Bandit Queen: Thirteen

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.

 

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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/.

Bandit Queen: Twelve

The crack of the lash echoed throughout the dungeons of the king of Bahteel. The coppery tang of blood wafted on the breeze as each stripe opened more flesh on Kehnan’s back. The hulking warrior strained against the thick iron chains binding his arms to a wide archway. His massive thews flexed to the point of bursting, yet even his strength could not win him respite from the unrelenting whip.

The torturer stopped to rest his arm. Kehnan’s breath came like a horse, echoing through the cavernous dungeons. He growled, “I vow that I will tear your heart from your chest, Lovro!”

“Is that supposed to frighten me, Kehnan?” asked the smaller man. The fine silks of his robes marked him as a man unused to the hard labor of beating a man to death. “You gave me your vow that I would have the skull of the leader of the Sisterhood of the Lioness on a post by now.* And you vowed that the champion Sabit would be my willing captive by now.** Yet both of them roam free! Your vows mean nothing!”

Kehnan glared at his captor. “I have sown the seeds, but you do not allow them the time to ripen! Even now, Sabit hunts Meriama for you. She has never failed to bring down her quarry. Once the leader of the Sisterhood is dead, then I will resume draining Sabit’s essence until she accepts you with open arms. Give me time!”

“You think me a fool, Kehnan?” replied Lovro. “The Sisterhood banished Sabit nearly a fortnight ago, yet Meriama still breathes! She has made a fool of you.”

Kehnan’s eyes grew wide as the news of Sabit’s betrayal wormed its way into his mind. Lovro smiled to see the mighty warrior struck dumb by the actions of a woman. He sauntered back to his whipping spot, letting the long leather lash unspool upon the floor.

Suddenly, Kehnan let out a roar like a wild beast. Pulling tight on the chains that held his arms spread, Kehnan kicked his legs forward and his head back. With a speed that defied his size, the big man braced his thick sandals on the top of the stone archway, his long black hair hanging so low as to touch the flagstones. Hanging upside-down, he pushed with massive legs while pulling his bound arms together. His whole body trembled with the effort. His wounds bled down his back, over his neck and scalp, dripping from the tips of his hair.

The groan of bending iron rang out as the iron staples holding the chain to the wall gave way. Kehnan fell in a cloud of dust. Lovro stepped away, terrified at the strength of his former prisoner.

From the warrior’s fallen form came a voice as dark as the grave, “No one makes a fool of Kehnan and lives! Sabit will pay for this!”

 

——

*-Sabit’s mission is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness.

**-Kehnan’s attempts to weaken Sabit are detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death.

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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/.

Bandit Queen: Eleven

Shrieking with effort, Sabit kicked with all her might. Braced against the bandit king’s chest, her powerful legs shoved him backwards, lifting him off the bridge. Sabit rolled aside as the bandit king toppled over the edge. The rope around his neck went taut. Pulled by the rope, the leather sack of adze-heads slid along the flat bed of the cart. The bandit king disappeared beneath the churning, brown river. The sack of bronze tools toppled off the cart, striking the edge of the bridge forcefully as it fell. The river swallowed it, too.

Sabit watched the water until her breathing began to slow. The river showed not so much as a ripple to mark the bandit king’s presence.

Wrapping her aching hands around the spokes of the cartwheel, Sabit pulled herself upright. Every muscle trembled with fatigue and pain. The bridge seemed to wobble beneath her feet. Through force of will alone, Sabit raised herself to her full height.

Surveying the bridge head, Sabit saw a number of figures. Verdandi stood at the center, a proud smile on her face. A few steps onto bridge stood the three young bandits she had disarmed earlier. They and half a dozen other youths stared slack-jawed at the river’s brown surface. Although each one held a weapon in their hands, Sabit saw the newborn fear in the bandits’ eyes.

She spoke in loud voice, “Your unbeatable king attends the court of the river goddess in her muddy palace. Any who would join him, step forward. I am keen to send you on your way.”

Despite the pull of exhaustion and the angry throb of her injuries, Sabit did not allow her gaze to falter as she looked at each of the young bandits in turn. The next move was theirs.

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Ten

Sabit scrambled away from the fallen man’s reach, every muscle shrieking in agony. She tried to pull herself to her feet, only to have her legs collapse beneath her. Crawling would have to do. The bridge gave her only two directions: backward toward the other bandits, or forward into the unknown. The bandits had her spear and Verdandi, her traveling companion. She was a few steps from the merchant’s cart and its disheveled payload.

