Salisbury 1388 and Hildegard arrives on the south coast of England after a daring dash back into the country, eluding Woodstock’s spies all the way from Avignon. When she left London six months previously Parliament, led by Woodstock, head of the King’s Council, had just impeached King Richard’s great ally, Michael de la Pole. But now things are worse than her worst nightmare.
Woodstock, recently made duke of Gloucester, has now turned his malice to the rest of Richard’s supporters. With no chance to speak in their own defence Parliament puts them on trial. One by one, thoughout the Lent Parliament, they are culled.
First it was Chancellor de la Pole, then the Archbishop of York, Alexander Neville, both forced to flee for their lives to refuge overseas.
Then it’s Richard’s Chief Justiciar, Tresilian, beheaded despite the magic charm he wears. Then the courageous Mayor of London, Nick Brembre. Then loyal Lord Salisbury and half a dozen chamber knights, some clerks, some servants. And so it goes. Inexorably, the chief supporters of the king are executed. Any opposition is savagely put down.
And then, ever closer to the king himself, his own tutor, Sir Simon Burley, a national war hero, the man who has been loco in parentis ever since Richard’s father, the Black Prince died, is dragged to the Tower in chains. Who next? The accusation is treason. The penalty, death.
Into this terror, Hildegard, Abbot de Courcy and his two monks militant, have to find their way. And Sir Simon must be freed.
With spies at every port they were lucky to get back into the country through the harbour at Lepe. From there, to Beaulieu Abbey, and, for Hildegard and Brother Gregory, on to Salisbury through the treacherous Royal Forest with its quagmires, outlaws and enemy militia.
Hildegard’s aim is to see her fourteen year old daughter, Ysabella, who is at nearby Clarendon Palace as damozel to a powerful countess but from day one she suspects that she has been followed. She is horrified when she hears a stranger asking around the taverns for a Mistress York. How can he know that name? Only the king’s chief spy, now reduced to low status in his flight from London to the safety of Salisbury Cathedral can know it. But surely he would not betray her to the enemy? And who is this stranger? Is he really Gloucester’s man or is he loyal to the king? Does he mean good or ill for Hildegard and, more diabolically, for her daughter, Ysabella?
Before she can discover the truth the body of an apprentice is discovered within the cathedral precinct and Hildegard is drawn into a further mystery where no-one is what they seem.
With Brother Gregory beside her, she is set on a collision course with the dark forces driving Gloucester to rule England at any price. And, just as the great windlass in the cathedral tower begins to turn like the wheel of fortune, some rise – and others fall to their doom.