Born out of sorrow in an ancient time of blood and war, Rain is a girl marked by destiny. Her mother, Alina, is the proud queen of a tribe of female warriors, yet she refuses to touch or even look at her only daughter. So Rain draws on the strength and knowledge of her Amazon sisters to learn the ways of her people: how to carve spoons out of bones, ride her white horse as fiercely as a demon, and shoot an arrow straight into the heart of an enemy.
Determined to win her mother’s love and take her rightful place as the next queen, Rain becomes a brave and determined fighter. But the dream of a black horse clouds her future, portending death. As one devastating battle follows the next, Rain hopes for a different life for her tribe beyond never-ending bloodshed. Peace, mercy, and love, however, are forbidden words in her language—can Rain teach her sisters to speak in a new tongue before it’s too late?
Inspired by Greek legends and recent archaeological discoveries in Russia and Ukraine, The Foretelling is a breathtaking achievement from the bestselling author of The Dovekeepers.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:March 16, 1952
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
Read an Excerpt
By Alice Hoffman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Alice Hoffman
All rights reserved.
In the Time of
I was born out of sorrow, so my mother named me Rain.
Ours was a time of blood, when the sky reached on forever, when one horse became a hundred and then a thousand, when we wore our hair in long black braids and rode as warriors. Everything we had was given to us by the goddess, and everything we lost was taken away by her.
We lived in the time of fortune, in a world of only women. We were warriors from the very beginning, before we were born. There was no battle we could not win. We were strong, the strength of a thousand sisters. And we had something no one else had. Something that caused terror in our enemies when we came across the steppes. Something no one in the man's world had yet managed to do.
We rode horses.
It was said my great-grandmother the Queen had found a white mare in the snow and that she lay down beside this wild creature to warm herself and keep herself alive. My great-grandmother whispered certain words in the mare's ear that no man would ever think of saying. Ours was a country of snow for half the year, of ice and wind and the steppes that led to the Black Sea. By the time the ice had melted, my great-grandmother had made the first bridle out of her leather belt and the snow mare let herself be ridden. A horse and a Queen had become sisters; when they raced across the steppes they were two hearts pounding with a single thought in mind.
Horses were everything to us. Our goddess, our sisters, our sustenance. Alive, they were our way to win battles; four legs against men's two. Even when our horses' lives were gone they were our tents, our clothes, our boots, our food, our traveling companions to the next world. Our children were raised on mares' milk. It made us wild and quick and unafraid. It gave us the ability to speak the language of horses.
A language men had yet to learn.
In the time of our people we lived without men, as we always had. Men were our enemies, a distant, bitter land that came to try to defeat us, again and again. They called us Amazonia. They cursed us and our grandmothers. In their stories they vowed that we were demons, that our skins were blue, that we ate men for breakfast and had bewitched the entire race of horses to become not our sisters but our slaves. They wanted all that we had — our land, our cities, our horses, our lives. They thought women should be worthless, wives and slaves like their own kind.
We were too strong ever to be worthless. We gave in to no one, not the tribes from the eastlands, or the city of stones to the west, not the wild northern men from the ice mountains, not the wanderers who came from everywhere, searching for new kingdoms formed from our age-old land. They all dreamed the same thing: Our land would be named after their foolish kings. Our women would belong to them, walking behind them, in the dust.
But they couldn't defeat us.
They came to destroy us, but in the end they always ran from us in fear, thinking we were fiends — half-woman, half-horse, with the courage of both.
Blood made us stronger, and our fallen came back to us in our dreams and helped us in battle. Our Queen, Alina, was a gift from the goddess, beloved by all, but as unreachable as the stars, especially when it came to me, her own daughter. She was as cold to me as the white stones in the river, as distant as our winter country, far beyond the steppes. Deborah, our high priestess who could see the future and who knew the past, told me what had happened to my mother. Why she was so indifferent; why she'd never asked to see me, just the two of us, mother and daughter, so she could braid my hair, or tell me a story of the world and wars she'd seen.
Her story was not one she wanted to tell.
Some stories are born out of misery and ashes and blood and terror. Tell one of those and your mouth may blister. Your dreams may be turned inside out.
But the priestess whispered my mother's story to me with the voice of a raven, low and raspy with the knowledge of hardship and pain. Our enemy had trapped Alina when she was just a girl. Maybe they could tell she was to be our Queen, as her mother and grandmother had been, as I would be when my time came. Fifty men against a single one of our warriors, a warrior who happened to be a thirteen-year-old girl, my mother, Alina.
They knew how to be cowards. That's what the priestess said. One of them was my father, and Deborah told me that whatever strength all fifty had was now mine. I had stolen it from them, and it rightfully belonged to me along with my yellow eyes. I was stronger than all fifty of those dishonorable men, the enemies who thought my mother would die when they were done with her, who left her on the steppes at the time when the ground was mud and there was the buzzing of flies and the wheat and grass grew tall.
