Chapter 1


I am Catrin, once Lady of the Forest, once healer and seer, once respected among the tribe with whom I lived, if also somewhat feared.

Once, long ago now, when the Romans invaded, when the Druids were hounded, herded, slaughtered, I was also among them, fighting with sword and magic.

And losing everything.

That which I valued most – she whom I valued most – I lost also and I am to blame for this. It was my own hand that set that tumbling disaster into motion.

Now I wander the worlds, and I wander the rivers of time and lives also. I meddle here, reaching, always reaching for forgiveness, to put right the greatest mistake I made, and this is the whole of my purpose and my obsession.

For while I may no longer draw breath, my love shall last forever.

Chapter 2


Wilde Grove, 1987


Selena looked over at Morghan and smiled. The young woman was doing each movement slowly, assiduously, seriously – and gracefully. Selena nodded, pleased with her choice. Morghan was a natural.

Turning her attention back to her own movements, Selena breathed slowly and deeply, moving her body in the familiar, fluid exercises, part dance, part stretches, letting her spirit relax and flow beyond the confines of her skin. She closed her eyes. The morning crackled with the freshness of spring, the air against her cheeks bright and invigorating.

Selena loved this time of year at Wilde Grove, when the woods woke from their winter sleep, and she too felt as though coming out of a dream.

They turned in tandem to the left, Selena once more impressed at how easily and quickly Morghan had learnt the routine. She’d been in Wilde Grove for almost four months, and it seemed to Selena now that Morghan had always been there, always been part of the day’s routine, learning to walk between the worlds, learning to grow and flex her spirit.

She’d chosen well when she’d decided upon Morghan, who at seventeen was tall, skinny, and determined. Sometimes, Selena thought, her young priestess in training was too determined.

‘You have to let go,’ she said now in a low voice. ‘Let your mind float calmly on the movements.’

Morghan glanced at her as they turned again, and she blew out a long breath.

‘You’re asking me to stop thinking,’ she said. ‘It’s not easy.’

A smile lifted Selena’s lips. She stretched out her right arm into a stance that reminded her of drawing an arrow across a bow and relaxed into the pose, then flowing seamlessly into the next, a slow, choreographed dance.

‘No,’ she said. ‘I know it’s not.’

Morghan nodded briefly, and she closed her eyes. Perhaps that would help. At least, she decided, she was not fumbling through the movements anymore. They were almost second nature now, and she loved going through the stylized dance steps.

Almost four months. It seemed further away, the day Teresa had pulled the car up in front of the house Morghan had lived in all her life with her parents and brother. Selena had stepped from the passenger’s seat and stretched, looking over the roof at Morghan and smiling, before turning her attention to Morghan’s mother, who had begun her screeching before Selena Wilde had even opened the car door.

Her mother, Morghan recalled, letting her mind drift for a moment as she moved into another position and held it, had not been pleased with the situation. Her reaction to Morghan’s news of going to Wilde Grove as Selena’s apprentice had been one of unrestrained horror.

Morghan’s lips tucked downward. She loved her mother – loved both her parents – but this was where she belonged, and she’d known it as soon as she’d received Selena’s first letter, the day after she’d turned sixteen.

‘If you must let your mind drift,’ Selena said, ‘at least direct it to drift among the trees.’

Morghan glanced quickly at Selena, her mother’s cousin, even though she’d always thought of her as another of her aunts. She nodded. Selena was right. This wasn’t the time to be thinking of her family.

She gazed out at the trees instead. She and Selena were out on the smooth lawn, with Hawthorn House at their backs, and the trees stood at the edge of the gentle slope as though they had gathered about to watch.

The idea made Morghan smile, and she ducked her head in something like a greeting, then took a breath, felt the way her body moved and stretched, and quieted her mind, listening to her breathing, feeling the stretch and glow of her body, sinking down out of her head to revel in the flow of her energy.

She stepped into the next movement and now suddenly it seemed that she’d stepped into another place also. She wanted to gasp, to reach for Selena, but did neither, instead holding the vision – for that surely was what it was – and simply kept doing the slow, dancing, movements.

Where was she? Knowing she was on the lawn at Hawthorn House, Morghan was nevertheless elsewhere at the same time. She blinked slowly, but the vision did not fade. She stretched her arms high into the next movement.

She was too busy looking around.

She was standing on the shore of a wide river.

There were trees at her back; she could feel them there, could almost hear them humming over the quiet ripple and dance of the water.

Across the river stood a grand and deep forest. Morghan gazed at it, feeling the weight and age of the trees.

