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.

 

———

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: Three

Sabit sprung from a shadowy clump of ferns behind the three bandits. With swift strikes, the shaft of her spear found the weakest points of their young bodies. Knees buckled, bellies doubled over, skulls rang. Within moments, all three bandits lay sprawled on the packed earth of the road that was their livelihood. Sabit stood over them, spear poised for another strike, should any of the boys attempt to regain their feet. This time, the spear’s sharp iron point would lead her assault.

“We will pass without trouble and you will count yourselves fortunate to live,” Sabit barked as the three tried to make sense of their predicament. The tallest groaned and reached for his fallen bow. Sabit stepped on his hand, eliciting a yelp.

Sabit directed Verdandi to gather the boys’ fallen weapons as she continued her lecture. “I have neither want nor need of your makeshift bows. I will leave them on the shore of the next river crossing. You will have lost nothing but face. It is a better bargain than you will get if my spear catches you following us.”

Verdandi continued up the road, chuckling to herself. Sabit followed, keeping her spear raised until the site of the ambush had faded in the distance behind them.

“You didn’t kill the bandits,” Verdandi asked.

“They were hungry boys seeking their supper,” Sabit replied. “There is as much virtue in killing them as in hunting buzzards. Besides, they might relay the tale of their defeat and warn other bandits from our path.”

The two walked together without speaking. Verdandi was uncertain of how Sabit had managed to squeeze hope out of such trouble—and whether it was as good thing.

 

———

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: Two

Verdandi stared into the eyes of the broad-shouldered young man before her. His right hand held the bowstring to his cheek, although his left trembled slightly. The smooth, tan skin of his face was marked by a black tattoo—its curving shape crowned with an jagged maw of pointed teeth, poised to sate their hunger from the young man’s left eye.

“The mark of the hungry leech is a death sentence in the city of Junjai,” the older woman said.

The note of challenge in her voice sent the young man’s shoulders back and his chest out. The spoiling of his aim was an unavoidable side effect. “Only if the king’s men catch me! I will slay a hundred of them before they can lay a finger on me, old woman!”

“Spoken like one who has never faced a hundred men,” Verdandi replied, a grin spreading across her features.

Color rose in the young man’s cheeks. “I have faced enough! Whatever comes, I am not alone!” At his words, two more young faces emerged from among the twisted tree trunks. They held their weapons high and their faces stern.

Verdandi laughed, her sides shaking. The music of coins jingled from her stuffed satchel.

“Give us that satchel and you might live to see the sunset, old woman!” shouted the young man, his voice shrill. She laughed all the harder. “What cause have you for laughter?”

Verdandi looked up, tears streaming from her eyes. “Because I, too, am not alone.”

 

———

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: One

A cacophony of buzzing insects, chirping birds, and screeching beasts assaulted the weary travelers from all sides. They walked without a word—neither the tall woman with spear in hand nor the older woman with bulging satchel on back mustered the energy to shout a conversation over the din. Above the twisted road and the hot, damp miasma that clung to it, massive trees stretched skyward with smooth trunks surging up from their broad, twisting root-mounds. Although their upper branches fell short of the firmament, their thick canopy of leaves served as a second sky, mottled green and brown with specks of dazzling white light. This leafy roof kept out the hottest of the sun’s fiery glare, but also trapped the noisy, thick, damp air within—the forest’s vast expanse feeling as close and sticky as the tiniest of rooms.

Many parasangs had Sabit and Verdandi walked, and many lay before them on the road ahead. Of such length was their journey that the twisting, punishing, seemingly-endless road itself had become a sort of home. Each morning, the road offered them a fresh vista with a familiar challenge. Each day their nourishment awaited the hunt along the road’s broad ribbon. Each night, the road guided them to their bed—or a stretch of ground that would serve the purpose. The spear woman, Sabit, could remember no other place that had so welcomed her footfall. If wise Verdandi knew a better home, she spoke not of it.

A dense knot of trees lay ahead—trunks and roots nearly growing together in verdurous congress. Dense ferns screened the base of the trees, casting shadows deeper than those of the canopy far above. The roadway narrowed between the trees, making a sharp turn to squeeze between two solid, curved trunks. With every step, the forest grew quieter. From the stand of close knit trees there came neither a buzz nor a chirp. It was silent in the midst of the noisy forest.

Verdandi made the turn first, her walking rhythm carrying her swiftly into the deepest shadows. Her head down, the older woman was nearly on top of the the figure in the middle of the road before she stopped her pace. Calloused bare feet, caked in mud stood before Verdandi. She slowly raised her eyes over well-muscled calves, thick thighs, and a skirt of antelope hide.

As she raised her gaze further, Verdandi saw only the stranger’s drawn bow—its obsidian-tipped arrow aimed right at her heart.

 

———

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/.