After she was found, my mother was bathed in a cauldron of mares' milk, then given the bark of the laurel tree to chew for the pain of being violated and, more, for the gift of prophecy. Was it any wonder she didn't want to look into the future any more than she wanted to be reminded of the past? My mother wasn't interested in prophecies, or in any future that might be. She spat out the laurel. It was the here and now she claimed for herself. Alina was like a piece of ice in the sunlight, blinding and bright and unforgiving. Our people say the shadow is one of our souls, and my mother's shadow disappeared on the day she was violated. It shattered into black shards, then rose up like smoke. All that was left was the iron inside her; only the hardest part remained.
People told me that when I was born my mother kept her eyes closed; even then she would not cry out, though my birth was said to be difficult, with too much labor and too much blood. Nearly the end of her, it was rumored.
No wonder the Queen was cold. No wonder her hair was so black the ravens were jealous.
No wonder she looked away whenever I passed by.
My own mother whose blood ran through me, whom I was to follow onto a throne of bones and river rocks, never once touched me.
That was how I came to believe I was only sorrow, only rain, and that there was nothing more inside me.
But there was a voice beyond my mother's silence.
I was raised by Deborah and the other priestesses, the sacred prophecy women who wore black robes dyed with hazel. The songs that were my lullabies were Deborah's songs, and each one told me I was fit to be the Queen. My first taste of the world, even before mares' milk, was the taste of the laurel; that's what the old women put in my mouth as soon as I was born, before anything else. Unlike my mother, I swallowed it; I let the laurel grow inside me. The green and bitter taste of prophecy. In time it would be mine.
The priestesses had trained Alina to be our Queen, and now they were training me, the next in line, the girl who would be Queen of a thousand sisters, Queen of a thousand queens. Because Deborah was the oldest and wisest of all, she taught me most of what I knew — how to sew with thread made of horsehair, how to carve spoons out of bones, how to make tea out of the hemp plants and dye clothes with crimson berries and black nutshells. But she also taught me the thing there are no words for.
She believed in me. Not as sorrow. Not as shame.
Deborah took me away so none of the other prophecy women would hear, not even her blood-daughter, Greeya. Deborah had a secret, one to share with me alone. When we were in the place where the wind was so strong it rattled the core of my bones, she whispered that because I was not one but fifty, in time my strength would grow in ways no one could imagine. I would be a warrior like no other. She told me that in spite of my past and my terrible beginnings, I alone could lead our people.
One day I would open my eyes and I would have a vision no one else could see: a sign of what the future might bring.
The warriors closest to my mother, Asteria and Astella, trained me to be their sister-at-arms. Before long I could shoot an arrow nearly as straight and as far as they could. Those two were fearless, with faces painted ochre. They were cousins, but nothing alike, except for their bravery and their silence.
Astella had long black hair plaited into a hundred braids. Asteria had used a dull iron knife to shave the hair from her head; all that her enemies could see when she approached was the blue tattoo on her skull — the image of a bear, the highest mark of courage in battle. Though Asteria and Astella were kind to me, their greatness and their silence frightened me.
Some of the stories told about our people were true. Some cut off their breasts with a hot metal scepter, and they didn't once cry out with pain. But that was only true of those who were archers of the first degree, women like Asteria and Astella who belonged to the goddess completely. The bravest of all.
I felt more comfortable with my mother's sister, Cybelle, the keeper of the bees. She hummed like the bees do; she sang to them with such a sweet voice they followed her through the steppes, past the grasslands, into the houses she made for them.
Bees were the other gift no men had yet been granted, along with horses. Of course, you cannot tame bees the way you can horses; they were not our sisters in that way. But you can live alongside them, Queen to Queen, warrior to warrior. You can learn from their sisterhood: how they follow their Queen no matter what, how battle is nothing to them, how they enter into it freely and fight to the death.
Six women made a vow to follow Cybelle; each one had a sweeter voice than the next and each one smelled like clover. The bee women plaited their hair in a single braid, like Cybelle; they coated their hair with the richest honey, so the bees circled round them, dizzy from the scent. These women knew how to hollow out fallen logs so there would be a place for the bees to make their houses, and how to use smoke to clear out those houses when need be, just long enough to take the honey. Not all of it, of course. There was enough for us all. The bees were our neighbors, good neighbors, better than most. We cared for them, and they for us.
If only it had been that way with all our neighbors.
We were warriors because we had to be; the world we lived in was a battlefield. In truth, everything of importance that I knew about being a leader I learned from my mother, the woman without a shadow. It was not that she instructed me — she who would not speak to me or look at me — but that I studied her from afar. When my mother rose up from the steppes where they'd left her for dead she arose as something new. She had no pity and no regret. She cut through her enemies as though they were wheat and nothing more.
