Bandit Queen: Twenty-Two — Epilogue

The broad trunks of sky-touching trees and lush cover of ground-hugging ferns gave Nerit and his fellow bandits any number of good blinds alongside the road. He and a handful of others clutched their spears less than an arm’s length from the road itself, invisible behind the foliage. Nerit had arranged his archers high on the slope on the far side of the road, their keen eyes fixed on the lone figure riding upon a massive steed, three mules trotting behind him. The mules walked slowly, weighed down by the bulging sacks perched upon their backs.

As the horseman drew closer, Nerit raised a clenched fist, careful to keep the movement hidden in the shadows of the roadside ferns. His two companions ceased their whispered speculations on what treasures lay hidden beneath the coarse cloth of the sacks. What did it matter? Whether the mules labored under a crop of yams or a trove of gold, their bounty would soon belong to the bandits—and their mighty queen.

The three bandits crouched motionless as the horseman passed. A broad-winged insect landed on the leech tattoo on Nerit’s cheek. The bandit did not blink. His eyes never left the broad-shouldered horseman, large bronze blade hanging at his waist.

As the horseman passed Nerit, a half-dozen arrows launched from the top of the far slope. Arcing through the air, they struck the packed earth, barely missing the horse’s nose. It was a testament to the rider’s skill that he kept his mount from bolting at the shock. Before the beast was settled, Nerit and his two fellows flanked the horseman from the rear, spears poised to strike.

“My archers have given you warning, traveler,” Nerit said, his voice clear and steady. “Count yourself fortunate for my queen’s merciful heart. Give us your goods and continue on your errand with your blood still in your veins.”

The horseman turned in the saddle to face Nerit. His long black hair fell to his shoulders like the mane of a wild beast. He gripped the reins with murderous fists, snake-like veins protruding from his tense thews. His sharp blue eyes jumped from the archers’ hillside to the bandits’ flint spear points to the bronze blade at his side. Drawing a deep breath through his clenched jaw, the man said, “In whose name would you steal what is mine?”

“Our queen is a mighty warrior. Never has she tasted the bitter gall of defeat. We are proud to serve Sabit.” Nerit smiled to speak her name.

The horseman smiled also.  The tension eased in his grip, but did not abate completely—like a jungle cat that has found its prey but is not yet ready to pounce. “Sabit? She who is unequaled with the spear? I have not laid eyes upon her beauty in far too long. You must take me to her. Tell her that Kehnan has come to give her what she deserves.”

—END—

 

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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/.

 

NOTE: Even the mightiest warrior requires rest from time to time. Sabit’s adventures will return Monday, November 6.

Bandit Queen: Twenty-One

“That silver and black serpent’s hide will yield a mantle worthy of a queen,” Verdandi said to Sabit. The older woman sat next to Regida—recovering from the loss of her arm—in the central lodge of the bandit camp. Dabbing water on the young woman’s sleeping brow, she surveyed the flurry of activity throughout the camp. Several bandits butchered the massive snake’s bulk, cutting strips of pale meat the length of a man. Others built up the bonfire for tonight’s celebration. Still others tended to the minor hurts of their fellows.

A corner of Sabit’s mouth twitched upward at the sight. “The scales are tough. They will serve better to make half a dozen shields than to adorn my shoulders.”

“Won’t the burdens of authority keep you from taking to the road, Sabit?” Verdandi asked.

Before Sabit could respond, Nerit approached. With a swift bow of his head, the young man spoke, “The watchers of the eastern road have spied a caravan crossing the ridge. The wagons fly the standard of the King of Junjai. They should be on the forest road by tomorrow.”

Sabit pondered the news a moment. “Take two groups of seven—spearmen and archers—to greet the caravan. Leave at dawn so you have time to prepare the road. The king of Junjai has taken enough from these people, hasn’t he, Nerit? It is past time we take something back.”

Nerit withdrew, his shoulders back and head held high. Sabit turned to face Verdandi. “I did not seek to lead these people. They have withered beneath the angry glare of a tyrant. Shall we see how they thrive under the light of a different sun?”

