A synopsis of the various Heralds of Valdemar
stories, organized by where they fall in the timeline.
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The Mage Wars
The earliest story in the setting, it takes place several thousand years before anything else. It covers the eponymous war between Great Mages Urtho
, the resulting Cataclysm
, and the recovery afterward. Stars two main characters
: Skandranon, the de facto leader of the gyphons (a race magically created by Urtho), and Amberdrake, a kestra'chern (a type of "spirit healer
") of clan Kale'da'in.
The Black Gryphon
In the waning days of the Mage Wars, Urtho's forces are on the defensive, sorely pressed by the onslaught of Ma'ar's troops and weary from years of unrelenting war. Skandranon, known as the Black Gryphon, is becoming the most widely respected among the gryphons for his intelligence and battle prowess. His best friend, the human Amberdrake, is similarly respected among the kestra'chern for his talents. Both of them have become the de facto leaders of their respective groups.
While recovering from an injury, Skandranon discovers unrest among the gryphons — though they are loyal to Urtho, they dislike the fact that he controls their breeding. With Amberdrake's help, Skandranon engineers a plan to steal the secret of the gryphons' fertility from Urtho. With the successful theft, he is able to confront Urtho as an equal; Urtho reveals that he was planning to reveal the secret once he was certain that the gryphons were mature enough as a society anyway, which they've now clearly proven themselves to be.
Amberdrake, meanwhile, has taken on two unusual patients. One is a young female gryphon who suffers from a crippling inferiority complex until Amberdrake slowly manages to convince her that she's not a freak, but a new gryphon subspecies. She goes on to use her unique characteristics — a lighter and faster build, with more dexterous talons capable of fine manipulation — to train as a Combat Medic
, while Skandranon falls head over heels in love with her; by combining their talents, the two gryphons make a formidable aerial duo.
Amberdrake's other patient is a female Healer named Winterhart who suffers from crippling headaches and back pain. She is also the coldest Ice Queen
he's ever encountered. He surreptitiously treats her emotional issues even as he treats her physical ones, and discovers that she was an unrecognized Empath
in the presence of a potent fear spell
unleashed by Ma'ar early in the war, which left her with terrible emotional and psychological scars. In working through this trauma, Amberdrake is forced to open up about his own past and finds that the defrosted
Winterhart is becoming his own spiritual and emotional partner.
Unfortunately, the war is going badly for Urtho's forces, and Ma'ar has reached striking distance of his fortress. This is largely due to one of Urtho's generals betraying
him to Ma'ar, deliberately losing battles and even managing to dose Urtho with a slow-acting but invariably lethal poison. The energy in Urtho's magic artifacts will be released when he dies
, destroying his citadel and everything nearby. The war is lost, and Urtho clings to life as long as possible while his people evacuate through his Gates
. Skandranon, furious at the loss of Urtho, takes a secret Gate into the heart of Ma'ar's citadel and uses an Anti-Magic
device, causing Ma'ar's magic items to explode in the same manner as Urtho's.
As Skandranon makes a narrow escape by rapidly-closing Gate, Urtho finally succumbs to the poison. The combined magical destruction of Ma'ar's and Urtho's strongholds interact, devastating the surrounding landscape
and disrupting all magic for thousands of miles in an event that will eventually become known as the Cataclysm
. With magic no longer reliable, the survivors of clan Kale'da'in find themselves cut off and alone, forced to create a new home where they ended up, in the far West.
The White Gryphon
The exiled Kale'da'in, led by Skandranon — now bleached white by the trauma of passing through Urtho's final Gate — and Amberdrake, have made their way westward through the blasted wilderness that is the aftermath of the Cataclysm and have founded a new settlement among high cliffs, abutting the Western Ocean. They name their new city White Gryphon, both in honor of Skandranon and because the city looks like the silhouette of a gryphon against the white stone cliffs from the air or from out to sea. There is discord among the exiles, in the form of arguments about their future, and trouble from the occasional malcontent and miscreant who came with them.
Then, an unexpected surprise shows up in the form of the ships of a southern nation who claim the city of White Gryphon as part of their territory. Skandranon, Amberdrake, and their mates are invited to travel to the capital to meet with their leaders, who will decide at a special ceremony whether they are to be considered friends or enemies. However, the southern palace is ridden with intrigue, as the upcoming Eclipse ceremony causes many factions in this tradition-bound society to vie for prominence. There are the conservatives who resist change, and the progressives who wish to move their society forward.
