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Kate Forsyth

  Kate Forsyth lives in Sydney with her husband Greg, their sons Benjamin and Timothy, a little black cat called Shadow (Skitty for short) and far too many books. She has wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember and has certainly been writing stories from the time she learnt to hold a pen. Being allowed to read, write and daydream as much as she likes and call it working is the most wonderful life imaginable and so she thanks you all for making it possible.

  You can read more about Kate at her website at or send a message to her at [email protected]

  Also by Kate Forsyth:

  The Witches of Eileanan series:

  The Pool of Two Moons

  The Cursed Towers

  The Forbidden Land

  The Skull of the World

  The Fathomless Caves

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


  Book One of the Witches of Eileanan

  ePub ISBN 9781742744865

  An Arrow Book

  published by

  Random House Australia Pty Ltd

  Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, NSW 2060

  Sydney New York Toronto

  London Auckland Johannesburg

  First published 1997

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 1997

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

  Forsyth, Kate, 1966-.


  ISBN 978 0 09183 510 1.

  ISBN 0 09183 510 0.

  I. Title. (Series : Witches of Eileanan trilogy ; 1).


  for my darling

  The first thread of this story was spun many years ago, and many hands have helped in its weaving. First and most important was my mother, who taught me to read almost before I could walk. Many of the creatures in this novel owe their names to her, and it is from her that I learnt my great love of words and ideas. Thanks and love also to my stepfather Glyn, for all he has done for me over the years; my Aunty Roz, who first showed me books could take you to another world; my grandmother Nonnie, kindred spirit and fellow lover of books; my sister Binny, who told me stories every night and was my first editor and critic; my brother Nick, who has always been there for me; and my dad, who always said I could do anything I wanted to do.

  Also thanks to my agent Gaby Naher and my publisher Linda Funnell, who loved it and gave it life; to my editor Julia Stiles and Professor Van Ikin, for their hard work and many useful suggestions; to Garth Nix, Tara Wynne, Jane Palfreyman and Zoe Walton; and to all my friends and family, in acknowledgement of their sufferings while I wrote it. Last and definitely not least, my husband Greg, without whom this book would still be a dream.

  … This aforesaid Agnis Sampson … was taken and brought to Halicuid house before the Kings Majestie and sundry other nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the persuasions which the Kings Majestie used to her with ye rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse anything, but stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge: whereupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in … Scotland … Agnis Sampson was after brought againe before the Kings Majestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of the witches, she confessed … sundrye things which were so miraculous and strange, as that his Majestie saide they were all extreme liars, wherat she … declared unto him the verye wordes which passed betweene the Kings Majestie and his Queene … the first night of their marriage, with their answere eache to other: wherat the Kings Majestie wondered greatleye, and swore by the living God, that he believed that all the Devils in hell could not have discovered the same … Moreover, she confessed that at the time … she being accompanied with the parties before specially named, took a Cat and christened it, and afterwards bound to each parte of the Cat the chiefest partes of a dead man … and that in the night following the deade Cat was conveied into the midst of the sea … this doone, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene seene … then was the winde contrary and altogether against his Majestie: and further the saide witch declared, that his Majestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their intentions …’




  About the Author

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title Page


  Imprint Page




  Map: Southern Eileanan

  Map: Eileanan & The Far Islands


  Isabeau the Foundling

  Lightning Strike

  The Test of Power

  Red Guards


  Maya the Unknown

  Meghan of the Beasts

  The Queen Dragon

  The Towers of Roses and Thorns

  Isabeau the Apprentice Witch

  The Skeelie


  Khan’derin the Scarred Warrior

  The Captive

  Maya the Ensorcellor

  Tòmas the Healer


  Margrit of the Thistle

  Iseult the Scarred Warrior



  Sani the Seer


  Witches of Eileanan Series

  Isabeau swung her pack over her shoulder and strode down the track, her eyes roaming over the ground as she searched for the first unfurling of leaf and flower through the melting snow. It was only a few days till Candlemas and the beginning of spring, and since it was the first fine day in months, Isabeau had spent all day digging and cutting, filling her herb bag with roots, leaves and early flowers.

  Although the sun on her neck was warm, snow still glittered on the jagged peaks above her and lay piled in the shadows below the massive trees. It had been a bitter winter and Isabeau was glad to be out in the meadows again, breathing deeply of the sweet air and calling the creatures of the valley to her. Animals of all kinds were stirring as the sap flowed again in the stem, and they frolicked about her feet or twittered to her from the bushes, tempting her to lay down her spade and knife and play with them. She smiled and spoke to them in their own language, but did not stop, knowing she was tired and the light already fading. She must be home before nightfall. Although the hidden valley was under the protection of the wood witch Meghan, these mountains were still dangerous.

