Former shepherd Rand al’Thor is in Fal Dara, practicing sword fighting with Lan, a blademaster and Warder to Moraine. Moraine is an Aes Sedai, a woman who can channel magic.
During practice, Rand feels suddenly trapped and immobilized by the wind. Lan mentions that Rand’s heron-mark sword, inherited from his adoptive father, is not just a blademaster’s sword but is rare and was possibly crafted by the One Power itself. They hear trumpets and see that a large group of Aes Sedai is entering the city.
Lan says that the Amyrlin Seat, the acting queen of the Aes Sedai, has come in person. Since the Aes Sedai often kill men who can channel magic as Rand can, Rand tries to leave the city before they arrive but learns that no one is permitted to leave.
While looking for a way to escape Fal Dara, Rand runs into his childhood friend Egwene, who mentions that she and Nynaeve have been visiting Padan Fain, a peddler who used to come to their village every year but who is now imprisoned for being a Darkfriend, a human servant of the Dark Lord. Rand goes with her to visit Fain’s cell, in hopes of hiding from the Amyrlin Seat there, but Fain acts insane and keeps insisting to Rand that the battle isn’t over.
Moraine is summoned to meet the Amyrlin Seat, who is an old friend of hers. The Amyrlin mentions that both she and Moraine will be stilled, cut off from being able to access magical power, if anyone discovers what they are planning. They know that the Pattern of the Wheel of Time, meaning predestined events, is moving toward Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. In order to have the last battle, the Dragon, a magic-channeling man who opposes the Dark One, must be reborn.
The Amyrlin Seat has received the Horn of Valere as a present, a magical artifact that can summon dead heroes and which was supposed to be lost until just before the Last Battle. Moraine also shows the Amyrlin one of the seven seals that bound the Dark One’s prison as proof that the Dark One will soon be free. Moraine says they must send Rand to Illian on the pretext of letting him go free with his friends Mat and Perrin, both as a way to keep Rand safe from the Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah, who would want to kill or imprison him for his abilities, and as a way to keep him on his predestined course of becoming the Dragon who leads the Last Battle.
Trollocs appear inside Fal Dara. Rand hears from Nynaeve that Egwene has gone to the dungeon to visit Fain again, and fearing for her life during the Trolloc attack, he tries to find her. In the dungeon, Rand finds the bloody heads of two guards and the chewed-up bits of their bodies. Their blood is painted on the walls, leaving a message for Rand. It says that the Dark Lord is not dead and will meet him in the future on Toman Head.
A Red Ajah named Liandrin arrives and uses unlawful magic to try to force Rand to tell her his name, until Moraine arrives to rescue him from Liandrin’s attack. Fain has escaped, the other prisoners in the dungeon have gone insane, and Egwene and Mat have been found unconscious. Mat’s magical cursed ruby dagger has been stolen. They also learn that Trollocs have stolen the Horn of Valere.
Rand is summoned to meet the Amyrlin, who tells him that Rand is the Dragon Reborn. Moraine tells him a story that when she and the Amyrlin were both Aes Sedai novices, 20 years ago, one of their seniors prophesied that the Dragon was reborn on the slope of Dragonmount, which is exactly where Tam al’Thor found Rand 20 years ago. Rand asserts that he won’t let the Aes Sedai control him in order to manipulate the outcome they want from the future.
Rand prepares to leave Fal Dara to look for the Horn of Valere with the Shienaran Lord Ingtar, Mat, Perrin, Loial and others. The Amyrlin sends them all out on a mission to find the Horn so that the Light side can use it against the Dark Lord, because the ancient heroes must aid whomever blows the horn, Light or Dark. Accompanying Rand’s questing party is Hurin, a sniffer who can smell violence and evil creatures, such as Trollocs, Myrddraal and Darkfriends. On the journey, Mat and Perrin find out that Rand can channel magic and is probably the Dragon Reborn.
Fain has the Horn of Valere and is leading a group of Darkfriends and Trollocs. He killed the Myrddraal that was leading their group and currently possesses Mat’s ruby dagger, which comforts him. He looks forward to meeting Rand on Toman Head in the future and killing him.
Egwene and Nynaeve leave Fal Dara with a large group of Aes Sedai and Warders. Both girls receive tutoring in how to sense the One Power, because they have greater potential to be strong Aes Sedai than most. Egwene has a nightmare about Rand, which leads some of the Aes Sedai to speculate that she might be a Dreamer with the gift of Foretelling. She also learns that Moraine and Lan have run away, followed my Liandrin and then by Verin, an intellectual Brown Ajah Aes Sedai.
Rand wakes up next to a giant stone cylinder covered in runes. Most of his party has vanished and only Hurin and Loial are still with him. Loial says it’s a Stone, a kind of dimensional portal the Aes Sedai used for travel in ages past. Hurin can still smell the Darkfriends, so Rand decides that even though they are in an unknown place, they should continue following the trail. The place they are in seems to be an alternate timeline where time flows differently.
That night, Ba’alzamon appears to Rand, wearing a black mask that reveals flames where his eyes should be. He asks Rand to serve him and promises to teach him how to control his channeling powers. Rand refuses, and Ba’alzamon turns himself into a fire, which cause the sword in Rand’s hand to heat up and brand the heron-mark on the hilt into Rand’s palm.
Rand discovers a woman being attacked by a large frog-like creature called a grolm. Rand shoots an arrow into its eye, killing it. The woman, Selene, is shockingly beautiful and begins to travel with Rand, Hurin and Loial, continually pestering Rand about the Horn of Valere. They tell him what a great man he will be when he has it in his possession.
