Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia is a passionate and tender dreamer who cares little for social conventions. A free spirit, she unexpectedly falls in love with the dashing Andrei, a handsome soldier with the Imperial choir and a favorite of the empress. Though husband and wife are devoted to each other, their perfect happiness is overshadowed by the petty demands of life at the royal court, and by Xenia's growing obsession to have a child—a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of a daughter.
Yet Xenia is far from content. Fearful for her family, she is certain that tragedy will strike—a terrible prediction that comes true when the baby dies and then Andrei suffers a fatal fall. Shattered, the sensitive twenty-six-year-old woman withdraws into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that radically alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving away all of her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes. Years later, dressed in the tatters of her dead husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and it's new empress, Catherine, who see her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses.