Pursuit: Eleven

“We don’t want any trouble,” Allamu said as the bandits herded their four captives through a narrow passageway between looming boulders. The path of mud-covered rocks sloped up, away from the river.

“You may not want it, but you’ve found it,” the shorter bandit said. He had a scar along the side of his face that ended in the scarred remains of half an ear on the right side.

One of us has found trouble,” Sabit growled as she ascended the slope at the head of the procession. Behind her came Qaansoole, then Allamu. The shorter bandit followed, his crossbow’s aim never straying far from the center of Allamu’s back. Behind him walked Qays, the taller bandit close on the boy’s heels. He had Qaansoole’s bow slung over one shoulder and Sabit’s spear over the other.

“What are your intentions?” Qaansoole asked as she climbed the muddy slope. She moved slowly, seeming to struggle with the slick surface. However, her careful footwork gave lie to the ruse, ensuring that she always had solid stone underfoot and was ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

“Our intentions don’t much matter,” the short bandit barked out. “It’s the intentions of the maimed scorpion that ought to worry you.” Both bandits shared a cruel laugh.

Sabit reached the top of the rise. On the far side of the ridge, a steep slope of loose pebbles fell away into dark hole in the ground, half again the size of a woman. The depression was like a massive funnel with a hungry maw in the middle.

Scattered around the edges of the funnel lay piles of bones. Amidst the heaps of deer ribs and sun-bleached antlers were mixed several long, straight thigh-bones and high-domed skulls that could be the remains of nothing but human beings.

 

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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: Ten

Exhausted from their desperate battle to escape the waterfall, Allamu and Qaansoole slouched in the little boat. Its squat shape had been pushed into the crevice behind the boulder, crowding the bandit raft to one side.

Sabit and Qays studied the collection of lashed-together logs covered with pitch that served as the bandit’s raft. The rough-cut logs turned up slightly at either end, giving the craft a broad, flat bottom. All the spaces between the logs were filled with thick pitch, leaving no opening that might conceal Sabit’s necklace. The only other feature was the two hand-carved paddles. Each had been sanded smooth and bore a carved image on the blade. Although each carving showed a unique artist’s talent, they both displayed a scorpion, tail raised to strike, displaying three jagged claws.

Sabit scowled seeing the carving. “What’s wrong with the picture?” Qays asked her as he held the other paddle in his two small hands.

“I have seen it before,” Sabit said, “and it has always brought me trouble.”

“I guess your luck holds true,” came a man’s gravelly voice from darkness within the deeper part of the crevice.

Two men emerged from the shadows. Their bodies wore the gauntness of poverty, covered by simple clothing threadbare and patched. Their pock-marked faces held eyes as cold as flint.

Sabit paid little heed to the men’s faces or raiment. She only watched the loaded crossbows they held, one trained on her, and one on Qays.

 

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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: Nine

The little boat hurtled toward the edge of the waterfall. Sabit plunged her branch into the river, but the bottom was too deep for it to find purchase. Allamu worked his makeshift paddle with all his might. Qays and Qaansoole leaned over the sides of the boat, clawing at the water with stark determination.

The waterfall loomed closer.

Sabit lifted her branch again to seek some solid surface to push off of. Something tugged, snagging on a poorly-cut offshoot. It felt thin and taut. Could it be a rope beneath the water, pulled taut in the current? It slipped off Sabit’s branch moments before she could bring it to the surface.

The roar of the waterfall was now too loud for speech. Sabit thrust the far end of her branch toward Qaansoole. The archer grabbed it. Holding tight to the branch, Sabit dove into the raging river.

The spear woman disappeared into the dark, choppy water. Moments passed. Allamu called out for her. The sound of the falls was deafening.

The branch went taut in Qaansoole’s grasp. The archer braced herself against the sides of the boat as it tipped sharply–the pole pulling it upstream while the current pushed it toward certain doom.

Sabit emerged from the water upstream. She held the branch in one hand, a thick rope in the other. Together, the crew pulled the little boat upstream. The rope led them to a shadowed crevice behind a large boulder, perfectly concealed from downstream travelers.

On the muddy ground within the crevice lay the bandits’ rough raft.

 

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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: Eight

Baza stooped low in the sheltered clearing not far off the road. Hidden behind the thick needles of a recently-toppled pine, the makeshift shelter was nearly invisible to travelers on the narrow country lane. Baza’s men, despite their years of tracking escaped slaves, had walked right past it.

“The mother and child slept here, beneath the thickest shelter of branches,” Baza said as he studied the patterns of the brown, dried pine needles. “The man lay against that rock, isolated and alone.”

Striding over to the clearing’s opening, Baza found several stones turned over. The dirt clinging to their tops was still damp. They lay near divots of dark, exposed soil, fresh trails of earthworms still visible in the rich earth. “Sabit, the strongest, slept here at the entrance,” Baza said, running his tattooed fingers through the pine needles. “She slept deep and heavy. Our pursuit taxes her strength. Thieves approached carefully—two of them, I’d say. They seized her bag and broke into a run in that direction. Sabit was hard on their heels. The others followed soon after.”

