Caesernii Charisis a teenage slave-girl born into a rich house near the borders of Italy and Pannonia in the Roman Empire. Her first sixteen years she has spent fairly decently - for a servant in the Roman Empire - because her master had educated her beyond her needs at work, in spite of his sister who considers teaching slaves to think an expression of useless sentimentality. Charis has been trained as a cook and actually commanded her master's kitchen until the day he was slain with all his trading convoy, allegedly by a host of barbarian criminals. Her master's uncompromising sister, married to a veteran from the war against the Jewish rebel Simon bar-Kochba, has inherited her and fled the environment where the murder had happened. Degraded to the level of a kitchen drudge and misplaced into the far reaches of the Empire, Charis dreams of returning to her far-away home town and contrives to run away from her new masters. During one such attempt, she gets enmeshed in the plot to establish a new deity in the Roman Empire: a fundamentalist cult from the Middle East that does not hesitate to spread terror and death when challenged.
Charis has a swarthy, southern-European complexion, black hair and is grown quite small, which tempts strangers at times to underestimate her age. Her looks are plain which may contribute to the fact that she has (so far) not suffered abuse in her household. From Apollodorus, the tutor of her house, she has received basic education that is not matched by practical experience; she has a mind of her own, however, which her master's sister does not approve of. Charis is afraid of dogs and of barbarian men but inclines to answer people, even those of higher rank, with blunt impudence before she has time to think about it. She considers herself smarter than she actually is, which causes her designs intended to avert trouble to backfire more often than not.