Nevare Burvelle anticipates a golden future. He will follow his father - newly made a lord by King Troven of Gernia - into the cavalla; to the frontier and thence to an advantageous marriage. Over twenty years the cavalla have pushed the frontiers of Gernia as far as the Barrier Mountains, home to the enigmatic Speck people. The Specks - a dapple-skinned folk - retain the last vestiges of magic in a progressive world. It is said that they harbour strange diseases and sexual congress with them is regarded as filthy - the Speck plague has ravaged the frontier, decimating entire regiments. These beliefs will touch Nevare's training at the Cavalla Academy. He will experience injustice and foul play in that hostile and deeply competitive environment. Nevare's world view will also be challenged by his unconventional cousin Epiny. And on Dark Evening, when the carnival comes to Old Thares, it will bring with it the first Specks Nevare has ever seen.