cover illustration from the 1st paperback edition
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback), mass-market paperback|
Long ago, the isolated planet Maske was settled by a religious group. They seized a section of the planet from earlier colonists (the Djan), and named it Thaery. The ship carrying a dissident faction was attacked and crashed across the Long Ocean which encircles the planet. The survivors eventually reemerged as the Waels of Wellas. The members of another faction were exiled to the stony peninsula of Glentlin, where they became the Glints. The Glints became notorious bandits, but were eventually subjugated. However, they are still looked down upon as coarse and belligerent. Some Glints took to sailing, and as "Sea Nationals", claimed sovereignty over the ocean. The orthodox settlers divided Thaery into twelve prosperous cantons. Seeking to maintain their religious purity, the Thariots prohibited all travel to other worlds.
Jubal Droad, a young Glint man, goes on Yallow, a rite of passage into adulthood, traditionally spent wandering the land and tending the countryside. He recruits three Djan and spends several weeks repairing a trail. One day, an arrogant Thariot ignores Jubal's urgent warning; he and his Djan escort use the path, causing it to collapse and seriously injure Jubal.
When he recovers, his uncle Vaidro gives him a letter of introduction to Nai the Hever, one of the most powerful men of Thaery. He arrives in the city of Wysrod and encounters Nai's daughter Mieltrude and her friend Sune Mircea. He accompanies them to the examination of Ramus Ymph for a vacancy for the high office of Servant. Jubal recognizes his nemesis. During a recess, he informs Nai the Hever, the senior Servant, of certain facts that result in Ramus being rejected. Ramus, as Jubal has deduced, has been off-world, breaking the laws of Thaery.
On the strength of Vaidro's letter, Nai the Hever offers Jubal a seemingly lowly position as Sanitary Inspector. Jubal reluctantly accepts and learns, during his training, that he has unwittingly become a secret agent. Nai the Hever is in fact the head of Thaery's intelligence service, and Jubal's uncle Vaidro worked with him before he retired.
Ramus Ymph seeks revenge by inducing Mieltrude, his fiancée, into signing a warrant to subject Jubal to severe physical punishment. Jubal escapes from the punishers with the assistance of Shrack, a Sea National acquaintance, and procures a warrant against Mieltrude. After a confrontation with Nai the Hever, Mieltrude's warrant is canceled.
Jubal's first assignment is to discover what Ramus is plotting. He follows Ramus to the tourist world Eiselbar and learns that he is trying to raise enough money to purchase a space yacht.
Back on Maske, Jubal is called away by a family crisis. Cadmus off-Droad, Jubal's illegitimate brother, has murdered Trewe, their brother and head of the clan, asserting that he had been robbed of his rightful place. The clan gathers and brings Cadmus down in fierce fighting. However, Cadmus's masked chief accomplice escapes, and Jubal is certain that it is Ramus. Without proof though, Nai the Hever is unwilling to antagonize the powerful Ymphs. In fact, Jubal infers that he has become an embarrassment to his superior.
Nonetheless, Jubal investigates on his own and finds that Ramus is sailing across the ocean to meet with the Waels. Nai is uninterested, so Jubal is forced to use his own initiative. He pursues Ramus in Shrack's ship. Jubal takes Mieltrude into custody, using his warrant, and brings her along. As the voyage progresses, their mutual disdain for each other begins to weaken. Mieltrude informs Jubal that her engagement to Ramus was purely in order to aid her father's investigation of Ramus. Ramus's mistress, Sune, had forged Mieltrude's signature to the warrant against Jubal.
Jubal finds Ramus negotiating with the tree-worshipping Waels for the use of their land in exchange for much-needed food. The Minie, leader of the Waels, allows a disguised Jubal to question Ramus. Jubal gets his evasive enemy to finally admit that he wants to construct large tourist resorts, run by his Eiselbar associates. (Ramus had also wanted to lease Droad land for the same purpose, hence his support for Cadmus.) The Waels are greatly disturbed by the revelation and reject his proposal.
They do something to Ramus which leaves him mute and strangely subdued, and insist that Shrack and Jubal take him back with them. During the return voyage, Ramus sprouts bark and leaves, to the awestruck horror of the others. When they reach Wysrod, Ramus runs off the ship, plants his feet in the soil, raises his arms, and to all intents and purposes, becomes a tree.
Afterwards, Nai the Hever asks his daughter her opinion of Jubal. She admits that he is not unpleasant, for a Glint.
- Jubal Droad, a determined young Glint man
- Trewe Droad, Jubal's older brother and head of the Droad clan
- Vaidro Droad, Jubal's uncle
- Ramus Ymph, an arrogant and ambitious Thariot nobleman
- Nai the Hever, a middle-aged Thariot of high status, a Servant
- Eyvant Dasduke, Nai the Hever's chief subordinate
- Mieltrude, Nai the Hever's haughty daughter
- Sune Mircea, Mieltrude's less decorous friend
- Shrack, a Sea National
- the Minie, leader of the Waels
- Cadmus off-Droad, illegitimate brother of Jubal and Trewe