At fourteen winters of age, Joen Bjarn'son was forced to listen to his mother's rape and murder while being constrained to silence. Overcome by rage, he withdraws into himself. Then he does something very stupid. He lashes out at the man responsible.
But Primate Heglin Roark, head of the Ansélan church, strikes back with a vengeance. His plans to deal with Joen's kind are basically genocidal. Joen's campaign of rage against him results in the first general purge of the Known in Roark's Ascendancy.
The entire Guild in which Joen grew up receives total destruction. Shield soldiers of the church invade break off piles of wood and debris from the homes and shops inside the walls—torching that entire area of the city. Other squads of the Shield, led by the elite Thorn warriors, seal all the gates of the Guild walls so no one can escape.
With his father and mother, all of his world of experience is also gone. He's devastated by his guilt, insignificance, and isolation. The feelings wash over him bringing him to his knees on a hard studio floor in the mountains to which he was brought unconscious by a princely stranger fleeing the flames in the city. Yet Lord Ansél has plans for him beyond his wildest imagination. Joen finds himself called to lead the entire island continent of Ferellon into freedom. Absurd!
Far off, in the king's Castle Fendrale, Princess Raqhel Fendrale lies in her suite of luxury terrified by her brother's physical advances the morning before. What was to become of her? What should she do?