Axl and Beatrice are an old Briton couple living in a time when people seem to be unable to perceive the past clearly. Upon remembering once having had a son, they journey to visit him. On the way they become involved with a mysterious Saxon warrior called Wistan, the old-fashioned knight Gawain, and a Saxon child, Edwin, on the run from a village where he is wanted dead due to the properties of an ogre bite he is mistakenly assumed to have received.
It is eventually revealed that Axl and Sir Gawain once served under King Arthur, a Briton, who won a long and terrible war against the Saxons which culminated in the slaughter of Saxon women and children. In order to prevent the Saxons from seeking revenge and thus keep the peace, Arthur had Merlin cast a spell over the land, clouding everyone's memory. The travellers reluctantly decide to lift the spell despite the highly likely outcome of a new war.
Throughout the novel, the moral conflict is mirrored in the troubles of Axl and Beatrice's relationship. On one hand they feel that remembering their past will make their love truer, on the other they worry that something in their past will ruin their current positive view of the relationship.
In the final chapter of the novel, upon regaining their memories, a mysterious ferryman, having promised to take both of them to an island, takes Beatrice first. The meaning of this is ambiguous and subject to several interpretations.