[Completed] 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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6. Ch 1: Rites of Passage (Part 4 of 5)

The woman reclined against the pillows and furs, was as familiar to Sarashi as the back of her hand. The white strands in her hair and the crow's feet by her eyes, marked her as the tent's owner and the leader of the tribe. As always Chehera seemed beyond her age, her body too thin, her cheekbones too marked. Her eyes were sharp and her hair was thin, but she had an energy about her that made her physical age seem a mockery of the young soul within. Chehera's guests were unknown to Sarashi.

One was a man, plain forgotten as Sarashi laid eyes on the woman beside him. A dusty blue veil, as light as a butterfly's wing, covered the lower half of her face and marked her as a priestess of the God. Blue eyes, strange in their dark surroundings, sparkled above the veil and sent a shock through Sarashi when they met hers. The woman's hair was covered by a large hood, casting further shadows on her face.

The manners Mirca had forced her to learn, saved her as she bowed and broke eye contact. Customarily she should not have bowed until introduced, but it was an almost instinctual reaction for most when they met a Veiled One.

Chehera motioned towards the guests with a lazy hand.

“Mahal Dawoul of the Horned Owls, and Lishka of the Veil, may I introduce the reason you have come: Sarashi Enshira, Daughter of Ashael, Last of her Kin and Rightful Ruler of Enshal.”

Still sitting, the guests bowed. The motion brought Sarashi's gaze back to the man, Dawoul. He stared at her with something akin to greed, like a vulture setting its sights on a cadaver on the plains. His eyes were dark and his forehead had a perpetual scowl. There was something deeply unsettling about him, as if he was only waiting for her to turn her back. His sarong was dark brown, and his chestnut coloured hair cropped short.

“The sun shines on our meeting,” the Priestess said and held up both her hands, palm turned upwards in the traditional greeting. Dawoul made no such motion, but that was to be expected. Few bothered with the old practice these days, and rarer still the ones who offered up their palms.

Sarashi moved to sit afore her, and gently placed her fingertips on the Priestess' palms. She held them there no longer than a moment, as was required.

“May it be kind,” she softly returned the greeting. Then she moved back, and sat so that she was facing all three adults at once. Her hands tingled a bit from the contact with Lishka's skin, as if the woman had some kind of energy running through her. The small hairs on the back of Sarashi's neck stood up straight. She liked magic as little as she liked getting stung by a hedgehog, and luckily it was rarely seen. She had never met a mage, and she wished never to. Bringers of ill luck and dark fates, they were.

“Greetings aside,” Dawoul broke the momentary silence. “I would like to attend to the reason I am here, and not with my tribe.”

“Patience is a virtue, not a flaw, Mahal.” The Priestess' chastisement was softly spoken and without much reproach,

He turned his scavenging eyes at her, a shadow of anger on his face.

“Then you won't mind staying your business till I've addressed mine,” he snapped brusquely, before he turned his gaze back on Sarashi. “I've been told you've reached your fifteen winters, and will be leaving for your hunt by dawn?” he asked.

She nodded, and wondered how many still spoke of her outside the tribe that sheltered her. How many knew she had survived? Not the Empire, for sure, or their soldiers would have long past culled the plains to root her out. The Ramas knew, from the stories of the Empire's former conquests, that they never let the former ruling class escape. Not even the mistresses of the lowest cousins, and much less the Heir to the Throne.

“Have you decided what you're going to do after?” Dawoul asked her.

Sarashi was acutely aware of the attention they all paid her answer, when she straightened her back and spoke.

“Not as of yet,” she stated clearly. Her mother used to talk the same way when receiving foreign dignitaries, with no insecurity and complete confidence. Sarashi had always admired that. Now older, she realized her mother could not have been as self assured as she always seemed. “I am waiting to make sure I know all my options.”

The corner of Chehera's lips turned up.

“You do know that this will be the time for you to claim your title, don't you?” Mahal Dawoul inquired. “The Ladies of Rama always declare themselves by the end of their seven day hunt if the former Lady has passed, and it is your right to do so as well.”

