Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy


Gorgrael listened … and liked. It was a good plan, but better than that, it was a tricky plan. Timozel would do well, yes, indeed he would.

8 Spiredore (#ulink_12bc7898-59f2-5497-9058-f0644ad88d2f)

On the fourth day after she and Axis had discussed Faraday’s safety, Azhure finally found herself with enough energy and free time to visit Spiredore. She had not been back to the tower across the Grail Lake since that dreadful morning when the Gryphon had attacked her and Caelum on its roof. But Azhure knew she would have to go back. She needed to speak to WolfStar, and she hoped he would appear to her in Spiredore again as he had two weeks ago. She also hoped she could learn more about the magic of Spiredore.

Azhure had been amazed to discover that Axis and StarDrifter, as every other Icarii Enchanter who entered the tower between the time it was reawoken and the time it was given to her, only saw a hollow shell with a plain staircase creeping about its walls to the roof. No-one else had seen the crazy assemblage of balconies and intertwining stairs that she and Caelum had seen. Does Spiredore choose who will see its secrets? Azhure wondered as she sat in the bow of the small boat that Arne rowed for her.

“My Lady, are you well enough for this expedition?” Arne asked, barely out of breath despite his efforts. He was not sure if Axis knew what Azhure was doing and wondered if he should have told him. But Azhure was a grown woman and did not need Axis’ permission for her actions. Arne’s only real doubt was that Azhure looked so pale and thin despite her pregnancy that she might fall and injure herself inside the tower.

“I am well enough,” Azhure said, her irritation at the question stilled by the genuine concern she knew lay behind it. “And besides, you do all the work.”

“But you will be alone within the tower, my Lady.”

Azhure bent down to pat the head of the great pale hound that rested in the belly of the boat. “I have Sicarius to watch over me, Arne. Should I suffer any mishap he will fetch help.”

Arne nodded, satisfied.

When they docked at the small pier by Spiredore, Arne helped Azhure disembark. Then he sat to wait, watching as the white door closed behind Azhure and her hound.

The interior was exactly as Azhure remembered it. Now that sunlight suffused the atrium from windows set high overhead, she could see every detail of the stairwells and balconies that swirled to dizzying heights above her. Rooms, chambers, open spaces, all opened off balconies none of which were level with their neighbours. Again Azhure was struck by the beauty created by this chaos; she was sure there were secrets and mysteries within the rooms and stairwells that spiralled above her. Spiredore was alive with magic, and it was hers to discover as she willed.

For almost an hour Azhure wandered the ground-floor rooms, unwilling to climb any of the stairs lest she become lost and disorientated. She had expected that once she was inside the tower WolfStar would appear as quickly and as mysteriously as he had that last time – but the rooms remained stubbornly empty and the stairwells disappointingly silent.

Finally, tired and dispirited, Azhure sank down onto the bare floor of one of the chambers.

Sicarius whined and pressed his head into her hands.

“Well, my fine fellow,” Azhure said as she scratched the hound behind the ears. “Did WolfStar ever bring you here? Do you know how to find your former master?”

But the Alaunt remained as obstinately silent as Spiredore itself and Azhure sighed. Perhaps she should have brought Caelum. Perhaps the only reason WolfStar had come to her before was to see his grandson. But even as she thought this, Azhure realised WolfStar’s interest in Caelum that night had been only tangential; his real focus had been her.

Azhure shifted her weight, uncomfortable on the hard floor, and thought that the answer must lie within her somewhere. Hadn’t WolfStar told her that the tower had been built just for her? Well, here the tower stood, but the builders had forgotten to give her the key.

“Stop it, woman!” she said to herself, annoyed at her negative thoughts. WolfStar had also told her how to use this tower, hadn’t he? Her brow creased as she tried to remember his exact words. So much had happened since that meeting to crowd out the memory of her conversation with him … so much … but just as Azhure thought she had indeed lost the memory forever WolfStar’s words suddenly echoed around the chamber.

It is very simple. If you wander willy-nilly in Spiredore you will, as you thought, get completely lost. You must decide where you want to go before you start to climb the stairs, and then the stairs will take you to that place.

“Of course!” Azhure laughed, and struggled to her feet. “Of course! Thank you!” She patted the wall she had been resting against, then she walked as fast as she could back to the atrium and stared at the nearest staircase. Before she tested WolfStar’s advice she leaned down to the hound. “Sicarius, should I become lost or disorientated in the stairs and chambers above, do you think you can understand enough of the magic of Spiredore to see me safely back to the door?”

