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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22. Ch 3: Ashes in the Wind (Part 9 of 10)

Sarashi woke up to find the tent empty, save the woman who woke her. She startled at the sight, rising quickly to her feet, and then with a stumble she recalled where she was. Anis, Dawoul's wife, had hurried her and the two others into a tent, where she had fed them and given them a place to rest. Janko and Mya must have woken before Sarashi, for they were gone from the tent.

“It's starting,” Anis told her, and then left as well.

A salkia had been lain out for her to wear, and with numb fingers she lifted the cloth and wrapped it around her hips. The fine cloth fell in heavy waves all the way to her feet, where hundreds of long tassels were sewn on the hem. Like all its kin, the funeral garb brushed over the earth, when she left the tent.

A large area had been cleared while she slept, and branches of ylan had been stacked, to be the pyres for the dead. Everything was bundled neatly together in the fast and quiet manner that comes of something long since learned, and the corpses were tenderly laid at the top of the pyres. Kids, too physically weak to help build the stacks, gave the adults baskets filled with small wild flowers and sweet grasses to be laid between the dead. In a silence only broken by the cries of families belatedly recognizing swollen faces, the tribe readied themselves to say goodbye to their loved ones. The stale air clung to the skin, and made most glisten with sweat.

A man gave her a fan of woven grass to hold in one hand, as he passed her by.

A woman so old her eyes were almost hidden in wrinkles, began singing the low and unsteady mourning song as Dawoul lit a torch by the small bonfire outside the Mahal's tent. With it in hand, he walked through the tribe and out from among the tents to the large unlit pyres. The tribe followed behind him, and joined in the old woman's song. Sarashi spotted Mya and Janko among them – They too wore salkias and held grass fans. Janko wore the male version of the funeral garb, which meant two anklets with tassels bigger than the ones on the women's skirts.

Aided by the dry grass, the fire caught hold quickly when Dawoul put the torch to the pyre, Soon it seemed to reach for the sky, flames crackling and snapping.

Despite the fire, Sarashi grew cold as sweat sprung on her palms and neck. Fear slithered round her neck like a snake to choke her, and images of a castle she had never seen burn, danced under her eyelids when she closed them. She hated large fires like this to her very core. With a shiver, she forced herself to join in the hymn of grief rising from the gathered Mahaya.

Drums were added to the song. A slow and heavy rhythm of sorrows, somewhat similar to the one used in the seven day hunt, signalling the time of the dance.

The woven fan in her hands scratched as she lifted and swung it, feeding air to the fire, making it burn hotter and higher. With the speed of a land turtle, they began to move. Their feet trod ancient steps as they swung the woven grass in their hands, creating wind. Every motion was elaborate and patient, but also powerful. Red flames turned white with intensity, branches crumbled away like withered bones within, and the sun set in the background.

The heat made her skin tighten almost painfully, her lips going dry.

It was too much for her.

Fear took away her breath, overwhelming her. It left her reeling, and she stumbled away from the inner dance and towards the outer. Here they danced in a different pattern. Along the ensemble the fans were not used to rouse the fire, but were instead slammed against the ground, harshly killing any spark or ember that might have otherwise jumped to the grass beyond.

When people tired, they rested while they watched the others, and took turns in the dance. Not only did the fire purify those cruelly murdered, but it also allowed those who felt rage at the loss to channel it into powerful swings of the fans.

In the end, the flames ran out of things to burn, and died down into red embers. At this point the dance halted gradually, people gathering with those they had near, eating, weeping or falling into exhausted sleeps.

Sarashi found herself drifting away from the others, still feeling like an unclean intruder on something too private. Mya brought her water and together they gathered fruit from one of the baskets set out, and brought it to Janko. They slept awkwardly away from the tribe, and together with their horses. Silver Song laid down next to Janko, settling her head against his back. During the night Sarashi woke twice, plagued by the sight of the hung man's open eyes and dreams of dancing shadows. Each time the embers had lost a little of their glow.

As dawn broke, the tribe gathered again to the sound of the drum. This time however, there was no song of mourning – Instead it was the joyful tones of flutes and bells, which joined the quickly rising rhythm.

A woman with eyes red from weeping, grabbed the hands of a son and pulled him out into the middle of the ashy area, salkia swinging from her hips as she turned, raising her arms to the sky above the rising sun. Her son followed her motions, making large sweeping steps and keeping his feet as close to the ground as he could, while he moved them. Ashes rose like grey clouds, swept into the air by the tassels of their attire.

The rest of the tribe surged to join them, twirling and circling each other, sweeping and stomping more and more ashes into the air, colouring skirts and skin, white, grey and black with soot. For each step and for each tassel that brushed against the earth, the tribe rejoiced in the knowledge that they were helping their dead find their way to the Shadow Lands.

Sarashi grabbed Mya's hand, who in turn grabbed Janko's, and pulled them into the dance.

Ashes whirled in the wind.

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