The first book of the Wayfarerer Redemption, an enthralling continuation of The Axis trilogy, by the bestselling Australian author Sara Douglass Forty years have passed, Axis and Azhure have taken their rightful places among the other Star Gods. Their cherished first-born, Caelum Starson, now rules and all appears peaceful. But the Throne of the Stars brings frightful responsibilities, and sometimes Caelum listens to the wrong advice. Old resentments between Acharite and Icari threaten to overwhelm Caelum's tentative control, and civil war looms on the horizon. As there are tensions in the land and among the peoples of Tencendor, so are there tensions among the SunSoar family itself. Drago, denied his Icari heritage as punishment for a treacherous infancy is constantly reminded that while his brothers and sisters revel in power and youth, he ages under the restrictions of his human blood. Riverstar is now a vain and spiteful young woman, and Zenith, his youngest sister, is experiencing memories that are destroying her peace of mind. But a far more menacing threat to the peace of Tencendor lingers beyond the Star Gate. The children that Wolfstar hurled to their deaths hundreds of years ago want their revenge, their whispering is becoming louder and they are not alone.
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Sara Douglass was born in Penola, South Australia, and spent her early working life as a nurse. Rapidly growing tired of starched veils, mitred corners and irascible anaesthetists, she worked her way through three degrees at the University of Adelaide, culminating in a PhD in early modern English history. Sara Douglass currently teaches medieval history of La Trobe University, Bendigo and escapes academia through her writing.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
West and North
His wing-span as wide as a man was tall, the speckled blue eagle floated high in the sky above the silvery waters of Grail Lake. The day was calm and warm, the thermals inviting, but for the moment the eagle resisted climbing any higher. He tilted his head slightly, his predatory gaze undimmed by his vast age, taking in the pink and cream stone walls and the gold- and silver-plated roofs of the city of Carlon. The eagle's gaze was only casual, for it was almost noon, and the streets so busy that all rodents would have secreted themselves deep in their lairs many hours previously. The eagle was not particularly concerned. He had feasted well on fish earlier, and now he tilted his wings, sweeping over the white-walled seven-sided tower of Spiredore.
The power emanating from the tower vibrated the eagle's wings pleasantly, and made the old bird reflect momentarily on the changes in this land over his lifetime. When he had been newly feathered and only just able to stay aloft, he'd flown over this same lake and tower with the eagle who had fathered him. Then the tower had been still and silent, and the land treeless. Men had scurried below, axes in their hands and the Plough God Artor in their hearts. Ice had invaded from the north and Gryphon--creatures whom even eagles feared--had darkened the skies. But all that had changed. A great battle had been fought in the icy tundra far to the north, the ice had retreated and the Gryphon had disappeared from the thermals. In the west, enchanted forests had reached for the sky, and the white tower below had reverberated with power and song. The armies that had crawled about the land in destructive, serpentine trails disbanded, and now the peoples of this enchanted land--those who called themselves human, Icarii and Avar--shared their lives shoulder to shoulder in apparent harmony.
Contented, knowing that the score of chicks he had raised over his lifetime would have nothing more to fear than the anger of a sudden storm, the eagle tipped his wings and spiraled higher and higher until he was no more than a distant speck in the sky.
Leagh stood at the open windows of her apartments in the north wing of the Prince of the West's palace in Carlon, watching the eagle fade from sight. Sighing, for watching the bird had calmed the ache in her heart, she dropped her gaze slightly to the ancient Icarii palace that loomed above the entire city. It seemed to Leagh that the palace looked lonely and sad in the bright sunshine. And so it should, she thought, for StarSon Caelum so rarely leaves Sigholt now that he only uses his palace in Carlon every three or four years.
Leagh did not covet the magnificent Icarii palace. Her older brother Askam's palace was spacious and elegant, and grand enough for Leagh, who was a woman of conservative tastes and temperate habits. She dropped her eyes yet further, down to the gently lapping waters of the lake. A gentle easterly breeze blew across the waves, lifting the glossy nut-brown hair from her brow and sweeping it back over her shoulders in tumbling waves. Leagh had the dark blue eyes of her mother, Cazna, but had inherited her hair, good looks and calm temperament from her father, Belial. She had loved her father dearly, and still missed him, even though he'd been dead a decade. He'd been her best friend when she was growing up, and to lose him when she'd been sixteen had been a cruel blow.
"Stop it!" she murmured to herself. "Why heap yet more sadness and loneliness on your heart?"
Gods, why could she not have been born a simple peasant girl rather than a princess? Surely peasant women had more luck in following their hearts! Here she was at twenty-six, all but locked into her brother's palace, when most women her age were married with toddlers clinging to their skirts.
