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engl. ... reinlesen


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Reihenfolge der Bücher von Sara Douglass


[ 1995 ]
The Wayfarer Redemption
(Orig.: BattleAxe)
(Axis: Book 1)

[ 1996 ]
Enchanter
(Axis: Book 2)

[ 1996 ]
Starman
(Axis: Book 3)

[ 1997 ]
Threshold

[ 1998 ]
Sinner
(Redemption: Book 1)

[ 1999 ]
Pilgrim
(Redemption: Book 2)

[ 1999 ]
Crusader
(Redemption: Book 3)

[ 2000 ]
Beyond the Hanging Wall

[ 2000 ]
The Nameless Day
(Crucible: Book 1)

[ 2001 ]
The Wounded Hawk
(Crucible: Book 2)

[ 2002 ]
The Crippled Angel
(Crucible: Book 3)


»Furche tief - Furche weit«
Sara Douglass - Die Sternenbraut

er Piper Verlag legt in seinem Programm einen neuen Schwerpunkt auf die Fantasy Literatur und die Australierin Sara Douglass gehört mit ihrer auf sechs Bände angelegten Saga "Unter dem Weltenbaum" mit ihrem Roman "Die Sternenbraut" zu den ersten veröffentlichten Titeln. Und man staunt und ist völlig gefangen, selbst wenn man nicht zu den überzeugten Lesern dieses Genres gehört, von diesem opulent angelegten Schmöker.

Das Volk der Achariten wird aus dem Norden von aggressiven Wesen angegriffen und der Seneschall, der Vorsteher der religiösen Bruderschaft, schickt seine Armee aus, diese Feinde zu bekämpfen. Axis, er ist der Anführer, macht sich mit seinen Truppen auf den Weg. Doch bis er wirklich den Norden erreicht, hat er Schlachten gegen bedrohliche Naturgewalten zu bestehen, zwei trottelige Priester schließen sich seinem Tross an und er verliebt sich in eine schöne Frau, die leider einem anderen bereits versprochen ist. Dass es ausgerechnet sein verhasster Stiefbruder sein muss, ist mehr als bedauerlich.

Auf seinem Feldzug ahnt Axis, dass der Seneschall, dem er unterstellt ist, nicht immer die Wahrheit gesagt hat. Es gibt Mitglieder anderer Völker, vom Seneschall als "die Unaussprechlichen" bezeichnet, die er um jeden Preis und mit allen Mitteln bekämpft. Doch sind diese wirklich so schlecht? Ist nicht eher Artor, der von seinem Volk angebetete Gott des Pfluges, abzulehnen? Im Namen Artors betreiben die Achariten eine Politik der Plünderung des Bodens, holzen alle Bäume ab und beuten die Natur hemmungslos aus. Axis kommen immer mehr Zweifel.

In einem großen Tableau legt die Autorin Sara Douglass ihr monumentales Epos an und es tritt deutlich hervor, dass sie sich lange mit der Geschichte des Mittelalters beschäftigt hat, denn ihr Fantasy - Reich trägt davon neben der Minne und dem Kirchenaufbau bis zur Hexenverbrennung immens viele Züge. Ein wenig erinnert der Roman zu Beginn an Marion Zimmer Bradleys Klassiker "Die Nebel von Avalon", doch "Die Sternenbraut" beginnt schnell ein eigenes Tempo zu entwickeln und dadurch, dass die Personen nicht eindimensional gut und böse, sondern durchaus vielschichtig sind und ihre Rollen wechseln, verfällt der Leser immer mehr dem Sog der spannenden Handlung.

Leider ist bis zum zweiten Band noch etwas Geduld vonnöten, denn die Fortsetzung erscheint erst im Frühjahr 2003. Bis dahin mit Artors Gruß "Furche tief - Furche weit."
manuela haselberger



