[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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34. Ch 5: Widow's Crook (Part 3 of 7)

The moon had begun its descent when Rayla woke Sarashi with a light touch on her shoulder, signalling that it was her turn to keep watch. Crawling out of the bed furs, she saw Rayla bury herself in her own. On the other side of the fire, Erar was already awake, picking at some of the left overs from their dinner. He had brought down the grass-tailed thrush and the pheasant himself, and though the meat could not have fed them all on its own, Rise had supplied them with a pair of fat white roots which had boiled out nicely for a stew. There was nothing left of the sweeten berries, which Rayla had stolen off a bush and did not lament telling the others was the price find of the evening.

Not bothering to stand, Sarashi crawled to the fire and sat down beside Erar. Though they kept awake, they felt no need to guard the borders of their camp. In the mountains they would have sat back to back, staring out into the darkness, wondering if wolves or bandits would attack. On the plains, there were only the large felines to fear, and chances was the fire would keep them away.

“You never asked why I kept Griba secret,” Erar suddenly said, as if it was difficult for him to allow out loud, and caught Sarashi's eyes. He stroked the tufts of Griba's ears lovingly, scatching the fur behind them. She was shedding and white hairs clung to his fingertips.

Sarashi did not know what to say to that.

“My cousin is a good man, and a good Mahal,” Erar told her. “Griba chose me the day after our last Mahal passed away, before Mardik was chosen by the tribe, and I got scared. I don't know if it's the same on the plains, but in the mountains, especially among the tribes with solitary tribe's beasts, if you're bonded you're almost always made Mahal. I didn't want them to treat me differently because of Griba, or act like I was special for something that wasn't even me. And I didn't want their expectations to choke me, trying to live up to them. Better they expect nothing from me at all.”

Sarashi blinked, still silent. Her thoughts were bustling around her head, not finding purchase anywhere useful.

Erar seemed to see that, and shrugged, uncomfortable with admitting the things he had.

“I just wanted to say, I understand,” he continued, not meeting her eyes. “Just because people expect you to do something, doesn't mean that is the only right thing to do. And besides, Mardik is a much better Mahal than I would have ever been.”

“Thank you,” Sarashi muttered. There was too many people who seemed to understand lately. Too many who saw past her mask, to the vulnerability beneath, and she hated it. But at the same time, it made something loosen inside of her. “I didn't know Mya thought that about me,” she said. “I'm not brave. That isn't why. It's because I'm terrified.”

“Being terrified is normal,” Erar noted. “I am too.”

At her questioning glance, he shifted to scratch another spot on Griba's broad chest.

“Mountain bandits are one thing. There is no command system, no reason for them to stand and fight if you defend yourself, they flee. Soldiers are trained for killing: They won't turn and run. And the Sapphire Empire is larger than all the Rama lands put together, and we're so few.”

Sarashi frantically closed her fists.

“Then why? Why help?” she asked him.

Erar took her hand.

“To make a difference?” he said softly. “To protect the plains, the tribes, our homes. I don't know.”

Erar's eyes fell on Janko, who was deeply asleep, and Sarashi knew why. For a second, they were both silent.

“It's why Janko jokes, I think,” Sarashi said. “The fear. His father-”

“I know,” Erar admitted quietly. “He told me when I introduced him to Griba.”

That made Sarashi's heart contract with worry for her friend. Janko kept everyone at arms length, and never talked about his father's broken bond. If he had told Erar, it meant that things between them were serious.

“Don't hurt him,” Sarashi beckoned on Janko's behalf. If Erar ever betrayed Janko's trust – Not that she thought he would – she did not know if Janko could take it. Her eyes were wide and vulnerable, and yet Erar knew it was an order and a threat, as much as a plea.

Erar exhaled through his nose, and his lips curled into a cat like smile.

“That's why people follow you,” he said. “That protectiveness.”

He ruffled her hair and she remembered suddenly that he too was older than her. He had even begun growing a beard in the weeks after they left the mountain village, claiming that shaving was too troublesome on the road. She felt warm around him, warm and perhaps not so lonely.

“We're all afraid, Sar,” he told her. “It's how we react to the fear that matters. Pretending it isn't there won't make it go away.”

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