Pursuit: Thirteen

Baza the slave-catcher carefully made his way through the bandit camp, picking his way between the rough lean-tos of logs and branches. He had heard from whispers at the common house that there was a small pack of bandits, harrying lone travelers in this parts, but Baza had expected better than this savagery if they were giving trouble to Sabit. He hoped that she had not killed too many of them, as even bandits would fetch a few bronze gersh at the slave markets of Bahteel.

Shouts from nearby drew Baza’s attention, and he made his way swiftly along a narrow path out of the bandit camp. The path led along the side of a hill, and to a rocky outcropping that overlooked the river valley. The expansive vista would give the bandits a view of the main road leading to Bahteel, and significant warning of any travelers on the far side of the river.

Another shout echoed from very close by. Suddenly a crossbow bolt lodged in a tree within arm’s reach of Baza’s head. Looking to the bolt’s source, he saw two bandits locked in combat with two others. The slave-catcher immediately recognized Qaansoole—the former champion of the forum of justice was empty-handed, but her whirling, leaping attacks kept her spear-wielding opponent on the defensive, driving him back. The other man must be Sabit’s lover, swinging an antler like a sword to keep his foe at bay.

But where was Sabit?

Baza approached the struggle, keeping out of sight as much as possible. A panicked scream called him toward a ridge next to several piles of bones. Looking over, he saw a depression like a funnel, the slopes of loose pebbles giving no purchase to the two figures rapidly tumbling toward the dark hole at its bottom. A man in leather pants and an ill-fitting silk tunic fell into the hole with a panicked scream.

A moment later, he was joined in the inky depth by the falling body of Sabit.

 

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

Pursuit: Twelve

From the far edge of the funnel, another bandit approached Sabit. He skirted along the top of the slope of pebbles, leaning on a fire-hardened wooden spear—crude but deadly sharp. He wore a fine silk traveling tunic, his wide shoulders nearly bursting through the garment cut for a lady’s torso. His pants of creamy leather were topped with three belts, each more decorative than the last. Five necklaces adorned his throat, including Sabit’s chain of silver.

Sabit kept her eyes locked on the man’s spear as he approached. “I bear you no ill will,” the bejewelled man said, “but the maimed scorpion ain’t had supper in three days. It’s mighty hungry.”

“The hunger of a beast is none of my concern,” Sabit growled. “Return to me my property and I will let you live.”

The bandit let out a derisive laugh. “You seem to forget who’s been captured and who’s done the capturing. Let’s make this quick. I hate to see women suffer.”

He thrust his crude spear toward Sabit, goading her to the top of the slope of pebbles. Sabit turned her shoulders to avoid the fire-hardened point. With the same motion, she grabbed the shaft of the spear and pulled with all her might.

The bandit toppled over the edge toward the slope of pebbles. Flailing as he fell, he caught an edge of Sabit’s sleeve in his fist. Both of them tumbled down the slope of loose pebbles, careening toward the deep, dark hole below.

 

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

Pursuit: Eleven

“We don’t want any trouble,” Allamu said as the bandits herded their four captives through a narrow passageway between looming boulders. The path of mud-covered rocks sloped up, away from the river.

“You may not want it, but you’ve found it,” the shorter bandit said. He had a scar along the side of his face that ended in the scarred remains of half an ear on the right side.

One of us has found trouble,” Sabit growled as she ascended the slope at the head of the procession. Behind her came Qaansoole, then Allamu. The shorter bandit followed, his crossbow’s aim never straying far from the center of Allamu’s back. Behind him walked Qays, the taller bandit close on the boy’s heels. He had Qaansoole’s bow slung over one shoulder and Sabit’s spear over the other.

“What are your intentions?” Qaansoole asked as she climbed the muddy slope. She moved slowly, seeming to struggle with the slick surface. However, her careful footwork gave lie to the ruse, ensuring that she always had solid stone underfoot and was ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

“Our intentions don’t much matter,” the short bandit barked out. “It’s the intentions of the maimed scorpion that ought to worry you.” Both bandits shared a cruel laugh.

Sabit reached the top of the rise. On the far side of the ridge, a steep slope of loose pebbles fell away into dark hole in the ground, half again the size of a woman. The depression was like a massive funnel with a hungry maw in the middle.

Scattered around the edges of the funnel lay piles of bones. Amidst the heaps of deer ribs and sun-bleached antlers were mixed several long, straight thigh-bones and high-domed skulls that could be the remains of nothing but human beings.

 

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

Pursuit: Ten

Exhausted from their desperate battle to escape the waterfall, Allamu and Qaansoole slouched in the little boat. Its squat shape had been pushed into the crevice behind the boulder, crowding the bandit raft to one side.

