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—

 

———

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/

Road of Woe: Eleven

The plant-prince shambled backwards, stumbling over rocks and bones to get away from Sabit. She watched it move away for a moment, her eyes darting erratically with mental effort. Forging the patchy remnants of her memories and the scoured chambers of her heart into some shape that might make sense of the world kept her rooted to the spot for several long moments.

Taking advantage of the respite, the plant-prince slowed its retreat, then stopped. The armless collection of vines and rotting flesh searched through the detritus at its root-like legs. Finding an arm bone, the plant-thing laid the severed stump of its shoulder next to it. Vines grew quickly from the broken ends of wood, twining around the bare, white bone. As leaves unfurled their dark, waxy covering over the bone’s length, the plant-thing moved its new limb back and forth, testing the strength of this stunted, makeshift arm.

The movement brought Sabit from her reverie. Letting forth a bellow from deep within, Sabit moved toward the thing, picking up speed with every step. Like a charging bull, the spear woman crashed into the tangle of vine and meat and bone, sending it sprawling to the ground.

Sabit leapt atop its supine form. With a blood-thirsty roar, she tore leaves and vines and branches from the torso of the plant-prince. The rough bark left deep cuts in Sabit’s hands, but she persevered in her destruction. Pushing deeper into the plant-thing’s chest, Sabit felt the rapid pulsing of a still-beating heart. She reached for it.

With a crash, the plant-prince swung his new arm bone, striking Sabit’s brow. The spear woman toppled off of her foe, landing hard, like a discarded bit of marrow. The ground beneath Sabit seemed to lurch and spin in every direction as the plant-thing loomed over her. Her arms flailed uselessly at her sides as she sought some solid purchase amidst this topsy-turvy world.

For a moment, Sabit’s gaze locked on a single object: the arm bone wrapped in vines that hung from the plant-thing’s shoulder. The force of its blow had broken the bone, leaving a jagged point on the end of it.

The plant-prince raised his bone-spear for a killing strike.

 

———

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: Ten

The thick finger-stalks of the plant-prince wrapped around the woman’s throat, the rough bark pressing against the tender flesh of her neck. Her head swam as her body ached for breath. The finger-stalks split and forked and grew, spreading to cover the whole length of her neck. Each moment, they reached lower—

—until a tender sprout grazed the braided silver chain around the woman’s throat.

The stalk blackened, its leaves shriveling into desiccated wisps of brown and gray. The black rot spread from the necklace with the speed of flame. One stalk after the next sickened and died, twisting into gnarled shapes of dry, brittle twigs.

The plant-prince leapt back, desperately tearing the trunk of its torso from the branches of its arms. In horror, it watched its arms shrivel and fall, clattering across the woman’s body, now covered in a blanket of dead, dry leaves.

Slowly, the woman sat up. Twigs and leaves rustled as they fell from her powerful arms and broad chest. A single, unrotted white petal stuck to the woman’s lip. Without thinking, her tongue sought out the morsel and she swallowed it.

Rising to her feet, the woman shook the crunching mass of dead vegetation from her boots. She glared at the armless shape of the plant-prince before her and said, “My name is Sabit and I bear no love for you!”

 

———

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: Nine

“Ishum is dead,” Sabit said to the collection of leaves and wood that wore the circlet of the prince of Ghabar. Her voice was steady and her cheeks wet. “I have heard many tales of those who love the dead. I refuse such a dark fate.”

The leafy figure threw its head back. A despairing cry like the creaking of a tree trunk in a violent storm issued from the hollow of its throat. Its rage rippled through the vines that wrapped around Sabit’s limbs, stalks flapping to and fro, although there was no wind.

“Deathlessness does not suit you, Ishum,” Sabit said as the echo of the plant-thing’s cries faded. “Even as a boy, you were not so consumed with rage. I remember a time when you stared down a pack of larger boys without making a sound.”

“You remember?” the plant-thing said, bending low over Sabit’s supine form once more. “If your memories fuel your defiance, then I shall rid you of their burdensome weight.”

Reaching forth with finger-like stalks, the plant-prince touched the brown flesh of Sabit’s brow. Tiny shoots crept from its hands, slithering their way among the black, wooly strands of Sabit’s hair. Pale, tender rootlings burrowed into her scalp, drinking deeply wherever they touched. From each stalk there bloomed a flower of purest white, its large petals covering Sabit’s head like the snow of every winter in her memory.

Sabit struggled against the infestation, but the finger-stalks rooted themselves deeply into the ground. The woody fingers became as strong as oak, encasing her head like a helmet.

Opening its maw, the plant-prince bent low over the mass of flowers. Like a horse at the trough, it sucked down petal after petal, chewing each one between its woody jaws.

“So many memories,” said the plant-prince, like the whisper of an evening breeze. “Such adventures you have had, my love. Perhaps one day I shall tell you the stories of a great warrior who went on such adventures.” It locked its white flower-eyes on Sabit’s confused gaze. “What do you remember of me?”

“I … I do not know you,” said the woman. . A single white petal had escaped the plant-things grazing and clung to her lip.

“Good. What do you remember of you?” it hissed.

“I am … I know not what I am,” she replied

“Excellent,” it said. “I tell you that you are my love. I shall make certain that we are together forevermore.”

The plant-thing pulled its hands from the woman’s head. She made no response. It wrapped the thick stalks of its fingers around her throat. She did nothing as it began to squeeze.

 

———

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/