Discovering the names of two women among Edward I's minstrels, the author ""wondered how it was that [they] had taken up. . . a life traditionally portrayed. . . as a male occupation."" The result is a briefing on the condition of the serf in 13th-century England, and on the contemporary practice of minstrelsy, but a mechanically plotted and peopled, totally humdrum story. When their serf father dies, eleven-year-old Pearl and her brother Gavin, twelve, run away from overlord Sir Geoffrey's domain--Pearl has heard that they'll otherwise be separated, Gavin has heard that they can secure their freedom by living for a year in a town. Their one worry is Sir Geoffrey's bowman Jack, whom Pearl once defied--so he might recognize her (and turn her in) if he saw her again. A sympathetic woodsman passes them along to his sympathetic town-dwelling sister who passes them along to simpatico minstrel Matill Makejoye who takes them into her troupe of traveling performers--where Pearl is found to have a natural gift for singing and for playing an elderly pilgrim's ""Burmese"" harp. (She becomes ""Pearl in the Egg"" as a result of Matill's observation that ""the music had been locked up inside her. . . like the stuff of an egg when the shell is tapped."") But Gavin, for whom the performing life is not worth the risk of apprehension, opts instead for apprenticeship to a town tradesman. And the dreaded Jack does keep turning up--at the last with Sir Geoffrey himself, both of them critically wounded. Pearl selflessly insists that the troupe save them; and Sir Geoffrey, recovering, rewards her with her freedom. All that remains is to make the historic connection with then-Prince Edward: he's about to go on a Crusade, his wife is going with him, so what better accompaniment than a performing troupe with women in it! A bunch of sticks going through predictable motions.