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Yanis has spent his life so far scrubbing socks in an orphanage. But that changes when Dr Gomarus knocks on the door, seeking an apprentice. The strange doctor is travelling to far-flung Osva to study the craniums of criminals. He needs a helper, and Yanis fits the bill. Awaiting execution in Osva jail is Nikolai Kolchak, the notorious leader of the revolutionaries who are holding the country in the grip of civil war. The chance to study the skull of Kolchak is a prize worth any danger. On the perilous journey to Osva, Yanis encounters a kind and beautiful countess and her pistol-packing 'minder', Miss Minsky. They too are travelling to the town, but why? And how can it be that when Yanis finally accompanies Dr Gomarus to Kolchak's cell, he finds there a charming, friendly man, and not the devil described and feared throughout the country? Soon Yanis finds himself running errands for the rebel leader, and for the Countess. And, as he does, he begins to realise that people are not always what they seem...