  Sara Douglass -
  Die Sternenbraut
  Originaltitel: »Battleaxe. Book One of The Axis Trilogy«, 1995
  Übersetzt von Marcel Bieger
  2002, München, Piper Verlag, 388 S., 19.90

      gebundenes Buch



... reinlesen

Die Frau kämpfte sich durch den kniehohen Schnee, und das Bündel Altholz auf ihrem Rücken wog fast so schwer wie das Kind, das sie im Leib trug. Rasselnd verließ der Atem ihren Mund, um dann sofort im bitterkalten Südwind zu gefrieren. Klein und stark stapfte sie vorwärts. An ihren Schultern und Beinen wölbten sich die Muskeln, die sie in achtundzwanzig Jahren Überlebenskampf in ihrer rauhen Heimat mühsam erworben hatte. Früher hatte sie sich stets auf die Hilfe und den Beistand ihres Volkes verlassen können. Doch nun war sie allein, und dieses neue Kind, ihr drittes, würde sie gebären müssen, ohne jemanden zur Seite zu haben.
Dies sollte ihr letzter Marsch durch das Tal sein. Die schweren Winterstürme der letzten Wochen hatten sie in ihrer Unterkunft festgehalten, ihr mit Frost und Eis den Weg nach draußen unmöglich gemacht und ihren wertvollen Vorrat an heiß brennendem Zeitholz nahezu aufgezehrt. Sollten der Frau das Holz und die Trockenvorräte ausgehen, müßte sie sterben; und ihr Kind mit ihr. Erst gestern hatte das Wetter sich ausreichend beruhigt, so daß die Frau aufbrechen und sich durch den Schnee zu den Zeitholzbäumen vorarbeiten konnte. Mittlerweile war der Wind wieder aufgefrischt, und der Schnee fiel dichter. Sie wußte, daß ihr nur noch wenig Zeit blieb, ihre Unterkunft zu erreichen. Das Wissen darum, daß sie sich nach der Geburt ihres dritten Kindes erst einmal nicht weit fortbewegen könnte, trieb sie zusätzlich an.

Obwohl die Frau sich aus freien Stücken für dieses Leben in Einsamkeit entschieden hatte, nagte doch die Sorge an ihrer Seele.

Und die Unruhe um ihr Kind plagte sie. Die beiden vorangegangenen Schwangerschaften hatten ihr große Pein bereitet, vor allem in den letzten Wochen. Doch die Frau hatte ihre Kinder dann doch ohne viel Jammern und Klagen zur Welt gebracht. Ihr Körper hatte sich danach rasch erholt und war stets sauber verheilt. Aber bei dem neuen Säugling fürchtete sie die Wehen mehr als den einsamen Winter, der ihr bevorstand. Ein ungewöhnlich großes Kind ... und sehr wütend. Nachts, wenn sie zu schlafen versuchte, trat und schlug es manchmal so zornig mit den Füßen und Fäusten gegen die Wände ihres Leibes, daß sie vor Schmerzen stöhnte und sich in dem vergeblichen Bemühen, dem Wüten des Kindes zu entgehen, von einer Seite auf die andere warf.

Die Frau hielt kurz inne, um die Holzlast auf ihrem Rücken geradezuschieben. Sie wünschte, sie könnte das Gewicht des ungeborenen Kindes ebenso leicht verlagern. Letzte Nacht hatte es sich bis ganz nach unten geschoben, so als suche es den Geburtskanal. Die Niederkunft schien unmittelbar bevorzustehen. Vielleicht schon heute abend, spätestens aber morgen. Die Frau spürte, wie ihre Beckenknochen bei jedem Schritt vom Druck des Säuglingskopfes auseinandergeschoben wurden. Das Gehen bereitete ihr immer mehr Mühe.
Sie spähte über den Schnee zu der dichten Reihe der Nadelhölzer, die sich dreihundert Schritte vor ihr erhob; sie hatte die Unterkunft nach bestem Vermögen errichtet. Abgeschirmt von den hohen Stämmen, befand sich das Lager an der windabgelegenen Seite eines felsigen Hügels, dessen Kuppe über die Wipfel hinausragte. Diese Kuppe bildete die erste Erhebung eines langen Höhenzugs, der auf die fernen Eisdachalpen zulief. Schon lange bevor man ihr die Schwangerschaft ansehen konnte, hatte die Frau sich von Freunden und Familie davongestohlen und war durch den Awarinheimwald gewandert, bis sie diese einsame Stelle gefunden hatte, die weit nördlich von ihrer Heimat lag. Vom ersten Herbstmonat an, dem Totlaubmond, hatte die Frau ihre Tage damit zugebracht, so viele Beeren, Nüsse und Samenkörner wie nur möglich zu sammeln. Doch sosehr sie auch suchte, sie hatte nur geringe Mengen von Malfari gefunden, jenen süßen und faserigen Knollen, die ihr Volk für gewöhnlich über den Winter brachten. So hatte die Frau sich gezwungen gesehen, immer wieder nach draußen zu gehen. Und die Furcht davor, ihr Kind und sich selbst nicht ausreichend zu ernähren, hielt sie nächtens wach. Die Reste einiger abgemagerter Kaninchen, die sie in Streifen geschnitten und getrocknet hatte, stellten ihren gesamten Fleischvorrat dar. Die Frau seufzte und rieb sich gedankenverloren den Bauch. Während sie versuchte, die grimmigen Schmerzen in den Beinen und im Unterleib nicht zu beachten, sehnte sie sich verzweifelt nach ein paar Hühnern oder einer Ziege, um ihren Speiseplan zu erweitern.

