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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48. Ch 7: Amongst the Ylan (Part 2 of 8)

The tent was a far cry from the hide clad Mahayan tents. This was square, its sides woven cloth in the blue colour of the Emperor's banners, and its ceiling high. She did not doubt that if she had sat on Borak's shoulders, her head still would have only barely touched it. Instead of woven mats of straw, the ground was covered by a thick rug. It was obviously a tent for meetings, and not somebody's personal quarters, for there was only a desk of the kind she had not seen since before her exile to the plains. Behind the table stood a man.

Her guard saluted, but even if he had not, she would have known that this man was highly ranked. His skin was olive and golden brown like any Cahlisian, and his eyes almost green. His hair was close cropped and dark, his eyes lined with kohl. He was clad in a blue tunic, and plate mail gilded with silver. A lather insignia was sown onto the sleeve of the tunic.

He said a single word to the soldier, his voice perfectly neutral. His Cahlish was foreign and crass to her ears.

The soldier answered in the same language, rambling off several sentences in quick succession, she heard a few words in there, which she recognised as numbers, and figured the man was reporting the happenings of the battle.

The officer, whomever he was, waved the soldier's words off, and then looked at her.

“Does it speak?” he asked in the merchants' brogue.

She drew her lips back from her teeth, glaring right back. If he thought she would tell him anything, he had another thing coming.

The soldier nodded.

“Yes, Sir,” the soldier answered. “It spoke when taken captive, but it has been quiet since.”

The officer smiled, almost kindle, but his eyes were colder than ice.

“Let's see if we can't coax it to do so again, why don't we?” he asked, walking around the table, his fingers trailing along its surface. “After all, I have questions I want answered.”

Sarashi fought to keep her breathing even, but she could see that he knew. He knew her hands grew clammy, and that panic threatened to choke her. He knew.

“Bring it outside. I don't want blood on my carpet,” he said, still using the merchants' brogue, for some reason. Probably to instil fright into her very core.

She was dragged outside and tied with her back to a pole, so that she could not rest on her knees. If she did the rope would cut off the blood supply to her hands. The soldier cut open her sarong, and though the blade did not touch her, her dress fell aside and left her bare from the waist up. It was like having an open exposed wound, and though she had never before minded going uncovered among her own people, it made her feel small and vulnerable now. She shouted wordlessly and tried to kick the guy, but he simply stepped away from her, leering.

People gathered around, watching her, jeering.

“Talk, Sweetheart!” one shouted in broken Ramish. “Talk and we'll be real nice to you.”

“Fifty Cahlish jewels, it won't talk before ten lashes!” shouted another in the merchants' brogue, though he was answered in a babble of Cahlish and Yemlen.

“Let me get a touch of you, you'll be singing before dawn!”

The officer gave a short order without even raising his voice, and everyone grew quiet.

“They say these tribal savages fornicate with their demon beasts. I'm sure they won't frown upon it if I gave this one to my faithful men, now would they?” he asked, and grabbed her chin to force her to look at the horde of imperial soldiers watching her.

Sarashi froze as her consciousness fled her, leaving behind only black overwhelming fear. She tried to bite him to make him let go, frantically pressing herself against the pole to get further back. In that moment she would have done anything to get away from the monsters surrounding her.

He motioned for two of the soldiers, who stepped forward and grabbed her by the shoulders. With a wrenching motion that tore at her arms, they turned her around so her cheek was pressed against the rough surface of the pole. Her back was towards them now, and she started trembling. She tried to turn her head to see them. She needed to see them, to know when they were going to attack. Over her shoulder she saw a person in armour bring the officer a flog with a long wooden shaft and several leather cords hanging from the end of it. Each ended in a knot.

“I want a name,” the officer said in that rough merchants' brogue of his. He looked at the one who had previously spoken Ramish and spat out an order in Cahlish, that made the guy translate the original sentence. “Who leads the group that's been raiding out stations and the towns along the river? Who is this Queen of the Plains, as you call her?”

Sarashi kept her eyes on him, despite the hurt it caused her neck to do so. She would not answer. She could not flee and she was powerless. But she could decide whether to speak, and she decided not to. She spat on the ground.

“Last chance,” the soldier translated the officer's words. “Or I'll whip you like a dog.”

“Shadow Snake take you!” she hissed.

The cords of the whip tore through her back when he swung it, leaving trails of fire behind. She felt blood start to trail down her side, and knew that a knot had broken her skin. She gasped, but bit her teeth together, hard, not to scream. A choked sob got caught in her throat, as her vision blurred.

“A name,” the officer repeated. “And her next camp site.”

She refused to answer, glaring at him with all the hate she could muster, and then turned her face away when he swung the flog again. This time he swung it so hard, the wooden handle hit her like a club to the back.

It continued like that. Hit after hit, interlaced with questions. She must have fainted, because a soldier threw a bucket of water on her, and drew her back to consciousness. At some point silence became impossible, and her screams tore through the laughter of the spectators.

“Tiburon Namur, High General and Ruler of Enshal in the Name of the Sapphire Emperor, has promised a barony to the officer who captures the bitch,” the officer told her during the flogging. “I'd like to retire as a baron, you see, so you'll tell me where to find her or I will kill you.” His voice was as calm as if they were talking about the wheather.

Through the fog in her mind, the notion that he had already captured her and did not know, made her laugh brokenly through the shivers.

The next hit was the hardest of them all. She felt her skin break all the way from her shoulder to her waist, and she screamed, simply because she had to or she would go insane. When he hit her again, she slipped into a blackness, that not even a bucket full of water could wake her from.

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