Chapters 1-2 Summary
Gwenda, her parents, and her brother Philemon take shelter in the hospital of Kingsbridge Priory. It is November 1, 1327—All Hallows' Day.
The villagers seek the protection of the cathedral from the evil spirits roaming the night of All Hallows' Eve. Gwenda dreads the coming of the daylight. Her father is a laborer, working only when he can find work. Winter is coming, when there is no work to do and they will go hungry.
Her father had been caught stealing and had been branded as a thief by having his left hand cut off. Philemon had been the one to steal, but he is at the clumsy age, so Gwenda must take his place.
She sees a bag of coins hanging from the belt of Sir Gerald. As she approaches her prey, a kind, rich girl smiles at her. Gwenda manages to cut the purse strings but is stopped by Sir Gerald, who lifts her up, thinking she wants to see the ceremony.
Gwenda is terrified that he will find the bag and have her arrested, but he lets her go. She gives the bag to her father and tells him what happened, that she had been seen. They leave to have their breakfast elsewhere.
It is not until later that the theft is discovered. Sir Gerald, the descendant of Jack Builder (who built the cathedral) and Lady Aliena of Shiring, is now a poor relation and in debt to the priory. He has come to Kingsbridge to meet with his cousin, the present Earl of Shiring, to work out a deal with Prior Anthony.
Sir Gerald, his wife (Lady Maud), and their two sons (Merthin and Ralph) are invited to sit at the head table. Merthin shows his father the bow he had made. Sir Gerald is impressed with the bow but tells him to give it to a peasant since bows are unfit for knights.
Merthin goes to the field where the shooting practice is located. The kind rich girl introduces herself as Caris. Philemon tells Merthin that boys are not allowed to shoot. Humiliated, Merthin leaves. He, Ralph, Caris, and Gwenda (along with her three-legged dog, Hop) go into the forest. Ralph cruelly shoots Hop and kills him.
A knight, Thomas Langley, is pursued by two men in the service of the queen. They demand a letter that Thomas is carrying. Ralph shoots one in the eye, killing him. Thomas manages to kill the other one.
Merthin helps Thomas bury the letter, which contains a great secret. If Merthin hears that Thomas is dead, he is to dig up the letter and take it to a priest. The children vow to keep their adventure a secret. Sir Gerald tells his sons that the priory now owns his lands, leaving nothing for them to inherit.