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The Heart of Stars

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]




  The Pool of Two Moons

  The Cursed Towers

  The Forbidden Land

  The Skull of the World

  The Fathomless Caves


  The Tower of Ravens

  The Shining City

  Full Fathom Five (writing as Kate Humphrey)


  The Starthorn Tree

  Dragon Gold

  Wishing for Trouble

  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 Three of Rhiannon’s Ride

  ePub ISBN 9781742742199

  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 by Random House Australia 2006

  This Arrow edition first published 2007

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2006

  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, photo-

  copying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

  Forsyth, Kate, 1966–.

  The heart of stars.

  ISBN 978 1 74166 846 9.

  1. Magic – Fiction. 2. Witches – Fiction.

  3. Horses – Fiction. I. Title (Series: Forsyth, Kate, 1966–

  Rhiannon’s ride: bk. 3).

  Cover illustration by Adrian Chesterman

  Cover design by Darian Causby/Highway 51

  For Greg



  About the Author

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title Page


  Imprint Page


  Map: Eileanan & The Far Islands

  Map: Rionnagan and Southern Eileanan


  The Story So Far …


  Rescue Flight

  The Stargazer

  The Tomb

  A Night on the Road

  The Celestial Globe

  Winding and Watching

  The MacBrann


  Time Past

  Midnight in the Graveyard

  Back to the Beginning


  On the Wings of an Eagle

  Bright Things

  Dissolved to Dust


  Chasing the Lord of Fettercairn


  Banrìgh in Black

  Squires and Stowaways

  The Thistle Ring

  Golden Horses

  Long Past Midnight


  The Pirate Isles

  The Old Fort

  At the Full Moon

  Sliced Bellfruit

  Frost at Noon

  Uncovering the Cage


  Escaping Lucescere

  Poisoned Wine

  Safe Passage

  An Everything Thing

  Bodies of Speech




  Rhiannon’s Ride Series

  The Witches of Eileanan Series

  ‘Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living: all things fall under this name. The sun itself is but the dark simulacrum, and light but the shadow of God.’


  The Garden of Cyrus, 1658

  Onehorn’s daughter is not like the other satyricorns of her herd. Born of a human father, she has failed to grow the horns which mark her place within her herd. Soon, she knows, the other satyricorns will kill her. Her only chance is to escape. But how can she possibly outrun the swift hunters of her herd?

  One day, a young man, Connor the Just, rides into the satyricorns’ territory and is captured. He begs Onehorn’s daughter to help him escape, for he is one of the Rìgh’s own elite guard and he carries news of dire importance to Lachlan the Winged. She cuts him free – but only because she has escape plans of her own. Onehorn’s daughter dreams of capturing one of the fabled black winged horses of Ravenshaw and flying to freedom. To do this she needs Connor’s saddle and bridle, and besides, she empathises with his urgent desire to get free of the brutish satyricorns.

  However, when the herd hunts Connor down and he threatens the life of her mother, Onehorn’s daughter shoots him in the back, as much to hide her own betrayal as to save the life of her mother. As is the way of satyricorns, she hacks out all of Connor’s teeth and cuts off his little finger to add to the necklace of bones she wears about her neck, and claims all his belongings as her own. With their help, she captures a winged horse and so is able to escape her herd.

  Exhausted and injured, she and the winged horse are discovered by Lewen MacNiall, son of the treeshifter Lilanthe. He tends her and the horse, and gives her a name – Rhiannon. In the old tales, Rhiannon had been able to ride so swiftly none could catch her.

  Lewen is on holiday from his studies at the Theurgia, the school for witches in Lucescere. It is decided he should escort Rhiannon and her winged steed, Blackthorn, through Ravenshaw to Lucescere, in the company of a journeywitch, Nina the Nightingale, her husband, Iven, and son, Roden, and a group of young acolytes wishing to be admitted to the witches’ school.

  On the way, the body of Connor is discovered in the river. Wanting to carry the news back to the Rìgh as quickly as possible, Nina and Iven decide to take the short cut through the valley of Fetterness, past the ruined Tower of Ravens, even though they are warned that the old witches’ tower is haunted and the valley cursed. For twenty-five years, young boys have gone missing, graves have been robbed and ghosts and revenants walk the fields and woods. Confident of her powers, Nina ignores the stories and pushes on.

