[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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61. Ch 8: Dream Catcher (Part 7 of 8)

Sarashi waited until she was able to walk on her own, got up, got dressed, and stalked off to find the priestess. Lishka had visited her briefly the morning after she woke up, but had otherwise remained distant and offered little chance for the Princess to talk with her. Sarashi suspected it might be that Lishka knew that she was unhappy with the stories she had been telling. Incidentally, that was also the exact topic Sarashi wanted to discuss.

The Princess found her sitting beneath a large olive tree, hidden from the noon sun. Around her sat younger members of her temple, and of the tribes. The resident novices were doing chores around the temple, and Chehera's tribe was getting ready to pull up tents and go north.

Sarashi stopped a few steps from the priestess and her listeners, snooping on the story she was telling.

"- and as the Wave met the Wind, there where ocean and sky becomes one, they became lovers. The Wave raced against the Wind, and the Wind let it win. At night, when the Wave was calm and still, the Wind would tell it stories of all the things it had seen on land. It talked about the great mountains, the forests and the great grasslands that roles and sway like an ocean of its own," Lishka said, a soft lull in her voice. There was something in the way she talked, a quiet intensity that was somehow gentle, that made the story seem almost tangible. "The Wave began to dream about our plains. Each and every time it slept, it saw its green mirror image, and wished to greet it and run through it with the wind. So one day it did. It ran all the way up on shore, and into the grass."

Lishka made a motion with one hand, illustrating the graceful run of the wave, and for a moment, her eyes met Sarashi's and she smiled. Then she returned her focus to her listeners.

"When the Wind returned to the ocean, it found the Wave was missing. It searched everywhere for its lover, but nowhere in the water was the Wave to be found. The Wind grew agitated, and whipped the ocean into a frenzy. It flew over teh plains, and the mountains, and the forests, howling with grief so pristine, that the sky itself began to cry." Lishka shook her head. "The Wave, caught among the grass, ran back and forth as it tried to catch the Wind's attention. But the Wind did not recognise the Wave in its altered form, so the Wave attempted to return to the sea- But the way to the shore had been altered by the storm the Wind had brought to the land, and the Wave could not find its way back. So the Wave ran to the mountains, where the sky and the land meets each other, and did it so fast, that it cut through the land, and created the great river that now runs here. It is said that the Wave still wanders in the Mare Marshlands, and that the reason the river runs so fast, is because it is still trying to reunite with its beloved Wind. They must still be parted, you see, for the Wind still cries every year at the time of the Wave's disappearance, and brings on the fall monsoons."

"That's terrible!" one of the kids cried out.

"Maybe," Lishka told the boy who had protested. "But that is how the story ends."

"Is it?" Sarashi asked, drawing attention to herself.

Lishka's eyes were always startling in their blue depths. One could drown in those, Sarashi felt, not knowing that her own almost black irises had the same effect on people.

"Even if it does end in pain, the story still carries power, and that power makes it true," she said. Her eyes drifted to one of the Mahayas studying at her temple, and she waved him over. When he arrived, she asked him softly: "You know the story of the Wave and the Wind?"

He nodded, a confused scowl on his brow.

"What wisdom does it keep?" she prodded.

He look around a the gathered people, slight bewilderment in his eyes, as he hesitantly answered.

"Well... I guess, that if we're swept away by our dreams, we lose the place we have?"

Lishka turned towards the boy from before, and he eagerly added his own answer.

"That the forces of nature aren't governable, and have their own wills," the boy said. "But that they're not as all mighty as they seem."

"That there are reasons why our world functions as it does," scowled a woman.

Lishka did not take her gaze away from Sarashi as she followed up with another question.

"And the story of the Uncrowned Queen and her battle with the Lioness?"

Silence spread, as people suddenly grew shy of looking at Sarashi. There was a strange mix of conflicted hope in their faces, as their thoughts turned to the Empire, and the story. This time a young girl was the first to give a suggestion.

"Even if the enemy is bigger and stronger, we still have a chance," she said quietly.

"That there are someone fighting for us," a man said, meeting Sarashi's eyes.

"The royal line of Enshira still lives," Tallo said from behind her, having walked over without her noticing him. She almost jumped at the sound of his voice. "And it is strong."

