For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But now, into his isolated life, visitors begin to arrive: Fitz’s mentor from his assassin days; a hedge-witch who foresees the return of a long-lost love; and the Fool, the former White Prophet, who beckons Fitz to fulfill his destiny.
Then comes the summons he cannot ignore. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished. Fitz, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony, thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment . . . or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him—or how his loyalties will be tested to the breaking point.
After the events of Assassins Quest, Fitz and Nighteyes wandered the world as far as Bingtown and the Mountain Kingdom. Eventually settles in a tiny isolated cabin in Buck to have the peaceful, private life they always wished for. Starling finds where he has been living and visits, bringing gifts, including an abandoned boy called Hap who Fitz takes in as a foster son. Chade also visits, bringing books, pens and occasionally scrolls to work on. Hap meets a hedge witch called Jinna at the local market and introduces her to Fitz. The Fool arrives, richly dressed and tawny in colour on a beautiful horse. Fitz doesn’t recognise him at first but is delighted to see his old friend. The Fool stays a few days, they spend the time catching up and sharing old stories.
Fool asks Fitz to return to Buckkeep and a life in politics, Fitz refuses, he feels he has earned his own peaceful life after all he did and sacrificed for the Farseers as a young man. While Fitz has been away, the child Verity fathered with his body has been born to Kettricken and grown up into a young prince named Dutiful. Chade brings news that Prince Dutiful has disappeared, only a matter of days before his impending betrothal to an Outislander princess. The marriage is hoped to help form a new alliance between the Six Duchies and the Out Islands. It is not yet known whether he was kidnapped or fled the betrothal on his own but he needs to be found before the betrothal delegation arrive to avoid insulting them and risking the fragile new alliance. Even worse, there are rumours going around that Dutiful is Witted. The people of the Six Duchies are superstitious about ‘beast magic’, the rumours risk damaging the Farseer reputation.
Fitz agrees to return to Buckkeep and help find the Prince. Hap goes to Buckkeep to start an apprenticeship with Gindast, a well known cabinet maker. Jinna the hedge witch has a house in Buckkeep and agrees to let Hap stay with her while Fitz is at court. The Fool takes on the persona of a Jamaillian noble, Lord Golden. Fitz poses as Tom Badgerlock, his manservant, as the public still remember the stories of the Witted Bastard.
Fitz and Nighteyes use the cover of hunting trips and outings with ‘Lord Golden’ to investigate rumours of Dutiful’s disappearance, including his friends and last known activities. They discover that Dutiful was bribed into joining the Piebalds, a group of Witted folk, with the gift of a bond animal, a beautiful hunting cat. Dutiful bonded quickly to the hunting cat and was swayed into joining the Piebalds, however the cat had previously been bonded to a woman, Peladine, who lodged into the cats mind when she died. Peladine intended to use the bond between her host cat and Dutiful to take over Dutiful’s body with the intention to both live again and rule herself.
Fitz and Nighteyes tracks down Dutiful, Nighteyes is injured fighting the cat but they eventually convince him of the truth about the cat, although Dutiful still has a strong bond and does not want to leave her. Fitz escapes with Dutiful using the Skill Pillars, leaving The Fool and Nighteyes behind with the Piebalds. Fitz and Dutiful end up on the treasure beach where Fitz comes across some carved feathers that he pockets. Fitz and Dutiful return through the Pillars and are confronted by the Piebalds.
In an attempt to thwart Peladine's plan, Fitz tells the Piebalds that in return for the safe return of the Fool and Nighteyes, he will hand over Dutiful and assist Peladine as she acclimatises to life in Buckkeep Castle. Fitz doesn’t truly believe he can win but aims to get Nighteyes and the Fool to safety and kill Dutiful as Peladine takes him over, killing them both. The Piebalds fall for the plan, Peladine starts to take over Dutifuls body, as Fitz holds him he promises to make his death quick. Dutiful believes he can hold her off from the last part of himself for a short time. At this point the hunting cat manages to push down Peladine’s influence enough to act alone. She asks Fitz to kill her, Dutiful tries to stop him so the cat attacks Fitz, forcing him to stab it to death. Peladine dies with the cat, saving Dutiful.
Soon after, Kettricken's hunstwoman, Laurel, arrives with help in the form of Old Bloods, including a healer and The Fool and Nighteyes. The Piebalds escape with their wounded and the Old Blood healer treats Dutiful, Fitz and Nighteyes of their wounds. Dutiful is still mourning the death of the hunting cat who he truly loved despite the influence of Peladine. After mourning, the cat is buried in a cairn. Everyone stays for the night, Fitz and Nighteyes fall asleep from exhaustion and pain.
Fitz wakes up to a beautiful misty morning, Nighteyes leaves to hunt and Fitz rides along in his mind. Nighteyes tells Fitz it is time to say goodbye and runs off into the mist. Fitz wakes up to heavy rain, just as Nighteyes dies.
The party return to Buckkeep just as the betrothal delegation arrives. Fitz sneaks Dutiful into the castle. Chade and Dutiful ask Fitz to stay in court in order to teach Dutiful, there is no one else with any power in the Skill left alive to guide him. Fitz is reluctant, but eventually agrees to stay out of loyalty to the Farseers.