If you're paying close attention, you may remember our author as the woman who also wrote Vaino: A Boy of New Finland. This particular story is much more straightforward and does not incorporate folklore into the story, allowing it to speak for itself.
Our protagonist is Bruno, a young man who is being raised by friends after the death of his parents. He loves his home in the mountains of Switzerland. Although they are technically under the dominion of the Austrian Empire (this being the 1300's or so), the Swiss have enjoyed a unique measure of independence and freedom due to the rights that have been passed down from their ancestors.
One day, Bruno encounters two Austrian horsemen passing through the mountains on their way home. Sir Rupprecht is amused by the young man's boldness and smart mouth, so he offers to take him along as a vassal. Although his guardians fear for him, he is certain that he can make a life for himself and learn enough to return and care for his own land and home someday.
Over the course of the journey and upon arriving at the castle of the Duke, however, Bruno soon learns that Rupprecht's initial fondness for him in no way relieves him of harsh expectations. He is a servant, after all. A young man of his own age, Kyo, takes Bruno under his wing and shows him how to get by in the castle. Bruno eventually sees that the life of a servant in a small courtyard pales in comparison to his former life as a free person amongst the mountains. When the castle is attacked, Bruno flees, along with Kyo and Zelina, the proud but sympathetic ward of the Duke.
Arriving in Switzerland, they see that it has changed. More Austrian officials have been set into place, and they are abusing the people and oppressing mercilessly. We eventually see how the Swiss gained independence, and where the famous legends of William Tell originated.
It was good for me to read about William Tell as just another character (who, granted, did some exceptional things)- I hadn't honestly even known that he was Swiss. I just knew that he shot an apple off some one's head and that he took his garbage to-the-dump, to-the-dump, to-the-dump-dump-dump. So it was just the encouragement I needed to do some quick online research.
This book was a treat and would be enjoyable for anyone with an interest in castles and medieval life.