Leaving the security of his uncle's olive farm in Abruzzo, Samuel Fretwell returns to war-ravaged Mercia after five years away, in desperate search for news of his displaced family. The economic troubles of the late twenty-first century, however, have taken a much more severe toll on a divided island in his absence. He finds a disintegrated, impoverished nation, socially fragmented and morally bankrupt. Money is worthless, bartering is rife, and lawlessness is rampant. Law and order is left in the hands of the heavy-handed military. In his battle for survival he chances upon a beautiful carved wooden bowl that carries a mysterious history and possesses supernatural properties that provide protection as he considers returning to Italy. It is this find that also draws a persistent, aggressive pursuer who will stop at nothing to gain possession of the bowl.