In the once powerful empire of Al-Rassan, King Almalik Cartada is on the ascendancy, adding city after city to his realm aided always by the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan - poet, diplomat, soldier and assassin. Cartada's empire is threatened only by the ambitious Jaddite kings of the north who are eager to reclaim the lands they once held.
But the Jaddite lands are divided and their own celebrated military leader Rodrigo Belmonte and his war-band are forced into exile. Thus in the exquisite lakeside city of Ragosa, Rodrigo and ibn Khairan meet and serve - for a time - the same monarch. And observing the byplay between the two men, is the beautiful, brilliant physician, Jehane, who herself becomes a crucial player as the peninsula is swept to the brink of holy war . . .