The bandit king let out a furious roar. Sabit dragged her exhausted body toward the cart. Behind her, she could hear the bandit king pulling himself up. His skin scraped like stone across the mahogany planks.

Reaching the cart, Sabit seized an end of loose rope. The bandit king’s footsteps came closer, shaking the bridge. Sabit rolled onto her back, pulling her feet up to defend against him. He lunged at her, both hands outstretched. His chest pressed against Sabit’s feet, the tattoos writhing with fury where her sandals touched his stonelike chest.

The bandit king’s inexorable fingers grabbed at Sabit’s muscled legs and the tattered tunic she wore. With a swift motion, she looped the rope over his head, pulling it tight around his throat. The tattoos writhed wherever the hemp touched his flesh.

“You think you can strangle me, you fool?” the bandit spat.

“Not I,” Sabit grunted as the pressure of his approach squeezed her knees hard against her chest. “The river.”

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Nine

Sabit’s lungs fought against the bandit king’s weight, dragging in one more breath. His powerful hands pried her mouth open, despite the desperate fury of her defense. The pressure on her jaw was agony. The tattoos writhed across his skin everywhere Sabit clawed at him, making his touch as unyielding as stone. The blue and black curving lines covered every bit of visible skin.

But not all the bandit king’s skin was visible.

Sabit realized her only chance and seized it at the same moment. Abandoning her fruitless fight against the stony fingers that crushed her face, Sabit swung her long arms upward. At the same instant, both her palms struck the bandit king’s ears.

He howled in pain. The pressure on her jaw lessened.

With her longer reach, Sabit clawed at the bandit king’s eyes. He roared and grabbed her hands, releasing her aching face in the same moment.

Sabit brought her legs up, hooking them under the bandit king’s arms from behind. She pulled him backward with all her might. Sabit’s legs screamed with protest at the weight. Her shoulders pressed hard against the wooden bridge. There was a rushing sound everywhere—either the river or her blood, Sabit could not say.

Slowly at first, and then with sudden speed, the bandit king toppled off of Sabit. The bridge bounced as he landed square on his back.

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Eight

The weight of the bandit king pressed down on Sabit’s gut as he loomed over her. She could not catch her breath. He laid one slab-like hand on her forehead while he grasped her jaw with stubby fingers that felt as solid as stone. The scent of rancid oil oozed from his skin.

“Call me a coward now, you worthless wretch!” the bandit king spat. He squeezed. The bottom of Sabit’s face imploded with agony. It felt as though her jaw were about to snap. A muffled scream died in her throat.

Sabit clawed at the king’s hands, unable to budge them in the slightest. His skin was as impervious as unliving stone. She desperately sucked in air through her nose, stars beginning to appear at the edges of her vision. Every breath was a fight, the fat man’s full weight pressing into her gut.

He was heavy for a man, but not so heavy as a man made of stone would be. The tattoos granting his resilience covered every inch of his skin. As the starbursts of pain and asphyxia consumed more of Sabit’s vision she could see no vulnerability.

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Seven

Sabit’s hand prickled with tiny jolts of pain where the bronze adze-head had flown from her grasp. Staring at the bandit king in shock, Sabit took note of the deep blue and black tattoo-lines on his neck writhing across his skin like a ball of serpents. “You hide behind your magic, coward!” Sabit spat.

The corners of the bandit king’s mouth dropped from a mocking grin to an angry scowl. “Call me ‘coward’? I’ll rip that tongue from your head, harpy!”

Although her body still trembled with the fatigue of lifting the cart, Sabit raised her hands in a defensive stance—her right hand screaming with every movement.

The bandit king took a menacing step toward her.

Sabit’s fighting instinct, honed by years of battle, had her leg up and kicking without a moment’s thought. Her foot smashed into the smaller man’s gut. Agony shot up her leg as though she had kicked a tree.

The impact sent the spear woman careening backwards. She landed on her back on the springy mahogany planks. The river roared beneath her. The white sunlight and green treetops spun far above. For a moment, Sabit forgot how to move.

Then, the bandit king was upon her.

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Six

Hearing the bandit’s gruff voice, Sabit put her hand to her shoulder—and was reminded of dropping her iron-tipped spear on the distant shore when she dashed for the serpent. Sabit carried no other weapon—her hands were sore and empty. If only she had kept hold of the snake!

She slid out from under the cart, noting a strand of rope that had come loose from one of the bundles. A bag of thick cloth lay open in the back of the cart, exposing its load of bronze adze-heads to Sabit’s gaze. She cradled one of the curved lengths of sharpened metal in her hand, concealing it behind her brown forearm. Slowly, Sabit raised herself to her full height.

