William Gold comes into the world as his family slides down the social ladder. His head filled with tales of chivalry, instead he is branded a thief, and must make do with being squire to his childhood friend Sir Robert, a knight determined to make a name for himself as a man at arms in France. While William himself slowly acquires the skills of knightly combat, he remains an outsider - until the Battle of Poitiers when Sir Robert is cut down by the greatest knight of the age, Sir Geoffrey de Charny, and William, his lowly squire, avenges him. But with his own knight dead, no honour accrues to William for this feat of arms, and he is forced to become a mercenary. Scavenging a mismatched set of armour from the knightly corpses, he joins one of the mercenary companies now set to pillage a defenceless France, and so begins a bloody career that sees William joining forces with the infamous Sir John Hawkwood and immersing himself in a treacherous clandestine war among the Italian city states. But paradoxically it is there, among the spies, assassins and hired killers serving their ruthless masters, that William finally discovers the true meaning of chivalry - and his destiny as a knight.