 

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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: Twenty

The massive coils of the Onyx Python looped around Regida’s body. Muscular beyond comprehension, they crushed the young bandit from all sides. Her arm, caught in the serpent’s hook-like teeth, wrenched hard to one side. Regida felt her arm bone snap, but could not draw the breath to scream. A roaring sound filled her ears. All the world was pain.

Then, Sabit was there. Raising her spear high into the air, she thrust down fast and hard. The sharp iron spearpoint bit deep into the black and silver scales of the beast’s head before it glanced off the snake’s thick skull.

Regida’s vision grew dim. She could not breathe. Did she see Sabit’s spear, still emerging from the Python’s head? Was that Sabit’s hand, thrusting a broken arrow into the serpent’s eye?

Reptilian muscles pulsed around Regida as the Python rolled away from Sabit’s furious attack. She drew a thimble-full of air. She had lost sight of Sabit’s lodged spear, vanished somewhere beneath the beast.

The squeezing began again. Regida felt a rib crack. Before her eyes went dim, her last sight was Sabit leaping upon the serpent’s head. She felt a sharp pain in her arm, impossibly far away.

A sudden jolt shook the snake’s body from tongue to tail-tip. The squeezing stopped. Regida fought to breathe. A pile of snake-flesh weighed down upon her, but its crush was nothing next to the deadly embrace of the Python’s coils.

Regida drank in a deep, shuddering lungful of air. She breathed and coughed and breathed once more. One of her arm blazed with agony, the other trapped beneath her torso. Her most desperate kicks were barely tremors beneath the dead beast’s bulk.

Then, the weight was gone. Regida looked up, blinking against the light.

“No one dies today, Regida,” said Sabit.

 

———

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: Nineteen

With blinding speed, the Onyx Python launched its massive head toward Sabit. Rows of inwardly-curved teeth—as large and deadly as daggers—hurtled through the air toward the fronds of fern Sabit had rolled beneath. Deep in the serpent’s cunning brain, it knew that such flimsy cover offered its prey no protection from its hungry jaws.

The ferns also offered the Onyx Python no protection from the row of obsidian-tipped spears held by Sabit’s troops. The spears used the force of the snake’s own strike to bite deeply into its black and silver head, sinking deeper than could even the strongest spearman. The blow knocked two of the bandits to the ground atop of Sabit. Three others felt their wicker shields shatter from the impact. Regida held her spear steady through the shock of its strike, even as three sharp, hooked teeth sank into her arm.

The Python pulled back, blood streaming from its wounds. Two spears protruded from its head. Regida hung from its jaws, fighting to free her arm.

From the far edge of the ravine, a volley of arrows leapt from the underbrush. A dozen shafts made a deadly arc through the forest air. Most went wide of the sinuous, scaled serpent, but three arrows drove their flint tips into the beast’s coils. It flailed with pain as red blood stained its black and silver hide.

In its flailing motion, one of its massive coils looped around Regida’s chest. Then, another around her waist. Then around her hips. In the blink of an eye, the bandit had vanished from view. The Python’s jaws stretched wide.

Sabit dashed toward the beast, shield discarded in her desperate rush.

 

———

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: Eighteen

Shedding  its heavy slumber like an old skin, the massive coils of the Onyx Python began to move. Muscles rippled beneath black and silver scales as coils the size of tree trunks unwound themselves. Despite the weight of the massive serpent, its body moved with grace and speed, a testament to the strength seated in every muscle of its sinuous form.

Sabit held her ground as the serpent unwound itself. Her wicker shield covered her from brow to ankle. Her sturdy spear rested snugly on the putrid ground below, its iron tip thirsty for blood.

Ascending from the heap of coils like an emperor rising from his couch, the head of the Onyx Python came into view. Black scales glittered as dappled sunlight slid across the massive head shaped like the head of a spear. The beast’s head was the size of a man’s chest, crowned by a pair of black, lidless eyes that shone with a merciless intelligence. A forked tongue, as pink and soft as a newborn’s arm, flicked from between the lipless jaws.

