High in the Swabian Mountains stands a forbidding, nearly inaccessible edifice, one that seems to be almost a part of the surrounding rocks. In this fortress lives Eberhard and Friedmund von Adlerstein, their beloved "lady mother" Christina, their stern grandmother, and a few retainers. The rest of the household—including their father and grandfather—perished in an ambush many years ago, just before the birth of the twins.
The boys know nothing of the wide world, or even of Ulm—the city, visible from their turret window, where their mother spent her childhood. Their formal education comes exclusively from the books their mother smuggled in amongst her clothing when she was brought as a young girl to the freehold of the Adlersteins.
Their mother teaches them the way of Christ, the path of honor and justice; their grandmother encourages every sign of the cruelty and lawlessness she considers the mark of a true Adlerstein. Thus in this small family setting does the reader see unfold before him the contest between right and wrong, between patient endurance and cruelty, between nobility and baseness.
Finally the day comes when the boys and their lady mother travel to Ulm, where they meet their mother’s family. There they also meet the brilliant Maxmilian, soon to become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and are won over by his noble character and fascinating personality. Their decision to start on a new and better path than their forbears trod—one on which their father and grandfather were embarking when they were so mercilessly slaughtered—results in unwonted tragedy and unexpected blessings.
Charlotte Yonge skillfully weaves the strands of European history of the late 1400s and early 1500s into this story of a gentle young mother and her noble sons, heirs to the best and the worst of the Middle Ages, and, ultimately, gatekeepers of the Faith.