This is the first volume in the Herald Spy series. It begins the autumn following the events of Bastion. Bear and Lena have left the traveling group and settled at the manor of Baron Burns, where Lena is his Court Bard and Bear is the local Healer. Amily has a newly awakened Gift, a Wild Talent related to Animal Mindspeech, that allows her to eavesdrop through the senses of animals a silent observer in the backs of their minds.
Amily moved into Bear and Lena's former rooms attached to the greenhouse in the House of Healing. She is assigned to tend the plants until a replacement herb healer can be found to take on the duties. She is also attached to the Royal Chronicler and given charge of the Heraldic Archives.
Mags has been made a full Herald. He still has his stable room, with upgraded furniture, though he spends most of his downtime in Amily's rooms. He is officially assigned to the City Guard, but in reality establishes several new personae to continue his spy work for Nikolas. He makes frequent use of one of these throughout the book, playing "Magnus," the young cousin of the elderly Lord Chipman, who has agreed with Nikolas to play the role of supporting relative. This places Mags firmly in the circle of the footloose sons of the highborn.
Just as everyone is settling into their new roles, disaster strikes. A freak accident leaves Nikolas to drown in an icy river. Having witnessed the entire thing, Mags and Dallen intervene, pulling Nikolas from the water. Realizing that he isn't breathing, Mags begins what is essentially CPR, using the techniques Bear taught him. He resuscitates Nikolas, but not before his moment of actual death severs the bond with his Companion, Rolan. As the Death Bell begins to toll, Rolan chooses Amily to replace her father as King's Own Herald. Bringing Nikolas back to life stops the Death Bell, but Rolan's Choice cannot be undone. Amily is the new King's Own, while Nikolas is chosen by a second Companion, Evory.
While Nikolas recovers from his ordeal and Amily starts her new duties, Mags takes up the spywork Nikolas had been doing. He begins by rescuing a group of children from a cruel thief-master. He employs them first as messengers, listening for interesting tidbits, then as outright operatives. They live in the building next to Nikolas' pawn shop where they are cared for by another of Mags' rescues, Aunty Minda.