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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35. Ch 5: Widow's Crook (Part 4 of 7)

The tone in their group had been pleasantly tuned so far, despite the individuals' many differences, and Rise's over the top tendency to disapprove of everything her sister set her mind to. But when the elder sister started shouting, Sarashi found herself agreeing with her.

No flash of Rayla's dimples could distract Sarashi from the fact that the woman had lost her horse.

“You didn't think to tie your bloody mare up with the others?” Rise growled at her sister.

“Janko never ties his up, and neither did we before we left the mountains-” Rayla argued, puffing her cheeks up.

“Silver Song is bonded. She's never leave Janko! They told as that we had to tie them up the moment we entered the plains, or they'd join up with the nearest herd, you stupid-” Rise stopped herself and took a deep breath.

“I forgot, okay?” Rayla yelled. “Don't think that just because you're my sister you have the right to-”

“The right to scold-”

“You always think you're right!”

The women stood face to face, shouting at each other with the ferocity of two quarrelling wolves. More than once a hand flew up about to hit and was either slapped away or curled in barely contained violence. It was a wonder they had not tried to bite each other, though they certainly looked as if they wanted to.

Sarashi found herself reacting without thinking.

“That's enough!” she snapped and stepped between them. First she speared Rise with her glare. “Your sister is right, it is not your burden to scold her. Go help Janko pack the last of our things,” she ordered.

Rise's jaw locked for a second, but then she relaxed and nodded.

Sarashi turned to stare down Rayla.

“As for you: You were told to tie up your horse, and you didn't. I don't care what your reasons were. This means we'll have to either ask for a new horse at the next tribe, or buy one with goods we don't have.”

Rayla crossed her arms defiantly.

“Don't misunderstand, Princess,” she hissed. “You're not our leader-”

Sarashi moved so fast Rayla stumbled backwards. Suddenly Sarashi was right in front of her, their noses almost touching.

“I never said I was,” she said under her breath, forcing Rayla to hold hers to listen. “But I am the Royal Heir of Enshal and you will give me the respect that is due to me. You will also take responsibility for your mistake or leave this group.”

“Or what? You'll force me?” Rayla mocked.

Sarashi flashed her teeth at the youngest girl.

“No,” she said. “But nobody here will let you ride with them, and I doubt you can keep up on your own two feet.”

Rayla's eyes flickered to the rest of the group. Erar nodded in agreement with Sarashi, and Rayla did not even bother looking at the members from the tribe of Wild Horses. Instead she sent her sister a pleading glance.

Rise looked conflicted, but did not move or speak to help.

“I-” Rayla started, suddenly realising the situation she was in. “I'm sorry,” she hiccuped, finding that anger would not get her her way. Instead she turned to tears. “I didn't mean to forget, I was just so tired, I-”

“Enough,” Janko interrupted her. “This matter is done.”

“Yes,” Sarashi confirmed, stepping back from the other girl. “It is done. Rayla you can ride with Mya, I won't have you on a horse with Rise.”

Erar's whistle distracted them, and they looked to the horizon. A rider was coming towards them, one arm flailing in alarm, and for a second Sarashi thought it might be somebody returning Rayla's mare. But the horse's colour was wrong, and the man a stranger.

“Hey!” the rider shouted at them. “Are you the Princess and hers?”

He pulled the horse to a sudden standstill in front of them, and managed to stay upright as it took a few chaotic steps to cope with the stop.

“I am Sarashi Enshira,” Sarashi said as she stepped forward. “You bring a message for me?”

He bowed from his seat on the horse.

“I am of the Water Deer,” he told them. “Soldiers crossed the river by Widow's Crook the day before yesterday. We thought they were an ordinary patrol, but they brought horses and attacked the camp of the Sun Hawks. They've taken several prisoners and left others for dead, and we sent warriors to aid the Hawks but- Our Mahal thinks it too dangerous to cross the river to return the captives.”

Sarashi waited for him to continue, though in her heart she knew what he would ask of them.

“Jarmir, that's the scout who met you a day past and my sister's husband, said to find you out this way. Said you might help,” the man continued, weariness dripping into his words. “I've family with the Sun Hawks too, but there's only some four of us from the Water Deer who'll defy the Mahal, and three from the Sun Hawks who have a chance of following the soldiers. The rest are wounded, or caring for those who are.”

Sarashi thought carefully before she answered. She noticed the man's doubtful looks at her companions, and knew how young they must look to him. How few.

“I am certain all of us here wants to help,” she said with slow deliberation. The events of the last weeks, and the casual way her friends had started following her directions convinced her of that. “But are you sure the others of your group would want out help? I am not kindly received by all tribes.”

The man flinched.

“We're seven people, your Highness,” he admitted. “They're at least twenty soldiers. We need the extra hands.”

Sarashi sighed, accepting his honesty. She made a conscious effort to look confident as she met his eyes.

“There is nothing to be done about it here,” she concluded. “We'll meet up with the rest of your group and work out a plan there.”

“Galvar of the Sun Hawks leads our group,” the man informed them.

“And Sarashi Enshira of Enshal leads ours,” Janko replied with a stern look at the scout, as they set about packing up their camp. “In fact, I think we all need to be clear on that.” His eyes rested shortly on Rayla before bearing down on Sarashi.

She met his eyes, understanding his unspoken message. She swallowed and avoided his eyes to check Timpre's hooves before mounting. When everyone was ready, they let the scout lead the way.

Janko however was unprepared to drop the issue, and directed Silver Song to her side.

“You have something that makes people chose you,” he told her. “But your insecurity is contagious. When you doubt your choices, people will doubt them too and in turn their own choice as well.” He shook his head. “Be confident.”

She wanted to tell him that she did not lack confidence, but the words fell flat even to her, and she stayed silent.

She looked down and away.

“I think the horses have grown warm,” she said, loud enough for the others to hear, and the group sped up.

Grass swayed in their path, the pollen clinging like yellow powder to the legs of the Rameras. Nobody spoke as they rode, trepidation mixing with the pollen in the air, as the ground moved swiftly beneath strong hooves. As Erar has said; mountain bandits was one thing, soldiers another.

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