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The Forbidden Land

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 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 Four of the Witches of Eileanan

  ePub ISBN 9781742744896


  published by

  Random House Australia Pty Ltd

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

  Sydney New York Toronto

  London Auckland Johannesburg

  and agencies throughout the world

  First published 2000

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2000

  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-.

  Forbidden land, The.

  ISBN 978 1 74151 021 9

  ISBN 1 74051 021 6.

  1. Fantasy fiction. I. Title (Series: Witches of Eileanan series; 4).


  for Binny and Nick—

  blood-kin and soul-kin

  in memory of all the imaginary worlds

  we created and lived in,

  and with thanks for a lifetime of love

  and support.

  Write on!

  She can overcast the night and cloud the moon,

  and make the Devil obedient to her croon.

  At midnight hours over the kirkyard she raves,

  Digging unchristened weans out of their graves;

  Boils up their livers in a warlock’s pow,

  Runs widdershins about the hemlock’s low;

  And seven times does her prayers backwards pray.

  Then, mixed with venom of black toads and snakes,

  Of this unsousy pictures oft she makes

  Of anyone she hates—and makes them expire

  With cruel and racking pains afore a fire:

  Stuck full of pins the devilish pictures melt;

  The pain by folk they represent is felt

  Whilst she and her cat sit howling in her yard.

  Allan Ramsay, 17th century Scottish poet


  About the Author

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title Page


  Imprint Page



  Map: Tirsoilleir

  Map: Eileanan & The Far Islands


  Castle Rurach

  The Jongleurs Come




  Ship of Fools

  The Black Tower

  Hell’s Gate

  To the Rescue


  The Cloven Hoof

  Samhain Wishes

  Trial by Combat



  Extract: The Skull of the World, Book Five

  Witches of Eileanan Series

  Finn brushed away the crust of snow and sat in the embrasure of the battlement, her legs hanging out. Carefully she packed her pipe with tobacco and, shielding the sparks from the wind with her hand, lit it with her flint. With a sigh of pleasure, she drew in a lungful of sharp-scented smoke. For a long moment she held it in her lungs, then breathed it out in a long plume that was dragged away by the frosty breeze.

  She inhaled again, leant back her head and puffed out a series of perfect blue smoke-rings. As far as she could see there was no sign of life, only the sharp spears of snow-laden pines crowding close about the feet of towering grey mountains.

  ‘Does anything ever happen in Rurach?’ she said to the elven cat curled on her lap. ‘Flaming dragon balls, I’m as bored as a eunuch in a brothel!’

  Goblin yawned, showing a mouthful of tiny but very sharply pointed fangs. ‘I canna help agreeing,’ Finn said. ‘Do ye think we should run away and join the pirates? At least then we’d see some adventure.’

  The cat arched its back and hissed.

  ‘No? Ye do no’ like that idea? No, o’ course, ye dislike water. Ye would no’ have to swim in it though. I believe the pirate ships are quite snug and there’d be fish to eat every day.’

  Goblin tidied up her whiskers, not deigning to reply. Finn sighed again and stared up at the sharp silhouette of the Fang. For once, it was not wreathed in clouds but cut into the sky like a sabre leopard’s tooth, dominating the horizon.

  When Finn had first seen the sleeping volcano, she had been troubled by an odd sense of recognition. It had woken all sorts of half-memories in her, a longing or homesickness that she had not then understood. She had then been travelling through the mountains of upper Rionnagan, on the far side of the Fang, and to her knowledge had never seen the tall, symmetrically shaped mountain before. As far as she knew, Finn had never before left the city of Lucescere where she had lived on the streets, picking pockets and begging for scraps of old food in order to survive.

  Finn had been one of a gang of beggar children who had had to flee Lucescere after helping Jorge the Seer and his young acolyte Tòmas the Healer escape from the cruel seekers of the Awl, the Anti-Witchcraft League. That had been in the days when suspected witches were burnt to death. In company with the old, blind man and the little boy, Finn and her gang had taken refuge from the Awl in a hidden valley at the very foot of the Fang. There they had formed the League of the Healing Hand, a fellowship sworn to protect the two witches who, despite having such potent magical abilities, were in themselves frail and rather helpless. The League had ended up being very important in the overthrow of the Awl and the restoration of the Coven, and had earned the heartfelt gratitude of the new Rìgh, Lachlan MacCuinn.

  Remembering, Finn thought rather wistfully that those years had been the happiest of her life. Although there was always the danger of losing a hand as a pickpocket or being captured as a rebel, there had been the close comradeship of the gang and the constant thrill of pitting one’s wits against the world and winning. Although Finn was never cold or hungry any more, she was lonely now and sullen with misery. The constraints of court life chafed her unbearably and she felt all the court ladies, including her own mother, disapproved of
her greatly.