Selena, noticing the shift in Morghan beside her, turned her attention towards her, softening it as she did, so as not to interrupt. Morghan’s eyes were closed, but Selena knew she was looking at something, and Selena smiled.

This was the exact thing she’d hoped for.

Morghan, still on the riverbank, remembered Selena’s lessons of the last months and made herself relax on each exhaled breath, ignoring the excitement that welled up inside her like a great balloon under her ribs.

She was doing it, a small voice in the back of her mind crowed anyway. She was really doing it! She’d stepped somewhere, and it had only been a small step, really, done without even thinking, just a small step to the side, and now part of her stood on the edge of a river, or perhaps a lake.

It was peaceful here, Morghan thought, and she lifted her head, breathed deeply. The air was sweet with sun and water and tree. She walked along the riverbank, her heart filling when the water flowed into a lake, impossibly blue, beautiful, a small island in the centre.

In front of her now, was a tree, its branches brimming with fat golden pears. On impulse, Morghan reached up, twisted one from the branch, and bit into it. The pear was sweet, and Morghan smiled. Wherever she was, whatever this place was, Morghan felt at home in it, as though it was already, or perhaps had always been, a special place to her.

Then, there was a rustling behind her, in the undergrowth at her back. The sound, so unexpected, unnerved her, and Morghan twisted her head to look, only to see a great snake slither from between the trees towards her, its body as thick as her own thigh.

Now she did gasp, sudden sharp horror piercing her, making her body stumble, hands outstretched, pear falling from numbed fingers, as she tried to get away from the awful thing, the monstrosity, and she opened her eyes, still shying away, and blinked in the morning light on the damp lawn at Hawthorn House. She panted, bent over and planted her hands on her knees, shaking her head, then sat down completely, collapsing onto the grass, all the strength gone from her limbs, her skin still tight with the terror that had confronted her.

‘What did you see?’ Selena asked, her voice interested, conversational, as though this was completely normal, perhaps even expected.

Morghan looked up at her from under the fringe of hair that flopped over her eyes.

‘Did you know this would happen?’ she demanded, and pressed her mouth closed, ashamed of how her voice had quavered.

‘That depends on what it was,’ Selena said, unmoved, only her lips twitching slightly in the smallest of smiles.

Morghan climbed onto her knees, looked out at the trees, shook her head. Finally, she stood, straightening, and ran her fingers through her short, shaggy hair.

‘Everything was going fine until it appeared.’ Her mouth twisted in distaste and her body shivered again.

‘Until what appeared?’

Morghan shook her head again, shuddered, looked out over the trees, tilting her head slightly to the warmth of the sun.

She didn’t want to say what it was. She wanted to go inside, take a shower, banish the vision forever. Was there a way to do that?

She was suddenly cold, aware that her jeans were wet, the morning air still early enough in the spring to be brisk against her skin.

But she concentrated on Selena and forced the words from her mouth.

‘A snake.’

She panted again, just saying the name made her cringe away from the vision. ‘Huge,’ she gasped. ‘As thick around as my own leg – and who knows how long it was.’ She closed her eyes.

‘I’ve always been terrified of snakes.’

Selena’s brows rose in surprise. ‘Have you ever seen any?’

A tight shrug. ‘At the zoo,’ Morghan answered. ‘But more often in my dreams.’ She paused, turned to look at her aunt, her elder priestess, the Lady of the Grove.

‘Tell me about your dreams,’ Selena said.

‘Whenever I’m tense, or stressed, or upset about something,’ Morghan answered, and she turned again to face the sun, feeling haggard, older suddenly. ‘That’s when I’ll dream about them. Snakes.’ She blew out a shaky breath, resisted the urge to squeeze her eyes shut, cringe away from the memory of all the times she’d dreamt of snakes.

‘Always snakes,’ she said and grimaced. ‘And in my dreams, I’m terrified by them. They’re always unexpected, and I can never get away from them. They twist and twine around my legs and I wake up screaming.’

Morghan glanced at Selena, shamefaced. She wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself.

Selena couldn’t help the smile that widened on her face. ‘Snake is your kin,’ she said.

Morghan stared at her, then shook her head. ‘Can’t be,’ she said. ‘Snakes are…nightmare creatures.’ She paused. ‘For me, at least.’

Now, Selena laughed. ‘That’s not very polite,’ she said. ‘When Snake has been trying so long and so hard to get your attention.’

Silent for a minute, Morghan thought about this. She unwrapped her arms from her body. ‘You’re telling me,’ she said at last, ‘that when I dream of snakes, they’re actually what, trying to comfort me, or something?’

That seemed highly unlikely.