Having him behind her, where she could not see him, set her on edge. Her muscles tensed and she had to remind herself not to hyperventilate, as all the terror from her whipping in the Empire's camp returned in an instant. She felt sick.

She was not strong.

She was terrified.

It's just Tallo, she told herself frantically, trying to hide her fear, and glared at Lishka.

"Where are you going with this?" she snapped.

Lishka gave her a meaningful look.

"You should know without me saying it," the priestess said. "Stories, whether true or not, carry meaning. They define the way we see the world, they help structure and expand it. Depending on the story you tell, you can inspire people, create empathy, terrify them and affect them. The Empire tells stories of defeat, death, and fear. Stories that take away the hope of any people they wish to conquer." Her eyes blazed with a blue inferno of emotions. "Let our people keep their hope. Let us tell your stories."

Sarashi swallowed, unable to breathe as the world seemed to cage her and shrink around her. She felt absolutely vexed.

"I'm not telling you to keep from telling stories about winds and waves!" she exclaimed. "I'm telling you not to tell lies. I'm not queen of the tribes! I'm not invincible!" She wanted to shout it, but kept her voice low, hating the whine that was beginning to creep into it.

The priestess rose from her seat, and Sarashi took half a step back.

"I never claimed you were queen of our people," Lishka said angrily. A light breeze tugged at her veil, and for a second, Sarashi thought she saw something small tattooed on the woman's neck. "I merely called you the Uncrowned Queen. As you yourself said when you returned from your hunt, the Lioness, Queen to the King of the plains, marked you as her equal and unlike her counterpart, she has no crown."

"I was half out of my mind with blood loss," Sarashi growled, forgetting about the tattoo.

"I could promise never to tell the story again, but what would that matter? People are telling it on their own, and it will not disappear. Besides, none of it is lies, and at most it is embellished a little."

"You can't-" Sarashi's voice shook.

Lishka raised an eyebrow, like she had at her students before.

"No?" she asked. "And why not?"

"Sarashi!" Borak's voice interrupted them before Sarashi could answer, or begin to sob hysterically. He came over to them at a run, a small piece of paper in his hand. He gave it to Sarashi.

Still shaking all over, she read it.

"A bonded bird just arrived from the Water Deer. Their scouts have been busy by the burned bridge and have reported a fourth company of soldiers crossing on the barges," Borak said. "The scouts will continue to update us."

"They're closing in on us," Sarashi commented tight lipped. The note in her hand mentioned the soldiers numbers and positions as well. She frowned. The other groups, including the main force lead by General Olston, had shifted positions as of late. They had stopped chasing the groups of Mahayas trying to distract them, and had instead begun a methodical search, starting by where the river left the mountains. A grit like pattern was forming. "If we stay here much longer, they'll surround us and the only way out will be the mountains."

"The Wild Horses are going north tomorrow," Tallo added.

"And we of the temple can go to the mountain tribes, as soon as you leave," Lishka informed them. "Staying tied to a building on the plains is becoming too dangerous. Besides, I know the mountains well."

"We'll leave as soon as possible," Sarashi concluded with exhaustion. Her torn ear was throbbing in contest with her head, and she was far from healed. Her back ached, the skin there felt like a ploughed field when she had gingerly touched it with her fingertips. The area around her left eye was swollen and sore. She was healing, but it was a slow process and nightmares interfered with her sleep. Always she dreamt of those terrible flames and the dead who haunted them. And if not them, the evil eyes of the soldiers, as General Olston beat her. Only last night she had woken up, drawing in air to scream, and then biting her cheek to choke it back. That pain had not been enough and her nails had cut into her palms, forcing her to unclench her hands.

"I'll get my students and the other priestesses ready," Lishka said, and motioned for the last of the listeners to disperse. "You should take care of your own."

Sarashi nodded, though she still had not forgotten the interrupted argument.

"Tell the others," she told Borak. Then she hesitated. "You and Liery should follow Lishka to the mountains. Go to the Silver-Bearded Lynx."

Borak took a deep breath, relief blossoming on his face, before he looked down. Ashamed.

"We'd fight with you," he said. "We want to-"

"But Liery is getting bigger, and I want both of you to be safe. All three of you," she amended. "The soldiers already took your first born. I will not allow them to take either of you, or your second. Go to the mountains with the temple folk."

