A synopsis of the various Heralds of Valdemar stories, organized by where they fall in the timeline.
The Black GryphonIn 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 GryphonThe 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 GryphonA 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.
Magic's PawnVanyel 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.
Magic's PriceVanyel, now in his mid-thirties and feeling the strain of long years in Valdemar's service, realizes that the Herald-Mage ranks have dwindled until only four of them remain. He works a great magic to bind all the Heralds into a Web that will notify them of incoming trouble in the kingdom, adding an anti-mage feature which will come to last for centuries. He is further troubled by two other things: the declining health of King Randale and the public perception that non-mage Heralds are lesser versions of Herald-Mages.
As his concerns wear at him, his nephew Medren introduces him to Stefen, a young and beautiful Bardic trainee with the power to block pain. This ability quickly gets the 17-year-old Stef drafted into King Randi's service, where he begins a subtle but determined courtship of Vanyel. Van initially resists but finally accepts Stef into his bed and heart, where they form a lifebond. Unbeknownst to him, Stefen is a reincarnation of Tylendel, sent to keep Van stable and atone for his past mistakes. The lifebond eases Van's mental stress, and even helps him reconcile with his family. However, the new bond also causes Van to start having prophetic dreams of his death in a heroic Last Stand.
Two of the remaining Herald-Mages die under suspicious circumstances. Savil believes the deaths were murders, which Van dismisses until Savil herself is murdered by a magical construct. Driven wild with anger and grief, Vanyel takes Stefen and goes north to find his aunt's killer. His overwrought emotions lead him into a bad misstep, and he is captured and brutalized — when Stef and Yfandes find him, he has been driven to the brink of insanity and nearly crosses the Moral Event Horizon. Their journey comes to a long halt as his mind and body recover.
Ultimately, Vanyel meets his enemy, the evil mage Leareth, at a narrow mountain pass. Behind him is an army poised to devastate Valdemar. With Yfandes at his side, he performs his fated Heroic Sacrifice, obliterating Leareth and his soldiers. In the aftermath, a grieving Stefen devotes himself to dispelling the stigma against 'plain Heralds' and ultimately earns the right to join Vanyel and Yfandes as one of the spirit protectors of Valdemar's northern border.
FoundationThe 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.
Brightly BurningA stand-alone novel featuring Lavan Firestorm, a Herald with the rare but powerful Gift of Firestarting.
Take a ThiefSkif, 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.
Arrows of the QueenArrows 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.
Arrow's FlightArrow's Flight 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.
Arrow's FallArrow's Fall 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 SwordA 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.
When Kero is a teenager, raiders attack her brother's wedding and kidnap the bride, leaving her the only person willing and able to go to the rescue. With the assistance of her sorceress grandmother Kethry, the Shin'a'in Swordsworn Tarma, and the enchanted sword Need, she succeeds but finds that her heroism has alienated most of her friends and family. She joins Tarma and Kethry at their home and begins training to be a fighter.
Tension arises when the King of Rethwellan sends his woeful middle son, Daren, to be a fellow apprentice. The two youngsters initially dislike each other, but time and experience turns their hostility into mutual respect, then friendship — eventually they become lovers. Unfortunately, Daren's younger brother Thanel attempts to murder Queen Selenay of Valdemar: when Thanel is killed and Daren's father dies of shock, the prince is called home. He makes a feeble attempt to bring Kero with him as his wife, cementing her resolve to live by the sword as a mercenary.
Some years later, Kero is an established fighter in the Skybolts. A skirmish with Karsite forces goes wrong, and she is cut off from the company and ends up alone in Karse. As she tries to get to safety, she finds and rescues a Herald (after extracting a promise of payment). The man, Eldan, becomes her love as well as her lover, but she separates from him when she realizes that Need's magic is attracting Karsite priestesses and hindering his escape. After several miserable weeks, she finds her way back to the Skybolts to find them suffering under poor leadership. Things finally come to a breaking point, and she dramatically parts company with them — only to find, after more misery, that her act inspired the remaining troops, who elected her Captain.
