The story begins where Drums of Autumn left off – Claire and Jamie Fraser attend the Gathering at Mount Helicon, in the colony of North Carolina, while their daughter, Brianna, prepares for her wedding to Roger MacKenzie, and the baptism of their son, Jeremiah. Things gang agley, naturally, but after a very long day indeed, young Jem is baptized and Roger and Bree are finally married, and the residents of Fraser's Ridge return home, though Jamie with a letter from the Governor instructing him to build up a militia. He does, at that, and leads his men off on their duty to enforce the King's law, but Jamie and Claire become sidetracked by a visit to the Beardsley homestead, where they find a man in dire straits along with his most peculiar wife. After resolving this disturbing encounter, the militia returns home, having been released by word from the Governor before any real battle can take place, and they return home once again.
In the spring, the Frasers and the MacKenzies travel down to River Run to attend the wedding of Jocasta Cameron to Duncan Innes, and here follow several threads of intrigue: a missing bridegroom, a slave found drugged and unconscious in the bushes, an annoyingly persistent Mr. Wylie, one Major Donald MacDonald keen on meeting with Jamie, and several guests butting heads in favor of and against those that style themselves "Regulators". In the end, the marriage takes place, but a slave ends up dead, and Claire suspects murder. In the course of her investigation, she and Jamie have a brief encounter with Stephen Bonnet, and spend a night questioning Phillip Wylie, who was seen apparently accompanying the notorious smuggler. They also learn a long-held secret from Jocasta, who knows just what a band of burglars might mean when they demand to know where the "Frenchman's gold" is.
A few short months later, the militia is summoned once again into service as tensions rise between the government and the Regulators. These climax in a battle at Alamance, where Roger finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The small rebellion is put down, but at great cost to the MacKenzie family, and to Roger's health and spirit.
The families return to the Ridge to heal, though they aren't long left in peace in their mountain home – not least for a terrifying lightning storm and forest fire, amidst rumors of a man-killing ghost-bear in a nearby Indian village, or recurring word of Stephen Bonnet's whereabouts, which Jamie has tracked for countless months. Roger insists Jamie teach him to fight, intimating his desire to kill Bonnet himself, and Jamie agrees to help him, though with a certain amount of doubt regarding the wisdom of doing so. On a hunting trip, Jamie finds himself bitten by a venomous snake, with none of the hunting party but Roger to wait with him through the night before they can get help. The experience – which Jamie survives, though it's a near thing – leaves the men with a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another, while a frightening appearance by their erstwhile prey startles everyone at the Big House.
While Jamie recovers, Roger arranges for a few new tenants to settle on the Ridge – one Thomas Christie, a man who had been imprisoned with Jamie at Ardsmuir, and his son and daughter. Meanwhile, Claire discovers an intriguing entry in Dr. Rawlings' medical journal – his treatment of Hector Cameron, and his wife, Jocasta, several years before – and Jamie arranges a convoluted planned meeting with Stephen Bonnet. They travel to Wilmington, where the women and children stay while Roger and Jamie go to meet Bonnet at Wylie's Landing. Things do not go as planned, and Claire, Brianna, and Marsali, along with Jemmy, Germain, and wee Joan, endure a dangerous encounter with Bonnet, while Jamie and Roger fight for their lives against two long-suspected, now confirmed foes.
Fearing for the safety of the inhabitants of River Run, Jamie and Claire go there while the young families return to the safety of the Ridge. There, they find that a man has been killed, and Jocasta is forced to fill in the blanks left in her earlier story of the Frenchman's gold. With no notion whether Stephen Bonnet still lives, they return home at last, resuming the usual homely chores of life on a farm. It is while Jamie and Roger are at work on the land that they find themselves under attack by a wild boar, only to be saved by the timely return of Young Ian, home at last from his exile with the Mohawk. He brings with him the writings of the late Robert Springer, also known as Otter-Tooth, and in the course of deciphering his Latin-encoded script, they learn more about the time traveling phenomenon, and speculate about Jemmy's ability. At the last, Roger pledges that he and his family will stay on the Ridge – that they will stand by Jamie and Claire, as conflict and war draw inexorably closer.
