A powerful and chiseled 8th-century king named Alobar narrowly escapes regicide at the hands of his own subjects, a custom to kill of the leader at the first sign of aging. After fleeing, no longer a king but only a man, he travels through Eurasia, on a newfound quest for the secret to longevity. Eventually he stumbles upon the stomping grounds of the pungent goat-god Pan, who is slowly losing his godly powers as the world turns toward Christianity. Pan encourages Alobar to continue East in search of the masters of immortality.
Meanwhile, in present-day, Priscilla, a part-time waitress and amateur perfumer, is stalled in re-creating the fragrance from the last remaining drops of a three-hundred-year-old perfume bottle in her possession. She juggles the unwanted sexual advances of her only friend and co-worker Ricki, has a brief affair with an eccentric Irish philosopher, Wiggs Dannyboy, who has a clinic for immortality research, called the Last Laugh Foundation. She attempts to ignore the mysterious deliveries of beets she keeps receiving at her apartment.
In New Orleans, Priscilla's stepmother, Madame Devalier, a once successful perfumer, is also working to recreate the same fragrance as Priscilla. At the urging of V’lu, Priscilla’s rival and Madame D’s protégé, they attempt to formulate a scent that will compete with their historic competition in Paris. The two have their hands on premium Jamaican jasmine supplied by a mysterious man with the helmet of swarming bees, Bingo Pajama, a symbolic figure inthe story.
In Paris, Claude and Marcel LeFever of the LeFever Parfumarie are not concerned with the small perfume house in New Orleans, but rather their new scent and it’s synthetic base. Claude has been charged with keeping an eye on Marcel’s stability. Though the “creative nose” of the company, his latest ideas on evolution of a new consciousness have got his uncle, the owner, Luc Lefever, more than a bit unsettled. Though Marcel’s lover, V’lu has another agenda as a secret agent placed by Luc at Perfumerie Devalier to send information.
In Ancient India, upon seeing the heinous widow’s ritual of self-immolation, suttee, Alobar consoles a young girl, Kudra, horrified at the sight of the woman attempting to escape the flames of the funeral pyre. Years later, the girl, now a young woman arrives at a lamasery where Alobar has taken residence for two decades. The two fall in love,and as with most of Robbins' couples, their mutual libido is enormous, and their love quite like something out of a comedic fairy tale. Kudra reveals she, herself, recently escaped suttee and the two find a common bond in their defiance of death.
Alobar relays to Kudra his encounter with a mysterious group known as "The Bandaloop Doctors," who are masters of immortality. The two set off to the caves of the Bandaloop to learn immortalist practices. Through the remaining vibrations of the now empty caves, the lovers begin a daily practice of controlled breathing, regular fasting, frequent sex, and bathing in extremely hot water. Alobar and Kudra, successful in their practices and never aging, find they are constantly on the run, moving around Europe to avoid the threat of violence against them for their heathen practices. After several hundred years, they choose to finally settle and open a perfume shop in 17th century Paris when a group of monks threaten their lives. They try to create a perfume to take stinky Pan to the New World with them. When time runs out they attempt a sort of new transcendental meditation and become separated into different astral planes. Alobar completes the perfume formula with Pan and they voyage to the New World, ultimately losing not only the love of his life, but the precious bottle of sweetly scented perfume.
In the present, the ancient bottle of perfume is stolen by V’lu while Priscilla is attending a dinner with Wiggs Dannyboy at the Last Laugh Foundation. Priscilla goes to New Orleans to retrieve it, but misses Madame Devalier and V'lu who are in hiding as a result of witnessing the murder of Bingo Pajama. Later, after her relationship with Wiggs Dannyboy isput on hold by a tragedy at the Last Laugh Foundation, he relays the good news that Marcel Lefever and his good friend the thousand-year old, Alobar, will be coming to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and he will arrive shortly thereafter.
Alobar, Marcel, and Priscilla all convene for Mardi Gras where they encounter Pan one final time. Priscilla recovers the bottle when V'lu and Madame Devalier return. Together, they learn the secret of the mysterious beets, the perfume and the story of Alobar and Kudra. In Paris, we make a final stop in another dimension led by Kudra, discovering the way to immortality.
The main message is summarized in the words spoken in Alobar's 8th century Bohemian dialect Erleichda, loosely translated as "lighten up".