  The path led down through the trunks of ancient, towering trees. Through the entwined branches came glimpses of the rocky finger of Dragonclaw, rearing above the lesser mountains around it, its narrow tip dusted with snow. Isabeau paused at the crest of the
hill, stretching her aching back and enjoying the spectacular view. The loch below her stretched towards the eastern rim of the valley bowl, coiled over the edge and fell hundreds of feet to the valleys below. Above the far distant hills, the two moons were rising, Magnysson bronze in the sunset sky, Gladrielle lavender. There was a faint tang of smoke to the air and Isabeau stepped forward eagerly, realising her guardian must have returned while she was out in the meadows. Meghan had been away for several weeks now, and Isabeau had begun to wonder whether she would return in time for her sixteenth birthday, only two days away.

  Reaching the base of one of the massive trees that stood around the loch, Isabeau tucked her spade more securely into her belt and began to climb swiftly and easily. Soon she was forty feet off the ground and reaching out for the ropes that hung between the branches, almost invisible in the twilight air. She swung out of the tree’s branches and into the next, clinging to the gossamer ropes that formed a bridge from trunk to trunk. Meghan had an obsession with secrecy, insisting that Isabeau always approached their tree-house from a different direction each time, and without setting foot on the ground below.

  ‘It does no’ take long for paths to appear, Isabeau, ye ken that. We must leave no sign that anyone bides here, for that could be our undoing,’ she would say. If Isabeau left even a bent twig behind her, she was scolded thoroughly and made to scrub out the evil-smelling pot in which Meghan made her potions.

  With a twist of her body Isabeau swung into the branches of the biggest tree in the forest, which grew on a rocky outcrop above the loch. Its roots were protected by thorns, starred now with white buds. Clinging to one of its thick branches, Isabeau paused to look around her. It was almost dark, and the waters of the loch below were black. In the east, the moons were fully risen, and in their trail a red comet had appeared, pulsing with life and rising steadily across the sky. Isabeau stared at the Red Wanderer with mixed awe and anxiety, for the comet had appeared six days earlier and there had been no-one to ask what it meant. She knew there were rites to be performed at the rising of the comet, but for the life of her she could not remember what they were. It could not be important, though, for if it had been Meghan would have told her what to do before she left. Meghan would never forget a date in the witches’ calendar, no matter how rarely it occurred.

  Balanced precariously some sixty feet off the ground, Isabeau found the secret catch with her fingers and swung open a door in the huge trunk. She threw her pack in before manoeuvring her own long body through the narrow entrance.

  ‘It’s grand for Meghan who’s so wee,’ she muttered, as she had ever since she had grown to her full height, ‘but if I get any taller, I’ll no’ be able to squeeze through this bloody door any more.’

  She wriggled through, then uncurled herself with some difficulty, for the room within the trunk of the tree was very small and cramped. Its rough walls were lined with uneven shelves fitted in wherever the knots of wood allowed. These shelves were filled with jars and bottles, while dried plants and herbs hung thickly from the low ceiling. The room was so small that Isabeau could touch both walls with her hands and she had to stoop to avoid banging her head. In the centre of the floor was a small hole with a ladder that lead to a lower storey. Again Isabeau had to drop her pack through before squeezing through herself.

  Each successive room was slightly larger than the one above and each had a hole in the floor with a ladder that lead to the next. By the fourth floor, the rooms were hung with tapestried curtains and their shelves lined with books and curious objects—a crystal ball on clawed feet, a yellow skull, a globe of an unknown world, a piece of twisted driftwood. The fifth floor down was Isabeau’s bedroom, and most of the space was taken up by a narrow bunk hung with blue velvet curtains with golden tassels, another remnant of her guardian’s mysterious past. The sixth floor was Meghan’s bedroom; thick books were piled on all the shelves and on the floor, and a carved wooden chest stood against one curved wall. Isabeau wondered yet again how her frail guardian had ever managed to get the massive chest into the tree, not to mention all the other furniture.

  As she bent to swing down into the lowest floor, where the kitchen and store rooms were, she heard a murmur of voices. Isabeau paused in surprise and then bent to look through the hatchway.

  The ground floor was much larger than the rooms above, since the tree had grown up against a natural outcrop of stone that held within a small cavern, concealed by the trunk and roots. Subsequently, living wood provided the northern walls, hand-smoothed rock the rest, with the fireplace built into a crack which provided a natural chimney. The roots of the tree provided a tangled ceiling, with every nook and cranny serving as a shelf or hidey-hole. Hidden ingeniously behind two of the shelved walls were the entrances to secret passages, one leading to a hidden cave by the loch, the other into the forest.