Sabit and Qays studied the collection of lashed-together logs covered with pitch that served as the bandit’s raft. The rough-cut logs turned up slightly at either end, giving the craft a broad, flat bottom. All the spaces between the logs were filled with thick pitch, leaving no opening that might conceal Sabit’s necklace. The only other feature was the two hand-carved paddles. Each had been sanded smooth and bore a carved image on the blade. Although each carving showed a unique artist’s talent, they both displayed a scorpion, tail raised to strike, displaying three jagged claws.

Sabit scowled seeing the carving. “What’s wrong with the picture?” Qays asked her as he held the other paddle in his two small hands.

“I have seen it before,” Sabit said, “and it has always brought me trouble.”

“I guess your luck holds true,” came a man’s gravelly voice from darkness within the deeper part of the crevice.

Two men emerged from the shadows. Their bodies wore the gauntness of poverty, covered by simple clothing threadbare and patched. Their pock-marked faces held eyes as cold as flint.

Sabit paid little heed to the men’s faces or raiment. She only watched the loaded crossbows they held, one trained on her, and one on Qays.

 

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

Pursuit: Nine

The little boat hurtled toward the edge of the waterfall. Sabit plunged her branch into the river, but the bottom was too deep for it to find purchase. Allamu worked his makeshift paddle with all his might. Qays and Qaansoole leaned over the sides of the boat, clawing at the water with stark determination.

The waterfall loomed closer.

Sabit lifted her branch again to seek some solid surface to push off of. Something tugged, snagging on a poorly-cut offshoot. It felt thin and taut. Could it be a rope beneath the water, pulled taut in the current? It slipped off Sabit’s branch moments before she could bring it to the surface.

The roar of the waterfall was now too loud for speech. Sabit thrust the far end of her branch toward Qaansoole. The archer grabbed it. Holding tight to the branch, Sabit dove into the raging river.

The spear woman disappeared into the dark, choppy water. Moments passed. Allamu called out for her. The sound of the falls was deafening.

The branch went taut in Qaansoole’s grasp. The archer braced herself against the sides of the boat as it tipped sharply–the pole pulling it upstream while the current pushed it toward certain doom.

Sabit emerged from the water upstream. She held the branch in one hand, a thick rope in the other. Together, the crew pulled the little boat upstream. The rope led them to a shadowed crevice behind a large boulder, perfectly concealed from downstream travelers.

On the muddy ground within the crevice lay the bandits’ rough raft.

 

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

Pursuit: Eight

Baza stooped low in the sheltered clearing not far off the road. Hidden behind the thick needles of a recently-toppled pine, the makeshift shelter was nearly invisible to travelers on the narrow country lane. Baza’s men, despite their years of tracking escaped slaves, had walked right past it.

“The mother and child slept here, beneath the thickest shelter of branches,” Baza said as he studied the patterns of the brown, dried pine needles. “The man lay against that rock, isolated and alone.”

Striding over to the clearing’s opening, Baza found several stones turned over. The dirt clinging to their tops was still damp. They lay near divots of dark, exposed soil, fresh trails of earthworms still visible in the rich earth. “Sabit, the strongest, slept here at the entrance,” Baza said, running his tattooed fingers through the pine needles. “She slept deep and heavy. Our pursuit taxes her strength. Thieves approached carefully—two of them, I’d say. They seized her bag and broke into a run in that direction. Sabit was hard on their heels. The others followed soon after.”

Baza dispatched one of his men to follow the obvious trail of broken branches and scattered underbrush that marked Sabit’s passage. The slave-catcher himself hurried back up to the winding road. Rushing past his men and their charges, he came to a hard turn in the road where it clung to the hillside. Standing on a rocky outcropping, Baza gazed out over the treetops to the river running through the valley. Cutting through the current was a small wooden boat with four occupants. The rowers fought their way through the rapids with hastily-cut tree branches.

Seeing the tall shape of the lead rower, Baza smiled. To himself, he whispered, “I’ve found you at last, Sabit.”

 

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

 

Pursuit: Seven

Sabit’s long arms pushed against the cut, stripped tree branch to propel the little boat away from the shallows, out into the current of the river. Allamu leaned over the back of the cramped craft, using a round plate lashed to the end of a branch as a makeshift paddle. Qays and Qaansoole huddled in the middle of the boat, staying low to keep the overloaded vessel from tipping.

Before long, the watery susurrus of rapids grew louder. The boat bobbed in the quickening current. Ahead of them, caps of white crowned a scattering of boulders beneath the water’s surface.

“Push faster!” Allamu shouted as he cut hard into the water with his makeshift paddle. Sabit stabbed her pole into the riverbed as though she were plunging a spear into a fat boar on a hunt. Thews rippling beneath the dark brown surface of her skin, Sabit hauled the little boat swiftly toward a gap between the rocks, where the water was smoother.

With a mad rush, the boat sped over the rapid. Another billow of white water loomed ahead, and to the left, and to the right. Allamu and Sabit battled the water for control of the craft, fighting with all their strength to keep it upright. As they bounced from rapid to rapid down the river, Qaansoole found herself continually grabbing the leg of one rower or the other to keep them from being flung overboard.

