In the summer of 1140, Oliver Pascal returns home from a long pilgrimage to discover England ravaged by civil war and his family lands forfeit to the conflict between Henry I's daughter Mathilda, and her cousin Stephen of Blois, who has seized the crown at her expense. Riding to the Earl of Gloucester's keep at Bristol, Oliver stumbles upon the aftermath of a mercenary attack on an isolated village. Among the survivors are Richard, an illegitimate royal son and half-brother to the Earl himself, and the boy's young nurse Catrin. Widowed, stubborn and proud, she has much in common with Oliver, a man still grieving for a wife lost in childbirth.
At Bristol, Catrin meets Ethel, a wise woman and midwife, who begins to train her in the healing arts and is instrumental in bringing Oliver and Catrin together as lovers. But the endurance of that love is threatened by the perils of injury in battle, the danger of childbirth, the upheaval of continuing civil war, and the risk of loving in exchange for nothing but heartbreak. In the end Catrin must decide where her true loyalties lie.