Читать онлайн «Crusader»
“Then who? Who?”
There was no answer, save for a flash of blinding light and a sudden rattle of hooves.
Axis swore softly and raised a hand to shield his eyes against the rectangle of burning light that had appeared at the other end of the bridge. A large shape shifted within the light, blurred, then shifted again, resolving itself into a horse and rider.
The light flared, then faded.
The bridge screamed …
… and then convulsed.
Axis fell to his feet, sliding towards the centre of the bridge as he did so. He lay for an instant, badly winded by the impact.
He was given no time for recovery. The bridge lurched and then buckled, heaving under him, and Axis repeatedly fell over in his scrambling attempts to get to his feet.
The bridge screamed again, and Axis was raked with the emotions of death.
The bridge was dying.
Axis grabbed at one of the handrail supports, but it melted under his fingers leaving them coated with a sticky residue.
One of his legs fell through a large hole that abruptly appeared in the bridge … she was dissolving!
With a desperate heave Axis lunged towards the safety of the roadway, but the bridge was literally falling apart, still screaming, and her death throes tilted Axis further towards her centre, further away from the safety of the ground.
Another section of bridge fell away, and Axis stared down into the chasm, and certain death.
The bridge whimpered, and vanished.
Axis fell… and was jerked to a halt by a hand in the collar of his tunic.
The odour of a horse hot with sweat enveloped him, and Axis felt himself bump against the shoulder of the plunging animal. He grabbed automatically, finding the Sanctuary of a horse’s mane with his left hand, and the wiry strength of a man’s forearm with his right.
“Keep still!” a man’s voice barked. Axis turned his eyes up, and looked into the face of his hated son, Drago.
Except this man was not Drago. Axis instinctively felt it the instant he lay eyes on his face, and he knew it for sure once the man had deposited him on the road to Sanctuary.
This was a man who had once been Drago.
Axis bent over, resting his hands on his knees, and drew in great breaths, trying to recover his equilibrium at the twin shock of the bridge’s death and the appearance of… of…
Axis looked up, although he did not straighten. “What happened?” he said, not asking what he truly wanted to know.
The man slid off the horse, and Axis spared the animal a brief glance.
Gods! That was Belaguez!
Utterly shocked, Axis finally stood up straight, staring at the horse.
“I do not understand why the bridge died,” the man said, and Axis slid his eyes back to him. He was lean but strong, with Axis’ own height and musculature and with coppery-coloured hair drawn back into a tail in the nape of his neck.
The way I used to wear it as BattleAxe, Axis thought involuntarily.
The man was naked, save for a snowy linen cloth bound about his hips, and the most beautiful — and most patently enchanted — sword that Axis had ever seen. Its hilt was in the shape of a lily, and Axis could see the glimpse of a mirrored blade as it disappeared into a jewelled scabbard. The scabbard hung from an equally heavily jewelled belt, balanced by a similarly jewelled purse at the man’s other hip.
Axis slid his eyes to the man’s face.
Plain, ordinary, deeply lined, somewhat tired … and utterly extraordinary. Alive and hungry with magic. Serene and quiet with tranquillity.
Dark violet eyes regarded him with humour, understanding, and …
“Love?” Axis said. “I do not deserve that, surely.”
His voice was very hard and bitter.
“It is yours to accept or not,” DragonStar said, “as you wish.”
Axis stared at his son, hating himself for hating what he saw. “What have you done with Caelum?”
DragonStar paused before he replied, but his voice was steady. “Caelum is dead.”
Axis’ only visible reaction was a tightening of his face and a terrible hardening of his eyes. “You led him to his death!”
“Caelum went willingly,” DragonStar replied, his voice very gentle. “As he had to.”
Axis stared, unable to tear his eyes from DragonStar’s face, although he longed desperately to look somewhere, anywhere, else. “I —” he began, then stopped, unable to bear the hatred in his voice, and unable to understand to whom, or what, he wanted to direct that hatred.
There was a movement behind him, and then Azhure was at his side, as she had been for so many years.
And as she had so many times previously, she saved him from this battle.
Azhure touched Axis’ arm fleetingly, yet managing to impart infinite comfort with that briefest of caresses, then she stepped straight past her husband to DragonStar.
She paused, then spoke. “Did Caelum see you like this? As … as you were meant to be?”
DragonStar nodded, and Azhure’s entire body jerked slightly.
Then she leaned forward and hugged her son.
He pulled her in tight against him, drawing as much love from her as she drew comfort from him.
Axis stared, not understanding, and not particularly wanting to.
Eventually Azhure pulled back and turned slightly so she could hold out a hand to her husband. Her eyes and cheeks were wet, but there was sadness in her face as well, and she continued to hold DragonStar tightly with her other hand.
“Axis? I —”
“What is this, Azhure?” His voice was harsh. “Caelum is dead. Dead! And —”
“Caelum knew he was going to die,” Azhure said. “He accepted it.”
Axis closed his mouth into a cold, hard line.
“And he accepted,” Azhure said, “as we should have done earlier, that Drago …” she glanced back at her son, “that DragonStar was born to be the true StarSon.”
Axis opened his mouth to say No! but found he could not voice the word. The man standing before him was clearly not the sullen Drago who’d moped about Sigholt for so many years, and he was just as clearly a man who wielded such great power that he … he … just might be …
Axis turned his head to one side, and was surprised to feel the wetness of tears on his own cheeks as the breeze brushed his face. “Oh gods,” he said, and sank down on the ground.
“Will you meet with your father in our apartment a little later?” Azhure asked DragonStar hurriedly. “For the time being, I think it would be best if he and I had some time alone…”
“Thank you,” Azhure murmured, then bent down to her husband. DragonStar vaulted back onto Belaguez’s back and rode down the trail into Sanctuary.
DragonStar chose to ride unnoticed into Sanctuary; no-one noted his entry, and thus no-one disturbed him in the three hours before Azhure sought him out.
“Your father waits for you,” she said, giving DragonStar directions to their apartment. She looked him over — DragonStar had discarded his linen hip-wrap for a pair of fawn breeches, brown boots and a white shirt, but he still wore the sword and jewelled purse at his belt.
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