Soldier Ralph Delchard and lawyer Gervase Bret lead a group of the King's finest commissioners into the war-torn lands of Yorkshire to settle land claims and compile The Domesday Book, a record of England's holdings. The battle-scarred country reminds Delchard of his own guilty part in pillaging the shire years before to put down a revolt against the Conqueror. However, one island of wealth and luxury remains in Yorkshire: the castle of merchant Aubrey Maminot. There the commissioners learn of two great terrors: the rogue Olaf Evil Child, a hero of the poor and conquered Saxon people, and the ravenous lions Aubrey Maminot keeps as pets. The lions make a feast of an anonymous young man who tries to sneak into the castle, and Gervase Bret begins to wonder why someone would commit such an act of suicide. As he and Ralph seek a reason, both men find themselves agreeably distracted - Gervase by Inga, a young woman embroiled in a struggle for her family's land, and Ralph by Golde, a Saxon woman who prods him to do justice for the dispossessed. But Ralph and Gervase must address a more urgent secret, which threatens their lives, their loves, and perhaps the crown itself.