At Westminster, King Edward bids his daughter Joan farewell as she sets off for Spain, on her way to her marriage to the Prince of Castile, which will confirm an alliance against France.Caris, Merthin, Thomas and Matthias head for the forest monastery. If Godwyn's there, the missing treasure is with him. That evening Matthias feeds their donkey and Thomas goes to help while Caris and Merthin engage in gentle flirting. Finally Merthin goes to see what's taking the two monks so long. A few minutes later, Merthin knows that they are lovers, but says nothing to Caris.
St-John-in-the-Forest is an appalling place, littered with putrefying bodies, but the stench from Godwyn is worse, since he's decided the smell of boiling excrement wards off the plague. It seems to work: he looks demented but healthy. There's only one grave in sight, supposedly that of Prior Saul, but when they start digging to bury the other monks, Matthias finds the missing treasure buried there instead. Godwyn madly attacks, biting like a wild beast, and when he's pulled off Matthias, the black buboes revealed by his torn robe show that his foul protection hasn't worked after all.
In Wigleigh, Gwenda weeps as her younger son David is buried. Her only companions are Sam, and Holger, home from the war. At first Wulfric only watches from a distance, but finally screws up the courage to join Gwenda, even if all they can do is grieve for the child they've lost.
Caris and the others bring the treasure and Godwyn back to Kingsbridge. They walk through untilled fields, aware that if no-one plants crops, starvation threatens. Thomas tells Caris that these are Priory lands, and she can invite labourers to work on it. When they reach Kingsbridge they learn that no-one has died for three days. The plague itself is dying at last, but Matthias knows it hasn't died fast enough for him.
In the cathedral, Caris reveals her intentions: she will pay workers on Priory land a wage in coin, not just food. Gwenda and Wulfric, reconciled and soon to be married, hope to benefit from this -- but they live in Wigleigh, ruled by Ralph. Once Thomas and Caris perform the wedding, the newlyweds return to Wigleigh, gather their few possessions and slip away, but Nate Reeve sees them go.
Thomas finds Matthias in his cell, deeply sick with plague. He dies in Thomas's arms, asking him not to hide his secrets any more. At the same time, news reaches King Edward in Westminster that his daughter Joan has also died.
Caris is summoned to attend Earl Roland, but he refuses to let her help him. When she returns Petranilla is sitting with Godwyn, apparently recovering. Roland did not. At his funeral, Petranilla approaches Ralph and suggests this is time to rejoice: Roland replaced Sir Gerald, now Ralph has a chance to replace Roland. And perhaps marry Philippa as well.
Princess Joan's body lies in state, and is Isabella's excuse to return from exile. Edward can't refuse outright, but he limits her visit to just two days.
Fulfilling Matthias's dying wish, Thomas reveals his past to Caris. He was at Berkley Castle, and killed the man sent there by Isabella to murder her husband Edward II. That's why she hates Kingsbridge: he knows her secret, and he's here. As for the King, rumor has it he's still alive and free. Thomas could have told all this to the man he loved, but didn't have enough courage until after he was dead.
Nate Reeve reports the missing peasants, now more than just Wulfric and Gwenda, to Ralph, who sets off with his men in pursuit, having ordered a gallows prepared for his return. When he finds them, they're working on priory land. Wulfric boldly defies him: Prior Caris pays good silver for their labour - what can he offer? Ralph's response is a knife to Sam's throat. Appalled, Wulfric gives in and is securely bound, but Sam escapes to the forest. Ralph promises that if the boy isn't brought back, Wulfric will hang.
Isabella is still in Westminster, pleading age and frailty. Edward is unimpressed by this play for sympathy, but her compliments about his qualities as King soften his resolve a little. He lets her stay to be attended by his own physicians, unaware that this is just another move in Isabella's endless power-play.
Holger and Gwenda watch Ralph's men build a gallows. She's full of guilt because this is the result of her pushing Wulfric to stand up for himself. Now both husband and son are at risk. She determines to save them if she can.
Godwyn has survived, but so has his festering hatred of Caris, and when he learns that she's not just Prioress but Prior, he starts raving again and attacks Sister Mair. In response, Merthin has him tied down and gagged.
Ralph visits Petranilla to find out what she was hinting. She announces that he's her son, fathered by Roland but adopted by Gerald and Maud when their own child was stillborn. At first he refuses to believe her, but when Merthin tells him the same story, heard from Maud on her deathbed, he's convinced. He's the rightful heir to the Earldom of Shiring - and Merthin can no longer claim brotherhood or mercy.
Shocked, Merthin has second thoughts about staying in Kingsbridge; the place is as bad as ever and there's nothing to keep him here. Except for Caris, who expresses her true feelings at last, and the couple finally make love.
At Wigleigh, with Wulfric on the gallows, Gwenda confronts him and sways the already-uneasy crowd in her favor. Ralph is not obeying the law, he's doing as he pleases, which is rich for a man who has stood in Wulfric's place with a noose round his neck. When Ralph orders a soldier to shut her up, it's the last straw and the crowd erupts in fury. Holger shoots two soldiers with his longbow, but misses Ralph as he flees on horseback. Wulfric is rescued, but this is no longer a victory over injustice: it's a rebellion against a Crown-appointed lord, and such things never end well.