FitzChivalry has survived his first treacherous foray as an assassin, but barely. The poison used by the ambitious Prince Regal has left Fitz weak and prone to unpredictable seizures. Fitz vows to never return to Buckkeep and his king. A vision of the young woman he loves fending off an attack by the merciless Red-ship Raiders convinces Fitz otherwise, and he rouses himself to go back to the royal court of the Six Duchies.
Upon his return to Buckkeep, Fitz is immediately embroiled in the intrigues of the royal family. At least his beloved Molly is alive, but she has been left a pauper by her father's death and debts, forced into service as a lady's maid at the keep. Fitz finally admits his love to her, and she to him. Their happiness is short-lived; when he approaches the ailing King Shrewd for permission to marry, the king tells him in no uncertain terms that Fitz will be pledged to the daughter of a duke. He and Molly are left to conduct their courtship in secret, not only because of Shrewd's command, but to keep Molly safe from Fitz's enemies at the court.
Fitz is more vulnerable now than ever to those enemies. King-in-Waiting Verity is consumed by the need to protect the Duchies' coast from the Red-ships, using his Skill to stave off Raider attacks but failing miserably to give any attention to his new mountain queen. King Shrewd suffers a mysterious wasting disease whose pain only mind-clouding drugs can abate. Bands of Forged ones, Six Duchies folk rendered soulless murderers by the Raiders, begin to converge on the keep. Verity puts Fitz again in the role of unseen assassin, commanding him to hunt down the Forged. This Fitz does with the help of a young wolf he has rescued and bonded with in the forbidden way of the Wit. Regal and his lackeys come very close to discovering that Fitz is Witted, and Fitz must put guards upon his mind to protect this one of his many secrets. With so many duties taking all his time, Fitz can find little time for Molly. When she tells him that she is leaving him and Buck forever for the sake of another, Fitz desperately reveals the biggest thing he has held back from her. Hoping that by sharing the secret of his true duties he can change Molly's mind, he tells her that he is an assassin. Molly is instead repulsed and utterly rejects Fitz with heartbreaking finality.
Despite this huge personal loss, Fitz rallies his loyalty to his King and kingdom. Greater threats to the kingdom than the Raiders and the Forged Ones are the traitors within the court itself. The Raiders grow bolder, and unsent messages and late warnings leave the coastal Duchies easy prey. Verity decides to leave Buckkeep to try to gain the help of the legendary Elderlings. Many folks see this as a fool's errand, and as it leaves Regal free to work his plots more easily, it may be. The ailing king grows more weakened and addled every day, and Regal begins amassing power and loyalty to himself. Fitz and Verity's queen leave to quell a Raider attack on one of the coastal duchies. While they are gone, Regal makes his move. He says that word has come that Verity is dead, and makes himself King-in-Waiting.
Using his mostly uncontrollable Skill, Fitz discovers that Verity is still alive. To utter this now at the court where Regal held power would mean quick death. After an attempt is made on the life of Verity's unborn heir, Fitz and his mentors Chade and Burrich make plans to spirit King Shrewd and Verity's pregnant queen-in-waiting safely out of Regal's reach. The king dies in an attempt to Skill to Verity before the plans can be carried out. However, Fitz gets a glimpse of the true source of the King's long illness and death: Serene and Justin, two remaining members of Skillmaster Galen's coterie, had been using their Skill to slowly drain King Shrewd's life away. Fitz takes the King's blade and immediately assassinates Serene, then hunts down and kills Justin in front of much of the court.
Fitz is imprisoned and accused of homicide, regicide, and of using the forbidden Wit. Regal, in an attempt to get Fitz to confess to his alleged crimes, tortures Fitz both physically and mentally by having him beaten while the one of last remaining members of the coterie, Will, assaults Fitz with the Skill. Fitz, knowing his mind and body cannot sustain any more punishment, uses the Wit to leave his body behind and join with his wolf, Nighteyes.
After his death, Fitz is publicly pronounced guilty of all charges, and his body is buried by, ostensibly, his last remaining supporter, Patience. However, Burrich and Chade exhume Fitz's body and, after much coaxing, convince him to leave Nighteyes' mind and go back into his own body.