Road of Woe: Seven

Phantoms of Sabit’s past loomed large in the darkness that took her. Old enemies, long gone, stalked her once more with hateful sneer  and curved blade held high. Old rivals bested Sabit again and again, relishing her humiliation. Old lovers screamed in fury, belittling her most intimate secrets.

In the darkness, all this pain fused into a single ball of white-hot anguish, shining down upon Sabit like the unrelenting gaze of a vengeful sun. Scorching her skin with its harsh glare, the sun of suffering drew a dank, musky smell from the dark green leaves that covered Sabit’s body.

Sabit forced her eyelids open, welcoming the dazzling light within, to sear her brain like fire. Fire was cleansing. Pain gave Sabit focus.

Sabit lay upon the ground, but not where she had fallen. In front of her was the broad, white sky with the murderous sun at its center. There were high slopes on three sides of her, covered in the same broad, dark green leaves that enveloped her body below the neck. Sinuous vines twisted around her arms and encased her torso. Slender roots sank beneath the skin of her shoulders and chest. They pulsed in time with her heartbeat, a bright crimson shining through the pale exterior of every tiny rootling. Only Sabit’s darkest imagination could conjure the condition of her legs, as she could not feel them at all.

With a mighty heave, Sabit exerted the force of her every muscle to pull herself free. Her head lifted from the ground, tendons in her neck straining with the effort. Her arms lay motionless beside her, like dead stumps trailing from her shoulders. Her chest kept rising and falling, each breath more labored than the one before.

Sabit let out a cry of fury and frustration, but even the sound of her sorrow issued thin and weak from her throat.

Then, above her loomed the shape of a man. Every inch of skin was covered with waxy, green leaves. Covetous white flowers stared out from where his eyes ought to be, their bright green stamens boring into Sabit. On his leafy brow sat a circlet of silver and jade. The leaves covering his lips parted and in a voice like the wind in the branches said, “It is good to see you again, my love.”

 

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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: Six

With Sabit at their head, the Ghabari troops charged downhill into their foes, like an avalanche of sharpened spear points. Battle was joined.

Behind the wall of tall Ghabari shields, Sabit thrust her spear into the belly of one soldier, the chest of another. They fell at her feet and she spared no time for their bodies. There were more foes to join them.

Sabit plunged her spear into the next foeman, but he did not fall. He wore the circlet of command upon his brow. Even as her iron spear tip sank deeper into his breast, the soldier turned to glare hatefully, his too-white eyes flickering with reflected flame. With both hands, he clutched the shaft of Sabit’s spear with an unnatural grip. Thrusting the spear deeper into his own chest, he dragged himself closer to Sabit, hand over hand.

As he drew closer, Sabit could see his face in detail. His eyes were not orbs that shone too bright in the firelight. They were not eyes at all. Two large white flowers stared hatefully at her, bright green stamens boring into her soul from where their pupils ought to be. The man’s skin was not slick with sweat. Waxy, dark leaves covered his cheeks and brow, leaving nothing truly human below the uncanny floral facade.

Putting up her shield, Sabit pushed against the fundamental wrongness of his vegetative mass. The thing in the shape of a man curled the fingers of one hand-like stalk around the edge of Sabit’s shield. Tender, pale roots bore into the laminated mesquite strips of the shield, changing their dark, polished sheen to the lighter shade of living wood. In turn, rootlings sprouted from the shield itself, grasping hungrily for the tender flesh of Sabit’s arm.

Lurching away from this new onslaught, Sabit’s heel caught on one of the enemies she had slain. As she fell backward under the assault, she heard the screams of her troops. From the corner of her eye, she could see up and down the line, these plant-beasts cutting through her troops like a scythe through ripe wheat.

Then, she hit the ground and there was only blackness.

 

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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: Five

Sabit seized the captain’s horn and raised it to her lips. The note sounded pure and true, ringing across the valley like a song from the heavens. She raised her spear and troops rushed to form ranks beside her, weapons raised to strike. Sabit extended her left hand and Lahamu, her shield bearer, strapped an oblong shield of wood and bronze to her forearm.

Sabit watched the line of enemy troops make their way up the hill. Their eyes shone unnaturally bright in the darkness, blazing orange and red with the glow of the fires rampaging through the camp. Her eyes probed their lines of armored bodies for some weakness. Each soldier out of step could be the fatal flaw that would turn this bloodbath into a victory for Sabit.

The invaders marched up the hill, butchering every straggler they could find. Those that were too quick to be overcome by the wave of sharpened bronze hurried to Sabit’s lines, swelling her ranks. When the attackers reached the fallen body of Aruru, each of them jostled for the chance to anoint their sword blade in the blood of their most hated foe: the captain of Ghabar. They shoved one another aside, their skin gleaming unnaturally in the firelight.

