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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42. Ch 6: Night Raid (Part 4 of 8)

The River Mare, Enshal

(1249 p. CP)

 

There was more than twenty people in her group, the next time Sarashi and hers crossed the river. People from more than six different tribes were now part of her band, and Sarashi felt continually more alone. The more strangers joined her group, the more distant her friends began treating her, as if the extra folks had reminded them of what she actually was. When they crossed the River Mare this time, they did not stay close to the waters, but moved deeper into Enshal, till they reached a small village. There were two large barracks build on its outskirts, as well as a large pen of wooden walls and spiked metal wire. Within it Ramas huddled against each other, prisoners to be slaves.

The sight was enraging.

It was worse when, during the time they observed the village, they saw soldiers pull Ramas from the slave enclosure. They held down a man against the ground and branded him with red hot iron, marking him like a farmer would his cattle. The specialised poker made a blistered circle on his back, like a closed manacle.

The rest of the village's inhabitants might not have been branded or locked up in the enclosure yet, but they lived among invisible fences. When the soldiers had taken over, new rules had been set in place. Any provocation, any sign of rebellion, or insult to the Sapphire Empire, and the soldiers would take them and their kids. Then there was only death or slavery in their future.

The country Sarashi would have otherwise ruled was a strange sight for her to behold. Solid buildings had become alien to her, especially of the scale this village had, and the humans that should have been mostly black Ramas had become golden tanned Cahlishians and Yemlish. The Sapphire Empire was slowly deporting all Ramas and replacing them with people they knew would be obedient.

Even those few Antirians are better than this perverse invasion of our culture, Sarashi thought bitterly.

By night time they descended on the village like wolves on sheep. Sarashi sneered as she killed a watchman outside the spiked fence, and watched as Janko shot another. He had helped plan this attack, but had deferred to her without comment, and now he efficiently hurried forth to prevent another guard from sounding the alarm. They did not touch the barracks, and only killed those on watch. It was one of the things Sarashi had insisted on.

With muscles that bulged in the torchlight, Borak pulled off the wooden planks from the fence. When he had done so, Frekla swept in and swung her stolen axe from the guard station. It was heavy enough, and she was strong enough, that the wire swished and curled when it broke. A metallic twang echoed through the night, but no guards remained to hear it.

One by one, they helped the captives through the new opening in the slave enclosure, and hurried them on foot to where the horses waited. Those who could not walk, were carried by those who could, and soon they galloped back across the River Mare. They did not dare cross by Widow's Crook, so their horses had to swim at times to get over the river.

Some of the freed slaves to be, belonged to Mahayan tribes and went home to those. But most came from Enshal, and had no place to return to, so they either found refuge with the tribes or joined Sarashi's group. Among them was Tallo, a young man with a broody face and a sort of ambivalence about him. Sarashi did not speak with him much, but would sometimes find him watching her.

One thing was for certain.

Whether it was Mahayas joining to take revenge, or to keep the plains safe from soldiers, or branded men and women from Enshal: Sarashi's group was growing fast.

Reports came from all over, either by way of messages delivered by bonded birds – With the bond they were perfect for the job and required no training to find the person intended for their letter – or delivered by scouts. Other information was gleaned from former prisoners of the slave pens. Mya stole a map from one of the guard stations along the river, and she and Rise began drawing up the imperial troops' movements. When Avan joined their group, they got their own bonded bird as well. His was a hawk.

Imperial cavalry was sent to the plains then, and suddenly Sarashi's group had to move camp every third day to avoid capture. Apparently the Count of Dassel, where they ran most of their little slave freeing skirmishes, had put out a bounty on the leader of the rebellious Rama. No Rama however revealed her true name, nor her whereabouts, and no soldier found out.

Five times they had to pack up camp in the middle of the night to flee the imperial soldiers.

When winter came, they were finally safe. As every year before then, the soldiers drew back behind the river, and the river swelled with the fall rains and became impassible for the first Month of Snow.

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