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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33. Ch 5: Widow's Crook (Part 2 of 7)

It was an early morning of the sort where the wind blows warmly and the sky is as clear as a crystal under water. The scout from the Water Deer saw them before they did him, and began approaching them with a wave. It did not take long for him to get close enough for them to recognise his tattoo, and him to discover who they were. He greeted them respectfully, though his eyes were guarded.

“Your Highness,” he said, bowing to Sarashi.

Sarashi startled at the greeting, as few had used that address with her since her time in the Castle of Enshir. She pulled herself together, and nodded.

“What news of the river Mare?” she asked him.

The man glanced at her group, and Sarashi suddenly felt like laughing. His respect was not due to her heritage, but to the people who had become her friends. Though he used the royal address, it was meant as the greeting you would give a mahal of the tribes.

“Soldiers have pushed the tribes a day's walk from its shores,” he told them. “But things have been calm during winter. They have mostly been building guard stations on the other side of the river, and nothing great has happened while you were with the mountain tribes.”

“And the tribe of Wild Horses?” she inquired.

“By their usual spring territory, south of here,” he informed her promptly, having expected the question.

“Thank you,” she said. Then, after a much saying look from Mya, she reached her hands out, palms up for the scout to take.

“If I may ask your name?”

“Jarmir, son of Urt and Dereila,” he answered in surprise, placing his fingertips on her palms as was required. He had to lift them high to reach her where she sat on Timpre.

“The sun shines on our meeting,” she said tactfully.

“May it be kind,” he said in confusion at the traditional greeting. He pulled his hands back, rubbing them against his sarong discreetly.

“I was told stories about the honesty and scouting skills of the Tribe of Water Deer,” she followed up. “It is an honour to bear witness to them.” One of the many things Kheerl had been teaching her through the winter had been the ancestral stories of the tribes. They would help her win their respect, he had said, and if nothing else it would make them more pleasantly tuned to her.

Jarmir blushed.

“I'm honoured to be of assistance,” he said, stumbling over the last word.

“I thank you none the less,” she repeated her gratitude. She tightened her thighs around Timpre and moved him a few steps forward on sudden impulse. “The Water Deer are lucky to count you among them.” She waved the others forward as well.

“This is Mya and Janko of the Wild Horses, and Erar, Rayla and Rise of the Silver-Bearded Lynx,” she introduced them all and pointed to them by turn. Gribe stood by the feet of Silver Song, looking both tired and hot. The pink tip of her tongue was showing beneath her black nose.

Jarmir bowed to them.

“You bring honour to your tribes by serving the Princess,” he told them, but Sarashi shook her head before he even finished talking.

“They follow me freely,” she replied. “By their own choice and not for any claim made by me, or any obligation.”

The scout blinked in confusion at her statement, and seeing the question in his eyes, she motioned towards the others. She was as curious to know their answer as he was.

Nodding to her, he turned to her companions.

“I mean no disrespect, but if you have no obligation to follow the Heir of Enshal, why do you?” he asked them.

Sarashi's companions looked at each other, as if unsure of who should answer, and what to say. Erar's eyes sought out Sarashi's as if he was trying to make a decision, and Rayla looked conflicted. In the end it was Mya who spoke.

“She cannot fight all the soldiers of the Empire alone, but won't risk her people by forcing them to stand with her.” Her dark eyes locked on Jarmir of the Water Deer. “Would you be brave enough to refuse the title which would secure you not to stand alone?”

Sarashi stared, completely stunned, as her insides rioted in disbelief. Mya was saying something Sarashi could never believe in, and at the same time twisting the reason why Sarashi would not take her mother's title into something the tribes could possibly respect. It had nothing to do with being brave, and everything to do with the certain knowledge that fighting was useless. The Sapphire Empire was too big, too powerful, and Sarashi too useless and scared. She opened her mouth to protest, but was interrupted before a sound passed her lips.

“I would not, I think,” the scout said, and turned to bow for her again. “Perhaps the honesty of the Water Deer tribe shall serve you, not out of obligation, but in gratitude. I will tell my tribe of you.”

Sarashi swallowed the urge to disagree, and made what she hoped was a composed nod.

“Then I must thank you a third time before we take our leave,” she said quietly. They were going to visit the tribe of Wild Horses before going to scout out the river themselves.

“May the sun continue to rise till we meet again,” she said, holding out her palms again. He touched them lightly.

“And let it be kind,” he offered.

Still startled, but with a smile, she motioned the others along, and soon they were trotting onwards over the plains. The wisps of grass caressing their lower legs as they rode, welcoming Sarashi, Mya and Janko back to the place they grew up. A whisper in the wind of memories beneath the sun, a falcon in the sky and a fox making way for them to pass.

Rayla winked at Jarmir when she rode by him, smiling brightly and flashing her dimples at him. Rise clubbed her sister lightly on the ear with a disapproving frown.

“Let the poor man be, Rae. He's too honest for you,” she said harshly.

Rayla shrugged and laughed.

“And you're much too serious, Rie,” she said, and spurred her horse away from her sister's.

“How far to the Wild Horses?” Erar asked Janko.

“About two days ride from here, if they haven't moved away from the river,” Janko told him. “And if they've made my little brother a scout in my place, they won't know we're there till we're sitting in their tents.”

“Bit of a tumble-head?” Erar asked.

Mya giggled, and Sarashi woke back up from her earlier surprise, to flash him a grin.

“Worse,” they told him. “He's as bad as Rayla, chasing every tail he sets his eyes on.”

“Like a kitten,” Sarashi added, her eyes turned south towards where the Wild Horses would be. She would be seeing Caeryn again, Chehera, little Helary – Even Janko's wild cat brother would make a happy meet.

“I don't chase every tail I see,” Rayla objected and flipped her braids over one shoulder. “Only the handsome ones.”

Rise raised an eyebrow in response.

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