1592. Robert Carey, eighth son of Lord Hunsdon, has -- to his servants' dismay -- abandoned Queen Elizabeth I's court and is heading north to take up the post of Deputy Warden of the English West March. The Border Marches are lawless badlands, peopled by cattle-rustlers, horse-thieves, arsonists, kidnappers and murderers. Spawned of centuries of Anglo-Scottish conflict, they are a festering sore that breeds treason and rebellion, threatening the fragile stability of Elizabeth I's realm. With just a handful of horseman and a taciturn sergeant with a dark past, Carey, in his lace-collared, pearl-sashed courtly finery, will be expected to bring order to this bloody flux. Carey has his own reasons for taking the post (closer to his true love's arms, farther from his creditors' gimlet eyes), but the courtier may find, in this land of duplicity and blood-feud, that he's merely traded one set of troubles for another.