Duncan corNial, the son of Clan Ailane’s warleader, has been exiled because of the enmity of other clans. Leaving the Highlands, he finds refuge in the nearby city of Nika, where he makes a new life for himself as a swordmaster and bounty hunter.
Meanwhile, back in the Highlands, his younger brother Llêw joins the Highland Guard, an elite body of guards assigned to the royal court in Nika. But before Llêw can get to Nika, Duncan kills a lord's son in a bar fight and flees, joining a caravan headed south to the country of Cantredd.
As a guard for the caravan, Duncan has further adventures in company with the caravan merchant, Guthsund. While defending a woman under attack, Duncan is badly wounded—and after help arrives from the Blues, the religious society she belongs to, he will discover that strange things happen around them.