Sie hätte gar nicht erst versuchen sollen, dieses Kind auszutragen. Wenn die Frau bei ihrem Volk geblieben wäre, hätte man ihr das auch nicht erlaubt. Dies war ein Beltidenkind, empfangen während der ausschweifenden Gelage des Frühlingsfestes. Die Zeit, da ihr Volk, die Waldbewohner, in den Hainen, wo Berge und Forst zusammentrafen, mit den Menschen von den Eisdachalpen zusammenkamen. Dort begingen sie das Wiedererwachen des Lebens zur Tauzeit mit religiösen Feiern, und denen folgte unweigerlich das Gelage. Man trank buchstäblich alle Weinkrüge leer, die von den langen Winternächten übriggeblieben waren, die man nicht in heimeliger Runde am brennenden Kamin verzecht hatte. Und in der Beltidennacht ging es regelmäßig hoch her, waren dies doch die einzigen Stunden im Jahr, da beide Völker in ausreichend weinselige Stimmung gerieten, um sich einander so nahe zu kommen, wie man sich dies an anderen Tagen nicht vorstellen konnte.

Während der letzten drei Beltiden war er der Frau aufgefallen, und von Mal zu Mal hatte sie ihn mehr gewollt. Wie in jedem Jahr stieg er auch in diesem Jahr mit seinem Volk zu den Hainen herab. Seine Haut war so hell und fein wie die Eisgewölbe seiner Heimat, und sein Haar glich dem goldenen Sommerschein der Sonne, die von beiden Völkern angebetet wurde. Als mächtigster Zauberer seines Volkes führte er zusammen mit den Beschwörern der Waldläufer die religiösen Feierlichkeiten durch. Die Macht und Zauberkunst dieses Mannes hatten die Frau schon immer sehr beeindruckt und auch etwas geängstigt, aber seine Erfahrung, sein gutes Aussehen und seine Anmut bewunderte sie. Bei der letzten Beltidennacht vor acht Monaten hatte die Frau genug Wein getrunken, um alle Hemmungen abzustreifen und Mut zu gewinnen. Sie zog immer noch die Blicke der Männer auf sich, stand auf dem Gipfel ihrer Schönheit und körperlichen Reife, und ihr dichtes nußbraunes Haar fiel ihr in Wellen den Rücken hinab. Als der Zauberer sah, wie sie über die Lichtung auf ihn zukam, kniff er erst die Augen zusammen und riß sie dann weit auf. Aber er lächelte und streckte ihr die Hand entgegen. Sein Blick hielt den ihren fest, sie nahm seine Finger in die ihren und genoß es, wie samtig weich sie sich anfühlten – ganz im Gegensatz zu ihren von der Arbeit schwielig gewordenen Händen. Für einen Zauberer besaß er sehr viel Wärme und Freundlichkeit. Er flüsterte ihr auch zärtliche Worte zu, ehe er sie zu einer abgelegenen Stelle unter den funkelnden Sternen führte.

Der Schnee, der in den letzten Stunden leicht gefallen war, kam nun in immer dichteren Flocken herunter. Die Frau riß sich aus ihren Tagträumereien und mußte feststellen, daß sie durch das wirbelnde Weiß die Baumreihe kaum noch erkennen konnte. Sie mußte sich beeilen. Das Kind zog sie nach unten, und sie geriet ins Taumeln, als sie schneller vorwärtszukommen versuchte.

