Betrayal: Six

Nerit struggled under the weight of the huge timber. Sweat poured off the young bandit as he dragged what had been the rafter of a grain storehouse along the dusty road. The ropey muscles of his arms bulged and throbbed in protest at the crushing burden. With every step, Nerit had to fight to keep his feet. He kept his eyes doggedly fixed on the line of fortifications that he and his fellow bandits were erecting against the encroaching king’s army. Focusing on his goal lent strength to his arms and stiffness to his back.

Then, Nerit’s foot stepped badly on a stone. Ankle askew, knee weak, he fell to the ground, the massive timber set to crush him. Nerit braced for the blow.

It never came.

Opening his eyes, Nerit saw Kehnan holding the huge plank of wood, his massive arms easily cradling the bulk of it. “Careful there, friend,” said Kehnan. “You should aim to die fighting your enemies, not caught crushed by a tool you thought you could handle but proved too powerful.”

Nerit scowled at Kehnan’s bemused smile. He pulled himself to his feet, the maggot tattoo beneath his left eye compressed in disgust. “I am not your friend. The queen let you live, and so I too will spare you. The queen says you will fight by our side, and so I shall let it be. But the moment the queen tires of indulging you, I will plant one of my arrows through your heart.”

Kehnan laughed. “You are young and you wear your passion on your face as plainly as that tattoo. Now that you have told me that you are my enemy, I will never show my back to you. You would do well to hide your true intentions behind a smile of friendliness. Perhaps offer me some wine to dull my skills.”

Nerit had regained his feet and seized the huge timber back from the taller man. In sullen silence, he resumed dragging the beam. Kehnan came up behind him and lifted the tail end of the beam out of the dirt with ease. “Just because you think me an enemy, Nerit, doesn’t mean I can’t be of value to you. I suspect you are as unpracticed at the ways of love as you are the ways of deception. Allow me to school you in the best ways to a woman’s heart. Or, at least, to her bed….”

Kehnan’s booming laughter echoed throughout the gap between the hills as Nerit walked on, his face burning with shame.

— — —
Photo by Fancycrave from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-ancient-ruins-678638/

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Betrayal: Six

sabit-betrayal

“These are barely wounds. You need not trouble yourself, healer,” Kehnan  scoffed, reclining in a hammock in one of the bandit’s huts. Regida busied herslef with strips of linen and smears of poultice, tending to the wide, red abrasions that circled Kehnan’s arms where the rope had held him.

“Sabit  has said that I am to tend your foolish wounds. I do not question the orders of my queen.” The young woman bristled as she struggled to stretch the linen bandage using only her intact, left arm. The stump of her right twitched with her every movement.

“Nor should you,” Kehnan replied, studying Regida’s expression closely. “The Sabit that I recall would cut off your other arm for daring to doubt her wisdom. But this Sabit seems … weaker.”

Anger flared in Regida’s eyes. “Weak? Would a weak queen risk her position and her tribe against the forces of a mighty king to defend the innocent? Would a weak queen risk her own life against a vicious beast just to save a foolhardy warrior like me, who had challenged her authority?* Would a weak queen risk her soul by carrying a spear carved of the body of the demon that had already left its scars across her mind?”**

Kehnan grinned at Regida’s every utterance, her fury doing more to loosen her tongue than would gold or strong drink. He showed his palms and said, “My ordeal has surely left me light-headed and confused. You have shown me my error. Now, tell me more of the strengths of your bandit queen. I hunger to learn them all.”

*-Sabit’s rescue of Regida is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen http://ipressgames.com/tag/bandit-queen/

**-Sabit’s creation of her spear is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe http://ipressgames.com/tag/road-of-woe/

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Betrayal: Five

sabit-betrayal

“I should have killed him, Verdandi,” Sabit said as she thrust her spear forward into the empty air. “I should have opened his throat and watched his blood trace crimson curves along the blade!”

The older woman chewed on a spicy curl of cinnamon bark. “If you say you should have, then you should have. Why didn’t you?” She watched Sabit continue her strenuous spear-dance—the bandit queen striking, spearing, dodging, and kicking a dozen imagined foes in her training exercise.

“He begged for mercy right there in the midst of the entire tribe.  If I am to show these outcasts a better way, I must be better than their wicked old king,” Sabit replied. She punctuated the comment with an emphatic grunt as she thrust her spear deep into the gut of an imagined foe.

