“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/.