A cacophony of buzzing insects, chirping birds, and screeching beasts assaulted the weary travelers from all sides. They walked without a word—neither the tall woman with spear in hand nor the older woman with bulging satchel on back mustered the energy to shout a conversation over the din. Above the twisted road and the hot, damp miasma that clung to it, massive trees stretched skyward with smooth trunks surging up from their broad, twisting root-mounds. Although their upper branches fell short of the firmament, their thick canopy of leaves served as a second sky, mottled green and brown with specks of dazzling white light. This leafy roof kept out the hottest of the sun’s fiery glare, but also trapped the noisy, thick, damp air within—the forest’s vast expanse feeling as close and sticky as the tiniest of rooms.
Many parasangs had Sabit and Verdandi walked, and many lay before them on the road ahead. Of such length was their journey that the twisting, punishing, seemingly-endless road itself had become a sort of home. Each morning, the road offered them a fresh vista with a familiar challenge. Each day their nourishment awaited the hunt along the road’s broad ribbon. Each night, the road guided them to their bed—or a stretch of ground that would serve the purpose. The spear woman, Sabit, could remember no other place that had so welcomed her footfall. If wise Verdandi knew a better home, she spoke not of it.
A dense knot of trees lay ahead—trunks and roots nearly growing together in verdurous congress. Dense ferns screened the base of the trees, casting shadows deeper than those of the canopy far above. The roadway narrowed between the trees, making a sharp turn to squeeze between two solid, curved trunks. With every step, the forest grew quieter. From the stand of close knit trees there came neither a buzz nor a chirp. It was silent in the midst of the noisy forest.
Verdandi made the turn first, her walking rhythm carrying her swiftly into the deepest shadows. Her head down, the older woman was nearly on top of the the figure in the middle of the road before she stopped her pace. Calloused bare feet, caked in mud stood before Verdandi. She slowly raised her eyes over well-muscled calves, thick thighs, and a skirt of antelope hide.
As she raised her gaze further, Verdandi saw only the stranger’s drawn bow—its obsidian-tipped arrow aimed right at her heart.
Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen 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 at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.