Sisterhood of the Lioness: One

Sabit struggled under the weight of the ibex carcass draped across her shoulders. She had walked half the day up and down steep ridges and rocky slopes bearing the prize of her hunt. With only a stone knife and her innate stealth, Sabit had tracked the ibex herd through the night. Careful to keep herself downwind of the skittish creatures, Sabit had surveyed their numbers—the herd large and growing. The knot of does in the center nursed young kids. Hampered by the small steps of the young, the mothers could have made an easy target for the hunter. But what would there be to hunt next year?

Instead, she spotted a large buck with horns curling and shoulder broad. Stalking the animal over rocks and between boulders, Sabit had been upon the beast with her stone knife before it had a moment to bleat. Its razor-sharp horns flailed uselessly as its lifeblood drained from the deep neck wound of Sabit’s knife.

Leaving its entrails as an offering to the sacred Buzzard, Sabit had hauled the massive beast back to the compound of the Sisters of the Lioness. It was nearly dusk by the time she arrived. The guards were about to close the outer gate, the other initiates having already returned from their hunts long before. Sabit did not pause to regard them as she strode past, her feet and legs burning with fatigue from the long, hard journey.

In the outer courtyard, gaunt-cheeked women watched Sabit’s passage with hungry eyes. Young children pointed and whispered, but kept well clear of her.

Through the second gate, Sabit saw the other initiates, each covered with long, thin welts of dull purple on their arms and legs. Having finished their hunts, these women dressed their prizes to impress the full-fledged Sisters: a clutch of plump dormice, a dozen sleek fish, an ibex kid with a malformed leg, a long serpent stretched and flayed before the Mother’s tent on the far side of the compound. Even at this distance, Sabit could see that her kill held more meat than all the others put together.

The issue was getting it to the dressing-area. between Sabit and her goal stood two dozen of the Sisterhood’s strongest warriors, each with a long switch at the ready.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Twenty

Several days later, Sabit stood on the eastern wall of Bahteel. The morning sun bathed the fields of ripening grain in a crimson light. The packed earth line of the great eastern road cut through the blood-red fields like an open wound.

Where the dark brown expanse of road met the wall—gleaming a white-gold light off its ancient bricks—a caravan spilled out of the newly-opened gate. Two dozen mules laden with cargo took to the early morning road, attendants on foot at their side for the long walk to the great city of Urom.

Sabit looked down on three of those attendants: A small woman with a bow across one shoulder, her son moving drowsily at her side, and a man of middling height in a tunic of crimson and white. Allamu had begun his journey—away from Sabit and the doom the clung to her.

The caravan had not gone a dozen steps from the gate when Allamu turned back to look up at the wall. The harsh morning sunlight crown his frizzy hair with red-gold tips, but hid his face in shadow.

Sabit drank in her last look of Allamu and turned away from the sunlight. The scar on her wrist throbbed gently as she walked down the steps into the city, each stair plunging her deeper into the darkness.

—END—

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Nineteen

“You heard Sabit, little man,” Kehnan’s voice thundered over the rising hubbub of the bazaar. “Leave her alone.”

The big man laid a hand on Allamu’s shoulder—Kehnan’s scarred knuckles contrasted the crisp crimson and white lines of Allamu’s tunic. The man from Urom lowered his voice, “Do not touch me. Do not touch her.” The threatening tone was unmistakable.

Kehnan pulled Allamu up. The smaller man spun to face his tormentor, eyes blazing. Allamu held himself ready to strike, unquailed by Kehnan’s tall, muscular form.

“Go away, Allamu,” Sabit said. Rarely had three simple words wrung such agony from her heart.

Allamu turned back to Sabit, eyebrows pinched in a look of confusion. “Sabit, whatever is wrong can be mended. We have been friends too long to part over a few rash words.” As as Sabit rose to her feet, Allamu’s cheeks rose in a warm smile.

In that smile, Sabit saw Allamu’s death. His loyalty had been tested too many times. It had never faltered. Allamu would not abandon her, no matter what.

That loyalty would be his doom.

Sabit would not allow it. She had seen such devotion before. Years ago, Sabit had faced the still-living Ishum and broken his heart.* To save the young prince of Ghabar,  she had used every cruel word she knew to smother the infatuation that burned in his heart. But her words were not enough, and Ishum had died. Words were not Sabit’s strength.

With the back of her hand, Sabit struck Allamu across the face. As he staggered back from the blow, Sabit placed both hands on his chest. She shoved him, hard. Taking the spear from her shoulder, she leveled its deadly iron tip at Allamu’s chest.

“We were never friends!” Sabit roared with a desperation as if a life depended on the fury of her words. “Get from my sight, you spineless, pampered, fool. If I ever see you or that scrawny archer again, I will drive my spear through your heart!”

