After ten years of servitude, Nish is about to be released from the blackest prison of his corrupt father, the maimed God-Emperor, Jal-Nish Hlar. Using the sorcerous Profane Tears, Gatherer and Reaper, Jal-Nish has crushed all opposition and is remaking Santhenar in his depraved image.The Oppressed peoples of the world see Nish as a messianic figure, the Deliverer, who promised long ago to return and cast down his father. Unfortunately, Nish has no choice but to repudiate that solemn oath, for he's a broken man, powerless and alone. Even worse, his father is trying to seduce Nish into becoming his lieutenant and, faced with the unbearable alternative of another ten years in prison, Nish isn't sure he can resist the temptation.
The one person who can help him is little Maelys, a shy, bookish dreamer forced by duty to use Nish for an ignoble purpose. But Maelys is the last woman he wants, and she carries a secret that is more likely to destroy Nish than save him.