Seine Hände waren stark und sicher über ihren Körper gefahren, und da hatte es sie nicht verwundert, daß ihr Leib unter diesen Berührungen sein Kind empfangen wollte. Ein Kind von einem Zauberer wäre etwas Erstaunliches und Ungewöhnliches. Beide Völker begrüßten zwar die Feierlichkeiten und duldeten auch die Gelage und die gemischten Paare, die sich in der Beltidennacht fanden. Aber ein daraus entstehendes Kind wurde sowohl von den Baum- als auch den Bergmenschen als etwas Widernatürliches angesehen. Ihr Leben lang hatte die Frau miterlebt, wie vier bis sechs Wochen nach dem Fest einige Frauen hinaus in den Wald gingen und dort die nötigen Kräuter suchten, um ihren Körper von der Frucht zu befreien, die sie in jener Nacht empfangen hatten.

Doch irgendwie hatte die Frau es nicht über sich gebracht, den dampfenden Sud zu trinken, den sie sich immer wieder kochte. Endlich hatte sie beschlossen, das Kind in ihrem Bauch auszutragen. Wenn der Säugling erst einmal das Licht der Welt erblickt hätte und die anderen sehen könnten, daß er genau so aussah wie alle anderen auch, würden sie ihn auch annehmen. Bei einem Kind von diesem Zauberer konnte es sich um keine Widernatürlichkeit handeln; es würde, da es einen Magier zum Vater hatte, nur schöner und mächtiger als andere Kinder sein.

Doch dazu mußte die Frau die letzten Monate ihrer Schwangerschaft allein verbringen, sonst hätte ihr Volk sie gezwungen, das Kind aus dem Leib zu entfernen. Und heute fragte sie sich, ob der Kleine wirklich so prachtvoll werden würde, wie sie ursprünglich geglaubt hatte; oder ob sie nicht vielleicht einen Fehler begangen hatte.

Die Frau biß die Zähne zusammen, um der Pein zu widerstehen, und zwang die Füße, einen Schritt nach dem anderen durch die Schneewehen zu setzen. Sie würde es schaffen. Ihr blieb auch gar nichts anderes übrig; denn sterben wollte sie nicht.

Plötzlich schwang ein eigenartiges Wispern im Wind mit, der immer stärker blies.
Sie blieb stehen, und jede Faser in ihrem Körper schien sich in flüssiges Feuer zu verwandeln. Die Frau schob sich mit den behandschuhten Händen eine feine Strähne aus dem Gesicht, spähte angestrengt in das Halbdunkel und lauschte auf alles Ungewöhnliche.

Da war es wieder. Ein leises Flüstern, herangetragen vom Wind ... wie ein Wispern mit Schluckauf ... Skrälinge!
»O nein«, stöhnte die Frau, und Furcht klumpte ihr den Magen zusammen. Nachdem sie für ein paar Momente wie erstarrt im Schnee gestanden hatte, zerrte sie an den hinderlichen Gurten, mit denen das Holzbündel am Rücken befestigt war. Sie mußte die Last unbedingt loswerden. Ihre einzige Aussicht, mit dem Leben davonzukommen, bestand darin, schneller als die Skrälinge zu laufen. Sie mußte die Bäume vor ihnen erreichen. Im Wald gefiel es ihnen nicht.

Den nächsten Absatz weiterlesen auf Englisch?
Textauszug aus: Sara Douglass, Die Sternenbraut – Erster Roman des Zyklus ›Unter dem Weltenbaum‹, Piper-Verlag 2002


englische Leseprobe

The woman struggled through the knee-deep snow, the bundle of dead wood she had tied to her back almost as great a burden as the weight of the child she carried in her belly. Her breath rasped in her throat before frosting heavily in the bitterly cold southerly wind. She was short and strong, her legs and shoulders finely muscled by twenty-eight years of hard-won survival in her harsh homeland. But she had always had the help and company of her people to aid her. Now she was alone and, this her third child, she would have to bear without assistance.

This would be her last trip across the valley. The severe winter storms of the past few weeks had kept her iced into her shelter so that her supply of the precious hot-burning Timewood was almost exhausted; if she did not have enough wood and dry stores remaining for her confinement, then she would die and her child would die with her. Only in the past day had the weather broken sufficiently to allow her to struggle through the snow to reach the Timewood trees. Now the wind was growing harsher and the snow heavier and she knew she had only a short time to reach her shelter. The knowledge that once the baby was born she would not be able to travel far from her shelter drove her on.

Although her current solitude was a path she had chosen freely, worry ate at her bones.

And worry about her child also gnawed at her. Her previous two pregnancies had been uncomfortable, especially in the final weeks, but she had borne those children with little fuss. Her body had recuperated quickly and had healed cleanly each time. With this child she feared her labour more than the lonely winter ahead. It was too large, too ... angry. Sometimes at night when she was trying to sleep it twisted and beat at the sides of her womb with such frantic fists and heels that she moaned in pain, rocking herself from side to side in a futile bid to escape her child's rage.

