The Wolfriders, burned from their forest home by vengeful humans, set out to find more of their own kind—only to learn more than they dreamed possible.
The Wolfriders are a small tribe of forest elves allied with wolves, living on a two-mooned planet along with primeval humans. A Wolfrider named Redlance has just been captured by a nearby tribe of humans and is about to be killed by them in a ritual sacrifice to their god. These humans believe that the elves are ‘demons’ and that their god wills that all demons should die because they are not native to the planet (the elves' ancestors appeared in a palace-shaped vessel millenia ago) and thus do not belong to the natural order of things.
The young Wolfrider chief Cutter and a small band of Wolfriders rescue Redlance, killing a human in the process. Led in a frenzy of revenge by their over-zealous Shaman, the humans set fire to the elves’ part of the forest in retaliation and an attempt to wipe out the ‘wolf-demons’ once and for all. Strongbow kills the Shaman, but it is too late. The entire forest burns down and both humans and Wolfriders lose their homes.
In shock and sorrow, watching their forest home burn, the Wolfriders and their wolves seek refuge in the underground caverns of their sullenly greedy, but cowardly trade partners, the trolls. The elves claim that the trolls owe them sanctuary because of all the ways the Wolfriders have helped them over the years, but the corrupt troll king, Greymung, feels humiliated for being held at knife point and plots revenge. The elves are taken down a long tunnel toward what the trolls claim will be a “land of bright promise,” but is actually a trackless desert. Their troll guide, Picknose, suddenly seals the tunnel behind them near the exit into the desert.
Desperately inspired by the finding of a piece of “magic” lodestone, which inadvertently acts as a crude compass, the Wolfriders make an extremely arduous journey across the wasteland until they come to a desert oasis , which to their great surprise is populated by an elfin tribe.
The Wolfriders spy on the elf village from atop a cliff and find their ‘huts’ and the dark color of their skin to be very strange. Cutter decides from their bitter experience with the trolls that they should not assume they can trust these strange elves and that they must ‘take what they can get, no questions asked,’ and so they raid the village to take food and water by force.
During the raid, Cutter heads toward the well to steal a water jar from a village maiden. When their eyes meet, Cutter and the maiden, named Leetah, Recognize each other. (Recognition draws two genetically compatible elves together with an irresistible need to mate and an instant soul-level connection.) Cutter impulsively grabs Leetah instead of the water and takes her back to the Wolfrider's hiding place in the surrounding hills, where they regroup until they are discovered by the village's chief hunter, Rayek, who hears Leetah's scream. During a brief struggle, the hunter's uttered curse of “by the High Ones” causes the Wolfriders to realize that the strange elves are also descended from their ancestors the High Ones, and Leetah convinces them to come peacefully back down to the village.
The Wolfriders learn that the oasis is called “Sorrow’s End” (or the Sun Village) and the elves call themselves the Sun Folk. They are descendants of a different group of High Ones than those who became the Wolfriders. A peaceful farming community, they have no wolf-blood. They are immortal, they do not generally ‘send’ (communicate telepathically) to each other, and do not have soul names. They are peaceful and generous and would have given freely what the Wolfriders took by force. The Sun Folk graciously offer the Wolfriders a new home in Sorrow’s End.
Cutter, remembering that they had to leave behind Redlance, who was too wounded to travel farther, and his lifemate Nightfall who stayed with him, prepares to ride back to find them and bring them back to the village, hoping that Redlance still lives. Cutter asks if there is a healer who can travel with him, and Leetah reveals that she is a healer. They find Redlance and Nightfall, and Leetah is able to magically heal Redlance from the humans' wounds which have brought him near death.
After returning to the village and settling in, the Wolfriders are taken to meet Savah, the “Mother of Memory,” who is by far the oldest person in the Sun Village, and almost as tall as a High One. She remembers her family being driven from their forest home by humans and making a similar arduous trek through the desert many thousands of years ago. She is the only person in the Sun Village to have ever encountered humans, and she sympathizes deeply with the plight of the Wolfriders.
Leetah's Recognition of Cutter is quite unwelcome to Leetah; she is proud of her independence and finds Cutter's “uncivilized” and wolfish manner repulsive. The Recognition is also odious to the Sun Folk’s proud and jealous chief hunter, Rayek, who has been Leetah’s lovemate for hundreds of years (HY 9). Prior to the Wolfriders' arrival, Rayek had asked Leetah repeatedly to be his lifemate, but, wary of his controlling, possessive nature, Leetah has not yet given him an answer. Now Leetah is torn between the two; she loves Rayek, but feels a very strong need to meet the demands of Recognition despite her dislike of Cutter.
Rayek challenges Cutter to an ancient Sun Folk ‘trial’ traditionally used in love-triangle situations, in an attempt to win Leetah’s hand and heart once and for all. Rayek loses the trial, however, and runs away from the village; but Leetah is not yet ready to accept Cutter. But over time, as Leetah learns more about Cutter and the Wolfriders, she comes to admire and even respect him and his tribe, until finally Cutter and Leetah do become lifemates. Rayek, who has been living in the nearby hills, is unwilling to share Leetah with anyone (although lifemates are not necessarily lovers with only each other), and bitterly leaves the Sun Village for good.
The two tribes unite in smooth fashion with each side willing to adjust to their new companions to their mutual benefit. The Wolfriders enjoy the benefits of a more sophisticated culture and a safe haven completely free of humans or trolls, while the Sun Folk benefit from a band of strong hunters and defenders of their desert refuge. Cutter and Leetah soon bear twins, a daughter Ember and a son Suntop, and they eventually come to love each other deeply.
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