An episode in the life of Mary Queen of Scots--her escape from detainment in Lochleven castle--is reimagined from the viewpoint of teenage Will Douglas, bastard son to the castle lord, who goes against his family's interest to plot and at last effect the queen's escape. Will's crushed reception of the news of his queen's execution 20 years later forms a parenthesis around the novel proper, which ends triumphantly as the queen rides off, her golden-red hair turned loose to the wind. Frivolous Will is first drawn to the queen's cause in hope of excitement and advantage for himself, but he soon becomes steadfastly devoted to her. His character changes in the process, but, as hinted from the start, he continues to play the jester. Finally, and extravagantly, he ""play[s] the role of my former self,"" as lord of misrule at the wild May Day party he stages to cover the escape. During her detainment, Mary's ""soft and mysterious light"" has half-enchanted all her jailers; but the primary loyalty of Sir William and his mother, the castle's real power, remain with Mary's villainous enemies. As Hunter tells it, her idealized Mary's stay in the castle is a period of spying and skulking, flaunting of swords, foiled plots and quivering confrontations, courtlike diversion for the resident ladies, desperate threats on the part of the queen's treacherous half-brother Moray, and pitiable courage on her own. Straight historical drama, with tight springs and flourish, for those who see the ""romance of history"" in terms of royal personages and their loyal co-conspirators.