Matters come to a boiling point when a series of vicious murders take place and Amberdrake is framed as the culprit. He and his friends manage to prove his innocence by discovering the real culprit — an evil kestra'chern banished from White Gryphon for practicing a perverted form of the kestra'chern art, bending people to his will instead of healing them. Angry at White Gryphon in general and Amberdrake specifically, he sought revenge via the southern kingdoms. With his evil exposed and his plan defeated, however, the eclipse ceremony goes off without problems, and the southerners accept White Gryphon as friends and allies.
The Silver Gryphon
A coming-of-age story for the newly grown children of White Gryphon's leaders — Skandranon's son and Amberdrake's daughter both find themselves squirming under the burden of the expectations of their famous parents. As newly minted Silver Gryphons — the city's elite soldiers — they take it upon themselves to investigate the predation of a new breed of wyrsa
, a vicious magical beast created during the Mage Wars. They find out the hard way that the wyrsa
have mutated into magic-eaters
. Injured in the crash landing of their previously magical conveyance, and cut off from all hope of communication, they must struggle to survive in the forbidding wilderness.
Meanwhile, Amberdrake and Skandranon, desperate as only parents who have lost their children can be, launch a hurried rescue mission. As their party dwindles one by one, they find themselves in as much danger as the people they are searching for. They discover and defeat the queen wyrsa
, and in the process realize that their children have finally grown up.
The Last Herald-Mage
Features Vanyel Ashkevron, the most powerful Herald-Mage Valdemar has ever seen (and, as the title suggests, the last of the Herald-Mages). Notable for having an openly gay and yet unambiguously heroic main character — though his life isn't exactly pleasant
. Involves a sort of localized The Magic Goes Away
, with magic becoming semi-mythical in Valdemar after the loss of their Herald-Mages.
Vanyel is the Black Sheep
of the Ashkevron family. Small and fond of music and fine clothing, he cannot fit in to his traditional family that values brute strength and warrior skills above all else. He doesn't realize that his father's stern disapproval and his armsmaster's brutal treatment are due to their fear that he will turn out "fey", as they call it. The misery grows until his father, frustrated by his attempts to "make a man" out of Vanyel, ships him off to Haven, capital of Valdemar, where he will go under the tutelage of his aunt, Herald-Mage Savil.
There he finds a whole new world opening before his eyes. Far from being beaten into submission as he fears, he finds that Haven is far more liberal than his father's household. Unfortunately, he's withdrawn himself behind a wall of apathy to deal with pain both suffered and anticipated. However, he also meets a strangely beautiful Herald-Mage trainee named Tylendel, who tries to get him to open up. It takes the crushing of his dreams of being a Bard for Vanyel to break through into the startling realization that the idea his father had been keeping from him is that he is gay. Tylendel becomes his love and his lover... and, they come to realize, his lifebond
. Life improves dramatically for Vanyel; although he must still hide his relationship with Tylendel from his father, he starts enjoying life for perhaps the first time and even starts to expand his moral horizons — so preoccupied has he been with his own plight that the unselfish altruism of the Heralds is a complete mystery.
Then, Tylendel's twin brother is murdered as part of an ages-old feud
. The shock of this drives Tylendel mad, but in his besotted state, Vanyel can think only of aiding him in whatever he wishes. Tylendel uses his lifebond to draw magic power from Vanyel, combining it with his own to dramatically boost his abilities. Gating
to his enemies' estate, he summons
terrifying creatures to kill them, but his Companion repudiates him and makes a Self-Destructive Charge
to destroy the creatures. Between this and the energy of the Gate backfiring on him, Tylendel loses the last vestiges of his sanity, and commits suicide shortly thereafter.
All of this reverberates through the lifebond to affect Vanyel as well — particularly the Gate energies, which blast open his latent Gifts, revealing him as a powerful mage and empath
. He is quickly Chosen by a Companion, but unable to bear the combination of the loss of Tylendel and the trauma of his new powers, he attempts suicide. Desperate, Savil takes him to the mystical Hawkbrothers in the hopes that they will have the knowledge to heal Vanyel's body, mind, and soul.