Lieutenant Archibald Hayes reads a proclamation from Governor William Tryon in regards to the search for any person involved in the Hillsborough riot the month prior. He also sought out Jamie Fraser to deliver notice from Governor Tryon that he wishes Fraser to form a militia to have ready when he requires it.
Jocasta Cameron and Roger get into a disagreement, when she states she plans to leave River Run to Jem ensuring that none of her money goes to Roger and not only implies but states that she figured if Jem was to inherit her fortune and land Roger would be more inclined to care for the boy. Roger was of course highly offended and told Jocasta neither he, his wife or their son want her money.
Father Kenneth, the Catholic priest who was to perform the wedding ceremony not only for Brianna and Roger but Jocasta and Duncan Innes was arrested. While still under arrest Jamie manages a way for him to secretly christen his three grandchildren.
Jamie gives Claire a gray kitten which they name Adso, after a cat his mother had when he was a boy.
Jamie receives a letter from Governor Tryon stating that his militia is to join his regiment no later than December 15th in Salisbury.
Jamie, following an old War-Chief tradition of the highlands, builds a cross which is then burned during the gathering of his militia. He tells Claire how he remembered only once seeing the Fiery Cross while at Castle Leoch and seeing Dougal light the cross as War Chief of the clan.
Fraser's militia set out from Fraser's Ridge, totally near 40 men and Claire. As they head closer to the treaty line, en route to Salisbury, add near a dozen more men.
During their travels the come across Josiah Beardsley and notice the 'T' brand on his thumb, which causes for the boy to flee. Jamie however chases him down and later returns with Jo's identical twin Keziah, who is deaf. Jamie burns the 'T' marks and lets the twins flee.
Roger and the rest of the militia are sent on to Brownsville to recruit more men.
Jamie and Claire head to the Beardsley's trading post where the twins were once indentured servants. There they found Fanny Beardsley and her husband Aaron Beardsley. Mr. Beardsley is injured and had suffered a stroke.
At his request Jamie mercy kills Mr. Beardsley and buries him on the property.
Roger and Fergus end up needing to defuse a deadly situation in Brownsville. Upon their arrival they are shot upon by the Browns brothers whom want to kill Isaiah Morton, a member of the militia, for dishonoring Alicia Brown.
Mrs. Beardsley chose to leave with Claire and Jamie. During their travel to Brownsville in the middle of the night she disappears from where they camped leaving behind her newborn daughter. Claire and Jamie find the child and care for her noticing a mongol spot that indicates the child is mulatto. The Brown family chose to take in the infant knowing that she is heir to the Beardsley trading post.
A notice is received from Governor Tryon that the militia has been disbanded. Morton learns that Alicia is pregnant with his child and despite already being married elopes with her in the middle of the night.
Phillip Wylie attempts to seduce Claire in the stables, however she rebuffs his advances injuring his pride.
Brianna and Jamie find a house salve named Betty, Phaedre's mother, drunk under the bushes. However further investigation they discover she was drugged with lidocaine.
Jamie finds Duncan Innes and Duncan confines in him about an accident when he was a young man that resulted in his impotence. At Jamie's request Claire speaks with Jocasta on the subject to determine if she still wishes to get married. Jocasta and Duncan Innes are married despite all the chaos.
Later in the evening Wylie baits Jamie into a high stakes card game. Which to Claire's annoyance Jamie asks to use her gold wedding band, from Frank to bet with and she ends up giving him both her rings in anger. Jamie however wins the game, keeping both rings safe and winning Wylie's prized Friesian stallion named Lucas.
