Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

“He surely does,” the Dark Man whispered. “He surely does.”

“But the Prophecy says …” Timozel tried to remember exactly what it was that the Prophecy said.

“Bah!” The Dark Man grinned to himself under his hood. “The Prophecy is nothing but a tool of the Forbidden to cloud men’s minds and blind them to their true saviour – Gorgrael.”

“Yes…yes.” Timozel thought it through. “That makes sense.”

“And Gorgrael aches to kill Axis as much as Borneheld did.”

“Axis.” Now Timozel’s voice was edged with unreasoning hatred.

“Who has brought the Forbidden back to crawl over Achar’s lands, Timozel?”

“Axis!” Timozel hissed.

The Dark Man spoke very slowly, emphasising every word. “Gorgrael is committed to killing Axis and ridding this fair land of the Forbidden. Is that not what you want?”

“Yes. Yes, that is what I want!”

“Gorgrael will help rescue Faraday from the foul clutches of Axis and the Forbidden.”

“Faraday! He will help rescue Faraday?” Was there hope for Faraday yet?

“With your help, Timozel. With your help.”

“With my help?” Could he redeem himself in Faraday’s eyes?

“Ah, Timozel,” the Dark Man said dejectedly. “Gorgrael is truly misunderstood and he fights for a true cause, but he is not a good war leader.” He sighed, and Timozel leaned even closer, eager. “Timozel, he needs a war leader. He needs you and you need him. Together you can rid Achar of its foul corruption.”

A small voice deep in Timozel’s soul told him not to listen to this man, not to believe his smooth words. Had not Borneheld fought Gorgrael as well? Were not the Skraelings as evil as the Forbidden? But, caught as he was by the weight of the enchantments being woven about him and by the blackness that was eating into his soul, Timozel pushed those thoughts out of existence. Gorgrael would be the one to restore sanity and good health to Achar.

“He would give me command of his army?”

“Oh, surely. He knows that you are a great warrior.”

Timozel sat back, enthralled. A command of his own, at last! Even Borneheld had not done that for him.

“Don’t you see, Timozel?” the Dark Man asked, drawing the net of his lies closed. “Don’t you understand? Gorgrael is the Great Lord of your visions. Fate must have sent me south to fetch you, to bring you north so that your Lord can give you control of his armies.”

“Truly?” Perhaps there was still a chance the visions would be fulfilled. That there was still a chance he could do some good. Yes, fate must have manoeuvred this meeting.

“Very truly, Timozel.”

Timozel thought about it, one thing gnawing at him. “But why has Gorgrael been disturbing my sleep with such dark dreams?”

The stranger reached out his hand and rested it on Timozel’s shoulder. “The Forbidden are desperate to turn you from Gorgrael. They have been the instigators of those dreams, not Gorgrael. You will have no more bad dreams from now on.

Certainly not once I have a word with Gorgrael, the Dark Man thought. There had never been any need to disturb the boy’s mind with such dreams – but Gorgrael was ever inclined to the melodramatic.

All doubts had gone from Timozel’s mind now. At last he had found the right path. The visions had been true.

“Gorgrael will free Faraday from Axis’ foul clutches?” he asked.

“Oh, assuredly,” the Dark Man said. “Assuredly. He will be a master whom you will be proud to serve. You will sit by the fire with your Great Lord, Timozel, with Faraday by your side, sipping wine.”

“Oh,” Timozel breathed ecstatically, letting the vision engulf him.

“Now,” the Dark Man rose with the Icarii grace that he could not completely repress, “why don’t I take you to Great Lord? I have a boat, and in only a few short hours we shall reach his fortress. Your saviour’s fortress. Will you come?”

“Friend.” Timozel stood by the Dark Man’s side, shaking sand from his cloak. “You have not told me your name.”

The Dark Man pulled his hood closer. “I have many names,” he said quietly, “but you may call me Friend.”

As Timozel climbed into the boat he realised how familiar Friend’s voice sounded. Why? Who was he? Where had he heard the voice before?

“Timozel? Is anything the matter?”

Timozel stared at the man, then he shook himself and climbed in.

“No, Friend,” he said. “Nothing’s the matter.”

Jayme abased himself before the icon of his beloved Artor the Ploughman, the one true god of all Acharites – or at least, who had been until the setbacks of recent weeks.

Once the powerful Brother-Leader of the Seneschal, most senior mediator between Artor the Ploughman and the hearts and souls of the Acharites, now Jayme mediated only between his own broken soul and the ghosts of his dreams and ambitions. He had once manipulated kings and peasants alike; now he manipulated little more than the buckles on his sandals. He had once resided in the great Tower of the Seneschal; now the Forbidden had reclaimed the Tower and burned the accumulated learning of over a thousand years. He had once sat easy with power, protected by the might of the military wing of the Seneschal, the Axe-Wielders and their BattleAxe. But now the remaining Axe-Wielders had cast aside their axes to serve the ghastly Forbidden, and their BattleAxe now claimed to be a Prince of the Forbidden. The BattleAxe. He had been as a son to Jayme, yet had betrayed both Jayme’s love and the Seneschal in leading the Forbidden back into Achar.

Jayme had once enjoyed the friendship and support of his senior adviser, Moryson. But now Moryson had deserted him.

Slowly Jayme rose to his knees and stared about the chamber where he had been incarcerated for the past nine days. They had not left him much. A single wooden chair and a plain table. A bedroll and blanket. Nothing else. Axis believed Jayme might try to kill himself, and so guards had emptied the room of everything save what Jayme needed for basic comfort.

Twice a day guards came to bring him food and attend his needs, but otherwise Jayme had been left alone.

Apart from his two visitors. His eyes clouded as he remembered.

Two days after the death of Achar’s hopes in the Chamber of the Moons, the Princess Rivkah had come to see him …

She entered the room silently and Jayme did not know she was there until he stood from his devotions before the sacred icon of Artor.

The moment Jayme turned and saw her his mouth went dry. He had never expected to be confronted by the woman he thought he and Moryson had murdered so many years previously.

For long minutes Rivkah just stood and stared at him. Jayme could not but help contrast her proud bearing with his own hunched and subservient posture. How is it, he thought, that the woman who did Achar and Artor so much wrong can stand there as if justice was on her side? How is it that she can stand there so beautiful and queenly when all Moryson and I deposited at the foot of the Icescarp Alps was a broken woman near death? Artor, why did you let her survive? Artor? Artor? Are you there?

“Why?” she eventually asked.

Surprising himself, Jayme actually replied in a moderately strong voice. “For the wrong that you did your husband and your country and your god, Rivkah. You did not deserve to live.”

“I was the one wronged, Jayme,” she said. “Yet you would that I had died a horrible death. You did not have the courage, as I remember, to put a knife through my throat.”

“It was Moryson’s idea,” Jayme said. “He thought it best that you die in a place far enough removed from civilisation that your bones would not corrupt Artor-fearing souls.”