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Prologue � � Lord Avinauth, Keeper of the Royal Archives of Amun Amur, slept fitfully, dreaming of stars and of wolves that moved silently through dark woods. He was always restless at the times of the exuinox, because the ancient magic of the land and the sky was more manifest. But this night there was another reason.� � His wife Chanone muttered on the bed beside him, disturbed by his tossing. Carefully he lifted his legs off the bed and felt around in the dark for his slippers on the lambskin rug. He was a tall man, but he moved with such agility that Chanone remained undisturbed. It was Asper, the month of the wind, and the icy chill of the mountain air seemed to touch his very bones. He quickly found his cloak flung over a gilded wooden bench at the foot of the canopied bed and wrapped it about his shoulders, sighing with the pleasure of sudden warmth. He was getting too old for these mountains, but like Chanone he preferred to be here than at the royal court of King Rhohaun III. � He had built the Observatory of the Archives here in the Illuri Mountains in the early years of Rhohaun's reign, a legacy to his own mother, the previous Keeper. She had passed more than her position down to him. Men whispered that she was a sorceress. The priests had criticised him and maligned him, accusing him of extravagance and of building himself a palace under the guise of an observatory, packed with Taristian lavishness. But in those days he was closer to Rhohaun, and was young and feared no one. � But now he was fifty-five years old and time had streaked his black shoulder-length hair with silver, and dulled the fires of his spirit. Strategies had been set in place a century ago,and now all waited for the signs as the stars remained constant in the constant night, the twin moons rose and set, and Malakel rode his fire chariot across the sky. And the priests of the Eld found another reason to denounce him, for holding firm to century-old plans that would never come to fruition. � Then suddenly, two nights ago at the Asper exuinox, something happened. � The corridor outside his chamber was deserted, as was normal at an hour past midnight. The guards were mostly on the periphery of the chamber wing. The lanterns flickered warmly from their polished brass brackets, held in place by fierce-eyed dragons frozen in brass. The floors were polished marble, and the walls were indented with grottoes occupied by statuettes of gods and warriors. � I have been somewhat extravagant, Avinauth admitted to himself as he frequently did, whenever the elegance of his mountain retreat caught his attention. He made his way to the observatory which he had built close to his living quarters, and closer to his offices. In fact, the observatory was really an extension of his office, directly above it. He was somewhat breathless when he got there, having climbed three flights of stairs. I'm getting too soft. It's just as well that this has happened now, or I would have died from lack of activity. Soon I would hold a sword in my hand once more, instead of a pen, he thought. � The observatory was huge, with wide windows of fine glass. There was no Taristian lavishness here. The floors were of stone and the tables and desks were of plain, solid mahogany. The chamber had a three hundred and sixty degree view of land, sea and sky around, and was aglow with a mixture of light from the twin moons: Chamun's pale blue light and Sutra's golden hues. Avinauth slid open one of the glass windows that looked northeastward over the starkly lit peaks of the Illuri Mountains, and the icy breath of night air on his skin made him gasp. The observatory was built four thousand feet above sea level, and the view was spectacular. Beyond the jutting peninsula of mountains the Bay of Aubourn glittered surrealistic in the moonlight. Further out at the edge of vision he could see the lights Changol fortress glowing faintly at the mouth of the Amun River estuary. But Avinauth's interest lay in the night sky, among the stars. A telescope had been set up in the window and now he swung it eastward towards the constellation of Kenrod, the storm god. It was there two nights ago where one of the stars behind Kenrod's Rod of Lightning blazed forth, brighter than any in the constellation, as if it had exploded. It still blazed now even as he watched it through the telescope. It could have passed unnoticed to the naked eye, and was surely unnoticed by the common man. But it was a blazing beacon of warning to the priests of the Eld. Though not of Kenrod, it was close enough for them to give the credit to him. � � The king's messenger would arrive by midday, summoning him to council in the capital city of Angora. No one had told him this, but he knew. The messenger had come from Angora by royal galley and docked at the little port of Mahonne at midday. It was a hard day's ride to the observatory. Avinauth straightened and closed the window, thankfully cutting off