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Crusader

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“And?” DragonStar asked.

Azhure nodded very slightly. “And he is prepared to accept.”

DragonStar laughed softly. “Prepared to, but has not yet.” “It is a start.”

“Aye, it is that. Azhure … why have you accepted so easily? Even I denied it for long months.”

“Perhaps because I fought to keep you to a viable birthing age when you fought so hard to abort yourself. I have a mother’s belief in her offspring.”

DragonStar paled, both at her words and at the hardness in her voice. He began to say something, but Azhure stopped him with a hand on his chest.

“I had no right to speak thus to you, DragonStar. I have no right to speak harshly to any of my children. I was too absorbed in my magic and in Axis to be a good mother to any but Caelum.”

“Azhure —”

Azhure well understood why he would not call her “mother”.

“— it is never too late to be a friend to your children. I think that you and I will always be better friends than parent and child.”

Azhure smiled, and lowered her eyes a little.

“But,” DragonStar continued softly, relentlessly, “I think that Zenith needs you as a friend far more than I. There are many things that can be saved from this disaster, Azhure, and I do hope that Zenith will be among them.”

Azhure’s eyes jerked back to DragonStar’s face. “And I haven’t even seen her since I came to Sanctuary!”

“I did not know that,” DragonStar said, “but I am not surprised by it.”

And then he turned and walked out the door without another word, leaving his mother staring at his back and with a hand to her mouth in horrified mortification.

Axis was waiting for DragonStar in a small and somewhat unadorned chamber, so plain that DragonStar thought it almost out of character for Sanctuary. Perhaps Axis had spent hours here when he’d first arrived, throwing out all the comforts and fripperies and creating an environment austere enough for any retired war captain to feel at home in.

Axis had never been happy or content away from war, DragonStar thought, and wondered for the first time how frustrating life must have been for Axis once Gorgrael had been disposed of and Tencendorian life was relatively peaceful. No wonder he’d handed over power to Caelum: the endless Councils spent debating the finer details of trading negotiations must have bored his father witless.

Had it been any more challenging being a god? DragonStar wondered.

Axis was seated at a wooden table, or, rather, he was leaning back in a plain wooden chair, his legs crossed and resting on the tabletop, his arms folded across his chest.

On the table surface before him sat a jug of beer, two mugs, and a cloth-wrapped parcel. At the end of the table directly down from Axis sat an empty, waiting chair.

DragonStar paused in the doorway, nodded as an acknowledgment of Axis’ presence, then strolled across to the table, pulled out the chair and sat down. “So tell me, Axis, how am I being greeted? As a drinking companion? Comrade-in-arms?” He paused very slightly. “Long-lost son?”

Another, slightly longer pause, and the ghost of a grin about his lips. “If the prodigal son, then should I expect poison in the beer? A knife thrown from a darkened corner by a faithful lieutenant?”

Axis stared at DragonStar for a heartbeat or two, his face expressionless, then he leaned forward, poured out the two mugs of beer, and slid one down the table. “There is no poison in the beer, nor knife waiting in the corner.”

“Ah.” DragonStar caught the mug just before it slid off the edge of the table, and raised it to his mouth, swallowing a mouthful of the beer. “Then I am not here as long-lost son.”

“I am here only because both Azhure and Caelum asked it of me.”

DragonStar’s face lost its humorous edge. “I have no reason to stay here, Axis,” he snapped. “I could just take that,” he nodded at the parcel, “and leave. I have no use for faded stars!”

To his absolute surprise, Axis burst into laughter. “And nothing could have convinced me more of your fathering than that speech, Drago! Ah, sorry, I should call you by your birth name, should I not?”

“I should always have been called by my birth name,” DragonStar said. “As was my right.”

“My, my,” Axis said softly, “you have my humour and you have my pride.” His voice tightened. “I have also heard it rumoured about this fabulous crystal place they call Sanctuary that you have Faraday as well.”

With a jolt of surprise DragonStar realised that, if nothing else, Axis was treating him as an equal. This was man to man, and it was not about Caelum or who was or who was not StarSon, but about the passing over of the baton of legend.

And Axis didn’t want to let it go.

DragonStar took a deep breath. Axis had never felt threatened by fumble-fingered Caelum, but he now felt intimidated by DragonStar’s surety of grip. The baton was slipping away from Axis’ grasp … had slipped.

What if DragonStar had always been the point and the meaning of the high adventure of Axis’ battle with Borneheld and Gorgrael? What if Axis had only ever been the pawn, and DragonStar the true champion?