After the healing comes Vanyel's training, but the young man is still wrapped in his own selfishness, seeing no reason to aid people who have given him nothing. Then a rogue mage shows up on the borders of the Hawkbrothers' territory and, while Savil and his teachers go to combat the danger, Vanyel gets to see for the first time how others can suffer from evil. Overwhelmed by this discovery, he is equally unprepared for the sudden arrival of the villainous mage, and astonished to find that the mage knows him. It turns out that he was behind the feud of Tylendel's family and engineered the whole thing as a ploy to lure Vanyel to him, where he could tempt the boy with the promise of his dark power.
However, he fails to understand that the young man before him is no longer the selfish boy of years past. Despite being hopelessly overmatched, Vanyel chooses to fight, and, with what seems to be his final act, uses his raw untrained power to blast the evil mage. Savil and the Hawkbrothers arrive on the scene to find ashes where the villain stood and a barely alive young man. They Heal him once again, and his selfless act of sacrifice proves that Vanyel is now ready to assume the responsibilities of a Herald-Mage.
The Collegium Chronicles
Stars Mags, an orphan working at a mine operated by a cruel and greedy family. Details the transition of the Heralds from an informal apprenticeship type training to the more structured collegium education used in later novels.
The book starts with Mags being a unpaid and underfed worker (read slave) at the Pieters' mine. He has been told all of his short life that he is worthless because his parents were bandits. This existence ended when Herald Jakyr rescued him. It turns out that Cole Pieters had been stopping the Companion Dallen from getting to Mags. After this is taken care of to everyone except Pieters' satisfaction, Mags is brought down to the capital where the new Colledium is being built.
Mags, unsurprisingly has trouble keeping up in classes and talking to his fellow trainees, not that he is complaining.
He does ended up making some friends though. The first being Lena Marchand, a Bardic Trainee, who he finds crying after her pet rabbit died.
Meanwhile, there are some foreign envoys that are causing problems.
A stand-alone novel featuring Lavan Firestorm, a Herald with the rare but powerful Gift of Firestarting
Vows and Honor
Follows the story of Tarma and Kethry, a swordswoman and a mage, respectively. Originally a collection of short stories and not actually part of the Valdemar continuity, it was later fit into the setting
. Only the second novel, Oathbreakers, is an actual novel — the first and third are collections of episodic short stories.
The Exile's Trilogy
Technically released as three independent novels, they form a rough trilogy anyway. The first two follow Alberich, a talented soldier with the Gift of ForeSight
, Chosen despite being an officer in the army of Valdemar's most implacable enemy, Karse. They feature his gradual acceptance of the Heralds (and theirs of him), and his growing roles as Weaponmaster, Spymaster, and bodyguard to Princess (and later Queen) Selenay. The third novel follows Skif, a young thief, and only features Alberich (in his role as Spymaster) in the second half.
Take a Thief
Skif, a young orphan in Haven, works in his greedy and cruel uncle Londer's tavern. He avoids this as much as possible by going to mandatory basic eduction in the morning, and spending his afternoons inventing enterprising ways to feed himself — primarily by stealing. While napping in an out of the way corner of a high lord's manor, he encounters another child thief sneaking in. Seizing the opportunity, he convinces the other boy to train him as a thief. He's taken back to meet Bazie, an older man who has lost both legs at the knee, who runs a small thieving operation with several other children. Bazie agrees to take Skif under his wing just as an altercation costs his uncle Londer possession of the tavern where Skif lived. Skif takes the opportunity to get out from his uncle's thumb, throwing his lot in with Bazie full-time.
Several years later, with Skif now the oldest boy still working with Bazie, Skif manages to make a big score. On his way back to Bazie's, however, he discovers that the building where they live in the process of burning down. He attempts to run in and save his foster family, but Alberich, on scene in the guise of a disreputable sellsword, has a vision of Skif dying in the fire and manages to stop him. After the fire, Skif uses the money from his big take to support himself alone. He spends some time drowning his sorrows with hard liquor before he hears that the fire was arson rather than accident. This inspires him to sober up and seek revenge.
Both Skif and Alberich independently investigate the arson, trying to find out not just who committed the deed, but who ordered it done in the first place. They find the arsonist himself, a man named Jass, but have trouble finding anything further. Skif accidentally overhears a conversation between Jass and his boss, but is caught by Alberich after attempting to pursue him. Alberich warns Skif off, insisting that the situation is more dangerous than Skif realizes, but Skif ignores him.
