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The Tower of Ravens

Kate Forsyth

  Kate Forsyth lives in Sydney with her husband Greg, their three children Benjamin, Timothy and Eleanor, a little black cat called Shadow and thousands of 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 on 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

  Full Fathom Five (writing as Kate Humphrey)

  The Starthorn Tree

  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 Rhiannon’s Ride

  ePub ISBN 9781742742175

  An Arrow book

  Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd

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

  First published by Arrow in 2004

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2004

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  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 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.

  Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

  Forsyth, Kate, 1966–.

  The tower of ravens.

  ISBN 978 1 74051 326 5

  ISBN 1 74051 326 6.

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

  3. Horses – Fiction. I. Title.

  (Series: Forsyth, Kate, 1966–

  Rhiannon’s ride; bk. 1).


  Cover illustration by Neal Armstrong

  Cover design by Darian Causby/Highway 51

  To my three beautiful children,

  Benjamin, Timothy and Eleanor


  About the Author

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title Page


  Imprint Page


  Map: Eileanan & The Far Islands

  Map: Ravenshaw



  One-Horn’s Daughter

  The Black Mare



  The Wild Girl

  Her Naming

  The Jongleurs

  The Apprentice-Witches




  The Witch’s Tower

  Crossing the Stormness


  Forest of the Dead

  Fetterness Valley

  Fettercairn Castle

  The Nursemaid

  The Great Hall

  The Dream

  Cold Comfort

  The Haunted Room

  The Tower of Ravens

  The Scrying Pool


  Tales of the Past

  In the Night

  Storming the Castle

  The Chain Between Them


  Extract: The Shining City, Book Two

  Rhiannon’s Ride Series

  The Witches of Eileanan Series

  ‘[Necromancy] has its name because it works

  on the bodies of the dead, and gives answers

  by the ghosts and apparitions of the dead, and

  subterraneous spirits, alluring them into the

  carcasses of the dead by certain hellish charms,

  and infernal invocations, and by deadly

  sacrifices and wicked oblations.’

  Francis Barrett,

  The Magus, 1801

  ‘Through the Necromancer’s magic words,

  the dust in the decayed coffin takes shape

  again and rises from a long forgotten past.’

  Emile Grillot de Givry,

  Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, 1931

  ‘With a heart of furious fancies

  whereof I am commander

  With a burning spear

  And a horse of air

  To the wilderness I wander.’


  traditional folksong

  The girl crouched on the stone ledge, hugging her cloak of furs and skins close against the bite of the night. Far to the east, where the towering peaks of the mountains broke and fell away, the moons were rising. First the little moon, blue as a bruise, then the big blood-moon, glowing as orange as the leaping flames on the far side of the lake behind her.

  She could hear the distant sound of voices and laughter across the ice as the wind shifted, carrying with it a shower of bright sparks. The pale circle of her face sank a little deeper into the dark huddle of her skins. She set her gaze resolutely to the east, where the snow-swollen river ran headlong towards the unknown future, towards freedom and the sea.

  Tonight the inexpressible yearning was fierce in her. She could smell the bitter green coming of spring in the air, hear it in the clink of ice upon stone as the lake began to flex and test itself against the chains of winter, feel it all around her in the surge of sap and blood. These first few weeks of the green months were the cruellest of all, for they sang of joy to someone who had no understanding of the word. She could only sense it, like a deaf child hearing bells ringing all around her as a thrum of air against her skin. She did not know what she yearned for. She did not know why she sat here in the dark loneliness with a hot ache in her throat. She only knew that she could not bear to be with the herd tonight as they gloated over the spoils of their latest hunt, swaggering and boasting and wrestling about the fire while their new captive sat bound and bloodied, trying not to show his fear.

  The girl was not driven away from her herd’s carousing by any sense of compassion for the prisoner. She had no time to feel or wonder for anyone else. All her pity and terror were saved for herself. She sat on the ledge of stone and set her face to the east, wondering only if she should take the chance to creep away tonight, while the herd was busy carousing. If she ran all night, hiding her scent in the tumult of white water, running on stones so she would leave no footprints, if she ran till her heart was bursting, could she win her way free? The desire to escape was so fierce in her that she could only keep herself still by clenching her fingers so hard she cut purple crescents into her tough, calloused palms. For no matter how fast she ran, no matter how well she hid her tracks, the her
d would find her in the end, and they would kill her for wanting to be free.

