Blossom of Ruin: Thirteen

Sabit doubted that many tears had ever watered the foul sativa, but she hoped hers were bitter enough to wither it to dust.

Allamu waited on the clearing’s edge in silence. The shadows had grown long. The western sky was painted with blood.

“This was Ishum,” Sabit said. “He was prince of Ghabar. Barely a score of years of life in him. I never saw him without a smile on his face, from the time he was a boy. And now his ghastly smile will never change.”

“You knew him well?” Allamu asked.

“I was a guard of Prioress Irkalla of Ghabar. Ishum was her firstborn and favorite son,” Sabit replied. “As manhood approached, he took a strong liking to me. Too strong for his mother’s indulgence. She sent me away, and bade me break his heart before I go. My final words to the boy were cruel. They must have curdled the memory of every moment we spent together.”

Allamu looked at the last standing stalk of sativa, listing to the side as it rose from the roots Sabit had just cleared. All the white trumpets of this stalk had long since been plucked, but the central flower still bore a handful of bright, red petals.

“You could find out for yourself,” Allamu said, indicating the shabby remaining flower.

Sabit rose and cradled the blossom in her hand. The petals caught the last rays of sunset, a last moment of beauty before the darkness.

“No,” Sabit said. She plucked the flower and cradled it. “These memories belong to his mother.”

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Twelve

Sabit stood tall over the fallen sativa-keeper. His bloody face glowered hatefully at her. With a gurgle, he attempted to command his thralls against her. None could hear. Sabit made quick work of him.

“What a terrible and great vegetable this is,” Allamu said, studying the sativa’s tempting blooms from a cautious distance.

“All that lives devours death,” Sabit replied, “but this wicked orchid adds disgrace as a sauce. These bones merit a better grave than they’ve been confined to—I would give them a pyre.”

Allamu scavenged a scant armful of firewood among the camp of slowly-waking thralls.

Sabit took a sword and hacked at the roots of the massive plant, freeing broken skulls picked clean of flesh. She scrupulously set each aside—along with whatever jewelry accompanied them—along with a whispered prayer.

Most of the stalks had fallen into a clump when Sabit’s fingers found a circlet of ivory and jade. It bore engravings of the Twelve Blessed Beasts in a singular style. “Ishum! No!” she cried out, pulling the skull and circlet free with frenzied, tender hands.

Sabit knelt in the dust, grief covering her face with tears.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Eleven

Surrounded, bound, and outnumbered, Sabit took the only course that she could see. She went limp in her bonds.

The thralls to her sides struggled with the spear-ends, trying to keep her in place for the swordsman’s blow. The sativa-keeper ducked low to keep hold of her hair. The swordsman raised his blade.

With an explosion of furious strength, Sabit sprang to her feet. Her head smashed into the sativa-keeper’s jaw with a loud crack. With a duck and twist, she drove the spear-ends into the knees of both thralls beside her, sending them crashing to the ground.

A roll and tumble brought Sabit to where the sativa-keeper had fallen supine. Her knee found his throat. Shaking the leather sheathe from the iron spear-tip, Sabit pivoted to point it at the swordsman’s chest—both her arms still extended, yolked to its length.

The swordsman stood his ground. Lowering his blade, he pulled the wrappings from his head, revealing Allamu’s bemused expression. “I thought to repay one rescue with another. But I see that  you have no such need. Perhaps I can assist you with a few of those ropes?”

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Nine

Sabit strained against her captivity, but the ropes were too thick to snap, the knots too tight to squirm free. That coward-prince Allamu was nowhere to be seen. Her gaudy captor had instructed his thralls to yoke Sabit to her own spear, the sharp iron point also bound up in thick leather. Even if she could break the spear’s thick wooden shaft, the effort’s cost would be her own weapon.

With a thrall at either side of the powerful spearwoman, the gaudy man was satisfied that Sabit had been rendered helpless. Stepping carefully out of his place among the leaves, the man regarded his prisoner with wild, pink eyes.

“At the crossroads you bragged of your talent with a spear, your skill with the ways of violence. I see now those were not empty words. The merchants should have hired you to guard their caravan. Their shrewd, petty minds might not be feeding the hungry roots of my grand sativa if they had done so.”

The thrall whose teeth Sabit had loosened, a scrawny young man with patchy beard, staggered away from the clearing, rubbing his jaw. The sativa-keeper called to him, “Return to me, Woq!” When the man hesitated, the gaudy man dispatched two other thralls to drag him back to the plant. Woq’s struggles were clumsy, but grew more desperate as they approached the low-hanging white flowers.

The sativa-keeper brought the white trumpet to Woq’s face. The stamens were thick with sticky green pollen. “That’s it, Woq. Breathe, my boy. There is nothing to fear. No reason to flee. There is only the pollen.”

Woq inhaled deeply. His limbs grew still and compliant.

