Durham County, circa mid-1500s. Lord Maxim Seymour, Marquess of Bradbury, is living in exile after being falsely accused of plotting the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I.
His title, possessions, and properties have been taken from him and given to his accuser, the father of his betrothed. Wishing to seek revenge, he infiltrates his (former) home and attempts to kidnap his beloved, Lady Arabella, before she is to wed another. Two of his hirelings, who are portrayed as loyal but slightly bumbling and dimwitted, inadvertently kidnap the wrong maiden.
Lady Elise Radborne is unhappily living with her abusive and greedy uncle after her father’s disappearance and supposed death. Her uncle, as well as other family members, are all pressuring her to tell them where her father’s treasure is hidden. She is frustrated but is biding her time until she can locate and hopefully rescue her father. In the meantime, she has taken on the role of serving her uncle and cousin, Arabella. On the night of Arabella’s wedding, Elise enters her cousin’s bedchamber to assist her when she is surprised by her kidnappers.
After being gagged, rolled up in a rug, hidden under a pile of hay on a bouncing cart, forced to endure a sea voyage from England to Germany, and then shown the dilapidated and dirty ruins she will now be calling home, she finally meets her captor (Maxim) who is surprised and angered by the mix-up. Their initial reaction to each other is amusing. She constantly provokes him hoping he’ll send her back home, i.e. putting thistles in his bed, etc., which makes him fit to be tied. He looks at her differently, however, when his best friend, a seafaring captain, merchant-trader, and member of the Hanseatic League, Nicholas, takes an interest in Elise and starts courting her.
Many adventures ensue as Maxim works to prove his innocence and gain favor once again with the Queen, and Elise has to unravel many entanglements to solve the mystery of her missing father. The bond between the two is very touching and very modern for the times, I would imagine. It was actually great to see how their small group of friends bonded and came together when there was a need.
It was a nice little world created by Woodiwiss, but I think the story could have been told in much less than 658 pages.