  Below her, something moved. She tensed and looked down at once, for there were many wild and dangerous creatures in these mountains. At first she saw only darkness, but as her eyes adjusted from the brightness of the luminous moons, she began to see a dark shape emerging from the shadows. There was a round rump, the deep curve of a back, the long line of a graceful neck lowered to drink from the river. Beyond she saw the vague shape of more horses, a whole herd of them, moving slowly along the stony bank of the river.

  Behind her there was a burst of raucous laughter. The horses flung up their heads. One whickered. Moonlight glinted on the two long, scrolled horns that sprang from each forehead. She caught her breath in surprise. These were no wild ponies, but creatures out of myth and folklore. Whether it was the sound of her gasp, or a sudden shift in the wind that took her scent to the horses’ quivering nostrils, she could not know, but suddenly the herd all flung out great shadowy wings and, with a rattle of hooves and a soft defiant whinny, took flight. For a moment she saw their soaring shapes outlined sharply against the red moon, the sound of their wings filling her ears. Then the herd of winged horses was gone, lost in the darkness.

  The girl was on her feet, filled with exultation as sharp as thorns. If I could only catch one, she thought. If I could only tame one. Then I could escape. They would never be able to stop me if I flew away on the back of a creature like that.

  She would not even admit the impossibility of such a plan. That she should see the fabled black winged horses on the very night that her need to escape had grown so urgent could hardly be coincidence. Those of her kind were ruled by superstition and omen. They did not believe in coincidences. The girl’s brain boiled with ideas. Maybe if she tracked the winged horses to their lair, tried to tame one, make friends with it. She had tamed many a mountain pony that way.

  Winged horses were notoriously wild, however, and she knew she did not have much time. The herd was growing tired of waiting for her horns to bud. Many younger girls had the buds of their horns swelling strongly, and had been bleeding at the rise of the full moons for months. Her first blood had come only that day, filling her with sick fear. She had scrubbed away the stain on her clothes with stones and icy water, and stuffed herself with a wad of crushed pine needles and sap so they could not smell her womb-blood and guess her secret.

  She did not know how long she could hide the coming of her womanhood. Certainly no longer than a month. Today they had all been distracted by the man who had ridden into their territory and given them such a splendid chase. Next month she may not be so lucky. The herd had always viewed her with suspicion and disdain, for she had feet instead of hooves, and only two breasts instead of six. If she had grown a proud, strong horn like her mother, or even ten short, stubby ones like her cousin, the other deformities could have been ignored. A satyricorn without a horn was a freak, though, an embarrassment to the entire herd. They would scorn her and challenge her and, in the end, kill her for her lack. Four times already she had seen a hornless one hunted to their death. She knew there would be no mercy.

  The girl put her hands up to her head and felt her smooth forehead, running her fingertips back into her hair. Not even the faintest suggestion of a horn. She gave an involuntary sigh, and turned reluctantly to head back to the camp. She had been away too long already. Soon someone would notice she was gone, and snuff the air for her scent. She wanted no-one to notice her tonight, with her skirts still damp from their scrubbing and the womb-blood seeping its way past the plug of pine needles.

  She made her way silently round the lake, taking care to leap from stone to stone so as to leave no print in the mud, and then emerged casually from the bushes as if she had just visited the latrine and was now seeking her bed again.

  The herd’s camp was set in a wide clearing on the shore of the lake, sheltered to the west by a tall bluff. In the centre of the clearing the bonfire gnawed sullenly at the great log cast down across its ashes. A charred carcass was impaled upon a spit above it, its equine shape still recognisable despite the havoc the herd’s knives had made upon its flesh. The sight grieved her. She had always loved horses and often used to leap onto the back of one of the wild mountain ponies, galloping it over the high meadows until at last it stopped trying to throw her off and submitted to her will. When she was twelve she had taught one of the shaggy little ponies to come to her whistle. On its broad back, she had explored all the hills around. It had been her one great pleasure, galloping along the sweeping green meadows, as swift as the wind, leaping over fallen logs and brooks, swimming with it in the lake. In those days she had not yet dreamt of escape. She had ridden the horse only for pleasure and for the satisfaction of at last being faster than the other girls in the herd. One-Horn had not approved, however. The herd had hunted down her friendly, shaggy pony, killed it and eaten it. She had never forgiven them.