Ten more years later, Kerowyn has built the Skybolts into a formidable force. While visiting Daren in Rethwellan, she just happens to meet Heralds Talia and Dirk, who have come to beg for Rethwellen's aid against Hardorn. Kero reminds them that Rethwellan is actually in Valdemar's debt (due to an event in Vows and Honor) — the end result is that the Skybolts join the Rethwellan forces heading to Valdemar.
Once in the country, the Heralds earn the Skybolts' respect — and she is reunited with Eldan, who has neither forgotten nor given up on her during their ten years apart. Ancar's army vastly outnumbers them, however, and they brace themselves for their Last Stand. Daren is the one to save the day, using a trick he learned while studying with Tarma. In the ensuing battle, Kero is Chosen by the Companion Sayvil, Daren is Chosen as well, and then he and Selenay meet — cue Love at First Sight and a happy resolution for all, with the Skybolts moving into new quarters in Valdemar and now-Herald Kerowyn becoming a weapons instructor.
Winds of FatePrincess Elspeth, finding her life under constant threat and realizing that Valdemar will never be safe until it rediscovers the lost arts of magic, sets out to find a mage who will agree to return to the country and teach Heralds. With her is Herald Skif, sent at the Council's insistence, and the magic sword Need. The process of setting out seems suspiciously easy — when Elspeth realizes she is being railroaded by the Companions, particularly her own Gwena, into a glorious destiny as the first new Herald-Mage, she takes a violent swerve off the ordained path and sets out in the direction of the mysterious Tayledras lands.
Meanwhile, the Hawkbrother scout Darkwind has his own problems — his tribe, the k'Sheyna, was split in two by a magical accident which occurred as the tribe was attempting to travel to a new Vale. His mother was killed, his father has become distant and forbidding, and he himself has sworn off the use of magic for fear that he had something to do with the situation. His one solace is his friendship with a mated pair of gryphons, who call him 'featherless son'. He cannot shake the feeling that an enemy mage is harassing the remnants of the tribe, but he cannot prove anything until a mysterious, catlike woman flees to him for help.
Eventually Elspeth and her company encounter the k'Sheyna, where her emerging magical talents, Need's sudden return to full sentience, and the defection of the cat-woman Nyara are all necessary to put up any kind of resistance to the sinister new mage who is menacing them — the brutal, near-immortal Mornelithe Falconsbane.
Winds of ChangeElspeth and Skif, now Wingsiblings with the k'Sheyna tribe, spend some time in the Vale. They attempt to come to terms with their new lives and Elspeth's budding magical power. Skif is growing increasingly attracted to the exotic-but-fragile Nyara, while Elspeth and Darkwind are becoming attracted as well. The tribe gets new allies, most noticeably the flamboyant k'Treva mage Firesong, while mysterious forces seem to be acting on their behalf to harass and distract Mornelithe Falconsbane.
Winds of FuryMornelithe Falconsbane is defeated and the last k'Sheyna tribesmen have rejoined their families, leaving Elspeth and Skif free to return home. Joining them are Darkwind, Nyara, Firesong, and the gryphons. Their return is rerouted by none other than the ghost of Vanyel, who warns them that he is disabling the anti-mage device that protected Valdemar. Elspeth returns to the capitol with great ceremony (to staunch rumors that she is dead), announces that she is the first of the kingdom's new Herald-Mages, and abdicates the throne in favor of her infant siblings. They scramble to train new Herald-Mages and put up a magical defense before any of their enemies realize the anti-mage protections are gone.
Meanwhile, King Ancar of Hardorn accidentally takes Falconsbane from the Void where he was imprisoned and binds him to his service. Falconsbane, confused and traumatized by the experience, is weak enough in the psyche to allow the personality of An'desha — a Shin'a'in mage whose body Falconsbane stole — more freedom of movement. Joined by two spirit avatars sent by the Goddess, An'desha works to undermine Falconsbane from within.
Ancar discovers the way to Valdemar open, with predictable results: his mage-controlled attack force begins a massive assault. Selenay dispatches Elspeth, Skif, Nyara, and the Hawkbrothers to Hardorn to assassinate its leaders, where they travel under guise as carnival entertainers.