  A storm forces the little party to take refuge at Castle Fettercairn, which guards the ruined Tower. The chatelaine of Castle Fettercairn is a strange old woman named Lady Evaline, who is still grieving for the loss of her husband and young son during the reign of Maya the Ensorcellor. The little boy’s ghost haunts the castle. Only Rhiannon can see him clearly, though man
y of the other acolytes are fearful and disturbed by the dark atmosphere of the castle. The ghost of the little boy – who is just the same age as Roden – awakes Rhiannon one night and shows her a room filled with the ghosts of hundreds of murdered boys, begging her to help them. Terrified, Rhiannon flees – and stumbles upon a secret passage to the Tower of Ravens. There she discovers Lord Malvern, the lord of Fettercairn Castle, attempting to raise the spirit of his brother, with the help of a circle of necromancers. Instead, they raise the spirit of a malevolent queen. She promises to help Lord Malvern find the secret spell of resurrection so that he may bring his dead brother and nephew back to life. First, though, Lord Malvern must resurrect her.

  Rhiannon’s presence is sensed by the ghost, and she flees back to the castle to warn Nina and the others. They do not believe her, though, thinking her ill or dreaming. Then Nina and Lewen overhear Lord Malvern and his sister-in-law planning to kill Rhiannon to stop her revealing what she saw. They also seem to have sinister plans for Roden, who looks very much like Lady Evaline’s dead son, Rory. Nina decides they must flee the castle as quickly as possible.

  Rhiannon, meanwhile, has escaped on Blackthorn’s back, convinced her life is in danger. Lewen pursues her and persuades her to go back, so that they all may leave without arousing suspicion. However, a great storm blows up and Lewen and Rhiannon are forced to take refuge in the Tower of Ravens. Here, they unwittingly drink from the Cup of Confession, an ancient relic which had been given to Connor many years before. Enchanted by the goblet, Lewen and Rhiannon declare their love for each other, and consummate their desire. Lewen then discovers the necklace of bones and teeth, and Rhiannon admits that she killed Connor. Lewen is shocked and horrified, and leaves Rhiannon, who flees.

  In the morning, Lewen again drinks from the goblet, and then – when he contacts Nina through the tower’s Scrying Pool – is compelled to tell her what he has discovered, even though he feels as if he is betraying Rhiannon. She tells him to contact the Rìgh and tell him all their news, which he does. The Rìgh is most distressed by the news, and commands Lewen to bring Connor’s murderer back to Lucescere to face justice. Unhappily Lewen goes in search of Rhiannon and manages to save her from being shot by Lord Malvern’s men. She is bound and locked up in one of the caravans, and the small party set out once more on their journey to Lucescere.

  In the next town, they are told an old tale that sheds much light on Lord Malvern’s behaviour. He had once been an apprentice at the Tower of Ravens, but was expelled. Hating all witches, he had become one of Maya’s Seekers, using his extrasensory talent to search out witches and faeries during the time of her reign. One day he arrested a young girl and condemned her to death by burning. She was held in the dungeons at Fettercairn Castle, where his brother Falkner was lord. Then Lachlan the Winged and his band of rebels sneaked into the castle to rescue her. Lachlan fought a duel with Lord Falkner and killed him, not knowing the lord had hidden away his young wife, Evaline, and their son Rory, in a secret room. For more than a week they were trapped in the secret room, and the little boy eventually died of cold and hunger. Lord Malvern and Lady Evaline were both driven half-mad by this tragedy and spent the next twenty-five years seeking to raise their loved ones from the grave and searching for a way to have their revenge on Lachlan, now Rìgh of Eileanan. Nina and the others all realise how lucky they were to escape Fettercairn Castle.

  Early the next morning, Lord Malvern and his men kidnap Roden and gallop back with him to the castle. Rhiannon is released so she and Blackthorn can help track him down. There is a desperate chase back to the castle, and Rhiannon manages to find Roden and rescue him, although poor Lady Evaline jumps out the window after him and is killed. The lord of Fettercairn and his followers are arrested, and taken back to Lucescere to face trial for murder, treason and necromancy. Rhiannon too must face the courts, and though Lewen assures her all will be well, she is a satyricorn, and satyricorns do not believe in happy endings.

  Rhiannon has the right of it. As soon as she arrives in Lucescere, she is locked up in Sorrowgate Tower, the city’s prison. She is thrown into the Murderers’ Gallery, guarded by the sadistic warden, Octavia the Obese. Lewen manages to have her transferred to a private cell the next day, with the help of his friends Owein and Olwynne, the younger children of Lachlan the Winged.

  The lord of Fettercairn and his followers are also locked up, all except for his skeelie Dedrie, who manages to gain the support of the Coven’s head healer, Johanna, who is Connor the Just’s sister.

  Rhiannon is haunted by the ghost of the dead queen she saw at the Tower of Ravens, and distressed by her separation from both Lewen and her winged horse, Blackthorn. Her anxiety grows the closer it gets to the date of her trial.