Betty is discovered to have died, suspecting foul play Claire and Jamie go out to the shed to perform an autopsy. However, they are interrupted by Wylie happening upon them. His appearance did concern them but not as much as seeing Stephen Bonnet behind him. Both men run and Jamie chases after them, only catching Wylie with Roger's help. Bonnet managed to escape stealing Lucas.
Inside the house Jocasta and Duncan had been attacked by two men, who rendered Duncan unconscious. Once it was only family in the room, Jocasta explained what happened. She told them about how two men tried to force her to tell them about the French Gold that Louis had sent, too late, to aid Charles at the rising. She described to them that one man reeked of drink but did not speak while the other spoke with an Irish accent. Though her story she explained that the gold had been entrusted to three men, whom brought each a second person; her late husband Hector Cameron, her brother Dougal MacKenzie, and a masked man she could not identify. She also told them of her daughters Clementina, Seonag, and Morna who all have died because of Hector wanting to keep the gold.
In the morning Roger and Jamie interrogate Wylie considering that he was the silent accomplice to Bonnet. However, they determine he was not involved in the attack on Jocasta and Duncan. They let him go with the warning to not speak a word of what he'd seen Claire doing in the shed with Betty's body.
While going over all the evidence Jamie, Claire, Roger, Brianna, Jocasta, Duncan and Ulysses figure out that Lieutenant Wolff, a scorned suitor of Jocasta's, had tried to get rid of Duncan however was unsuccessful and had to cover his tracks by killing Betty. And given that he had been drinking heavily that day they also connected he was probably the second man that attacked Duncan and Jocasta.
While returning to Fraser's Ridge Major MacDonald brings Jamie a letter from Governor Tryon. The letter was new orders for Fraser's militia stating they would be called upon before the 20th of April.
Jamie's militia, calling themselves Fraser's Company, set out to meet the rest of the regiment.
During the Battle of Alamance, Roger crosses the enemy line and attempts to reason with Jamie's Quaker friend Hermon Husband. After their talk, Husband tries to encourage the other regulators to find a nonviolent resolution.
After Roger left the enemy camp he comes upon Morag MacKenzie and tries to warn her of the violence that is coming. He innocently kisses her, but her husband Buck MacKenzie does not think it so innocent. Buck turns him over to the North Carolina Provincial Militia, claiming that Roger was one of the Regulators, and Roger is then wrongfully hanged. Roger barely escapes alive and his voice is permanently damaged.
During the fighting, the Browns brothers shoot Isaiah Morton in the back. However, Claire is able to save his life.
In late November, during a buffalo hunt Jamie is bitten by a poisonous snake. Roger, with the help of Fergus had to get Jamie back to the Big House and to Claire for medical attention.
Brianna killed a buffalo with an ax when it wandered through the paddock getting too close for her comfort to Jem.
Through Brianna's engineering and the Beardsley Twins capture of a large rattlesnake a makeshift syringe was created and Claire was able to inject penicillin into Jamie to help cure the snakebite.
After traveling down from the mountains, the Frasers go to Wilmington so that Jamie and Roger can meet Stephen Bonnet and kill him. Instead, they are waylaid by David Anstruther and Randall Lillywhite at Wylie's Landing, with the complication of a family of Russian swineherds.
Back in Wilmington, Claire, Bree, and Marsali take the children to gather myrtles and are approached by Stephen Bonnet, who tries to take Jemmy – based on Brianna's admission two years before that Bonnet had fathered her child – and Brianna with him. Instead, Brianna shoots Bonnet non-fatally, and he escapes.
Ian returns from the Mohawk to Fraser's Ridge. He doesn't give any details about his return, or his Mohawk family. He brings a gift for Claire from Tewaktenyonh: the diary of "Otter-Tooth," previously known as Robert Springer. Claire, Brianna and Roger admit to Ian that they are all from the future.
Jemmy explodes an opal by holding it, suggesting he may have the time-traveling trait.