Baza dispatched one of his men to follow the obvious trail of broken branches and scattered underbrush that marked Sabit’s passage. The slave-catcher himself hurried back up to the winding road. Rushing past his men and their charges, he came to a hard turn in the road where it clung to the hillside. Standing on a rocky outcropping, Baza gazed out over the treetops to the river running through the valley. Cutting through the current was a small wooden boat with four occupants. The rowers fought their way through the rapids with hastily-cut tree branches.

Seeing the tall shape of the lead rower, Baza smiled. To himself, he whispered, “I’ve found you at last, 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/

 

Pursuit: Six

Qaansoole pulled the bow from her back. Nocking a wet arrow from her submerged quiver, the archer aimed at the approaching shape. Moving slowly through the reeds, it was nearly upon her. Her legs were still held fast in the thick silt of the riverbed. Qaansoole took aim, drawing the arrow to her cheek.

There was movement. Atop the shape, a head appeared, turned, looked at her.

“We found a boat, mother,” chirped Qays happily, climbing onto the prow of the small, carved boat gliding through the reeds. Qaansoole lowered her bow.

“It has some scratches and no oars,” Allamu said from within the boat, “but I don’t see any leaks.”

“Then we cut some branches for poles and give chase,” Sabit answered, approaching along the riverbank. “I will not let those thieves escape.” She braced her feet against a large rock and extended the butt of her spear to Qaansoole.

“They obviously know the terrain,” Qaansoole said, grasping the spear and slowly pulling herself from the river muck. “And they have such a lead on us that I doubt we’ll catch them. Why does the loss of such a bauble wound you so? You said you found that necklace by chance in a river.* Why not let chance deliver it into the hands of another?”

Sabit helped Qaansoole onto dry land, looming more than a head taller than the archer. “I protect that which is mine. No matter the cost.”

 

*-Sabit’s finding of the silver necklace is detailed in Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin.

 

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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: Five

Qaansoole climbed a large, gnarled birch tree, the smooth bark offering her hands and feet little purchase as she dangled over the water below. Bow strapped to her back and quiver of arrows by her side, the nimble woman made her way as high as the branches would allow. This tree grew at the curve of the river and offered the best chance to see further downstream, so long as the branches held. One hand grasping the smooth birch bark, Qaansoole leaned out into the void, poking her head through brilliant green leaves to survey the wide river below.

“They are heading towards the canyon, but are not within its mouth yet,” Qaansoole called down to Sabit, who stood, dripping, at the base of the tree trunk. “Their raft doesn’t look sturdy enough to withstand the rapids I see ahead of them.”

“The death of fools will do nothing to restore to me my property!” Sabit snarled. “Is there any clear foot path around the canyon?”

Qaansoole leaned out still further, craning her neck for a better view.

With a sudden crack, the branch beneath her feet gave way. Qaansoole plummeted downward. Instincts honed by a lifetime’s danger spurred her arms wide, her hands nimbly grasping branches wherever they came near. Although each branch snapped in turn, the archer managed to slow her descent before plunging into the water.

The near section of the river was slow-moving, nearly stagnant, and overgrown with a thick crop of reeds. Qaansoole tried to stand, only to find herself sinking hip-deep into the soft, black silt of the river bottom.

Looking around for Sabit, Qaansoole saw movement upstream. The rushes dipped and bent before a large, dark shape surging out of the shadows that clung to the shallows. The archer scrambled to reach the solid shore, but the silt held her fast. Qaansoole was immobile as the dark shape loomed closer and closer.

 

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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: Four

Sabit ran through the forest, the underbrush scratching at her long, brown legs and catching in the winding leather straps of her sandals. Pushing through the thick foliage, she dodged low-hanging tree branches and dashed over gnarled tree roots. Spear butt braced against the now-sharply slanting ground, the warrior woman scrambled down a steep incline toward the rushing sound of a river below.

Over the river’s churning noise rose the voices of several men, urging one another to their tasks. Sabit sped her descent through the thick flora of the river bank, even as the slope offered disaster with every step. The spear woman leaped from rocky outcropping to patch of slick mud to twisted tree root with the nimbleness of one born to the rough places of the world.

Bounding from the underbrush onto the very edge of the river, Sabit saw three men paddling a rough boat—barely more than a raft—into the center of the river’s channel. Their tattered clothes and and sun-leathered skin stretching taut over ropey muscles spoke of a hardscrabble life.

The raft was a full four fathoms from shore when Sabit spotted it. With no overhanging tree nearby to aid her pursuit, the spear woman plunged into the chill water and was soon waist-deep. Still several fathoms from the raft, Sabit pulled back her spear arm and took aim at her quarry.

The current spun the raft slightly. Sabit could target no more than two of the bandits with her spear. And then what? The third would make off with her spear as well as her precious silver necklace.