Road of Woe: Fourteen

Sabit pointed her spear at the heart of the stranger that had approached her from behind. Older than Sabit, the woman wore simple traveler’s garb, with a bulging satchel hanging from one shoulder.

“Who are you?” Sabit barked.

The woman smiled. “I am no one of consequence. Merely a wayfarer passing along the road to my next destination, much like you.”

“You do not know me,” Sabit replied. She rested the butt of her spear upon the ground, crimson sap still oozing from the red wood that was the only earthly remains of the Prince of Ghabar. “How can you say that we are alike?”

“I meant no offense, proud warrior,” the older woman said. “I merely thought that as no one lives in these badlands, you must also be on your way elsewhere. Isn’t that so?”

Sabit furrowed her brow. Where was she going? Where had she come from? The memories of her life before facing the ruinous plant-thing were elusive. The more she cast her attention upon a recalled image or a half-remembered sound, the more quickly it evaporated, like mist beneath the sun’s morning glare. The memory of the place called “home” did not even merit a mist—it was a featureless waste in her mind.

“I know no place that I belong,” Sabit muttered. The silver horn rested at her hip, as still in its repose as the dead warriors who had once answered its call.

“You are greatly blessed,” the woman replied with genuine warmth. “For if there is no single place where you belong, then, indeed, you belong everywhere. The world is your home.”

Sabit pondered the older woman’s words as she surveyed the the landscape before her. The morning sun had painted the badlands in vivid hues of pink and orange. A single flowing stream glittered like silver as it danced between columns of weathered stone. In the far distance, a great city rose from a hilltop, its delicate spires caressing the morning sky like an attentive lover. Surely a world that boasted such beautiful vistas must have a place for all its sons and daughters.

“I suppose you are right,” Sabit said. “Every place I lay my foot is as much my home as any other. Let us see what this home has to offer.”

—END—

 

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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/

Road of Woe: Thirteen

The eastern sky grew warm with the first blush of dawn by the time Sabit had finished her work. Using the sharpened edges of her spear point, she trimmed the leaves and cut the branches from the powerful, main trunk of the dead husk that had once been the prince of Ghabar. All that remained was a tall, sturdy length of wood. Whorls and knots squatted in the wide grain of the wood, but as Sabit mounted the spear point upon the blood-red shaft, she was certain it would serve her well.

But serve her to what end? The future lay before her like the rising sun—beautiful and full of potential, both unspoken and unspeakable. The valley around her sported a vibrant covering of greenery, far more than the arid climate would normally support. The wide leaves sprouted most densely from hundreds of mounds the size of a fallen human body.

Sabit stooped at the foot of one of these mounds. A single arrow-shaft stood tall upon the mound, its length wrapped in ivy and topped with a blood-red flower. From the ground beside the leafy grave, Sabit lifted a horn of finest silver. She could not recall ever seeing the fine craftsmanship of its noble curve. Yet, its heft felt true in her hand. Without a thought, Sabit lifted the horn to her lips.

“Wouldn’t you agree that these troops have earned their rest?” asked a woman’s voice from behind the spear woman’s back.

Sabit spun to face the new arrival, spear lowered and ready for a killing thrust.

 

———

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/

Road of Woe: Twelve

Although the ground and the sky would not stay in their places, Sabit’s eyes were locked on the implement of her death. A jagged tip of broken bone hung in the air above her, the plant-prince ready to drive it into her heart.

The throbbing pain in her head kept Sabit trapped on the ground. Her legs twitched dizzily, but she could neither stand nor kick. Her arms flailed at her sides, but could find neither cover nor support. The life that she saw all in a single moment was a pitifully short one: A name. A spear. A man’s soulful brown eyes. The sound of cheering voices. A woman’s touch on her shoulder. The heft of cold iron in her hands.

Her fingers held metal! Without thought, Sabit thrust the fragment upward just as the plant-prince drove downward with his jagged arm bone. The iron bit deep into the thing’s chest, the force of the blow jolting her arm painfully. Cool blood and warm sap covered her hand.

“My heart … again,” the plant-prince sputtered and then moved no more. Its waxy leaves drooped under their own weight. The circlet of silver and jade dropped from its head, clattering to the ground.

Sabit worked to slow her labored breathing, as the world righted itself around her. First the lurching ground beneath her resolved to a mere wobble. Then, the white-blue sky agreed to remain overhead.

With a mighty heave, Sabit tossed the stump of the plant-thing to one side. It landed with a woody thump. She examined her sap-covered hand. The piece of iron she held was nearly the length of her forearm, but as narrow as two fingers. Its sharp point dripped thick blood from the two sharp edges. The solid tang felt thin and awkward in her hand. Although she could not remember the first time she had ever seen this spear point, Sabit knew immediately what it lacked: a shaft.

 

———

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/