Prince Dutiful has been rescued from his Piebald kidnappers and the court has resumed its normal rhythms. But for FitzChivalry Farseer, a return to isolation is impossible. Though gutted by the loss of his wolf bondmate, Nighteyes, Fitz must take up residence at Buckkeep and resume his tasks as Chade’s apprentice assassin. Posing as Tom Badgerlock, bodyguard to Lord Golden, FitzChivalry becomes the eyes and ears behind the walls. And with his old mentor failing visibly, Fitz is forced to take on more burdens as he attempts to guide a kingdom straying closer to civil strife each day.
The problems are legion. Prince Dutiful’s betrothal to the Narcheska Elliania of the Out Islands is fraught with tension, and the Narcheska herself appears to be hiding an array of secrets. Then, amid Piebald threats and the increasing persecution of the Witted, FitzChivalry must ensure that no one betrays the Prince’s secret—a secret that could topple the Farseer throne: that he, like Fitz, possesses the dread “beast magic.”
Meanwhile, FitzChivalry must impart to the Prince his limited knowledge of the Skill: the hereditary and addictive magic of the Farseers. In the process, they discover within Buckkeep one who has a wild and powerful talent for it, and whose enmity for Fitz may have disastrous consequences for all.
Only Fitz’s enduring friendship with the Fool brings him any solace. But even that is shattered when unexpected visitors from Bingtown reveal devastating secrets from the Fool’s past. Now, bereft of support and adrift in intrigue, Fitz’s biggest challenge may be simply to survive the inescapable and violent path that fate has laid out for him.
Fitz has successfully saved the Farseer prince, at the cost of Nighteyes. Fitz takes the post of Skillmaster in order to teach Dutiful. Fitz’ control of the Skill is not wonderful and he isn’t the best teacher, but he is the only one with any learning in the Skill as well as feeling responsible for Dutiful’s upbringing given he is nearly his father. Fitz tries his best to protect Dutiful from the addictions of Wit and Skill as well as the political machinations of the Piebalds. Fitz also teaches a new Skill coterie, consisting of Dutiful, Chade and a simpleton named Thick who is unusually powerful.
Kettricken plans to wed Dutiful to Elliania, an Outislander princess to forge a lasting alliance in the way her own marriage to Verity once did. Elliania refuses to wed without Dutiful proving his suitability by undertaking a quest. Dutiful agrees to the task, which is to travel to the Outislands and slay the dragon IceFyre on the island of Aslevjal.
The Piebalds are tempting civil war by persecuting those Old Bloods who will not join them and fanning the flames of suspicion towards those who hold the beast magic. They are using Civil Bresinga, a friend of the prince as a spy by holding his mother hostage. They are also using Thick to spy on the castle and through him learn Fitz’ true identity. Fitz manages to save Civil and Thick as well as killing Laudwine, the leader of the Piebalds. Without their leader the remaining Piebalds don’t plan any major schemes for some time.
Later on, while Dutiful is on Aslevjal, the Old Bloods strike back and successfully wipe out the Piebalds. Fitz starts to hear rumours that the court believe he and Lord Golden are more than friends. He confronts The Fool, who says that his love for Fitz has no bounds. Fitz takes offense to this and says he would never bed the Fool and the two draw apart.
While in the spy passages within the castle Fitz witnesses Elliania in distress due to intricate dragon tattoos on her back which appear to be causing her pain. He discusses it with The Fool who explains that they were put there by The Pale Woman and reveals that he has some similar ones on his own back.
Fitz is asked to accompany Dutiful to the Outislands for his task. The trip is planned for the springtime. Dutiful will also be accompanied by Thick, his ‘Witted coterie’ of Old Bloods (including Burrich's son Swift) and a handful of assorted nobles. The Fool intends to go, as he has foreseen that he will be there on Aslevjal but has also foreseen his own death. Fitz intends to block him from going at the last minute in order to save him, even if it means upsetting his old friend. Fitz restarts his axe training, starts teaching Swift as a private tutor, and repairs his friendship with the Fool.