  Craning to peer through the hanging bunches of herbs and onions, Isabeau saw her guardian Meghan sitting in her high-backed chair in front of the fire. In her lap was a blue book, its pages filled with her thin, spidery writing and drawings, and in one hand she held a jewel that glittered with golden fire.

  ‘So do ye recognise my mystery emblem? I am sure I have seen it afore, but I canna find it in any o’ the books I have here …’ Suddenly she stopped, and drew back her hand, tucking it under her plaid. ‘Come down, Isabeau. I’ve been expecting ye back for an hour or more. Did ye find any trefoil?’

  Isabeau swung herself down lightly. ‘Aye, two lots,’ she responded.

  ‘I hope ye did no’ pull it out by the roots,’ the wood witch said irritably, as she closed the book and tucked it down the side of her chair. She was very thin and very small, and very, very old, though her black eyes snapped with vitality in their sunken, hooded lids. Her iron-grey hair was bound into a long plait that hung over the edge of the chair, pooling onto the floor below. A white streak began at her left brow and could be seen twisting through her plait all the way to its end. Her familiar, a donbeag called Gitâ, perched on the low rafters above her head, nibbling daintily on a nut he held in his paws.

  ‘O’ course no’! Ye taught me better than that,’ Isabeau replied, dumping her pack on the hand-made wooden table.

  ‘Ye must be hungry. We were just having some tea—pour yourself a cup.’

  Isabeau looked up in sudden surprise. ‘We?’

  Only then did she see the other woman sitting in the chair on the other side of the fire, half obscured by the flickering shadows. It had not occurred to Isabeau that Meghan had been speaking to anyone but Gitâ, for in all the sixteen years that Isabeau had lived in this valley, no-one had ever visited them before. The valley was far away from any town or village, and lay right below Dragonclaw, home of the dragons. No-one trespassed lightly on land over which the shadows of dragons passed.

  The stranger was a pale-skinned woman with black hair and green eyes. She was wearing a brown dress with a woolly plaid wrapped over her shoulders and across her chest as if she felt the cold. Her hair was very long and very untidy. It flowed over her shoulders and hung towards the floor, tied here and there with leather thongs.

  ‘So this is your wee lassie,’ she said. ‘What a scarecrow!’

  Isabeau was immediately aware of her stained breeches, the twigs and leaves in her matted hair, the dirt under her fingernails. She scowled. ‘I’ve been out hunting herbs all day. It’s hot and dirty work!’

  ‘That it is,’ the woman said calmly. ‘Come here. I want to look at ye.’

  Meghan rose stiffly to her feet and lit the candles on the mantelpiece and table with her finger. Warm light flickered up, and after a moment Isabeau moved reluctantly closer.

  ‘Come sit here, lassie,’ the woman said, and Isabeau kneeled on the floor by her feet, frowning a little but compelled by the serene authority in the strange woman’s voice.

  At first, because of the blackness of her hair and the smoothness of her face, Isabeau had thought the woman was young. Now she was not so sure. Although f
ew lines marred the pale skin, there was an undeniable maturity in her gaze and under her eyes were dark circles. There was a sense of weariness about her, of long roads travelled and long years endured. It was hard to keep her gaze steady under those calm, searching eyes, but Isabeau stubbornly refused to look away.

  ‘I am glad indeed to meet ye, Isabeau,’ the woman said at last. ‘My name is Seychella and I’m an auld friend o’ your guardian’s. I travelled long and hard to get here—it’s been a tiring few months.’

  Isabeau wondered why the woman would make such an arduous journey just to visit their hidden valley. Although beautiful, there was not much here except trees and rocks, and she would have had to find her way through the deep ravines and gorges that made the Sithiche Mountains so impenetrable. Isabeau realised that Meghan must have gone to meet the stranger-witch and guide her back through the labyrinth of caves that was the only entrance to the valley. The other woman could never have found her own way through, for Meghan had hidden the only entrances carefully. So why was Seychella here? One did not undertake such a long and difficult journey to make a social call.

  A little flare of excitement lit in Isabeau’s eyes. Her birthday was only a couple of days away. In the days when the Coven was a power in the land, acolytes were Tested on their sixteenth birthdays for acceptance into the Coven as apprentices.

  Could Meghan be meaning to Test Isabeau, even though the Coven was disbanded and witchcraft outlawed? Isabeau’s heart began to race, for her burning ambition was to learn more of the art of magic.