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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45. Ch 6: Night Raid (Part 7 of 8)

Sarashi woke with the biggest headache that side of the Stormeld sea, pushed off the furs she had been sleeping in, and ran outside. She barely got her sarong around her and away from the tents, before her stomach turned upside down.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, she told herself, remembering exactly how much wine she drank yesterday. But even her miserable head, could not keep her from smiling. She spat to remove the rank taste of the returning alcohol, and went to wash her mouth and face. On the way, she tied her sarong properly, promising herself to keep it closer to her bed when she slept.

She sat outside her tent, eating breakfast consisting of stale bread and dried meat, when the others began to wake. Janko exited his tent, much as Sarashi had hers. Though to be fair, he did get farther away before he bowed over.

Erar came out of the tent after him, his sarong tied loosely around his waist, reaching his knees. He grinned, leaning languidly against the opening, as he slid a hand through his hair. Griba appeared beside him, and pressed her forehead lovingly against his knee.

“Not everyone knows when to stop, do they Sar?” he asked.

Sarashi shook her head, smirking. She saw no need to mention her own reason for being awake.

“Not everyone's as practiced in the art of drinking as you,” she replied.

“And not everyone's as wise as our great leader,” Erar laughed. “I'll set over some tea, we can meet here and discuss today's attack.”

Janko came over, looking utterly miserable, and slumped down beside her. He muttered something about morning people and where they could hide their sunshine. Together they got the fire going and lazily gathered some food on clay platters. Erar soon returned with a pot and water for the tea, as well as some of the others that had woken up from his bustling about. Uran woke up the rest for the joint breakfast.

When Sarashi had polished off her tea, the rest of her group had gathered and now sat with food in their hands. They stilled when she straightened her back and drew her face up, setting aside her cup.

“The bridge across the river is almost done,” she started out, even though they had discussed it many times. She used a stick to draw up the river, bridge and the position of the soldiers, on the ground. The sketch was rough, and shaky, but it illustrated what she told them while drawing it. “When evening comes, we'll burn it down. Erar and Uran, you'll lead those of us who favours arrows, and take down the guards. Borak: You, Frekla, Rise, Roah and Nelan'll get the barrels of tar from the building supplies, and spread it across the woodwork. Rayla, Mya, Tallo and Avan, you're with me and the rest of us. We'll be barricading the guard station and grabbing as many of their horses and provisions as we can carry.” She cleared her throat as she finished recapping their plan. “Any questions?”

Janko coughed.

“Does that mean I'm under Erar?”

“Aren't you always?” Avan joked.

Erar stuck out his tongue and made a rude gesture, as Janko shook his head in disapproval. There was a wave of amusement among the gathered, but it was well meant.

“I meant, I normally favour the bow, but during our last two raids I've been doing close combat. I just wanted to be certain I end up where I'm supposed to be, rather than leave us a bowman short,” Janko explained.

“You're with Erar this time,” Sarashi told him. “Since I've moved Frekla to our strong arms on barrel duty.”

Frekla scoffed. Before her tribe was attacked, she had been the Sun Hawk's tattooist. The tall woman's broad hands were surprisingly nimble, and her muscular arms flexible. Her sister was a healer, who had given her some knowledge of herbs and the like as well, so her tattoos never inflamed.

“Better keep me there. I'm better at lifting things, than I am shooting them,” she said.

“Very well,” Sarashi agreed, making note to remember Frekla's preference. “Let's get camp packed up, and relocated. You'll stay with the tents?” she continued to Liery.

Liery nodded.

“As long as you don't need me this time around,” she laughed shakily, and let a hand rest on her stomach. Sarashi doubted she even realised the gesture. It has only just begun showing, but then again; everyone had known over the winter, that Liery was happy to have her husband back, and nobody had been surprised when they shared their news. They were expecting their second child, one who would never meet his or hers big brother.

Sometimes Liery could be heard weeping in her tent, Borak trying to console her about the loss of their son.

Sarashi knew they were terrified about losing the unborn kid as well.

Her tribe took down the tents. Woven mats were rolled up, tied together, and packed up on ponies for the purpose, together with the baskets and provisions. As their group had grown larger and could afford to let people stay behind when they went on raids, they had begun carrying more luxuries with them. Hob with the bad leg usually stayed behind and was in charge of the camp when Sarashi and the warriors were away.

They had scouted ahead and chosen a good site for the camp beforehand. It was a small valley, almost like a kettle, surrounded by soft grassy hills, perfect for hiding tents from spying eyes. Once the camp had been set up, dinner was made and eaten, leaving most of them to take quick naps so they were ready for the night.

Liery, who had kept watch, woke them when the sun touched the horizon.

The unfinished bridge seemed a blemish on the world, as it stretched over the wild waters of the river, like the collar on a slave. Erar and his shot the visible sentries quickly, as all the others galloped across the wooden planks. Once there, Borak, Frekla and the rest bolted from their horses to the stacks and shacks with the building tools and materials. Axes were looted, tar was found, and things were broken. Nelan poured tar all the way from the shacks to the bridge, so that all would catch fire, and the flames would have a trail to follow.

Sarashi helped Tallo lift one of the wooden beams, intended for use on the bridge, and place it up against the door to the station. She dreaded the time where the soldiers would learn not to sleep in such block-able quarters. Mya released the horses from the pen behind the buildings, and suddenly they were flooded by guards running in from the north perimeter.

Rayla, as always surprisingly brutal and deadly for one with her sunny disposition, cut down two with the sharp blade at the end of her glaive. The weapon itself was a trophy taken from one of the imperial garrison, after she had cut him down. It was so long she had to use both hands to manoeuvre it. A soldier attempted to sneak up on her, but before he got very far, Windbag – The stubborn horse – kicked the guy from behind. Sarashi had never seen anyone in plate mail fly so many feet backwards and she cringed when he hit the ground.

By the time they were back on their horses and over the bride, the tar had been spread everywhere on rope and wood. Janko stood ready with a flaming arrow on his bow, as did the rest of Sarashi's archers. One by one they fired at the bridge, setting it alight. On the other side of the river, Sarashi saw the soldiers break down the door to their quarters and escape. The flames coloured the sky a bloody red, as they rode away.

Their mood was high when they returned to their camp, despite their exhaustion.

“At this rate they'll be fleeing when they see us!” Avan shouted, putting his fist in the air. People cheered as they dismounted their horses and tethered the imperial ones that had followed them there. People went to tents and beds, while Liery and Hob organised others to take care of the animals.

Sarashi saw Griba greet Erar, almost tipping him over and making that growling purr in her chest that showed how happy she was. Janko caressed the lynx's ears, and waved goodnight to Sarashi.

Her head barely touched the thick furs of her bed, before she slept.

She dreamt she was flying high above the mountains, in the clear, clear air.

And then she came crashing down.

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