The sativa-keeper turned back to Sabit, another white trumpet laden with pollen in hand. “You are a strong woman, Sabit. Strength like yours truly needs to be harnessed.”

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Eight

“You are Sabit,” the gaudy man muttered. “You are the strong spearwoman. You come from the south.”

Sabit lowered her spear point, level to the man’s chest. “You’ve no right to that name. I never it gave it to you. You do not know me.”

The man giggled—a blood-curdling sound of wickedness. “You never gave it to me, but I have it all the same. Like this silver bauble you thought so clever to conceal within your belt. It was tricky to filch, but likely would have fetched a handsome price in Elpasné’s temple market. It has a better home now.” The man’s long fingers rose to his throat to stroke Sabit’s necklace.

Looking down at the broken, decaying heads of the merchants, Sabit took note of the pale pink color of the roots emerging from their shattered skulls. Those roots fed the plant stalk that the thin man stood beneath, plucking dusky red petals and chewing them thoughtfully. With each bite, he learned more of what the merchants had known. He ate their memories.

Sabit rushed toward him, spear extended.

With uncanny speed, the slumberers lounging about the clearing leapt to their feet. Like a wave of arms and bodies, they were upon Sabit before she took a dozen steps. Her spear sent one to walk with gods. She cracked a jaw with the backswing before three more pulled the spear from her grip with the weight of their bodies. Sabit punched and kicked. Teeth flew and bones broke, but the horde still came–their bizarre green eyes unfazed by the violence, their green-stained faces insensate to the pain of her blows.

As a mass, they wrestled Sabit to the ground. Half a dozen robed forms held her. The spearwoman from the south had fallen.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Seven

Allamu led Sabit on a circuitous route through the camp, keeping them both out of sight of the few wakeful sentries. The boulders near the center were massive, flanking a shaded clearing.

A half-dozen men and women dozed in the clearing, their lips and noses marked by the same strange rash of an angry green hue. They lay too still. Sabit checked twice to ensure they still drew breath.

At the center of the clearing was a large plant. Stalks of earthy red wood rose twice Sabit’s height, stabbing at the sky. From each stalk dangled five low-hanging flowers—four large, white trumpets with prominent stamens of brightest green and one small bowl of dull red petals. The broad, waxy leaves stayed below waist height, their blackish green expanse clearly out of place in this harsh climate. A mass of thin, twisted roots spread over the clearing floor, intertwining with combs of tortoise shell, amulets of gold, and earrings of pearl.

In a muddy ditch at the back of the clearing, Sabit noticed a mound of lumpy, round shapes. Despite Allamu’s insistent looks of warning, she moved closer. One of the lumps bore a waxed mustache Sabit had seen at the crossroads. The merchants’ severed heads had been cracked open like eggs. Uncountable masses of tender rootlings burrowed into their exposed brains.

There was movement among the plant leaves. A man, his limbs nearly as thin as the plant stalks themselves, stepped out. He was clad in luxurious robes of deepest purple. His shoes were too big, but wrought of the finest leather and bearing gold buckles. Each link of his belt bore emeralds and sapphires. Around his neck rested a dozen necklaces or more, of every precious metal. Sabit’s silver chain was there. The man wore two ill-fitting circlets of gold, each one poised to fall off a different side of his head. The whites of the man’s eyes were vibrant pink. He placed a dull red flower petal in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

With his unfocused gaze fixed on the spearwoman, he said, “Sabit?”

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Six

The camp huddled among a field of scattered boulders. The tents, of several different styles, were arrayed in a rough circle around an open area. Sabit saw little movement—not that she expected any, as the afternoon heat was still intense.

Sabit move casually from shade to shade, careful not to disturb any of the sandy-robed slumberers. A robeless, shirtless man was bound hand and foot in the shade of a large boulder nearby. His smooth, dark skin and wide nose gave him the look of royalty. A fine-lined tattoo in the figure of a crowned elephant reinforced the impression.

After a moment’s consideration, Sabit approached the prisoner. Holding the sentry’s sword poised near his throat, she clamped her hand hard over his mouth. The man awoke with a start, eyes wide, pulling against his bonds.

“Scream and I cut you,” Sabit warned. The man’s eyebrows indicated his acceptance of her terms. “What is this place?” she asked in the tongue of the trade roads.

“A camp of madmen,” he replied in the posh accent of a northman. “They sacked my caravan, killed my guards. They have sent a runner to demand ransom of my father, the king of Urom. I would gladly turn that ransom over to you as my rescuer. Just cut me free.”

“They have stolen from those who stole from me,” Sabit said. “Where do they store their treasures?”

“In the center of the camp,” he replied. “The holy-of-holies, they call it, where their mad king stays and orchestrates their foul rites. Cut me free and I’ll help recover what you seek.”

