The 14th century is defined by chivalry, superstition and religious fervor, ancient texts and mythology mixed with solemn rituals, to wit: the widespread and respected study of alchemy, an exploration of the extraordinary properties of base metals, promising the ultimate reward, the secret of life itself.
In 1358 England, the living converse freely with ghosts, good and evil joust for ascendancy, and Margaret Kendall, widow of a rich merchant, marries Gilbert, the second son of Hubert de Vilers. Leaving the priesthood to marry the wealthy widow, Brother Gregory becomes protector, as well, to two small, mischievous stepdaughters.
Although she attempts to shield herself from the watchful eyes of others, trained midwife Margaret has the gift of healing; she also bears the considerable burden of her brother-in-law, the bad-tempered and envious Hugo, who covets her fortune for himself.
Newly knighted by a local Duke, the de Vilers travel to France to fight under his banner, the result a tragedy for the family. Upon their return, Gilbert (Gregory) is missing, assumed dead, Hubert perhaps mortally wounded and Hugo determined to wrest Margaretís fortune for himself. To that end, Hugo quickly marries, but before he can place Margaret in a convent, she escapes to London with her children.
Trusting that Gilbert is alive, Margaret searches London for a hidden fortune to purchase her husbandís freedom. With the aid of her friends, herbalist, Mother Hilde and alchemist, brother Malachi, Margaret travels to France after learning that his ransom has been purchased by the Count de St. Medard.
St. Medard is a man of evil intent who thrives on twisting the wills of others to his own, determined to break Gilbert rather than release him. An enthusiastic student of alchemy, the Count aspires to learn the same magical secrets as Margaretís friends, Malachi and Hilde, who are conversant with the spirit world. The three travelers hope to outwit St. Medard and free Gilbert in a journey plagued with dangers and betrayal at every turn.
Margaret is easy prey, soon trapped by the malevolent Count, who feasts on little children and damsels in distress. But even after Gilbertís rescue, the party is besieged with difficulties, chased across the mountains by a renegade Archpriest and his murderous band, unable to secure passage home by ordinary means.
Tapping into the marrow of 14th-century Europe, this is an intriguing mix of religion, alchemy, knighthood, misbegotten villains and truculent ghosts, a harrowing journey fraught with disaster, historical fiction at its best, energetic and utterly consuming.