England, 1141. The countryside is devastated by a long civil war that has left thousands dead. With no clear winner in the conflict, castles and villages change hands from month to month as the English king, Stephen, and his cousin, the empress Matilda, battle for the crown.Emma is the eleven-year-old redheaded daughter of a peasant family. When mercenaries pass through their town, they bring with them a monk with a deadly interest in young redheaded girls. Left for dead in a burned-out church, Emma is one more victim in a winter of atrocities until another mercenary, Gwil, an archer, finds her by chance. Barely alive, she cannot remember her name or her life before the attack. Unable to simply abandon her, Gwil takes her with him, dressing her as a boy to avoid attention. Emma becomes Penda—and Penda turns out to have a killer instinct with a bow and arrow. But Gwil becomes uneasily aware that the monk who hurt his protégée is still out there, and that a scrap of a letter Emma was found clutching could be very valuable to the right person . . . or the wrong one.Maud is the fifteen-year-old chatelaine of Kenniford, a small but strategically important castle she's determined to protect as the war rages around them. But when Maud provides refuge for the empress, Stephen's armies lay siege to Kenniford Castle and Maud must prove that she's every bit the leader her father was. Aided by a garrison of mercenaries— including Gwil and his odd, redheaded apprentice—they must survive a long winter under siege. It's a brutal season that brings everyone to Kenniford, from kings to soldiers to the sinister monk who has never stopped hunting the redheaded girl . . .