  Then, on May Day, Olwynne NicCuinn casts a love spell on Lewen, making him turn away from Rhiannon. Rhiannon, abandoned and forgotten in prison, is in despair.

  The night before their trials, Lord Malvern tries to kidnap Rhiannon during a prison break-out, for in order to raise the dead queen from her grave, they must sacrifice a young woman with strong magical powers, and Rhiannon – who knows too much about them – is their first choice. Rhiannon manages to evade them, however, and so they flee the prison without her.

  Rhiannon goes to trial the next day for treason and murder and is found guilty and condemned to death by hanging. Even though Lewen believes his earlier love for Rhiannon was false, he is still shaken and upset. He jumps the Midsummer fire with Olwynne, a public declaration of the intention to marry. Nina, meanwhile, begs the Rìgh to pardon Rhiannon, and he agrees, though he knows Connor’s sister, Johanna, will be very angry that her brother’s murderer will go free.

  Later that night, Isabeau returns to her room and discovers that Johanna has sneaked in to surreptitiously consult The Book of Shadows. Isabeau asks the magical book to show her what Johanna had been reading. It takes her to a spell of resurrection, but, to Isabeau’s horror, she discovers it is a trap concealing another deadly spell, written by the evil sorcerer Brann the Raven a thousand years before. It is a spell of compulsion that forces whoever reads it to travel back in time to the day of Brann’s death and resurrect him from his grave. By reading the spell, Isabeau too is trapped by Brann’s compulsion.

  The next day is Midsummer’s Day, and Lachlan’s elder son Donncan is marrying his cousin Bronwen, daughter of Maya the Ensorcellor. The nuptials are marred by the sudden illness of Bronwen’s best friend, the Celestine princess Thunderlily, and by the tension between Donncan and Bronwen.

  Then Olwynne is greatly upset by the news that Rhiannon is to be pardoned. She leaves the feast so no-one will realise her distress and, to her horror, sees her father, Lachlan the Winged, being shot by a poison dart. As she swoons with the shock, a healer comes to her aid – except the healer is really Dedrie, the lord of Fettercairn’s skeelie. She drugs Olwynne and kidnaps her, at the very same moment that Roden, Nina’s young son, and Olwynne’s twin brother Owein are also kidnapped.

  Meanwhile, Donncan flies to Johanna, the head healer, for help for his father, but to his horror discovers that she is involved in the plot to kill the Rìgh. She has Thunderlily imprisoned, and abducts him too. It is her plan to force Thunderlily to guide her on the Celestines’ secret roads back in time to the day of Brann’s death, where she will sacrifice Donncan to raise the evil sorcerer from the dead.

  Similarly, Lord Malvern intends to sacrifice Olwynne to raise the dead queen, who Isabeau suspects is her old enemy Margrit of Arran. He will then take Owein and Roden back to Fettercairn Castle to resurrect his brother and young nephew. Thus will he have his revenge on Lachlan and his family returned to him at the same time.

  In the meantime, Rhiannon escapes from Sorrowgate Tower, not knowing Lachlan had planned to pardon her. When Lachlan’s widow, Iseult, hears the news, she immediately suspects Rhiannon to be the one to have murdered the Rìgh. She calls up a dragon and flies in pursuit, her grief and anger finding form in a violent snowstorm that
turns midsummer to winter. She finds Rhiannon and drags her back, ordering that she be hung at the ringing of the dawn bell. Isabeau and Nina protest, but then news of Roden’s kidnapping is brought and Nina is so distraught she leaves Rhiannon’s salvation in Isabeau’s hands. But Isabeau is caught in Brann’s web and cannot help.

  It is up to Lewen to save Rhiannon, and all he can do is stop the bell from ringing by wrapping his own body about the massive clapper, giving Rhiannon’s friends time to convince Bronwen, the new Banrìgh, to pardon her.

  For Bronwen, daughter of the Ensorcellor, must rule in her husband’s stead, in a court seething with intrigue, betrayal and suspicion. If Donncan is not found and returned to his own time, she will be a widow before she was ever a wife. The only person who has a chance of stopping Johanna is the Keybearer, Isabeau, but she too is caught in the spell of compulsion.

  With the MacCuinn clan rent apart and the court thrown into utter confusion, there is no-one to stop Lord Malvern but Rhiannon and her winged mare, Blackthorn. She must risk everything to try to save the woman she hates more than anyone – the Banprionnsa Olwynne, rival for Rhiannon’s one true love, Lewen. In her desperate flight to save Olwynne and her twin brother Owein, Rhiannon must face the possibility of losing all that she holds most dear – Lewen, Blackthorn, her freedom, even her own life …