She could still feel her shock in the prickling of her skin.

‘Maybe comfort is the wrong word,’ Selena said. ‘Perhaps, remind is better.’

‘Remind me of what?’ Morghan rubbed her booted feet in the grass, seeing again for just a moment the lake she’d been standing beside in her short-lived vision.

If the snake hadn’t turned up out of the blue to spoil everything, she might still be there.

‘Of their presence. That they are a resource you could be making use of.’

‘Then they shouldn’t be so damned terrifying,’ Morghan retorted, the brief fire of indignation making her feel better. 

Selena shook her head. ‘You associated them with the stress that caused the dream, instead of seeing them as the answer to the tension.’

Morghan looked at Selena, dubious. ‘It’s a bit hard not to do that,’ she said, ‘when they only turn up when things are bad.’ She winced. ‘They don’t have legs.’ A pause. ‘It’s unnatural.’

Selena laughed. She put out a hand and gripped Morghan’s shoulder. ‘You will learn to love Snake,’ she said.

‘That seems highly unlikely,’ Morghan grumbled, but she drew herself straighter again, remembering what else had been part of the vision.

‘I was in this place that felt…’ She flailed around for the right word. ‘Comfortable,’ she said at last, but shook her head. That wasn’t quite right. ‘Familiar, I guess,’ she said. That was closer. ‘Like I’d been there before.’

She looked over at Selena. ‘Is that possible?’

Selena nodded, her smile widening. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘One of my lessons, once you started travelling, was going to be the conjuring of a place in the Wildwood that would be your own.’

‘But I didn’t conjure it,’ Morghan broke in to say. She spread her hands. ‘I just sort of went there, and it was already familiar to me, as though I’ve been there before.’

‘Perhaps you have, then,’ Selena said. ‘This isn’t your first lifetime following the Ancient Way, I’m sure.’

The shock the sight of the snake had brought seeped farther away, to be replaced by elation, a lightness that had Morghan feeling as though she was made suddenly of air.

‘That’s so brilliant!’ Morghan said, throwing her hands up and grinning. ‘I was just doing the dance steps, right? Doing like you say and trying to keep my mind clear and letting my spirit…’ She groped around for the right word. ‘Float, I guess. And suddenly, just like that, I was standing somewhere else.’

She shook her head in wonder, keeping away from the sight of the snake. ‘This was my…place…I went to? Do you think so?’

‘I do,’ Selena answered and felt a quiver of excitement. She’d known this would happen, just not when. ‘Tell me a little more.’

‘Right.’ Morghan gazed out over the trees, her heart suddenly full of gladness to be where she was, snake or no snake. Exactly where she was. This was what she’d always wanted. This excitement, this feeling – no, not just a feeling – this knowledge, that there was more to the world.

Selena would be wrong about Snake being her kin.

But this, this deepening, diligent practice, this exploration of parts of the world usually hidden – this she’d wanted since she was a kid. The dreamer of the family, her mother had called her. And she had been, Morghan knew that, but she’d dreamt of a world that was bigger than the one everyone was looking at, a world teeming with life that could be glimpsed behind everything else, if you looked hard enough.

Once, when she was small, she’d seen something. Her mother had seen it too, but she’d always denied it afterwards, scoffing and telling Morghan they’d only imagined it.

But Morghan knew she hadn’t imagined it. She’d been how old? Five or six? She’d made a blanket fort in the living room, and something small and swift had run across the room – she’d seen it pass the gap in the blankets that was the doorway.

It had been fast, but she’d still seen it. A tiny person, just like the gnomes in her book of fairy tales.

What was that? Her mother had asked the question, astonishment and confusion in her voice.

A fairy, Morghan had answered. A gnome.

Although she’d supposed it could have been a Brownie – didn’t they come more often into people’s houses? At least, so said her books.



Chapter 3


Morghan gazed at the trees that made up Wilde Grove and blew out a breath before nodding.

‘I was standing on a grassy bank above a river.’ She paused. ‘There were trees behind me. When I walked along the river a way, I came to a small lake.’

Selena nodded.

Morghan winced, frowning, and looked at Selena. ‘You don’t really think this huge snake was my kin, do you?’

Selena looked sympathetically over at Morghan. She could see how much of a shock meeting Snake had been.

‘I’m afraid I do,’ she said.

Selena thought for another moment. ‘This is very good news,’ she said.

‘Good news?’ Elation warred with apprehension. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I want to think so – but, a snake!’

‘Snake is a venerable companion to have when walking the worlds,’ Selena said. She spread her palms to the sun. ‘Snake is a healing force and knows the way both to wholeness and awakening.’ Now that they were no longer moving, she could feel the chill of the morning. The season was still young.

