1036 and King Cnut is dead. He has passed over his eldest son Harefoot to name last-born Harthacnut, son of Queen Emma, as heir. Emma's long-deserted sons by ex-king Ethelred, Edward and Alfred, living in Normandy, receive a come-home-all-is-forgiven letter--and Alfred goes. He's welcomed by that charismatic power-broker, Earl Godwin of Wessex, but, in the village of Gildenford, Alfred--and his 600 followers--are suddenly set upon by Harefoot's men. How much of this massacre was plotted by Harefoot and how much by Godwin, with or without the aid of Emma? This question becomes key to the fate of the kingdom as Edward (the Confessor) finally ascends the throne. The human pivot point for all those issues and answers is young Brand, a yeoman's son attached to Godwin's household, who learns the Gildenford truth in bits, as does King Edward. A further, integral complication: the abduction of Brand's prioress sister by Godwin's son Sweyn, which leads to a peasant revolt, Sweyn's exile (spent a-Viking), and Godwin's disgrace. Through her steady illumination of Brand's consciousness, Anand (who knows the terrain) makes the events leading up to 1066 the convincing result of contradictions between real people--no mean feat.