Sir Humphrey du Val is consigned to the lowest, worst-served place in Camelot, along with all those considered too drunk, too doddery or simply too inept to go questing. For fifteen years, he has been at the Table of Less Valued Knights, overlooked and humiliated at each feast of the Pentecost.
When the novel begins, he finally gets his chance to better himself. Cynical but good-hearted, he sneaks off on a quest to rescue Lady Elaine’s captured fiancé – if his beer belly and sulky half-giant squire don’t scupper him first. ‘Did everybody else die?’ his squire asks snarkily, and as the knight blunders from village to village it’s not such a rude question as it might sound. Meanwhile, Queen Martha, disguised as a boy, is fleeing her marriage to the revolting, big-toothed Prince Edwin and searching for her long-lost older brother with the aid of a wilful enchanted sword. These two missions come into collision, but they may not be as unrelated as the characters first believe.