Verdandi nodded slowly a bemused look on her face. “Be that as it may. Showing the young folk a better path is a worthy goal indeed. If that were all that stayed your hand, I do not know what troubles you know, Sabit. Surely it cannot have anything to do with his claims of knowing you in the past …”

Sabit whirled on the old woman, her spear whistling through the air to point at Verdandi’s nose. “My past is dead and gone. It cannot harm me. My only concern is the future of this tribe and these villagers. I have much work to do before the king’s soldiers arrive.”

Turning on her heel, Sabit strode off in sullen silence, toward a future unmoored from the past.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Betrayal: Four

sabit-betrayal

Seeing his queen’s agony at this man’s words, Nerit kicked the captive’s knees. The others guided Kehnan’s muscular form down so that he knelt before Sabit. Nerit reached into his pack and withdrew the broad blade of polished bronze he had taken from Kehnan on the road. Careful to avoid its sharpness, he extended its handle to the bandit queen.

“He did not resist our ambush, my queen,” said Nerit. “But we found a medallion bearing the seal of the king of Bahteel among his things. Bahteel is a brother-king of Junjai, our great enemy. I think this man is a spy who should be treated as all spies.”

Sabit took the sword. Looking down its blade, she studied its craftsmanship. Cutting the air with a few short swings, she accustomed her hand to its balance. She took a step toward Kehnan.

“Wait!” barked the bound warrior. “I stole that medallion from my captors in Bahteel. You and I have fought the king before, Sabit. He wants us both dead. I heard a rumor that an unbeatable spear woman had taken up in the forest, so I came searching for you. We have been comrades in arms. You must trust me.”

Sabit paused to consider his words. Nerit seized the captive by his long, dark hair. Pulling Kehnan’s head back, he offered the warrior’s throat to Sabit’s blade. “He lies! End him, my queen. He cannot be—”

Flexing the muscles of his thick neck, Kehnan struck Nerit with his forehead. The younger man collapsed from the powerful blow. Letting out a roar, Kehnan fought against the thick ropes binding him.  They went taut. They stretched. They strained.

The ropes burst.

With a flurry of motion, Kehnan struck at the young bandits surrounding him. They toppled like children’s toys before the fury of the big man. In the blink of an eye, Kehnan had his thick arm around Nerit’s throat. His other hand pressed on the young man’s head, poised to snap his neck.

“I am not your enemy, Sabit,” Kehnan said, fixing his eyes on the bandit queen. “I came to this forest to find you. I see that the rumors are true. You are a queen here, as you were always meant to be. What can a man do with a queen besides  serve her?”

The mighty warrior tossed Nerit aside, ashamed but unhurt. Sinking to his knees before Sabit, Kehnan placed his own throat against the tip of the bronze blade she held. “I have placed my life in your hands a hundred times. Never have I regretted it. I shall not regret it now. Accept my service or slay me on my knees. What say you, Mongoose?”

———

Photo by Fancycrave from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-ancient-ruins-678638/

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

 

NOTE: Sabit has a lot to be thankful for. The next chapter will post Monday, November 27.

Betrayal: Three

Sabit stepped close to the captive, looking up to study his features. She could not put a name to his smirking face. His sharp cheekbones and dimpled smile were handsome enough. The vicious scar above his left eye spoke of a life lived by violence. The wide streak of grey in his raven hair testified that he was skilled enough with the sword to elude a young death.

Something about that streak seemed wrong to Sabit. She squinted at the coarse grey hairs marching through a field of midnight black. It did not belong there—of that, she was certain. The basis for that certainty was lost in the mists of her muddled memories, like everything else from her past.*

“I do not remember you,” Sabit said, scowling at the bound man.

“Impossible! No one can forget Kehnan the Mighty!” the captive bellowed. “Least of all, you. Sabit the spear woman. The victor of a hundred battles. To the world, you were the only mercenary to fight better than I. To those in need, you were a champion. To the the wicked, you were death itself. To me, you were as fast and deadly as the sacred Mongoose.”**

Sabit’s wrist ached at his words—an old, faded scar burned like a brand. “I live for today, and for tomorrow. Yesterday has no place in these lands.”

Kehnan looked deeply into her eyes. “Surely you cannot forget the battles we fought side by side? Surely you cannot forget the love I bore you? Surely you cannot forget our separation, and the good fortune of our reunion in Bahteel? Surely you cannot forget those companions you sent away so that you could remain by my side?”

The mention of companions brought a lump to Sabit’s throat, although she could recall neither name nor face. Her chest felt as though it would burst. She turned sharply away from Kehnan. “There is no place here for the past. If you have nothing to offer but memories, then I have nothing to offer but death.”

