Ansiau, an old crusader, leaves his fief in Champagne and his family to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The half-blind lord hopes that at the grave of his eldest son and in the holy city of Jerusalem, he will find release from his grief. He is given a twelve-year-old boy, Auberi, as his squire.
The new lord of Linnières is another son, the licentious and unscrupulous Herbert le Gros. Herbert’s mother, the Lady Alis, so disapproves of his behavior that she refuses to live with him. She moves to a farmhouse, along with her husband’s illegitimate daughter Eglantine, who is having a clandestine affair with her half brother.
Herbert sends to Normandy for his son Haguenier, who for years was training to be a knight. On his way home, Haguenier meets the beautiful, bored Lady Marie of Mongenost and swears allegiance to her, hoping that devotion will propel her into his arms.
After ten years of absence, Haguenier feels like a stranger in his own home. However, he soon finds friends, including his brother Ernaut, who was refused the hand of a cousin’s daughter because of his illegitimate birth. Ernaut is threatening to kill himself. Herbert decides to send Ernaut for a papal document that might help his case. Meanwhile, Herbert proceeds with his other plans. Haguenier and his two illegitimate brothers are knighted, and Haguenier is married to a wealthy, older widow. After Haguenier makes a poor showing in a tournament, Herbert sends him to prove himself in the crusade against the Albigensians.
On the road to Marseilles, Ansiau is joined by a lighthearted runaway monk, Riquet, and by Bertrand, or Gaucelm of Castans, who, because of his wife’s Albigensian enthusiasm, was blinded as punishment for heresy. Riquet leaves the party to remain with a village girl, and the other three proceed through the war-ravaged countryside. At Pamiers, Bertrand is reunited with his son but finds him determined to die for his new faith. In despair, Bertrand departs.
Fearful of his mother and, to a lesser degree, of damnation, Herbert breaks off his affair with his half sister. Eglantine aborts their child and, bent on destroying Herbert, haunts the forest, experimenting with witchcraft.
After distinguishing himself in battle, Haguenier becomes ill and has to abandon the crusade. His wife produces a beautiful little girl. Haguenier is captivated, but because the child is not a male to carry on the line, Herbert is furious. Despite Haguenier’s objections, Herbert has the marriage annulled. However, Haguenier says that unless Marie becomes available, he will not marry...
(The entire section is 1070 words.)