“I'm not going home. I'm done; I refuse to live under Father's thumb anymore. I don't want to live a life like my mother did, or the life of a princess 'mongst the Venetians with that ugly tree knot,” Corbella said.
“For Peter's sake, you are a dunce. What are you going to do 'stead?” Meliorie asked.
“Ah cousin, you don't do me enough credit. I managed to take enough money to last awhile, but who can tell? I imagined we would figure it out on the go.”
Meliorie and Corbella, two cousins from wealthy Genoese merchant families, are horrified by the prospect of being married off to Venetians in order to further the ambitions of their family. Together, they forsake their weddings, disguise themselves as boys, and strike off on their own. The days pass uneventfully until they meet a young man named Robert Corlieu, who steals their money before fleeing toward Marseilles.
Having no prospects in Genoa, which is under attack from Venice due to their escape, the cousins follow in hot pursuit. Little do they know that their thief is the member of an order trying desperately to defend Europe against a threat from the east: an army of the dead that spreads disease and ravages anything that crosses its path. With Corlieu's help, the two girls learn to hold their own both in the wild and in battle, until they come face-to-face with the greatest challenge of their independent lives: Meliorie's brother, who has led a party of riders after them and demands that they return home.