Fire's Promise [Ashes of the Ylan #1] [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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37. Ch 5: Widow's Crook (Part 6 of 7)

River Mare, Widow's Crook

(1249 p. CP)

 

It was the darkest hour of the night, when Erar lowered himself into the cold waters of the River Mare. He made no splashes or large movements, which would have alarmed the guards patrolling the opposite side. He was crossing up stream from Widow's Crook and the river was so deep in that part, he had to swim several feet.

Galvar's scout had informed them that the soldiers had not rested, but had pressed on through the night and over the river, reaching the guard station shortly before dusk the day after the attack on the Sun Hawks. Galvar expected them to continue on to Enshal come morning, so this one night was as much of a chance as they had to save them.

Almost naked, but for the loincloth around his waist, he lifted himself on to dry land. His hair had been braided tightly to his scalp to keep it from soaking up too much water. When he got to his feet, he stopped for a second, gathering a handful of grass to rub himself dry. He did not want the light sandy earth to cling to his skin and reveal him in the dark, not did he want the wet sheen to glint in the torchlight of the station and give him away. A flint dagger hung by his waist, secured by a braided cord. It was the only weapon he had brought.

He gave the soft whistle of a nightingale, looking back over his shoulder, to signal the others that he had made it safely across. The crude hoot of an owl sounded back.

He took a deep breath, and curled his toes to dug them into the earth, like the claws of a predator. He calmed himself, closing his eyes, and searched inward, reaching for the bond he knew he would find there. At the core of his very being, he found the blazing strands of energy that tied him to his other half. With his mind, he grasped them, and drew on Griba's essence, letting it flow into him and channelling her instincts and reflexes.

With an inner sigh, he let himself fall back, taking the back seat in his own mind, allowing Griba control.

When he opened his eyes he stalked into the night, as silent as a hunting lynx.

The guard station was small. Bunked beds could be seen standing side by side, through the window, and Erar distantly thought that there could barely be room for more than twenty to sleep at a time. The part of him that was Griba almost growled, and they moved a few steps back and away from the light. That meant fifteen soldiers awake. Seven walked the grounds or stood just beyond the light of the bonfire, keeping watch. Three sat around the fire, drinking spirits from a bottle. All of them seemed well rested and neat, convincing Erar that they were the guard station's usual commission. That still left five unaccounted for, assuming that all the beds were filled.

The prisoners were manacled to a wooden beam of the sort you tied livestock to, and the horses were bound to a similar one beside the captives. They were mostly women, a few kids and only one man, huddled together, trying to soothe wounds and hurts between them. Some cried silently. They would not be as easily freed as hoped. Lock picking was not a skill of the tribes, where there was no locks at all.

We'll need the keys, or an axe to sever the beam, Erar thought.

Across the river, in her own body, Griba flickered her ears. She was unfamiliar with the concept of keys and did not understand why Erar was interrupting their hunt with such strange thoughts. She had not wanted to cross the river with him, and hence lay in wait a few feet from the shore, following him only through the bond.

Scouting, Erar corrected her. They were not hunting yet.

The bond between them had grown since they left the mountains. Though it had already been strong, it had evolved now they spent almost every hour of the day together. He would talk to her, and she would make a gruff sound to remind him that she was a lady not to be trifled with. And he would love her all the more for it, when she rested beside him and purred deep within her chest. It was becoming easier for them to draw on each others strengths, and though their communication was still based on emotions and cues, thoughts had begun to bleed through.

Erar had been so terrible lonely before he found Griba, unable to trust or be touched by anyone. Griba, the other half of his soul, had taken on his darkness and her warmth had given him rest. She carried now his distrust of humans, and lent him the ability to trust. And he trusted her with all his heart.

Her, and now perhaps others as well.

Janko. The very thought of him made Erar feel flushed and playful.

The eerie calls of an owl sounded in the night, and told Erar that the others were getting worried.

His eyes slid over the guard station again, wondering where the five unseen soldiers could be. They might be in the building, on floor cots or something like that, or they might be posted in the darkness and a danger to the rescue group. In the moonless night, it was hard to tell.

Rising slowly to a stand, Erar left the torchlight behind and circled the building a second time, drawing farther away. Catching sight of gleaming metal, he stalked further into the night, and found a soldier standing guard beside a shorthorn bush. He was stationed there to keep any from sneaking up from the east, which made Erar certain that he would find one to the north, and south too, and at least one to the west, towards the river.

He did not bother to attempt concealing the whisper of the grass where he walked, knowing it to be a futile action. Instead he stepped gingerly and in a quick padding rhythm, the way an animal would. Silence made people edgy, but the sound of wild life was not to be feared if you had weapons and light.

He tapped deeper into the bond, allowing Griba to use his sense of smell and hearing. A soft growl left him involuntarily, and the sand under his feet slid ever so slightly.

He found the guard placed to the south as expected. This one was leaned against a withered bellboa, stuffing one of the long clay piped they seemed to prefer in the Sapphire Empire. A spark lit up the dark, and the guard pupped out a small cloud of smoke as the tobacco caught fire. Circling back, Erar passed the guard by the shorthorn and then searched the northern side. He had to cross back twice, before he noticed the small deck the soldiers had build in one of the trees, allowing the sentry to sit comfortably hidden among the branches.

The two he found by the river, was easy to see when you came from behind them. Placed almost side by side, they cut black silhouettes against the stars.

Erar's lips twisted in a close lipped smile as he loosened the knife by his side, bringing it into his hand. The lynx leapt for its prey, stone fang outstretched.

A few seconds later, he stood by the riverside and let out the second imitation of a nightingale. This one was the joyful thrills of a new night, and of peace.

Subtle splashed sounded as several Ramas stepped into the water by Widow's Crook.

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