Birle falls in love with a nobleman and follows him as he travels to foreign lands, in the process becoming enslaved, escaping her slavery and returning home to help her nobleman claim his earldom. Birle is an innkeeper's daughter who has recklessly agreed to marry an older man named Muir because she was intoxicated by his attentions. She lives in a small forest village on the edge of the kingdom. Since she had agreed to marry Muir, she started having doubts but she knows she can't break her promise, now. One night before her wedding, she sees a man sneaking around at night and she follows him, thinking he might be a robber. She catches the man stealing a boat and jumps into the river to stop him from running away. She ends up taking control of the boat and docking it, telling the stranger that she will return it the next day.
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That night, she and the stranger have no choice but to sleep in the woods as it is too dangerous to wander around until daylight. The next day, she finds out that the stolen boat belonged to her own Da. When she sees the thief clearly under the light of the sun, she instantly falls in love with his handsome features. She finds out he is a lord who seems to be on the run. Somehow the conversation leads to talk about her impending marriage and how she wants to find a way to escape the marriage. He agrees to take her as his servant for the moment because she knows how to hunt and she knows the lay of the land.
The first few days, Birle and the Lord fall into comfortable companionship, discussing politics, class and gender roles in their kingdom. But, when Birle asks the Lord why he has run away, he immediately shuts down and doesn't talk to her. He only tells her that word of his presence must not spread through the kingdom. One day, as they are exploring the woods near their camp, they encounter a band of outlaws. One of the dogs in the group attacks the Lord and Birle has to kill the dog to prevent it from biting the Lord's throat. They end up escaping by jumping back on a boat and rowing downriver, moving further away from the kingdom and into foreign lands.
A mist settles over the river, making it difficult for Birle to navigate. Eventually, she realizes that the boat has reached a seaside port and she is afraid that someone will take them prisoner. Their boat continues floating to somewhere unknown and the Lord thinks they have entered the sea. When the mist finally lifts, they see no land nearby and a raging storm knocks them out of their boat.
When Birle next awakens, she and the Lord are washed ashore on a small island where there is not much food to eat or water to drink. The Lord thanks Birle for saving his life. He finally trusts her enough to tell her his name – Orien. Apparently he is the next Earl of Sutherland because his father was killed in a hunting accident. In order to ensure his younger brother, Gladeagal, becomes Earl, Orien has run away. Orien thinks his younger brother is more capable to be the Earl however he also wonders whether it was his brother who organized the hunting trip and orchestrated his father's death. In order to avoid having to accuse his brother of treason, he has run away. Finally, he has also run away because he is afraid of his own ideas as he believes in radical things like equality between classes and genders. He is afraid that if he becomes Earl, he will enforce these radical ideas on an earldom that isn't ready for it.
Days pass and Birle and the Lord become weakened from lack of food and drink as they await rescue. When a ship finally arrives, Birle is suspicious of the sailors but they have no choice as they are dying from starvation. After eating and drinking they fall asleep. When they wake up, they are chained and forced to row the boat to shore. The ship is run by Captain Torson and his brother, Ker. They have other slaves aboard – a little runt of a boy as well as a giant mute and simpleton named Yul.
At the port of a foreign kingdom, Orien is sold to a craftsman and Birle is sold to an old man named Joaquim who claims to be a philosopher that works for his brother, a military man called Corbel. Everyone is afraid to be on the wrong side of Corbel so the slavers sell Birle and Yul to the old man to help him manage his house. Joaquim has been hired by Corbel to try to turn stone into gold. The next few weeks, Birle works for Joaquim and helps to manage Yul, who seems to only understand Birle. She misses Orien and wonders if he is alright. Corbel is not satisfied with Joaquim's failure to produce gold from stone and his anger is frightening to behold.
Joaquim reveals to Birle that his prime area of research is in the medicinal properties of herbs. He tells her that he must appear to be busy doing his alchemy so as not to anger Corbel, but in the meantime, he wants Birle to tend to his herb garden and help him write a book about herbs. Birle happily applies herself to this task. Every day however, she looks for Orien when she goes to the marketplace. One day, she sees him but he looks haggard and he is dressed in rags. She despairs that he is suffering.
Over the next few months, Joaquim tells Birle that war may be imminent because Corbel is vying for power against the King. He tells her if war should come, Birle should take Yul and run away while he joins a community of philosophers far away from the war's epicenter. One day, Birle again sees Orien. This time she has a chance to speak with him. She tells him about the upcoming war and tries to persuade him to escape. She notices he has lesions on his skin and she prepares a poultice to help his wounds heal. When Birle goes looking for Orien, however, she finds out that he has been taken to work in the mines. Birle hears nothing from Orien for several heartbreaking weeks but Just before war strikes, Orien escapes the mines and finds Birle. He is feverish and Joaquim helps her, Yul and Orien travel further into the forest and back towards Orien's Earldom.
While escaping through the woods, Birle, Yul and Orien encounter an acting troupe. They are interested to learn that the trio are headed towards Orien's Earldom where it is rumored that entertainers are treated well. Eventually, Birle and Orien leave to continue their journey, leaving Yul in the care of the entertainers. Orien proposes to Birle but Birle thinks that because of their differences in class, their union is forbidden.
Birle and Orien finally arrive at the Kingdom. When Orien greets the Earl, the Earl is overjoyed to have his brother back. Orien finds out that his fears towards his brother were unjustified and that his brother holds honor close to his heart. As the months pass, Birle finds out she is pregnant with Orien's child. She feels like she should not linger at the castle because Orien must move on to become the great Earl he is destined to be and not be hampered by his marriage to a commoner. One day, Birle quietly leaves the palace and returns home where she gives birth to a baby girl. She lives in a secret house away from major cities and towns so that Orien won't be able to find her. He still ends up finding her a few months later. He tells her that he has named his brother regent and has decided to live a normal life with Birle.
The story ends with Birle and Orien planning their new life together.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that Orien goes from being at the top of the class system as an Earl to falling to the bottom of the class system as a slave. It really made him have a better perspective about life and equality of class which will make him a fairer ruler.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Birle and Orien are trapped on the island where there is no food and water. Because they both thought they would die, they spilled their guts to each other. I think that scene was an excellent character building scene and was also a great way for the readers to see Birle and Orien bond with each other.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Birle was so perceptive and unselfish. She understood that the world doesn't revolve only around her and sometimes sacrifices need to be made for the greater good. It was very sad when Birle quietly ran away from Orien so as to spare him having to be weighed down by a commoner through marriage.