the night's chill breeze. He felt he could sleep now, though he could still feel the disconcerting thread of power in the air. He knew he would dream of monumental events this night. He retraced his steps along the desolate corridors to return to the warmth of his bed next to his wife, and slept till morning. � His wife Chanone woke him at an hour past dawn. She was about ten years his junior, and despite the greying hair at her temples and the four children she had borne him, she was slim and brisk. Avinauth had long realised that she was plain-featured, yet people thought her beautiful because she was so enthused with life. He had been so duped twenty years ago when he had fallen a victim to her charms, but in her he had found a soul mate. She had soft grey eyes and long dark hair that fell almost to her waist. She scolded him sharply. "Would you sleep all day my lord?" � ?Only if I have you in bed next to me," he replied with a smile, hesitating to take the robe she proffered to him. � She gave him a stern look as she tossed his robe at him. "I have chores, my lord. When I married an older man I thought my bedroom duties would be light. Perhaps we should get you a lively young concubine." � ?No concubine could compete with your charms, my dear." � She gave him one of her sultry looks and floated out of the chamber, her silk robes whispering. Avinauth washed in the tiled bathroom attached to the chamber, and dressed quickly in a richly corded cotton robe before joining his wife on a nearby balcony for breakfast. The wind had not yet come up and was only a whisper, so that a quietness still hovered over the mountains as they unfolded in spectacular peaks and valleys down towards the blue waters of the Bay of Aubourn. � The small stone-top table was laid out with trays of fruit and freshly baked bread. There were clay jugs of chilled orange juice and water, and a steaming mug of coffee. � ?You went to look at your stars again last night," said she casually, pouring him a glass of juice. � ?The king's messenger will come today for me." � ?This is the start of it, then?" � ?It is." � She knew that it would take him away from her again for a long period. She had prepared herself for this, but not enough. Her voice was tense. "I know you are very capable of protecting us, but we will take twenty riders with us to Mahonne. We shall sail with the royal galley, so that no one would dare accost us." � Avinauth put his hand briefly over hers, knowing it would be useless trying to persuade her to remain at the Observatory of the Archives. At midday a drum roll sounded the arrival of the royal messenger, a travel-stained young man dress in the royal livery of Amun Amur. He had ridden all night along the treacherous mountain trail to the observatory. Avinauth, dressed in a resplendent robe of soft suede leather edged with fur, met him in his study. The boy entered and looked briefly around the wood panelled room with its polished wooden floor and imposing furniture. ?My message is for lord Avinauth, High Councillor of the Realm." � ?I am lord Avinauth." � ?Rhohaun, Aulda Rhu of the Amurian people, Rhu of Amun Amur, kurk of Angora and Lord of the Lands of the Amun Sea, summons you to a meeting of the Great Council, to be held in Angora on the 28th day of Asper in this the three hundred and twenty-sixth year of the Mykor Dynasty. There to give council to the Aulda Rhu and the High Council."� � The messenger handed over the scrolled paper that bore the king's seal. Avinauth read it. The boy had recited what was on the scroll, but Avinauth noted that it was signed on the day following his sighting of the star nova. "Messenger, you will eat and rest the night. We will leave before first light." The journey to Angora was uneventful. The ride to Mahonne across the mountain trail overlooking the Bay of Mahonne was scenic but strenuous, and the pace was not as swift as the messenger had hoped it would be. The captain of the men-at-arms was more concerned with safety than speed, aware that there could be danger to his master and mistress. Towards twilight they descended into Mahonne, where the Amunri, a war galley in the royal fleet, rode at anchor like a queen among the little fishing vessels.�� � The captain of the Amunri barely waited for them to settle in before he set sail, pointing the prow of his ship northwards towards the estuary of the great Amun River. The night was clear and they sailed right through till dawn across the Bay of Aubourn. Not unexpectedly, as the sun rose they found themselves sailing among hordes of ships of various types, heading to and from Angora. The Bay of Aubourn was a great arm of the Sea of Amun, whose shores were home to the great and small nations of the Amurian people. The kingdom of Amun Amur was first among these nations, followed by Shaunavon on the south eastern shore, and Alcona to the east. There were war galleys and merchantmen, fishing boats, pleasure craft and at least two great war galleons of the royal Amurian fleet.