Hilda is the second sister, the plain one, the overlooked, the put upon. She is also the finest needlewoman in Northumbria, though she distrusts anyone who tells her so. Her mother, Edith, was born a slave and seduced and married a thegn's son, a fact which embarrasses Hilda greatly.
Edith has tricked the local ealdorman into betrothing his only son and heir, Anfaeld, to Hilda, an arrangement unwelcome to everyone but Edith, and particularly to Hilda who would rather retire to a nunnery and spend her life in embroidery.
It is Hilda’s right to refuse the marriage, but the future of her mother and sisters may depend on her making the match, a role that should have fallen to her enchanting older sister Elswyth, who was kidnapped by vikingar three years earlier.
On the way to her wedding, Hilda meets a heartbroken king, his petulant child bride, an abbess who wrestles with a great torment, and the shy young man she is supposed to marry.
Feeling herself mistreated by them all, including her prospective mother-in-law, Hilda resolves to refuse the marriage and become a nun. But first she must solve the double enigma of what really happened to Elswyth, and why Anfaeld himself has not refused the marriage.