Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Pool of Two Moons

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 Rhiannon’s Ride series:

  The Tower of Ravens

  The Shining City

  The Heart of Stars

  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 Two of the Witches of Eileanan

  ePub ISBN 9781742744872

  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

  and agencies throughout the world

  First published 1998

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 1998

  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-.

  The pool of two moons.

  ISBN 978 0 09 183529 3.

  ISBN 0 09 183529 1.

  1. Title (Series: Witches of Eileannan trilogy; 2).


  for my dearest mother,

  Gillian Mackenzie Evans

  A witch or a hag is she which being deluded by a league made with the devil through his persuasion, inspiration, and juggling, thinketh she can design what manner of evil things soever, either by thought or imprecation, as to shake the air with lightnings and thunder, to cause hail and tempests, to remove green corn or trees to another place, to be carried of her familiar (which hath taken upon him the deceitful shape of a goat, swine or calf) into some mountain far distant, in a wonderful short space of time.

  William West, sixteenth-century English lawyer


  About the Author

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title Page


  Imprint Page



  Map: Southern Eileanan

  Map: Eileanan & The Far Islands

  The Hunchback


  Song of the Celestines

  Darksome Light and Shining Night

  The Black Wolf


  Schools for Fledgling Witches

  Beltane Night

  Spawn of Mesmerdean


  Isabeau the Maimed

  Trials of the Spirit

  Midsummer’s Eve

  The Veiled Forest

  The High-Priestess of Jor

  The Captive


  The Winged Prionnsa

  Out of the Mists

  The Wolf Hunts

  The Lammas Congress


  On the Road


  Lucescere Palace

  The Tower of Two Moons

  Samhain Eve


  Song of the Key

  Two Moons Crossing


  To Rear a Child


  Witches of Eileanan Series

  It was the darkest hour of the night, when the pulse runs slowest and the tides of energy are at their ebb, that the three travellers left the woods. They went warily, scanning the shadowed landscape. Although it was a clear night and the snowy peaks of the Sithiche Mountains shone faintly in the light of the two moons, the valley below was filled with mist so that the travellers’ path sank into a mysterious whiteness.

  ‘Can ye sense anyone ahead, auld mother?’ Iseult asked.

  ‘No’ on the path, Iseult, though the inn seems quite busy. Let us push on—we can stop and rest soon enough.’

  ‘So ye’ve been saying all week!’ Bacaiche snapped, leaning heavily on his rough club. ‘I’m sick o’ stumbling around every night and hiding all day like a frightened hare! When are we going to do something useful?’

  The old woman turned and looked up at him. ‘Come, Bacaiche, ye’ll be glad we pushed on when a plate o’ hot stew is slapped in front o’ ye. Ye’ve been complaining o’ hunger long enough.’

  ‘Considering all we’ve eaten these last few days is shrivelled carrot soup!’

  ‘Better to forage on the way than stop for supplies when we have the Red Guards on our trail,’ Meghan replied grimly, beginning to push ahead.

  ‘I shall go first.’ Iseult held her back with one hand, sliding forward noiselessly. ‘Bacaiche, stay close.’

  Soon the starry sky was completely obscured, the mist clinging cold about them. The path led downwards, branches looming up through the greyness like skeletal hands. The hunchback could not help giving a shiver of apprehension, and Iseult glanced at him disdainfully.

  Their feet sank into mud, the still waters of the loch just visible below the drifting mist. To the left, the inn loomed out of the fog, lit by flaring torches. From within the low building, they heard a burst of laughter.

  Iseult said to Meghan, ‘Are ye sure we should go in, auld mother?’

  ‘It’s damp and foul out here, the ferry will no’ arrive for another few hours, and we haven’t eaten a proper meal in days,’ Meghan responded irritably. ‘Ye can stay out if ye want, but I’m going in.’ Pushing open the door, she warned, ‘Keep that cloak wrapped tightly about ye, Bacaiche.’

  ‘I’m no’ a fool,’ he snarled, lurching after her.

  The three companions made their way to the fire, stepping over sleeping bodies and bundles of belongings. The fire was the only light except for a lamp on a table where four men were still awake, drinking ale and playing dice for coppers. They looked up, calling, ‘How are ye yourselves?’

  Meghan replied gravely, keeping her cloak wrapped close about her. The innkeeper showed them to a table. ‘Is it hungry ye are?’ he asked. ‘We have mutton stew if ye’d like it, or vegetable soup?’

  ‘The soup would be most welcome,’ Meghan replied. He nodded and brought them thick soup in wooden bowls with trenchers of dark bread. ‘It be a full house ye’ve got yourself tonight,’ she said.

