Seventeenth-century Russia remains very much a patriarchal society.
For the headstrong and willful Katia, daughter of Baron Alexei Sergeyevich Ulenka, life in the terem (a palace sanctuary where the virtue of girls is safeguarded) is unbearable when all she wants to do is experience the freedom of riding a horse. But ride a horse she does. Dressed as a servant girl, Katia meets and goes riding with the darkly intriguing German stable boy Wiley. But Wiley is headstrong, too, and soon is challenged by the aristocratic Feodor, Katia's cousin.
After three secret meetings, Katia and Wiley start to fall in love, but such a union could never be in a world where rich girls are seen as commodities to be used for advancement through marriage. To give himself any kind of chance with Katia, Wiley joins the dragoons with Pavel, Katia's brother, and then begins the years of physical, emotional, and intentional separation.