“We had best find shelter before full dark,” Sabit said, extending her hand to the older woman. She had done enough killing in her day, and always for better cause than mere booty.
In the dimming light, Sabit surveyed the horizon for any threat while the woman gathered her fallen, scattered treasure. Even the cloud of dust raised by the woman’s retreating donkey had vanished behind desolate ridges dyed the color of blood by the setting sun.
When the older woman had gathered her satchels and once more hidden the signs of her wealth from the gaze of any passerby, the two set off together on the road. Sabit did not expect to get far before the darkness forced them to stop, but the rocks at the top of the ridge before them seemed to offer a more secure campsite than the open valley where the woman fell.
The pair attained the top of the ridge as dusk gave way to night. Sabit’s eyes strained to make out the shapes of the boulders, looking for the best shelter. The harder she looked, the more their irregular shapes seemed less like massive rocks and more like the fluted columns and elaborate arches of the distant city of Ghabar. It had been years since Sabit had served as captain of Ghabar’s troops, since she had stood in its mighty palace, since she had chosen duty above her own chance at happiness.* For a moment in the darkness, it felt like she was standing there once more.
“Halt!” came a charge from a sentry speaking the Ghabari tongue, “Who goes there?”
“Two simple travelers,” Sabit answered. She could barely make out the spear points of the sentries before her. Their shapes were lost in the shadows of the boulder field. “We seek only a rocky shelter for the night.”
“Sabit?” came the reply. The sentry stepped forward as a campfire crackled in the distance. She removed her helmet to reveal the face of Aruru, who had replaced Sabit as the city’s captain. “It is good to see you again, old friend.”
“Aruru? Why are you so far from Ghabar?” Sabit asked. “And why would you rejoice to see me? We parted on bad terms.”
Aruru looked away. “Those were simpler times. I was mistaken in my loyalty to the Prioress of Ghabar who dismissed you. The last months have seen Irkalla tear down everything that Ghabar once stood for and throw it onto a pyre to honor the memory of her dead son. Dirges played at all hours and a tomb that reaches to the heavens themselves were not enough to quench Irkalla’s grief. Boys whose eyes share the grey-green hue as the prince’s have been condemned to the mausoleum to guard him in the afterlife. Every girl born the same year of the prince has been forced to marry his corpse and sing and dance for its deathly glory.
“Such crimes are too much to bear. I have taken the better part of the army to save Ghabar and end Irkalla’s destructive mourning. I see now that Irkalla was always the root of Ghabar’s sickness, not you, Sabit. When she exiled you from the city, she exiled all goodness and hope. In your redemption lies the redemption of the city. Come with us, Sabit. I will see you installed as the next Prioress, over Irkalla’s bloody corpse. Take my army, I give it to you freely.”
Aruru stepped aside to show the valley full of troops. Dozens of campfires flickered in the night. Thousand, no, tens of thousands men and women awaited her command. Every cluster of tents and horses bore the standard that Sabit once wore as captain. It was a standard she could have again.
All she had to do was take it.
*-Sabit’s past in Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.
Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe 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 http://ipressgames.com/fiction/