The story is set after Ratha's Challenge but before Ratha's Courage. It starts with Ratha and the Named at a ceremony to light the evening's large bonfire. Ratha reflects back on her past and her lost first mate, Bonechewer. The return of Thistle-chaser and Quiet Hunter from the tribe (they're now ambassadors between the Tribe and the Clan) brings news about the birth of the heir of True-of-voice. During the night, Ratha has a vision of Bonechewer among the flames and grows certain she witnessed her lost mate standing between her and the fire. Ratha asks Bira to dig up Bonechewer's grave, but no signs of the body are found. Ratha believes Bonechewer to have survived, and this hope appears to be reality when the long-lost male appears while she's alone. Bonechewer claims to have survived his wounds and, despite having been buried alive, managed to crawl free and heal over the course of many long seasons. Upon hearing of this encounter, Thakur trusts Ratha's words, but wants to see and speak to his lost brother. However, Bonechewer makes clear that he's not ready to meet others of the Clan. He tells Ratha that he has thought about her hopes and ideals, and claims to be in contact with a group of friendly (and partially will-gifted) Un-Named that could possibly become allies of the Clan (or perhaps even create a secondary clan). When Ratha leaves clan ground to meet these Un-Named, however, Bonechewer reveals it to be a ruse. Ratha is captured by the Un-Named and Bonechewer torments her by saying he never had any true feelings for her, merely lust for her body, and that he actually despised her for being Named. Ratha, shocked and wounded by his words, lies broken and injured until a clan rescue party arrives. During the fight, Thistle-chaser challenges 'Bonechewer', asserting that he is not her father, and when the battle ends, the mysterious male is taken captive and the truth revealed. The prisoner proves to be an unknown green-eyed male, who disguised his black pelt with clay to resemble Bonechewer. Under questioning, the false Bonechewer refuses to give either his name or a real explanation for his actions, betraying only a deep hatred for the Named and Ratha in particular, and apparently hiding some painful event in his past. Before he can be further interrogated, the false Bonechewer escapes. Back in camp, Ratha hypothesizes about the false Bonechewer's identity, then speaks with Thakur and Thistle-chaser about Thakur/Bonechewer and the honesty of her ideals of peace, achieving some reconciliation of her feelings.
In the commentary to the same novel, Clare Bell states clearly that one of Ratha's hypotheses is the right one: the false Bonechewer is one of the male cubs sired by Bonechewer and born by Ratha herself. It's interesting to note that he shares the same black pelt as another supposed son of Ratha, Night-who-eats-stars