The site of the novel is the homeland of the author, the forests of the southern province of Verand, to be more exact, the Brendabol village. People living in the twelve courtyards of Brendbol are dependent on a new neighbor – the landowner Cleven, who came from Germany: he serves at the court of the Swedish Queen Christina and introduces a new order in the district – serfdom.
Acts Cleven with self-confidence, characteristic of a man who has unlimited power. First, he is given the right to collect taxes, then – the right to work for the peasants: a little more – and they will all become his serfs. Realizing the depth of the danger that threatens them, villagers take an oath – to protect their old liberties: they will seek refuge with the queen, and if necessary, take up arms. However, the local head of the administration – focht, who serves the landowner, takes peasants by cunning: after waiting a while, he enters the village in the morning dawn with a detachment of raytars. Taking advantage of the surprise and threat of force, he forces the local elected elder Jonah Stonge to agree with the corvee. Then, with the help of the elders, he compels one of all the men of the village to agree, except for two: the hero of the novel – a young bonded Svedye and a local blacksmith-gunsmith, In the house of Svedje fohtu and soldiers, too, a surprise is stored – the host meets them with weapons in his hands, mutilates one of the raytars who raised his hand to him, and leaves for the forest. And in his homestead henceforth settles focht: from here he supervises the peasants: instead of working in their own fields, they now go to the corvee, as a result, the hungry winter that has just been experienced by the village passes into hungry summer and autumn.
However, in the depths of the soul, Brenda – bol’s peasants are unbroken, they are sure: lost liberties will be returned – either by the queen or they will return them themselves. That’s just to do it with the least loss – dead freedom is not for future use. And here in Brendallol the relay race is secretly delivered – a wooden board in an elbow long, charred and bloodied, with a sign carved on it – a kisten. In other, prosperous times every few years, another relay race was passed through the villages of the district – a burning torch, from which the fire was rekindled, the “new fire” helped to throw off the memory of the misfortunes experienced by the masters and forget about their mistakes. At a bad time, when the peasant community was seriously threatened by the enemy, the “shtafet” – the call for insurrection and unity – was launched, it was passed from village to village by horse or on foot, night or day, in person or on behalf. But “shtafetu”, delivered to Brendabol, was unlucky: it fell into the hands of all the same to the elected headman Jon Stonge, who once gave way to fohta. Having weighed all the pros and cons, the sensible elder is also celebrating the coward this time: he is digging the “shtafet” into the ground, which too is not given to him easily – the detainee “wafer” was punishable by death. But hiding the “shtafet” from the authorities also deserves execution. From now on, the headman lives in constant fear: the damned plaque then the uninhabited pig will dig out from under the ground, then it will be washed by an underground source discovered on this place. Having weighed all the pros and cons, the sensible elder is also celebrating the coward this time: he is digging the “shtafet” into the ground, which too is not given to him easily – the detainee “wafer” was punishable by death. But hiding the “shtafet” from the authorities also deserves execution. From now on, the headman lives in constant fear: the damned plaque then the uninhabited pig will dig out from under the ground, then it will be washed by...
Double-dealing does not bring the head of happiness. From the longing for the left in the forest of Svedi, the daughter of the elder Bottila almost goes insane. The father refused the word given to him by Svedya, now he promises the daughter’s hand to another. In addition, the walking village widow Annika accuses her of witchcraft and secret intercourse with the Unclean – otherwise why does she go to the forest, where obviously there can not be anyone? In complete despair, Botty impales himself. However, the elder is ready to lose his daughter rather than give it to the hated Swede – he envies the determination and inner freedom of the young bond. Even the food that is now in the house Stoite, thanks to the protection of Focht, is more than enough, it does not please him: all of it is devoured by long worms and white worms that started in the womb. And in a direct, and in a figurative sense, something gnaws from the inside.
But the Swede, who left the village, preserved peace in his soul, although he is also uneasy on the run: he lives alone in a fox hole among the rocks, until he finds another outlaw – a thief, a thief whom he is called – Uge Blesmolsky thief. Ugge – a great master in his profession, he is not deprived of a kind of morality: he steals only from the rich, giving away a part of the booty to the poor people. Ugge saves the almost-dead in the forest from the illness of Svedje, who previously did not want to know him. But even the experienced and quirky thief has his own weakness – excessive self-confidence: why he dies at the hands of the Innocent – another rejected, though completely different type. An insect is a local executioner who agreed to this position for forgiving him for an unintentional murder. So he saved his life, but he hated the whole world. Innocent did not pay the corrupt girl, earning her handicrafts to feed the sick and poor parents. Ugge rebuked Bezuhog in this and got a knife in the back.
A true peasant, Svedye faithfully believes in justice, for him it is immutable, like the daily way of the sun from east to west or the innocence of his bride Botty, with whom he shares a bed at night, without touching her until the wedding. Svedye believes that the efforts of the local priest, to whom his mother applied, will not pass in vain and the petition describing the injustice committed against him will reach the queen. Adverse messages force him to take the case of restoring justice in their own hands. Sveden openly summons Cleven for a duel: he knocks at night to his estate to call the landlord to account, but the frightened servant reports: Cleven is far away, he is at the court in Stockholm. Having learned about the threats to Svedje, Kleven takes them seriously: he asks local authorities to judge a runaway in the forest and begin his search. In the end, Svedya was surrounded like a wolf, on a winter swamp, wounded with a shot from a musket and buried – by court order! – still alive in the earth.
Still, the justice in which Svedya believed was ultimately restored. Jon Stong managed to hide the “shtafet” from the community. But instead of him in the village there is a new one: the men of Brendobol made it on their own initiative – the relay race is still passed on.