The King of Murania is dead! Long live the King! But the heir is Nikki, twenty years in exile, and living with actress Marta Karillos, disliked and distrusted by the people. To ensure a suitable succession, Elena, the Queen Mother, acidly witty and a schemer of genius, persuades Nikki to accept the crown, marry Cristiane - the snow princess from Norseland - and beget an heir as soon as is decently possible. Nikki agrees, provided his beloved Marta can be installed, in considerable grandeur, not too far from the royal abode.
The emotional tangle which begins when the frigid Cristiane thaws, and Nikki finds he must fight within himself to keep faith with Marta, is heightened by political intrigues which culminate in enforced abdication and a return to exile. Ten years later, when Cristiane's little son is crowned, she knows in her heart that somewhere in the cold shadows of Bledz Cathedral the ceremonial is being watched by a proud, sad father and husband, who has loved not wisely but not well.