  He nodded and scratched his beard. ‘Aye, there’s been a witch fed to the uile-bhei
st and so they’ve been thinking the ferry run will be safe this morning, with the serpent’s belly full.’

  ‘Indeed!’ Meghan exclaimed. ‘That be lucky for us then.’

  The innkeeper laughed. ‘Och, I’ll tether some goats at the water’s edge. No use tempting the beastie.’ With that he went back to his game of dice, and the three travellers ate their soup and warmed themselves by the fire.

  ‘Best get some sleep,’ Meghan said. ‘There’ll be clean straw in the corners.’

  ‘Anything will be better than bloody stones, which is all I’ve slept on in weeks,’ Bacaiche grumbled. He wrapped the black cloak tighter around him and lurched to his feet. The flickering lamplight played over his hunched back, making him look more sinister than ever. The gamblers glanced at him suspiciously, and he glared back so that they surreptitiously crossed themselves in the age-old gesture against evil.

  Soon all was quiet. The only sounds were the crackle of the fire and the occasional snore or sigh of those sleeping. Iseult rested her bow on her knees and stretched her back. Tired as she was after the last few arduous weeks, she had no intention of sleeping. She would stay on guard until they were safely on the other side of the loch. It was her duty and honour to guard the Firemaker Meghan, and despite the quietness of the inn, Iseult knew danger was all around.

  For almost three weeks she and her companions had been on the run, harried through the highlands by the Banrìgh’s soldiers. Iseult had had to grit her teeth to prevent herself from turning and fighting. This game of hide-and-seek seemed cowardly to her, though Meghan had forbidden her to attack them, saying, ‘We must slip away and leave no trace, for we are no’ yet strong enough to start a war.’

  They were heading now towards the Veiled Forest, the great dark forest that covered most of the western shore of the loch. There Meghan hoped to meet up with Iseult’s twin sister, Isabeau, in the safety of the Celestines’ garden, which was concealed deep in the heart of the enchanted forest. At Tulachna Celeste, Meghan said, they would all be safe.

  Light was beginning to seep through the shutters when the innkeeper came clattering back down the stairs, tying a scarred leather apron over his kilt and rubbing his curly head. Iseult pretended to sleep, not wanting to draw attention to herself, as he put porridge on to boil and flung open the shutters to the dawn. All around sleepers began to stir, stretching and yawning, and the fire leapt up under the black pot, crackling loudly.

  Meghan sat up, looking impossibly old and frail in the cruel dawn light, the donbeag peeping his velvety nose out of her pocket. Iseult helped her up, and Meghan stretched and cracked her back, then gathered her satchel close. ‘Ye should have slept,’ the old witch said reprovingly. ‘I had told ye there was no danger here.’

  Iseult wondered how she could have known, but shook her head anyway. ‘I will sleep when I have ye safe, auld mother,’ she replied.

  ‘Well, prepare yourself for many sleepless nights then, my dear!’

  A bell announced the approach of the ferry, and they all went out onto the jetty and watched it cross the dull silver of the water, a broad-bottomed boat pulled along by a weed-draped cable. The crofters bunched together at one end of the wharf, looking askance at Bacaiche’s hunched back. He frowned and glared at them malevolently from his peculiar yellow eyes, his black hair tousled and wild, his jaw dark with stubble.

  As always the loch was wreathed with fog, but in this cold, fair morning it was a light mist which parted easily before a wayward breeze. As soon as the ferry had nudged against the jetty, the passengers on board were scrambling off and those waiting were jumping on, sacks of grain and bales of hay hastily thrown on and off. No-one was waiting around for the loch-serpent to rear its long neck. Through the mist came the nervous bleat of the goats tethered down the shore, and those few animals aboard the ferry were tightly muzzled.

  The journey across the loch was made with the same nervous haste, the wiry little ferry-master searching the mist with anxious eyes. They were more than halfway across, the walls of Dunceleste looming closer through the mist, when a fat matron suddenly screamed with fright. ‘The uile-bheist!’ she cried. Every head whipped around in horror to see where she pointed.

  Through the mist came the undulating body of the serpent, rising in great wet loops above the still loch. Its long neck and small head rose high above the prow, and it seemed the loch-serpent would encircle the boat and crush it. Everyone screamed and there was a stampede away from the starboard deck. The loch-serpent gave a great ululating wail, and rubbed its seaweed-coloured length against the side. The boat tilted, and Iseult clung tightly to the bench to avoid being flung to the floor. Only Meghan did not scream or fall; she stood straight and still in the prow, looking out into the mist.

