Robert the Bruce, both Norman lord and Celtic earl, is one of the great heroic figures of all time. But he was not always a hero - as he was not always a king. He grew towards both under the shadow of a still greater hero - William Wallace - in that terrible forcing-ground of heroism and treachery alike, the Wars of Independence which, from 1296 to 1314, hammered Scotland into the very dust until only the enduring idea of freedom remained in her.
Edward Longshanks, King of England, was the Hammer of the Scots, a great man gone wrong, a magnificent soldier flawed by consuming hatred and lust for power.
These two fought out their desperate, appalling duel, with Scotland as prize - should any of Scotland survive.
Not only these. To John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, head of the most powerful house in Scotland and nephew of the deposed and discredited King John Baliol, Bruce was as spark to tinder. Their friction blazed to flame that shocking day when blood soaked the high altar at Dumfries, and a new Bruce was born.
But this tremendous story is not all blood and fire. Elizabeth de Burgh saw to that. Humour and laughter are here too, colour and beauty, faith and love.
This enormous and ambitious theme of Bruce the hero king is no light challenge for a writer. Nigel Tranter has waited through nearly thirty years of novel-writing to tackle it. In this, the first of a trilogy, he ends that long apprenticeship and takes up the challenge.