- For the organization of the same name, see: Black Company
|“||Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead. Until the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her...||”|
–From the back cover
The first book opens in the Port City of Beryl while the annalist and physician of the Black Company, Croaker is treating one of his company brothers for poisoning before questioning him for places that he has been eating outside their Company's quarters. Identifying the poisoners Croaker reports his findings to the Captain of the Company who sends a platoon leader named Mercy and a dozen men with Croaker and a minor wizard Silent to deal with them. After killing the perpetrators their group discovers that the tavern that is guilty also has some of the Beryl rebels leadership inside, they take them captive and returns to the Company barracks and along the way see a visiting Legate.
Later a violent riot erupts in response to the arrest of the more conservative Blues leaders. Several Urban Cohorts mutiny when they demand extra pay to deal with the mob and the ruler of Beryl, the Syndic, refuses. The Company Barracks are attacked but the rebels are repulsed.
The next day several members of the Company including Croaker and three of the Company's four wizards Goblin, Silent, and Tom-Tom follow a rumour of a forvalaka escaping from Beryls' Necropolitan Hill. Opening a tomb they discover fifty-four forvalaka skeletons and several dead soldiers drained of blood and missing their hearts and livers confirming the rumour and frightening Tom-Tom. The riots quiet down and the Company later receives a offer of alternative employment from the Legate if they let him replace the Syndic with a puppet. During a meeting within the Company they eventually decide to take the offer via their most honorable deception. That night the forvalaka attacks the Syndics' tower and slaughters everyone inside and when the Company goes in after it, it kills Tom-Tom and several others much to the horror of Tom-Tom's brother and fellow wizard One-Eye before it escapes down the outside of the tower.
Leaving the city that night they kill several thousand of the city's hostile soldiers and head to a lighthouse on the Pillar of Anguish. Their transportation arrives in the form of the Legates ship where the Legate takes the Black Company into the Empires service and reveals that he has captured the forvalaka and has plans for it. Croaker realises who the Legate is and when the Captain questions him he reveals the Legate as Soulcatcher who was buried alive three hundred years before the present alongside nine other evil sorcerers called the Ten Who Were Taken and their masters the Dominator and his wife the Lady who ruled an ancient Empire before being sealed away. The Company resigns themselves to their new service and One-Eye wonders at the fact that the forvalaka on the ship does not have any of wounds they gave it.
Crossing the sea to the city of Opal where they stay for a few weeks before bringing in a man called Raven into the Company before leaving for the northern Empire to deal with the Empires rebels. After arriving near the city of Oar and trying to link up with the Taken called Limper and hear that several of his men are nearby the Lieutenant sends the sergeant Elmo to make contact. Elmo takes Croaker, Silent, Raven and seven other men with him, and when they arrive at a village, they discover everyone is dying or dead, except for Darling and Flick: a deaf-mute little girl and her elderly grandfather, who are being tortured by the Limper's drunk soldiers. Saving the two victims and later recapturing the fortress at Deal earn the Limper's hatred. Later during the winter while still occupying the fortress, Raven goes on a weekly supply run ("turnip patrol") to Oar with Candy, Doughbelly, Jolly, and Flick. However when they are sold out by the stablekeeper Cornie, the group is ambushed by about a dozen local thugs hired by the Limper's underlings Captain Lane and Colonel Zouad. Raven is severely wounded and Flick is killed. In retaliation, Elmo leaks the location of the Limper's men to the Rebels, who capture them. But when it becomes a danger that the Company's involvement might be discovered, Soulcatcher sends a fellow Taken called Shapeshifter to help. They infiltrate the Rebel bunker in Oar and spring a trap on the Limper when he arrives to rescue Zouad. Raven goes missing but reappears after the Company moves out, rejoining them, and taking the little girl Darling as his ward.
Later in the Salient at the fortress Meystrikt after becoming known as the Lady's elite during an ambush patrol the Company obtains some of the rebel sorcerer Rakers' hair. Using this One-Eye, Goblin, and Silent come up with a plan to take him down with a bounty for his head which Soulcatcher approves. Soulcatcher, Goblin, One-Eye, Croaker, Elmo, Raven, and two more soldiers named Otto and Hagop go to the city of Roses and set the trap. Eventually taking the initiative Raven and Croaker track down Raker in Roses, kill him, and with Elmos' help obtain the award which they split before they are returned to the rest of the Company.
Later forced to flee the Salient for the city of Lords through the Forest of Cloud the Company ambush a rebel training camp of a Rebel sorcerer and general Whisper and discover valuable papers of hers which the Lady and Soulcatcher later use with Croaker and Ravens assistance to reveal the Limper as a traitor and capture Whisper who the Lady makes into her servant and one of the Taken.
Later losing Lords the Company and a few thousand other men retreat across the Windy Country to the Stair of Tear where they hold the Rebel before four of the Taken Soulcatcher, Shapeshifter, Stormbringer, and the Hanged Man take down the lead Rebel general and sorcerer Harden before turning on one of their own and killing the Hanged Man in front of Croaker before having to retreat again to the centre of the Empire, the Tower at Charm.
The Black Company captures two more Rebel sorcerers for the Lady called Feather and Journey. During the final preparations for Charms defenses Croaker finally meets the Lady and when the entire rebel army attempts to crush their enemy a days long battle during which Croaker is attacked by the forvalaka but saved by the Taken Bonegnasher when the Taken grabs and starts to eat the were-leopard. Later that night the Taken who have always competed and tried to sabotage each other kill all of their fellows present. That night the Lady gives a black Bow and Arrows to use on the final day for a special purpose. On the final day of the battle the Rebel claim to have found the savior child general White Rose, Feather and Journey are revealed to now be Taken, and the Imperials draw the rebels into the Tower. The Lady and Croaker chase after Soulcatcher when she flees, catching her while the Lady and Soulcatcher fight Croaker shoots her with the arrows and then beheads her and then discovers that Soucatcher is actually the Lady's sister.
Returning to the Tower Croaker sees Darling on the way. Arriving at the Tower the Limper is revealed to be reeducated via the Lady and newly loyal. The Rebel has been defeated via ambushes and traps in the Tower. Later Raven is believed to have died in the battle but Croaker and Silent track him and Darling down to give him magical horses and his share of the Roses trap after the two of them realize that Darling is the real White Rose and because of being attached to her decide to hide her. Raven and Darling go into hiding and Croaker and Silent return the Black Company.
End of Book One.