 

———

*-Sabit’s past with the prince of Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Eighteen

Sabit felt Allamu’s warm hand on her face. The scar at her wrist felt so cold, it burned. Bright sunshine glowed red through her eyelids. The babble of the bazaar seemed far away.

Forcing her eyes open, Sabit saw Allamu kneeling over her, a look of concern on his noble features. She smiled to see him again. Surely her harsh words could still be mended. She might still fulfill her implied promise and protect him on the road to Urom.

The road to Urom—the mountain road she had walked in the lands of the dead. Ishum’s words echoed in her mind, chilling her blood. “You will kill your friends,” Ishum had said, foretelling the fate that awaited Allamu if she stayed with him. Everyone knew the dead never lied, Allamu could die at any moment. It was just as the old woman had discerned from her tea leaves: Sabit’s choice would mean life or death for a man she cared about.

Allamu took Sabit’s hand, “Strength, my friend.”

Sabit pulled her hand back as if bitten. “Get away from me, Allamu!”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Seventeen

Sabit walked the lands of the dead.

*

Alone.

Sabit at a great height. An unsteady road beneath her feet. Not mud. Not sand. Not stones.

Bones.

A mountain of all slain by Sabit—every single man and woman.

And child.

Ishum, the dead prince of Ghabar, at Sabit’s side.* Ishum, barely the years to be called a man. Ishum, killed by his boyish infatuation.  “You should not be here, Sabit. You have much to live for, my beloved. You have much to do in my memory, my love.”

“Ishum, you died and I could not save you. I would have protected you if I could. But there are others I might still help, in the world of the living.”

Ishum’s dead face, aflame with jealousy. “You think you can save your other loves when you could not save me? You are a curse, Sabit. The rank stench of death clings to you, smothering all who come close. Any who stand by your side will join me here in the quiet lands all too soon! You can add their blood to the tally of your slaughter. You will kill your friends.”

Cheers and groans from the heap of corpses. “Hail, Sabit! Hail the murderer! Hail the love-killer! Hail—”

*

“—Sabit!” Allamu’s voice beckoned to her from beyond the lands of the dead.

 

———

*-Sabit’s past with the prince of Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Sixteen

Before Kehnan could react, Sabit was climbing into the cart to better study the strange device and the bracelet perched atop of it. Several people had already crawled aboard the huckster’s cart, proffering coins in outstretched hands. The huckster gathered the money and handed out the tiny porcelain cups.

A beefy woman with a desperate look in her eye was the first to swallow the inky, black liquid, slurping it down noisily. The huckster snatched the empty cup from the woman’s hand as she collapsed, seemingly lifeless. The ruddy color of her skin quickly turned ashen as she slumped to the floor of the cart. Her eyes were open and unmoving, as black as a moonless night. And yet, the woman’s lips twitched into a serene smile.

Sabit pushed toward the device, careful to step around those already in the grip of the potent liquid. The huckster stepped in her way. He offered the spear woman a cup and said, “A gift, champion. Surely, having seen so much death in your years, there are many old friends who have ventured beyond the veil. What questions would you ask of those beyond the buzzard’s beak? Would you delve the secrets of the past, or learn what the future holds?” He held her gaze, his eyes alive like a burning coal in the moonless night.

“I know what the future holds,” Sabit said, taking the offered cup. “It holds whatever I choose.”

She drained the cup in a single gulp.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Fifteen

Sabit seized the hand on her shoulder and yanked. Bracing her hip, she pulled the bigger man forward, tipping him off-balance. Controlling his fall by twisting the arm she held, Sabit put the man on his back in the dust of the bazaar. Putting her knee on his chest, Sabit looked down at Kehnan. “Don’t call me ‘Mongoose.’”

The big man laughed. “What else can I call you when you defeat a larger foe so quickly? Let me up and I’ll buy you a meal worthy of your exploits. I owe you for all the millet beer we drank last night.”

Sabit hadn’t remembered buying the drinks. She didn’t remember anything. But how could she ask Kehnan about her memory and the scar without revealing her weakness to him?

Sabit helped Kehnan to his feet without saying a word. Draping a muscular arm over Sabit’s shoulder, Kehnan guided her deeper into the crowded bazaar. The fortune teller’s tent faded quickly from view.

“Who dares to defy death itself?” came a man’s booming voice from the back of a cart. A crowd gathered close, listening to his every word. “Who is brave enough to walk the lightless lands beyond the Buzzard’s beak and return to the world of the living? Who wants to know the glory of the next world and return here to tell us the tale? Twenty bronze gersh and you, too, shall defeat death!”