Borak lifted his hand and pressed a clenched fist to his chest.

"I'll tell the others to pack up," he said and left.

"Aren't you going to pack too?" she asked Tallo tartly.

He gave her the slightest of shrugs, and she felt her still frayed emotions bristle, and again her entire body tensed up.

"I am," he confirmed. "But I did have a reason for seeking you out."

Tallo held out his hand, and she blinked in confusion when she saw the small object in his hand. Obviously it was something for her to keep, and the shy look he gave her, convinced her that it was something of his own making. Slowly she took it from his hands and studied it wonderingly. It was a dream circle. Brown leather strings had been woven intricately around a core of straws, making up the outer circle. Within that circle, a net had been woven, in a pattern almost like the spokes of a wheel. From it hung a few threads, decorated with white clay pearls to keep away illness.

"Why?" she asked.

The young man responded with another shrug.

"I get bad dreams," he admitted. "I thought you might do too. If nothing else, this might give a bit of comfort."

She looked at the dream catcher again, and hesitantly and shyly, a smile spread on her lips.

"Thank you," she told him, and meant it.

"Any time."

As he left her to get his own things in order, she looked after him. The little dream circle in her hand felt heavier than it should be, and somehow it did soothe her.

Remembering the day's next task, she held on tighter to the circle. She had to find Rayla and see for herself how the surviving sister fared. She walked stiffly towards the tent Rayla shared with Frekla. Everybody had thought it best that Rayla was not left alone in her catatonic state.

She did not make it to the tent, before a tiny woman almost flew in her face. Liery's eyes were red with tears, her face as marked by them as it had been the first time Sarashi met her. Borak came on her heels.

"You're sending us away?" she shrieked, absolutely fuming. "I'm still able to fight! And Borak- Borak isn't the one who's pregnant, you can't send him away! Those monsters killed our son-"

"So you'll give them your baby too?" Sarashi snapped. Her headache had become almost blinding. "Go to the mountains. Go far far away from here!"

"But-"

"No!" Sarashi shouted. "No but! No nothing!"

"You'd refuse us our right to fight?" Liery yelled back.

"Yes!" Sarashi hissed. "If it means protecting our people, you can be Shadow Snake damned I will! If it means you killing your child otherwise, I will!"

Liery paled.

"I wouldn't-" she stammered, as Borak pulled her back into his arms. He had tried to calm her while she and Sarashi had been yelling at each other, with little luck. Now he seemed to succeed in at least containing her. He hushed her gently and pressed his lips to her hair.

"You would fight as fiercely as any mother avenging her child," he assured her mournfully. "But Alik is dead, Love."

"Unless you plan to safely abort that child-" Sarashi pointing accusingly at Liery's abdomen. "Then I cannot allow you to fight. As long as you want that child, it is part of our people, and I will not allow you to put it in danger! I don't want you with my fighters!"

Liery pressed her face into her husband's shoulder, and shivered, a sob bubbling up through her chest.

"Are you going to go eat bloodleaves?" Sarashi asked her hotly.

Borak tightened his arms around Liery, who shook her head with a wimper.

"Then go with Lishka. And take your husband with you. The Molterainian bandits can be as deadly as the imperial soldiers," Sarashi dismissed them, all anger leaving her in a surge. She rubbed her eyes again, her vision blurry. "I need to see to Rayla."

She left without looking back.

Rayla did not greet her when she entered the tent.

The woman's round cheeks had gone hollow, and her dimples where nowhere in sight. Her hair was unwashed. She did not even look up when Sarashi entered the tent. She was laying down on her bed, legs hanging over the edge.

"Hi," Sarashi said.

She sat down on the ground in front of Rayla, and leaned back against her legs. Once there she leaned her head back, saying nothing. Rayla watched her for a bit, then looked down at the floor mats again.

There was no way to know how long they spent sitting there in silence.

Sarashi leaned her face into the warmth of Rayla's leg, hiding it, like Liery had hers at Borak's chest. There she allowed her tears to come.

Rayla said nothing, but she did not move her legs away either.

But they did not need words. In that tent, where grief and anxiety had taken their voices, the shared silence was all they needed.

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