‘Snake will make an excellent guide through the paths of the Otherworld,’ Selena said, and she nodded, the knowledge sitting comfortably inside her although Morghan was the first she’d known personally who had walked with Snake by their side. Even so, she felt the prickling of her skin on her face, which was always the sign she took as confirmation, embodied within herself.

Morghan nodded, the bubble of excitement growing larger, despite the dismaying news that a great long snake might be her kin. She gazed about the lawn, her mind not on what she was seeing but darting back and forth between two places – the grounds of Hawthorn House where she stood in the early morning slant of sunlight, and the bank of a mysterious, wide river, where she had also – at the same time – stood completely conscious of her surroundings.

‘It’s not how I imagined,’ she said.

‘What’s not?’

‘Stepping into the Otherworld,’ Morghan said.

Selena waited patiently to hear what Morghan was thinking.

Morghan tipped her head to the side and stared up at the sky as she thought. A bird flew over, wings wide, beak hooked, silent. Morghan imagined for a moment its vastly different viewpoint of the world and nodded. There were so many ways to see.

‘Well,’ she said. ‘When I daydream about something – I’m always kind of on the outside of myself, watching myself do whatever, right?’ She looked at Selena, who nodded. ‘But when I stepped into the vision of myself standing on that riverbank, I was still inside myself, do you know what I mean?’

Selena did know. ‘It is different, yes. Learning to walk the worlds, to travel in spirit, is a change in consciousness, and you walk there as you do in the dreamworld – inside your body, or rather, inside the form of your body.’ She shrugged and laughed. ‘It’s so hard to explain these things! I never realised.’

‘When I daydream, I’m usually sort of watching myself do stuff,’ Morghan said. ‘But travelling is different, isn’t it? More like actually being there.’

‘But daydreaming, guided daydreaming, particularly, flexes your imagination and your vision, and makes it easier, so don’t dismiss it,’ Selena said.


The afternoon was spent as Morghan had spent them all since arriving in Wilde Grove – walking the land. Selena had tasked her with this from the first day, and it was no hardship whatsoever.

Morghan took the path that led to the stream, touching a tree here and there in greeting as she walked, making sure each breath she took was slow and measured, each step the same.

It was an exercise not just in getting to know the land on which she’d come to live, Morghan understood, but in becoming acquainted with each and every spirit that shared that small part of the world.

It was hard to keep her awareness out of her head. Morghan pressed a hand to her ribs, just under her breasts and let herself sink down out of her head and into her centre, relaxing outwards from there.

It was hard to hold herself like this for more than a few moments. Which was another reason Selena had her spending hours walking the land each day, Morghan knew. Strengthening her spirit so that it was limber and flexible was like exercising a muscle, always drawing her awareness into her centre whenever it inched back inside her head, there to run a commentary on every little thing.

Morghan managed it for bursts that were getting longer, and each time she did, the sensation of it was extraordinary, as though she could see everywhere and everything, as though her spirit was a great eye that could see behind her, beneath her, above her.

The world, Morghan thought, was so big. Why wasn’t everyone taught this? It was at least as useful as mathematics and probably a great deal more useful than some of the other things she’d learnt at school.

The thought made Morghan laugh, and she lost her grip on her spirit, the sensation of expansiveness and connection ripped away as though on a sharp wind.

The stream was her favourite place, she’d decided within a week of her arrival. She stood on the bank and looked across its width, frowning slightly as she thought about the riverbank from her vision that morning.

For a moment, Morghan turned and looked nervously behind her. Why did it have to be a snake, of all creatures? A snake, when she’d always been terrified of them.

Morghan wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to see it again. When she swallowed, her throat gave a dry click, and she was immediately annoyed with herself.

The snakes in her dreams, Selena said, had been trying to help her.

She frowned, straining to remember some of the dreams she had. Was Selena right? Morghan was uncertain. The dreams had always grown exponentially more terrifying once the snakes had turned up.

She felt queasy thinking about it and drew in a deep breath, letting it out with a groaning rush, trying to breathe out the tension as well.

It worked, to a certain extent.

Breathing was another thing that Selena had been teaching her. The importance of breath, of regulating herself with it. She tried that now, easing her breathing into a slow and regular rhythm while she turned her thoughts back to the snakes.

What had Selena said? 

That the snakes were a resource she could make use of? Morghan shook her head. Obviously, she needed to learn more about them.

She gazed out across the stream again, wanting to step back into her earlier vision and look across the river.

But if she did that, the snake might come back again.

