Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy


Perhaps, Azhure decided as Hesketh helped her out of the boat, the Alaunt bounding across the grass towards Spiredore, he only needs Yr.

The interior of the tower was cool and pleasant, and Azhure smiled as she leaned against the closed door. The seven Alaunt were sniffing out every secret corner they could find, and Azhure thought they might find a lot in this most secretive of towers.

Are we going to the rooftop, Mama?

Azhure could detect the faint undertone of worry in Caelum’s thoughts. No doubt her son, like herself, had some extraordinarily unpleasant memories of the rooftop of Spiredore.

“Another day, Caelum, but not today. I am too weary to climb all the way to the top.”

Then what will we do?

Azhure hesitated. She had thought about this as she lay sleepless in her bed last night. Close to tears from her loneliness in the empty bed, feeling the indifference of the babies within her, Azhure had decided that she would start to experiment with the tower today. See the extent of its power.

She hoped she was doing the right thing. What if she did get lost?

She halted at the foot of the first staircase, her hand resting on the newel post, and called the Alaunt to her.

As they gathered about her skirts, Azhure again remembered WolfStar’s words.

Decide where you want to go before you start to climb the stairs, and then the stairs will take you to that place.

“I want to go to a place where I will find some comfort,” she said, then she started to climb.

The feeling that Azhure was close was now so strong that Faraday leaned forward in the armchair, balancing on its edge, ready to leap to her feet at any moment.

“Azhure? Azhure? Where are you?”

Azhure? Azhure? Where are you?

Azhure stopped climbing the instant she heard Faraday’s voice, twisting and turning to peer into the heights above her. The stairs wound between crazily-canted balconies as far as she could see, and Faraday could be anywhere up there.

“Faraday?” she called. “Faraday?” What was Faraday doing in Spiredore?

Azhure gathered her skirts in her free hand and climbed as fast as she could, Caelum going red in the face as her arm squeezed tight about him. Sicarius opened his mouth and bayed, his cries echoing through the infinite interior of Spiredore.

Faraday heard Azhure call and now she did leap to her feet. “Azhure!” She thought she could hear the faint baying of hounds.

Breathless with excitement and effort, Azhure reached a wide landing. She paused then spun about, frowning. There were no more stairs leading upwards! What was this? A dead end?

“Faraday?” she cried. “I cannot find you. Can you hear me? Where are you?”

She stepped back down the stairs, certain she had missed her way.

Faraday heard footsteps on the circular iron stairway that wound into the heights of the Keep, and she rushed to its foot, laughing in excitement, grasping the iron railing and staring upwards.

A great pale hound suddenly leapt down the curve of the steps and brushed past her, followed an instant later by six others. This was followed by a stillness on the stairs, but Faraday could hear the faint fall of footsteps above her.

“Azhure!” and the next moment Azhure, her face alive with amazement and happiness, stepped down into her arms.

Faraday hugged her tight, laughing delightedly, and for the next few moments the women did nothing but laugh and cry.

“How did you get here?” Faraday eventually asked.

“Where am I?” Azhure asked at the same time. How did I get here? Can Spiredore transfer me from site to site as Axis’ Enchanter powers can? Spire … Door?

“We are in the Silent Woman Keep, Azhure. Come, sit by the fire, and we will discover this mystery in comfort.” She linked her arm with Azhure’s. “See! Already the Keep has laid out tea for us.”

As Faraday led her across to a couch, Azhure glanced about the room, noting its comfort and welcome – and also noting that seven bowls of food had been laid out beside the kitchen range. The Alaunt already had their noses buried deep.

Azhure quickly told Faraday of the mysterious powers of Spiredore.

“These magical Keeps must be linked,” Faraday said, then smiled. “But let us not waste our time talking of the Keeps. Come, let me cuddle Caelum.”

Caelum held out his arms, almost as delighted to see Faraday as his mother was. This was the woman who had healed his Mama when all others had wrung their hands uselessly.

As Faraday cuddled the baby to her, speaking softly to him, Azhure turned to the low table near the couch and poured their tea. Here we sit as if we were but simple housewives, she thought, talking babies and recipes, and no-one would guess the magic that surrounds us or the shared love for one man that has brought us both so much grief.

The Alaunt had finished their meal and drifted back to the fire, stretching out before it, completely encircling the two women.

“Azhure,” Faraday finally said, not looking up from Caelum as he nestled in her lap. “Axis. Did he …?”

“He married me that afternoon,” Azhure said, making her voice as gentle as she could, yet knowing each word would cut straight to Faraday’s heart.

“Ah,” Faraday said, and she looked up. “I am glad.” Then, utterly surprisingly, a radiant smile broke out across her face. “Glad for all the hearts he must have broken over the years that someone has finally won him.”

“Yes. Look, he gave me this ring.”

She had wondered if Faraday would recognise it, but Faraday merely exclaimed over its beauty. Yet after a moment she frowned.

“It has the feel of power to it.”

“It last belonged, so I am told, to a woman known as the Enchantress, the mother of the Icarii, Charonite and the Acharite races.” Azhure’s mouth twisted sourly. “Now people call me the Enchantress, but I do not know if I like it. I hope that I am not to be submerged in the personality of a woman fifteen thousand years dead.”

Faraday patted her hand reassuringly. “I can only see Azhure sitting here before me, not the ghost of some long-dead sorceress.”

“Hmm. WolfStar told me not to fear that the ring would seek to control me. He said that it sought my hand because it had found one fit to wear it. It has, apparently, come home to me. He seemed to fear it, though.”

She looked up and started at Faraday’s shocked white face.

“WolfStar?”

“Oh,” Azhure said, remembering that Faraday did not know of Azhure’s connection to WolfStar. “Listen,” and she proceeded to tell her of all that had happened since Faraday had left Carlon.

“And so you will leave for the Island of Mist and Memory soon?” Faraday eventually asked.

“Within the week, I think. I cannot wait to find out what secrets it has to offer me.” Azhure told Faraday about the fall of Jervois Landing and Axis’ march north with his army. “And I think a trip to the island will comfort me. I find the palace a lonely place now that Axis is absent.” She paused. “The Sentinels have disappeared, too.”

Faraday put her cup down and looked at Azhure sharply. “The Sentinels have gone? What do you mean? Gone with Axis?”