who must die first? The priestess, Sybellina, who joined them in Rome and practices dark and seductive magic? Or the brutal legion commanders who surround his father? Or, as Juliana suspects, are those who want him dead even closer?

 A gripping historical novel about Constantine’s bloody rise to power, the woman who helped him, and the real reason he supported a persecuted Christian minority, a decision which changed the world into the one we know. 

 Praise for The Sign of the Blood

 "Exciting and original." - SJA Turney, author of Praetorian.

 It is an enthralling story from start to finish…” The Coffee Pot Book Club



Lower Armenia, 297A.D.,

Constantine looked up through a gap in the canopy of trees a flock of birds flew past, silhouetted against an azure blue sky. They were hurrying, beating their wings as if, like the army he was attached to, they were being pursued, chased by the Persian army. He hoped their flight did not auger his fate. Every action he took part in would be judged to a high standard, not only because the junior Tribune of the Jovian guard, the Emperor of the East’s personal legion, had to be regularly assessed for his ability to lead, but also because he was Flavius Valerius Constantine, the son of the Emperor of the West.

When he looked back down along the steep embankment, a sudden dizziness almost overcame him. He had to close his eyes to steady himself. When he opened them, Persian horsemen had entered the narrow track below. There were ten of them.

The observation point he’d picked was a good one, behind a drift of fallen pine tree branches, on a bed of quills, where he could peer through gaps in the brush to see the track below.

“Awoooooooooooo.” A distant wolf howl cut through the air.

just as abruptly, it ceased. A hush settled over the forest. The strap at his right knee was cutting into him again.  It could wait, movement would give them away.

He lay still, breathing softly. His dirty crimson cloak covered him almost completely, letting him fade into the forest gloom.

His companion shifted his position slightly. Constantine moved a little forward to get a clearer view of the path below. His hand gripped the pommel of his sword.

The lead Persian scout halted, raised a gloved hand to stop the riders behind him. He scanned the forest and the incline. His helmet glinted as he turned one way then the other.

Then the Persian scout stared straight at him. Constantine stared back. There was no way the man could see him. A column of evening sunlight shone in the air between them. Midges and dust motes swirled in its beam. Perhaps the man was looking at them.

The Persian riders whispered to each other. Their lead scout threw his head back, sniffed the air.

"Find the Persian camp," Constantine had been told before he’d led the scouting mission out that afternoon. The officer hadn’t bothered repeating what almost everyone knew, that no other scouting mission had managed the task in the previous three nights, since they’d been skirting the mountains.   

A blood-red ant crawled onto the back of Constantine’s hand. His skin prickled. He watched as it navigated its way up his thickly haired arm. Then another appeared, on his middle finger.

Sclick. He scanned the line of horsemen. One of the Persians had drawn his sword and was examining it.

The lead Persian scout shook his head as if irritated, said something which made those around him laugh, then backed his horse off the trail and waved those behind him to pass him by.

Towards the rear of their line were four prisoners, boys, pickings from a local village most likely, all naked, bound at the wrists, and trotting to keep up with the horse each was roped to. Some of their faces were purple from bruising. One whimpered as he hobbled along trying to keep up.

Anger rose through his chest. Even the most debauched Senators in Rome sickened at the practices of the Persian King. If the stories he’d heard were true, blinding would be the next thing in store for that boy. His terrified screams as they did it would put fear deep and far into the hearts of the others who’d been taken with him.

When the last of the riders and prisoners had gone past the Persian officer followed.

Constantine waited, listening to the birds, until the sound of the horsemen died. Then he stood, turned to the Armenian guide rising to his feet beside him.

"Let’s follow them,” he whispered.

 "Are you sure? This is why your previous scouts went missing. They got too close to the enemy."

 Constantine jabbed a finger into the man's chest, hard. "We’re not going back empty-handed. But we’re not following this track either." 

“Where are we going?” 

"That way.” Constantine pointed at the ridge, visible through the trees, in the direction the Persian had taken.

The Armenian sighed. "My friends tell me you Romans will lose this war. That I should change sides, before it’s too late. The Persians pay well, they tell me."

Constantine stepped back, as if measuring the distance between them. A bird took noisy flight through the trees.

“Your Emperor should give command of these scouting missions to men who know these lands, not to Romans." The Armenian spat, then checked his sword hung properly from his belt.

"You know you are lucky," Constantine replied.

"Lucky?” The Armenian speedily brushed dirt and twigs from his stained leather tunic, then threw his hands in the air. "I'm a scout attached to a Roman army being chased by a Persian force intent on its annihilation. Yes, Fortuna surely smiles on me."

"No Lucius, you're lucky because I’m giving you another chance to prove how loyal you are.” Constantine raised his sword a little from its scabbard.

 Lucius’ eyes widened.

 “We will find the Persian camp, Lucius.” He let his sword drop back into its scabbard.

"Isn’t Roman gratitude a wonderful thing." Lucius turned on his heel, headed for where the horses were hobbled downwind.

When Constantine reached the horses, Lucius had already mounted. He didn’t look at Constantine, just kicked his horse and headed away in the direction Constantine had pointed, sitting high in his saddle, scanning all around as he went.



Laurence O'Bryan

I spent twenty years studying Roman history and reading every book about Constantine the Great I could find. I also visited numerous sites where my Roman series is set, including in London, where I lived for ten years, Jerusalem, Rome, Trier, York, Nicomedia, and Istanbul.

The first novel in the series, The Sign of The Blood, is about the rise to power of Constantine the Great, the women who helped him, and the others who wanted him dead.

The Road to The Bridge, the second novel in the series, is about the lead up to the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. and how Constantine the Great lured Maxentius, his rival emperor, out of Rome.

The third novel in the series, The Cursed City, is about the dedication of New Rome, later to be called Constantinople, and how Constantine fell out with his wife, Fausta, and his son Crispus, and what he had to do to survive.

To join the mailing list and receive news of these books use this link: 

There are five novels in the puzzle series, The Istanbul Puzzle, The Jerusalem Puzzle, The Manhattan Puzzle, The Nuremberg Puzzle, and The Cairo Puzzle.

There is a story link from The Istanbul Puzzle to The Cursed City.

My books have:
* Achieved #1 ranking on Amazon,
* Been translated into 10 languages.

My roots go back to a small estate deep in the Mountains of Mourne near the Silent Valley, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

I went to school in Dublin, drank way too much, studied English and history, then business, then IT at Oxford University.

My research has taken me all over the world, from San Francisco to deep in the Muslim world. There are secrets everywhere. I enjoy writing about them. I hope you enjoy reading about them.

Connect with Laurence