In Guy Gavriel Kay's Trakesia, "...[t]o say of a man that he was sailing to Sarantium was to say that his life was on the cusp of change: poised for emergent greatness, brilliance, fortune -- or else at the very precipice of a final and absolute fall as he met something too vast for his capacity." Master mosaicist Caius Crispus, also known as Crispin, finds himself not so much sailing
to Sarantium as traveling there overland, in response to an imperial summons to assist in the rebuilding of the Great Sanctuary of the Jaddite faith - a summons that is in fact directed not to Crispin, but to his mentor and business partner Martinian.
In the wake of the recent plague deaths of his wife and children, Crispin has no other ties to keep him from leaving his home in Varena, and Martinian declares himself too old and settled to undertake such a journey. By responding to a decree the Emperor intended for another, Crispin knows he risks incurring the wrath of an all-powerful man. His travel plans get even more complicated when he is given a dangerous message by his Queen, to be delivered only to the Emperor himself. An encounter with an otherworldly entity on his way to the imperial capitol shapes Crispin's eventual vision for the work he plans for the sanctuary. Despite an unpromising, even frightening beginning, he discovers allies and kindred spirits in unexpected places, and begins to make a place for himself even as political tides shift in ways that could topple the empire.