In the Summer of 1144, a strange calm has settled over England. The armies of King Stephen and Empress Maud, the two royal cousins contending for the throne, have temporarily exhausted other. On the whole, Brother Cadfael considers peace a blessing. Still a little excitement never comes amiss to a former soldier, and Cadfael is delighted to accompany his young friend, Brother Mark, on a mission of church diplomacy to his native Wales. But shortly after their arrival, the two monks are caught up in yet another royal feud. The Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd has banished his brother Cadwaladi, accusing him of the treacherous murder of an ally. The reckless Cadwaladi has retaliated by landing an army of Danish mercenaries, poised to invade Wales and retake his lost lands. As the two armies teeter on the brink of bloody civil war, Cadfael is captured by the Danes. His fellow prisoner is a headstrong young woman fleeing an arranged marriage-or perhaps her involvement in a murder.