Kialan joins the traveling family of Clennen the Singer in the middle of their journey, after some arrangement with Clennen himself, but with no explanations to the rest of the family of who is is or why he is with them -- only that he is traveling to the north, just like them.
Despite initial problems between Kialan and the younger siblings Brid and Moril, they finally begin to get along, and when Clennen is killed, his widow turns the cart around to drive back towards the South, to take refuge with the local lord of the town of Markind, to whom she was betrothed before she married Clennen and went off with him.
This lord, Ganner by name, welcomes the entire family, but neither Brid nor Moril feel at home in his estate, where someone is always urging them to come inside, behave themselves, dress properly, and avoid all risks. Dagner, the eldest, has several tasks he promised his father to do after his death. The three children leave quietly and are on the road when they meet up with Kialan, who has come along to join them. They decide to go all the way to the North, as Clennen was doing when he was killed, and to support themselves in the way they are used to, by giving musical performances in towns along the way.
This time around, Kialan tells them his real story, and why Clennen was protecting him. His story resembles theirs in several ways, and they realize they are all in this together, and must reach the North before the man who had Clennen killed comes after them too.