Act I.

Scene one.

The hills near Samokov, circa 1361.
On an autumn evening Yana and her mother are waiting for the nine brothers to return from mining in the mountains. Uncle Dimitar passes by on the road and tells them how Angel saved the first-born brother Georgi, who had been buried alive in the black mine. The brothers themselves arrive soon.
Angel has brought a gift for his sister – a needle. Georgi, who is jealous of Yana’s sisterly affection, throws the needle on the ground, sneering, and offers his sister a bracelet instead. However, the bracelet is covered in blood. Horrified by that realization, she refuses to accept it.
The mother urges the lads to respond to Neno the shepherd’s offer who sent a party to ask for Yana’s hand once again. Georgi is angered by this and bursts out saying that Yana will either marry a prince or no one at all.
To make it up to his sister he decides to bring wood carvers from Samokov and have them decorate her room…
The dead of night. A mob and a group of guards burst into the yard. They come for Georgi who cut off a maiden’s hand for a bracelet. His mother tries to defend him. When the mob disperses, she is stricken with grief and barely manages to get back to the house…

Scene two.
Three master carvers are finishing up the decorations in Yana’s room. As they are getting ready to leave, the brothers urge Angel to come with them to the ‘iron mountains.’ However, Angel is fascinated by wood carving. The old master is impressed with the lad’s skillful hands and offers him to come with them. The mother begs Angel not to go.

Act II.

Scene three.

Some time has passed. Angel has become a master wood carver and people speak very highly of him. Yana is always at his side, helping him. A storm is gathering in the summer evening as the brothers return home from the mines. They stand in awe of the large iconostasis made by Angel. Georgi is most deeply affected of all. He looks at his hands – rough as paws – and is consumed by envy. He pretends that he wants to help Angel with his work and cuts off his hands.

Scene four.
Night time. Startled by his cry, the brothers gather in front of Angel’s room. Horrified, they realize what has happened.

Act III.

Scene five.

Coal burners have built a fire in the woods near Samokov. Bear trainers pass by on their way to Sredets. They bring troubling news. Angel is also with them as a beggar, but no one knows him.
A gypsy comes by, drawn by the fire. She tells the others of the plague in Bosnia. The coal burners are afraid that she is the plague herself so they wait for her to fall asleep, tie her up and run away.
Cast away from home, Georgi also finds himself in the woods that night. He also believes that he has met the plague in flesh and is ready to free her if she promises to strike down his brothers.

Scene six.
It is a bright festive morning in Sredets [the medieval name of Sofia].
Poor people and beggars have gathered in front the cathedral. Angel also shows up. The king and his queen come out of the church followed by other local noblemen. Angel tells his sad story. The crowd demands that Georgi the Ugly is punished by death. Weakened by exhaustion, Angel dies. The crowd scatters.

Act IV.

Scene seven.

A crossroads in Zagore. The people are running away from the plague and the Turks.
Yana and her brothers have come to Zagore to gather the harvest and are now also running away.
The brothers go to a well to get water but they never return. The gypsy comes and tells Yana that each of the brothers drank from her pitcher and fell dead, stricken by the plague. She reveals to Yana that she met Georgi who asked for the death of his own brothers.

Scene eight.
Nine years later. The mother still waits for her good son to return. Georgi comes along the road. He urges Yana to come and run away with him to Wallachia where he has made a big fortune. Yana asks him questions about the gypsy, and as she is convinced that he is guilty, she raises a bow and aims at her villainous brother. In the distance Samokov is ablaze, set on fire by the Turks…