Ashes of the Ylan [A Rama Empire novel]

"I thought you'd kill me," she croaked. "Not much honour if you cannot keep your promises."

Within the world of Convergera, lies the lands of Rama. Though the Rama Empire has long since been disbanded, the Capital still stands as a symbol of prosperity. The Antirian wars are over, but peace is soon disturbed as disaster strikes.

Sarashi is raised on the Wild Plains, but in a culture where freedom is everything, she is tied down by fear and expectations. Her people wants her to embrace her mother's legacy, her own fury screams for vengeance and her heart aches to belong. But when the war between the Sapphire Empire and the people of Rama flares up again, she'll have to make a choice between what she wants, and what is expected of her.

"Both standing on two legs, eyes level, the lion tried to push her into the ground. Her heart beat like never before as it stretched its neck over the spear to reach her face with its teeth. Pain made her dizzy as she growled back, a fiery rage star

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16. Ch 3: Ashes in the Wind (Part 3 of 10)

She swung from one hand to the next, every surging motion tugging at her too full stomach, and pressing laughter from her lungs and smiles from her lips. Mya grabbed her arm with shining black eyes, and pulled her to join another group of younglings who had managed to claim a bottle of spiced wine for their own. The Torgian brew ran hot through her blood, as she was dragged back into the dance.

On stumbling feet and with a silly grin, she wove through the steps with the rest of the tribe.

Janko, Jain's older brother, took her into his arms and lifted her up into the air, leading as if it was natural for him. Janko had laugh lines in his long face, his eyes were a tiny bit crooked, and his hair kept long and gathered at the nape of his neck in three long braids. Like his little brother he had a reputation for being a bit of a scoundrel, but unlike his brother you would never find him murmuring sweet nothings in the ears of girls. They held no interest for him, as his tastes ran a bit more for his own kind than theirs.

His smile made Sarashi's stomach feel warm. If anyone deserved to smile, it was Janko.

He was one of the few people who seemed to accept her as she was, rather than demand more of her. Grinning he let go of her, and again she was swung into a chain of people, turning and twirling, and weaving together their souls in the dance. The next time she reached him, both of them having come almost full circle, he grabbed her hand again and pulled her away from the others.

“Come,” he whispered and hurried her in between the tents. Together they went around one tent or another, till they reached a little open ground between them. There a small group of people had lit a fire, and surrounded it by mats and furs to rest on. Most of them were young adults.

Janko let go of her hand and disappeared, and Sarashi settled down on a blanket. Helary, who had been snuggling in her mother's lap, woke up and decided that she wanted to be close to Sarashi instead. The small girl crawled right up to Sarashi's chest and burrowed her nose by the other girl's collarbone, going back to sleep.

Others had gathered around the fire. Beside them were some of the young men, who had managed to hog several bottles of wine and now shared it between them. Janko returned with a basket full of small cakes, and soon they were passed around as well.

A pleasant feeling of sleepiness filled the gathering as the night neared its end, here away from the music and the fervent dancing.

Helary's mother, Ylsa, figured that with her own daughter occupied, she had two hands for somebody else's and pulled a toddler to her lap. The little girl had two white clay marks on her cheek to keep away spirits of illness. As children often disappeared or died, they were cherished by all the tribe, and the little one did not protest when Ylsa started braiding her hair, humming softly as she did so.

Sarashi was almost asleep when she heard it, her eyes flying open as she stared at Ylsa through the dark. The woman met her gaze shortly, a silent apology in her eyes.

It was almost as if a spell had been broken, and Ashael's Lullaby drifted off into silence. The song Sarashi's mother had died singing.

Caeryn found them then, her eyes sparkling as she sat down beside Sarashi and Helary.

“Where have you been?” Sarashi asked drowsily. “You look satisfied.”

Caeryn shrugged.

“Around,” she answered, smiling. “And I am.” She accepted the bottle from one of the men, and gulped down a swallow or two before sending it along. The Mahayas openly shared their bodies with each other as they pleased, unless a mated pair had agreed not to, and staved off unwanted pregnancies with teas brewed on bloodleaves. Or simply by seeking pleasure with same sex partners. From Caeryn's relaxed state, Sarashi figured her friend would be brewing one such tea on the morrow.

There was a silent moment between them, as they looked at the people around them.

“I grew up here,” Sarashi said suddenly, melancholy heavy on her chest and a hollowness in her voice, despite Caeryn by her side and Helary asleep in her arms. The last night of the feast was ending. The sun was rising.

“I know,” Caeryn said, sensing her mood.

“Hia was right,” Sarashi murmured back, and sat up to shift the small girl in her arms. The wine and the dancing had banished her black mood for a short while, but Ylsa had broken the spell. Her shoulders stung and her feet thrummed from the exertion. Helary sighed in her sleep and moved slightly to readjust her new position.

“Maybe,” was Caeryn's answer, but they both knew it was true.

“If they expect me to lead them-” Sarashi trailed off, not sure what to say. “I don't know what to do.”

“You swore on the God to avenge them. You're stupid if you think you can do that alone.” Caeryn sounded almost angry.

“Maybe,” Sarashi admitted.

“Travel,” Caeryn told her. “See the plains. Meet the tribes. The few fall markets we've attended aren't enough to know them, and you've promised to hunt down their hunters. You should know the ones you'll fight for.” Caeryn almost growled. “I don't understand why you had to go and swear on the God.”

They avoided meeting each others' eyes and instead let their gaze drift over the tents, the small fires and the people curled up around them. They were falling asleep in the arms of family and loved ones, or having murmured conversations accompanied by low singing.

“Would you come?” Sarashi asked her best friend.

Caeryn was silent for the longest time.

“I'm sorry,” she finally said in a quiet voice. “My tribe is here.”

Sarashi's heart sunk.

“And mine is not,” she whispered, and if Caeryn heard, she did not comment.

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