Clever but cautious Will is a carpenter’s apprentice in Carmarthen. He grapples with being a second son and his resentment at not inheriting the family farm; which will be left to his older brother, Tom. Handsome radical Tom has fallen in love with Will’s best friend, increasing Will's feelings of rejection and isolation.
Will spends evenings listening to his grandfather, Gu’s, reminiscences of his time as a corporal with the 44th East Essex Regiment during the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo. Gu, suffers terrible “turns” when he re-lives the horrors of the battles he fought. Over that spring of 1843 Will learns many family secrets, some explaining why Gu had never spoken of his experiences until forced to do so.
The events from those years before are paralleled by turmoil in Will’s village and Carmarthen town, where the Rebecca revolt has begun. Neighbours and friends are fighting for justice against the Poor Law and turnpike tolls. Men disguised as women are breaking down the toll gates, refusing to pay to use the roads around west Wales.
A procession over a thousand strong marches to Carmarthen Guildhall Square, demanding that the Government and local magistrates listen to their complaints. The crowd decide to storm the hated Carmarthen workhouse causing the Riot Act to be read. The army has been sent for and the 4th Light Dragoons charge the rioters with swords drawn. The workhouse gates swing closed with many men and women imprisoned inside.
Will those caught be transported or even hung for treason?
What will become of Will and his family?