Blossom of Ruin: Twenty-One

Sabit seized the dagger from Irkalla’s grasp and stood. Looking down at the defeated, grieving Prioress, she said, “If you would know Ishum’s will in all this, you have it within your grasp. Swallow a petal of that flower and his memories will live again in your mind.”

The Prioress stood and straightened her white mourning robe, wrinkled and besmirched by her tumble on the floor. Plucking one dull red petal from the flower, she slipped it between her lips, chewed, and swallowed.

Irkalla closed her eyes and breathed deeply. A look of confusion crossed her features. Her panicked eyes snapped open, their whites showing a pinkish cast. “Sabit?” she said, her voice twisted and strange. “Why did you leave me? Mother thinks you just a mongrel of low birth. Such things bear no weight with me. I was always safe under your sight.”

Staggering to Sabit, Irkalla cupped the spearwoman’s cheeks in her palms. “I wish you were with me in these badlands. I wish I could see your face once more. I wish—”

Irkalla hung her head and wept bitter tears. Aruru stepped to her side and gestured for her guards to seize Sabit and Allamu.

—–

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: Twenty

The guards stepped aside, allowing their Prioress to close the distance to Sabit, blade flashing wickedly before her. Sabit ducked the first strike, but the tent left little room to maneuver. Diving to the side, she rolled and kicked, sending Irkalla lurching into her guards.

Sabit regained her feet near Allamu. He offered her a stolen sword, its edge glittering with death in the shafts of sunlight. Instead, Sabit grabbed the long scarf from Allamu’s neck and turned to face Irkalla.

“I would have saved him if I could,” Sabit said. “You bid me to throw away my future to save his. I did. I would have done so again.”

Blade held high, Irkalla circled Sabit, searching for an opening. “You led him on. He was only a boy. He would be alive now if he’d never met you!”

Irkalla lunged forward, her blade whistling inches from Sabit’s throat. With twist of scarf, Sabit seized the Prioress’s hand. A leg sweep brought the fight to the carpets laid upon the hard-packed earth. The two grappled, each seeking control of the deadly blade between them.

“Die!” Irkalla spat, pushing the blade with all her might. Blood dripped from Sabit’s ear, where the tip had found its mark, and now pointed lower.

With a wordless shout, Sabit twisted, rolled, and was on top of Irkalla. She turned the blade in Irkalla’s grasp, pointed it down at Irkalla’s throat. The Prioress could join her son in death.

All Sabit had to do was push.

—–

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: Nineteen

In the stuffy tent, Allamu told Prioress Irkalla of the bizarre plant sprouted in the wastes, the twisted sativa-keeper, and the arcane properties of its petals. The grieving mother listened closely, her stoic cheeks wet with tears. Irkalla spoke of finding true justice. Allamu assured her that such a fine thing would be a balm to her heart, and the shade of her beloved Ishum.

He had not yet mentioned Sabit’s role in the affair when Aruru entered with her captive. Sabit stood silent and weaponless, surrounded on four sides by armed guards. Aruru brought the carefully-wrapped skull and blossom to the Prioress. The broken-hearted mother collapsed to her knees. Wails of sorrow filled the air.

When Irkalla’s eyes found Sabit, her grief and pain congealed into fury. “You did this! You broke his heart and made him unhappy in his home. I trusted you and he left because of you. He traveled to Elpasné because he thought he would find you there. He was in these badlands because of you. He is dead because of you! And your life is forfeit!”

Producing a blade from beneath her robe, Irkalla charged at Sabit, her eyes full of fury.

—–

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: Eighteen

Wrapped in the appropriated cloak of a servant and carrying a pair of buckets, Allamu moved through the siege camp as though invisible. There ought to have been guards at the Prioress’s white tent, but the sounds of raised voices and raised weapons from Sabit’s appearance and capture had lured them from their posts.

Allamu stepped into the tent. The air was close, thick with the pungent incense burned in remembrance of the dead.

“How goes the siege?” came the Prioress’s voice.

Allamu turned to face her. Clad in white from square-brimmed hat to pristine boot, Prioress Irkalla was the picture of a mother consumed by mourning.

“The siege will be a curse upon your son,” Allamu said. “Through bad fortune and misadventure I have come to know how your beloved Ishum died. He did not die the death you think.” Producing the circlet of ivory and jade, Allamu held it out toward the grieving mother.

Color rose in the face of the Prioress. She took the circlet in trembling hands. “Tell me what you know.”

—–

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: Seventeen

Like a whirlwind, Sabit batted aside every spearpoint thrust toward Allamu’s fallen form. Woodpeckers did not raise the wooden clack of shaft-against-shaft so rapidly. Sabit shoved two spearpoints toward the sky and twisted to kick their wielders square in the chest. Two more charged in. Batting the spears to either side, Sabit dashed between the spearmen and struck, driving them to their knees.

