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


13. Ch 2: Uncrowned Queen (Part 6 of 6)

Chehera, Daughter of Noet and Shul, Mother of Caeryn and Mahal of the Mahayan tribe of Wild Horses, stood between the two bonfires on the edge of the camp. They had burned for seven days and six nights now, and she had been standing there for almost as long, not counting the hours she had slept or rested. By her side an alter had been built from stones of the plains, little more than a pile with a flat top, and covered in a magnificent piece of golden silk. On the other side of the alter, Lishka stood, waiting to perform the rite of return.

The camp was a myriad of activity as the full moon climbed the horizon. Small fires were lit around the large space in the middle of camp, food was being cooked and readied for the feast, instruments were taken from their storages and thick furs were being stacked like chairs around the flames. The tribe got ready to celebrate the return of their new adults. As the preparations finished, silence spread. More and more found their way to stand at the edge of camp, scouting into the night for the first sign of the three kids they had sent away.

Chehera scowled when she noticed strangers' faces in the mix of gathered Mahaya. They had been arriving like a steady stream pooling into a great lake over the last week. Or like flies to a dung heap. Chehera snorted at the thought. All had they come to see the last Enshira cross into adulthood. All had they come to see the daughter of the famed Ashael, and judge her against her parents' image, to compare her and to find an answer. To decide if the noble line of the first Ramas had been broken, and with that their hope vanquished.

It was much pressure to lay on one person. Much more so on one who was barely out of childhood.

The Mahal had tried to prepare her as beast she could, and she had found strength in the Princess that she had not expected from one born and raised in luxury. Chehera knew she would need it. After the Sapphire Emperor conquered Enshal, the ancient Capital of Rama, their people had been hunted down, killed or taken into captivity.

Only the Wild Plains had gone free so far and Chehera feared it to be on borrowed time.

A woman somewhere in the masses caught sight of something in the moonlight. She started humming the ancient melody belonging to the wake, others joining in, as the first of the new adults ducked out of the darkness and into the light.

Chehera smiled when she recognized the young woman who walked towards the alter, a pair of hares over her shoulder, her spear in hand. Dirt covered her face, and her dark eyes shone with dissatisfaction, as she knelt before the priestess.

“Mya, Daughter of Jarvo and Mila, reborn of the plains,” Lishka said, following the ancient rites and naming Mya among the living again. “What brings you before your god and tribe?”

She took the hares from her shoulders, and held them in front of her as if offering them to the priestess.

“I bring the Veiled God hares of the plains which birthed me,” she answered Lishka. “I give them freely to the God of Rama and my tribe.” As she spoke she laid the dead animals on the golden cloth of the alter.

“As you have brought prey before the God and food before the tribe, you have earned the right to stand with the adults of our people,” Lishka said, a smile almost visible beneath her veil. Chehera was smiling too. Every time a child returned an adult, she felt the same fierce surge of pride she had when her own daughter had gone through the rite of passage.

“You may rise,” the priestess told Mya as the tribe cheered in the background, despite the continued hum.

As she went to her parents and siblings, and their embrace, a hesitant smile spread on her lips. Already she was telling them softly about her hunt and her trials, as they hurried her off to one of the small fires, to feed and pamper her. The true celebration would not start till all had returned, if they did. Otherwise it would start with the rising dawn, and when it did, the dancing and the singing rarely lasted for less than three days.

The moon cast an eerie light on the plains as they waited. When the first hummers grew silent, new voices took up the wordless song. Some parents rustled about, getting their youngest to bed, and promising to wake them when the dancing began. Others took care of the tribe's livestock. A goat bleated in confusion over the noise and the light from the fires. Somewhere a dog whined. Jain and his older brother went to check on the herd of Rameras.

Chehera remained standing, despite no longer being as young as she used to be. She rubbed her chest, trying to remove the numbness that had plagued her of late.

Still the tribe hummed, the sound insistent and soft. Some settled down to eat as hunger began to creep up on them, or napped in their tents or by the fires, alone or in the arms of their loved ones. Helary, a girl yet to turn ten, let her clear and crystallite voice rise above the hymn, relaying an old story about the dancing ylan.