Selene wants to go back to the Portal Stone, but Rand resists the idea because he will have to channel dangerous magic to go back through. When more grolm attack them, Rand is forced to access the One Power and bring himself and his three companions through the Portal Stone and back to the true world. There, they invade Fain’s camp of Darkfriends and Trollocs and steal back the ruby dagger and the Horn of Valere, which Selene continually begs Rand to let her see.
Selene begs Rand to touch the horn and keep it for himself. Rand insists that the horn is not his and that he must take the horn back to Fal Dara. They come to an inn, and Selene leaves during the night.
Verin joins Lord Ingtar, Mat, Perrin and the remaining party hunting for the Horn. Egwene and Nynaeve continue their lessons aboard the boat to Tar Valon. When they reach the city, Egwene becomes a Novice but Nynaeve’s abilities are so advanced, she takes a complicated test to become Accepted and passes. Egwene meets two girls who know and like Rand — Min, who can read auras and partially see the future, and Elayne, the Daughter-Heir of the Queen of Andor.
In Carhien, Rand meets Thom, his gleeman friend, whom he assumed had been killed by a Myrddraal. Trollocs attack Rand and Loial, but they escape. Selene briefly joins Rand, and then disappears again, leaving him a note reminding him to think about glory, about the horn and about her. As they stay at a local inn, Rand keeps receiving formal invitations from nobles to visit them, but he burns all the invitations because he has no desire to play political games.
One evening, he and Loial return to find that the inn is burning. They rescue Hurin from the flames but realize that Darkfriends have stolen the ruby dagger and the horn. Rand meets Mat, Perrin and Ingtar, glad to reunite with them at long last, but wary of Verin.
At a party, a Carhien lord tells Rand that Fain has a message for him. Fain has the dagger and the horn. He wants Rand to meet him on Toman Head.
The group needs to use a Waygate to reach Toman Head, so the party decides to ride to an Ogier town called Stedding Tsofu to try their Waygate. Rand and his friends try the Waygate, but find Machin Shin, an evil spirit also known as the Black Wind, waiting on the other side. Hurin suggests trying a Portal Stone to get to Toman Head, instead. They need to reach Toman Head quickly because Mat’s health is fading, due to being separated from the dagger for so long.
Working a Portal Stone is complicated because they can lead to many different worlds and possible timelines. Verin miscalculates the trajectory. Instead of traveling in distance only, every member of the party travels through time and possibility, mentally living out and dying hundreds of potential lives before finding themselves in Toman Head months later.
Fain is in Toman Head, which is a peninsula, among the people known as the Seanchan. He presents the ruby dagger and horn to a Seanchan lord called Turak and asks Turak to blow the horn and summon the ancient heroes to fight against the Tar Valon. Turak declines.
In Tar Valon, Liandrin tells Egwene and Nynaeve that Rand, Mat and Perrin are in trouble and that the girls should go with her to Toman Head to help them. They decide to go, and their friends Min and Elayne come along, as well. The four girls travel with Liandrin through a Waygate, only to discover an ambush.
Liandrin is truly a Black Ajah serving the Dark Lord, and she gives the girls to a Seanchan noble as slaves. Nynaeve and Elayne escape, but Min is captured, and Egwene is given a magic-inhibiting collar attached to a silver cord and told that she is now damane, a leashed one, and the woman who holds her leash is called a sul’dam. Egwene is treated like a pet dog in training and beaten every time she disobeys orders. Eventually, Nynaeve and Elayne manage to free Egwene.
Rand and his party arrive in Toman Head but can’t find Fain. Perrin sees Whitecloaks marching into Toman Head. After a while, Mat senses the ruby dagger within the house of Lord Turak, which means that the horn is there, too. Lord Ingtar is interested only in the horn, but Rand wants to find the dagger for Mat, since Mat is magically bound to it and grows sick when he is not carrying it.
They break into Lord Turak’s house, and Mat steals the dagger and horn. Turak is a blademaster with a heron-mark sword just like Rand, so he challenges Rand to a duel. Rand succeeds in killing Turak, which is the first time he has taken a life. Later, Lord Ingtar admits to Rand that he is a Darkfriend, but he is repentant now. He sacrifices his life guarding the street so that Rand, Mat and Perrin and Hurin can run away from the Seanchan who chase them.
Rand catches sight of a collared Egwene and wants to save her but has no time because he and his friends are caught between the Seanchan army and the Whitecloak army. Mat blows the horn, summoning the ancient heroes. A fog rises over the battlefield and 100 legendary heroes come out, including the fabled Artur Hawkwing, who calls Rand Lews Therin. Hawkwing says that the heroes must follow the Dragon and the banner of the Dragon. Rand happens to have the banner of Lews Therin with him, a parting gift from Moraine.
The battle begins. The ancient heroes fight the Seanchan, Perrin carries the Dragon’s banner, and Mat continues blowing the horn. Ba’alzamon arrives to taunt Rand, and Rand swordfights with him. Rand realizes that the heroes are only winning against the Seanchan when he is winning against Ba’alzamon. Rand allows Ba’alzamon to pierce him with a spear so that he has an opening to stab Ba’alzamon through the heart with his heron-mark sword.
Min finds the injured Rand passed out beneath an oak tree. She tends to his injuries, and then gets a visit from Egwene, who felt called to his side. When Egwene leaves, Selene visits and tells Min that she’s actually Lanfear, one of the Forsaken, the Dark Lord’s greatest servants, as well as the former lover of Lews Therin.
When Rand wakes up, Min is with him, and he learns that Egwene, Nynaeve and Mat have left Falme to go back to Tar Valon. Moraine shows up and informs Rand that his swordfight with Ba’alzamon actually happened in the sky — every citizen in Falme could see him battling in midair, channeling magic. Moraine tells him the Last Battle will surely come to the world and that if he does not accept his destiny, he will leave the world defenseless against the Dark One. Rand finally accepts his identity as the Dragon Reborn.