The river calmed for a moment. Sabit and Allamu let their tired arms sag as they caught their breath. Qaansoole looked around. “How could the bandits’ crude raft have survived those rapids?” she asked.

Allamu answered in a soft voice, but his words were drowned out by a building thunderous roar of water. Looking downstream, they saw a solid wall of whitewater ahead of them. Beyond the frothy caps, the river seemed to vanish into a cloud of mist beyond the waterfall.

 

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

Pursuit: Six

Qaansoole pulled the bow from her back. Nocking a wet arrow from her submerged quiver, the archer aimed at the approaching shape. Moving slowly through the reeds, it was nearly upon her. Her legs were still held fast in the thick silt of the riverbed. Qaansoole took aim, drawing the arrow to her cheek.

There was movement. Atop the shape, a head appeared, turned, looked at her.

“We found a boat, mother,” chirped Qays happily, climbing onto the prow of the small, carved boat gliding through the reeds. Qaansoole lowered her bow.

“It has some scratches and no oars,” Allamu said from within the boat, “but I don’t see any leaks.”

“Then we cut some branches for poles and give chase,” Sabit answered, approaching along the riverbank. “I will not let those thieves escape.” She braced her feet against a large rock and extended the butt of her spear to Qaansoole.

“They obviously know the terrain,” Qaansoole said, grasping the spear and slowly pulling herself from the river muck. “And they have such a lead on us that I doubt we’ll catch them. Why does the loss of such a bauble wound you so? You said you found that necklace by chance in a river.* Why not let chance deliver it into the hands of another?”

Sabit helped Qaansoole onto dry land, looming more than a head taller than the archer. “I protect that which is mine. No matter the cost.”

 

*-Sabit’s finding of the silver necklace is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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

Pursuit: Five

Qaansoole climbed a large, gnarled birch tree, the smooth bark offering her hands and feet little purchase as she dangled over the water below. Bow strapped to her back and quiver of arrows by her side, the nimble woman made her way as high as the branches would allow. This tree grew at the curve of the river and offered the best chance to see further downstream, so long as the branches held. One hand grasping the smooth birch bark, Qaansoole leaned out into the void, poking her head through brilliant green leaves to survey the wide river below.

“They are heading towards the canyon, but are not within its mouth yet,” Qaansoole called down to Sabit, who stood, dripping, at the base of the tree trunk. “Their raft doesn’t look sturdy enough to withstand the rapids I see ahead of them.”

“The death of fools will do nothing to restore to me my property!” Sabit snarled. “Is there any clear foot path around the canyon?”

Qaansoole leaned out still further, craning her neck for a better view.

With a sudden crack, the branch beneath her feet gave way. Qaansoole plummeted downward. Instincts honed by a lifetime’s danger spurred her arms wide, her hands nimbly grasping branches wherever they came near. Although each branch snapped in turn, the archer managed to slow her descent before plunging into the water.

The near section of the river was slow-moving, nearly stagnant, and overgrown with a thick crop of reeds. Qaansoole tried to stand, only to find herself sinking hip-deep into the soft, black silt of the river bottom.

Looking around for Sabit, Qaansoole saw movement upstream. The rushes dipped and bent before a large, dark shape surging out of the shadows that clung to the shallows. The archer scrambled to reach the solid shore, but the silt held her fast. Qaansoole was immobile as the dark shape loomed closer and closer.

 

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

Pursuit: Four

Sabit ran through the forest, the underbrush scratching at her long, brown legs and catching in the winding leather straps of her sandals. Pushing through the thick foliage, she dodged low-hanging tree branches and dashed over gnarled tree roots. Spear butt braced against the now-sharply slanting ground, the warrior woman scrambled down a steep incline toward the rushing sound of a river below.

Over the river’s churning noise rose the voices of several men, urging one another to their tasks. Sabit sped her descent through the thick flora of the river bank, even as the slope offered disaster with every step. The spear woman leaped from rocky outcropping to patch of slick mud to twisted tree root with the nimbleness of one born to the rough places of the world.

Bounding from the underbrush onto the very edge of the river, Sabit saw three men paddling a rough boat—barely more than a raft—into the center of the river’s channel. Their tattered clothes and and sun-leathered skin stretching taut over ropey muscles spoke of a hardscrabble life.

The raft was a full four fathoms from shore when Sabit spotted it. With no overhanging tree nearby to aid her pursuit, the spear woman plunged into the chill water and was soon waist-deep. Still several fathoms from the raft, Sabit pulled back her spear arm and took aim at her quarry.

The current spun the raft slightly. Sabit could target no more than two of the bandits with her spear. And then what? The third would make off with her spear as well as her precious silver necklace.

Eyes locked with a hate-filled glare at the receding raft, Sabit lowered her spear.

 

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