Synopsis Edit

The first half of the book alternates between two plots; Herald Elspeth in Haven and Darkwind k'Sheyna in Hawkbrother territory near the Dhorisha Plains. Elspeth is now under the tutelage of Herald-Captain Kerowyn, who arrived in Valdemar during the events of By the Sword. Through Kerowyn's training she narrowly escapes an assassination attempt sent by Ancar of Hardorn, the usuper prince of the kingdom to the east. She is convinced Ancar will attack again and asks permission of the Queen and Council to go looking for mages, since Valdemar has no knowledge of true magic. They agree only after being pressured by the Companions, the horse-shaped beings who are the lifelong partners of the Heralds. Herald Skif goes with her as an escort.

Meanwhile, the Hawkbrother clan k'Sheyna is in dire straits. While the clan was moving from their current location to a new one, the clan's Heartstone (a special object which acts as a well of power accessible to mages of the clan) went rogue and shattered. The Gate which connected the two locations failed, stranding half the clan in the new location. Several of the mages who were holding the Gate were killed or injured; many were traumatized. One of them, Songwind, changed his name to Darkwind, renounced the use of magic, and began living outside the Vale (the magically-protected area used as a home by Tayledras clans. His father pressures him to return to magic, but he refuses, fearing in part that he caused the Heartstone to fail. His real allies are a pair of gryphons, Treyvan and Hydona, mages themselves and advance scouts from Clan k'Leshya, the so-called Lost Clan.

Lurking at the edges of k'Sheyna territory is the sinister mage Mornelithe Falconsbane, a creature who has changed his form to resemble a giant man-cat. Darkwind's father is an unwilling agent of his; Falconsbane caught and tortured him until he broke. Falconsbane has an obsessive hatred of gryphons and wishes to capture Treyvan, Hydona, or their two young children. Falconsbane's daughter Nyara escapes him and finds her way to Darkwind and the gryphons for protection, but she also is under his control.

A young woman, Dawnfire, witnesses Falconsbane's attempt to take or subvert the gyphlets. She and her bondbird try to drive him off, but she is killed and a lingering trace of her spirit is trapped in the bondbird, which Falconsbane takes prisoner.
Elspeth successfully resists her Companion Gwena's attempt to steer her along a predestinated path to greatness and looks for help among the Shin'a'in. Cryptic clues steer her to k'Sheyna territory, where she encounters Darkwind. After a tense meeting, he begins to believe that she could help him fight off Falconsbane. Skif is wary and suspicious, however.

Dawnfire, trapped in her bird's body, arrives with the news that Ancar is planning to attack them. The Tayledras rightly deduce that this is simply a ruse to lead them away from the Heartstone and the gryphons. They try to ambush Falconsbane, but he is too strong for them; the Goddess herself intervenes to drive him away.

At the story's conclusion, Darkwind's father has been freed from Falconsbane's control, and the outsiders have been accepted warily into the Hawkbrothers' trust. Dawnfire is chosen by the Goddess as her Avatar and becomes a spirit-being.

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