For over 300 years the mystics have lived alongside the true-men, until King Charald lays siege to the mystic's island city. Imoshen, most powerful of the female mystics, is elected to negotiate with the true-man king. The male mystics still resent her, but she has an ally in Sorne, the half-blood, who was raised by true-men. Even though he is vulnerable to her gifts, he gives Imoshen his loyalty. In return, she gives him the most dangerous of tasks, to spy for her. She negotiates exile for her people. They must pack all their valuables, reach port and set sail by the first day of winter. But to do this they have to cross a kingdom filled with true-men who are no longer bluffed by their gifts. Meanwhile, there are mystics living in the countryside unaware that their people have been exiled. King Charald announces any mystics who remain behind after they are exiled will be hunted down and executed.