Morghan chewed on her lip, frowning as she thought it through.

If she didn’t do it, if she never stepped foot in the Wildwood again, then she may as well go pack her suitcases and head back to life at home and what? Packed off to university, she guessed. And what would she study there? All the last year at school, she’d pretended that was her plan, to go to university, study astronomy.

There was no question of what to do, really, she decided.

 But how to go back there, to the riverbank? Run through the dance exercises again?

Morghan shook her head slightly. She could make that short step without doing that, couldn’t she?

This was what she and Selena had been working on over the weeks since Morghan had arrived. Flexing the spirit, Selena called it, and it was the foundation necessary to be able to walk the worlds, and to see everything as it really was.

Morghan thought she actually had a pretty good knack for it, despite the fact that she couldn’t yet hold it for very long.

But what if she did see the snake again?

The thought made Morghan falter, but then she straightened, pushed her shoulders back and determined that she would live through it. That because it likely could not be helped, it must be borne, and learnt from.

She stood on the bank of the stream and let herself relax into that peculiar but pleasant state once more. Her awareness sank down into her body, so that she could feel the weight of her limbs, the sun upon her shoulders, the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed slowly, deeply.

Around her, everything gradually brightened. The trees sighed in the breeze, which seemed to have a voice, a song, and the stream itself gurgled and trilled in what Morghan thought might be a song that one day perhaps she could make out the words to.

The light rippled and danced upon the water.

Morghan lifted her eyes, letting her spirit expand out from her skin now, so that it floated around her, so that she felt a new kinship with the world, with the trees, the soil, the water.

She looked across the stream, but it wasn’t the stream she saw, or the familiar bank on the other side.

It had happened, she thought, excitement lifting her onto her toes. She’d done it. Quickly, she steadied and deepened her breathing again.

She was in the same place as she’d found herself that morning. There was the wide river, whose water flowed into a lake – a lake she would see, if she turned and walked through the trees behind her.

She was alone, and Morghan wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved. She turned slowly and looked around at the place where she stood.

It was stony, where the land went down to the waterside, but where Morghan stood was springy with grass and moss. Trees rose straight and tall, holding between them a secret dimness that somehow seemed warm and soft, inviting Morghan to step into it.

Within the trees was a clearing, and Morghan looked around in delight. She tilted her head and gazed up at the sunlight that streamed through the tree’s canopy, bathing the dust in gold, turning her own skin a burnished bronze when she held up her hands to look at them. Morghan took a deep breath and smelled tree and soil and light, and she let her hands fall, and closed her eyes as she tasted the air.

A rustling in the undergrowth, and Morghan spun around to pinpoint where the sound had come from. Her heart pounded as she remembered the snake, her mind going white for a moment, only static playing upon her vision.

She shook her head to clear it. No, she told herself. The snake was kin. A friend.

Selena had said so. Had said that Snake had long been trying to help her.

The rustling continued, and Morghan swallowed, her throat making that dry, clicking sound again, and she closed her eyes, squeezed them shut for a long breath, then opened them and stared at the huge, thick snake that looked back at her from black eyes in a wide, flat head.

‘No,’ Morghan said, unable to help herself and she took a step backwards, her breath coming quicker, her mind stuttering in the quick flare of fear. Her feet scuffed in the grass and leaves, turning her, trying to move, to run. 

But the snake was fast, too fast, and it rushed at her before she could take another step, before she could flee back into the ordinary world, and in a great, horrifying moment its mouth was opened wide and that was all she could see, its gaping mouth, the thin, forked tongue, the sharp fanged teeth ready to bite, to sink in, as it reared up in front of her.

The snake swallowed her.

Then, Morghan was inside the snake, trapped in its long, legless body and she struggled against it, tried to fling herself free, feeling her heart beating wildly, and then in another breath, in a piece of magic, she was the snake, and the snake was her, and all she had of herself was her mind overlaying the snake’s, and all the rest of her was long, sinuous, and fast.

They turned, and slithered between the trees, swift, low to the ground so that they went under the leaves of ferns, under the fallen logs, around the roots of the trees, and Snake was so fast, so swift on his belly, that all Morghan could do was watch wide-eyed through Snake’s eyes.

Morghan’s fear slowed, dimmed, and turned finally into a disconcerted wonder. She stopped screaming inside her mind and marvelled instead. How alien to herself she felt, how low to the ground, and how determined Snake was, wrapped around her, part of her and yet still himself as well. 

She’d never been this flat on the forest floor before and Morghan looked through Snake’s eyes, startled. How differently things looked from this vantage point. It was yet another world altogether.