A darkly stirring tale of crime and punishment within the stormy introversions of a decent, soul-shriving officer in Cromwell's army, and the bloodthirsty, blood-coursing progress of war--in this case the march westward of Lord Fairfax's Parliamentary Army in 1645 England. A model of temperance and moderation, a man of both dignity and laughter, Captain John Oxenham, husband of pretty, gentle Lucy, is wary of the extremes of the fanatic Puritan. However, John is brought up short when, after an innocent concert of song to pleasure his troops, he's accused of ungodly behavior by a sinister colonel. Now John begins to give his soul some tender attention, and the battleground within starts to echo the chaos and carnage without. For instance, there is his former gardener, Cardewe, in the ranks, reminding John of a sin of his youth. And what of that woman in rags, who's ever-molding in her hands a ball of clay--into a silently screaming face? After several appearances by the wayside, her identity will be made known. Deeper and deeper John sinks into the shadow of guilt, as he weds his old sin to the possibility that he has caused an obscene punishment for one man, execution for another. In the meantime at home, Lucy, together with John's gross father and his grim second wife, has received an elegant visitor, sly and salacious. And what causes the suicide of Lucy's stepmother-in-law, drowning with her untold secret? The battles--horrible, exhilarating--drive on, and John, in a vise between Cardewe and damnation, gets the release he sought--the garland of a hero--but at a price. At the last, John will ride home carrying a child named Sprigg (whose parentage has been revealed), on the way to finding his beloved Lucy, tainted and tricked by evil. By the author of the inventive The Forest on the Hill, 1982 (fictional vignettes of a village through the ages), this is a vigorous, prickly tale, smoky with the carnage of old battles (Girling has a riveting sense of the mood and method of the killing game) and the inner tumult of souls invaded by guilt and outsized obligations.