Bazaar of Death: Twelve

“Allamu has secured a place in a large, well-guarded caravan headed for Urom,” Qaansoole said as Sabit savored a bowl of fragrant broth. “We have at least five days before they leave, so there is plenty of time to arrange provisions. One night’s reunion with an acquaintance of old will hardly delay our journey.”

The archer smiled kindly at Sabit. Her eyes held no hint of reproach. Yet, Sabit looked away quickly, her gaze sweeping over tidy chamber that Qaansoole’s relations had provided for the small group’s comfort. In the corner, Allamu listened closely to Qaansoole’s son, Qays, as the boy fought his way through the twisting vowels and consonants of a parchment held in his tiny hands.

Allamu had barely spared any vowels and consonants for Sabit since their belated meeting in the marketplace. His all-night vigil spoke to his loyalty, but was his silence a sign that that loyalty had been pushed too far?

“Why do you allow him to teach the boy to read?” Sabit asked Qaansoole.

“Despite my current relations with his father, Qays is of a royal line,” Qaansoole replied. “Allamu—also born a prince—says that good kings have many scribes to keep their books, but great kings rely on no one to learn whatever knowledge they will.”

Sabit stared at the back of Allamu’s head. “‘Knowledge’?” she spat out the word like a rotten apricot, the new scar on her wrist throbbing. “Reading leads to the ways of dark magic.” Allamu’s neck tensed, but he said nothing.

Sabit slurped her broth. Qaansoole mended a torn tunic. Qays’s reedy voice tripped over the words of an ancient poem. Time passed. Allamu said nothing.

“I am not going to Urom,” Sabit declared.

 

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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: Eleven

“What happened to you?” Allamu asked, rising from the dusty ground at the foot of the city wall. “We were to meet here at sunset. Are you hurt?”

Sabit opened her parched mouth to speak. What had happened to her? She had been in the bazaar. She had looked for provisions. She had met Kehnan. Had they gotten a drink? Sabit was so thirsty. The new, faded scar at her wrist burned like a flame as she struggled for the memory.

“I met an old friend,” Sabit said slowly, her tongue thick and clumsy in her mouth. There was a hole in her mind where the memory of last night ought to be. Not the fuzzy hollowness of half-recalled images and emotions that sometimes followed a night too deep in her cups, but a stark, yawning abyss, as if the hours had been cut from her soul with a knife.

“Old friends are a blessing,” Allamu said. “Why didn’t you bring her? Qaansoole’s relations are very accommodating.”

Why hadn’t Sabit brought Kehnan here to meet them? Why hadn’t she gotten the provisions she promised? None of it made sense. Her whole arm trembled with the pain at her wrist. Allamu’s questions only made everything worse.

When Sabit said nothing, Allamu continued, “I sat here all night waiting for you.”

“Then you are a greater fool than I thought you were,” Sabit spat.

Allamu’s face fell. He opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. Gesturing for Sabit to follow, he turned away from the gate, moving slowly, as if stunned in battle. The pain of Sabit’s wrist faded with the silence, as she focused on what lay before her. Turning away from the gate, she did not look back.

 

—–

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: Ten

A shaft of morning sunlight bathed Sabit’s closed eyelids in a scarlet glow, like the fire of a demon’s heart. Her head ached like a walnut about to crack. Every muscle throbbed as though she had pulled an elephant up a mountain. Her tongue was fused to the roof of her mouth, as dry as the salted meat she had seen in the marketplace.

The salted meat she had not secured. The promise to her friends she had tossed aside. The duty she had failed.

Forcing her eyes open, the sunlight assaulted her senses like a dagger in her head. Sabit found herself in an unfamiliar room, sparsely furnished. There was no sign of Kehnan. She dressed quickly, every motion wracked with stiffness and regret. Every movement brought a sharp pain in her wrist where a dark, faded scar Sabit had never seen before marred her brown skin. How could she have failed so badly?

Steeling herself for the pain, as before a battle, Sabit went out into the bright, sunlit street. She had no idea where Qaansoole and Allamu might be. They were all supposed to meet at the east gate at dusk—Allamu with news of transportation to Urom, Qaansoole with accommodations for their stay in Bahteel, Sabit with provisions for the trip. In her revelry with Kehnan, she had paid no mind to the setting sun. How long had they waited before giving up? How long until they knew her for the failure she was?

Sabit pushed through the crush of merchants and mendicants at east gate. She scanned the crowd despite the throbbing pain in her skull, and her heart. Curled into himself at the base of the wall, huddled into the last patch of morning shade, lay a dark-skinned man garbed in a tunic striped crimson and white.

“Allamu?” Sabit said.

 

—–

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: Nine

In the deepest reaches of the night, Sabit dreamt.

  • • •

A battlefield—littered with bodies, flowing with blood. The acrid tang of smoke. A vicious war-cry. Numberless ranks of foes. The taste of copper at Sabit’s lip. A brutal charge.

Everywhere, the dance of battle. Sabit’s spear—long and sharp and cruel. The iron tip piercing an enemy’s gut, another’s chest, another’s throat. Savagery on every side. Struggle at every turn.

Sabit, victorious against every foe.

