In the dark winter of Orkney, King Lot's wife delivers a stillborn daughter. In the lonely desperation that follows, she begs her husband for a single boon, to allow her sister, Morgan, to come to her, promising in return that Morgan can guarantee them a son.
Ignoring the advice of his kinsman, Elóil, Lot agrees. Morgan predicts that Margaise will conceive the son she wants, but warns her that the boy will kill his father and destroy his kingdom. She plays upon her sister's desire for Lot's love, and when Margaise agrees to drown her son, Morgan arranges to see it done. Gawain is spared by the bravery of the young maidservant, Ragnell, and Merlin, who prophesies that the prince has been touched by darkness, and only by strength of heart will he bear up against it and serve his Fate.
Ten years pass, the High King, Uther Pendragon, dies, and the remaining kings and clan lords go to war, each contesting for the vacant throne until Merlin issues a mysterious challenge, a decisive act that will reveal the true King, but the kings must submit to truce, and they must bring their heirs with them to Uther's court at Caerleon.
Gawain, though eager to test his fledgling skill in a real adventure, is apprehensive. Will the crown rest on his father's head, then on his, in years to come? Or will another claim Britain? And what do the strange, recurring dreams of a red-gold dragon, summoning a ring of light, really mean?
His test has only begun.