The third book sees Alanna through her journey through the Bazhir desert, where she and her manservant Coram are adopted by the Bloody Hawk tribe. During their stay, Alanna duels with the Bloody Hawk shaman, a crazed wizard who is convinced Alanna is evil, and kills him. According to Bazhir law she must be the tribe's shaman until she trains a new one to replace her or someone kills her and takes her place.
Alanna selects three Gifted children of the tribe, Ishak, Kara, and Kourrem, and begins to train them in magic. She also inherits the former shaman's sword, with a crystal on the hilt, symbols that remind her of the dead sorcerer Duke Roger, and a terrifying amount of dark power. She keeps it because her old sword, Lightning, broke during a battle. She also teaches the traditional Bazhir to slowly lose some of their prejudice against women. During their training, Alanna sees glimpses of the shamans the girls will become, but the boy, Ishak, constantly attempts stronger, darker sorcery. In a sudden encounter, Ishak steals the crystal sword from Alanna and tries to master its power, but it consumes him and kills him. Alanna continues to train Kara and Kourrem.
Prince Jonathan and Sir Myles of Olau make a visit to the Bloody Hawk tribe, where Jonathan and Alanna renew their love affair and spend a passionate night together. When Jonathan asks her to marry him, Alanna is shocked and asks for time to think it over. During their stay, Jonathan is adopted by the tribe and takes up training under the Voice of the Tribes, an old friend of Alanna's and Jonathan's. When the Voice dies, Jonathan is made the new Voice, thus acting as a sacred link between all the Bazhir tribes. This status will help unite northerners and southerners when he eventually becomes King of Tortall. Also, Myles adopts Alanna as his daughter and heir to his lands. Jonathan, tired from the Rite of the Voice, wants to go home soon and assumes that Alanna will marry him though she has asked for time to think about it, and when he begins to make arrangements for her to return to Corus with him, they argue. She refuses to marry him, and he wounds her deeply by saying he'd rather marry a woman who knows how to act like a woman. Jonathan and Myles leave, and Alanna continues her training of Kourrem and Kara, who eventually pass the required tests and are made shamans for the tribe, Kourrem being the head shaman.
Alanna and Coram travel to Port Caynn to visit George Cooper, who is putting down a Rogue rebellion there. While Coram woos George's cousin Rispah, Alanna begins a love affair with George, who has loved her for years, but when he wants her to return to Corus with him, she refuses to go with him. The two split, and Coram accompanies Alanna back to the desert, where the Bloody Hawk chief asks her to check on a sorceress, a friend of his, whom he has been having bad dreams about. When Alanna and Coram arrive at the sorceress' drought-stricken village, they see the starved, crazed villagers burning the sorceress, thinking the sacrifice will please the gods and provide them food. Alanna and Coram rescue her, but not in time, and the sorceress dies after leaving Alanna with a scroll to give to the Bloody Hawk chief. The chief tells them it is a map to the Dominion Jewel, a legendary stone that provides untold powers in the hands of Gifted or unGifted rulers. Alanna and Coram decide to go after it.