While researching ancient navigation logs on Paiyar, Dumarest meets Zenya, a rich young noblewoman who conveys an invitation from her grandfather Parect, patriarch of one of the most important clans on the planet.† Paiyar has moderately advanced technology but is ruled by a few noble houses whose feuds stop just short of open warfare.† Parect is even more paranoid and devious than Earl expects a nobleman of his background to be, and his offer contains a plethora of carrots and sticks.† Parect needs his son Salek to help him consolidate power in the face of growing opposition from the other noble houses.† All Earl has to do is bring him home from another planet. In return he gets to marry his choice of two hot heiresses, Zenya or her aunt Lisa, and receive the tons of power and money that will go with his new station (never mind that they're both as paranoid and devious as Parect).† The added bonus: the missing son left to pursue his obsession with ancient legends, including The Original People, and once he is comfortably back home he will undoubtedly have lots of clues about Earth. Yeah, right, Earlís heard that one before, and from people a lot more trustworthy than this bunch of arrogant, inbred liars.

In the brief time Earl considers his answer (which he spends figuring out how to say ďno way, psychoĒ politely enough that it wonít get him killed), he has to rebuff an offer from Lisa to assassinate Parect and rule by her side, and then avoid an assassination attempt by Parectís grandson (a not-too-bright hothead who is a danger to everyone, including Parect).† Both men are severely injured in the fight, but the grandson is killed by a mysterious malfunction of his own laser before either one of them can finish the job.

With the carrots already on the table, the sticks come fast and furious.† Earl could be executed for killing a nobleman.† Never mind that Parect probably gave him a booby-trapped laser and goaded him into the attack to simultaneously get rid of a troublemaker and gain leverage to be used against Dumarest.† Also, Earl owes a ton of money for the medical treatment he received from Parectís physicians after the assassination attempt, and if he doesnít agree he will be sold into slavery.† Plus while he was under the anesthetic, he was implanted with a mysterious device which will signal his location to the Cyclan if he betrays Parect.† Oh, and Zenya will be accompanying him on the mission to make sure he behaves.† Zenya naturally takes full advantage of their cover story (traveling as a married couple). Dumarest resists at first but gives in to keep up appearances when it becomes apparent they are under surveillance.† Poor guy.† About the only bright spot is that Dumarest befriends Branchard, the captain of their ride - a fast merchant vessel called the Topheir engaged in speculative trading and a perhaps a bit of smuggling.†

If all thatís not bad enough, the planet Chard (where Salek is to be found) is at war, and Earlís cover story as a nobleman from Samalle, one of the Warrior Worlds, lands him an unsolicited job as a military advisor to the local militia.† It seems the Ayutha, apparently the regressed descendants of a much earlier wave of galactic colonization, have recently abandoned their pacifistic lifestyle and have taken to raiding the farming villages outlying the planetís main city. The more recent colonists on Chard have advanced technology, but they are also predominantly peaceful, hence their eager acceptance of Earlís military advice based on his otherwise flimsy cover story. They are reluctant to embark on a war of genocide, at least partially because the Ayutha provide a cheap source of labor to harvest the multipurpose plant that provides fruit, textile fibers, and the rare and mildly hallucinogenic oils used in manufacturing perfumes and unguents that are the planetís only significant export goods.

Earl insists on a full military physical but their scanners can detect no device implanted in his body.† Earl is unsure if Parect was bluffing, or if he has used a surprisingly advanced technology that has evaded detection.† Earl engages Branchard to search for Salek while he plays full-time general to maintain his cover.† Most of the rest of the novel is a nifty little SF whodunit in which Earl discovers the root cause of the outbreak of violence and reconciles the two factions.† When Lisa arrives to complicate things further, he goads her into revealing that he doesnít have a physical device implanted, but a technologically enhanced post-hypnotic suggestion that will compel him to turn himself in to the Cyclan if she says the magic word.

Earl eventually discovers that the hallucinogenic plants have mutated and their pollen is causing the violence for which each side has blamed the other.† During his investigation, he surmises that the Ayutha would never have formed a resistance movement without outside help, and with Branchardís help determines that Salek, who has lived among the Ayutha for years, is responsible.† After arranging a truce between the factions, Dumarest goes to capture Salek, but tries to kill him instead, the result of another of Parectís post-hypnotic suggestions. Parectís unrealistic plan to reunite the family to resist the other noble houses is thus revealed to be a ruse to cover the much more realistic goal of eliminating a potential usurper.† Earlís own troops restrain him until he can overcome the compulsion to kill Salek. Once Earl informs him what triggered the whole mess, Salek is chastened and regrets teaching the Ayutha how to make war .

Dumarest doesnít appreciate all this hypnotic cleverness, and although he suspects Parect probably encoded more than one trigger phrase (to be able to play the heiresses off against each other), Lisa tries to kill Salek and Dumarest kills Lisa before he can find out all the details of his mental programming.† Zenya is sent packing back to Paiyar where she will presumably be safe from Parectís paranoia because she is Parect's last surviving heir, although nobody really seems to care one way or the other what happens to her.† Salek will hopefully stay out of harmís way on Chard, helping to rebuild relations between the technological culture and the Ayutha while they all deal with the economic repercussions of their cash cropís mutation.

And, lo and behold, Salek, who has lived and worked among the Ayutha this long because he actually is a scholar of ancient history and they actually are descendants of a very early wave of galactic colonization, actually does have useful information about Earth.† Although Earlís cover has long since been blown, he is offered a chance to stay on as permanent military advisor, but after Parectís manipulations he fears the Cyclan is now hot on his trail and hires on to Branchardís crew to make an anonymous exit.

Clues of Earth
Salek tells Earl the names of certain stars rumored to have been in the same vicinity as Terra: Sirius, Polaris, Alpha Centaurus and Procyon, and the fact that Polaris is on the imaginary line formed by extending Terraís axis.† He also tells him that he believes the Cyclan knows Earthís exact location.

The Cyclan
Parect is paranoid enough to realize that the Cyclan always have ulterior motives for the advice they give, and because of that distrust he uses their interest to manipulate Dumarest instead of accepting their first offer to hand him over.† Other than that, they do not directly appear in or influence the action.

The Journey
Earl begins Book 11, Zenya, on Paiyar, no mention of previous stops, and travels to Chard.† Story ends on Chard with Earl ready to join the crew of the free trader Topheir to avoid Cyclan pursuit, with no specific destination mentioned.

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