Broken Justice: Ten

By the time the sun had reached its zenith, the forum of justice boasted a small crowd. Nearly a third of the spectators’ seats were filled with the hangers-on of the rival houses, various functionaries and officials of the Magistrate’s court, and a handful of local workers here more for the spectacle of bloody entertainment than for the edifying sight of divine justice played out upon upon mortal flesh.
Sabit stretched her limbs and rolled her shoulders in preparation for the coming battle. Although the laws of the forum forbade striking a champion on the ground, there was no prohibition against killing strikes while one’s opponent was still on their feet. She needed to be limber.
Sabit looked across the arena to the other champion’s preparations for the contest. The head of house Lanyon would be championed by Illi, a massive man from the far south. He stood a full head taller than even Sabit’s considerable height, with legs like tree-trunks and a chest as broad as a barrell. Illi prepared for the oncoming fight by gnawing on a joint of roast mutton, gobbets of fat clinging to his long, black beard.
“Illi’s been known to shatter bones with that mallet of his,” came a voice from the stands. Sabit glanced up to find a woman looking down at her with a lopsided smirk. Her eyes were bright and her tight, black curls were cropped close to her scalp. The woman wore a simple blue tunic and a cloak festooned with patches. A quiver of arrows rested on her hip. “He favors his right side, so if you keep low and to his right, you won’t give him a clean shot.”
“You broke my spear!” Sabit shouted at the woman. In the center of the forum, the Magistrate yammered on about something. Sabit paid him no mind as she confronted the infuriating archer. “You shot at me!”
“Yes, I let loose an arrow in your direction. If I’d meant to hit you, I would have,” the woman retorted. In the distance, a horn sounded. “You looked like you would make a good champion, but I had to test you. The lady of justice only wants the most skilled in her service. You passed the test.”
“Come down here and I’ll show you a test worth passing!” Sabit bellowed.
“Sadly, I was recently scratched by a spear and am still recovering,” the woman laughed. “I’m sure we shall test one another’s mettle soon enough. Keep alert! Here comes Illi!”
The mountain of a man trundled toward Sabit, mallet raised high. The contest had begun.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Nine

On the fourth day after Sabit’s capture, the champions were ushered to the floor of the great forum itself. The fighting area itself was oblong, more than a hundred and twenty cubits from end to end, but barely fifty cubits wide. The surrounding walls of tan sandstone were eight cubits high—too tall for even the mightiest champion to leap into the gallery where the contenders of the case and other observers would sit to watch the proceedings. The floor was covered with coarse sand, churned a dusky red from ages of blood spilled in the name of justice.
Three dozen champions filed into the sunlit arena, taking their place on either side. Sabit had met most of the others during training, but had not seen them in their full regalia. Their armor glowed with fresh polish and their weapons sparkled in the sunlight. The contenders walked the length of the arena between two rows of champions, the fighters puffing out their chests, striking outlandish poses with their weapons of choice, and composing their features into scowls of terrifying fury in desperate attempts to be chosen. Battles were almost never to the death, and even a defeated champion was paid for his efforts.
Sabit’s armor was in good repair, but unadorned. The only ornament she wore was a tangle of silver chains she had found cast off in the wilderness. Sabit bore her spear easily, standing in the near-slouch of a predator awaiting worthy prey. The spear woman’s placid stance made a stark contrast to the exploits of the other champions.
Today’s case was spawned by that stickiest of human emotions: love. The firstborn sons of two rival merchant houses of Kelmaars had fallen madly in love with one another, in defiance of their families’ protests. The young lovers had stolen a ship and fled the confines of their ancestral home. The head of house Lanyon—the family whose ship was stolen—blamed all of house Chegwin for the theft and demanded recompense. The head of house Chegwin claimed that the whole affair was a Lanyon plot to deprive her of her only son and heir. A bitter feud—costly of treasure and steeped in blood—would surely engulf these two houses if the forum of justice could not settle their case beyond all hope of appeal.
The head of house Chegwin approached Sabit. She was a thin, old woman with a back as straight as a staff and wrinkles around her jowls that gave her the look of sucking on something loathsome. “How many cases have you won, champion?” asked the old woman, looking up into Sabit’s impassive face.
“Not a one,” Sabit replied.
The old woman made a dismissive noise and took two steps further along before turning back. “How many cases have you lost?”
“Not a one,” Sabit answered.
A harsh smile spread across the old woman’s face. “An unknown? I like that. And I could do worse than choose one who bares such a symbol. A silver necklace of seven-pointed stars is a good omen. Will you take up my cause and fight for justice, champion?”
Sabit glanced at the scarred overseer in the far end of the arena. In the morning air, she could hear the faint echo of the work gangs clearing rubble from the streets, her own crew among them. Sabit looked down at the head of house Chegwin. “Yes, I will fight for you.”