A few days later, Jass is found dead — killed by his employer. Skif, realizing how dangerous his situation is, makes himself scarce. While wandering the city, he happens upon an unattended white horse, and decides to steal it. This "horse" turns out to be Cymry, a Companion, who promptly Chooses him. Now a Trainee, Skif begins to work together with Alberich. Managing to frighten some information out of his uncle, Skif puts together a plan to flush Jass' employer out into the open. The plan works, and Alberich and Skif corner the man. Between the two of them, Alberich and Skif manage to take out his bodyguards, but Alberich is wounded and taken hostage in the process. Skif is forced to kill the man to save Alberich, keeping him from escaping, but preventing them from learning anything about who he was working with.
The Arrows Trilogy
Talia, a young girl from a backward and insular part of Valdemar, is Chosen and quickly becomes the Queen's Own. In addition to learning to control her own powerful Gift of Empathy and act as the Queen's right-hand woman, she must also deal with raising the Queen's Royal Brat
daughter, and ferret out a traitor to the kingdom even as Valdemar enters a war. The first Valdemar novels written, they suffer from a bit of Early Installment Weirdness
Arrows of the Queen
Arrows of the Queen
opens with Talia, a 13-year old girl in a remote and extremely conservative Valdemaran holding, daydreaming about Vanyel, whom she has been reading about. She is summoned from her reverie to a meeting of the Holder womenfolk, who tell her that she has reached marriageable age and is to be wed immediately
. She flees in terror
and is rescued by a strange white horse, with piercing blue eyes, named Rolan. Unaware of the significance of Companions, she embarks on a strange journey to return the horse to Haven, fabled capital of the kingdom.
In the towns she passes through, Talia is astonished to be treated like an honored guest, rather than the thief and runaway she imagines herself to be. Upon her arrival at Haven, she is directed to the Heralds' Collegium. While she waits to be interviewed, she also encounters a spoiled young girl who claims to be a Princess, but is among the worst-mannered brats she has ever seen. Talia, wise in the ways of raising children, refuses to be impressed by the girl's tantrums. This in turn impresses her interviewer, who turns out to be Selenay, Queen of Valdemar. Talia finally learns the truth: she has been Chosen as a Herald — and not just any Herald, but the Queen's Own, her most trusted confidant and adviser, and Selenay is in desperate need of her.
Thus, Talia enters her training, and quickly learns that the path will not be easy. First, she must overcome her own abusive upbringing, which has led to a crippling phobia of men as well as a habit of hiding her feelings. Second, she must learn to deal with her emerging Gift of Empathy
, which is poorly understood among Heralds. Third, she must begin the monumental task of taming Elspeth, the Royal Brat
. Last, and worst, the position of Queen's Own was not vacant by accident. It is strongly suspected that her predecessor was murdered, and there are political forces at work that are trying to isolate and destroy Selenay and will stoop even to attacking a vulnerable teenage girl.
On the positive side, her innocent yet wise
demeanor and her innate kindness rapidly endear her to her fellow Trainees and the Heralds of the Collegium - especially her equestrian instructor Keren, who becomes a surrogate mother to the young Herald-in-training.
She also forms a bond with a young ex-thief named Skif, who helps her investigate her suspicions about Princess Elspeth's nurse, a mysterious woman named Hulda. On one excursion, she witnesses Hulda receiving instructions from an unknown figure regarding her attempts to turn Elspeth against Selenay. They use this evidence to unmask Hulda as a traitor, but she flees before she can be interrogated. At least the process of un-spoiling the young girl can now proceed.
Selenay's enemies are far from finished, however. Recognizing that they cannot cow Talia or discredit her, they choose a more direct path, ambushing her, binding her, and throwing her in the freezing river. She is barely rescued by Rolan's timely intervention, and the trauma fully awakens her latent empathic abilities. After this event, she finds herself guarded more closely and the tales of her persecution are taken more seriously. Talia is beginning to find her place among the Heralds, but there is still lingering doubt about her reliability and youth.
Then a Herald is murdered while on a secret courier mission. Talia's Empathy proves to be key, as she, while exercising her newly trained Gift, stumbles upon the powerful emotions of the event as they happen. In linkage with two of her instructors: Herald Kris, a FarSeer, and Herald Dirk, a Fetcher, they locate and retrieve the valuable evidence that the murdered Herald was carrying — evidence that implicates several of Valdemar's highest ranking nobles in a conspiracy to assassinate Selenay. The conspirators are unmasked and executed and Talia finally earns the full respect and trust of her peers.
follows Talia, now 18 and graduated from the Heralds' Collegium, on her trainee circuit. Part of a Herald's duty is to act as a Circuit Judge
across the kingdom of Valdemar, and even though Talia, as the Queen's Own, is exempt from these duties, all Heralds must ride circuit at least once to feel out the land and learn about its people.
