The story begins where Drums of Autumn left off – Claire and Jamie Fraser attend the Gathering at Mount Helicon, in the colony of North Carolina, while their daughter, Brianna, prepares for her wedding to Roger MacKenzie, and the baptism of their son, Jeremiah. Things gang agley, naturally, but after a very long day indeed, young Jem is baptized and Roger and Bree are finally married, and the residents of Fraser's Ridge return home, though Jamie with a letter from the Governor instructing him to build up a militia. He does, at that, and leads his men off on their duty to enforce the King's law, but Jamie and Claire become sidetracked by a visit to the Beardsley homestead, where they find a man in dire straits along with his most peculiar wife. After resolving this disturbing encounter, the militia returns home, having been released by word from the Governor before any real battle can take place, and they return home once again.
In the spring, the Frasers and the MacKenzies travel down to River Run to attend the wedding of Jocasta Cameron to Duncan Innes, and here follow several threads of intrigue: a missing bridegroom, a slave found drugged and unconscious in the bushes, an annoyingly persistent Mr. Wylie, one Major Donald MacDonald keen on meeting with Jamie, and several guests butting heads in favor of and against those that style themselves "Regulators". In the end, the marriage takes place, but a slave ends up dead, and Claire suspects murder. In the course of her investigation, she and Jamie have a brief encounter with Stephen Bonnet, and spend a night questioning Phillip Wylie, who was seen apparently accompanying the notorious smuggler. They also learn a long-held secret from Jocasta, who knows just what a band of burglars might mean when they demand to know where the "Frenchman's gold" is.
A few short months later, the militia is summoned once again into service as tensions rise between the government and the Regulators. These climax in the Battle of Alamance, where Roger finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The small rebellion is put down, but at great cost to the MacKenzie family, and to Roger's health and spirit.
The families return to the Ridge to heal, though they aren't left in peace for long – not least for a terrifying lightning storm and forest fire, amidst rumors of a man-killing ghost-bear in a nearby Indian village, or recurring word of Stephen Bonnet's whereabouts, which Jamie has tracked for countless months. Roger insists that Jamie teach him to fight, intimating his desire to kill Bonnet himself, and Jamie agrees to help him, though with a certain amount of doubt regarding the wisdom of doing so. On a hunting trip, Jamie finds himself bitten by a venomous snake, with none of the hunting party but Roger to wait with him through the night before they can get help. The experience – which Jamie survives, though it's a near thing – leaves the men with a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another, while a frightening appearance by their erstwhile prey startles everyone at the Big House.
While Jamie recovers, Roger arranges for a few new tenants to settle on the Ridge – one Thomas Christie, a man who had been imprisoned with Jamie at Ardsmuir, and his son and daughter. Meanwhile, Claire discovers an intriguing entry in Dr. Rawlings' medical journal – his treatment of Hector Cameron, and his wife, Jocasta, several years before – and Jamie arranges a convoluted planned meeting with Stephen Bonnet. They travel to Wilmington, where the women and children stay while Roger and Jamie go to meet Bonnet at Wylie's Landing. Things do not go as planned, and Claire, Brianna, and Marsali, along with Jemmy, Germain, and wee Joan, endure a dangerous encounter with Bonnet, while Jamie and Roger fight for their lives against two long-suspected, now confirmed foes.
Fearing for the safety of the inhabitants of River Run, Jamie and Claire go there while the young families return to the safety of the Ridge. There, they find that a man has been killed, and Jocasta is forced to fill in the blanks left in her earlier story of the Frenchman's gold. With no notion whether Stephen Bonnet still lives, they return home at last, resuming the usual homely chores of life on a farm. It is while Jamie and Roger are at work on the land that they find themselves under attack by a wild boar, only to be saved by the timely return of Young Ian, home at last from his exile with the Mohawk. He brings with him the writings of the late Robert Springer, also known as Otter-Tooth, and in the course of deciphering his Latin-encoded script, they learn more about the time traveling phenomenon, and speculate about Jemmy's ability. At the last, Roger pledges that he and his family will stay on the Ridge – that they will stand by Jamie and Claire, as conflict and war draw inexorably closer.
Timeline of Significant Events
- "Oh My Darling, Clementine" is mentioned several times throughout the novel, usually in the context of Brianna or Roger singing it.
- Point of view guide – A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of character points of view. Includes dates for chapters when noted.