A simple farmer's daughter and a veteran patrolman fall in love after fighting a monstrous creature together, Fawn is a farm girl heading south to the town of Glassforge from her home to hide an unwanted pregnancy.
Along the way she stops at a cottage for rest and food, and on the advice of the woman of the house she hides when she sees a patrol of Lakewalkers appear. They patrol the area for bandits and other threats, but are mistrusted by many due to their nomadic habits and rumors of black magic.
Dag is a Lakewalker with the patrol, he and his troupe are out scouting after a creature called a malice, a monster which is able to control people's minds. Lakewalkers do have small magics of their own, connected to their "ground" or lifeforce, he sees Fawn hiding and senses her bright ground.
After leaving the farm his troupe finds a group of bandits and a mud-person, they attack and Dag gives chase after one of the bandits that escapes along with the mud-person. When he catches up with them a ways down the road he finds them attacking Fawn, whom they have waylaid when she got back on the road.
He rescues Fawn, who is shaken but unhurt. She asks about the mud-person and Dag explains that it is a servant of the malice, which can create humanoid servants from lesser animals.
To Fawn's dismay Dag senses her pregnancy and is confused by her shame, since Lakewalkers only get pregnant when they want to. He takes her to a nearby farm whose occupants have vanished, he thinks they have been taken by a malice. A large one has been using farmers in large numbers for some sort of work. He leaves her there safely and goes back to find his troupe and hunt the malice.
Fawn stays at the farm but that night three mud-men return and grab her, dragging her to the malice's camp. Luckily Dag has tracked his prey to that same camp and sees them bringing her in.
The malice is an ugly lizard-like creature and seems fascinated with Fawn's belly. Before it can do anything Dag attacks, he tosses a pair of bone knives to Fawn as he fights three mud men. She stabs the malice with one knife, injuring it, then with the second one killing it and shattering the knife. Dag kills the mud men and rushes to her, she is injured and stunned and apologizes for the broken knife. Dag explains it is a sharing knife and supposed to shatter, a sharing knife is the only way to kill a malice, which is otherwise immortal.
Dag congratulates her on her kill; with the malice dead the mud-men will die off and the enslaved humans will be freed. He tells her to get on the horse with him, she agrees but then notices she is bleeding from between her legs, her encounter with the malice has caused a miscarriage.
He takes her back to the farm, takes care of her and stays beside her through the night falling asleep at her side.
He nurses her the next day, telling her stories of his people. He explains that a sharing knife is made from two parts, first it is carved from the bone of a Lakewalker, usually a thigh bone. The blade is willed by the donor to their next of kin who in turn primes it with their own heartblood at their deathbed.
Only a death can prime a sharing knife, and the one that Fawn first used to stab the malice was not primed yet, so it just injured it. But now it is primed, somehow. Dag theorizes that the malice had stolen her baby's life and that is what the knife primed itself with. He says this is a new thing, a death before birth for a sharing knife. He doesn't know what it will mean to its power, but says the knife is now hers since she is the next of kin. She agrees to take the knife and accompany him home to Hickory Lake to speak to an expert about it.
In turn she tells him about herself and confesses her tryst with Sunny, the father of her child who refused to acknowledge he was the father of her child and is engaged to someone else.
While she is recovering the owners of the farm come home and one of them recognizes Dag from his missing left hand. They tell him they ran into his patrol leader, Mari Redwing who was out looking for him. They explain they were taken by the malice and made to dig a massive hole as though it was looking for something specific, they don't know what though.
Once Fawn recovers Dag takes her to Glassforge, there's a hotel there and Fawn thinks she might find work. Dag tells her to wait and see what Mari has to say about the knife first. As they ride together they chat, and Dag starts becoming more and more attracted to her and she to him.
In Glassforge they find the Lakewalker patrol at the hotel, Fawn makes friends with several of them and learns more about Dag. Mari explains to Fawn that the knife primed by her unborn baby was made from the bone of Dag's wife. She died in a great battle against a malice twenty years ago, the same battle Dag lost his hand in. He was holding it to be primed with his own heart's blood. But now it belongs to Fawn.
As payment for killing the malice Mari gives Fawn a horse, and since she is recovered now Dag suggests that they should go to Hickory Lake and find out about the knife. Along the way they can stop at her home farm and let her family know she is okay. Fawn is reluctant but agrees.
Mari warns Dag against falling in love with a farmer and one so much younger than he is, but at the celebration party Fawn and Dag finally sleep together after they realize each was waiting for the other to initiate, according to the customs of their respective peoples.
They leave Glassforge and set out for her farm. Along the way they stop in a town to get gifts and someone steals the bag containing the knife off of Fawn's horse. Dag chases him down and gets it back, but manages to get his good arm broken in the tussle.
Finally they arrive at the farm, where Fawn's family is relieved to see her but skeptical of her story and to Dag's eyes dismissive of her accomplishments and opinions. They stay a few days and despite a run in with Sunny and Dag admitting his true age of 55 (Fawn is 18) he asks for her hand in marriage.
Fawn accepts but there is a big uproar in the family, who are suspicious of the Lakewalker. Finally Fawn's Aunt Nattie, who is sympathetic takes them aside and speaks to them. She points out to Dag that if he marries by farmer traditions he will not be married in the eyes of his people. Dag agrees and they decide to add a Lakewalker bonding bracelet to the ceremony, these are magically prepared with the essence of each partner so they can sense each other's lifeforce.
They make each other the bracelets, putting magic and ground into them and using materials that have sentimental value to them, Dag is impressed with how Fawn is picking up the ways of his people.
The day before it Sunny and three of his friends try to chase Dag out of town with the help of one of her brothers, but he outwits them and puts and end to that. Her other male relatives are suitably impressed and seems to mellow around him a bit.
At the end of the book the ceremony takes place followed by a lively celebration. Afterwards Dag and Fawn set off to start their new lives and face this family next.
Best part of story, including ending:
The fantasy setting is set up simply with a suitably creepy villain and a nice magic system that isn't too convoluted.
Best scene in story:
I really liked the fight scene with the malice, it was a very alien and evil but not so overblown that it was hard to believe they killed it.
Opinion about the main character:
Fawn is intelligent and resourceful and you can see why Dag likes her, she does need a lot of rescuing at first but since she's just eighteen that's not unlikely.