Suddenly the air was filled with the wind-battering sound of heavy wings and a black shape swooped past her to light on the tongue-like rock.
Brighid came to an abrupt halt and ground her teeth together. The raven cocked its head and cawed at her. The Huntress frowned.
“Begone wretched bird!” she shouted, waving her arms at it.
Unruffled, the raven fixed her with its cold, black stare. Then slowly, distinctly, it tapped the side of the rock with its beak three times before unfurling its wings and beating the air neatly, skimming low enough over Brighid’s head that her hair stirred and she had to force herself not to duck. Scowling, the Huntress approached the rock. The bird’s feet had drawn claw-shaped marks in the snow so that the red of the rock was visible in rust-coloured lines against winter’s canvas. She reached out and brushed at the area, unsurprised when Cuchulainn’s trail slash became visible, pointing into the mouth of the tunnel.
Brighid shook her head. “I don’t want your help, Mother.” Eerily her voice bounced back to her from the tunnel walls. “The price you place on it has always been too costly.”
The GODDESS OF PARTHOLON series
by New York Times bestselling author
P. C. CAST
DIVINE BY MISTAKE
DIVINE BY CHOICE
DIVINE BY BLOOD
Find out more at www.mirabooks.co.uk
To my stepmom, Patricia Ann Cast, with much love and appreciation.
Thank you for knowing how to heal a shattered soul.
“Through the blood of a dying Goddess your people will be saved.” More than one hundred years ago, women began disappearing from a green, prosperous land called Partholon. At first the disappearances were sporadic, seemingly random. It wasn’t until an invading horde attacked MacCallan Castle, slaughtered the Clan’s brave warriors and enslaved their women that the awful truth became known. The Fomorians, a race of winged demons, were using human women to breed a new race of monsters. It meant nothing to the vampiric creatures that birthing the mutant fetuses caused the death of the unwilling mothers. The human women were incubators—their deaths were no more than an evil means to a ghastly end.
The Goddess Epona’s rage was terrible, and through her Chosen One, the Goddess Incarnate Rhiannon, and her centaur lifemate, ClanFintan, the peoples of Partholon united to defeat the Fomorians. The demon race was destroyed, but the people of Partholon did not realize that the war’s legacy was more than death and evil. In the Wastelands, far away from the heart of Partholon, winged children were born to human mothers who miraculously survived. Part demon, part human, the small group of hybrid beings struggled to carve a life for themselves out of the Wastelands. They held firm to their humanity, even when refusing the call of their fathers’ dark blood caused them pain…pain that slowly eroded their will until madness became their only respite.
“Through the blood of a dying Goddess your people will be saved.”
But Epona had not forgotten the women who never lost hope and stayed faithful to their Goddess, though they could not return to Partholon with their winged children. The great Goddess whispered The Prophecy to her deposed children, and the promise of salvation breathed hope into the race of half-demons.
A century turned slowly and the winged people waited for the answer to their prayers. Partholon recovered and prospered again, and the Fomorian War became a memory, entombed in history.
And then a child was born, part human and part centaur. Touched by Epona’s powerful hand the babe was given the name Elphame. Through dreams she called to Lochlan, the leader of the winged half-demons who waited in the Wastelands. The child grew to adulthood, and Lochlan followed the threads of his dreams to MacCallan Castle where Elphame awakened more than the stones of the ancient ruin.
“Through the blood of a dying Goddess your people will be saved.”
Out of love for Lochlan and trust in her Goddess, Elphame fulfilled The Prophecy, sacrificing a piece of her own humanity as well as her brother’s heart to save the race of hybrid Fomorians. Now this new breed of beings was finally coming home. But their struggle had just begun. Remember, the Path of the Goddess was not an easy one to tread…
Elphame was exactly where the Huntress had thought she would be—not that it took a centaur Huntress’s skill to track the Clan Chieftain. The MacCallan’s habit of visiting this particular set of cliffside boulders had become well-known. From the vantage point of the highest of the large, weatherworn rocks, Elphame could sit and look northward toward the Trier Mountains, which were just a jagged purple line of peaks jutting into the horizon. She would stare at that distant line, trying to see past it into the Wastelands beyond.
Brighid approached Elphame quietly, reluctant to disturb her. Even after living and working closely with Elphame for more than two complete cycles of the moon, Brighid could still be moved by the sight of the unique being who had become her friend as well as her Clan Chieftain. Born eldest daughter of Partholon’s Goddess Incarnate and the centaur Shaman who was her lifemate, Elphame was human only to her waist; her two legs had been fashioned more equine than human. They were powerfully muscled and covered with a fine coat of glossy fur, ending in two ebony hooves.
But her physical differences were not all that set Elphame apart. She carried within her the powers given to her by Epona. She communed with the Realm of Spirits through an affinity for Earth Magic. Elphame could hear the spirits in the stones of MacCallan Castle. She also had a special connection with Epona, and Brighid often sensed the presence of the patron Goddess of Partholon when Elphame invoked the morning blessing, or thanked the Goddess at the close of a particularly productive day. And, of course, they had all witnessed Epona’s favor when Elphame had called upon the strength and love of a Goddess to defeat the madness of the Fomorians…
Brighid shuddered, not wanting to remember that ghastly day. It was enough to know that her Clan Chieftain was a miraculous mixture of centaur and human, goddess and mortal.
“Was the morning hunt successful?” Elphame said without turning to look at the Huntress.
“Very.” Brighid wasn’t surprised her Chieftain had sensed her presence. Elphame’s preternatural powers were sharp and accurate. “The forests surrounding MacCallan Castle haven’t been properly hunted in more than one hundred years. The game practically leap before my arrows, begging to be culled.”
Elphame’s full lips turned up in the hint of a smile. “Suicidal venison? That sounds like a truly unique dish.”
Brighid snorted. “Don’t tell Wynne. That cook will demand I choose the beast’s temperament more carefully so her stews will have a more perfect flavor.”
The MacCallan pulled her gaze from the distant mountains and smiled. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Looking into Elphame’s eyes, Brighid was struck by the sadness there. Only her lips smiled. The MacCallan didn’t show this haunted face to the general public—it was a rare privilege to be allowed such an intimacy. For a moment, Brighid feared the Fomorian madness lurking deep within her friend’s