But Talia faces unique challenges on this journey. Although she has won the trust of her fellow Heralds, reformed Royal Brat
Elspeth, and helped break up the conspiracy that saw her predecessor murdered, she senses the winds of political intrigue continuing to blow in Haven and worries about the rumors and mischief that are certain to grow in her absence.
Hardly less of a problem is the identity of the Herald who is riding with her. She is uncomfortable around men, especially attractive ones, thanks to her abusive childhood, and Herald Kris is devilishly handsome and a well-known womanizer. She suspects Lord Orthallen, one of Queen Selenay's most trusted advisers, of stirring up the rumors about her, and Kris is Orthallen's nephew and apt to take his side. Lastly, Kris is a Gift Trainer, and Talia harbors doubts about the ethics of her Gift of Empathy that aren't helped by the rumors floating around.
Sure enough, on the trail, things begin to break down. Although she finds that she has a knack for reading people and seeing through to the truth of their disputes, she struggles increasingly with an erratic and uncontrollable Gift. Her shielding is breaking down under her self-reinforced doubts and the strain of the journey. She wants to confide all this to Kris but fears that it will merely confirm the suspicions fomented by his uncle.
The duo face several challenges that help distract Talia's attention from her problems: a bandit raid on one town and a plague in another. But the Healer she transports to the plague-stricken village uncovers the secret of her out of control Gift. As luck would have it, Kris and Talia are forced to seek shelter from a deadly snowstorm, and among the howling blizzard he confronts her with the knowledge. This breaks the last of her self-control and nearly kills both of them in the storm of her accumulated guilt and anguish.
Kris must now confront a suicidal young woman with a dangerously out of control Gift, and the two of them plus their companions must manage their survival at a remote waystation blocked off from all civilization by several feet of snow. A young woman that, in the aftermath of catharsis, takes him as her first lover.
It takes several weeks, but he manages to uncover the secret of her failed training and put together an entirely new training program from the foundation up. The Talia who emerges from the waystation is a new woman who has control of her Gift and is able to approach the challenges on the remainder of her circuit with increasing confidence. This comes to the test when she confronts a man who horrifically raped his stepdaughters. She uses her powers to force him into a mental loop whereby he must relive his abuse from his daughters' point of view until he truly repents.
A trio of Heralds meeting them hears Talia's explanation for the choices she made and validates them, and she returns from circuit having mastered two of her greatest fears: of men and of her Gifts.
opens at the conclusion of Herald Talia's trainee circuit. On her journey through northern Valdemar, she has overcome numerous challenges: she faced her first combat, took her first lover, faced the ethics of her Gift, and painstakingly retrained herself in its use after nearly killing both herself and Herald Kris. Now she returns to Haven, capital of Valdemar, to face far more pernicious challenges.
The political intrigues in Selenay's court have grown in her year-long absence. A coalition of nobles schemes to undermine Selenay's leadership, and Selenay has suffered in the time that her Queen's Own Herald has been away. Young princess Elspeth is Chosen and in training, but has grown rebellious and is being subtly led astray by the temptations of the court. Talia suspects Lord Orthallen, one of Selenay's most trusted advisors, of being behind the nasty rumors about her abusing her Empathic Gift, but her concerns fall on deaf ears. Last, but far from least, she is coming to realize that young Herald Dirk, whom she first encountered on her original journey to Haven, who was one of her instructors in Gifts, and who is the closest friend of her circuit partner Kris, may also be her lifebond
True enough, troubles beseige her from the moment she sets foot in Haven. Dirk, who is woman-shy thanks to a failed romance and has his own problems
, interprets Talia's relationship with Kris in the worst possible light and refuses to talk to either of them. Talia's allies at court are few, and her attempts to dig deeper into her suspicions about Orthallen are fruitless. She has better luck tracking down Elspeth, but after catching the girl about to defame herself with a court dandy, the resulting flaring of tempers drives them apart. All this comes to a head when Dirk collapses after driving himself into a full breakdown.
