1195. Prince John still plots to seize the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart--and in his wicked schemes, he is supported by Philip of France. The French king offers to help John financially by sending him a mysterious alchemist, a Mohammedan named Nizam, who claims to be able to turn base materials into gold. But the ship that was transporting Nizam and his retainers is found wrecked off the south Devon coast, its crew savagely slaughtered. Shortly afterward, a Norman knight named Peter le Calve is foully murdered, his severed head stuck on the rood screen of Exeter cathedral. It's up to Sir John de Wolfe, the county coroner, to find a motive and connection between the killings. And just what is his unscrupulous brother-in-law, the disgraced ex-sheriff and Prince John-sympathizer, Richard de Revelle, trying to hide?