Mired in the ancient pagan superstitions and rigid religious dogma of the times, fourteenth-century Wales is the setting of this moody, moralistic tale. Women enjoy almost no social protections, dominated by husbands who can legally beat, maim, even kill them if warranted by the woman’s behavior.
In the patriarchal society of a country newly conquered by the English, Elise bears the brunt of Maelgwyn’s brutal nature and constant carping, spewing forth the Bible’s harshest warnings on the danger to man’s immortal soul through the evil of a woman. Their prearranged marriage has been a nightmare for Elise, the nightly repository of his rage and disdain.
In an act of self-protection, Elise strikes Maelgwyn down despite his imposing size; with the help of a loyal retainer, Annora, Elise disposes of his body in the Conwy River. Since the country is still reeling from the Great Mortality that has left corpses strewn from one end of the land to the other, the women hope that Maelgwyn’s will be mistaken for that of another plague victim, never anticipating that he might be rescued.
Heading on foot toward the place of Elise’s birth, the women hope to settle in Conwy and open a shop for herbal healing, there to spend their days without notice. Elise views herself as a murderer and cannot forgive the attack on her husband, even though it was in self defense. With the taint of sin on her soul, she is no longer desirable or lovable.
While Elise is tormented by her actions, the half-English, half-Welsh Gwydion ap Gruffydd is in France to do the king’s bidding. He is captured and held for ransom by a man who schemes with others in Wales to steal his lands and fortune. Ransomed, Gwydion returns to Wales only to find that his family has been brutally slain, the family castle now occupied by Sir Nicholas de Brueate and his mercenaries.
As he travels toward home, Gwydion meets and engages de Brueate, the villain, but is wounded and must fight another day. He is lovingly tended by Elise and Annora, who have stopped to rest on their own journey. As he convalesces, the young man falls in love with Elise but is deceived into thinking she will never suffer the attentions of a man.
Gathering heroes and villains, the damsel in distress, her shining knight, the evil de Brueate and soldiers who are either knightly or dastardly, including the resurrected and vengeful Maelgwyn, the author sets the stage for the ultimate denouement.
Fourteenth-century Wales is riotous, violent and arbitrary, the population thinned by the horrors of the plague, religious doctrine dictating the minutiae of daily life. This world is one of absolutes, the hand-to-hand combat of good and evil, the land of myth churning in the throes of its own evolution.