Leagh turned back into the chamber, and sat at her work table. It was littered with scraps of silk and pieces of embroidery that she had convinced herself she would one day sew into a waistcoat for the man she loved--but when everyone around her apparently conspired to keep them as far apart as possible, what was the point? Would she ever have the chance to give it to him? Her fingers wandered aimlessly among several scraps, turning them over and about as if in an attempt to form a pattern, but Leagh's thoughts were now so far distant that she did not even see what her fingers were doing.
Leagh's only wish in life was to marry the man she loved--Zared, Prince of the North, son of Rivkah and Magariz. Yet it would have been easier for me, she thought wryly, if I'd fallen in love with a common carter.
The problem was not that Zared did not love her, for he did, and with a quiet passion that sometimes left her trembling when she caught his eyes across a banquet table. Yet how long was it since they'd had the chance to share even a glance? A year? More like two, she thought miserably, and had to struggle to contain her tears. More like two.
Nay, the problem was not only that Zared and she loved too well, but that a marriage between them was fraught with so many potential political problems that her brother, Askam, had yet to agree to it. (Though doubtless he would have let her marry a carter long ago!) Leagh loved her brother dearly, but he tried her patience--and gave her long, sleepless nights--with his continued reluctance to grant approval of the marriage.
Leagh's eyes slowly cleared, and she picked up a star-shaped piece of golden silk and turned it slowly over and over in her hands. Power in the western and northern territories of Tencendor was delicately balanced between their two respective princes, Askam and Zared. Should she marry Zared, then the grave potential was there that one day West and North would be united under one prince. Askam had married eight years ago, but his wife Bethiam had yet to produce an heir. For the moment Leagh's womb carried within it the entire inheritance of the West.
And, with its burden of responsibility and inheritance, thus did her womb entrap her.
If I were a peasant woman, Leagh suddenly thought, I would only have to bed the man of my choice and get with his child for all familial objections to our marriage to be dropped. She crushed the golden silk star into a tight ball, and tears of anger and heartache filled her eyes. Askam would not let her get within speaking distance of Zared, let alone bedding distance!
Frustrated with herself for allowing her emotions to so carry her away, Leagh smoothed out the silken patch and laid it with the others. The political problems were only the start of Askam's objections, for Askam not only disliked Zared personally, but resented and felt threatened by Zared's success in the North. The West encompassed much of the old Achar--the provinces of Romsdale, Avonsdale and Aldeni. Each year the lands produced rich harvests, and for decades Carlon had grown fat on the trade with the rest of Tencendor and the Corolean Empire to the far south. But despite its natural abundance, the West was riven with huge economic problems. As Prince of the West, Askam had managed to mire himself deep in debt over the past seven years. For three years he had entertained the entire eight-score strong retinue of the Corolean Ambassador while, on Caelum's behalf, he had thrashed out an agreement for Tencendorian fishing rights in the Sea of Tyrre. When the agreement had finally been concluded, and the Ambassador and his well-fattened train once more in Coroleas, Askam had personally funded the outfit of a massive fishing fleet, only to have three-quarters of the boats lost in a devastating storm in their first season. Thinking to recoup his losses, Askam had loaned the King of Escator, a small kingdom across the Widowmaker Sea, a vast sum to refurbish the Escatorian gloam mines in return for half the profit from the sale of gloam, only to have the mines flooded in a disaster of epic proportions, and the new king--the previous having drowned in the mine itself--completely repudiate any monies his predecessor had borrowed.
These were only two of the investment disasters Askam had made over the past few years. There were a score of others, if not so large. Smaller projects had failed, other deals had fallen through after considerable cash outlay. Askam had been forced to raise taxes within the West over the past two years which, though they made but a small dent into the amount he owed, had caused hardship among farmers and traders alike. Yet who could blame Askam for the economic misfortune of the West? Sheer bad luck seemed to dog his best endeavors.
In total contrast, Zared's North--the old province of Ichtar--had blossomed in unrivaled prosperity. In the days before Axis had reunited Tencendor, the old Ichtar had been rich, true, but it had relied mainly on its gem mines for wealth. The gem mines still produced--and a dozen more had opened in the past ten years--but Zared had also opened up vast amounts of previous wasteland for cropping and grazing. Zared had enticed the most skilled engineers to his capital of Severin, in the elbow of the Ichtar and Azle Rivers, with high wages and the promise of roomy housing and good schooling for their children. These engineers had designed, and then caused to be built, massive irrigation systems in the western and northern parts of the realm. Zared had then attracted settlers from all over Tencendor to these vast and newly watered lands by offering them generous land leases and the promise of minimal--and in some cases no--taxation for the first twenty-five years of their lease. Unlike the West, all farmers, traders and craftsmen in the North were free to dispose of their surplus as they chose. As a result, a brisk trade in furs had grown with the Ravensbundmen in the extreme north, which were then re-traded to the southern regions of Tencendor. And add to that the trade in beef, lamb, gems and grain . . .