She whirled again, reclaimed her footing, readied for another assault. The captain of Ghabar stood a short distance off, arrow nocked and drawn. “Sabit,” she said, “you were exiled.”

Sabit glared at her replacement, counting the steps between them. The distance was too great. “You wear the captain’s mantel well, Aruru.”

“The mantel has an honorable legacy to uphold,” Aruru spat. “You should not be here. The Prioress’s words are law. Even for you.”

The muscles clenched in Sabit’s neck. She swallowed a thousand bitter truths. “I must see the Prioress. Elpasné did not kill the prince. This siege is misguided.”

The other guards had risen now. They formed a circle of spear points around Sabit. Their furtive glances spoke volumes about how “misguided” they felt their Prioress’s actions were.

“You will see the Prioress,” Aruru said. “I suspect she will condemn you to a quick death, but it is better than the slow one.” She gestured for the guards to seize Sabit.

“Wait!” Sabit said. “I must attend my companion, felled by your arrow.”

Turning to the spot where Allamu had fallen, they found only an arrow upright in the dirt and a scrap of torn cloth. The earth was too hard-packed to show footprints.

—–

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: Sixteen

Running side-by-side over the uneven terrain, Sabit and Allamu kept ahead of the pursuing sentries. Both had long strides that ate up the distance to the white tent shining in the morning light. The sound of the sentries’ cries grew more distant.

Cloaked figures milled about the tent in the morning chill. Sabit was almost near enough to make out individuals. Two were servants hauling bowls of steaming porridge and mugs of strong tea to the Prioress’s tent. A third was an advisor with a long beard of plaited grey locks. The fourth had thrown open her cloak, revealing the captain’s armor that had once been Sabit’s.

The captain aimed a longbow and released an arrow.

Allamu let out a grunt. His run ended with a haphazard sprawl upon the rocky ground. The feathered end of an arrow protruded from his crumpled form.

Sabit looked back at her fallen companion. Glancing once more toward the tent of white silk, she slowed. Stopped. Turned back toward the spot where Allamu lay motionless on the ground.

Before Sabit could reach him, the guards were upon her.

—–

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: Fifteen

Several days walking brought the pair to the ridge overlooking Elpasné. In the distance, the great city filled the bottom of the valley. Its narrow, orderly streets formed such beguiling patterns that many claimed the city had been sculpted by the gods. Each roof bloomed with lush greenery of every shade. Surrounding it all, sturdy walls of sandstone stood guard.

Facing those walls stood the armies of Ghabar. Long rows of tents shielded the soldiers and mercenaries from the dawning rays of sunlight. Well out of arrow-shot, crews of skilled workmen assembled siege engines from the stout trunks of trees that grew no closer than a hundred parasangs. The siege had not yet begun in earnest.

A short way down the road, sentries had diverted and corralled a number of caravans and travelers on their way to the city. As the merchants were trapped with their trade goods isolated from the marketplace, and their burning thirst isolated from Elpasné’s beautiful fountains, the soldiers were able to barter a few jugs of water for small fortunes in silks and spices.

Far on the western rim of the valley, Sabit spied the white tent of Prioress Irkalla. Before reaching the corral, the spearwoman and the prince left the road and started over the rocky ground toward the tall ram-bedecked banners beside the Prioress’s tent.

They were nearly past the corral’s edge and into open country when a sentry raised an alarm. They had been spotted.

—–

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: Fourteen

Leaving the camp in the cool of the night, Sabit and Allamu made their way back to the main road, picking their way between rocks, navigating by the stars and dead reckoning. When their sandals clopped onto the hard-packed road, Sabit turned to the east.

“We cannot go to Elpasné,” Allamu said. “Mine was the last party to get out before the siege sealed it off.”

“Siege?” Sabit asked. “Who would lay siege to a city in middle of the desert? It is madness.”

“Before I fled, I heard rumors of every possible culprit, and many impossible,” Allamu replied. “I thought I saw a three-legged ram on the banners of the siege forces, but cannot say for certain.”

Sabit stared at the pinkish glow blooming on the eastern horizon. “The standard of Ghabar is a three-legged ram. Irkalla is wise, but loved her son fiercely. If she believed that his blood were on Elpasné’s head, she would raze the city to its foundation and poison its miraculous oasis for all time. I must stop her from a senseless act she will regret. I bid you well, Allamu.”

“If we walk separate paths,” Allamu said, “I will not be able to give you my father’s ransom. Let it never be said that Allamu walks away from his debts.”

Dawn broke over the arid red rocks of the eastern horizon. Sabit smiled at Allamu. “Let us find shelter from the day’s heat. We have many a long nights’ walks ahead of us.”

—–

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: 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