*-Sabit’s memory loss is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe http://ipressgames.com/tag/road-of-woe/

**-Sabit’s past with Kehnan is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death http://ipressgames.com/tag/bazaar-of-death/

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Betrayal: Two

“The fight for our destiny will be waged in that pass,” Sabit said to her gathered warriors. The group stood on a small rise at the forest’s edge. Below them, a valley of rolling fields stretched its golden expanse from horizon to horizon—ripe grain and bountiful crops gathered into fat sheaves by the toiling farmers. A single stream snaked through the valley, feeding the thirsty rice paddies before venturing into the forest to join with the mighty river hidden behind its branches. At the far end of the valley, two long, rocky hills served as walls, shielding the farmers from the sight of the mighty city of Junjai perched in the mountains to the north. The small gap between the hills held the only road out of the valley.

“It is a long way from the forest. We will be exposed, without trees or rocks for cover,” said Regida, fingering the long, hooked serpent’s tooth that hung from a thong around her neck. The fingers of her left—and only—hand toyed with the the tooth’s sharp tip.

Sabit smiled. “You are astute, Regida. A fight in the open is far different than the ambushes you have laid in the past. But it is a battle that we can win,” the bandit queen pointed toward the gap between the hills with her long, iron-tipped spear. “The enemy will come to us. We shall wield the land against them like a sword. Where there is no cover, we shall bring our shields of serpent hide. Where there is no concealment, we shall build blinds. Where there is only open field, we shall shape the road so the army will march where we choose. The bounty that is found in this land offers us only good things!”

A cheer arose from the bandits. They had seen their queen vanquish foes that could only be termed “undefeatable.” What weapon could the king of Junjai possibly deploy that Sabit could not best?

From the forest came the young hunter Nerit, his companions close behind. Among the knot of young men was a figure bound in thick ropes. Like a captive bear, he loomed over the boys, taller even than Sabit. The ropes struggled to contain his broad shoulders and bulging thews.

Nerit bowed low before his queen. “This traveler claims to know you, my queen. He says his name is Kehnan.”

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Betrayal: One

“We freely offer these fruits of the earth to Sabit, queen of the forest, defender of the weak,” said Htet, headwoman of the farming village. The sky-touching trees that surrounded her and her enclave of poor farmers were like nothing they had ever seen on the rolling farmland of their home. Htet swallowed her fear and stepped in front of the bulging sacks of rice and bushels of gourds, cabbage, and beans. Fixing her storm-gray eyes on the throne’s occupant, Htet continued. “May this tribute be pleasing in your sight, mighty warrior queen. May our plight stir your heart toward justice and … mercy.”

Htet forced her proud back to bend before the bandit queen. Stooping low, she could see only the queen’s muscular legs and the base of the throne she sat upon. Crafted from the skull of an enormous serpent, the throne was a web of pale bone, brass struts, and wickedly curved teeth. Htet shuddered at the sight of it. As much as the serpent-head throne filled her with fear, it was the power of the woman who sat upon it that Htet truly feared—and truly hoped to placate with her gifts.

“What is this plight of yours? Why should it concern the conquerors of the serpent?” said the queen, her voice clear and commanding.

Htet raised her head to look at Sabit. The bandit queen’s frame spoke of strength while her keen eyes attested to her intelligence. Htet hoped that those eyes also hid some measure of compassion. “The King of Junjai longs to see your head hanging from his battlements, queen of the forest. His troops scour the land clean of every morsel that he might raise an army against you. He has sworn to burn the forest to the ground if he must. Last year, before the king’s hatred bloomed, three children of the village wasted away after the king’s taxes had ravaged our stores. This year, his fury may well starve us all to death.”

A furrow formed in Sabit’s brow. “You fear famine and still freely offer me a taste of your bounty. Why?”

Htet swallowed, remembering the grave of her infant son and the vow she had sworn there. “It is said on the roads that your raiders do not kill the merchants who willingly give up their goods. These gifts are but the first fruits of our fields. If you can protect us and our crops from the king’s cruel men, we would share with you our bounty. Let us live in safety and our fields will feed the conquerors of the serpent, not the armies of Junjai.”

The bandit queen sat back on her throne, curved snake-ribs the length of her arm cradling her back. Sabit stroked her chin, weighing the future of Htet and her people behind her dark eyes.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Metatopia 2017

Metatopia was great! The entire Double Exposure staff did a great job handling a record number of events and attendees. Personally, I really enjoyed not having to playtest any games all weekend.

