Ranofer is an orphaned 12-year-old boy at a goldsmith's shop who has learned much about gold working. Without his half brother, Gebu, he would be living on the streets. His evil half brother beats and mistreats Ranofer.Ranofer has to stay with Gebu because his father, Thutra, died when he was young. His father knew Zau, the master goldsmith well.
When the tallies of gold sweepings do not add up, Ranofer tries to figure out why. He determines that Ibni the Babylonian porter is smuggling gold to Gebu through wineskins that Ranofer unknowingly carries home. Ranofer tries to stop this, but Gebu forces him to continue, threatening to beat again and sell him into slavery. Ranofer makes two new friends, the Ancient and Heqet, but things take a turn for the worse when Gebu moves him to his stone cutting shop to be an apprentice after Ibni is caught. Ranofer doesn't like the job as much as his dream where he is to be apprentice by Zau, the master goldsmith.
With the help of his new friends, Ranofer discovers that someone else is stealing gold at night after getting suspicious again. After Heqet suggests they work together to spy on Gebu and his evil helpers, they meet in a thicket near the river, share food, and talk about what they have heard during midday when Ranofer gets a break from his awful job at the stonecutters' shop. Ranofer breaks into Gebu's room and discovers a golden goblet which could not come from the area.
Ranofer realizes that Gebu has been tomb robbing by the markings at the bottom which say the name of a pharaoh. Also with that evidence he realizes that no one can get as rich as Gebu was getting in one day which supports his theory. He asks the Ancient how tomb robbers are caught, and the Ancient replies, "They must be followed". Ranofer knows from Heqet's eavesdropping that Gebu will be going on another tomb robbing session during the upcoming feast, but keeps his findings to himself.
Ranofer follows Gebu to the burial chamber. Meanwhile, Heqet and the Ancient have also gone to the Valley of the Kings looking for Ranofer, putting puzzle pieces together where he has gone and why. Ranofer runs out of the tomb after extinguishing the robbers' torch and one of the giant steps crumbles, trapping Gebu and his companion Wenamon. Ranofer puts a boulder on top of the entrance, and then finds Heqet and the Ancient, who sit on the boulder while Ranofer returns to town. He manages to get into the palace, and tries to get an audience with the queen but is delayed by Qa-nefer, the queen’s assistant, who doesn't believe his story and thinks he is crazy.
After lots of persistence Ranofer finally gets an audience with the queen, and by telling her about the golden goblet with the pharaoh's name on it, she decides to test him by asking him, "What is the object is leaning against the north wall of my parents' burial chamber?"
Ranofer answers, "Majesty, it was your father's oaken staff," and the queen immediately sent out soldiers, who catch Gebu. Finally, the queen asks what Ranofer wants most in the world. "A donkey," Ranofer said, "so that I may earn a living for myself like the Ancient." He then trots off on his magnificent new donkey and the book ends with him meeting with the Ancient and Hequet.