And then, Selenay interrupts what might be a chance for reconciliation with a new critical mission. Hardorn, traditionally Valdemar's ally, has requested an embassy for the purpose of anointing a new crown prince. Talia and Kris are sent to the court as Selenay's advance agents. Along the way, they uncover unrest and disturbing rumors about the young Prince Ancar. Arriving at the capital, they take the opportunity to engage in a bit of spying and are therefore witnesses to Ancar's usurpation of the throne via the assassination of his father and his entire court. They try to flee, but Kris is killed and Talia taken captive. Only Rolan manages to escape.
In Ancar's dungeons, Talia undergoes torture and rape, and learns Ancar's true intentions. Hulda, the nursemaid whom Talia unmasked attempting to corrupt Elspeth, is behind Ancar's usurpation. She is a mage, as is Ancar, and their plan is to ambush and murder Selenay and wrest control of Valdemar by force. She also learns that Orthallen is Hulda's conspirator. She manages to send a brief warning via a traveling trader whom she had previously aided in Valdemar, but with no hope of rescue, she attempts suicide to deny her captors any further information.
Selenay's court, meanwhile, has been traveling to Hardorn with Dirk and Elspeth in tow. Failing to meet Kris and Talia on the border, they anxiously await information, only to be greeted by Rolan, bedraggled and gaunt, bearing the marked arrows with Talia's message. They grimly prepare for war, but Dirk and Elspeth have other plans. Dirk has reconciled his feelings for Talia and is desperate to rescue her, and Elspeth has similarly repented of her anger. The two combine their gifts of Fetching and FarSight to attempt a thing never before accomplished: to Fetch Talia. With Rolan's help they succeed, and the combined efforts of all the Healers bring Talia back from the brink of death and mend her shattered body, while Dirk finally opens himself to their lifebond in an attempt to reclaim her spirit.
They succeed, but amid the glow of newfound love, Talia has terrible news to impart: not only the truth of what happened in Hardorn, but also Orthallen's treachery. They arrange a trap to force him to confess his crimes, but are unprepared for his murderous response — only Elspeth's quick thinking and training in knife-throwing saves them. Combining the might of Heraldic Gifts, Selenay's troops then ambush and defeat Ancar's stronger, mage-backed army.
The court retreats to Haven to prepare Valdemar for war and to mourn the loss of Kris. Talia, her trials over, weds Dirk.
By the Sword
A stand-alone novel introducing Kerowyn, captain of a mercenary company and wielder of the magic sword Need (first introduced in Vows and Honor), who joins Valdemar in their desperate fight against their neighbor Hardorn.
The Mage Winds
Elspeth, the crown princess and now a Herald, is foretold to become the first Herald-Mage since Vaynel (of The Last Herald-Mage
trilogy). Elspeth, however, has no intention of doing anything Because Destiny Says So
, and sets out to Screw Destiny
as thoroughly as possible while still serving the kingdom. Serves as a localized The Magic Comes Back
Winds of Fate
Winds of Change
Winds of Fury
The Mage Storms
A return of the ancient Cataclysm from the time of the Mage Wars threatens not only Valdemar, but the entire world. Karal, a novice working as a secretary for his mentor, Ulrich, is sent to Valdemar to help organize things between the new allies. Meanwhile, Grand Duke Tremane from the massive Eastern Empire is dispatched into the chaos of Hardon, with orders to conquer as much of it — and neighboring Valdemar — as he can.
After the dust from the Mage Storms has settled, life in Valdemar gets more or less back to normal — until a new threat from the northern barbarian tribes appears. Darian — a youngster with mage potential living in the village of Errold's Grove in the far northwestern corner of Valdemar — becomes wrapped up with the barbarians, the mysterious Hawkbrothers, and his own powers when a hostile tribe attacks. In the second and third books, he is joined by Healer-trainee Keisha, who has her own battles to deal with involving barbarians, Hawkbrothers, and her powers.
The village of Errold's Grove has been on the decline since the mage storms, due to the increased number of dangerous creatures in the Pelagiris forest. Only Darian's parents continue to brave the forest, making a good living as trappers — until they vanish during the tail end of the mage storms. Darian is apprenticed to the villager's resident wizard and healer, Justyn — a former mercenary whose once-useful magical power has been reduced to virtually nothing by a blow to the head taken during the war with Hardorn.