Instead, I got to be a tortured anime super soldier in Russell Collins’s Project Wingspan; a well-dressed angel hunter in Miguel Espinoza’s Nahuales; the backstabbing good twin of a very bad man in Brandon Leon-Gambetta’s Pasions de las Passiones; the proprietor of a storefront necromancy school in Rob Deobald’s The City Afterlife; and an aspiring YouTube star in a dysfunctional political dynasty in Justin Rogers’s Family Without Values.

More than that, I listened to some great panels and even spoke on one about the Forge. I had so many great conversations throughout the weekend, renewing old friendships and forging new ones. It was an excellent way to spend my birthday weekend and I thank everyone who was a part of it!

Bandit Queen: Twenty-Two — Epilogue

The broad trunks of sky-touching trees and lush cover of ground-hugging ferns gave Nerit and his fellow bandits any number of good blinds alongside the road. He and a handful of others clutched their spears less than an arm’s length from the road itself, invisible behind the foliage. Nerit had arranged his archers high on the slope on the far side of the road, their keen eyes fixed on the lone figure riding upon a massive steed, three mules trotting behind him. The mules walked slowly, weighed down by the bulging sacks perched upon their backs.

As the horseman drew closer, Nerit raised a clenched fist, careful to keep the movement hidden in the shadows of the roadside ferns. His two companions ceased their whispered speculations on what treasures lay hidden beneath the coarse cloth of the sacks. What did it matter? Whether the mules labored under a crop of yams or a trove of gold, their bounty would soon belong to the bandits—and their mighty queen.

The three bandits crouched motionless as the horseman passed. A broad-winged insect landed on the leech tattoo on Nerit’s cheek. The bandit did not blink. His eyes never left the broad-shouldered horseman, large bronze blade hanging at his waist.

As the horseman passed Nerit, a half-dozen arrows launched from the top of the far slope. Arcing through the air, they struck the packed earth, barely missing the horse’s nose. It was a testament to the rider’s skill that he kept his mount from bolting at the shock. Before the beast was settled, Nerit and his two fellows flanked the horseman from the rear, spears poised to strike.

“My archers have given you warning, traveler,” Nerit said, his voice clear and steady. “Count yourself fortunate for my queen’s merciful heart. Give us your goods and continue on your errand with your blood still in your veins.”

The horseman turned in the saddle to face Nerit. His long black hair fell to his shoulders like the mane of a wild beast. He gripped the reins with murderous fists, snake-like veins protruding from his tense thews. His sharp blue eyes jumped from the archers’ hillside to the bandits’ flint spear points to the bronze blade at his side. Drawing a deep breath through his clenched jaw, the man said, “In whose name would you steal what is mine?”

“Our queen is a mighty warrior. Never has she tasted the bitter gall of defeat. We are proud to serve Sabit.” Nerit smiled to speak her name.

The horseman smiled also.  The tension eased in his grip, but did not abate completely—like a jungle cat that has found its prey but is not yet ready to pounce. “Sabit? She who is unequaled with the spear? I have not laid eyes upon her beauty in far too long. You must take me to her. Tell her that Kehnan has come to give her what she deserves.”

—END—

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

 

NOTE: Even the mightiest warrior requires rest from time to time. Sabit’s adventures will return Monday, November 6.

Bandit Queen: Twenty-One

“That silver and black serpent’s hide will yield a mantle worthy of a queen,” Verdandi said to Sabit. The older woman sat next to Regida—recovering from the loss of her arm—in the central lodge of the bandit camp. Dabbing water on the young woman’s sleeping brow, she surveyed the flurry of activity throughout the camp. Several bandits butchered the massive snake’s bulk, cutting strips of pale meat the length of a man. Others built up the bonfire for tonight’s celebration. Still others tended to the minor hurts of their fellows.

A corner of Sabit’s mouth twitched upward at the sight. “The scales are tough. They will serve better to make half a dozen shields than to adorn my shoulders.”

“Won’t the burdens of authority keep you from taking to the road, Sabit?” Verdandi asked.

Before Sabit could respond, Nerit approached. With a swift bow of his head, the young man spoke, “The watchers of the eastern road have spied a caravan crossing the ridge. The wagons fly the standard of the King of Junjai. They should be on the forest road by tomorrow.”

Sabit pondered the news a moment. “Take two groups of seven—spearmen and archers—to greet the caravan. Leave at dawn so you have time to prepare the road. The king of Junjai has taken enough from these people, hasn’t he, Nerit? It is past time we take something back.”

Nerit withdrew, his shoulders back and head held high. Sabit turned to face Verdandi. “I did not seek to lead these people. They have withered beneath the angry glare of a tyrant. Shall we see how they thrive under the light of a different sun?”

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.