When the moon had swung itself up on the sky's highest arch, the humming grew louder for a second time. Rouko returned to the tribe, bow in hand, a young doe over his shoulders. Like Mya before, he walked to kneel by the priestess, offering up his prey to the God and the tribe. There was a look of fierce pride in his eyes, and then he was swept off by his family, eager to celebrate him. A tremor had made its way into the offered cheers, as the crowd wondered about the last hunter.

Would she return before dawn? What prey would she bring? The questions were many and on most everybody's mind and nobody's lips. Why had she not returned yet? Had she caught nothing? Had she herself become prey to the plains and their beasts? It was rare, but not unheard that a youngling not return at all.

Green began to bloom on the eastern sky, as the first rays of sun mixed with the dark blue night.

The entire camp seemed to hold its breath, the monotone humming growing unbearable.

Everybody was staring out from camp, bodies taut and tense, waiting.

Then suddenly, voice by voice, the hymn grew in power.

The entire tribe woke up, people came from beds, and rose from fires, flooding to stare in the direction of the setting moon.

Chehera had only just let go of the breath she had been holding, when she forgot to draw a new one.

In the first light of dawn, Sarashi walked into camp. Her breasts and body uncovered, except for where bloody bandages revealed what had become of her clothes. Over her shoulders she carried a golden lioness. And although she stumbled, looking barely able to stand, her sight were set on the priestess and the alter. Her gaze was hard and burning with a single minded determination.

A savage grin spread on the Princess' lips, as she laid the lion on the golden cloth, her prey so large, she had to place it atop the others'. She did not kneel in front of Lishka, but straightened her back and held her head high.

The priestess said nothing and spread her hands for Sarashi to speak, as if the God himself whispered directions in her ear. And the staggering young woman began to talk.

“I, Sarashi Enshira, Daughter of Ashael Enshira and Karnal the Phoenix King, am reborn of the plains,” she claimed, her voice hoarse with thirst and strain. “I bring before the God of Rama, the Uncrowned Queen of the plains that now have birthed me. I give her freely to him.” She did not stumble over the words, but her eyes glaced over slightly, and she swayed, as if about to fall. Lishka made no motion to catch her, instead turning her blue eyes to the crowd.

Sarashi turned to face the tribe and its guests, and her neck almost curved, she held her head so high. Battling the lion had reminded her of what she had always known, and yet forgotten: As if her head had been under water, and she had now broken the surface, to have every dulled sound become painfully sharp, as she looked at the dark faces around her. These proud people were hunted like prey because of the Sapphire Empire.

For nine years she had fought to survive and hunt on the plains, learning the ways of the tribes. For nine years she had strived solely to belong here. For nine years she had escaped the grasping hands of the Empire.

But she was no longer defenceless. She was an adult of the tribe, a warrior and a hunter. A woman who had brought down a beast and been reborn through blood and pain.

“I have brought predator instead of prey before our god. I have slain the huntress who marked me as her equal, to bring before the tribe,” Sarashi said, halting shortly. Then she spoke the one wish that had kept her walking through the night. Kept her on her feet when she would have otherwise fallen beneath the weight of the lioness. “I swear on the Veiled that I will bring him the predators who hunt me. I swear on his name, that I will fight against those who stole my birthright. I swear that from this, my day of rebirth and till the day I die, I will hunt the Empire as they have hunted us!”

The hymn of waiting had silenced as she spoke, her voice now cutting through the silent morning air. Nothing moved nor sounded in the wake of her oath.

Then a man fell to his knees, followed by another and yet another.

Breathless, Sarashi watched them, a rush strumming through her at the sight. She was standing in the middle of a storm, the silence of her people as they knelt, much the same as the pause between lightning and thunder. A wave building before hitting the shore.

And it did.

A roar of suppressed rage against the Empire rose from the throats of the Rama, pressing against her ears and making a tingle run down her spine as she closed her eyes. Just for a second.

It was a mere chance of luck that Chehera stood close enough to catch Sarashi when she keeled over, just managing to throw her arms under the girl's shoulders. Finally Sarashi slipped into the black unconsciousness which had chased her since the battle with the lion.

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