Julian is now king of Westria, but on the peak of the Red Mountain Caolin still broods. The sorcerer’s psyche is shattering, but his army is more powerful than ever, led by an elite band of storm troops called the Blood Wolves. Julian’s forces are stretched thin as they try to counter the attacks, and Rana faces her own tests as she nurses the wounded. She is healing from her own traumas, and finds herself suddenly physically aware of Julian, but the middle of a war is no time to tell him so.
When Julian goes to the Mother of Fire (Mount Lassen) to claim the Jewel, Caolin is waiting. To save his friends, Julian flees, drawing pursuit after him. Before the Blood Wolves catch up and capture him, he makes it to the Dorada Buttes and hides the Jewel.
Rana cares for Robert, wounded in the fight at the Mother of Fire, sharing his fear for the man they both love, for Julian has disappeared. When no one can find him, she and Silverhair seek Coyote’s help. Silverhair sees the Guardian in the land of the dead, but Julian is not there. Rana sees the Guardian as a dancer who promises to help if she will pay his price. She slips away in secret and together they travel northward. As they near the Dorada (Sutter) Buttes, Rana feels drawn to climb them, and her relationship to Julian allows her to sense the Jewel of Fire. To recover it, she must open herself fully to the power of love. Now she knows where Julian has to be, and she and Coyote head south to rescue him.
In the dungeons of Blood Gard Julian is living a nightmare in which Caolin systematically tortures him, striving to break his will and draw him into his own darkness. In the process, Caolin relives his own tortured relationship with King Jehan, and projects his desire onto Julian.
Coyote and Rana reach Blood Gard, but before they try to get in he makes love to her, as once the Lady of Westria lay with Julian, to destroy the last of her fears. Then, disguised, they infiltrate the fortress, and while Coyote distracts Caolin’s soldiers Rana searches for his prisoner. As the sorcerer breaches Julian’s last defenses, the king sees all that Caolin himself has repressed, and blasts his darkness with light. Maddened, the sorcerer sets fire to the straw and flees.
Rana finds Julian on the other side of a wall of flame. He thinks she is a spirit and walks through the fire to reach her. As Blood Gard burns, they escape and Coyote helps them to get away. Caolin is taken away by his men, raving, to join the allies Elaya has sent him, and his tortured psyche splinters.
Julian recognizes his bond with Rana and declares his intention to marry her, but his mind is even more damaged than his body, and he doubts he will ever be able to function as her husband. Meanwhile, he has to defend Laurelynn against Caolin’s army. Silverhair’s music brings him some comfort, but the harper’s own health is shaky. The Master of the Junipers counsels him to spend his life wisely.
Caolin lifts the seige and attacks Sanjos (San José). Julian asks help from Queen Mara in Normontaine, and leaves Robert to command the defense in Laurelynn while he seeks to draw Caolin’s forces to Seagate where he can raise enough men to ambush them. Silverhair goes to Misthall to help those who are harrying Caolin’s army as it moves north. To keep them from attacking the Bards who now live there, he allows himself to be captured. When Caolin tortures him, he gives false information that will draw the sorcerer into the trap Julian is preparing for him.
The Blood Lord’s army crosses the Dorada (Sacramento) and meets Julian’s forces where the road north passes between two hills. Trying to shake the king’s nerve, Caolin sends back Silverhair, but before he does so, he breaks the harper’s hands. Julian’s position gives him a small advantage, but the battle is close. Silverhair is dying, but his spirit causes his harp to make a music that fires men’s hearts, and the Westrians rout their enemies. Julian fights the leader of the Blood Wolves, but now they are giving Caolin their blood to feed his power. One by one he consumes them, and casts a barrier around himself and Julian. Now the combat is one of magic. Julian is pushed to his limits, until he realizes that the way to win is to give the Jewels to Caolin. The sorcerer cannot bear the touch of those pure powers, and first his power, and then his very identity, is reft away.
The survivors bury their dead. The two women who loved Silverhair appear to mourn at his pyre. But Julian’s soul is frozen until Rana finds a way to set all the emotion locked within him free. They are married at Midsummer, and Rana is invested as Mistress of the Jewels. But the festivities are interrupted by the news that Caolin has been found on the Red Mountain, alive. Rana and Julian go after him, and find a gibbering wreck whose psyche has retreated until all that is left is the spirit of an abused child. To that essence they convey the forgiveness that Caolin could not accept from Faris and Jehan, and the sorcerer dies at last.
That night, Rana uses her new mastery to call Julian to her on an island in the Dorada, and with the help of the Guardians completes his healing as king and queen are united with the powers of the land