She paused briefly, adjusting the burden of wood on her back, wishing she could ease the load of the child as easily. Last night the child had shifted down into the pit of her belly, seeking the birth canal. The birth was close. Perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow. She could feel the bones of her pelvis grating apart with the pressure of the child's head each time she took a step, making it hard to walk.

She squinted through the snow to the thick line of conifers about three hundred paces ahead. She had done her best with her camp. It was sheltered well behind the tree line in the lee of a rocky hill that, jutting above the peaks of the trees, was the first in a long range of hills leading away into the distant Icescarp Alps. Well before her pregnancy had begun to show, she had slipped away from her friends and family and travelled the Avarinheim to reach this lonely spot far to the north of her usual forest home. From the first of the autumn months, DeadLeaf-month, she had occupied her days with gathering and storing as many berries, nuts and seeds as she could. As hard as she looked, however, she had found only small amounts of malfari, the sweet fibrous tubers that provided her people with most of their winter sustenance. She had been forced to go without, and fears of what malnourishment might do to her and the child kept her awake at nights. The remains of a few scrawny rabbits, dried into leathery strips, was all she had for meat. At best she would go hungry while she was tied to the shelter and her young baby. At worst ... She sighed and absently rubbed her belly, trying to ignore the fiery ache in her legs and pelvis, desperately wishing for a few chickens or a goat to supplement her winter diet. But they had been left behind with her people.

She should never have tried to carry this child to term. Had she remained with her people she would not have been allowed to. It was a Beltide child, conceived during the drunken revelry of the spring rites, a time when her people, the forest dwellers, and the people of the Icescarp Alps assembled in the groves where mountain and forest met. There they celebrated the renewal of life in the thawing land with religious rites followed, invariably, by an enthusiastic excess of whatever wine was left over from long winter nights huddled by home fires. Beltide was the one night of the year when both peoples relaxed sufficiently to carry interracial relations to extremes that neither people normally practiced throughout the rest of the year.

Every Beltide night for the past three years she had watched him, wanted him. He came down to the groves with his people, his skin as pale and as fine as the ice vaults of his home, his hair the fine summer gold of the life-giving sun that both their peoples worshipped. As the most powerful Enchanter of his kind he led the Beltide rites with the leading Banes of her own people; his power and magic awed and frightened her but she craved his skill and beauty and grace. This last Beltide night past, eight months now, she had drunk enough wine to loosen her inhibitions and buttress her courage. She was a striking woman, at the peak of her beauty and fitness, her nut-brown hair waving thick down her back. When he'd seen her striding across the clearing of the grove towards him his eyes had crinkled and then widened, and he had smiled and held his hand out to her. Eyes trapped by his, she had taken his outstretched fingers, marvelling at the feel of his silken skin against her own work-callused palm. He was kind for an Enchanter, and had murmured gentle words before leading her to a secluded spot beneath the spinning stars.

"StarDrifter," she whispered, running her tongue along the split skin of her lips.

The snow that had been drifting down for the past few hours was now falling heavily, driven by an increasing north-east wind, and she roused out of her reverie to find that she could hardly see the tree line through the driving snow. She must hurry. His child dragging her down, she stumbled a little as she tried to move faster. Then, despite the heavy load of wood shifting painfully along her spine, her thoughts drifted back to that Beltide night.

His hands had been strong and confident on her body, and she was not surprised that her womb had quickened with his child. A child of his would be so amazing, so exceptional. Yet although both peoples accepted the excesses and the drunken unions between the races on Beltide night, both also believed that any child conceived of such a union was an abomination. For most of her life she had been aware of the women who, some four to six weeks after Beltide, went out of their way along the dim forest paths to collect the herbs necessary to rid their bodies of any child conceived that night.

But somehow she was not able to force herself to swallow the steaming concoction she brewed herself time and time again. And finally she had decided, without knowing why, that she would carry the child to term. Once the child was born, once her people could see that it was a babe like any other (except more beautiful, more powerful, as any child of an Enchanter would be), they would accept it. No child of his could be an abomination.

