In Virginia in the 1790s, Lewis Rand breaks from the tobacco planter life his father had intended for him to become a lawyer. He rises quickly in his field, and aided by his friend Thomas Jefferson, his political future in the Democratic-Republican party seems assured. He and Jacqueline Churchill fall in love and marry, much to the consternation of her Federalist family, and especially so to Ludwell Cary, who had hoped to marry her himself.
Rand falls under the spell of Aaron Burr and enlists in the conspiracy to establish an empire in the West. Before he takes the final step and ruins not only his own life but Jacqueline’s as well, Cary challenges him to a duel — the goal being to delay him long enough that the scheme unravels before Rand becomes too involved, and that’s just what happens.
Rand blames his foiled ambitions on Cary, and in a blind rage, kills him. There’s nothing that links Rand to the crime, and indeed he manages to establish a fairly convincing alibi. He escapes justice for several months, but Jacqueline’s pressing and his own conscious eventually lead to Rand giving himself up.
In medieval France, a squire named Garin rescues a shepherdess from Jaufre, a knight who, one might say, was threatening her maiden virtue. Montmaure, Jaufre’s father, is a great overlord and Garin is forced to flee to escape reprisal. He joins the crusade and spends eight years at war in Syria, where he becomes a troubadour-knight and wins renown for his valor and poetry. Meanwhile, Jaufre desires to marry Audiart, the Princess of Roche-à-Frêne, but she refuses him because, unknown to him, she was that shepherdess he attacked. He lays siege to the town, assisted greatly by Richard, the Duke of Aquitaine.
When Garin returns, the lands around Roche-à-Frêne have been laid to waste, and while the town itself remains strongly defended, Jaufre’s blockade threatens to starve them into capitulation. Garin joins Audiart, who recognizes him as the squire who once rescued her. She devises a plan wherein she will again become a shepherdess, Garin will become her jongleur brother, and the two will sneak across the enemy lines to meet with Richard and convince him to withdraw his troops. He does. Without Aquitaine’s help, Montmaure is unable to maintain the siege and Roche-à-Frêne is saved. Audiart asks Garin to marry her.