The tumult over Auru’s corpse rippled through the enemy’s lines. Sabit saw her chance. Over her shoulder, she spoke to the older woman, “Fall back, traveller. This is not your fight. Find me when the battle is through.”

Sabit nodded to Lahamu. The shieldmaiden lifted the silver captain’s horn to Sabit’s lips. Three short, sharp notes rang across the field like fury of the righteous. The Ghabari troops stepped forward as one. Their lines straight and true, they picked up speed. Shields held high and spears held low, they charged downhill, meeting the enemy like a wave of death.

 

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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: Four

The older woman was at Sabit’s arm, speaking in an earnest, urgent tone. “How often have you dreamt of an army to command, Sabit? Is not your disgrace at Ghabar a thorn that burrows and festers in the depths of your heart? How sweet would it be to pluck out that thorn and bury it in Irkalla’s eye?”

Sabit could feel the weight of the old woman’s eyes upon her. All around the army’s encampment, the soldiers of Ghabar raised their heads to await Sabit’s answer. Flickering campfires reflected in ten thousand pairs of eyes—each one desperate for the next words to drop from the spear woman’s lips. In the unnatural stillness, Sabit could hear only her own heartbeat.

“I have been a soldier and a captain,” said Sabit. “I have never sought the mantel of the Prioress.”

“The question was of the future,” said the older woman. “Why do you speak of the past?”

Sabit hung her head. “The past is all I have.”

The panicked cry of sentries rang over the encampment. Sabit looked up to see commotion at the far end of the valley, illuminated by a blood-red moon. A line of armored troops descended on the Ghabari soldiers, bronze blades cutting through their foes like wheat.

How had such a host of soldiers gotten so close unobserved?

The invaders’ battle tactics left no time for the question. A volley of flaming arrows arced through the sky, seeming to set the firmament alight with blazing fury. Tents burst into flames. Soldiers fell as they scrambled to grab weapons. They died in the midst of forming ranks.

Aruru collapsed at Sabit’s feet, a bloody arrow piercing her neck. A crimson river of blood flowed down her breastplate, staining the silver horn that marked her as the Captain of Ghabar. Despite the din of battle, Sabit could not pull her eyes from the horn. So many years had past since her fingers had felt the carved insignia upon its side. So many nights had her lips found distraction in a bottle or the mouth of a lover when they truly longed for the touch of its smooth mouthpiece.

Had enough time passed for Sabit to reclaim the position that once was hers?

 

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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: Three

“We had best find shelter before full dark,” Sabit said, extending her hand to the older woman. She had done enough killing in her day, and always for better cause than mere booty.

In the dimming light, Sabit surveyed the horizon for any threat while the woman gathered her fallen, scattered treasure. Even the cloud of dust raised by the woman’s retreating donkey had vanished behind desolate ridges dyed the color of blood by the setting sun.

When the older woman had gathered her satchels and once more hidden the signs of her wealth from the gaze of any passerby, the two set off together on the road. Sabit did not expect to get far before the darkness forced them to stop, but the rocks at the top of the ridge before them seemed to offer a more secure campsite than the open valley where the woman fell.

The pair attained the top of the ridge as dusk gave way to night. Sabit’s eyes strained to make out the shapes of the boulders, looking for the best shelter. The harder she looked, the more their irregular shapes seemed less like massive rocks and more like the fluted columns and elaborate arches of the distant city of Ghabar. It had been years since Sabit had served as captain of Ghabar’s troops, since she had stood in its mighty palace, since she had chosen duty above her own chance at happiness.* For a moment in the darkness, it felt like she was standing there once more.

“Halt!” came a charge from a sentry speaking the Ghabari tongue, “Who goes there?”

“Two simple travelers,” Sabit answered. She could barely make out the spear points of the sentries before her. Their shapes were lost in the shadows of the boulder field. “We seek only a rocky shelter for the night.”

“Sabit?” came the reply. The sentry stepped forward as a campfire crackled in the distance. She removed her helmet to reveal the face of Aruru, who had replaced Sabit as the city’s captain. “It is good to see you again, old friend.”

“Aruru? Why are you so far from Ghabar?” Sabit asked. “And why would you rejoice to see me? We parted on bad terms.”

Aruru looked away. “Those were simpler times. I was mistaken in my loyalty to the Prioress of Ghabar who dismissed you. The last months have seen Irkalla tear down everything that Ghabar once stood for and throw it onto a pyre to honor the memory of her dead son. Dirges played at all hours and a tomb that reaches to the heavens themselves were not enough to quench Irkalla’s grief. Boys whose eyes share the grey-green hue as the prince’s have been condemned to the mausoleum to guard him in the afterlife. Every girl born the same year of the prince has been forced to marry his corpse and sing and dance for its deathly glory.

