The setting is medieval Scotland, a land dominated by skirmishes and battles on the borders, a land of fortresses and castles in Scotland, England and Wales. We meet Bruce McLennan, a Scottish laird, a man sorely-changed by a terrible family tragedy. He is a domineering master, an uncaring landlord, a cruel man, who has his heart set on building himself a castle and a Dungeon in which to punish his enemies in the future. But while the dungeon is being built, McLennan plans a trip to the far ends of the earth.
As we follow McLennan on his travels to China and beyond, we witness his buying of Peony, or Mudan, as her Chinese name is, a young girl who McLennan uses as a slave. He is uncaring, unsympathetic, as he drags her after him across the world. Gradually, knowing no other, Peony develops a kind of affection for her master.
In Scotland, Peony meets Fin, a stable lad and a loving friendship develops between them. McLennan, busy fighting off enemies, uses Peony in an horrific scene in one of his battles; he looses badly and subsequently blames her. He decides to punish her by throwing her in his dungeon