If Axis had not been the true champion, then nothing would demonstrate this more in his eyes than the fact that Faraday had gravitated to DragonStar. Faraday’s preferences in love would demonstrate who was the pawn, and who the king.

“Faraday chooses to walk alone,” DragonStar said, and, just as Axis visibly relaxed, continued, “although I have let her know well enough that I would enjoy her warmth and company by my side.”

Axis paused in the act of drinking some beer, stared coldly at DragonStar over the rim of his mug, then set it back on the table.

“Caelum is dead,” he said. “I have lost my son and I am in mourning. Forgive me if I do not fawn at your feet.” He stared at DragonStar. You sent my beloved son to his death, and now you say you want to take the woman who was my lover.

DragonStar half-grimaced, then turned it into a small smile. “I do not think you want another son, do you, Axis? But it would be better for you and I, and for Azhure, and for every one of the living creatures left in Sanctuary, if we could be friends.”

Axis dropped his eyes, and turned his half-empty mug around slowly between his hands. Surprisingly, his overwhelming emotion was one of relief. DragonStar had just presented them both with the perfect solution. Axis knew he could never think of this man across the table as his son — too much love had been denied, and too much hatred had been passed between them for it ever to be possible for them to embrace as father and son. But “friend”? Axis suddenly realised how much he had missed having a friend … how much he had missing relying on and loving Belial.

Axis knew he would be catastrophically jealous if a son proved more powerful than he, but, strangely, he knew he could accept it if a friend was.

An aeon seemed to pass as Axis thought. A friend. DragonStar a friend?

Something dark and horrid shifted within Axis — jealousy, resentment, bitterness — and then shifted again, and, stunningly, slid into oblivion.

He needed a friend. Badly. The thought brought such profound relief that Axis realised he had tears in his eyes.

He blinked them away and raised his gaze back to DragonStar. “How did you realise how much I needed a friend?”

A corner of DragonStar’s mouth twitched. “I have learned a great deal of wisdom since I demanded of you that you set Caelum aside and make me StarSon instead.”

Axis almost smiled, and then felt amazement that he could smile at this memory. “You were a precocious shitty bastard of an infant.”

“Well … technically ‘bastard’ I was not, but everything else you say is true enough. Axis, whatever else has happened between us, and whatever else I have said to you and thought about you and hated you for, I do thank you for setting me on the path of adversity, for without it I would have been another Gorgrael, or another Qeteb. Do you remember what you told me in Sigholt, that first time you set eyes on me?”

“I said that I would not welcome you into the House of Stars until you had learned both humility and compassion.” Axis paused, considering DragonStar carefully. “And sitting across from me now I can see a man whose face is lined, not with hate and bitterness as once it was, but with humility and compassion.

“DragonStar —” Axis shook his head slightly, “how strange it seems to call you that — I think the time has finally arrived to welcome you into the House of Stars.”

DragonStar paused before replying, allowing himself time to cope with the emotion flowing through him. How many hours had he spent lost in useless bitterness as a youth and man, longing for this moment, yet refusing to admit the longing?

“I would be honoured if you would accept me in, Axis,” DragonStar said, “but as your friend before anything else.” Caelum had already welcomed DragonStar into the family House. The fact that Axis now wished to do the same meant that the final bridge between DragonStar and his birth family would finally be repaired.

Tencendor could not be rebuilt without it.

Axis stood, and as he did so the door to the chamber opened and Azhure walked in.

DragonStar rose, staring at her. He wondered if it was her womanly instinct that allowed her to walk into the chamber at precisely the right moment, or just her attentive ear at the keyhole. She had changed from the ordinary day gown she’d been wearing when she’d fetched him to this chamber, and now wore a robe of purest black that was relieved only by a pattern of silvery stars about its hem. Her raven hair tumbled down her back to be lost in the folds of her skirt, and her blue eyes danced with love and, possibly, even a little of her lost magic.

DragonStar stared, then collected himself and half-bowed in her direction, acknowledging her as mother, woman and witch.

Axis smiled and held out his hand to Azhure, then held out his other hand for DragonStar. “It seems, my beloved,” he said to Azhure, “that we have a new companion for our faded constellation.”

She laughed, then embraced them both. “I welcome us all back into the House of Stars,” she said.

Chapter 4 WolfStar (#ulink_6c95ff28-0617-5b03-97be-42271a0026d8)

WolfStar rolled over on his back and screamed. Agony knifed through his belly, then ran down his legs in rivulets of liquid horror. He jerked his knees to his chest and hugged them, now gasping for breath, and trying to ride out the successive waves of pain that coursed through him.

Raspu’s poison, he supposed, or Mot’s, or Barzula’s, pumped into him during successive rapes.
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