Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

Axis had belatedly realised how much time had elapsed since his defeat of Borneheld, and he was in the process of organising a force to speed northwards to bolster the defences of Jervois Landing. Every hour brought them closer to autumn and Gorgrael’s inevitable attack.

StarDrifter sat up, as concerned as Axis was with Azhure’s condition. Faraday had obviously healed her back (and how much more desirable the woman was with her back clean and smooth and aching to be stroked, StarDrifter thought), but Azhure remained very weak from both the physical and emotional battering she had been forced to endure four days ago. Neither Axis nor StarDrifter was prepared to argue with Faraday’s prediction that Azhure would have to rest until the birth of her children.

And yet how desperately I will need her against Gorgrael, Axis thought. How desperately I need her skill with both bow and command, her Alaunt, and her power. I can ill afford to lose her to a drawn-out recovery over the next few months. But how much less can I afford to lose her to inevitable death should I push her too hard now? Axis was still trying to come to terms with his guilt, not only over the events of a few days ago, but also over the fact that, unknown to him, Azhure had fought through the dreadful Battle of Bedwyr Fort while encumbered with such a difficult pregnancy. His hand tightened about hers as he realised his good fortune that Azhure had managed to survive the past weeks at all.

“Please,” Azhure said. “One more time.” She raised her free hand to brush some strands of hair from her forehead, and the Enchantress’ ring glittered in the golden light of late afternoon.

Today was the first time Axis and StarDrifter had tried to teach Azhure the use of her Icarii power – but all in the room had been disheartened with the results, including Caelum who, wide-eyed, had watched the proceedings from his corner.

StarDrifter moved to a stool close to Azhure’s side, remembering, in comparison, how easy he and MorningStar had found Axis to train. Azhure’s father, WolfStar, must not have spent the time or the trouble training her as he had the young Axis. She had been completely ignored by WolfStar, and StarDrifter smouldered with anger thinking how WolfStar had abandoned Azhure to her awful fate in Smyrton.

As StarDrifter and MorningStar had once done for him, Axis now cupped Azhure’s face gently in his hands.

“Hear the Star Dance,” he said.

“Yes,” she replied, barely audible.

At least hearing the Star Dance had been as easy for Azhure as it had for Axis – but then she had been hearing it for some time without being aware of what it actually was. Every time Axis had made love to her she’d heard it; sometimes when she had suckled Caelum; sometimes when she stood at an open window and let the wind rush about her; oftentimes at night when she dreamed of distant shorelines and the tug of strange tides at rocks and sand.

But Azhure also heard the Dark Music, the Dance of Death, the music renegade stars made when they left their assigned courses. Neither Axis nor StarDrifter, nor any other Icarii Enchanter, could routinely hear that music, although they recognised it if it was wielded by someone else. StarDrifter had heard its echo in the Chamber of the Moons the night Axis had battled Borneheld. Axis had witnessed two of the SkraeBolds use it at the gates of Gorkentown, and both he and StarDrifter recognised its presence the morning Azhure had used Dark Music to tear the Gryphon apart atop Spiredore.

Now Azhure put the ghastly discordant sounds of the Dark Music to the back of her mind and concentrated on the supremely beautiful Star Dance. All Icarii Enchanters wielded the power of the Star Dance by weaving fragments of its power into more manageable melodies, Songs, each with their own specific purpose.

Axis and StarDrifter had been trying to teach Azhure one or two of the more simple Songs. Songs so simple that all Icarii training as Enchanters mastered them within an hour or two. But they had been trying to teach Azhure for almost five hours now, and she had failed to grasp a single phrase.

Azhure closed her eyes and concentrated on the Song that Axis sang slowly for her. It was a Song for Drying Clothes, a ridiculously easy song requiring only the tiniest manipulation of power, yet it seemed totally beyond her ability.

Axis finished, and both he and StarDrifter held their breath.

Relax, beloved. It is a simple Song. Sing it for me.

Azhure sighed and began to sing. Axis and StarDrifter winced. Her voice was harsh, utterly toneless, and completely lacking any of the musical beauty that had, until now, come instinctively to any of Icarii blood, whether they were Enchanters or not.

Axis remembered how Azhure had tried to join in the songs about the campfire on their trip down through the Icescarp Alps for the Beltide festivities. Then her voice had also been as completely toneless, as gratingly harsh, but Axis had felt sure that now that the block concealing Azhure’s true identity and power had been removed her musical ability would naturally surface.

But apparently that was not to be. If Azhure had any power at all then obviously she would be unable to use the conduit of Song to manipulate it.

Unnoticed, Caelum tottered on unsteady baby legs to his parents’ couch.

“Mama,” he said, startling the other three. “Simple. See?”

