This is the third in the Lymond Chronicles, and you'll be very confused if you don't read them in order. You'll be somewhat confused even if you read them in order. Dunnett lays out the often wild action, and lets us into other people's feelings, but doesn't let the reader into Lymond's. That must be inferred. It can be frustrating at times, but you learn to do it.
He has returned to his native Scotland from a year in France, where mostly in disguise he has guarded the life of the very young Queen of Scots, at the very real risk of his own. Instead of being grateful, the French Queen Dowager is angry, because she hasn't called the shots. She now wants him to create a mercenary army, since Scotland can't afford a standing army. Among the men in the group is Graham Mallett ("Gabriel"), a fellow Scot and member of the Knights Hospitallers of Malta. Lymond is asked to help the Knights defend Malta against the Turks. Their best hope is supposed to be Gabriel, but Lymond soon learns that their worst enemy is internal to the Knights themselves. Gabriel is beloved, beautiful, holy, and sustained by a much younger, beautiful, convent bred sister, Joleta, about whom he talks incessantly. He lets Lymond know that he thinks a marriage between the two would be perfect only next to having Lymond join the Knights. The Turks beat the Knights, both on Malta, and in Tripoli, and some of the Knights retreat to Scotland to finish the job of creating St. Mary's, the mercenary army. Finally Lymond meets Joleta, who has been living with his mother and brother. She throws herself at him; it's not pretty. They hate each other. So do Gabriel and Lymond. Accidents happen, which aren't accidents. People Lymond loves die. In the end, The Queen Dowager believes Gabriel, and throws Lymond out of the country, breaking up St. Mary's or giving it to Gabriel. There's a duel at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, in which both are seriously wounded, but Gabriel escapes. He had told Lymond that Oonagh and her and Lymond's son both died, but a few people knew that wasn't true, and Philippa among them. She told him, and at the end of the duel, he promises his son he will never fail him.
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