While doing research to find Earth in the library on Paiyar, Dumarest is approached by the beautiful Aihult Zenya Yamaipan, daughter of the powerful House of Aihult. Her grandfather, Aihult Chan Parect, the head of the house of Aihult, wants to meet with Dumarest, and she says he may have the answer he's looking for. He waits to meet with the patriarch in the company of the other decadent members of the house, including the sultry Lisa Conenda contentious Zavor, who picks a fight with him. Dumarest breaks his nose to teach him a lesson. At dinner, which consists of an "assortment of dishes was for titivation, not sustenance" Dumarest is privately contemptuous of the proud and arrogant aristocrats and their mistreatment of Brother Eland. The monk is there to ask permission to set up a small portable church to tend to the poor. Parect and the others are contemptuous of him and he's locked up. Dumarest comes to his aid gaining his release. That night, Zavor tries to assassinate Dumarest, who is severely wounded even as he kills the cruel aristocrat. He comes to in the care of one of Parect's physicians and the old man makes him an offer he can't refuse: find his wayward son, Salek, who has run off to the planet Chard or Parect will inform the Cyclan of Dumarest's location. Aware of the threat the cyber's pose to him, and knowing that Salek has studied ancient legends, Dumarest reluctantly consents.
Accompanied by Zenya, he arrives on Chard, only to find it in a state of war. It's a world that is economically dependent on a mono-crop, growing a versatile plant called lofios "a plant which provides fruit, fiber, and rare oils for the making of perfumes and unguents." Recently several villages have been destroyed and the inhabitants slaughtered. The blame has fallen on the "primitive" native Ayutha. The captain of the ship Dumarest has traveled on lies to a Chard soldier, telling him that Dumarest is a soldier from Samalle, "one of the Warrior Worlds, dedicated to military training, a supplier of mercenaries." The people of Chard are eager to have an experienced military man helping them, and Dumarest quickly finds himself in charge of their military, hoping to find Salek even as he strives to win the war.
This is notable for being the first book where it turns out that the Cyclan aren't behind the trouble. In every previous volume they've been the cause of the social turmoil, but not this time. However, there is the seemingly obligatory catfight between Zenya and Lisa for his sexual favors. As for Dumarest, he's become more even handed in his slapping, hitting not only Zaenya but also a backtalking military surgeon on Chard. He also takes to the role of military office with surprising alacrity. There's no mention of him having served in the military before now, yet he's quite at home deploying troops and barking commands.
And it's in this situation where some of the contradictions of his character come to the fore. While commanding the army he acts the martinet and issues strict orders, even threatening to shoot his own troops if they disobey. Moreover, he takes the role of hard nosed military realist to such an extreme that he even utters the fascist chestnut, "Among races, like men, only the strong have the right to survive." Yet this is the same man who not long before went out of his way to help Brother Eland and who has always been favorably disposed toward the Universal Brotherhood whose mission is to help the weak. And prior to this, despite his own violent rugged individualism, he's expressed nothing but contempt for the warrior ethos, in Technos even declaring, "War, by definition, is a confession of failure. It requires little intelligence to beat a weaker man with a club." Yet here he is thinking and acting as if he were thoroughly schooled in the arts of war. How these contradictions in his character will play themselves out will be seen as he continues to search for Earth.