Mistress Adelia, a Sicilian-trained doctor specializing in autopsy, is ordered by Henry II to accompany his ten year old daughter, Princess Joanna, to Sicliy for her wedding to King William. Adelia, along with Mansur, her Arab protector, will be traveling as Joanna's personal physician, in addition to the royal doctor, and Joanna's various court attendants and servants. Henry sends Adelia's lover, Rowley, the Bishop of Saint Albans, to give her the news. At first Adelia is thrilled to be going home to Sicily, where she hopes to meet with her parents and introduce them to her and Rowley's daughter, Allie. But Henry is afraid he will lose Adelia, his best kept secret weapon, so he orders that her daughter must stay behind as an assurance that Adelia will come back to England. He orders that Allie and her nurse, Gyltha, be housed for the duration under the care and protection of Queen Eleanor, who is under house arrest after trying, with the help of her sons, to overthrow Henry. With little choice but to comply, Adelia sets off on the long journey by sea and by land, with a company of hundreds, to deliver Joanna safely to the hands of the Sicilian king.
Meanwhile, unknown to Joanna, a monster is lurking amongst the royal procession. Scarry, a lunatic from the previous book, Grave Goods, managed to escape from Henry's men and is biding his time, waiting for the opportunity to avenge the death of his lover, Wolf, who died by Adelia's hand in an act of self-defense. He sets about to destroy Adelia by causing a series of misfortunes to befall the procession, causing injury, sickness, and even death to members of the procession. He is so clever in his tricks that people begin to believe Adelia and Mansur are the cause of this bad luck and they become outcasts, even though they were to be given all the respect and protection due to them at the request of Henry II. As the story unfolds Adelia and Mansur are put in grave danger, subjected to unbelievable prejudice and cruelty, then rescued by amazing circumstance, forced to do miracles of medicine in primitive conditions, and once again restored to the royal train, upon reaching Siciliy.
This is my favorite in the series so far. So many twists and turns, so much action. I was never quite sure who Scarry was. He is well-hidden and while there were several allusions to his identity, there were enough ringers thrown in that I wasn't able to guess his identity for sure until it was revealed. I also enjoyed the history that is conveyed through the story. I didn't know much about the persecution of the Cathars or anything about Princess Joanna and her marriage at age 10.
And the ending... Well, I had tears in my eyes and I was so disappointed to find that the last pages of the book were author's notes and not the ending that I was looking for. Please, please, please, let the next book come out quickly!