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Seeking to evade the brutality of the religious wars ravaging Germany in the early 1600s, former teacher Vogel wanders away from the fighting and pestilence into a beautiful, lush valley surrounding a deserted village, whose inhabitants have gone to work in the fields. Vogel is soon discovered by two soldiers and dragged before the captain, who demands to know the whereabouts of the villagers. Realizing that the captain and his handful of men, both Catholic and Protestant, are intent on pillaging the pristine countryside for army supplies, Vogel suggests that the soldiers spend the upcoming winter in the valley instead of taking the supplies to the doomed army. When the captain shows interest in the proposal, Korski, his second in command, protests, accusing Vogel of being in league with the Catholics. To Vogel's amazement, the captain abruptly kills Korski, and then praises Vogel for the excellent recommendation. Vogel promises to help the captain and his men negotiate with the villagers once they return from the fields. An ardent Protestant soldier insists that the village's Catholic church be burned, as is the custom, but the captain forbids it, explaining they must win the trust of the villagers. Outraged, the soldier attempts to burn the church down on his own, but is stopped by the others and the captain. Vogel pleads for the captain to spare the angry Protestant soldier and build a church for the Protestants. The captain kills the young soldier, but then with the approval of the highest-ranking Catholic soldier, Hansen, orders a Protestant church built nearby. The villagers returning from the fields are startled and shocked when confronted by the soldiers and the captain must intercede when soldier Vornez attacks young Inge Hoffman. With reluctance, the villagers reveal their leader is Gruber and agree to take Vogel to meet him and present the soldiers' terms. Vogel is lead into the forest where he meets Gruber and Father Sebastian, the village priest. Despite Father Sebastian's doubts, Gruber agrees to allow the soldiers to remain in the village, in exchange for their protection from other marauders. Exhausted and ill from his travels, Vogel faints and awakens later to find himself tended by Inge and a dark, attractive woman, Erica. Meanwhile, Gruber meets with the captain and his officers. The captain accedes to Gruber's insistance that the soldiers be harshly punished for rape and theft, but demands that six of the village women be turned over to the officers. Gruber hesitates, then asks Father Sebastian if he would publicly bless any women who went to the soldiers, but the priest refuses. Later, after Vogel has recovered, the captain tells him that he is concerned about the village's religious shrine, which many of his men consider blasphemous. Learning that Gruber has agreed to relocate the statue further from the village, Father Sebastian curses the captain. Vogel dines with Inge and her father, who is deeply suspicious of the former teacher's education and declares that they have no need of the soldiers as the shrine protects the village. Inge's boyfriend Andreas arrives to demand if it is true that Inge is to be one of the women given to the soldiers. As Father Sebastian has relented and blessed the women, Inge admits she has joined them. Vogel is stunned and asks the captain to spare her. The captain agrees, then reveals that he has gone ahead with Gruber's recommendation and relocated the shrine. The captain then states that he and Gruber want Vogel to serve as the judge in any disputes between the soldiers and the villagers. That afternoon, Erica, who is Gruber's lover, rejects his request that she offer herself to the captain. Gruber explains that as the remote valley location no longer provides the village protection, they must depend on the soldiers for help should others find them. Vowing to rid themselves of the soldiers once the sheltering harsh winter arrives, Gruber insists that Erica consent to be the captain's woman. That afternoon, Vogel sees Father Sebastian with a group of villagers moving the shrine back to its former location. Distressed by the shifting of the statue, the entire village gathers as the captain threatens to torture Father Sebastian if he does not publicly approve of the relocation. Instead, Father Sebastian announces that Satan now resides in the valley. Hoping to stem the rising tensions, Vogel abruptly relates that he had a dream in which the shrine was moved to a new location to better protect the village. Annoyed that he cannot contradict Vogel, Father Sebastian withdraws from the dispute and the villagers return the statue to its new location. Resentful over the number of concessions made to the villagers, Hansen grows increasingly bitter and angry. A few days later, Vogel discovers Hansen attempting to rape Inge near the shrine and drives the soldier away. Hansen vows revenge and that afternoon with a few supportive soldiers, attempts to overthrow the captain. When the other soldiers flock to the captain's aid, Hansen and his men ride out of the valley. The captain orders officer Graf to search for the traitors, but Graf and his men are unable to find them. Gruber worries Hansen may bring other soldiers to the valley and demands that the captain swear to defend them. Some days later, Hansen is spotted returning to the valley with thirty men. In a plan devised by the captain, Graf leads one assault that splits Hansen's group in two. While Graf and his men finish off the newcomers, the captain lures Hansen into a personal fight, in which Hansen is shot and dies pleading for Father Sebastian's blessing. As the weather turns colder, peace settles into the valley. Gruber visits Erica to remind her that as the village is now sealed off from the outside world because of the snow, he could easily kill the captain. Erica has fallen in love with the captain, however, and refuses to join Gruber. Reluctant to destroy the villagers' serenity, Gruber takes no action. With the arrival of spring, messengers come to report that a local prince is under siege at a nearby castle. Realizing the period of personal neutrality is over, the captain tells Gruber that he and his men must rejoin the war. When Father Sebastian grasps that the captain means to support a Protestant prince, he lashes out at him. The captain rebukes the priest, pointing out the hypocrisies of both sides and the existence of wicked priests who encourage continual war for a god that does not exist. Erica pleads to accompany the captain but he asks her to wait for him. The captain then meets with Vogel to order him to remain with a handful of the soldiers to look after the village, advising Vogel that Father Sebastian is the true evil and should be killed. Inge confesses her love to Vogel, but he admonishes her to remain true to the dedicated Andreas. After the captain and most of the soldiers depart, Gruber tells Vogel they have no further need for a judge. Meanwhile, Father Sebastian is stunned to come upon Erica praying to Satan to defend the captain and immediately orders a trial. Erica is brutally tortured by the priest to confess that she is a witch, then sentenced to burn at the stake. Horrified by the gruesome torture, Vogel secretly stabs Erica while tying her to the stake to prevent her further suffering. When Erica's lifeless body is tossed onto the fires, one of the remaining soldiers reacts hysterically, attacking Father Sebastian. The two men tumble into the flames and die. A few days later, Andreas tells Vogel that Gruber has set a trap for the captain and encourages Vogel to flee. Instead, Vogel goes out in search of the captain to warn him. Inge joins Vogel and they eventually come upon the seriously wounded captain returning to the valley with one surviving soldier. Collapsing on the ground, the captain mistakes Inge for Erica and expresses happiness at being reunited. As Gruber and some villagers arrive, the captain relates that all of his men were brutally killed in the defense of the castle. Before dying, the captain admits that Vogel was right to save the valley. When Vogel tells Gruber he will leave the valley, Inge offers to accompany him. Asking her to remain in the sanctity of the valley, Vogel wanders away into the mist.