Centuries after an ice age destroys civilization, humanity evolves to a medieval-like culture into which Royar Abele is born to poor parents. The Gates of Fire and Ash opens with a four-year-old Royar trying to win the affection of an abusive father that sees him as a mistake and a drain on the families’ prosperity.

Royar doesn’t have much going for him except an uncanny affinity for dogs which gets him into a school designed to enhance the mental bond between humans and dogs. Few humans or dogs qualify for the program and fewer graduate. At sixteen, Royar and his hund, Felmer, are ready to graduate and join the Freedonian Army as scouts.

A disease, known as the Flus, has killed tens of thousands in the past and now threatens the country again. There is only one cure for the disease; the leaf of the Lif plant. It only grows in a remote valley hidden in a wasteland.

Royar and Felmer join a small squad on their quest for the Lif leaves. Captain Rigor Boichek, an experienced leader in the Freedonian army, leads the group. A young noncommissioned officer, Yon Nantor, is second in command. Zaka Treygar, a gnarled old-timer, manages the train of wagons on the trip. Lino Danic, an educated but odd scientist, accompanies the group for his own reasons. Dallaya Minlos, an attractive healer joins the team as a medic and to supervise the harvest and transportation of the temperamental Lif leaves.

Along the way, the team encounters strange animals, treacherous men, and deadly weather. Little by little, you learn about the characters and their motivations, but the trek takes a toll on all of them and Royar in particular. Escape from abuse takes more than leaving home….