Sabit strode into the bandit camp like a conquering general. Word of the bandit king’s watery death at her hands had preceded her arrival. In every corner of the camp, fear spread like wildfire. In lopsided lean-tos, bandits grabbed blankets. In the central lodge of rough-cut timber, graspers filled their bags with the bandit king’s gold. As Sabit stepped from the dense forest into the broad clearing that housed the camp, a pair of bandits dropped the ripe hand of bananas they had filched and sprinted for the treeline.
“I have seen demons given warmer welcomes than this,” Verdandi said, a smile in her voice.
Sabit leaned on her spear, the fatigue of her battle still heavy on her limbs. “These people were ruled by a demon. Why should they expect the demon-slayer to be any better?”
Two dozen pairs of eyes watched her from the makeshift camp. Fear shone in every face, most of them painfully young. She pointed to the young bandit she had faced earlier that day, who bore a tattoo of a hungry leech beneath his left eye. “You, boy! What is your name?”
He looked to his fellows before stepping forward. “I am Nerit the Mighty!” Instinct urged him to puff out his chest, but a prudent second thought turned the movement into an awkward stretch.
“How did you earn the death mark, Nerit?” Sabit said, her gaze steady on the boy’s face.
“I stained the streets with the blood of my …” Nerit’s voice died in his throat. “I stole a sack of rice from the market. For my family.”
Sabit nodded. She turned to face the others. “I am Sabit. Your king is dead. If you cross me, you will join him. If you wish to seek your own fortune upon the road, I will not pursue you. If you stay, you will do as I say. If you stay, you will eat better than stealing rice from the market. I will see to it.”
She called for a blanket and laid it on the rocky ground in the center of camp. Verdandi sat down at her side. With all the bandits staring in wonderment, Sabit went to sleep.
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/.