Josiah was born soon after the war was over, but its shadow still lies across the land of Sium. Even though the two countries had remained at peace for the past seventeen years, there is little doubt that the Meran Empire will continue its conquest one day. Josiah is too young to remember the war, but he is reminded of it every day; his dark skin betrays his Meran blood. Josiah's mother, Ruth, keeps silent on the subject of Josiah's origin.
Josiah's solitude ends once two members of the archives (the archivist Crow and his guardian Mireille) come into town. The Siumi do not trust their history to paper, and the archives are charged with preserving it in their memories. Josiah learns that there have been several recent killings of the archivists, and the members of the archives are seeking shelter.
Josiah meets Caleb, a friend of the archives and a Meran missionary. Caleb becomes interested in Josiah's origin, and finds out something Josiah has suspected for a long time – his father was a Meran general, Sefar, killed during the war near Josiah's hometown. Caleb informs Josiah that the deceased general was Caleb's distant relative, and invites him to visit the rest of the family in Mer. Mireille and Crow decide to leave Sium as well, fearing prosecution.
The four of them travel to Mer, and Josiah discovers a different culture and a different world – a world of family tradition, honor, and ruthless conquest. With a new war looming on the horizon, Josiah must decide whether he wants to be a conqueror or the conquered. But what does one choose when either alternative is distasteful? How can one take sides without betraying a part of one's heritage? Can a victory be more shameful than a defeat? Of course, every dilemma has a third horn...