  The serpent flipped its tail over the prow, doing a complicated rolling manoeuvre close to the vessel’s side so the ferry rocked wildly and almost capsized. Iseult could see how smooth its scaly green-black skin was, and how massive its loops. Casting a wild look at Meghan, Iseult saw the old witch was leaning forward, her gnarled hand stretched out. Briefly a thick loop slid out of the water and rubbed against Meghan’s hand, then there was a flick of the great webbed tail and the loch-serpent sank away.

  They heard the strange, wild cry twice again, each time further away. No-one else had noticed the moment of contact between Meghan and the loch-serpent, though the ferry-master shook his head and said, ‘Never ken our uile-bheist to come that close and no’ take the boat down!’

  The shore slid closer. Iseult could see great shoulders of mountains rising from grey-hued woods. Feeling suddenly uneasy, she glanced towards the town. The fog wisped apart for a moment and she saw soldiers waiting by the jetty, their red cloaks lifting in the breeze. ‘Meghan!’ she called softly.

  The old woman glanced back at her and nodded, lifting her plaid so it covered the distinctive white lock at her brow. Bacaiche also tensed, and wrapped his cloak more tightly about him. Carefully Iseult loosened the weapons in her belt and flexed her fingers, knowing she was cold and stiff after the night’s watch. Meghan looked at her warningly but could say nothing for the ferry was nudging the jetty and the soldiers were already coming forward.

  There were thirteen of them, cloaks wrapped close against the mist. As the passengers scrambled from the boat, the captain stepped forward, his plumed helmet tucked under his arm. He was a tall, well-built man with a high-bridged nose and an air of arrogance. He interrogated the crofters, checking their answers against a sheaf of papers he held.

  Iseult noticed Meghan had lost her upright posture and was shuffling along like the old woman she was, her back bent almost double. The ferry-master assisted her off the ferry and she clung to his arm, moaning. ‘It be all right now, ma’am,’ he said kindly, ‘the uile-bheist be gone now.’

  The captain looked at the crowd with displeasure. All of the crofters and their wives looked nervous and anxious but were indisputably the very essence of respectability. Then his eyes lit on Bacaiche and a spark kindled there.

  ‘What do we have here?’ the captain said jocularly and sauntered over towards them. ‘A hunchback! Well, we’ve been told to keep an eye out for cripples and suchlike near Dunceleste. They call the leader o’ the rebels the Cripple, do they no’?’

  Bacaiche said nothing, just glanced at the man out of the corner of his yellow eye then stared at the ground. The captain walked around him, jeering. ‘Freak! Monster! Escaped from a circus, have we?’ As he spoke he gave Bacaiche a rough shove which sent him reeling back, his cloak wrenched away, its edge still clenched in the captain’s fist.

  The great black wings confined beneath sprang free as Bacaiche regained his balance. He looked magnificent, his bare shoulders straight and wide as he held the immense span of his wings aloft. Sighs and gasps rang round the crowd.

  ‘Holy Truth!’ the captain breathed. ‘We’ve got ourselves a uile-bheist!’

  The soldiers leapt on Bacaiche, dragging him to the ground. He gave a loud scree
ch and tried to fight them off. As he disappeared under a flurry of fists and boots, Iseult blurred into action, throwing her dagger through the throat of the soldier nearest to her and spinning on one foot to kick another hard in the stomach. As he doubled over, she elbowed a third in the throat and then kneed him so he dropped like a stone.

  She executed a flawless backward somersault, kicking another firmly in the back, sending him sprawling onto the ground. In a flurry of quick, expert movements, she knocked out several more soldiers who rushed her from opposite directions.

  The captain shouted, and some of the soldiers holding Bacaiche down left him to attack Iseult. She pulled her dagger out of the throat of the first soldier and plunged it into the back of another feebly struggling to rise, before cart-wheeling out of their range. They spun round to confront her, but she had already pulled her eight-pointed reil from her belt and, with a flick of her wrist, sent it spinning towards them.

  They ducked, and it flew over their heads to neatly slice the carotid artery of the soldier standing next to the captain. A fountain of blood sprayed the jetty. The captain drew his sword with an oath. Iseult smiled and called the reil back to her hand. The captain made a quick swing at Iseult, who sucked in her stomach so the sword whistled past her midriff with barely an inch to spare. Again and again he thrust, and she smiled as she swayed easily out of reach each time. The captain went scarlet and thrust the sword forward to impale her. Iseult stepped back at the very last moment, then brought her hand down sharply on the back of his neck so he dropped, his helmet rolling across the jetty with a clatter.