The Alaunt gave a short, sharp bark in reply, and Azhure smiled. “Good. Well, Sicarius, shall we go see your former master?”

Azhure placed one hand firmly on the stair rail and with the other gathered up the skirts of the loose lavender gown she wore. She pictured WolfStar in her mind, the beautiful and powerful face, the copper curls, the golden wings.

“Take me to WolfStar SunSoar,” she said, and began to climb.

With his power and experience, WolfStar felt Azhure move through the maze that was Spiredore, heard her call his name. He smiled in surprise, yet with deep pride, at her grasp of Spiredore’s power. Nevertheless, WolfStar knew that it would be a disaster if she came to him in his present location, so he moved quickly to meet his daughter before she transferred out of Spiredore.

Azhure was finding the climb difficult and, as she grew more and more breathless, she wondered if she had understood WolfStar’s words correctly. Surely even her climb to the rooftop had not taken her this long?

Beside her Sicarius climbed easily, his paws silent on the wooden treads.

“Stars, Sicarius,” Azhure panted, pausing and resting her head on the railing. “I do not think even WolfStar is worth all this trouble.”

“Then I am sorry for the effort I have caused you,” a rich voice said above her, and Azhure started so violently she would have fallen had not WolfStar reached down a hand and steadied her.

“Come,” he said, smiling, “there is a comfortable chamber just above. Two or three more steps and we are there.”

Azhure blinked and looked past WolfStar. She could have sworn that before she had rested her head the stairway spiralled up into infinity, but now it ended in a landing not two or three steps ahead. Beyond this the door to a chamber stood invitingly open.

“Come,” her father repeated, and Azhure let him lead her into the chamber. She sank down into a comfortable couch, richly embroidered and cushioned, and WolfStar, after patting and murmuring to the hound, walked to the window to stare over the Grail Lake towards Carlon while Azhure caught her breath.

She studied him curiously. He was as beautiful as she remembered, and she wondered why she had inherited none of his colouring or his Icarii bone structure.

“You know that I am your father?” WolfStar asked as he turned back into the chamber.

Azhure remembered their kiss, but she felt no shame. “I know that you are WolfStar SunSoar, come back through the Star Gate, and I know that you are my father. I know my mother’s name was Niah, and that she was a Priestess in the Temple of the Stars.” Azhure’s voice became harsher as bitter resentments bubbled to the surface. “I know you got Niah pregnant and then abandoned her to her death. I know you thought so little of me that you let me linger under the appalling care of Hagen. I know you murdered MorningStar.”

WolfStar stepped into the centre of the room, his face tight with anger.

Azhure, angry herself, ignored the danger. “And I know that you are the Traitor who will betray Axis to Gorgrael – you probably already have.”

“You know nothing! You have guessed my identity, and you have surmised that I came back through the Star Gate. You realise that I am your father, but the rest … bah!”

Azhure held his stare. She had not meant to accuse him so quickly, but she was tired and she was heartsick and here was the birdman who was at the root of all their problems. Did he think that she would fall into his arms weeping for joy once she had gleaned his identity?

“Then tell me why it is,” she said, “that Niah and I were left to fend for ourselves. Niah died horribly, WolfStar – but perhaps you don’t care about that – and I suffered many long years, lost, alone, despairing. Tell me why I should not accuse you?”

His eyes softened. “There are so many things that I cannot yet speak of, Azhure, and Niah’s death and your life in Smyrton is one of them.”

She turned her face away from him, tears of anger springing to her eyes.

“Azhure,” he said, and she felt him sit down by her side. “You are my daughter and I think you know that I love you.” He picked up her hand. “I did not willingly abandon either of you to … oh! By the Light of the Stars, Azhure! What is this you wear?”

His voice sounded tortured, and Azhure whipped her head about. WolfStar was staring at the ring on her finger, and he was trembling so badly that Azhure’s arm also shook.

“WolfStar?”

“What is that you wear?” he whispered, his face colourless. He raised his great violet eyes to her own.

“It is the ring of the Enchantress, or so I am told. WolfStar? Why do you tremble so?”

“The Enchantress’ ring,” he said, his voice still soft. “I thought never to see this again. Azhure, how did you get this?”

His distress was catching, and Azhure had to lick her suddenly dry lips before continuing.

“Axis gave it to me. He was given it by the Ferryman, Orr.” In the past days Axis had told her much of what had happened to him in the waterways. “And Orr said that –”

“That I gave it to him.”