Four years after the events of Owlflight, Darian and the group of Tayledras and Kaled'a'in finally return to their home vale of k'Vala, where a great party is held to celebrate Snowfire and Nightwind's marriage. Darian continues his training as a Healing Mage, while waiting for his next teacher to arrive. However, they soon receive word that another group of northern barbarians are heading towards Errold's Grove, so they quickly move to set up the k'Valdemar vale, at the site of the temporary camp where Darian had first met the expedition.
Errold's Grove is now a bustling trade center once more and Keisha Alder has become the village healer, but struggles to understand the textbooks sent to her by the Healer's Collegium. Her sister, Shandi, is unexpectedly Chosen by the Companion Karles and leaves for Haven. As time passes she finds it increasingly difficult to be around people. With the arrival of the Hawkbrother contingent, Nightwind realizes that Keisha's gift of Empathy is untrained and helps her to understand some of the things that the textbooks could not explain. With the warning of the approaching barbarians that the Hawkbrothers bring, most villagers head to Errold's Grove for safety, while Keisha goes to k'Valdemar, ready to use her gifts if needed.
When the barbarians arrive, they realize that it is not a war party, but the entire tribe, including invalids struck down by a mysterious and devastating Wasting Disease. Shandi returns unexpectedly, after a strong premonition that she would be needed. Keisha and Darian decide to kidnap one of the barbarians, to find out what they can. The tribal totem, Ghost Cat, leads Hywel, the Chief's son, to them and he in turn brings his very sick baby brother to Keisha. While Darian reports the events to the Hawkbrothers and Valdemaren Heralds, Shandi is frantically looking for Keisha. When she realizes that both she and Darian can assist Healers, they rush to Keisha's aid, since her healing gift has been overwhelmed by the disease she was trying to cure.
Meanwhile the Valdemarens and Ghost Cat tribe are heading towards a confrontation because of the kidnapping of the Chief's Son and the Ghost Cat spirit and Shandi's Companion stand between the two parties until the now-healed boy is returned to his family. Eventually a treaty is drawn up, with Ghost Cat acting as hosts to other northern tribes coming south for healing and the "holy dyheli" transporting the sick to a Sanctuary at a secret location, so that the tribes are never tempted to try and kidnap a Healer.