On the wood and leather quiver in which my mother kept her bronze-tipped arrows, there were forty-eight small red half moons, marks for the men she'd killed in battle. They weren't the fifty cowards from the time before my birth, but they would do. As a child I saw her in battle only once, when men from the other side of the Black Sea attacked us while we slept. The children were woken and herded together, but I saw Alina and her warriors run for their horses. I understood then why my mother was our Queen. She was like a whirlwind I could not keep sight of: She rode crouched low on her horse, as though they were one, skin-to-skin sisters.
All the while the Queen raced across the steppe her scythe was directed at the enemy; it was as though in exchange for her lost shadow she had been granted the power to guide her horse not with touch but with a single thought, as my great-grandmother had done. This was the power of a true warrior. Her mind. Her will.
On her hands, my mother wore a pair of lions' claws my grandmother had given her. In battle, she was terrible. A lion with long black hair. Some people said the men she fought were hypnotized by her. They dropped to their knees when they saw her. She appeared to them as a monster who was beautiful beyond belief. How could they fight her? What could they do?
Our enemies ran from her and scattered like leaves, red leaves, fallen leaves.
I thought that was what a true leader was, fierce and victorious, as my grandmother had been and my great-grandmother and now my beautiful and brutal mother. I thought what the world we were living in was, it always would be. I didn't understand that one season was quickly devoured by the next, leaving behind bones and memories. I was watching that happen, the way I watched the clouds move past us, high above our people.
We lived in a time of sorrow and blood, the time of Queens and cruelty, where every man was our enemy, and every horse lost in battle could mean a warrior's life.
Wave after wave of our enemies came. More all the time. They wanted open land like ours. We had so much of it the earth stretched from summer to winter, from the parched yellow lands to the mountains. Time after time we defended ourselves. Blood, heart, bones were strewn across the steppes. There for the birds to pick at. There to sink into the yellow earth. We didn't think whether we were wrong or right to live the way we did, or whether there was another way. We didn't mourn the men whose spirits we took. It was the time of fighting well or dying instead.
When I heard Astella and Asteria's war cries, I shivered. I did not feel like a coward, but I felt different from the women who charged out onto the steppes, their scythes and bows raised, courage their only shield.
One day Astella came back from the battle with her face cleaved nearly in two; the mark of an enemy's axe that would scar her forevermore. She had to be carried to her tent, and watched over through the nights. When she recovered she would no longer walk by the river lest she see herself. She who was afraid of nothing was now reminded of true terror by a single mark of war, a war that never seemed to end, that came to us as surely as the fat white moon.
Even when I was too young to go to war, I understood what it meant: Some of our sisters never returned. At night, their ghosts wandered the steppes, so cold in winter their bones rattled, so parched in summer their shadows burned to ash in the tall yellow grass. Could there be a reason for so much death, one only a Queen or a prophecy woman could understand?
Someday I would be Queen. It was my destiny. But I could not wait for an answer. My head was filled with the fallen. Especially when the rain fell, they seemed to be by my side.
I went to Deborah, the wisest of all. We walked to the windy place that made me feel hollow inside. It was far out in the grasslands, a place that seemed made at the beginning of all things. The goddess was everywhere around us. I felt tiny under the huge sky above us. I could see the shadows of the warriors we had lost in the yellow dust.
I could not yet see the future, but I wanted knowledge poured into me. I wanted my questions answered. I asked why our people had to give their lives in battle. Why the goddess didn't protect us from such a fate. Deborah whispered so that no one else could hear. Her voice sounded like the voice of the raven, difficult to understand, yet perfectly clear.
We are only an instant, that's true. But we are eternal.CHAPTER 2
In the Dreams of
In the dreams of our people there was always a horse.
As infants we rode in the arms of the women who raised us. Our first lullabies were made out of women's voices and of horses, bone and hide and hair. The echo of a thousand hooves on the yellow earth, hot breath that melted the snow, manes that were our blankets, the wind that sang us to sleep as we galloped, flying over rocks and grasslands and streams.
In every dream I'd ever had there was a black horse, the same one, every time. He was far away, past the grasslands, in the tall mountains we had to cross to reach our winter campground. He was so distant, yet I could see him clearly: storm cloud — colored, onyx-colored.
In dreams I could not catch the black horse, no matter how I might try. Some mornings I woke from sleep, breathless, my legs aching as though I had run all the way to the sea. When I opened my eyes all I could see were the prophecy women, dressed in their dark robes, breathing softly, like horses, sleeping beneath their horsehide blankets.
As the next leader in battle, I needed to learn every skill, from weaving to throwing an axe. To understand is to command, that's what Deborah had told me. That's what she had told my mother when Alina was a girl.
Excerpted from The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman. Copyright © 2005 Alice Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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