Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy


“Where?” FarSight inquired politely, but with a discernible edge to his voice.

“North!” snapped Axis. “And exactly where north above the Western Ranges I will rely on your farflight scouts to tell me!”

Later that day, Axis and Azhure stood by the open windows of the Indigo Chamber, the chamber they used as their sleeping apartment. The sun had set many hours ago, but moonlight sparkled across Grail Lake and a soft breeze blew in their faces.

Together with the rest of the commanders they had spent the afternoon and early evening completing the plans to move Axis’ army north. Military preparations were already well under way, and in the morning the extended supply column would head for the Western Ranges. Within a day at the most, the ground force would begin their long trek north. A day after that the bulk of the Strike Force would follow; several Wings were to be left in Carlon as a protection force and to assist the Icarii in their move south.

“I will soon be gone,” Axis said.

Azhure sighed. “My squads of archers will work well under Ho’Demi’s command, Axis. They have trained extensively with the Ravensbund archers these past months, and I trust Ho’Demi more than any other to use them well.”

Axis nodded. “Well, you will not lack for company while I am gone. Both Rivkah and Ysgryff can assist you.”

Although Ysgryff was a valued commander Axis did not want to risk every commander he had in the ride north. Besides, Ysgryff could make himself just as useful here.

Now Azhure laughed and Axis frowned at her, puzzled.

“I was just thinking, Axis, here I am being left in charge of a realm when … what – some two years ago – I was but the daughter of the Plough-Keeper of an isolated Skarabost village.”

Axis smiled too. Once Azhure had worried that, as a peasant woman, she had no place by Axis’ side, but he knew now that she was beyond that old concern.

“I sensed some of your thoughts this morning while we sat in council,” Axis said, becoming serious again, and Azhure lifted her head. “You want to tell me something.”

Azhure turned away from the view and looked into Axis’ eyes. How she would miss him when he was gone! “I will not stay in Carlon for long, Axis.”

“I know, Azhure,” he said. “You will go to the Island of Mist and Memory.”

Azhure started. “How did you know that?”

“You have been fixated on the island ever since you remembered Niah’s message to go to Temple Mount to find the answers about your father.”

“Yes, but there is more.”

“Spiredore?”

She turned away; how could she keep anything from him? Axis caught his breath at the beauty of her profile in the moonlight, and he reached out and lightly touched a tendril of her hair where it drifted about her neck.

“Yes, Spiredore. Axis, I spoke with WolfStar while I was there.”

Again, Axis had guessed as much. Azhure had been very introspective since that day she’d spent in Spiredore.

“He told me that I would discover much of my power there.” Briefly Azhure informed Axis of what WolfStar had said about the ring and the power it represented.

“Well, I hope you can uncloak some of your mysterious past on the island, Azhure. I hope you discover more of who you are.”

Azhure thought back to the expression on WolfStar’s face as he stared at the ring. “He was stunned to see me wearing the ring, Axis. Stunned.”

Axis put his arm about her shoulders. “I find it reassuring to discover that WolfStar can still be surprised.”

Azhure leaned back into his arm, relishing its warmth. “He was also aghast that you – that we – should think he was the Traitor of the third verse of the Prophecy.”

Axis frowned. “Do you believe him?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I do. I think that the Traitor is the one who has reorganised Gorgrael’s armies for him.”

Axis did not speak. For so long he had assumed that the Traitor of the Prophecy, the one who would betray him to Gorgrael, was WolfStar. But if not WolfStar, then who?

“He said that the Traitor had already made his move, that he was already with his master, but that he had not yet committed the final betrayal.”

Axis shivered, and he wondered what lay ahead for him. “Azhure, StarDrifter will undoubtedly want to go to the Island of Mist and Memory with you.”

“Oh, Axis! Surely not!” Irritated, Azhure moved away from the circle of Axis’ arms and into the room. The last thing she needed was StarDrifter making a nuisance of himself.

“Axis,” she turned back to look at his dark outline by the window. “I need to be by myself on the island. I don’t need StarDrifter there!”

As relieved as he was by her reaction, Axis also had to plan for every eventuality. And, if things did not go well in the north …

“Azhure, whatever happens you will hardly be by yourself. There are thousands of pirates. There are the Priestesses of the Order of the Stars. FreeFall and EvenSong are at the Temple already.”

FreeFall and EvenSong had moved there almost immediately after Axis and Azhure had married. Since his return from death, FreeFall had become increasingly given to the mystical, and EvenSong had been excused from her duties in the Strike Force to go with him. No-one wanted to separate them again.

“And there will undoubtedly be scores of Icarii Enchanters, and perhaps ordinary Icarii, who will fly down to the island in the near future. Azhure, it will shortly be as crowded on that island as it is here in Carlon.”

“But … StarDrifter!” Azhure knew that StarDrifter still hungered for her, that he had never recovered from his disappointment and anger when Azhure had chosen Axis on that Beltide night eighteen months ago. He had never ceased to let Azhure know that he still wanted her, and that, should the opportunity arise …

“Azhure.” Axis walked over and took her gently by the shoulders. “Believe it or not, I have good reason for wanting StarDrifter to go with you.”

He could see by the expression on her face that she did not believe him, or did not want to believe him.

“I will not be there for the twins’ birth, my love. And you know that without an Icarii blood relative to talk them through all three of you could die.”

All Icarii babies, aware well before they were born, were terrified by the process of birth and needed one of their parents to reassure them and talk them through. Rivkah had almost died in Axis’ birth because StarDrifter was not there for them.

“I will surely be in touch with my own power by then,” Azhure said. “I will talk them through.”

“And if you’re not? And even if you are, Azhure, we both know that neither of these babies particularly likes us. Would they listen to you? Listen to them, now!”

He paused, and both felt the feelings of resentment and hostility that emanated from their unborn twins. Every day those feelings increased.

“When they were forced to endure what we both went through the day I broke through the block in your mind,” Axis said, “they must have been wounded gravely. It twisted their perception of us.”

“But why do they dislike me so?” Azhure said, her hand on her belly. It was so unfair, she thought, after she had fought to keep them through this long, difficult, lonely pregnancy. How many times could she have just let them slip from her body?

Axis was silent a long moment. “Because you forgave me and because you chose to continue to love me,” he finally said very softly. “That is why they cannot forgive you.”

Azhure stared at him, feeling instinctively that he was correct, but hating the explanation.

“And that is why you need StarDrifter, Azhure. Already he spends an hour or two singing to them each day. They like him, they trust him, and they will listen to him. Damn it! I ask you to let StarDrifter talk them through the birth not for his sake, not even for the babies’ sakes, but for yours!”