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Eight

With a few days’ training, Sabit had thoroughly familiarized herself with the workings of the Vertan forum of justice. While the central forum itself was strictly reserved for trials, the mammoth building housed two smaller courtyards for training. Nearly every type of weapon used throughout the world was on offer, and practiced by one of the several dozen champions or other.
Skilled costumers outfitted Sabit with leather armor designed more to impress onlookers than to protect the wearer. Her possessions from the ship were brought. A weaponsmith who had learned his craft in far-off city of Bahteel crafted a new shaft of ironwood for Sabit’s well-traveled spearpoint.
More importantly, Sabit spoke with her ship’s crew. The sailors were being held in two different outbuildings, along with a number of other hostages of the forum’s champions. Their captors kept them fed and clothed, and forced them to labor in the rebuilding of the crumbling city, brick by brick. Melcior, the captain, had been taken to the Magistrate in person and none of the crew had seen him since. All of them wore heavy cuffs of metal at ankle, wrist, and throat. Escape would be no easy matter.
There was no word of Allamu.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Seven

A one-eyed man approached Sabit’s cell. He was shirtless, save a leather strap running from right shoulder to left hip. A short whip with many tails hung from his belt. His grey, frizzy hair testified to many years of life. The collection of pale scars against his tawny skin spoke to the hardship contained in those years.
“You’d be the spear woman, then,” the man croaked as he studied Sabit through the bars. “What other weapons do you favor? Do you know your way around a trident and net?”
Sabit returned his gaze—her rich brown eyes showing nothing but contempt. “I will not fight for the amusement of your crowds.”
The man let out a dry, croaking sound. “This is Vert. You have been chosen to stand as champion in the forum of justice. You fight for no one’s mere amusement. We have a much higher calling.
“You fight for justice itself. Chiefs and barons, kings and clansmen, satraps and headmen all make their way here to the ancestral seat of justice to settle their quarrels beneath the watchful gaze of the Magistrate of Vert. This forum is the final arbiter of righteousness west of the mountains. You should be honored to uphold such a glorious tradition. I am. Fight well and you could end up a forum overseer like me.”
“You are mad,” Sabit replied. “This city’s days of glory are long past. The streets are a deserted ruin of scavengers and vermin. I have squatted behind finer piles of stones to relieve myself. No one would come to this worthless tangle of broken masonry to seek shelter from the rain, to say nothing of seeking justice.”
The overseer scowled. “It’s a shame you feel that way. Qaansoole has spoken highly of your skills to the king, even if you let her break your spear. There’s always a demand for women champions. You could make good coin from rich men in need of your skills. But I cannot make you fight, of course.” He fingered the whip at his belt. “This is merely a mark of office. Warriors worthy of the forum aren’t driven by fear of pain. If you refuse to be a champion, you are free to serve your sentence for mooring your ship at the Magistrate’s own dock. The ship will be seized by the king. You and the rest of your crew will be chained and sold on the auction block. Of course, champions and their people are protected from such fates.”
The overseer watched Sabit’s face as she pondered his words, and the lives of the crew she had hazarded on a foolish dream and a coin flip. “Well, woman, what say you?” he croaked.
Sabit stood up and approached the bars. “I fight best with spear, trident, or staff. I’ve handled nets and lassos before, when needed. If I’m to uphold your glorious tradition, I won’t do it on an empty stomach. When do we eat?”