  It had been five years since Finn had discovered she was not an orphan of the streets, as she had thought, but the daughter of the prionnsa of Rurach. She had been kidnapped by the Awl as a mere child of six in order to force her father to their will. She had only discovered the truth during the Samhain rebellion which had put Lachlan MacCuinn on the throne and returned the Coven to power. Her father had then brought her back to Rurach, to meet a mother she had not remembered, and to learn to be a banprionnsa. Although Finn had felt a wrench at leaving her friends, she had been eager to see her home and her mother and to enjoy a life of ease.

  But although Castle Rurach was as luxurious and comfortable as she had imagined, it was also boring. Built high in the mountains, it was a long way from the crowded streets of Lucescere, with its merchants, artisans, street performers, thieves and idle nobility. A young lady of Rurach was expected to spend her time with the other ladies of the court, plying her needle in exquisite embroidery and discussing the newest way to cut a sleeve. Finn had no interest in fashion, refused to learn how to sew, and thought of her mother’s retinue as a gaggle of fussy old hens.

  The towering range of mountains that culminated in the crooked spire of the Fang was no longer a source of wistful longings but instead a prison wall which kept her locked away from the world with no chance of escape. If Finn had known the secret way over the mountains, she would have run away long ago, searching out her old friends in Lucescere. She did not know it, however, and so she took what pleasure she could in defying her mother and shocking the castle.

  Goblin had curled up to sleep but suddenly the little cat raised her head, ears pricked forward. Finn tensed. She heard a step on the stair. She knocked out her pipe with one hand and thrust the other into her pocket, drawing out a small square of tightly folded black material. With a shake it billowed out into a cloak which she wrapped around herself swiftly. Wherever the silky stuff brushed against her skin, it tingled and stung, and all the little hairs rose. She pulled the hood up to cover her face, and sat very still.

  A gangly young man came out onto the battlements and stood hesitantly. Her father’s piper, he was dressed in the castle livery, a black and green kilt with a white woollen shirt and black jerkin. Although he had wrapped his plaid around his thin shoulders, it was bitterly cold out on the tower heights and he shivered and rubbed his arms.

  ‘My lady Fionnghal?’ Ashlin the Piper called. ‘Are ye here? Your mother desires your presence. My lady?’

  Finn said nothing. Ashlin stared about with a troubled expression and called her again. When there was no response he turned and clattered back downstairs. Finn stuck out her tongue at his retreating back and shrugged off the cloak, which somehow always made her feel even colder. She huddled her furs closer around her neck and brought out her precious hoard of tobacco. ‘Why canna they never leave me alone?’ she said resentfully to the cat, who was still curled up on her lap. ‘Always following me about, spying on me, tittle-tattling. Anyone would think they had naught else to do.’

  She puffed on her pipe angrily, kicking her legs against the stone. ‘I wish my dai-dein would get better,’ she burst out in a sudden wail, then bit the stem of her pipe hard and said no more. Her father Anghus MacRuraich had been injured fighting ogres in the mountains and had lain near death for a week. Although the castle healer had told them his fever had broken and he would now recover, Finn could not help fearing he might suffer a relapse.

  She was knocking out the ashes from her pipe when she suddenly felt a prickling at the back of her neck. She glanced over her shoulder and saw an old man step quietly out of the doorway. He was a short, stocky figure with a flowing grey beard, round pink cheeks and blue eyes twinkling between deep creases. He was her father’s gillie and had served Anghus ever since the laird had been a mere lad himself. Finn did not know him very well since he rarely left her father’s side and so had been absent from the castle most of the time since she had come to Rurach. His kilt was so faded it was a comfortable blur of grey and olive, and he wore his beard thrust through the wide belt that held his kilt together. A thin dagger, black as jet, was stuck through the disreputable scrap of ribbon holding up one stocking. The other stocking was tied up with twine.

  ‘Och, there ye are, my lady,’ Donald said placidly. ‘Bonny afternoon for a smoke.’ Finn said nothing. He came to lean on the battlement beside her, looking up at the mountains and feeling inside his sporran for his pipe and tobacco pouch. Swiftly, without a glance downwards, he packed his pipe and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. ‘Smells like Fair Isles smokeweed ye’ve got there,’ he said conversationally. ‘True tobacco is rare these days, wha’ wi’ pirates and the blaygird Fairgean on the rise. Most have to smoke herbs or seaweed these days.’

  ‘Here, have some o’ mine,’ Finn said sweetly, offering him her own leather pouch.

  ‘Och, no need,’ Donald replied. ‘I won a pouch full from Casey Hawkeye just last night. He be the lucky one, his uncle being the harbour master at Dùn Gorm and taking his taxes in tobacco. I should have enough to last me a wee while longer.’

