Elske escapes her Wolfer people and adapts to civilized Trastad life, helping a Queen regain her usurped throne and impressing her various Masters and Mistresses with her loyalty, courage and cleverness. Elske is a Wolfer slave girl who has been given the role of Death Maiden, the role of being sacrificed when the Volkking - the Wolfer King - dies. The Wolfer people live in the Northern territories of the Kingdom and are essentially akin to Vikings in that the men are adept are raiding, raping and pillaging while the woman are considered possessions and trophies. The womenfolk of the Wolfers live a hard, brutal life. On the day of the Volkking's death, Elske was supposed to be beaten to death in his honor, however her grandmother sacrificed herself, instead, allowing Elske to escape.
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Elske wanders Wolfer territory for a few days before encountering the a Father and his two sons, who are from the big city of Trastad. They find out that Elske can speak Souther, the language of the Southern people, and that she can read and write, too. They bring Elske to their home in Trastad, where Elske learns Norther, the language that people living in the North speak. Elske is given a temporary job helping to run the household and care for children. The family try to help Elske find a more permanent job with a wealthier noblewoman, however, all the noblewoman don't like Elske because she is too young, too untrained and too pretty. Elske is maid into a temporary servant-maid for Idelle, the fiance of Taddus, one of the sons of the Trastad family she initially stayed with. Idelle tells Elske that the best time to get a job is during the Courting Winter, which is a time when foreigners arrive in Trastad to find a wife or husband.
As they are making their way home one night, Idelle and Elske are accosted by some drunk foreign men. Elske scares the men with a Wolfer cry and she punches their lights out so that Idelle and her can run away. The next day, she is summoned by Var Jerrol, who is an important member of the City Council. It is revealed that one of the men was a Princeling and that, not only does he deny he was accosting the girls, he is also angry that he was punched. After meeting with Elske, Var Jerrol is impressed by her bravery and promises to fix the situation for her so that the Princeling will not cause her any more trouble. He decides to hire Elske to be nursemaid to his daughters.
Var Jerrol explains that he is the eyes and the ears of the council and that he could use the help of someone like Elske - someone who knows Souther and can read and write - to spy on his various political guests. Since Elske seems like a harmless young girl, the men that come to dine at dinner might let some important information slip in her presence. Elske proves to be adept at this role, and relays to Var Jerrol that some of his guests chat about something called the black powder, which is the newest in weapons technology (likely gunpowder). Elske ends up helping Var Jerrol secure the ingredients for the black powder so he can fabricate some it himself.
In the male-oriented city of Trastad, women are expected to quickly marry when they come of age. Var Jerrol encourages Elske to get married, and even offers himself as a husband but Elske isn't interested in getting married, yet. Instead, she decides to work for a foreign lady who calls herself Queen Beriel. Elske is intrigued by Beriel. Everyone in Trastad calls her the Fiendly Princess because she likes to causes trouble and demand to be included in men's activities like discussions about politics. She causes so much trouble that the Council has even decided to lock her up in her room while she is visiting Trastad during the Courting Winter. Elske eventually wins over her trust, however, with her frankness and fearlessness to tell the passionate Queen the truth about what she thinks. Beriel tells Elske that she has been sent to Trastad because the usurper in her own kingdom doesn't want her around stirring up trouble for him.
Later on, Elske finds out that Beriel had been raped. Her own brother had hired men to rape her so that Beriel would be forced to flee the Kingdom less people find out and her reputation and name become ruined. Elske helps Beriel give birth and smuggles the child to Idelle, who has been barren for many years and would love to have a child. Later on, Beriel and Elske make plans to return to her Kingdom and get the throne back. They take a ship to the outskirts of her kingdom. Beriel learns that her father has died and her brother has claimed the throne that should have been hers by law of the eldest claimant.
Beriel manages to contact those who are still loyal to her and she travels to meet with her Uncle, the Earl of Sutherland, who has many soldiers under his control. During their meeting, they are interrupted by a Lord Dugald, who pleads that the Earl give him some soldiers so he can defend his land from Wolfer attacks. The new King has been too cowardly to amass an effective attack against the Wolfer raids and has fled from the borders where the Wolfers are attacking. Dugald is impressed by Elske, who has somehow earned the trust of Beriel, which is no easy feat. Upon hearing Elske was a Wolfer, he enlists her help to organize an attack against them.
Elske teaches Dugald's soldiers how to make the Wolfer's call so that they can show the Wolfers they aren't scared. During the battle, Dugald rows Elske across a misty lake. She stands naked on the boat like a true Death Maiden and hollers the Wolfer's cry and, in the language of the Wolfers, tell them that the dead are rising to kill them. The Wolfers become scared and they flee. Dugald is impressed at this feat, as he did not lose any men and was able to win the battle. He confesses that he is quite taken with Elske and asks her to marry him. She agrees.
When they rejoin with Beriel and her people, they find that Beriel has won the war against her brother. Beriel herself joined in the battle and was injured but emerged as the People's People. Beriel grudgingly allows Elske and Dugald to marry, even though she had other plans for Elske. The story ends with Queen Beriel making a very rousing speech about how she will bring their Kingdom many years of peace and fair rule.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like the contrast between the barbaric Wolfer people that made up the early years of Elske's life with the almost too-civilized people of Trastad. Both worlds can be equally stifling for a free-spirit like Elske and it made for an interesting read to follow how Elske slowly adjusts to her new life living in civilization.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Elske pretends to be a Death Maiden during the climactic scene and uses the Wolfer's own brutal practices against them by scaring them with her ghostly appearance and eerie vengeful call.
Opinion about the main character:
I like the Elske is unafraid to be different, even when the Trastad people insist she dress like a proper woman and urge her to marry a man - she isn't afraid to resist conforming to what society expects. I like that she is courageous and frank as this allowed her to gain the trust of even the most ornery Queen.