The king of Westria is dead, and his queen has disappeared. For twenty years, a regent and the Council will govern the kingdom. The survivors of the conspiracy that brought down the treasonous seneschal, Caolin, are building new lives. Only the queen’s brother, Sir Farin Harper, cannot forget. He sets out on a quest, first to find Caolin and learn what he knows about Faris, and then to search for her.
Hiding his identity, he sails south to Elaya, where he finds Caolin a magic-scarred fugitive, unwittingly befriends him, and ends up wounded and a prisoner of Prince Palomon. But Caolin plays chess for Farin’s freedom and lets him go. Caolin wants only to forget the past, but a chance word sends Farin to the Barren Lands (the inland portions of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as all of Nevada).
Here he will wander for many years, as his hair grows white and he earns the name of Silverhair, following one clue after another to a dead end. Making his living as an entertainer or caravan guard, he wanders through the west. In the process he rescues the mysterious Willa, harps for the ghosts of the Ancients in a cavern, and is healed by a Yavapai shamaness who helps him to confront the demons within.
The search for Faris is hopeless, but Silverhair finds a new purpose in the quest for fulfillment as a musician. On his way to the College of Bards, he pauses in Saticoy, a town near the northern border of Elaya, where he encounters Caolin once more. Known now as El Sangrado, the Blood Lord, who veils his scarred features with illusion for all but Silverhair. Caolin is regent for Las Palisadas, and seems content to serve Prince Palomon there.
Unrecognized, Silverhair becomes a student at the College of Bards, and wins the love of Mistress Siaran, the harpmistress. Battered by years on the trail, his fingers are no longer capable of the highest proficiency, and they will not award him the cloak of a Master Bard, but they do include him in the consort being sent to the Danehold to ease the negotiations for the surrender of Santibar (Santa Barbara).
Only Silverhair knows that the Elayan general who has won Santibar for Westria’s old enemy is Caolin. When he tells the widow of Brian of Las Costas, she makes it a condition of the surrender that El Sangrado not be allowed to hold it. Deprived of what he considers his rightful reward, Caolin seeks vengeance on Silverhair. Catching the bards on a lonely road he attacks, and Silverhair draws on the magic of music to save them.
The College pronounces him a Master Bard, but Silverhair, embittered, is no longer willing to accept it and heads north, where he spends a season on the coast with an old man who once swam with the dolphins and continues on to the court of Queen Mara of Normontaine (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). The queen takes him as her lover, and uses him as an unofficial agent. When he returns from a trip to the Far Isles (Hawai’i) he finds that Theodor of the Corona is a guest of the queen, with his grand-daughter Elinor.
A new breed of raider is devastating the borders between Westria and Normontaine. Mara persuades Silverhair to serve as her liaison to Westria, and as he is reconciled with Lord Theodor, he takes the first steps towards coming to terms with his past. As he investigates the situation on the borders, he hears of attacks by the Sasquatch, is captured by them, and learns that the raiders have been planting false clues, and that they are being directed by Caolin.
Silverhair rejoins Theodor, who falls in a fight against a reiver band. Dying he makes Silverhair swear to go home. But first they must deal with Caolin. With Queen Mara, he tracks the sorcerer to the crater lake in the top of Mt. Mazama (Oregon’s Crater Lake). Caolin’s powers have grown, but Silverhair calls on the Spirit of Music and the duel ends in a draw.
As he has promised, Silverhair goes south to report to Eric of Seagate, now Regent of Westria. On the way he spends an evening harping for a young man called Julian, who is also on his way to Bongarde. There he finds the Master of the Junipers, who tells him that Faris is dead, and that Julian is in fact the lost prince, her child. Silverhair’s own quest has come to an end, but a new one is about to begin.