Sabit held the serpent’s hungry gaze. In ten thousand hunts, the Onyx Python had feasted ten thousand times. In a hundred battles, Sabit had … survived. She could conjure no memories of those fights,* only the unwavering resolve that with her weapons in hand and her troops by her side, she was ready for this battle.

The serpent held its head high, looming among the branches of the forest. Far out of range of Sabit’s weapon, the beast worked its neck to and fro seeking for a way around her shield and past her iron-tipped spear. Sabit matched every movement, careful to show no opening—

—until some bit of forest detritus grazed her ankle. Sabit toppled, sprawling onto the gore-encrusted floor of the ravine and rolling into the underbrush.

In that instant, the Onyx Python struck.

 

*-Sabit’s memory loss is detailed in The Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe

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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: Seventeen

In the darkest part of the forest, the bandits crept silently through the underbrush. Sabit looked to her right where Regida and her dozen troops carefully maneuvered their long spears and wicker shields between trees and through ferns, careful to avoid the slightest rustle that might give away their movement. On the far side of the ravine, she knew that Nerit and his archers made a similar approach—low and stealthy, just as Sabit had taught them over the past several weeks of constant drill.

The forest’s screeching, chattering, tweeting din was quieter here, even the birds and monkeys feared the beast that slumbered on the floor of the ravine. A steady breeze flung the hot stench of death into the faces of the bandits, rising from the gore that clung to the massive beast’s jaws and the vast boneyard of its many meals. Even as the acrid scent clawed at her throat and brought tears to her eyes, Sabit was grateful for the breeze. It would keep their scent from rousing the Onyx Python below.

Looking over the balls of rotting fur and teeth of its prey, Sabit lamented how many innocent travelers and troublesome bandits had been condemned to this beast’s gullet at the whim of the bandit king. Throwing bound prisoners into the ravine every few weeks may have kept the massive serpent from stalking its food in the bandit camp, but it also added to the bandit king’s litany of murders. Sabit hoped that his reception in the cold, clammy arms of the river was everything he deserved.

As they neared the shadowed floor of the ravine, Sabit could make out the slumbering shape of the beast amidst the gloom. Coils as thick as a man’s chest rested one atop the other in a heap of green-grey scales. A tail the size of Sabit’s leg twitched with every shift in the breeze. The Onyx Python’s head was nowhere to be seen.

Regida caught Sabit’s eye and pointed across the ravine. The white fletching of a single arrow wavered in front of a blackish-red tree trunk, the archer fully hidden behind the fronds of ferns. Sabit nodded. Nerit’s forces were in position. It was time to begin.

Sabit’s thick spear—its shaft formed from the woody husk of an undead prince*—felt steady and strong in her grip. Hefting a wicker shield, Sabit stepped out from the cover of the ferns. In a loud voice, she said, “Awaken, mighty Onyx Python. You have eaten your final meal.”

 

*-the making of Sabit’s spear is detailed in The Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe

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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: Sixteen

The four would-be assassins stood in the center of the camp, their hands empty and heads low. The other bandits clung to the edges of the clearing like monkeys, torn between curiosity and caution.

Between them stood Sabit, tall and stern. “I was alone—my only ally, a sleeping old woman. I cast my spear aside to face you weaponless. You were four. Your knives were sharp. Your clubs were heavy. Yet, I was victorious. Why?”

The tall girl, whose name was Regida, rolled her eyes. With a resentful drawl, she said, “Because you are an unbeatable warrior.”

“No!” Sabit snapped. “I have tasted defeat, and will choke on its bitter gall again some day. My skill and strength makes me more than a match for any one of you. But four? Had I faced four of you, I would have lost.” She looked at each of them in turn, daring them to speak.

Nerit was the first to find his courage. “But you did face four of us.”

“No,” Sabit said. “I won four battles. Each of you fought—and lost—alone.” She let the words hang in the air. “Your last king did not teach you to fight alongside your fellows. He did not teach you much. I cannot see why you followed him. Even though his magic protected him, you could have run away and been spared the bruises that still adorn your flesh.”

All the bandits hung their heads in fear and shame. Regida was the first to speak. “There are worse things than the bandit king that live in the forest. There is the Onyx Python.”

Sabit turned to the girl, alert to her every word. “Onyx Python? Just what is that?”