And he hummed the Song for Drying Clothes as beautifully as Axis had.

Azhure opened her eyes, stared at her son, and burst into tears.

Axis glared the boy into silence and gathered Azhure into his arms. “Shush, sweetheart. I’m sure that –”

“No!” Azhure cried. “It’s hopeless. I’ll never be able to learn.”

“Axis,” StarDrifter said gently. “Perhaps the trouble is that, while Azhure is of SunSoar blood, the blood link is too far removed from either of us for us to be able to teach her.”

The gift and powers of the Icarii Enchanters were passed on only through blood, from parent to child, and Enchanters could be trained only by one of their own House, or family, and usually only by someone of close blood relation. Normally it was a parent who trained a new Enchanter, although someone else of close blood link within the family could also assist. Thus Axis’ grandmother, MorningStar, had been able to assist her son StarDrifter teach his son, Axis.

But WolfStar came from a generation of SunSoars four thousand years old. He had died, been entombed, walked through the Star Gate, and had then come back for purposes that neither Axis nor StarDrifter could yet fathom.

Axis stared at his father, then looked at his wife. “Azhure, StarDrifter could be right.”

Azhure sat back. “Yet WolfStar could train both you and Gorgrael, Axis. You are as far removed from him in blood as I am from you.”

“None of us knows how powerful WolfStar has become,” StarDrifter said. “He obviously has the power to use whatever blood link there is, while neither Axis nor I can do that.”

“Then perhaps Caelum can train me,” Azhure said. “See how easily he has learned the Song for Drying Clothes!” Oh, how much it stung that she could not learn even a ridiculously mundane Song while a child less than a year old could do so! “And he is as closely blood linked to me as WolfStar.”

Surprised, for he had never thought of such a thing, Axis raised his eyebrows at StarDrifter in silent query. A child teach a parent? It had never been done before – but then never before had an Icarii Enchanter come to his or her powers after they had fathered or birthed a child.

Neither Axis nor StarDrifter liked the thought – a largely untrained child could do enormous damage to an equally untrained parent, but what harm could the Song for Drying Clothes cause? At most, it could cause a warm breeze to fill the room. And if Caelum could teach Azhure, then it would be best to find out now.

StarDrifter caught Axis’ thoughts and nodded slightly.

Axis turned his gaze to his son, still cross at him for showing off in front of his mother. Even Caelum at his tender age should have had more sensitivity.

Well Caelum, would you like to try?

It was a thought that all in the room caught. The ability to hear and, eventually, speak with the mind voice was one of the earliest powers Azhure had demonstrated, and it was a skill she developed day by day. At least she had that much.

The child nodded soberly, ashamed for the hurt he had caused his mother.

Axis picked the baby up and sat him on his knee. The child reached out his chubby hands and Azhure, after a slight hesitation, took them in her own.

Again they went through the routine, Caelum using his mind voice to talk to Azhure – for it was easier for him than his still cumbersome tongue. Azhure closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could, and yet, when he had finished singing and it was her turn, all that issued forth from her mouth were such discordant notes that the three Enchanters’ faces sank.

“Useless,” Azhure said, and turned away from the others so they would not see her tears.

“Azhure,” StarDrifter said. “No-one knows how changed WolfStar was when he came back through the Star Gate. How his power was altered by his experiences beyond the Star Gate. It is more than conceivable that WolfStar has bequeathed you power through his blood that is different to any the Icarii have known previously. So different that you cannot be trained through traditional methods. You cannot even use your power in the traditional way. Axis –” His voice firmed. “Azhure obviously has power, we both witnessed her tear that Gryphon apart.”

Axis nodded, and even Azhure wiped her eyes and stared at StarDrifter.

“We witnessed Azhure use power, Dark Music, to destroy the Gryphon that threatened her and Caelum, but we did not hear her sing!”

“Stars!” Axis said, shocked he hadn’t remembered that himself.

StarDrifter suddenly laughed, his beautiful face joyous, and he deposited Caelum on the floor and seized Azhure’s hands in his own. “Azhure! You have power, magnificent power, but it is so different to what any of us have experienced before that we do not know how to teach you. We probably can’t teach you, anyway.”

Azhure smiled as she absorbed what StarDrifter was saying. “Then what use is such magnificent power, StarDrifter, if the only time I can use it is when I am attacked by a Gryphon?”

Despite the concern evident in her words, Azhure’s voice was more relaxed now and her tone lighter.

“Azhure,” Axis said. “There are many reasons why you may be finding it so difficult to use your powers. StarDrifter has perhaps discovered the main one. But also you effectively blocked out your power for so many years that I am not surprised you find it almost impossible to call it willingly to you now.”