She'd had to spend the last long months of her pregnancy alone, lest her people force the child from her body. Long lonely months, when she had endured a pregnancy that made her wonder what exactly it was she carried inside her, when she wondered if the child would be as wondrous as she had first supposed. She had been unable to keep down much food for many weeks now, and she had also bled heavily from time to time, until now she faced a birth alone and seriously weakened.

She clenched her jaws against the discomfort and forced her feet to take one step after another through the snow drifts. She would manage. She had to. She did not want to die.

A strange whisper, barely discernible in the heightening storm, ran along the edge of the wind.

She stopped, every nerve in her body afire. Was she so close to the trees that she could hear the wind rustling through the pine needles already? Her gloved hands pushed fine strands of hair from her eyes, and she concentrated hard, peering through the gloom, listening for any unusual sounds.

There. Again. A soft whisper along the wind ... a soft whisper and a hiccup. Skraelings!

"Ah," she moaned, involuntarily, terror clenching her stomach so tightly that she almost vomited the few berries she had been able to keep down that day. After a moment frozen into the wind, she fumbled with the cumbersome straps holding the bundle of wood to her back, desperate to lose the burden. Her only hope of survival lay in outrunning the Skraelings. In reaching the trees before they reached her. They did not like the trees.

But she could not lose the weight of this child within her. She could not run at this point in her pregnancy. Not with this child.

The straps finally broke free, the hard-gathered wood tumbling about her feet, and she tried to break into a stumbling run. Almost immediately she tripped and fell over, hitting the ground heavily, the impact forcing the breath from her body and sending a shaft of agony through her belly. The child kicked viciously.

The wind whispered again. Closer.

For a few moments she could do nothing but scrabble around in the snow, frantically trying to regain her breath and find some foot or handhold in the treacherous ground.

A small burble of laughter, low and barely audible above the wind, sounded a few paces to her left.

Sobbing with terror now she lurched to her feet, everything but the need to get to the safety of the trees forgotten.

Two paces later another whisper, this time directly behind her, and she would have screamed except that her child kicked so suddenly and directly into her diaphragm that she was winded almost as badly as she had been when she fell.

Then, even more terrifying, a whisper directly in front of her.

"A pretty, pretty ... a tasty, tasty." The wraith's insubstantial face appeared momentarily in the dusk light, its silver orbs glowing obscenely, its tooth-lined jaws hanging loose with desire.

Finally she found the breath to scream, the sound tearing through the dusk light, and she stumbled desperately to the right, fighting through the snow, arms flailing in a futile effort to fend the wraiths off. She knew she was almost certainly doomed. The wraiths fed off fear as much as they fed off flesh, and they were growing as her terror grew. She could feel the strength draining out of her. They would chase her, taunt her, drain her, until even fear was gone. Then they would feed off her body.

The child churned in her belly as she lurched through the snow, as if intent on escaping the prison of her poor, doomed body. It flailed with its fists and heels and elbows, and every time one of the dreadful whispers of the wraiths reached it through the amniotic fluid of its mother's womb, it twisted and struck harder.

Even though she knew she was all but doomed the primeval urge to keep making the effort to escape kept her moving through the snow, grunting with each step, jerking every time her child beat at the confines of her womb. But now the urge to escape consumed the child as much as its mother.

The five wraiths hung back a few paces in the snow, enjoying the woman's fear. The chase was going well. Then, strangely, the woman twisted and jerked mid-step and crashed to the ground, writhing and clutching at the heaving mound of her belly. The wraiths, surprised by this sudden development in the chase, had to sidestep quickly out of the way, and slowed to circle the woman at a safe distance just out of arm's reach.

She screamed. It was a sound of such terror, wrenched from the very depths of her body, that the wraiths moaned in ecstasy.

She turned to the nearest wraith, extending a hand for mercy. "Help me," she whispered. "Please, help me!"

The wraiths had never been asked for help before. They began to mill in confusion. Was she no longer afraid of them? Why was that? Wasn't every flesh and blood creature afraid of them? Their minds communed and they wondered if perhaps they should be afraid too.

The woman convulsed, and the snow stained bright red about her hips.

The smell and sight of warm blood reached the wraiths, reassuring them. This one was going to die more quickly than they had originally expected. Spontaneously. Without any help from their sharp pointed fangs. Sad, but she would still taste sweet. They drifted about in the freezing wind, watching, waiting, wanting.

