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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50. Ch 7: Amongst the Ylan (Part 4 of 8)

Sarashi woke to the feeling of soft fingertips trailing over her forehead. Like a beaten animal, she pulled fitfully away from the sensation. As her sight focused, however, she found herself breathing easier. It was a boy, no more than thirteen, and Rama. He had been cleaning the blood from her forehead with a rag, his hands bound, much like her own. Sarashi's dress was still wrapped around her waist.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

She stared, trying to regroup her thoughts. She was lying down, on grass that had been broken by too many feet, in the relative darkness of a tent during the day. There were other prisoners around her, Ramas like her and the boy, and they too were tied up. All waiting on an uncertain fate, that was likely to be painful. They were five total.

“I couldn't get clean your back,” the boy whispered. “Couldn't reach.”

As if summoned by his words, the wounds on her back stung like a hundred snakebites, and she drew in air sharply. Her eyes watered, as she arched, stretching the lacerations the whip had left in her flesh and skin. Suddenly two cold hands were pressed over her mouth, as the boy tried to keep her from making noise and moving.

“Shhh!” he begged her, his eyes flickering to the tent's entrance. “Them'll come get you right quick'n if they think you'd'waken. Him, General Olston, he be wanting that one reward. Them be thinking you've been in the Queen's Tribe'n'all.” He talked strangely, as if nobody had bothered teaching him how to speak proper.

“There's no queen on the plains,” she protested in a whisper. Or she tried, as most of it came out hoarse croaks and was difficult to understand at best.

“Yes there is,” the boy said. “Though she don't've no crown.”

Sarashi was too tired and too hurt to argue, so she closed her eyes and turned her head away.

“Let her be,” one of the other captives said, a man. That one talked like he belonged to one of the tribes. “Better she knows nothing about the Uncrowned Queen, than the soldiers beat it out of her.”

“She's already beaten bloody,” the only other woman in the tent commented, her voice harsh. “Probably be dead before we're sold.”

To Sarashi's surprise, the boy defended her.

“She barely done scream when him, Olston beat her!” he argued. “Didn't say nothing either.”

Tears hid in the corners of her eyes, beneath her still closed lids. Her heart beat fast, and she felt cold. Feverish. Either her wounds were infected, or the stress was too much for her body.

Or both, she thought dizzily.

“... Don't now nothing to tell them then,” the woman muttered.

Silence filled the tent, and if conversation picked back up, Sarashi did not notice. Her mind was reeling back into darkness.

The boy was called Mod by the others. The angry female was named Geeva, and the only speaking man remained as nameless as his non-speaking equal. Mod had been caught when the soldiers crossed the river, and the others were scouts of the Plains' Deer tribe, and captured together.

That snagged at Sarashi's vaguely returning consciousness, and she opened her eyes. Sleep crusted in the corners and in her eyelashes.

“How?” she croaked, as she hoisted herself up on her elbows. “How did you get caught?”

They all looked at her.

“Them soldiers' bridge burned,” Mod said, and looked down so as not to meet her eyes. “So me'n'me friends gone to go watch, and then them soldiers up snatched me, 'cause I saw them's boats,” he told her.

“Barges,” Geeva corrected him crossly. “They had barges to bring their horses across, and their own scouts to make sure no one knew they'd crossed. They're the ones who caught us.” She spat and motioned furiously to herself and the two others with her tied hands. The apparent mute growled deep in his throat, his muscles bulging.

“They crossed the river by the bridge?” Sarashi asked, paling. Sickness rose like bile in her throat, fear mixing with guilt. It had all been a trap. Her decision to burn the bridge had lead to the attack on her group, her tribe, her people. She closed her hands, nails digging into her palms.

“Before the smoke stopped rising,” the man answered quietly.

The arms supporting her weight crumbled beneath her, and she curled up into a ball. Her nails pierced her skin, as she shook, biting down hard on her cheek. The pain helped keep the tears at bay, and she deserved it.

And kept the thoughts away.

Cold hands pressed against her wrists, forcing her to unclench her hands with small fingers.

“You'll gone hurt yourself,” the boy whispered fervently. “Don't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Don't hurt.” Those words were followed by some who hit her like a bucket of cold water, and made her stop biting her cheek as well.

“Don't hurt me.”

Slowly, she sat up and pulled him into her arms. At first he pressed his hands against her shoulder to push her away, but without any force to it. When she rested her chin on his hair, he leaned against her and shook with silent sobs.

“Shhh,” she consoled him. “It'll be okay. They haven't got your queen, do they, haven't got her,” she whispered, barely knowing herself what passed her lips. “She'll make things better. I promise. It'll be better,” she continued murmuring nonsecnsical reassurances into his hair, while he cried. Anything and everything she hoped would give him hope. “The Veiled won't let them treat our people like this. Sun'll smite them.”

The other captives looked on in silence as Sarashi too began to cry, as helpless as a child.

It seemed that no matter how much she wanted to be somebody, something else, she always ended up in the same place. No matter how much she tried to change. No matter how much she tried.

“She'll make it better,” she repeated hopelessly, trying to console herself as much as the boy.

“She'll make it better.”

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