Betrayal: Three

Sabit stepped close to the captive, looking up to study his features. She could not put a name to his smirking face. His sharp cheekbones and dimpled smile were handsome enough. The vicious scar above his left eye spoke of a life lived by violence. The wide streak of grey in his raven hair testified that he was skilled enough with the sword to elude a young death.

Something about that streak seemed wrong to Sabit. She squinted at the coarse grey hairs marching through a field of midnight black. It did not belong there—of that, she was certain. The basis for that certainty was lost in the mists of her muddled memories, like everything else from her past.*

“I do not remember you,” Sabit said, scowling at the bound man.

“Impossible! No one can forget Kehnan the Mighty!” the captive bellowed. “Least of all, you. Sabit the spear woman. The victor of a hundred battles. To the world, you were the only mercenary to fight better than I. To those in need, you were a champion. To the the wicked, you were death itself. To me, you were as fast and deadly as the sacred Mongoose.”**

Sabit’s wrist ached at his words—an old, faded scar burned like a brand. “I live for today, and for tomorrow. Yesterday has no place in these lands.”

Kehnan looked deeply into her eyes. “Surely you cannot forget the battles we fought side by side? Surely you cannot forget the love I bore you? Surely you cannot forget our separation, and the good fortune of our reunion in Bahteel? Surely you cannot forget those companions you sent away so that you could remain by my side?”

The mention of companions brought a lump to Sabit’s throat, although she could recall neither name nor face. Her chest felt as though it would burst. She turned sharply away from Kehnan. “There is no place here for the past. If you have nothing to offer but memories, then I have nothing to offer but death.”

*-Sabit’s memory loss is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe http://ipressgames.com/tag/road-of-woe/

**-Sabit’s past with Kehnan is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death http://ipressgames.com/tag/bazaar-of-death/

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal 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/.

Betrayal: Two

“The fight for our destiny will be waged in that pass,” Sabit said to her gathered warriors. The group stood on a small rise at the forest’s edge. Below them, a valley of rolling fields stretched its golden expanse from horizon to horizon—ripe grain and bountiful crops gathered into fat sheaves by the toiling farmers. A single stream snaked through the valley, feeding the thirsty rice paddies before venturing into the forest to join with the mighty river hidden behind its branches. At the far end of the valley, two long, rocky hills served as walls, shielding the farmers from the sight of the mighty city of Junjai perched in the mountains to the north. The small gap between the hills held the only road out of the valley.

“It is a long way from the forest. We will be exposed, without trees or rocks for cover,” said Regida, fingering the long, hooked serpent’s tooth that hung from a thong around her neck. The fingers of her left—and only—hand toyed with the the tooth’s sharp tip.

Sabit smiled. “You are astute, Regida. A fight in the open is far different than the ambushes you have laid in the past. But it is a battle that we can win,” the bandit queen pointed toward the gap between the hills with her long, iron-tipped spear. “The enemy will come to us. We shall wield the land against them like a sword. Where there is no cover, we shall bring our shields of serpent hide. Where there is no concealment, we shall build blinds. Where there is only open field, we shall shape the road so the army will march where we choose. The bounty that is found in this land offers us only good things!”

A cheer arose from the bandits. They had seen their queen vanquish foes that could only be termed “undefeatable.” What weapon could the king of Junjai possibly deploy that Sabit could not best?

From the forest came the young hunter Nerit, his companions close behind. Among the knot of young men was a figure bound in thick ropes. Like a captive bear, he loomed over the boys, taller even than Sabit. The ropes struggled to contain his broad shoulders and bulging thews.

Nerit bowed low before his queen. “This traveler claims to know you, my queen. He says his name is Kehnan.”

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal 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/.

Betrayal: One

“We freely offer these fruits of the earth to Sabit, queen of the forest, defender of the weak,” said Htet, headwoman of the farming village. The sky-touching trees that surrounded her and her enclave of poor farmers were like nothing they had ever seen on the rolling farmland of their home. Htet swallowed her fear and stepped in front of the bulging sacks of rice and bushels of gourds, cabbage, and beans. Fixing her storm-gray eyes on the throne’s occupant, Htet continued. “May this tribute be pleasing in your sight, mighty warrior queen. May our plight stir your heart toward justice and … mercy.”

Htet forced her proud back to bend before the bandit queen. Stooping low, she could see only the queen’s muscular legs and the base of the throne she sat upon. Crafted from the skull of an enormous serpent, the throne was a web of pale bone, brass struts, and wickedly curved teeth. Htet shuddered at the sight of it. As much as the serpent-head throne filled her with fear, it was the power of the woman who sat upon it that Htet truly feared—and truly hoped to placate with her gifts.

“What is this plight of yours? Why should it concern the conquerors of the serpent?” said the queen, her voice clear and commanding.

Htet raised her head to look at Sabit. The bandit queen’s frame spoke of strength while her keen eyes attested to her intelligence. Htet hoped that those eyes also hid some measure of compassion. “The King of Junjai longs to see your head hanging from his battlements, queen of the forest. His troops scour the land clean of every morsel that he might raise an army against you. He has sworn to burn the forest to the ground if he must. Last year, before the king’s hatred bloomed, three children of the village wasted away after the king’s taxes had ravaged our stores. This year, his fury may well starve us all to death.”

A furrow formed in Sabit’s brow. “You fear famine and still freely offer me a taste of your bounty. Why?”

Htet swallowed, remembering the grave of her infant son and the vow she had sworn there. “It is said on the roads that your raiders do not kill the merchants who willingly give up their goods. These gifts are but the first fruits of our fields. If you can protect us and our crops from the king’s cruel men, we would share with you our bounty. Let us live in safety and our fields will feed the conquerors of the serpent, not the armies of Junjai.”

The bandit queen sat back on her throne, curved snake-ribs the length of her arm cradling her back. Sabit stroked her chin, weighing the future of Htet and her people behind her dark eyes.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Betrayal 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-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?”

 

———

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

———

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?”

 

———

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/.