After a few more minutes the woman moaned once, quietly, and then lay still, her face alabaster, her eyes opened and glazed, her hands slowly unclenching. The wraiths bobbed as the wind gusted through them and considered. The chase had started so well. She had feared well. But she had died strangely. The most courageous of the five drifted up to the woman and considered her silently for a moment longer. Finally, the coppery smell of warm blood decided it and it reached down an insubstantial claw to worry at the leather thongs of her tunic. After a moment's resistance the leather fell open-and the one adventuresome wraith was so surprised it leapt back to the safe circling distance of its comrades.

In the bloody mess that had once been the woman's belly lay a child, glaring defiantly at them, hate steeping from every one of its bloodied pores. It had eaten its way out.

"Ooooh!" the wraiths cooed in delight, and the more courageous of them drifted forward again and picked up the bloody child.

"It hates," it whispered to the others. "Feel it?"

The other wraiths bobbed closer, emotion close to affection misting their orbs.

The child turned its tusked head and glared at the wraiths. It hiccupped, and a small bubble of blood frothed at the corner of its mouth.

"Aaah!" the wraiths cooed again, and huddled over the baby. Without a word the wraiths made their momentous decision. They would take it home. They would feed it. In time they would learn to love it. And then, years into a future the wraiths could not yet discern, they would learn to worship it.

But now they were hungry and good food was cooling to one side. Appealing as it was, the baby was dumped unceremoniously in the snow, howling its rage, as the wraiths fed on its dead mother.

 

Six weeks later ...

Separated by the length of the Alps and still more by race and circumstance, another woman struggled through the snowdrifts of the lower reaches of the western Icescarp Alps.

She stumbled badly over a rock hidden by the snow and tore the last fingernail from her once soft white hands as she scrabbled for purchase. She huddled against a frozen rock and sucked her finger, moaning in frustration and almost crying through cold and sad heartedness. For a day and a night she had battled to keep alive, ever since they had dumped her here in this barren landscape. These mountains could kill even the fittest man, even with the thickest furs, yet she had only a thin shawl over her stained and tattered nightdress and was seriously weakened by the terrible birth of her son two days before. And, for all her travail and prayers and tears and curses he had died during that birth, born so still and blue that the midwives had huddled him out of the room, not letting her hold him or weep over him.

Then, as the midwives fled the birthing chamber, the two men had come in, their eyes cold and derisive, their mouths twisting with scorn. They had dragged her weeping and bleeding from the room, dragged her from her life of comfort and deference, dumped her into a splintered old cart and drove her throughout the day to this spot at the base of the Icescarp Alps. They had said not a word the entire way.

There they had tipped her unceremoniously out. No doubt they wished her dead, but even they would not dare stain their hands with her blood. Even now her name made each of them afraid to be the one to plunge the knife into her throat.

Better this way, where she could endure a slow death on the dreaded mountains, prey to the Forbidden Ones which crouched among the rocks, prey to the cold and the ice, and with time to contemplate the shame of her illegitimate child ... her dead illegitimate child.

But she was determined not to die. There was one chance and one chance only. She would have to climb high into the Alps. Barely out of girlhood and clad only in tatters, she was determined to succeed.

Her feet had gone to ice the first few hours and she now could no longer feel them. Her toes were black. Her fingernails, torn from her hands, had left gaping holes at the ends of her fingers that had iced over. Now they were turning black too. Her lips were so dry and frozen they had drawn back from her teeth and solidified into a ghastly rictus.

She huddled against the rock. Although she had started the climb in hope and determination, even she, her natural stubbornness notwithstanding, realised that she was close to death. She had stopped shivering hours ago. A bad sign. But she would climb until she died. Better she die a young woman on the slopes of these beautiful ice mountains than aged and abed in the treacherous safeness of her homeland.

 

The creature had been watching the woman curiously for some hours now. It was far up the slopes of the mountain, peering down from its heights through eyes that could see a mouse burp at five leagues. Only the fact that she seemed determined to die immediately below its favourite day roost made the creature stir, fluff out its feathers in the icy air, then spread its wings and launch itself abruptly into the swirling wind, angered by the intrusion. It would rather have spent the day preening itself in what weak sun there was. It was a vain creature.

 

She saw it circling far above her. She squinted into the sun, grey specks of exhaustion almost obscuring her sight.

"StarDrifter?" she whispered, hope strengthening her heart and her voice. Slowly, hesitatingly, she lifted a blackened hand towards the sky. "Is that you?"

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Sternenströmers Lied.

Unter dem Weltenbaum 2.
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15.2.2003

by Manuela Haselberger
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