The mood of the North was buoyant and optimistic. The income of families grew each year, and men and women knew their futures were strong and certain. Trade, working and taxation restrictions were so slight as to be negligible, and success waited for all who wished to avail themselves of it.
The picture could not have contrasted more with the West, where it seemed that month after month Askam was forced to increase taxes to meet debt repayments.
It was not his fault, Leagh told herself, willing herself to believe it. Who could have foreseen that a storm would virtually destroy Askam's entire fishing fleet, or that the gloam mines of Escator would be flooded? But Askam's misfortunes did not help her situation. Especially not when Askam was aware that each week saw more skilled craftsmen and independent farmers of the West slip across the border to avail themselves of the opportunities created by Zared's policies.
She jumped, startled from her thoughts. Askam had entered her chamber, and now walked toward her.
"You wanted to see me, sister?"
"Yes." Leagh stood up and smiled. "I trust I have not disturbed you from important council?"
Askam waved a hand for her to sit back down, and took a seat across the table. "Nothing that cannot wait, Leagh."
His tone turned brisk, belying his words. "What is it I can do for you?"
Leagh kept her own voice light, not wanting to antagonize her brother any more than she had to. "Askam, it is many weeks since you have made any mention of my marriage."
Askam's face tightened and he looked away.
"--to Zared." Leagh shifted slightly, impatiently. "Askam, time passes, and neither Zared nor myself grow any younger! I long to be by his side, and--"
"Leagh, be still. You are noble born and raised, and you understand the negotiations that must be endured for such a marriage to be agreed to."
"Negotiations that have been going on for five years!"
Askam looked back at his sister, his eyes narrowed and unreadable. "And for that you can only thank yourself for choosing such a marriage partner. Dammit, Leagh, could you not have chosen another man? Three nobles from the West have asked for your hand. Why not choose one of them? They cannot all be covered with warts and possessed of foul breath!"
"I love Zared," Leagh said quietly. "I choose Zared."
Askam's face, so like his father's with its mop of fine brown hair and hazel eyes, closed over at the mention of love. "Love has no place in the choosing of a noble marriage partner, Leagh. Forget love. Think instead of a marriage with a man which would keep the West intact and independent."
He paused, let vent an exasperated sigh, then smiled, trying to take the tension out of their conversation. "Leagh, listen to me, and listen to reason, for the gods' sakes. I wish you only happiness in life, but I must temper that wish with knowing that I, as you," his tone hardened slightly, "must always do what is best for our people, not what is best for our hearts."
Leagh did not reply, but held her brother's gaze with determined eyes.
Askam let another minute slide by before he resumed speaking. "Leagh, it is time you knew that the yea or nay to this marriage has been taken from my hands."
"What? By whom?" But even as she asked, Leagh knew.
"Caelum. He is as disturbed as I by the implications of a union between you and Zared. Last week I received word from him to delay a decision until he could meet with me personally to--"
"And yet he does not wish to speak to me, or to Zared?"
"Caelum sits the Throne of the Stars, Leagh. He has heavier responsibilities than you can imagine."
Leagh bridled at her brother's school-masterish tone, but held her tongue.
"Caelum knows well that the continued well-being of Tencendor matters before the wishes of any single person. Leagh, you are a Princess of Tencendor. As such you enjoy rights and privileges beyond those enjoyed by other Tencendorians. But these rights and privileges mean you also carry more responsibility. You simply can not live your life to the dictates of your heart, only to the dictates of Tencendor. I have tried these past five years to discourage you from choosing Zared, but you have not listened. Now, perhaps, you will listen to Caelum."
Both his words and his tone told Leagh everything she needed to know. Caelum would not assent to the marriage either.
As Askam rose and left the room, Leagh finally gave in to her heartache and let tears slide down her cheeks. The very worst thing to bear was that she understood everything that stood in the way of her marriage. Why couldn't she have accepted the hand of a nobleman from the West? It would be so much easier, so much more acceptable for the current balance of power. But what she understood intellectually didn't matter when she'd totally given her heart to Zared. All she wanted in life was the man she loved.
Far to the north Zared straightened his back, refusing to let weariness slump his shoulders. He'd spent an entire week clambering over the ruins of Hsingard with several of his engineers to see if there was any point in trying to rebuild the town, only to come to the conclusion that the Skraelings had so destroyed the buildings that a...
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