Behind the huckster, a contraption filled the cart—metal clasps, inscribed stones, globes of smoked glass, feathers of rare birds, tubes and flasks of soot-smeared copper over sputtering candles. At the top of it all, a crude bracelet of beaten bronze revolved over a shallow funnel. A thin fluid the color of sunlight oozed from grooves in the bracelet’s surface, dripping into the funnel. From the funnel, the liquid flowed through tubes, filtered through feathers, warmed in flasks, and finally made its way out of a spout at the bottom of the device. The liquid that emerged was the color of a starless night. A dozen tiny porcelain cups were filled with the stuff, looking like the richest tea ever brewed.

The slowly turning bracely seized Sabit’s attention. The grooves along its surface were harsh and jagged—just like the scar on her wrist. The bracelet itself was oblong and hollow—just like the hole in her memory.

“Who will spit in death’s eye to truly live?” came the barker’s call.

Sabit took a step forward.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Fourteen

In the open air, the searing pain of Sabit’s scar faded quickly. Allowing her feet to take her where they would, Sabit tried to quiet the turmoil in her mind and heart.

Her memories of last night were still like a gaping hole—a wound in her psyche, leaking blood that stained the impressions of all that came before the gap the color of death. Qaansoole had never been an ally, only another helpless innocent in need of Sabit’s protection. For all Allamu’s talk of friendship, he was merely—

The fortune teller’s tent was across the street. Sabit remembered the blue and green silk, the cool interior, and the refreshing tea. Her aimless wanderings had brought her back to the bazaar, to this particular place. Perhaps the wise woman might have some answers to the questions gnawing at Sabit from within.

Sabit had barely taken a step toward the tent when there was a broad, strong hand on her shoulder. “There you are! You left so early, Mongoose!”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Thirteen

“You gave Allamu your vow that you would return him home to Urom,” Qaansoole said, rising from her seat to confront Sabit’s casual announcement that she would not go to that far-off city.

“I also vowed to protect the prince of Ghabar.* And to serve the god Batuul beneath the Wicked Rocks.* And to protect all the champions and hostages of Vert.*** And to meet you at the gate last night with provisions!” Sabit roared, taking to her feet. Her movement was so sudden that the small table toppled over, the glazed bowl of broth shattering on the packed earth floor. “Betraying my vows should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention!”

Qaansoole closed the distance to Sabit, the little archer glaring at the spear woman with eyes full of threat, despite being more than a head shorter. “I have trusted you with my life and with the life of my son. Now you blithely declare yourself an oathbreaker? I should—”

“Sabit made me no vow,” Allamu’s voice was soft and steady, and yet seemed to chase all other words from the room.

Both the fighting women turned to face him, sitting cross-legged on the floor. He continued, “Sabit saved me from captivity and death.* I offered her a reward from my father’s coffers for her to return me to Urom. If she does  not want the reward, she does not need to take me. There was no vow. No oath. No promise. There is nothing between us, save a bond of friendship.” He smiled beneath sad eyes.

The new faded scar at Sabit’s wrist flared with pain like a burning brand. Allamu’s gaze was cool and forgiving, but even his eyes could not quench the fiery agony at her wrist. “Consider the bond of friendship one more thing I have broken.” Taking her spear and her satchel, Sabit left the room.

 

——

*-Sabit’s past in Ghabar and her first meeting with Allamu are detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

**-Sabit’s time with Batuul is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked.

***-Sabit’s time leading the champions of Vert is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Tumult.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Bazaar of Death: Twelve

“Allamu has secured a place in a large, well-guarded caravan headed for Urom,” Qaansoole said as Sabit savored a bowl of fragrant broth. “We have at least five days before they leave, so there is plenty of time to arrange provisions. One night’s reunion with an acquaintance of old will hardly delay our journey.”

The archer smiled kindly at Sabit. Her eyes held no hint of reproach. Yet, Sabit looked away quickly, her gaze sweeping over tidy chamber that Qaansoole’s relations had provided for the small group’s comfort. In the corner, Allamu listened closely to Qaansoole’s son, Qays, as the boy fought his way through the twisting vowels and consonants of a parchment held in his tiny hands.

Allamu had barely spared any vowels and consonants for Sabit since their belated meeting in the marketplace. His all-night vigil spoke to his loyalty, but was his silence a sign that that loyalty had been pushed too far?

“Why do you allow him to teach the boy to read?” Sabit asked Qaansoole.

“Despite my current relations with his father, Qays is of a royal line,” Qaansoole replied. “Allamu—also born a prince—says that good kings have many scribes to keep their books, but great kings rely on no one to learn whatever knowledge they will.”

Sabit stared at the back of Allamu’s head. “‘Knowledge’?” she spat out the word like a rotten apricot, the new scar on her wrist throbbing. “Reading leads to the ways of dark magic.” Allamu’s neck tensed, but he said nothing.

Sabit slurped her broth. Qaansoole mended a torn tunic. Qays’s reedy voice tripped over the words of an ancient poem. Time passed. Allamu said nothing.

“I am not going to Urom,” Sabit declared.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/