A wild land too mountainous to be tamed by plows…A Duke of the Holy Roman Empire, his cunning overshadowed only by his ambition…A young Priestess of the Old Religion, together with a charismatic outlaw, sparking a rebellion from deep within the forests…And an ex-Hospitaller caught between them all. At the end of the thirteenth century, five hundred orphans and second sons are rounded up from villages in the Alpine countryside and sold to the Hospitaller Knights of St John. Trained to serve as Soldiers of Christ, they fight in eastern lands they know nothing about, for a cause they do not understand.
Brother Foulques de Villaret just wants to stay in Acre and perform his sworn duties. Instead, the young Hospitaller Knight of Saint John must undertake a dangerous journey from the Holy Land to a remote village nestled in the Alps, the 'Spine of the World'. His mission: buy 500 peasant boys and return them to Acre to be trained as soldiers of Christ.
A small force of peasants from the forest regions surrounding Lake Lucerne, rise up against their Austrian overlords in the 14th century. Outnumbered seven-to-one by the battle-hardened Habsburg army, they have little hope. A daring moonlight raid leaves the outlaw Noll Melchthal in possession of an Austrian fortress. In the north, an outraged Leopold of Habsburg assembles the ultimate punitive force: a great army, thousands strong, boasting the best knights and soldiers the Holy Roman Empire has to offer.