  Now, most of the herd was sleeping, worn out from the chase and too much tia-tio, the dark pungent ale they brewed from pine cones and honey. They lay where they had fallen, some still clutching their curved cups of bone.

  Lying close to the fire, snoring loudly, were four horned men. Their hairy paunches were huge, and they had a sleek, well-fed air about them that the lean, muscular women did not share. Their brows were blunt and heavy, their noses flat and wide with flaring nostrils. Most had only two small curved horns, just peeking through their matted curls. One, though, had two much longer horns that curved up and out of his head in a perfect crescent. He was also the largest, with burly shoulders, a thick neck and heavy features. As First-Male, he was richly dressed, wearing a brown woollen kilt, a filthy jerkin, and many necklaces of bone and semi-precious stones. A golden brooch in the shape of a running horse was pinned to the jerkin. The girl knew the clothes and brooch had once belonged to her father, a human who had been captured by the herd many years ago. He had died in captivity when she had been only five.

  In a stony corner, surrounded on two sides by the high walls of the bluff, lay two men without horns. One was dressed in a rough loincloth and cloak of hide, with very long, grey, matted hair and a straggly beard. He was so thin his ribs stood out against his wrinkled brown skin. He was tied to a stake with a long leash, his ankles hobbled for the night.

  The other prisoner was young and fair, with thick curly hair the colour of summer grass. He was dressed in a dishevelled blue jacket over a white shirt and breeches, all much stained with mud and blood. His head slumped forward onto his chest, and congealing blood obscured most of one side of his face. His hands were tied tightly behind his back, and leather straps wrapped his arms and body from shoulder to waist.

  Stepping quietly through the sleeping bodies, the girl saw his belongings scattered across the ground. There were the long, black boots, thrown away in disgust when no-one was able to make them fit over their hooves. The pretty painted box that magically played music when opened lay in the ashes, still tinkling away, while the silver goblet with the crystal set in its stem had fallen from One-Horn’s hand as she snored by the fire. The blue cockaded hat was still on the head of Seven-Horns, though she slept with her face pressed into the dirt. Hanging around the neck of First-Male was the little golden medal with its intriguing design of a hand radiating rays of light like the sun, while pinned to the fur cloak of Three-Horns was the silver badge cunningly forged in the shape of a charging stag.

  The girl noticed all this with perturbation, for it showed who had won the squabbles. It was not a good sign that One-Horn had lost the hat and the brooch, for such spoils of war were marks of power and prestige. Since One-Horn was her mother and had offered her some protection from the scorn of the other women, it was just one more sign to the girl that she must make her escape quickly if she was to survive. Battles for supremacy were to the death, and One-Horn was beginning to lose her speed and aggression. There were many other women eager to take her place as leader of the herd.

  The girl
’s sleeping furs were close to the prisoners, for she was nearly as low in prestige as they were, and not permitted to sleep near the fire. As she stepped past them to reach her bed, she was dismayed when a thin hand suddenly reached out and seized her ankle. She did not make any sound, but she paused and bent as if to pull a thorn from her foot.

  ‘Lassie, this man they’ve caught, he’s a Yeoman o’ the Guard,’ a reedy voice said urgently. ‘It’s treason to waylay him so. Any that lays a hand on the Rìgh’s own bodyguard will feel the tug o’ the hangman’s noose. Ye must let him go!’

  ‘Me no fool,’ the girl said softly and pulled her ankle out of his grasp, beginning to straighten up. She met the other prisoner’s eyes. He had lifted his head and was staring at her pleadingly. His eyes were the colour of the lake in summer. He opened his swollen, blood-caked lips and managed to croak, ‘Please!’

  She looked away, shaking her head infinitesimally.

  ‘But he’s the Rìgh’s own guard! He says he has news he must take to the court – the Rìgh is in dreadful danger.’

  ‘So? What that to me?’


  She shrugged a shoulder as if shaking away a mosquito and moved on to her bed, curling up with her back to the prisoners, pretending an indifference she did not feel. She could only hope no-one had heard Reamon speaking to her. Few of the herd had ever bothered to learn to speak his strange, lilting language, but One-Horn’s daughter had always been an oddity with her soft feet and mobile toes, and her smooth torso. Because she looked so much like a human child, Reamon had looked to her first and sought to make her understand him. It was he who had taught her about the world outside and, once she began to dream of escape, she had learnt hungrily.