A large hog escapes Aidan and Prince Steren, who are civilizers, during a hunt. But Dobro, a feechie, intercepts them. Aidan and Dobro are friends from the first book in this series, but most civilizers don’t believe feechie, who are muddy swamp and bog dwellers with tough bare feet, exist. Feechie also don’t use anything that is metal. Aidan has a burn mark on his forearm in the shape of an alligator. This mark was given to him by feechies so all feechies will know that he is a friend.
The three boys decide to hunt for the hog together, without horses and spears. They swing through the trees and then drop down on the hog. They are able to tie the hog’s legs together. Dobro goes on his way, and the other two begin the arduous task of getting the hog back to Tambluff Castle.
That night, thee noblemen at the hunting feast make a big deal out of Aidan’s hog and tease King Darrow for his smaller hogs. King Darrow shows Aidan only anger for having bested him in the hunt. He overturns the banquet table and forces his noblemen to acknowledge that he is their king. Then he sends Aidan on a quest into the Feechiefen Swamp to bring back a frog orchid to cure his melancholy.
On his way to the swamp, Aidan stops for a visit at his father’s house. Aidan’s brother Percy enjoys life at their father’s house. Jasper, Percy’s twin, is still studying and will be heading to the university soon. Their oldest brother, Brennus, has his own farm, and his wife is expecting a baby. His second oldest brother, Maynard, is still missing. He went hunting in the Eastern Wilderness, the Feechiefen Swamp, two years earlier and has never returned. Aidan’s father, Errol, misses Maynard deeply.
At a river near his home, Aidan meets two alligator wrestlers, Massey and Floyd. The men are trying to take their logs down a nearby river. They have tied their logs together into a raft. When they break one of their oar-sweeps, Percy invites them to stay the night. At dinner, they all talk about the atrocity of plume hunters, who kill birds called egrets to extract only two feathers, which will be used for hats.
Aidan talks with Jasper to learn all he can about the frog orchid and the Feechiefen Swamp. The next day, Aidan leaves with the alligator hunters to reach Last Camp. When the raft reaches the Narrows, it spins out of control, and Aidan is thrown into the water. By the time he returns to the raft, it has run aground on a sandbar.
Aidan and the alligator hunters can’t push the heavy raft off the sandbar. They walk inland to find help and come across egret carcasses all over the ground. They find the plume hunters, who are responsible, but the hunters are armed. Aidan cleverly sends them to his father’s house, knowing his father will exact justice from them.
When a storm hits, the travelers hurry back to their raft. The storm helps them push the heavy raft back into the river. Three days after leaving his father’s home, Aiden and his companions reach Last Camp. Last Camp holds six other men and many dogs. There used to be 20 men there, but many have left because they didn’t want to be shot at by strange creatures across the river.
Just after the alligator hunters and Aidan eat dinner, they are attacked. Arrows and howls come from across the river. The alligator wrestlers dive for cover, but Aidan doesn’t. Instead, he gives a yell that sounds like the bark of a bog owl, something a feechie might yell. His howl stops the attack. Aidan notices that the arrows have egret feathers on them, and the arrow tips are made of steel. He keeps one and doubts that feechie are behind the attack.
Massey rows Aidan across the River Tam. Massey doesn’t want to leave Aidan there, but that’s where Aidan wants to be. After walking into the trees and coming out the other side, Aidan is attacked by a snake. Aidan kills it and cooks the meat. Three wolves try to attack him, but three feechies — Hyko, Pobo and Orlo — stop them.
Hyko insults Aidan and misuses Aidan’s words so it appears that Aidan has insulted him back. This is called a rudeswap, which is a key component of the feechie society. If you exchange insults, you have to be willing to fight for your words.
The two fight until Pobo recognizes the feechie mark on Aidan’s arm. They realize Aidan is a feechie friend and is Pantherbane, who is revered by the feechies for what he has done in battle. But Aidan and Hyko still have to finish their fight, so they decide to wrestle instead.
During their wrestling, they kick up the burning embers of Aidan’s campfire and start a brushfire. Aidan thinks quickly, and Aidan, Hyko, Pobo, Orlo and a group of passing feechie hunters led by Tombro make a backfire and stop the wildfire.
As they recover, Aidan learns that a feechie’s last name describes either a family member’s heroic event, or the feechie’s last name is Sands. Pablo and Orlo still have the name of Sands, which is an embarrassment to them. Aidan also learns that none of the feechies know about the frog orchid.
Aidan shows the feechies an arrow from supposed feechie attackers that have been shooting at the alligator hunters. The feechies decide to hold a council because of it. Tombro and Aidan travel to Scoggin Mound, where the council will be held, and the others go to tell feechies about the council.
Feechies arrive at Scoggin Mound from all over for the council. They each tell stories of mean feechies living on Bearhouse Island, who are using metal-pointed arrows and spears. There is also talk of hot fires burning from the center of the island. Eventually Aidan’s feechie friend Dobro arrives.
Before the council starts, the feechies have a feechiesing that ends in a chase. Since Aidan can’t jump from tree to tree as quickly as the feechies, he waits for the council’s return. Two Bearhouse feechies kidnap him. They take him to their island to show him to the Wilderking.
Bearhouse Island is filled with forges. The Wilderking has the Bearhouse feechies making swords and spears out of metal. They send egret feathers to civilizers and get money for them. They plan to beat all the other feechies in battle, and then attack the civilizers.
The Wilderking has civilizer guards that make the feechies work hard. Aidan is put in a bamboo cage and remains as a prisoner there for days. Then one night, a civilizer who’s posing as the Wilderking visits him. He tells Aidan that he wasted his chance to be the Wilderking, so now he’s lost the opportunity.
The next day, Dobro tries to free Aidan, but he is captured. The North Swamp feechies come to Aidan’s aid, but the Bearhouse feechies are ready to fight with steel weapons. Aidan convinces them to fight like feechies and not civilizers. And they do.
In the midst of the battle, Dobro gets a Bearhouse feechie to throw him against Aidan’s cage, which breaks the cage. Aidan gets out and hurries toward the false Wilderking. Other feechies join him, and Aidan insults the Wilderking. Eventually the Wilderking yells back an insult.
All the feechies stop fighting, for the insults mean there’ll be a rudeswap. They form a circle around the Wilderking, who has blockaded himself in a stockade, and Aidan. But the Wilderking won’t come out and fight. His cowardice — and his guard pushing down the Bearhouse king — makes the Bearhouse feechies no longer want to follow the false Wilderking.
All the feechies, led by Orlo and Pobo, attack the Wilderking and his guards, but the Wilderking escapes. Aidan follows him, but then can’t destroy the man because the Wilderking turns out to be his brother Maynard. Maynard escapes. In grief, Aidan runs from his pain and ends up at the round pond with the frog orchids.
Aidan takes one and then leaves Bearhouse Island to return to King Darrow. But not before he recognizes his feechie friends’ new names: Orlo Polejumble and Pobo Smashpine.
Bayard the Truthspeaker, from the first book, is a prophet. He is at Last Camp and had planned to go to Feechiefen the next day to save Aidan. He recognizes Aidan and rows him back across the River Tam. Then the two walk part of the way back to King Darrow.
Aidan keeps the frog orchid safe during his three-day journey and gives it to King Darrow. At first, King Darrow feels the wonder that gives him peace of mind. But soon his jealousy returns, and he destroys the frog orchid in fire. Then he turns to Aidan in hatred, and Aidan realizes the king means to kill him. Aidan runs from the throne room and King Darrow’s presence. He knows he will no longer live at the castle.