The cities of the "Old Times" have long been uninhabitable, infested by a toxin called the luminance; they are surrounded by predatory mutant bands. Distant from contaminated and looted former cities such as "Spocannes" and "Siyóttle," small communes and farms eke out an existence.
In Consecration, a fundamentalist cult in the wild mountains of what was British Columbia, sanctimonious "Elrons" subjugate women as child-bearing chattel. Austerity, a young mother – brutalized by her husband, traumatized by sex – is desperate to save her thirteen year old daughter from her own fate. She dreams of finding the mythical Welkin, where, legend tells, women are free and equal citizens. The Road To Welkin chronicles her journey toward becoming a strong, independent, and sexually liberated woman.
The story begins as Austerity escapes with her daughter Tabitha, and an adolescent boy, Noah, who has befriended them. Fleeing the mountain wilderness, the trio joins a traveling medicine show, Le Cirque de la Bonne Santé, a colorful, eccentric group that performs a free show at each stop, then barters herbal medicines. Its leader is a charismatic magician Fidéle, who tries to charm Austerity. She feels her attraction to him, and suppresses it. Yet it continues to vex her.
Each summer the troupe travels to the former town of Prince George. There, Austerity invokes her mother's herbal knowledge (regarded as witchcraft in Consecration), and prepares new medicines, preserving them in alcohol using an "Old Times" still. Meanwhile, she becomes intimate with a beautiful troupe performer, and gradually begins to overcome her fear of sex. This relationship continues as the troupe begins their return south.
Other than a handful of tiny villages, only families or small communes have survived, often with ingenious use of improvised technology or employing increasingly rare relics from the "Old Times." These groups are communal, not only economically, but sexually as well, including group marriages and polyamory.
Back at their southern quarters in Coeur D'Arlene, Austerity takes her first steps as an assertive leader: she convinces the remaining members of the troupe to join her quest for the legendary Welkin, which takes them on a dangerous journey down the Columbia River watershed.
At this point we become further acquainted with the two elder members, Bernard and Bernice, skilled circus performers who are more than they seem, having secret knowledge. (They will turn out to be Fidéle's parents.) Bernard mysteriously produces an ancient map that shows Welkin to be near the mouth of the Columbia River, giving a boost to morale.
A new musician has joined the troupe, Destry, a virtuoso and stunning beauty, who becomes their star performer. As the journey continues south, Austerity and Destry fall in love. This forces Destry to reveal herself as a transsexual, with a penis. Austerity now has a romantic relationship with a woman who is somatically a male.
They finally reach Welkin, where Bernard's status makes them welcome visitors. It is indeed an Emerald City, with sustainable technology far advanced from the "Old Times." Tabitha and Noah are accepted as citizens. Destry, having proved herself a preeminent artist, is a star – here, her transsexuality is regarded as a genetic advantage to the city's gene pool. She and Austerity grieve that in fulfilling her artistic ambition, they must part.
Austerity and Fidéle, however, are asked to become emissaries of Welkin, bringing useful new shared technology to struggling small communities. A number of talented young performers are trained to join them. They leave with extensive new tools, medicines, and weapons – and a renewed sense of purpose. At last, Austerity and Fidéle become lovers.
Austerity decides that in the spirit of unity, they should become a family, married to one another, with full conjugal relationships. She takes joy in the varieties of sexuality she once found so abhorrent.