Bazaar of Death: Five

Sabit looked askance at the muscular man before her. Unclenching his fists, he slipped the hood off of his head. A mane of thick, black hair covered his head, with a single streak of grey shooting back from the left temple. At the base of the streak, an ugly scar continued down his tan forehead, splitting his bushy left eyebrow in two. But his dark eyes flashing with pleasure, sharp cheekbones, and broad smile adorned with a single dimple on the right were indelibly burned into Sabit’s memory. “Kehnan! You’ve gotten old!”

The man laughed and threw his arms wide. “Bah! ‘Tis merely the curse of a scheming sorcerer. Pay it no mind.” Sabit embraced him. Kehnan was one of the few people Sabit had met who stood a full head taller than she, and the feel of his powerful arms around her was unique. It brought back the memories of their days together, and their nights.

“I never thought to see you again, Kehnan.” Sabit said, pulling away to look him in the face, even as her arms lingered on his shoulder and hip. “You were half a world away when we parted.”

“I am still the mercenary I always was, Mongoose,” Kehnan replied, his hands just as reluctant to leave Sabit’s skin. “You left the company to be guard dog to the Prioress of Ghabar, not to wander the bazaar of Bahteel all alone. What’s the matter? Didn’t she pay you enough?”

Sabit looked away to hide the sadness in her eyes. “Things did not end well in Ghabar.* And don’t call me ‘Mongoose.’”

“You live by the spear again?” Kehnan went on, his eyes alight with excitement. “The blessed beasts have smiled upon me. I am here looking to hire skilled warriors. My lord pays a fortune for fighting skill, and I have never seen a better warrior than you, Sabit. Not even me.” He grinned a grin that affected Sabit more than she would ever admit. “What do you say, Mongoose? Care to get rich for doing what you’re best at?”

 

———

*-Sabit’s time in Ghabar was detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

—–

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: 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?”

 

—–

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.

 

—–

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.”

 

—–

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.

 

—–

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—

 

—–

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-Two

“I’ll see you dead before you chain anyone else,” Sabit roared as she charged Baza, water flying from her strides like wings. With her spear point leveled at the slave-catcher’s chest, Sabit closed the distance in a matter of heartbeats.

Baza kept his gaze locked on Sabit’s eyes. At the last moment, he shifted his weight, stepping to one side of the thrust spear. Inside the reach of Sabit’s bloody, iron spear point, Baza moved quickly to strike—he held his tattooed hand at the ready, fingers cupped to wrap around the spear woman’s throat. He noted that a thick, silver necklace of many chains rested around that throat, its ornaments of seven-pointed stars something he had never seen before, bright against Sabit’s dark brown skin. He was ready to defeat her.

Sabit’s kick caught Baza solidly in the gut. Agony engulfed his world as he doubled over, staggering away from spear woman.

Sabit did not lose a moment pursuing her injured foe. Illi lay motionless, face down in the river. Planting her spear in the river mud, Sabit bent low to grab the massive man at shoulder and hip. Heaving with all her might, the spear woman began to roll his massive form onto his back, his insensate form heavy as a boulder. As Illi’s face broke the water’s surface, he gulped down a huge breath of air.

A streak of white-hot pain surged through Sabit as the third slaver’s whip cut a stripe across her back. Her hold on Illi faltered, and the big man slumped back into his prone position, his face again covered by the water.

Her face a mask of battle-fury, Sabit glowered at the slaver as she reached for her spear. Her hand found only air.

Sabit turned. Baza was upon her. He wrapped his right hand around her throat. Faded, blue tattoos writhed across his fingers with arcane might—like the surface of a lake churned by the feeding frenzy below the surface.

 

—–

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!”

 

—–

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

Illi was the first one into the river, trudging forward into the ford. Behind the mountain of a man came a long line of slaves, bound by thick ropes. Nearly two dozen shambled in bondage toward the water, Allamu and Qaansoole further back in line. Between them staggered the bandit that had kicked Qaansoole last night in the cave, his face a mess of fresh scabs.

The slavers clustered at the water’s edge, their whips ready to wrangle the mass of captives transitioning from the normal pace of the solid road to the careful step of fording the river. None of these rabble would be auctioned for their beauty, and the slavers were quick to remind their captives that they had no hesitation in using the whip.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky, a pleasant breeze cutting the heat of the afternoon. On the far bank sat a merchant wagon festooned with brightly colored flags and pale-faced teamsters dozing in the shade of a tall fig tree. The murmur of the wide, shallow river smothered all but the loudest birdsong from the wooded banks.

Illi had crossed a bit more than halfway when he stopped walking. The big man carefully knelt down in the shallow river and stooped low to drink from the cool, clear water.

“Get moving!” Baza shouted, wading into the ford toward the kneeling man. “You should well know that neither your girth not your stubbornness will save you from another drubbing at my hands. Surely Illi the champion does not thirst for another defeat?”

Illi turned his head to lock eyes with the bald slave-catcher, water streaming from his long, black beard. “Your wicked sorcery can knock me flat. Truth. So do it! Tap me with that devil-fist of yours and steal the strength from my body. Do it! See how much coin you can wring from my drowned corpse!”

Baza glared downstream at the big man. Even kneeling, he was nearly eye-level with the slave-catcher. Baza hefted his thin, wooden staff. “I have other ways of making you suffer, Illi. Get up before I have to—”

Baza pitched forward as a small stone struck the back of his head, leaving a bloody cut in his scalp. Off-balance, he turned to face upstream a mere moment before the boat bearing Sabit and Qays crashed into him.

 

—–

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.”

 

—–

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/