Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

“Yet you let my son live.”

“He was innocent of your evil – at least, that’s what I thought at the time. I did not know then what it was that had put him in your belly. Knowing what I know now I would have put a knife to your throat, Rivkah. Well before you had a chance to give that abomination birth.”

Rivkah’s hands jerked slightly, the only sign she had been disturbed by Jayme’s words. At that moment she longed to flee, so great was her loathing for him, but she had one more thing to ask.

“Why did you name my son Axis?”

Jayme blinked at her, surprised by the question, and fought to remember. He shrugged slightly.

“Moryson named him.”

“But why Axis?”

“I do not know, Rivkah. It seemed a good enough name at the time. I could not have known then that he would prove to be the axis about which our entire world would turn and die.”

Rivkah took a deep breath. “You denied me my son and warped his soul for almost thirty years, Jayme, while you left me to die a slow, lingering death.” She stepped forward, and spat in Jayme’s face. “They say that forgiveness is the beginning of healing, Jayme, but I find it impossible to forgive the wrong you have done myself, my son and his father.”

She turned and strode to the door.

Just as she reached it Jayme spoke. Where the words came from he did not know, for the knowledge behind them and their sudden ferocity were not his.

“It is my understanding that the birdman you betrayed Searlas for has now betrayed and rejected you, Rivkah. You have been discarded, thrown aside because of your ageing lines. Betrayal always returns to those who betray.”

Rivkah turned and stared at him, appalled. This was not strictly correct, but it was close enough to the truth to hurt. Had the price for her betrayal of Searlas been the eventual death of StarDrifter’s love for her? What price would she pay for the hurt she had caused Magariz so many years ago? She licked her lips and silently cursed her voice as it quavered.

“Then I am confident you will die a ghastly death, Jayme,” she said.

Despite her brave words, Rivkah’s entire body shuddered, and she flung the door open, running past the startled guard and down the corridor.

Jayme smiled, remembering Rivkah’s agitation. But the smile died as he recalled his second visitor.

Jayme had heard Axis well before he entered the room.

Axis stood outside the closed door for several minutes, talking with the guard posted there. Jayme knew Axis was toying with him, letting the sound of his casual conversation outside increase Jayme’s trepidation.

And his tactic worked. Jayme’s stomach heaved as he heard the key in the lock.

“Jayme,” Axis said flatly as he stepped inside the room.

Axis had always carried an aura of power as BattleAxe – now it was magnified ten times and carried with it infinite threat. Jayme opened his mouth to speak, but there was nothing to say.

“I have decided to put you on trial, Jayme. Rivkah has told me of your conversation,” Axis said, “and of your wretched effort to lay the blame for her attempted murder at Moryson’s feet. But it is not only the wrongs you have done me and my mother that you should answer for, Jayme, but the wrongs you have done the innocent people of Tencendor.”

Jayme found his voice and his courage. “Yet how many innocent people have you murdered for your depraved purposes, Axis? Justice always seems to rest with the victor, does it not?”

Axis stabbed an accusing finger at the former BrotherLeader. “How many innocent people did I murder in the name of the Seneschal, Jayme? How many people, guilty of nothing save innocent questions, did you send your BattleAxe out after, to ride down into the earth? How many innocent people have I murdered? You tell me. You were the one who sent me out to murder them in the name of Artor!”

“I only did what Artor told me, Axis. I only did what was right for the Way of the Plough.”

The anger faded from Axis’ face and he stared incredulously at Jayme. “Have you never thought to question the world about you? Have you never thought to question the narrow and brutal Way of the Plough? Have you never stopped to think what beauty the Seneschal destroyed when it drove the Icarii and the Avar beyond the Fortress Ranges a thousand years ago? Have you never stopped to question Artor?”

“Axis,” Jayme said, stepping forward. “What has happened to you? I thought I knew you, I thought I could trust you.”

“You thought you could use me.”

Axis stared at Jayme a moment longer, then turned for the door.

“I only used you for Artor’s sake,” Jayme said so softly that Axis barely heard him.

Axis looked around to his once-beloved Brother-Leader. “I shall spare no effort in dismantling the Seneschal, Jayme. I shall grind it and the cursed Way of the Plough into the dust where it belongs. I shall bury your hatreds and your bigotry and your unreasoning fears and I shall never, never, allow it or any like it to raise its deformed head in Tencendor again. Congratulations, Jayme. You will yet live to witness the complete destruction of the Seneschal.”

Jayme’s face was now completely white and his mouth trembled. He held out a hand. “Axis!”

But Axis was gone.

The memory of that visit disturbed Jayme so much that he abased himself once more before Artor’s icon, seeking what comfort the crude figure could give him.

The guards had taken from his room the beautiful gold and enamel icon of Artor that had held pride of place in the centre of the main wall. During the first two days of his captivity Jayme had laboriously carved out a life-sized outline of the great god into the soft plaster of the wall. Even though he had torn his nails with the effort, at least he had an icon to pray to.

He pressed his forehead to the floor.

The sound of noisy celebrations in the streets below finally roused him in the early evening. Curious despite his despondency, Jayme wandered over to the window.

Cheerful crowds thronged the streets and Jayme listened carefully, trying to make out what they shouted. Most held beakers of beer or ale, a few had goblets of wine. All were smiling.

“A toast to our lord and lady!” Jayme heard one stout fellow shout, and the crowd happily obliged.

“A marriage made in the stars, they say!” shouted another, and Jayme was horrified to see that it came from one of several winged creatures in the crowd.

He frowned. Had Axis married Faraday already?

A tiny piece of plaster fell to the floor behind him. Then another. Deep in concentration on the scene below him, Jayme did not hear.

“To Axis!”

“And to Azhure!”

Large cracks spread across the wall, and a piece of plaster the size of a man’s fist bulged into the room.

“Azhure?” Jayme said. “Azhure?”

More plaster crumbled to the floor as further cracks and bulges raced across the wall, but Jayme was so engrossed in the crowd’s celebrations he did not hear it.

“Who is this Azhure?” Now Jayme had both hands and face pressed to the window pane in an effort to catch the shouts of the crowd.

She is one of the many reasons for your death, fool.

Jayme whimpered in terror and his eyes refocused away from the street below him and onto the reflection in the glass.