“There’s the savior of my booty!” cried the bandit king. His bald head barely reached Sabit’s chin. His body was thick with muscle and fat, nearly bursting from a yellow silk loincloth that served as his only garment. Gold and silver of every sort hung from his ears, nose, and neck—booty seized from other passers-by, no doubt. Sabit judged his skin to be a deep tan, based on the slivers of it visible between the twining, abstract tattoos that covered him from scalp to toe.

“I have saved the life of one ass today,” Sabit said, stepping in front of the merchant’s donkey. “Turn and walk away, that we might save another.”

The bandit king laughed, addressing his followers over his shoulder, “This one has wit as well as beauty, boys. She’ll make a fine—”

With the speed of a striking snake, Sabit swung the adze-head for his neck. Her form was flawless: feet set solid, hips pivoting smoothly, arm swinging wide and strong, grip loose but accurate. For an instant, the short blade whistled through the humid air. Then, it struck the bandit king’s throat.

With a loud clang, the adze-head glanced off his tattooed skin as though striking stone. It spiralled out of Sabit’s grasp and into the raging river below. The shock shot from Sabit’s hand up to her shoulder, jolts of pain engulfing her arm.

The bandit king looked at Sabit and smiled a gap-toothed grin.

 

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Five

Dropping the three bandit bows she carried on the mahogany planks, Sabit dashed for the writhing green serpent. Her powerful legs carried her across the bridge with a speed like the wind.

The donkey’s turn of head was faster. Seeing the thin, green form it its path, the animal reared up, legs flailing in the air. The merchant lurched forward, sprawling onto the wooden planks less than a cubit from the angry serpent. It held its head high and its body curved, ready to strike.

Sabit dove, arm outstretched. In one smooth motion, she seized the snake’s head from behind, hurled it off the bridge, and tumbled into a shoulder roll. She came to a stop at the very edge of the narrow bridge, her feet hanging over the churning water.

The donkey let out a high-pitched scream of fear. Its backward steps had pushed one of the cart’s wheels off the edge of the bridge. The fully-laden cart leaned precariously over the river, pulling the beast slowly backward, hooves sliding on the mist-slicked planks.

Diving beneath the cart, Sabit seized the wheel that hung suspended over the raging water. Bracing her feet wide against the wooden planks, the spear woman pulled with all her might. Her fingers held two spokes in a grip of iron. Powerful thews rippled in her arms and shoulders. Her legs strained against the weight. Every muscle screamed with the effort. Sabit’s vision dimmed until all she could see was the space between the wheel and the edge of the bridge. A cubit’s gap became a handspan. Sabit’s legs burned like acid. The handspan became two fingerwidths. She felt dizzy. Two fingerwidths became one. Sabit let out an ugly, guttural shriek.

The wheel edged onto a wooden plank. Sabit collapsed, her back sprawled on the bridge. As the merchant led the donkey forward carefully, the spear woman gasped for air like an caught fish.

Above her came the deep voice of a man, “It’s a good thing your cart didn’t topple, old man. I hate to steal soggy goods.”

———

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/.

Bandit Queen: Four

The sun was still high in the sky when the two travelers heard the rushing of water over the buzzing, screeching din of the forest. The river cut a thin gash in the shady canopy overhead, shafts of light catching insects flitting to and fro. Approaching the river, the roadway’s clearing spread out to encompass a campsite of sorts. To the side, a trail led down to the river’s edge, its dark earth packed firm by innumerable hooves of thirsty beasts.

Across the churning water stretched a bridge. Planks of dark mahogany spanned the gap in a straight path, just wide enough for a single cart to pass. No rails stood guard to protect travelers from the current of raging, brown water below. All the traffic for a score of parasangs funnelled across the planks of this one bridge.

Verdandi trotted down to the riverside, two sagging waterskins in her hands. Sabit stood at the end of the bridge, surveying the far shore. Trees from both sides leaned out over the river, nearly touching in the center.

A single traveler walked the bridge, coming from the far side toward Sabit. He led a donkey harnessed to a two-wheeled cart over the narrow path. With careful step he proceeded. Sabit could see the bridge flex with their weight as they came.

A green flash of movement caught Sabit’s eye, falling from a tree branch overhead. With barely a sound, a thin curve of green scales landed on the mahogany planks, nearer to the merchant than to Sabit. Within moments, the donkey was sure to see the snake and panic.

Sabit was sprinting across the bridge in the blink of an eye.

 

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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/.