Sarashi felt a sneer form on her face, and forced it to return to impassive.

“I am aware,” she bit the words at the visiting chief. “I have yet to make a decision on the matter.”

“I should thing your honour demands that-”

“Do not speak of my honour!” Sarashi interrupted him angrily. A shiver hid in her chest as her insides quivered. “I know exactly what my name and honour demands. And I should think yours would not allow you to show such disrespect to one you would have as a leader of our people. Of all Ramas. Of you!”

Dawoul clenched his fists, and gave a half bow like the one he had used to greet her.

“My apologies,” he said, his voice tight. “I meant no disrespect.”

“I am sure,” Sarashi said, her voice as strained with politeness as his.

“Perhaps if I may interrupt this conversation?” the Priestess asked.

Sarashi's eyes flickered to her and was once more caught by the blue sparkle above the veil.

“If it pleases you, Veiled One,” she gave her permission, halting only shortly on the fact that she was unused to it being required.

“It pleases me,” the Priestess confirmed. Her smile broke some of the tension coming from the Mahal of the Horned Owls. “And my interruption is of relevance to your interests, Mahal.” There was a bit of apology in her tone of voice.

He scoffed disinterestedly, but did not protest.

“Three days ago the Veiled God came to me in a dream. By the will of him and his kin, I've been blessed with such dreams since I was little.” The Veiled One brought her fingertips to her limpid eyes, as Sarashi listened intently. Priestesses of the Veiled left their temple about as often as Mahals did their tribes. “This time the God told me to ride south to the Tribe of Wild Horses. There he said I would find the last of Rama's Trueborn and that I were to be present when she walked into adulthood. I have come to ask for the honour of performing the rite of return from the hunt.”

Sarashi bit the inside of her cheek. She had as little fondness for the God interfering in her life, as she had for magic. But she also knew that refusing the Priestess' request would upset the people of the tribes. The Mahayas' respect for the servants of the Gods were deeply rooted in their upbringing and culture.

“If it pleases you,” she repeated stonily. Then she returned to her conversation with Mahal Dawoul.

“I will fight to avenge my family as my honour demands,” she told him. “And I will battle the Empire where I can as my heritage dictates me to. But whether I will do so as a Lady of Rama remains to be seen.”

Inside she shook with anger. She wanted to fight the Empire, and she would do her utmost to avenge her parents. She could knock down any of the younglings of the tribe in a fistfight. Fighting she knew. Fighting she was good at. This diplomatic dance – This talking with people – She was not.

Mahal Dawoul considered her answer reluctantly, but seemed to decide that forcing her was not in his best interest.

“Very well then,” he said, as if he had any say in it at all. He leaned back against the pelts. “I implore you to remember that any Lady of our people would be welcome with my tribe. If you should wish to meet others of our people after you finish your hunt.”

“That is a matter for after the hunt,” Chehera said coldly, interrupting for the first time. Her eyes narrowed as if she was in pain. “I do not appreciate your attempt at manipulating my ward.”

Sarashi nodded, her jaw clenched.

“You must excuse me,” she said. “As you know, I have preparations to attend to and the day grows late.” She met Dawoul's eyes fully for the first time. “I will think on your words, Mahal.”

Her tone left little doubt she found him undeserving of the title.

She turned to Lishka, who seemed mildly amused. Sarashi held out her hands, palms up.

“May the sun continue to rise till we meet again,” she said. The Priestess took her hands fully instead of just touching them with her fingertips, giving Sarashi a comforting squeeze.

“And let it be kind,” she answered, the veil billowing slightly in the wind of her breath.

Sarashi squeezed her hands in gratitude before she pulled back her own, and rose to a stand. With a nod to Chehera she turned and left the tent, the tent flap fluttering shut behind her with the heavy sound of falling leather.

She refused to bow to Dawoul.

He wants a queen?

A queen would bow to no one.

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