Falconsbane's mind continues to weaken, allowing An'desha to lure him into an ambush at the carnival. Nyara and Need inflict a mortal wound, causing his spirit to flee into the Void, where Firesong pursues and destroys it. An'desha returns to full control over his (dying) body, which Need is attempting to heal. Elspeth and Darkwind confront Ancar, who has felt the backlash of Falconsbane's 'death' through the binding spells and gone quite mad — they dispatch him, Hulda, and an emissary from the Eastern Empire, though not without making it obvious that Valdemar was involved. The party flees to Haven, while Hardorn falls to an overwhelming wave of soldiers from the Eastern Empire.
Once home, the Shin'a'in Goddess makes a rare intervention and touches An'desha and Nyara, removing the worst of the catlike modifications Falconsbane made to their bodies.
Storm WarningEmperor Charliss of the Eastern Empire summons Grand Duke Tremane and sets him a test — to complete the conquest of Hardorn — to determine his worthiness to take the throne.
In the aftermath of the Falconsbane saga, An'desha settles in unhappily as a stranger in a strange land. His crush, the beautiful Firesong, has taken him into a relationship that is partly Lover and Beloved and partly man-and-lapdog, but this does nothing to heal An'desha's lingering mental wounds nor his fears that Falconsbane is still controlling his actions.
As Valdemar strengthens its alliances with its neighbors, the Karsite Sun Priest Ulrich is one of several delegates in residence — with him is his secretary Karal. Herald Talia senses a good personality fit between the lonely Karal and the overwhelmed An'desha and introduces them. Untrained though he is, Karal bonds with An'desha and even manages to reassure him that his feelings are normal in the wake of Falconsbane's possession of his body. Nor is An'desha Karal's only new friend — within hours he also has the company of an unbonded Companion, Florian, a pretty and impulsive inventor named Natoli, and Altra, one of the legendary Firecats who accompanied the Sun Priests in times when the church was less corrupt.
Then disaster strikes — magical weapons murder several emissaries, including Ulrich. The emotional blow on Karal and Altra is immense, but more than that is the sudden weight of being the temporary Karsite ambassador. With the alliance close to fracturing, Karal risks his life to expose the real assassin, who turns out to be an agent for the Eastern Empire who was working for Grand Duke Tremane.
Just as everyone begins to relax, a sudden upheaval in the magical currents signals a new disaster. A newly-mature An'desha forces himself to look into Falconsbane's memories and uncovers a horrible truth: the shock they just felt was the first of a series of pulses that are going to jar the world as the magical energies of the Cataclysm — the unfathomable disaster that shattered the world centuries ago — echo back in the present day.
Storm RisingThe increasing tension caused by the mage storms pushes several characters to their breaking point. Tremane, cut off from contact with the Empire by the instability of magic, loots an Imperial warehouse to buy time and gain supplies for a long occupation. Karal, still Karsite ambassador pro-tem, is unable to get anyone to recognize his authority because he is so young, plus the new Shin'a'in delegate is actively hostile to him. And Firesong, who feels the magic damage to the land acutely because of his status as a Healer Adept, is slowly coming unglued.
A respite arrives in the form of visitors from the Kale'da'in, including the specialized healer (known as a Kestra'chern) Silverfox, who happens to also be one of Firesong's former lovers. He sees Firesong's emotional turmoil but does not yet confront it — Firesong has redirected his anger towards Karal, assuming An'desha left him because of Karal's influence. Everything finally comes to a head: Karal collapses from stress and anxiety, Firesong breaks down and nearly murders his own bondbird, and Tremane accepts that he and his men will be governing Hardorn indefinitely. An'desha and Karal's allies help the exhausted young Sun Priest; Silverfox helps Firesong regain control (with Darkwind and Elspeth's help), and Tremane proves himself a wise and capable leader.
The Sun of the Sun, Solaris, makes a personal visit to Haven to help with negotiations. While she visits, An'desha, Altra, and Karal consider whether Tremane (who ordered the assassination of Ulrich and the others) could join the alliance with Valdemar. When Karal interviews him and realizes that he made a poor decision based on false information, he relents and gives Tremane a means to contact Valdemar. Solaris is not pleased, but she also visits Tremane and goes away satisfied, albeit not without exacting a little revenge first. Tremane sends one of his own mages to Valdemar to help them look for a temporary solution to the mage storms.
