John McPake, a former teacher, has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Soon after his marriage fell apart, he started hearing voices and eventually moved into an Edinburgh hostel for men with enduring mental health problems. An earlier obsession with the works of Breughel develops into a full-blown delusion, and he assumes the persona of Johannes, a 16th century Dutch weaver who travels with his friends, Balthazar and Cornelius, in pursuit of his son who has been abducted by the Spanish mercenaries. This is an echo of John's real life quest to be reunited with his brother. John's voices jostle and argue with each other for the right to tell his story.