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Six

The needling pain of returning sensation in her arms and legs dragged Sabit back to consciousness. Her mouth dry, her throat tight, her head pounding, every part of Sabit ached. Her eyes felt like they were sealed with wax—she managed to force them open on the third attempt.
There was precious little to greet her gaze. Sabit lay on a wooden plank in a tiny stone cell. Thick bars of wrought iron formed one wall. In one corner stood a wooden bucket of water. In another, a bucket crusted with human filth. Sabit had weathered worse prisons.
A loud clang sounded from nearby, striking Sabit’s ears like a hammer blow. Dazed, she watched as two men rushed past the cell door, carrying a third between them. The carried man dripped blood from a gash to his side.
Sabit pulled herself to the bars, straining to see where the men had gone. The hallway outside was lined with cells like hers, most of them empty. The men deposited their charge on the wooden plank in a nearby cell.
One of the standing men bent to examine his charge’s wound. “You’ll survive this one, Narik,” he said in rasping voice. “Which is more than I can say for your opponent. You earned your pay today, and your rest tomorrow. If you milk it, you might not need to fight in the forum of justice for another month. I’ll just sew this up.”
Sabit hung her head. She hated gladiatorial arenas.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Five

Sabit picked her way around a mass of young fruit trees sprouting from the stony remains of what must once have been a warehouse. Pushing through the foliage, Sabit stumbled over a human skull, an ugly gash on its forehead indicating a bloody, violent death. It was not the first one she had seen in the streets of “the jewel of the west.” She would be glad to see this place sink behind the horizon.
Emerging from the branches, Sabit had a clear view of the ship at dock. After the desolation of the city and the breaking of her spear, she longed to return to its familiar confines. Even if Allamu had not returned, Sabit could consult with Melcior, the ship’s captain, and plan the next phase of the search.
Sabit approached the ship in silence, and from the ship, silence answered—stillness, also. No member of the crew toiled at the ropes, nor slumbered upon the deck. The tall mast where Melcior had posted a sentry swayed gently with the river current, devoid of occupant. The rowers’ benches sat as empty testament to the missing crew.
Hurrying to the ship, Sabit found a few signs of struggle—a small spatter of fresh blood, a single fresh knick in a wooden gunwale—but not nearly the carnage that the entire crew would have left behind if they all had been taken by force.
Desperate for answers, Sabit seized a rope and began to climb the mast. The height would give her the best view into the city. She had barely begun her ascent when some vile insect stung her neck. Slapping at the pest with her free hand, Sabit’s fingers found a long, sharp wooden splinter with a fuzzy tuft on one end.
No, not a splinter. A dart.
Sensation faded rapidly from Sabit’s limbs. The sky above her seemed to spin as she fell from the mast.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Four

The chase had taken Sabit further afield than she had realized. Walking the deserted streets, she struggled to find familiar sights. Every collapsed building seemed to bear some depiction of Verq, patroness of justice—either in a bas relief carving, or a fully-sculpted form, or a faded painting of her sacred balance. Had Sabit passed this particular pile of rubble on her way from the docks? Or had it been that half-collapsed wall?
What sort of empty-headed fool would want to come to a place like this?
Allamu would. As she walked, Sabit reflected on the heated words that had passed between them days ago on the ship.

“The majesty of the Vertan courts of justice are sung of throughout the world,” Allamu had said when the ship had taken refuge from a sudden storm in the Vertan bay. “I long to see their grand spires, learn the wisdom of their magistrates, and taste their dark wine.”
“The city itself is two days upriver in the best conditions,” Sabit had countered. “These are unfamiliar waters to our captain and his crew, and dangerous. If we continue without stopping, we can reach Urom before winter squalls begin to blow. I swore to return you to your father’s court, Allamu. We must not stray from that goal.”
“If you had ever been to Urom, you would not be so driven to return to it,” Allamu said to Sabit with a dark gleam in his eye. Turning to address Melcior, the ship’s captain, and the seated rowers, he said, “What say you, fellows? Do we put out to sea and another week or three of rigging and rowing? Or do we make our way to the jewel of the west? Who has not heard tell of the fortunes won by strapping men in the forum of justice? Who has not longed to walk the colonnade of the scales and behold its wonders? Who is with me?”
The crew was with Allamu. The captain took Sabit’s part. At such an impasse, they placed their fate in an impartial arbiter: A flat bronze coin produced from Sabit’s pouch. The tossed coin spun in the breeze, glinting on its sunlit side and scowling on its shadowed face.
The city of justice prevailed.
Sabit had given Allamu four days of sullen looks as the ship made its way upriver. Despite the lack of other traffic and the decay of riverside watchtowers, Allamu was not dissuaded from his drive to see the city. The coin had vindicated his dream and he refused to be swayed. Before the ship could even be moored, Allamu had leaped to the abandoned dock and vanished into the crumbling streets of Vert.

A sudden chattering of monkeys drew Sabit from her reverie. Turning toward the noise, Sabit spied the mast of her ship on the far side of a decaying warehouse. With hope that Allamu had returned to the ship and to his senses, Sabit made her way toward the dock.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Three

Weaponless in a strange city, facing an unknown number of well-fortified defenders, Sabit’s most sensible course of action would be to withdraw. She ought to return to the dockyards, where the ship and crew that brought her to this place awaited her return. It was a prudent plan.
Instead, Sabit seized the iron grate with both hands. Screaming “Coward!” she pushed, pulled, and pried at the unyielding iron. Arms and legs, back and shoulders strained with effort.
The iron did not move so much as a finger width.
Pausing to draw breath for another assault, Sabit heard a grunt from the darkness on the far side of the iron grate. She leaped to the side, narrowly dodging her own spearpoint as it was thrust through the grate at the level of her gut.
Instantly, Sabit seized the spear’s wooden shaft and pulled. Its wielder in the darkness held firm, twisting the spear in Sabit’s grip. Her hands could not find solid purchase on the wet surface.
With all of her might, Sabit yanked again. There was a groan from within and a sudden downward force on the spear butt. The point ascended rapidly, jamming the wooden shaft between the bars.
The sound of snapping wood filled the doorway. In her hands, Sabit held her blood-covered spearpoint and little else. Less than a cubit’s length of the mesquite shaft remained attached to the black iron spearpoint.
A man’s cry for help came from deeper in the darkness. Sabit heard heated voices and hurried footsteps approaching. Her rage cried out for Sabit to stand her ground and face her foes.
Sabit looked at the broken spearpoint in her grasp and the archer’s blood staining her hands. Turning her back, she hastily made her way across the square and toward the dockyards.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: Two

The archer knew this city well. Even though her stride was shorter than Sabit’s, she held onto her lead as they zigzagged through the crumbled buildings and twisting alleyways of the once-grand city of Vert. Every time Sabit pulled close enough to seize her patched cloak, the woman would lurch through an adjacent archway or step over an unseen bit of rubble that caught Sabit’s shins and sent her staggering.
The brown skin of Sabit’s forehead shone with sweat by the time she came out of a maze of passageways to see her quarry dashing across a wide, open square. The archer had a substantial lead, but the spear woman broke into a sprint. Sabit drew closer to the cloaked figure.
Bounding off a fallen, broken statue, the archer suddenly leaped into the air, spinning to face her pursuer. Sabit saw that the archer’s bow was already half-drawn. The spear woman dove and rolled as an arrow whizzed past her head.
The archer kept running, her shout echoing across the empty square. As Sabit rolled to her feet and rejoined the chase, she spotted her attacker’s destination: a doorway on the far side of the square, covered by a grate of iron bars. At that moment, the grate opened from within. She could see that the archer would reach the doorway before Sabit could overtake her.
Shifting her stance, Sabit used the momentum from her sprint to launch her spear into the air. Although it had not been crafted as a javelin, the spear soared in a low arc. Sabit’s only weapon and the cloaked woman disappeared into the doorway in the same instant.
The iron grate closed, locking Sabit away from both of them.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Broken Justice: One

“Allamu!”
Sabit’s cry echoed through the labyrinthine expanse of abandoned stone buildings. Facades covered in cracks or ivy or both looked down upon the lone spear woman walking the empty street. To one side, a retaining wall had burst—rich soil sloped away from the crack, tangles of thornbush spreading from its surface. A score or more of tiny, grey birds chattered among the thorns—their harsh, sniping calls reminding Sabit of the last words she had exchanged with Allamu. Would those words of anger—cutting and hot—be the last she ever spoke to the man from Urom?
With an explosion of fluttering wings the birds launched into the air. Instinct heeding instinct, Sabit leaped in the same instant behind the remains of a collapsed stone column. An arrow buzzed through the air where Sabit had just trod, striking the ground a hand’s breadth from where she now crouched.
Making her way along the uncollapsed side of the retaining wall, Sabit peeked over the top. Huddled behind the thorns was a short figure in a heavily-patched cloak. Nocking another arrow, the cloaked figure raised her head above the thorns in search of her quarry.
Sabit worked her way quickly to the far side of the overgrown garden. She was nearly in position to hurl her spear at the attacker when the masonry beneath her sandals began to crumble. At the first sound of stone, the archer leaped the thorn bush and sprinted down the street. Sabit cleared the thornbush three heartbeats later.
The chase was on.

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked 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 or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/