Dana Po has lived with Faren and Magda Kellis and their children in the Northern Quarter of Fotheringale for five years, after she and two other girls were rescued by Faren Kellis and cadets of the Kellis Academy from a tailhouse in Galeia, the capital city. She longs to find her place in life, as the girls rescued with her have already, and one day she has the good fortune to overhear a conversation between Faren Kellis and an explorer named Walen Dor. She recognizes the name of Hela Trib when it is spoken by Walen and is horrified to learn that the body of her childhood friend, a trooper of the Kellis Corps, was discovered lashed to the back of her horse in West Fotheringale. Walen has discovered Hela's journal and is now searching for the home of Hela's father, Varley Trib, and hoping to find a secret store of maps the famous explorer had hidden there.
In return for showing him the location of the Trib house, Walen agrees to take Dana with him into the mountains to search for the city of Calaria, whose soldiers were responsible for the death of Hela Trib. They travel to a mountain plateau where Walen is captured by Calarian soldiers, and Dana escapes to find shelter with a group of exiles forced out of the city. They recognize her abilities and select her as their queen, and with the help of the Kellis Corps, the mountain queen and her subjects march upon Calaria.