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

Blossom of Ruin: Eleven

Surrounded, bound, and outnumbered, Sabit took the only course that she could see. She went limp in her bonds.

The thralls to her sides struggled with the spear-ends, trying to keep her in place for the swordsman’s blow. The sativa-keeper ducked low to keep hold of her hair. The swordsman raised his blade.

With an explosion of furious strength, Sabit sprang to her feet. Her head smashed into the sativa-keeper’s jaw with a loud crack. With a duck and twist, she drove the spear-ends into the knees of both thralls beside her, sending them crashing to the ground.

A roll and tumble brought Sabit to where the sativa-keeper had fallen supine. Her knee found his throat. Shaking the leather sheathe from the iron spear-tip, Sabit pivoted to point it at the swordsman’s chest—both her arms still extended, yolked to its length.

The swordsman stood his ground. Lowering his blade, he pulled the wrappings from his head, revealing Allamu’s bemused expression. “I thought to repay one rescue with another. But I see that  you have no such need. Perhaps I can assist you with a few of those ropes?”

—–

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: Nine

Sabit strained against her captivity, but the ropes were too thick to snap, the knots too tight to squirm free. That coward-prince Allamu was nowhere to be seen. Her gaudy captor had instructed his thralls to yoke Sabit to her own spear, the sharp iron point also bound up in thick leather. Even if she could break the spear’s thick wooden shaft, the effort’s cost would be her own weapon.

With a thrall at either side of the powerful spearwoman, the gaudy man was satisfied that Sabit had been rendered helpless. Stepping carefully out of his place among the leaves, the man regarded his prisoner with wild, pink eyes.

“At the crossroads you bragged of your talent with a spear, your skill with the ways of violence. I see now those were not empty words. The merchants should have hired you to guard their caravan. Their shrewd, petty minds might not be feeding the hungry roots of my grand sativa if they had done so.”

The thrall whose teeth Sabit had loosened, a scrawny young man with patchy beard, staggered away from the clearing, rubbing his jaw. The sativa-keeper called to him, “Return to me, Woq!” When the man hesitated, the gaudy man dispatched two other thralls to drag him back to the plant. Woq’s struggles were clumsy, but grew more desperate as they approached the low-hanging white flowers.

The sativa-keeper brought the white trumpet to Woq’s face. The stamens were thick with sticky green pollen. “That’s it, Woq. Breathe, my boy. There is nothing to fear. No reason to flee. There is only the pollen.”

Woq inhaled deeply. His limbs grew still and compliant.

The sativa-keeper turned back to Sabit, another white trumpet laden with pollen in hand. “You are a strong woman, Sabit. Strength like yours truly needs to be harnessed.”

—–

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: Eight

“You are Sabit,” the gaudy man muttered. “You are the strong spearwoman. You come from the south.”

Sabit lowered her spear point, level to the man’s chest. “You’ve no right to that name. I never it gave it to you. You do not know me.”

The man giggled—a blood-curdling sound of wickedness. “You never gave it to me, but I have it all the same. Like this silver bauble you thought so clever to conceal within your belt. It was tricky to filch, but likely would have fetched a handsome price in Elpasné’s temple market. It has a better home now.” The man’s long fingers rose to his throat to stroke Sabit’s necklace.

Looking down at the broken, decaying heads of the merchants, Sabit took note of the pale pink color of the roots emerging from their shattered skulls. Those roots fed the plant stalk that the thin man stood beneath, plucking dusky red petals and chewing them thoughtfully. With each bite, he learned more of what the merchants had known. He ate their memories.

Sabit rushed toward him, spear extended.

With uncanny speed, the slumberers lounging about the clearing leapt to their feet. Like a wave of arms and bodies, they were upon Sabit before she took a dozen steps. Her spear sent one to walk with gods. She cracked a jaw with the backswing before three more pulled the spear from her grip with the weight of their bodies. Sabit punched and kicked. Teeth flew and bones broke, but the horde still came–their bizarre green eyes unfazed by the violence, their green-stained faces insensate to the pain of her blows.

As a mass, they wrestled Sabit to the ground. Half a dozen robed forms held her. The spearwoman from the south had fallen.

—–

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