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King Bridei is preparing for the long-awaited war to drive the Gaelic invaders out of the west. He sends Ana, a hostage of Fortriu since childhood, north to make a strategic marriage which will strengthen his chances of victory. Ana is escorted by a man she despises, the enigmatic Faolan, Bridei's assassin and spy. Their expedition is ill-fated, and their destination of Briar Wood, stronghold of the chieftain Alpin, proves to be a place of dark secrets. Ana is drawn towards a mysterious prisoner, while Faolan must walk a delicate path between loyalty and betrayal. Bridei's forces march into battle. To those left behind, the omens become clear: the king is heading towards certain death. There is only one messenger who can reach him in time, but to use him will endanger Ana's chance of happiness…

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