Eyes locked with a hate-filled glare at the receding raft, Sabit lowered her spear.

 

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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: Three

“Illi, I would not have figured you for the domestic life,” said Baza, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “How can you stomach the quiet after hearing the cheering crowds in the arena?”

“Those crowds only wanted blood and death,” Illi replied. The big man stepped closer to the slave-catcher, towering over his bald foe. “I have a life in this place. I’ll not let you take it from me.”

Baza lunged quickly, landing two closed fists to Illi’s knee at the exact spot he had hit during their battle in the Magistrate’s house.* The former champion staggered slightly, but refused to fall. With a wide, backhanded swing, he caught Baza under the ribs and sent him flying.

Quickly regaining his feet, Baza circled his massive quarry, looking for a way through Illi’s defenses. Baza struck several times, but Illi’s greater reach kept him from getting close, and the tall man’s solid bulk absorbed every punch that landed. Baza’s ribs and back ached from the strikes that Illi had already landed upon him.

With a loud shout, Baza launched himself at Illi’s throat. Ducking the former champion’s massive fist, he leaped into the air, hand outstretched.

Illi brought both arms in and wrapped them around Baza, crushing him against the broad expanse of his chest. “We will bury you with the other slave-catchers.”

“Not today,” Baza replied, his voice soft due to the arms squeezing the breath from his body. His right arm was still half-free, his hand near Illi’s throat. The arcane tattoos upon the hand began to roil across his flesh, thrumming with power. Even though his single hand could not span a third of the former champion’s neck, Baza laid his right hand on the big man’s throat.

With a sudden gurgle, Illi’s huge arms dropped uselessly to his sides. Baza stepped away from the big man as the former champion collapsed to his knees. Three heartbeats later, Illi fell to the ground, like a massive tree felled by a tiny axe stroke.

 

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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: Two

The three slave-catchers stayed the night at the crossroads house. They regaled the throng of local farmers and foot-weary merchants with tales of their dangerous exploits. Baza told of the time a wiry, young escaped slave had seized his then-long hair from behind. Lowering his collar, he revealed a thin, white scar along his throat—a constant reminder to keep his head shaved smooth and hairless.

“But what if one grabs you by those long mustaches?” asked one of the farmers.

Baza smiled. “If they do that, they aid me greatly. The bounty for an escaped slave is not reduced if I return them with only nine fingers.” He and his fellows laughed heartily at the joke.

Tafa, the daughter of the master of the house, winced at such a cruel jest. The round-faced young woman with soft, brown eyes, continued her duties in silence. She filled drinking horns and platters for Baza and his men without a flicker of complaint.

Early the next morning, as Taja returned from the well with two heavy buckets hanging from a yoke upon her neck, Baza came upon her suddenly. “You wear your hair as does a woman married but not yet a mother. Yet, I have heard no mention of your husband.”

“He has gone to the town to purchase supplies at the market,” Taja replied, bowing before the slave-catcher so she could shrug the yoke off her shoulders.

Baza stepped close and grabbed the yoke in the two places where Taja’s hands touched it, clamping her thumbs painfully to the smooth wood. Her face twisted in pain.

“I came through the town,” hissed Baza. “None there know you for a married woman. None of the regulars here will speak about your husband. You will show him to me!”

“He will show you himself,” came a voice from behind as a mighty blow landed on Baza’s back. The slave-catcher was thrown sideways, tumbling to the ground. As he rolled and regained his feet, he saw his attacker looming over him: A pale-skinned man, massive in size with a long, dark beard. His right arm bore a tattoo of Verq, the lady of justice.

 

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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: One

“You’re far from the first flesh-mongers to make their way through here,” the old man said to the three cloaked figures looming over him on the threshold of the common house. “A crossroads house like this sees all kinds.”

“What makes you think we are slavers?” asked the shortest of the figures.

“Your horses are weighed down with too much rope, but you’re too strong to be ropemakers. Your saddlebags smell of the leaves used to dim the senses and bank the fires of resistance in captives,” the old man said as stable boys unloaded the horses. “As I said, you’re far from the first, but be grateful you’re not the last lot to come through.”

“Why?” asked the short slaver. “What became of them?”

“They’re napping,” replied the old man with a wry chuckle. “Nearly a dozen of them—napping beneath the dirt behind the stable.”

The two shorter figures immediately produced weighted clubs from beneath their cloaks and stood on their guard. “You are unwise to threaten us, old man,” said the shortest.

“I do not threaten you,” the old man said, showing his palms to the cloaked figures. “I merely buried them. It was their own quarry that killed them. A small group of tough-looking travelers. Two women—one tall like a tree, one quick like a fox—and two men—one of noble bearing, the other like a mountain on legs—and a boy-child. The big one had a tattoo of Verq, lady of justice, along his right arm.”

The tallest of the figures pulled back his hood to reveal a clean-shaven head, keen eyes, and long, trailing mustaches. “Was one of them called ‘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/