Cheers from her fellows. Cheers from the carrion birds in the sky. Cheers from the dead at her feet. “Hail, Sabit! Hail, victory!”

The thrill of triumph—coursing through her every fiber, pulsing like her very blood. The scent of conquest in the wind. The color of mastery in the clouds. The rhythm of supremacy beneath her feet.

An old woman’s cackle.

All of it stripped away. Sabit—naked, worthless, alone.

  • • •

That night, she dreamt no more.

 

—–

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: Eight

The man in the cloak lunged at Sabit, his bronze blade whistling toward her throat. Sabit dropped to a crouch, the strike that sought to take her head sailing uselessly above. She punched the man in the side with a fury that sent him lurching to the ground, vomit spewing from his mouth.

Kehnan dodged his assailant’s first swing. Drawing his own sword, he lunged hard, his greater reach allowing his blade to cut a deep gash across the cloaked man’s chest. With a strangely gurgling cry, the would-be robber collapsed at Kehnan’s feet.

Sabit kicked her puking attacker, sending him rolling toward his fellow. The other man leaped over the fleshy form, bringing his bronze blade down swiftly toward Sabit’s head. With a serpent’s speed, she grabbed his arm with both her hands. His blade hovered a mere finger length from Sabit’s face. Twisting the man’s arm behind his back, Sabit pushed his face into the stone wall of the alleyway. He stubbornly clenched the knife in his fist. Sabit pushed harder. There was a crack and a scream. The knife clattered to the ground.

Kehnan faced the last attacker in the darkness of the alley. The cloaked figure bore two blades. While neither had the reach of Kehnan’s long, straight sword, together they wove a defense the bigger man could not seem to bypass. Metal clanged on metal as the two jabbed and parried.

Between exchanges, the two fighters studied one another’s movements, eyes alert to the slightest opening from their foe. A flash of moonlight. A small bronze dagger sunk deep in the cloaked figure’s eye. He dropped to the ground—a pile of dead flesh.

“He was mine, Mongoose!” Kehnan roared, turning to Sabit.

The spear woman was catching her breath, a smear of blood glistening on her cheek. “You were taking too long. The time for fighting is done.”

Stepping over the dead and the dying, Sabit threw her arms around Kehnan in a passionate kiss.

 

—–

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: Seven

“I have been dead these six years and never knew it,” Kehnan professed as he and Sabit wound their way through the tight alleyways of Bahteel. “I swear I have not felt my heart beat with the thrill of true life since we parted, Mongoose. But to see you make those blades dance again, it struck me alive as surely as you could strike me dead if you chose.”

“Ever the poet, Kehnan,” Sabit replied, leaning on a cool stone wall to keep the alley from spinning. She couldn’t remember how Kehnan had lost both his cloak and his shirt, but watching the pale moonlight fall across the knotted muscles of his back … pleased Sabit greatly. The spear woman had not heard the acclaim of raised voices for too long. She had not felt free of the burdens of duty—to the Prioress, to Allamu, to the champions, to her companions—in more moons that she could count. Exulting in her skill for the sake of no one else was more intoxicating than the mugs of beer she had downed.

There were other skills that Kehnan was versed in.

The shaft of moonlight showed only a thin strip of the alley, the rest as black as a beast’s gullet. Ahead of Kehnan, a cloaked figure appeared from the deepest shadows. Beside him, another stepped forward, a bronze blade in each hand. The moonlight could not cool the wicked edge of the blades’ reddish metal.

Behind Sabit came a voice. “Your coins. Now.” Behind her, two more cloaked figures approached. “Quickly, or you bleed.”

Kehnan looked to Sabit. He held his hands loose and far from his sides, but Sabit could see the battle-focus rise within him. She, too, tensed herself with every breath like a bow being slowly drawn to an archer’s cheek.

Sabit said, “I haven’t bled in a long time. Too long.”

 

—–

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: Six

The crowd roared as the thrown dagger sunk deep between the eyes of the dead boar’s head propped up on a table at the far end of the bar room. Kehnan raised his arms, beckoning the crowd to greater acclaim. The cheers rose to chanting as he lifted his mug to his lips and swallowed a long pull from his mug of millet beer.

Looking to Sabit, Kehnan said, “It is no shame to be bested by one as skilled as I, Mongoose. None will think less of you for yielding a contest you cannot win.”

Sabit smiled at the taunt and drained her mug. Rising to her feet, Sabit picked up two of the small, bronze throwing daggers that Kehnan had purchased for the contest. His coin had also paid for the beer and rescued the boar’s head from the butcher’s wife’s cook pot.

Holding a dagger in each hand, Sabit faced the target. Kehnan beckoned the crowd to still its shouts, a smile on his face. The tense silence hung in the air like pungent smoke of a censer.

Giving a sharp shout, Sabit hurled both daggers with phenomenal speed. In the same instant, each struck an eye of the beast, biting deep into its dead flesh.

For a moment more, the crowd was silent. Then, a cheer erupted, ringing from the low, wooden rafters. How could mere wood and stone contain such exultation?

Of all the cheering voices, Kehnan’s was the loudest of all. Even as the crowd rushed forward, he never took his eyes from 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: 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.

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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: 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.

 

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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/