In Villach in the year 1235, three women are accused of witchcraft by a priest. While one claims to be a witch through persuasion from the church, one denies it, another does neither and curses the priest. He orders them hanged and drowned. That done, he urges the guards to pull them back up for a ritual to make sure the so-called witches never come back to life. The guards refuse, claiming they are dead enough. The priest returns late at night to perform the ritual. One of the corpses, one of a hag with a blind eye suffers a seizure but dies, While another corpse, a younger woman takes on a demonic appearance and kills the priest and burns his book with the rites in it.
In the 14th century, Teutonic Knights Behmen von Bleibruck (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) are engaged on a crusade, taking part in several different battles throughout the 1330’s (1332 Gulf of Edremit, 1334 Siege of Tripoli, 1337 Imbros & 1339 Artah) and eventually in the Smyrniote crusades. After witnessing the massacre of civilians during the 1344 capture of Smyrna, the two knights desert the Order and the crusade and return to Austria.
While traveling through Styria, Behmen and Felson encounter the grotesque sight of people infected with the Black Death and discover that the Holy Roman Empire has been swept by the plague. They enter an unnamed town, trying to conceal their identity as deserters, but are revealed as knights by the crest on Behmen’s sword. They are arrested and taken to Cardinal D’Ambroise, who is infected with the plague. The Cardinal asks the knights to escort an alleged witch suspected of causing the plague to a remote monastery, where an elite group of monks reside. These monks can determine if the girl is truly a witch, and if she is found guilty, know a sacred ritual to cancel her powers and stop the plague that is devastating Europe. The two knights agree under the condition she be given a fair trial and that the charges of desertion against them be dropped. The Cardinal agrees and they set out accompanied by a priest, Debelzaq; a young altar boy, Kay von Wollenbarth, who wants to become a knight like his deceased father; a knight, Johann Eckhardt, whose family was killed by the plague; and the well-traveled swindler Hagamar, who will serve as their guide to the monastery in return for a pardon. The witch, a young girl later identified as Anna from Marburg, shows hatred towards Debelzaq and forms a bond with Behmen.