“Such crimes are too much to bear. I have taken the better part of the army to save Ghabar and end Irkalla’s destructive mourning. I see now that Irkalla was always the root of Ghabar’s sickness, not you, Sabit. When she exiled you from the city, she exiled all goodness and hope. In your redemption lies the redemption of the city. Come with us, Sabit. I will see you installed as the next Prioress, over Irkalla’s bloody corpse. Take my army, I give it to you freely.”

Aruru stepped aside to show the valley full of troops. Dozens of campfires flickered in the night. Thousand, no, tens of thousands men and women awaited her command. Every cluster of tents and horses bore the standard that Sabit once wore as captain. It was a standard she could have again.

All she had to do was take it.

 

*-Sabit’s past in Ghabar is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

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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: Two

Sabit, coated in dust from top to bottom, approached the fallen rider. Several parcels lay on the ground nearby, wrappings torn open by their fall from the runaway donkey. One bundle of crude burlap contained small packets of embroidered silk of the kind used to sell the rarest spices in the marketplace. The next was a small wooden box, its open lid having allowed a handful of rubies and saffires to scatter across the dirt of the badlands. Within the box, coins of gold glinted in the crimson rays of the setting sun. A small fortune lay at Sabit’s feet, begging to be taken.
The rider let out a groan. Sabit approached the fallen form carefully. The person was of small stature, wearing the same sort of homespun traveler’s robe as many who plied these roads—the white cotton, dyed beige by parasangs of dusty travel. The force of the fall had pulled the robe aside to reveal glimpses of rich, green silk beneath. Buttons of pearl and embroidery of gold and silver threads adorned the rider—but no sign of sword or knife.
“Are you hurt?” Sabit asked in the Wuqai tongue spoken by many in this region.
“Only my pride, young one,” came the voice of a matronly woman. She pulled the homespun scarf from her face to reveal sharp-edged features and eyes that sparkled with life. Sabit’s eyes grew wide in recognition.
“You’re the fortune teller in the bazaar of Bahteel,” Sabit said, surprised to see the older woman so far from her stall.*
The woman’s mouth twisted to a grin. “Not I. Stories tell that my sister does such things in the city, but I have not laid eyes on her since the days of your mother’s mother, young one. Sadly, no one expects me in Bahteel. I told no one of my journey or its destination, save my stupid donkey. I am quite alone in the world.”
Sabit pondered the woman’s words for a moment. Strewn along this desert road was enough wealth to change the bleak path of her future. There were many cities where those gemstones alone could buy Sabit a title and a life of ease. The gold coins could outfit a troop of mercenaries with Sabit at their head—a legacy of victory and glory. The key to every idle daydream that had ever flitted through Sabit’s mind lay in the grubby dirt at her feet.
It was guarded only by an unarmed old woman, bereft of family or friends who might seek to avenge her death. There was no other human soul around for dozens of parasangs. The sun had slipped behind the horizon and the concealing cover of night—who witnesses numberless crimes but never speaks of them—spread quickly across the land.
Sabit’s sharpened spear felt lively and ready for action in her palm as she studied the older woman on the ground at her feet.


*-Sabit’s encounter with the fortune teller is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death.
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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: One

Sabit walked at a slow but steady pace along the narrow road. Her black hair and dark brown skin contrasted sharply with the dull beige of the road, the rocks, and the sparse groundcover. She traveled light—apart from her thick cotton tunic and sturdy leather sandals, a long spear tipped with iron served as her only baggage. The weight that slowed Sabit’s steps lay not in her hands or on her back.
The sun sank slowly in the west as the spear woman continued her journey. Many parasangs behind her stood the compound of the Sisterhood of the Lioness, the last place that Sabit had—for a fleeting moment—considered home. Her actions there had accomplished much. She had saved lives, rebuilt homes, and helped the troubled. She had also ensured she would never again be welcome there.
Ahead of her lay the proud city of Bahteel, with its teeming crowds, grandiose finery, and wonder-filled bazaar. None of that mattered to Sabit. She traveled to the capital of Wuqai kingdom for a single purpose: to settle a score with a man who had tricked her. But even Kehnan had once held a tender place in her heart, and Sabit had no appetite for the confrontation.
Stopping for a moment, Sabit gazed at the brilliant pinks and golds of the setting sun. It seemed that her life was like that sky—a blaze of blood-colored fury with only darkness in its future. Sabit realized that with all the world before her, she had nowhere to be. Under the four corners of heaven, there was no home aching for her return. Among the numberless souls whose feet kissed the earth, not a one of them longed to hear her voice once more.
Such depths of despair may explain why Sabit did not hear the approaching donkey until it was nearly on top of her. At the last moment, Sabit leaped to one side while the pack animal leaped toward the other. With a loud cry, the donkey’s rider tumbled to the rocky ground, along with several of the bundles strapped to the beast.
Freed of much of its load, the donkey broke into a gallop. its hard hooves conjuring a cloud of dust as it sped off into the distance. The billows of beige consumed Sabit, clinging to her skin, clawing at her eyes, and clogging her throat. Robbed of sight and breath, Sabit stood for a moment on the knife’s edge between this world and the next.
Then, violent coughing seized her body as the painful work of living laid claim to her once more.