Sabit regarded the man. He was shorter than she. Weakened by his time in captivity, he was unlikely to overpower her in a straight fight. And the ransom of a prince was no small thing. Another pair of eyes were always useful.  Yet, the scars of old betrayals still nagged her in the mornings.

“Give me your name and your oath,” Sabit said.

“I am Allamu, son of Hassimir, king of Urom,” he said. “I vow upon the sacred elephant to aid you and to reward you as I can when we make our escape.”

Sabit cut the ropes and handed the sword to Allamu. “I am Sabit. If you betray me, I will cut you open.”

Allamu smiled, “It is a better deal than the madmen offered.”

They moved toward the center of the circle—together.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Five

The sun loomed high overhead. The shadows had wasted away to thin slivers of cool respite. Sabit tracked her quarry to a rough trail of hard-packed earth, which she followed, dashing from boulder to boulder, relishing the cool shade.

A large boulder ahead offered a shadow broad enough to stretch out in, even at midday. Sabit was nearly within its cool embrace before she saw the sentry stationed there, sword poised to strike.

Sabit ducked. The sword whistled.

Sabit rolled. The sentry kicked.

Sabit tripped the sentry with her spear. The sentry fell.

Sabit kicked at the sword hand. Missed.

The sword arced high, slicing Sabit’s robe. Twisting, Sabit plunged her spear into the sentry’s throat.

The sentry twitched and moved no more.

Sabit leaned back against the cool rock face, gulping deep lungfuls of air. Examining the sentry, she found it to be a woman, perhaps twenty years old. Her head wrap had concealed a strange, greenish rash around her mouth and nose. The whites of her lifeless eyes showed a greenish cast as well.

Sabit exchanged her ruined robe for that of the sentry, sun-bleached to the same shade as the surrounding hills. There was no sign of her necklace, nor any other bauble. A packet of twigs intricately lashed together hung on a cord about the sentry’s neck. Her waterskin was half-full, but she carried no food. Their camp must be close.

Sabit waited in the shade, replenishing her strength. When the shadows began to fatten, she knew it was time to move closer.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Four

Sabit found walking through the night in the vast, open badlands to her liking. The air was cold, but the walking kept her warm. She slept the next day in the shade of a knot of large boulders.

Sabit hoped to catch up to the caravan before dawn the next night, but she had only walked a few hours when she caught whiff of fire ahead. Two of the wagons had burned down to charred scraps. The third lay on its side, broken in pieces. Fragments of charred carpet were scattered about, among many merchant corpses. Whatever had killed them had taken their long knives, their valuables, and their heads. Sabit found no trace of her necklace.

Finding a surprisingly unbroken water jar in the unburnt wagon, Sabit drank her fill and waited. When the eastern sky took on a rosy glow, a trail of blood and tracks could be seen leading south.

Wrapping herself in a robe and hood taken from one of the dead men, Sabit set out after the tracks. She could not say what assaulted her with more heat: the rising sun or the hard-packed earth. The glare off the bleached rocks dazzled her eyes and made the trail nearly impossible to follow.

Sabit found walking through the badlands during the day very much not to her liking.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Three

A day’s walk along the river—with more attentive step—brought Sabit to a crossroads.  Several eastbound travelers filled their skins, amphorae, and jars with as much water as the containers would hold. Westbound travelers tarried in the cool waters, drinking as much as their bellies would hold.

A caravan of well-provisioned eastbound merchants—their wagons laden with bolts of brightly-colored cloth—had much trouble speaking with Sabit. With thick accents and soft voices, they leaned close to her to make themselves heard. They were poised to venture onto the hard road that wound through days of badlands before reaching the fabled oasis at Elpasné. The reasons for such a hard trek were unclear, but certainly of utmost urgency. The caravan held no position for an experienced guard, particularly a woman like Sabit. As soon as the wagon-boys had filled the last waterskins, the merchants were off.

Some of the other travelers spoke the tongue of the trade routes. Sabit learned of the new silver vein now coining rich men in the mountain town of Dzenik to the west. The plague in the northern city of Vlardin had only grown worse in recent months. Sabit shared as much of the tale of her time in the southern land of Ghabar as she dared among strangers. None knew of solid prospects for a woman skilled with a spear.

As the sun sank, Sabit laid down for the night. Perhaps tomorrow would bring better prospects. However, she found the inner lining of her belt was soft and empty. The thick silver necklace she had found in the river was gone!

Only the eastbound merchants had approached close enough to have taken it. They had half a day’s lead on the road. There were nearly a dozen of them, armed with long knives. The necklace was as good as gone now. The wisest course was a good night’s sleep and better prospects tomorrow. She should pay it no mind. What claim did she truly have on a bauble pulled from the wild river?

The western sky still glowed a reddish hue as Sabit filled her waterskin, held her spear in hand, and strode onto the Elpasné road with a determined pace.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller