Bazaar of Death: Four

Sabit stumbled from the cool shelter of the tent into the sun’s harsh glare. The noise and the stench, even the weight of the crowd, were mere annoyances next to the weight of the older woman’s words. As a warrior, Sabit was well accustomed to her actions condemning her foes to a quick and bloody death. It troubled her deeply that her mere preference could wreak such an outcome on her friends.

So enrapt in her brooding was Sabit that her normally-nimble step brought her crashing into a passerby. A man’s roar of outrage brought the spear woman back to herself, even as she staggered against the wheel of a cart to keep from falling.

“You clumsy cow!” The stranger bellowed in a deep voice. At his feet, a cup leaked wine into the dirt. He wore leather sandals, the straps adorned with copper studs as they wound around his muscular legs. A heavy bronze sword hung from his belt, showing signs of frequent use. His sleeveless tunic was light blue, with a quickly-spreading stain of purple across his broad chest. Thongs of leather encircled his arms, accenting his mighty thews as he raised his fists in anger. The hood of his dark cloak kept his face covered in shadow.

Acting more from instinct than will, Sabit raised her hands defensively. Turning to face the man, she spoke. “There need not be violence here.”

“There will be a beating and then payment for my—” The man lowered his massive fists. “Sabit?”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Three

Sabit pushed aside the diaphanous drape of silk that covered the entrance to the older woman’s stall. Swirls in the fabric, dyed blue and green, tinted the sunlight a vividly aquatic hue. The cool, refreshing air within the little tent, rich with the scent of coconut, added to the sense of an oasis in the midst of the crush of the bazaar. As the drape closed behind Sabit, even the deafening hubbub of the marketplace faded to a distant murmur, like a gentle mountain stream.

“Sit, my savior. Sit and drink tea,” said the older woman, fussing with water and leaves, pots and cups.

Sabit had no time for niceties. She had promised to secure provisions. Her companions depended on her efforts. The spear woman took nothing more seriously than the weight of her vows.

Which is why it surprised Sabit to find herself settling into a soft, embroidered cushion on the floor of the tent. Never had such a small space felt so expansive as this little tent, free of the stench and tumult and crush of the city.

The woman in red poured two cups of black tea, as strong as it was hot. Sabit saw no stove, brazier, or even candle that might have served to boil the water.

Before she could enquire, the older woman spoke.

“Your wayfarings have taken you far. Farther than you ever expected,” the woman said as Sabit sipped her tea, savoring the full flavor, bitterness prickling along the insides of her cheeks. “Once, you were certain of your place in the world. Once, you had a hope that served your life as the South Star serves the sailor on the sea. Once, your future seemed like a well-known port, where arrival is a matter of effort and time.

“Now, you travel from place to place, because nowhere is your own,” the woman continued. “Now, your heart is empty of hope, like the sky on a cloudy midnight. Now, your future seems like one more burden you must bear on your way to the grave, like a shackle on your soul.”

Sabit drained the last of her tea. She lowered the cup, scowling at the older woman. “It is no magic to speak of such things. My clothes and accent mark me as a foreigner, and do not all travelers feel adrift at some point? Bring forth your three shells that I might find the hidden pea.”

The older woman smiled coldly and took Sabit’s empty teacup. Studying the leaves clinging to the bottom, she spoke, her voice becoming deeper and softer. “You will not find what you seek in the mountains of Urom. You have sacrificed much for a man from that city—no, not just a man, a son of the royal house. Despite the blood you have shed for him, he still keeps a heavy secret from you. But his is not not the only road before you. A flame that has not burned in years will kindle once more, illuminating another path before you. You know that road, and walk it well. Where it leads has not changed. The choice is yours. Choose wisely. The death of one you hold in your heart hangs upon your decision. Which man will you follow? Who will die and who will live is up to you, Sabit.”

Sabit was so stunned by the detailed prediction, she barely noticed that she had never given the older woman her name.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: Two

“You will suffer for what you’ve done, witch!” bellowed the man in threadbare robes. He faced a small woman of matronly years, wearing a dress the color of blood. She kept her chin high, her piercing gaze unafraid of his threats, even as another man—bearing a family resemblance to the first—loomed behind her, blocking her escape.

“I only kept the bargain your father made to me,” the woman said calmly as the crowd stepped back from this loud confrontation.

“You deal in curses, not bargains!” the man roared. He drew a long, curved knife from his worn, leather belt.

Sabit pulled herself out of the crowd and stepped in front of the small woman. “Two armed men against a lone woman. What a display of the bravery of Bahteel.”

“This is not your fight,” the man with the curved knife said, his voice high-pitched with barely contained fear. “It is a family matter.”

Behind Sabit, the older woman let out a sharp cry of pain.

Sabit spun around, kicking high. The thick sole of her sandal found the temple of the other man, twisting the older woman’s arm behind her back. Sabit was facing his brother again before he crumpled to the ground. With a strangled cry of fury, the man swung his knife in a deadly arc toward Sabit’s throat. Leaning away from the sharpened bronze as it whistled past, Sabit grabbed the man’s elbow. Pulling him sharply forward, she threw him to the ground. A quick blow to the face sent the man to the dust of the bazaar, unconscious.

“It is not everyone who would help a stranger such as I. I owe you much for your help today,” the red-garbed woman said as Sabit surveyed her fallen foes. The woman’s eyes glinted with something darker than a shrewd gaze. “And I always pay my debts.”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Bazaar of Death: One

Sabit hated crowds. The press of unwashed bodies, the stench of human sweat, the unrelenting din of mindless chatter assaulted the spear woman’s senses on every front.

Pushing her way through the grand bazaar of Bahteel, Sabit struggled to keep her revulsion under control, like a murderous beast on a short tether. If she caught another cutpurse making a grab for the pouch of pebbles that hung from her belt as a distraction, Sabit was not certain if she could keep herself from bringing the thief to a violent end right in the midst of the bazaar.

Even without her spear in hand, Sabit’s height and sure-footed warrior’s stance persuaded many in the crowd to give her a wide berth. Even with this deference, the press of humanity was too much for Sabit’s liking.

Pushing past a throng of women haggling over bloody scraps of goat, Sabit focused on her task. Securing of provisions for their trip had fallen to her. Qaansoole had friends in Bahteel, so she was arranging accommodations for their stay in the city. Allamu knew the roads they would need to travel on their way to Urom—the city where his father ruled as king—so he had taken charge of securing their transport. The duty made sense, but Sabit hated shopping.

Ahead, she spotted a stall displaying long strips of meat drying in the sun’s fierce heat. Preserved meat would be vital nourishment on their long journey to Urom, and the specs of coarse black pepper adorning their surface spoke to the quality of the jerky. Sabit wove through the crowd toward the stand.

Among the animated, babbling crowd, Sabit did not notice the hooded figure whose eyes followed her every movement through the Bazaar.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bazaar of Death 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/

Pursuit: Twenty-Three

The fabled tattooists of Utretope demand payment both excessive and exotic for their services. Baza the slave-catcher had never once regretted the years of labor and fortunes of gold they had required of him. Even the scars upon his soul he had considered to be a worthwhile investment for the boon of that tangled mass of blue lines inked into the flesh of his right hand. For nearly a decade, over dozens of hunts, not a man nor a woman nor a beast had Baza ever faced who could resist the debilitating touch of his right hand.

Until today.

Just like always, Baza felt the cold thrill of the tattoo lines roiling beneath his skin. Just as always, he felt the warmth of his victim’s life force flare beneath his palm—fluttering and delicate like a caged songbird.

Unlike every other capture he had made, the seven-pointed stars upon Sabit’s silver necklace all flashed in the sunlight at the same moment. The sparks of light seemed to pierce Baza’s hand. The pain was like grabbing a handful of stinging nettles. Baza screamed.

Sabit’s fist landed squarely on the slave-catcher’s jaw, ending his awareness of the pain. Baza fell into the water, as unmoving as a felled tree.

The last slaver had fallen beneath Qaansoole’s kicks, despite the archer’s arms still being yoked to a branch. Allamu, wrists still bound together, had clambered into the boat with Qays and was working the makeshift paddle to steer it out of the current. Sabit labored to roll Illi on his back, rewarded with the sound of his deep, steady breathing.

In the aftermath, ropes were cut and captives were freed. The bandits chose to withdraw quickly and quietly, rather than test the mettle of Sabit and her allies. The other former captives huddled around Allamu and Qaansoole, unsure of how to proceed.

When he recovered his strength, Illi hauled the slavers’ bodies onto the shore, piling them up to be burned. Sabit paddled the boat far downstream, eyes constantly vigilant. By the time nightfall caused her to call off the search, she had found neither body nor trail of the the slave-catcher known as Baza.

 

—END—

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/

 

Pursuit: Twenty-One

The slavers on the shore turned to see their leader collapse into the water beneath the newcomers’ boat. Qaansoole capitalized on their lapsed attention to kick the nearest slaver in the knee. Before he could recover his balance, the scab-faced bandit was upon him, swinging his bound fists to strike the slaver in the jaw. The other captives surged toward their captors, a mob of pent-up fury.

Three of the slavers waded quickly through the water toward the boat, whips at the ready. Illi seized the craft, holding it steady in the shallow river current despite his still-bound wrists. From the boat sprang Sabit with the grace of a panther. Her spear held high, she drove its iron tip deep into the nearest slaver’s chest. Landing with a splash in the shallow water, Sabit yanked the spear free of the man’s falling body.

As Sabit raised the red-stained spear point toward the other two slavers, the bearded one lashed out with his whip. A loud crack split the air as the leather whip wrapped tight around her spear’s wooden shaft. The man revealed a silver tooth as a cruel smile spread across his face. He yanked hard on the spear.

Sabit leaped forward at the same instant, lifting the spear butt high into the air before releasing it. The force of the whip yanked the spear straight toward the slaver, its sharp metal point careening into his throat. He fell into the river, his lifeblood flowing away with the current.

Behind Sabit came a loud splash and a child’s cry. Turning, Sabit saw the boat floating downriver, Qays shouting and pointing. Illi lay slumped in the water, unmoving.

Over the massive body of the former champion stood Baza, his thin staff at the ready. “Sabit, I must thank you for not dying. You have so much more value alive. My buyer is offering half your weight in gold to see you in chains!”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/

Pursuit: Eighteen

The sounds of the forest settled over the funnel-shaped pit of loose stones. The churn and rumble of the water over the falls. The calling of birds seeking mates.The creaking of trees flexing with every shift in the breeze.

Qays had listened to the quiet sounds for two hundred breaths after the last human voice had faded to silence. The boy had expected his mother to have called for him much sooner. He didn’t like the thoughts that kept filling his head of what he might find. There had been talk of a slave-catcher and Sabit’s death, and Allamu’s fall. What if—?

Scowling with determination, Qays forced himself to crawl out of the tight crevice where he had wedged himself.

Slowly making his way back to the pathway, Qays found a tangle of many footprints. Most of them headed up the muddy slope that he had seen Sabit climb just before he had slipped away from the bandits. At the base of the slope were the sure signs of struggle—footprints and some drops of blood. One of his mother’s arrows lay broken in the mud. Behind a large tuft of grass, Qays found Sabit’s spear lying on the ground, longer than he was tall.

The sound of rocks scattering silenced the birds. Qays looked around, but there was no sign of movement. The clatter of pebbles came again, and a grunt of frustration. The sound was coming from beyond the top of the slope.

Qays knew he ought to run and hide. That was what his mother had taught him. But what if she needed his help?

Sabit’s large spear in his small hands, Qays made his way up the slope. Peeking over the ridge, he saw a depression like a funnel, covered with loose pebbles. At the bottom of the funnel, emerging from a gaping hole in the ground, was a tall woman with brown skin. She wore a silver necklace around her neck, glinting in the sun. The woman struggled to find a handhold in the loose gravel on the slope. Every time she started to climb up, the pebbles slid out from beneath her.

“Sabit!” Qays cried out. “The slave-catcher said you were dead, but he’s gone now. So is mother and Allamu and the bandits. I have your spear.”

The spear woman looked up at the boy. “Well done, Qays. Run down to the boat and fetch that coil of rope I keep in my pack. I protect that which is mine. No matter the cost.”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/

Pursuit: Seventeen

Baza the slave-catcher found himself at a dead end. The two large boulders that had offered him shelter from Qaansoole’s arrow leaned close together—too close for his muscular shoulders to fit through.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he pushed against both boulders with al his might, pulling himself off the ground. Using the slightest textures in the rock face as holds for his hands and feet, Baza climbed between the boulders.

Below him, Qaansoole rounded the corner just as he had reached the top of one of the rocks. With a mighty heave, Baza hauled his body over the edge as Qaansoole’s arrow whizzed through the air he had occupied a heartbeat earlier.

Atop the mound of boulders, Baza had a better view of the area, but no way of catching sight of Qaansoole. Keeping his head low to stay out of the range of her deadly arrows, Baza moved across the boulder field away from the river. The climbing was rough—made doubly so by the need to stay silent and to prevent his shadow from falling across any rocks that Qaansoole might see from her position below.

Soon enough, Baza perched atop the last large boulder before the long, muddy slope. Allamu lay on the ground below him, barely a fathom away from the bottom of the boulder.

For a moment, Baza strained his ears, but he could hear no movement. Qaansoole was too skilled for that. Picking up a small stone, Baza hurled it at Allamu, striking the unconscious man in the chest. Allamu let out a groan of pain. Waiting a few moments, Baza threw another stone and was rewarded with another loud protest.

A moment later, Qaansoole emerged from among the tangle of boulders, cautiously making her way toward Allamu. Leaping from the rock, Baza dove toward the archer. At the last moment, Qaansoole turned. Without a moment to aim or fire, she raised her bow to deflect the momentum of Baza’s dive. She succeeded—barely. The slave catcher landed in the mud at her feet, rather than on top of her.

Before Qaansoole could leap away, Baza grabbed her ankle. The faded, blue tattoos upon Baza’s hand rippled across the skin of his fingers like a writhing ball of serpents.

Without a sound, Qaansoole dropped to the ground, her bow falling away from her insensate fingers—useless.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/

Pursuit: Sixteen

Qaansoole moved swiftly, but did not hurry. Her senses—honed over a childhood spent hunting game both large and small—swept over every pebble and blade of grass as she moved along the rough pathway between boulders. Although Qays was a different quarry than she was used to, and this a far different place than her forestland home, her son was far more difficult to track. Qaansoole had taught the boy the ways of trailcraft since he could walk. She had faith that her son had concealed himself somewhere quite safe until he was certain the danger had passed. Qaansoole continued toward the river—her bow nocked, but held loosely in both hands—checking that there were no other bandits concealed between the massive stones.

A scattering of pebbles drew Qaansoole’s attention. To the left side of the path, a small, dark opening could be seen between two towering boulders. Squatting before the opening, Qaansoole gazed into the inky shadows within. “There you are,” she whispered.

With a single motion, Qaansoole pivoted her body sharply and drew her arrow to her cheek. Barely four cubits behind her stood a slave-driver wielding a thin wooden staff. Qaansoole’s arrow did not waver from targeting his heart as she spoke. “I’ve seen you before. You’re one of the mercenaries from Vert. What are you doing here?”

The bald slave-catcher smiled, his twin mustaches twitching with the motion. “At the moment, I am mourning the death of Sabit.”

Qaansoole scowled. Without warning, the slave-catcher threw his staff at the archer, while at the same instant leaping behind an outcropping of rock.

Qaansoole’s arrow flew, shattering against the surface of a boulder.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/

Pursuit: Thirteen

Baza the slave-catcher carefully made his way through the bandit camp, picking his way between the rough lean-tos of logs and branches. He had heard from whispers at the common house that there was a small pack of bandits, harrying lone travelers in this parts, but Baza had expected better than this savagery if they were giving trouble to Sabit. He hoped that she had not killed too many of them, as even bandits would fetch a few bronze gersh at the slave markets of Bahteel.

Shouts from nearby drew Baza’s attention, and he made his way swiftly along a narrow path out of the bandit camp. The path led along the side of a hill, and to a rocky outcropping that overlooked the river valley. The expansive vista would give the bandits a view of the main road leading to Bahteel, and significant warning of any travelers on the far side of the river.

Another shout echoed from very close by. Suddenly a crossbow bolt lodged in a tree within arm’s reach of Baza’s head. Looking to the bolt’s source, he saw two bandits locked in combat with two others. The slave-catcher immediately recognized Qaansoole—the former champion of the forum of justice was empty-handed, but her whirling, leaping attacks kept her spear-wielding opponent on the defensive, driving him back. The other man must be Sabit’s lover, swinging an antler like a sword to keep his foe at bay.

But where was Sabit?

Baza approached the struggle, keeping out of sight as much as possible. A panicked scream called him toward a ridge next to several piles of bones. Looking over, he saw a depression like a funnel, the slopes of loose pebbles giving no purchase to the two figures rapidly tumbling toward the dark hole at its bottom. A man in leather pants and an ill-fitting silk tunic fell into the hole with a panicked scream.

A moment later, he was joined in the inky depth by the falling body of Sabit.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Pursuit 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/