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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/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Twenty-Three

The sadness in Meriama’s eyes was as deep as the inky reaches of the boundless sea. Forcing herself to speak loud enough for all to hear, she said, “Sabit, you have struck down a fellow Sister. Justice must be done. You have offered no defense. There must be a fitting consequence.”
The crowd awaited her next words with an eager silence. Sabit held her chin high. Her face was a mask of resolve as Meriama continued, “You shall be taken from this compound, never to return. You shall be cast out of this Sisterhood, never again to be welcomed. To each and every member of the Sisterhood, you shall be like one who has died. Begone!”
Meriama turned away, her eyes damp. The crowd gathered below the platform parted to form a clear path to the gate. As Sabit made her way through the courtyard, each Sister turned her back to the spear woman. Women she had called friends two days before now refused to meet Sabit’s gaze.
At the outer gate, hunters of the Pride had gathered. As Sabit stepped outside, they worked together to close the massive wooden gate. The duty of fastening the portal fell to the eager, young hunter who had faced Sabit—her swollen, broken jaw giving her face a perpetual sneer of loathing.
The sound of the wooden bar clattering into place echoed in the air. Sabit stood outside the gate for a long time. As the sun drooped low in the west, Sabit turned her back on the place she had—for too brief a moment—felt as though she belonged.
—END—

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Twenty-Two

The assembled crowd jeered as Sabit admitted her guilt. Chants arouse from angry throats, calling for her blood. Dessine, the chief hunter, had been well-loved. Many would rather see the Sisterhood itself crumble to dust than to see her killer go unpunished.
Meriama raised her good hand high, appealing to the crowd for silence. When the angry shouts had quieted, the head of the Sisterhood spoke. “Sabit, you claim that no sorcery forced your hand in this bloody affair. In the interest of justice, the Sisterhood must know if there was some other cause. Can you call forward any other Sister to speak for you? Anyone who can explain what drove your actions?”
Meriama’s features implored Sabit. As head of the Sisterhood, Meriama could not call upon herself to testify that Dessine was trying to murder when Sabit intervened. However, if Sabit called upon her to testify, she would speak the truth.
Like a strategist planning a battle, Sabit weighed her options as the silence hung heavy in the air. If she asked Meriama to denounce Dessine’s actions, she would certainly do so. The head o the order would pronounce some token sentence and Sabit would be free to rejoin the Sisterhood.
She looked out over the faces. Would the Sisterhood ever accept her again as they had so recently? No. Dessine’s most loyal followers would surely accuse Meriama of favoritism and betrayal of the Sisterhood’s own laws. Even if they did not dare to speak such feelings in public, the private whisperings would surely grow into factions within the group. Sabit’s innocence would come at a high price: planting the seed of another Dessine to rise and split the Sisterhood asunder.
Sabit turned her gaze back to Meriama as she spoke. “There is none here I would ask to speak for me. I offer no defense of what I have done.”

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Sisterhood of the Lioness: Twenty-One

Sabit, bound hand and foot, was hauled before the assembled Sisterhood. The hunters of the Pride on either side shoved her forward, eager to get their blows in where they might. Sabit’s killing of Dessine, chief hunter of the Pride, burned fresh and hot in their hearts. They drove Sabit through rows of refugees, their hands held up in the figure to ward off evil. They drove her through the assembled Sisterhood, looks of contempt upon their faces for one who had betrayed one of their fellow Sisters. They drove her onto a raised platform, where sat the esteemed head of the Sisterhood, Meriama.
Sabit looked deeply into Meriama’s face, searching for the contempt she had earned in the eyes of everyone else. She saw only deep sadness. Meriama stood to addressed the assembled crowd. “We are the Sisterhood of the Lioness. Like sisters, we protect one another. Within this compound, we allow no enemies. And yet, one of our own has struck down a fellow Sister. Justice must be done.”
Meriama turned to Sabit. “Sabit, you have faced a sorcerer in battle. You know well the power their sorcery can wreak upon their thralls. I charge you to speak the truth. Did sorcery compel you to strike down Dessine?”
Sabit could see the hope in Meriama’s eyes. If Sabit claimed that sorcery had controlled her actions, she would face a cleansing ceremony and the never-ending suspicions of her sisters. All she needed to do was lie. Sabit looked out over the sea of faces, hope emerging in the faces of many she had come to call friends these last days. Would she deserve their trust if she lied to them now?
“There was no sorcery,” Sabit said. “The decision was mine and mine alone.”

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Sisterhood of the Lioness is copyright (c) 2017 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/