An accident among the engineering students injures several, including Karal's friend Natoli. While the others anxiously wait for news, they discover a possible solution — a counter-blast at the center of one of the mage storm echoes will nullify the waves, if only temporarily. Firesong and Silverfox, the Eastern mage Sejanes, An'desha, Karal and Altra, and several Companions are granted permission to go to the remains of Urtho's tower in the center of the Plains and set off one of his weapons as a counter-blast.
The task is difficult and nearly kills Karal. When it is over, the party at the tower realize they will need to stay there and work to find a way to nullify the terrible energies of the Final Storm.
Storm BreakingEmperor Charliss, enraged at Tremane's defection and the instability of magic (which has not only disrupted the spells that keep him healthy and functioning but reduced life in the magic-dependent Empire to shambles), names Court-Baron Melles his successor and heir.
Darkwind and Elspeth travel to Hardorn to visit Tremane, finding him to be a decent man and a good leader who looks after his people. They are approached by a delegate who says Hardorn would even have him as King, provided he agreed to be physically bound to the land (so that he cannot abuse its magic the way Ancar did). Tremane is dismissive and agrees to the ritual because he thinks it will be a mere formality — as it turns out, his earth sense not only exists but is quite strong, and he finds himself in a permanent empathic link with the land of Hardorn.
In the ruins of Urtho's tower, the little group has resolved to use another of the mage's ancient weapons to cancel out the last Mage Storm. Karal, recovering from the last time, feels somewhat useless: Silverfox reassures him that they need him to be the Token Normal. Their progress is improved when they find a device Urtho was making which allows long-distance communication. This puts them back in contact with Haven. Their need for information leads them to call in new allies: a scholar and his assistant from Kale'da'in, the engineer Master Levy, the spellsword Need, and even the ghosts of Vanyel, Stefen, and Yfandes.
As the storms reach their climax, Karal, Firesong, Sejanes, and An'desha put their lives on the line to wield a weapon that will channel all of the energy from the Final Storm into the Void. As this is happening, the Emperor Charliss — now driven entirely mad by the storms and his hatred of Tremane and Valdemar — begins a spell that will make the Final Storm even more powerful, putting all the considerable power he has access to (including his own life energy) into it, hoping that it will devastate the world since he'll be dead anyway. He is assassinated at the critical moment by Baron Melles, who has been conspiring to remove him for some time. Even so, Charliss has succeeded in boosting the power of the Final Storm, and the Empire, if not the world, is virtually guaranteed to be torn apart by it.
In Urtho's tower, the Final Storm causes the remaining stored weapons to fire, and the renewed stress of holding the Void open is too much for the four casters and their protectors. Need is destroyed, the Shin'a'in spirit avatars and the ghosts of Vanyel, Stefen, and Yfandes all lose their ties to the physical world, and the Companion Florian is killed. An'desha and Sejanes survive unscathed, as does Altra, but Firesong is horrifically scarred by Need (who exploded when overcome by the energy of the Final Storm), and Karal is rendered permanently blind by the experience. However, they were successful — the mage storms are finally over, and a second Cataclysm has been averted.
The company scatters to their new destinations. An'desha will remain on the Plains, since there is no longer any reason the Shin'a'in should not practice magic. Firesong and Silverfox rejoin the Kale'da'in. Karal returns to Valdemar (and Natoli), with Altra to be his "eyes", as they can now link deeply enough for Karal to see what Altra sees. The Shin'a'in avatars reassure An'desha that he can still come speak to them on the astral plain — and as for the Need, Florian, and the ghosts, we are told only that they have already made their decisions about where to go next.
In the immediate aftermath of the storms, the magic level in the land has dropped to almost nothing, but we are assured it will return to normal in time.
OwlflightThe 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 healer focused on 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 intention to return one day and act as an ambassador between Valdemar and the Hawkbrothers, as well as the local mage.
OwlsightFour 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).