Darian is rebellious, grieving for his parents and angry at the villagers for being dismissive of them, while at the same time contemptuous of Justyn for failing to show any of his supposed powers — an opinion shared by many of the villagers... until one day when the village is attacked. Justyn, reaching back to his military training, immediately takes charge and has the villagers flee while he holds the attackers off
. Darian, out gathering medical supplies in the woods when he notices the commotion, returns to the village just in time to see the army — composed of horrific half-human, half-bear creatures
in addition to normal warriors — arrive, and Justyn make a Heroic Sacrifice
to delay them.
Darian flees beck into the woods, but runs into a barbarian patrol. He is rescued by the Hawkbrother scout Snowfire, and taken back to the Hawkbrother encampment. There he meets Starfall (an Adept-class mage and leader of the expedition), Nightwind (a trondi'irn — a specialist in caring for intelligent non-humans), Kelvren (a gryphon, Nightwind's main responsibility), Ayshen (lead hertasi — a race of small bipedal lizards that act as support staff), and Tyrsell (head dyheli, which are essentially psychic antelopes) among others. This particular group is part of a larger Hawkbrother effort to control the flow of magic after the mage storms, ensuring a supply of magic energy for themselves and Valdemar, while simultaneously denying it to any potentially hostile mages.
Darian tells the Hawkbrothers what he knows of the situation in Errold's Grove. The Hawkbrothers, recognizing the bear-men as mage-created, fear that a barbarian shaman is attempting to seize control of the magic in the area. Starfall continues with his efforts to lock down the region's magic, while the rest of the Hawkbrothers scout Errold's Grove and plan for further action. In the meantime, Snowfire formally adopts Darian, allowing him to remain with the Hawkbrothers permanently, on the condition that he accepts magical training.
While wandering the woods thinking over his situation, Darian unconsciously makes his way back to Errold's Grove, where he sees many of the villagers enslaved by the barbarians. Returning to the Hawkbrothers with this news, they quickly device a plan to use Darian's knowledge of traps and familiarity with the terrain to free the villagers. The Hawkbrothers trick most of the barbarian forces into leaving the village before heading in themselves, lead by Darian. Once in the village, they have Darian hide in the stables while they rescue the villagers. However, Darian encounters the enemy mage before the Hawkbrothers return for him, and attacks him to prevent him from using his magic on the rescue party. Through a combination of surprise and help from a bondbird, he manages to kill the mage, while the Hawkbrothers drive off the remaining barbarians. Leaving the villagers to rebuild Errold's Grove with the barbarian's accumulated loot, Darian leaves to train with the Hawkbrothers, but announces his attention to return one day and act as an ambassador between Valdemar and the Hawkbrothers, as well as the local mage.
Four years after the barbarian attack, the village of Errold's Grove is thriving. The town has become the center of a burgeoning dye trade using raw materials from the Pelagiris forest — considered safe to explore again, now that the Hawkbrothers are keeping an eye on it. One of its new residents, the 18-year-old Keisha, has acted as the village Healer since her family moved into town — though, having never been trained in her Gift, she is technically only a trainee. At the beginning of the novel, Keisha's younger sister Shandi is Chosen and whisked off to Haven for training. After Shandi's departure, Keisha realizes that she's beginning to feel uncomfortable around other people — a consequence of neglecting her Gift, as she is unable to shield herself from the sensations they broadcast to Healing sense. She refuses to get training in it, however, as that would require her to leave Errold's Grove without a Healer while she was away.
Meanwhile, Darian and his adopted Hawkbrother family are finally coming home after four years of work fixing magical trouble spots in Valdemar. They return to the k'Vala Vale, which promptly holds a wedding ceremony for Snowfire and Nightwind — despite them having married two years ago, while still "on the road". After the celebration, Darian spends his time making plans for the new Vale to be established near Errold's Grove and waiting for his new teacher in magic — a Healing Adept arriving specifically in order to teach him. Those plans are disrupted, however, when k'Vala's scouts discover a group of barbarians heading toward Errold's Grove. Unlike the previous group, this is an entire clan (including women, children, and herd animals in addition to warriors) rather than an army, but the Hawkbrothers decide to establish the new Vale early to be prepared for the barbarian's arrival.
The inhabitants of the new k'Valdemar Vale quickly move to their new location and begin setting things up. They meet with the local Valdemarian noble, Lord Beron, and his son and heir, Val, to discuss how to best react to the barbarians. Not long after, Darian's new teacher arrives — and turns out to be none other than the legendary Firesong (who happens to be Starfall's son) and his companion, Silverfox (who is Nightwind's uncle).