The mighty are undone by pride, the bold by folly, and the good by wistfulness.
Elswyth's mother was a slave, but her father is a thegn, and Drefan, the man she is to marry, is an ealdorman's son. But though Elswyth is content with the match, and waits only for Drefan to notice that she has come to womanhood, still she finds herself gazing seaward, full of wistful longing.
From the sea come Norse traders, bringing wealth, friendship, and tales of distant lands. But in this year of grace 793 the sea has brought a great Viking raid that has devastated the rich monastery of Lindisfarne, only a day's journey north of Elswyth's village of Twyford. Norse are suddenly devils incarnate in Northumbria, and when Elswyth spots a Norse ship approaching the beach, her father fears a Viking raid.
But the ship brings trouble of a different kind. Leif has visited Twyford many times as a boy, accompanying his father on his voyages. But now he returns in command of his father's ship and desperate to raise his father's ransom by selling a cargo of Christian holy books. There could be no more suspect cargo in the days after the Lindisfarne raid and when Drefan arrives, investigating reports of the sighting of a Norse ship, Elswyth must try to keep the peace between Drefan and Leif.
But Elswyth's wistful heart has found a new and perilous object.