Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

StarMan, listen, for I know

That you can wield the sceptre

To bring Gorgrael to his knees

And break the ice asunder.

But even with the power in hand

Your pathway is not sure:

A Traitor from within your camp

Will seek and plot to harm you;

Let not your Lover’s pain distract

For this will mean your death;

Destroyer’s might lies in his hate

Yet you must never follow;

Forgiveness is the thing assured

To save Tencendor’s soul.

1 The Day of Power (#ulink_f0d90676-c7a4-5da0-8afb-6245e4d859bc)

It was a long day, the day Axis tried to kill Azhure, then married her. It was a day filled with power, and thus power found it easy to wrap and manipulate lives. The power of the Enchantress – untested and, for the moment, uncontrolled – had dominated the morning. Now, as the Enchantress smiled and kissed her new husband, it lay quiescent, waiting.

But as the gate that had imprisoned Azhure’s power and identity had shattered that day, so had other gates shattered, and so other powers had moved – and not all of them welcomed by the Prophecy.

As the Enchantress leaned back from her husband, accepting the warmth and love of her friends and family about her, so power walked the land of Tencendor.

It would be a long day.

Axis pulled the Enchantress’ ring from a small secret pocket in his breeches. He held it up so that all in the room could see it, then he slid the ring onto the heart finger of Azhure’s left hand. It fit perfectly, made only for this woman, and for this finger.

“Welcome into the House of the Stars to stand by my side, Enchantress. May we walk together forever.”

“Forever?” the GateKeeper said. “You and the Enchantress? For ever? As you wish, StarMan, as you wish.”

She laughed, then, from one of the bowls on the table before her she lifted out two balls and studied them.

“Forever,” she muttered, and placed them with the group of seven sparkling balls at the front of her table. The Greater. “Nine. Complete. The Circle is complete! At last … at last!”

She fell silent, deep in thought. Her fingers trembled. Already he had one child, and more to follow. And then … the other.

She held a hand over one of the bowls again, dipped it in sharply, and brought out four more balls. She dropped them into the pile of softly glowing golden balls which represented those who did not have to go through her Gate. The Lesser.

“Yet one more!” A spasm of pain crossed her face. Her hand lifted slowly, shaking, then she snarled and snatched a dull black ball from the pile of those who refused to go through her Gate.

She hissed, for the GateKeeper loathed releasing a soul without exacting fair price. “Does that satisfy your promise, WolfStar? Does it?”

She dropped it with the other four on the pile of the Lesser.

“Enough,” she said in relief. “It is done. Enough.”

Faraday tightened the girth on the donkey and checked the saddlebags and panniers. She did not carry much with her: the bowl of enchanted wood that the silver pelt had given her so long ago; the green gown that the Mother had presented to her; some extra blankets; a pair of sturdy boots should the weather break; and a few spare clothes.

It was not much for a widowed Queen, thought Faraday, fighting to keep her emotions under control. Where the retainers? The gilded carriage and the caparisoned horses? The company of two white donkeys was paltry considering what she had done for Axis and for Tencendor – and what she would yet do.

Carriages and horses? What did she need with those? All she needed, all she wanted, was the love of a man who did not love her.

She thought about Azhure and Caelum, envying the woman yet sharing her joy in her son. Well, she thought, no matter. I am mother to forty-two thousand souls. Surely their birthing will give me pain and joy enough.

The stables, as the rest of the palace of Carlon, were still and quiet. When she had left the Sentinels earlier Faraday had heard that the princes and commanders closest to Axis and Azhure had been called to the apartment where Faraday had left them.

“A wedding, I hope,” Faraday murmured, and did not know whether to smile for Azhure’s sake, or cry for her own.

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. She had her own role to play in the Prophecy and it would take her far from Carlon. Faraday could not wait to leave the palace and the city. There were no happy memories here. Even the recent eight days and nights she had spent at Axis’ side had turned out to be nothing but a lie and a betrayal. It was their memory Faraday wanted to escape most of all.

Why had no-one told her about Azhure? Everyone close to Axis – indeed, many distant from him – had known of his love for Azhure, yet none had thought to tell Faraday. Not even the Sentinels.

“You let me think that once Borneheld was dead Axis would be mine,” she had cried to the Sentinels. “All I had to comfort me during that frightful marriage was the thought that one day my efforts for the Prophecy would be rewarded with Axis’ love, and yet that comfort was a lie.”

Ogden and Veremund hung their heads in shame, and when Yr stepped forward to comfort Faraday, she jerked away.

“Did you know?” Faraday shouted at Jack. “Did you know from the very beginning that I would lose Axis?”

“None of us know all of the twists and turns of the Prophecy, sweet girl,” Jack replied, his face unreadable.

Faraday had stared flatly at him, almost tasting the lie he’d mouthed.

She sighed. Her meeting with the Sentinels had not gone well. She now regretted the harsh words she’d lashed at them before she’d stalked out the door. Ogden and Veremund had scurried after her, their cheeks streaked with tears, asking her where she was going. “Into Prophecy – where you have thrust me,” Faraday had snapped.

“Then take our donkeys, and their bags and panniers,” they’d begged.

Faraday nodded curtly. “If you wish.”

Then she had left them standing in the corridor, as much victims of the Prophecy as she was.

Now all she knew was that she had to go east and that, sooner or later, she would have to begin the transfer of the seedlings from Ur’s nursery in the Enchanted Woods beyond the Sacred Grove to this world.

Faraday gathered the leads of the placid donkeys and turned to the stable entrance. A heavily cloaked figure stood there, shrouded in shadows. Faraday jumped, her heart pounding.

“Faraday?” a soft voice asked, and she let out a breath in sheer relief. She’d thought that this dark figure might be the mysterious and dangerous WolfStar.