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.”
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.