 

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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: Fifteen

“I told you we should have killed her while she slept,” said a young woman’s voice nearby Sabit.

Looking around, Sabit saw the broad circle of lean-tos of the bandit camp. The dusky red of the sky above signalled the onset of twilight. Verdandi still slept next to her in the center of the clearing, snoring softly. Nearby, four of the young bandits clustered together. The tallest girl, still half a head shorter than Sabit, glared at the spear woman.

Sabit raised herself from the ground, leaning on her spear as her body stretched itself awake. “Be glad your friends stopped you, girl. I have killed men twice your size that came upon me in slumber.”

The girl drew a long knife from her belt of braided hemp. “You are all words. Unlike the late king, you have no magic skin to protect you from our blades.”

The girl stepped forward, keeping her fellows at her back. The others also readied knives and clubs. The girl held the long knife straight out in front of her, its tip aimed at Sabit’s face like an arrow.

Sabit looked at the long spear in her hand. With a wry grin, she dropped it harmlessly to the ground next to Verdandi. Lowering herself into a half-crouch, Sabit spread her arms to face her challengers.

The girl closed quickly. Sabit’s eyes never left the girl’s shoulders. The girl lunged forward, thrusting the knife toward Sabit’s throat. Sabit leaned, the blade missing her throat by two finger-widths. She grabbed the girl’s wrist with one hand and pulled. As the girl toppled forward, Sabit’s other hand struck her hard on the chin.

The girl collapsed like a discarded child’s toy.

Taking the girl’s long knife in hand, Sabit closed on the three boys. Two stepped to the left, one to the right. With a low kick, Sabit knocked the legs from beneath the boy on the right. Before he hit the ground, one of his fellows swung a club in a wide arc toward her head. Rolling to the side, the club whistled past her ear. Sabit punched the boy in the gut. He dropped to his knees.

All that remained was Nerit, the boy she had questioned. He stumbled backward, the hungry leech tattoo twitching beneath his eye. Sabit made a quick lunge. Nerit fell back. Again and again she lunged. Again and again he gave ground, until their fight approached the clearing’s edge.

Sabit glanced over her shoulder. The girl lay on the ground, unmoving. The boy she had punched knelt, doubled-over, a puddle of vomit on the ground before him. The other boy had regained his feet and his knife, but stood motionless. His big, round eyes were locked on Nerit and Sabit. Other bandits watched from the edges of the camp.

Turning back to Nerit, Sabit suddenly switched her knife to her other hand. She lunged again, tipping Nerit off-balance. Sabit stepped forward, coming inside his defense. Planting a shoulder in his gut and standing, she flipped the boy over. Nerit landed hard on his back. In an instant Sabit was sitting upon his chest, the long knife resting on the boy’s throat.

“You are poor fighters,” Sabit said, her voice ringing out for all the bandits to hear. “I have much to teach you.”

Sabit stood up. She looked down at Nerit lying in the dirt. She offered him a hand.

 

———

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: Fourteen

Lying in the clearing at the center of the bandit camp, sunlight warming her flesh, Sabit dreamt.

*

A mighty fortress. Battlements ready, save for soldiers. At the gate, no one. On the wall, no one. In the courtyard, no one. From outside, the din of siege engines. Beset at every side. Within the walls, Sabit alone. Her troops around the next corner? No. Behind this door? No. Within this barracks? No. Only the emptiness where soldiers once stood.

A beautiful palace. Gardens lush with zinnia blooms, but no admirers.  Libraries stuffed with books, but no readers. Amphitheaters bright and beautiful, but no hearers. Sabit wandering down hidden hallways, alone. Sabit pushing past curtains, alone. Sabit crawling through yawning windows, alone.

A crowded cave. Chests and barrels and boxes of every type. No eyes for their carved beauty, save Sabit. No fingers for their clever locks, save Sabit. No hands for their bountiful treasure, save Sabit.

No ears for the mournful cries of Sabit’s solitude.

Alone.

*

Sabit startled herself to wakefulness, a hand shooting to Verdandi’s side. The older woman was warm. She breathed. Sabit was 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: 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/.