  There was silence while Donald lit his pipe and drew up the flame. When the tobacco was burning merrily, he pulled the pipe from his mouth and said placidly, ‘The question is, lassie, where it is ye got your smokeweed.’

  ‘I do no’ see what business that is o’ yours.’ Finn’s voice was honey-sweet. ‘And I do no’ think my dear mother would approve o’ ye being so familiar as to call me “lassie”.’

  ‘Och, I have kent your mother since she was a wee bit o’ a lassie herself. She’ll no’ mind,’ he replied equably. ‘It’s more likely that she’ll be disapproving o’ ye smoking a pipe, that I can promise ye.’

  ‘Oh, ye think so? If only I had kent.’

  ‘And even more o’ ye stealing, lassie,’ he said softly.

  Finn flushed and fidgeted with the tassels of her coat. She forced herself to raise her eyes and meet his gaze with a look of outrage. ‘Are ye accusing me o’ theft?’

  ‘Lassie, do no’ be lying to me on top o’ it all. I ken ye must have stolen the smokeweed from Casey Hawkeye and he kens it as well. No’ that he has said aught and naught is what he will say. We do no’ wish to be getting ye into any more strife than ye’re already in. But I am sore ashamed o’ ye, lassie. It is one thing to be picking pockets when ye’re starving on the streets and do no’ ken any better, but to be diddling your father’s own loyal men, that is no’ worthy o’ ye.’

  Finn was silent. She held the elven cat up to her face and rubbed her hot cheek against Goblin’s cool fur. Donald smoked in silence for a while, leaning on his elbows. His wrinkled brown face was peaceful.

  ‘It does no’ matter what I do, she disapproves o’ everything anyway,’ Finn suddenly burst out. ‘Ye’re right, she does no’ approve o’ me smoking or having a wee dram o’ whiskey every now and again, or wanting to play curling wi’ the lads …’

  ‘Och, well, curling do be a right rough game now,’ Donald said. She threw him a look of exasperation and saw his blue eyes were twinkling. ‘Ye mun remember that your mam was raised in the auld ways, when lassies did no’ have so much freedom and were expected to mind their manners and do wha’ they were told. Your grandfather was a very strict, starched-up sort o’ fellow, and proud o’ his name and his clan. Your mam was never allowed to forget she was a banprionnsa and direct descendant o’ Sian the Storm-Rider herself.’

  Finn screwed up her face and he patted her shoulder. ‘She’s gone and worrit herself into a fret over ye, lassie. Should ye no’ go down and let her ken ye’re safe?’

  Finn’s jaw set firmly. ‘What has she got to worry about so? It’s no’ as if I’m ever allowed to do anything or go anywhere. What can I do to hurt myself? Prick myself with a needle? Stub my toe kicking my mealy-mouthed cousin in the arse?’

  ‘Fall over the battlements?’ Donald said with a slight edge to his voice. He glanced down at Finn, still sitting in the embrasure with nothing
between her and the ground but three hundred feet of air. ‘That is no’ the safest place to perch, lassie.’

  Finn glanced down. ‘Do ye no’ ken they call me “the Cat”?’ she said mockingly. ‘A wee drop like that does no’ worry me.’

  ‘It worries all o’ us who care about ye though,’ Donald said, the edge in his voice slightly sharper.

  ‘Are ye trying to tell me my dear mother would really care if I fell off?’ Finn tried to make her voice hard and sarcastic. ‘She’d probably heave a big sigh o’ relief to be rid o’ me and another o’ happiness that her precious Aindrew would then inherit the throne. Ye canna tell me she does no’ wish he was the first-born.’

  ‘I can and I do.’ For the first time since Finn had met her father’s gillie, there was no kindly twinkle in his eyes. ‘When the blaygird Awl took ye away, I thought your mam would die o’ grief. Her eyes hung out o’ her head wi’ weeping and she was naught but a shadow o’ herself all the time ye were gone. I was there when your father brought ye back to Castle Rurach. Ye canna tell me ye did no’ see how full o’ joy she was to have ye home!’

  Finn dropped her eyes, feeling a little niggle of shame. Her mother had run across the drawbridge to greet them, her hair all unbound and her feet still shod in soft slippers. Finn had not even had a chance to dismount. Her mother had pulled her from the saddle, weeping and holding her so closely Finn had thought her ribs would break. Enveloped in a golden cloud of sweetly perfumed hair, listening to her mother’s choked endearments, Finn had been filled with happiness. She had hugged her mother back as hard as she could and then felt her father’s arms embracing them both as he had cried, ‘See, my Gwyneth, I promised ye I would find our lassie and bring her home to ye! Now we can be a family again.’