Sabine of the Ten Rings: Birds Not of a Feather, Part One

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** Sabine hugged a warm coverlet close to her body as she nuzzled into the pillow under her head. She didn’t exactly

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.

***

Sabine hugged a warm coverlet close to her body as she nuzzled into the pillow under her head. She didn’t exactly remember where she had fallen asleep the night before, but wherever was vastly more pleasant than her tiny, stiff cot at the Stubborn Ass. Had she finally gotten a promotion, with the benefit of better sleeping quarters? Was one of her clients especially generous with travel expenses? Or, dared she to wonder, would she open her eyes and learn the last three years had all been a bad dream? Would she rise in her old bedchamber as the maid brought breakfast and run downstairs with tears in her eyes to embrace her mother and father as they wondered just what kind of nightmare she’d awoken from? Sabine laid still and dared to hope.

Then there came a great, soggy snore. She opened her eyes to an obese, naked man with nose hairs so long and thick, she mistook them for a mustache. An inch from her face he let out another snort and her nostrils were assailed by the pungence of garlic, pickled fish, and stale beer. A bit of the stink made it into her mouth and declared war upon her tongue. After a moment’s reflection, she became acutely aware of a soreness along her backside this man was surely to blame for as well. With a fumble, she discovered one of her knives had ended up pressed against a buttock all night. She’d been aware of him for mere moments, and this man had offended all five of her senses.

Finally, you’re awake! Dahkhal said. Because I can’t wait to get back to hassling you about this fine catch of yours.

Sabine groaned and rolled toward  the bedside table. Alcohol would have been a solid excuse, but she was too experienced to give that alibi. She’d been married to ten different men, and knew the passion of the honeymoon with nine of them (husband number seven was the exception she didn’t linger on). So, despite her noble breeding, Sabine was no stranger to carnality. Sometimes she didn’t want love, intimacy, or breakfast in the morning—she knew their highs and lows all too well—she wanted to let loose. And after weeks of the plague robbing her of human touch, anyone who didn’t complain about her lobster breath would do. Including, it seemed, the butcher, Jas of Great Mass.

She’d first slipped off the ring that held Dahkhal as he began chanting tunes to the rhythm of her bedmate’s thrusts. As a later convenience, her other rings followed. The big man who’d claimed Sabine’s dignity yawned, rolled again, and opened one eye to look at her.

With a toothy grin, Jas asked, “How was last night?”

“It, uhh…” Sabine struggled with just how much apathy she should show him as she slipped her rings back on. “It most certainly happened.”

“You want anything to eat?” He stood up and stretched his bulk. “Got plenty of meat in the larder, and my wife’s got these eggs—”

“Your wife?” Sabine scowled. “You didn’t tell me you were married. Did you just use me to have an affair?”

“Oh it’ll be fine.” Jas tried to wave concern away like a fly. “Her sort believes in unconditional love and  and all that.”

Sabine wrinkled her nose. “That’s worse. Why didn’t I see you wearing a wedding ring?”

“I left it on the bedside table before I went to the Ass.” He stepped toward the window.

The mercenary wiped a hand across her face and considered just how much place she had to tell him off. Their encounter was more stomach-turning the longer she brooded over it. She couldn’t decide whether to erupt or retreat.

From the ground floor came the sound of an opening latch and a, “Honey, I’m home!”

“Aw damn,” the fat man said. “She’s back early.” Sabine considered for a moment whether to go down and tell the poor woman what had happened while Jas kicked aside a rug and lifted a metal ring up from the floor beneath, which reveled a trapdoor. “This chute leads down to my slaughterhouse in the basement. You can wait down there until she leaves. Hurry it up, the wife’s a real harpy when she gets going.”

Sabine almost picked a fight over how dismissive his comments seemed toward her sex, but, “This happens a lot?” came out instead.

“Sure does. Come on now.”

With another wrinkle of her nose, Sabine stripped his bed of its sheet. “Forget that, I’m not hiding in your carcass basement.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“You don’t get kidnapped as many times as I have and not know how to make a quick bed sheet rope.”

Watch out below, make sure there isn’t a moat of bunyip out there.

“Did you see a moat full of bunyip when we came in? Besides, that’s a mistake you only make once.”

The butcher tilted his head in confusion. “Bunyip? Moats? What now?”

“I’m talking to my jellyfish, quit cheating on your wife!” Sabine secured the sheets and leapt out the window.

***

Hours later, Sabine sat alone and bored at her table in the Stubborn Ass. She’d seen a few jobs and raised some gold since the Ableman Apple Farm, but the bar’s mercenary scene had grown competitive again after the plague was settled. And no matter her accomplishments, she simply didn’t have the experience or muscle mass of most of the other hit men around her.

You need to go on one of those gladiator diets Dahkhal said. Or start selling your body in other ways. I mean, if you’re going to do horrible things like you did last night, you may as well get paid for them.

She considered shaking his ring around, but decided that would be letting Dahkhal win. So she sat and waited, as she always did, for someone both poor and desperate enough to seek her services.

“Attention! Every mercenary and sell-sword in this bar, attention! I have a job that needs done.”

Sabine and a few of the other particularly strapped mercenaries turned to look toward the speaker—more experienced freelancers preferred their clients come to them. When she got a good look, Sabine flinched. There was no two ways about it—she had the head of a vulture and great black wings. Not a metaphor either, her visage was the fleshy, bald, wrinkled, beaked head of a vulture atop a woman’s shapely body.

Sabine’s jaw dropped in bewilderment and, unintentionally, she wondered aloud, “What the hell is that?”

A harpy, Dahkhal said. Or maybe a fury… I never could tell the difference.

“What?” Sabine leaned down and whispered into her ring finger. “But I thought harpies were, I don’t know… hot? By someone’s standards at least?”

There are as many types of harpies as there are birds. Owl harpies, penguin harpies, emu harpies—

“I come to avenge the honor of my house,” the bird-woman said. “My husband—my beloved husband—was seduced by a vile seductress, and I seek retribution for this vile slight.”

Uh, Sabine? From the tone of Dahkhal’s voice, Sabine drew out the implication with a sinking heart.

Though only perhaps half of the tavern gave her any mind, she went on. “The little temptress thought she could escape without my knowing, but—”

“Oi, bird woman.” Slizzer laid a large platter of raw, bloody strips of meat on the bar. “Your carrion plate is up.”

“Thank you, sir,” the harpy said, her tone one of genuine thanks before she turned back to his patrons. “As I was saying—the strumpet left this on my nightstand!” She raised a hand into the air.

Sabine flinched at the sight and looked down at her right hand. On her right pointer finger was a golden band she’d never seen before. And in the harpy’s talons was, unmistakably, the cobalt gemmed ring from her eighth marriage.

“I can forgive my husband for anything… but his mistress!” The harpy darted down, tore into the plate of organs Slizzer had set before her, and came up with a line of intestines in her beak. “I want her brought in alive, so I can repay her myself!”

Since the ten rings were the only thing of worth on Sabine in a backwater bar like the Stubborn Ass, they drew a lot of attention. She’d made them her calling card when she joined the mercenary guild for that very reason. And if one of the bigger, tougher, monsters of men she worked alongside recognized that piece of jewelry, they’d come right at her. She needed that job, later impossible details be damned.

To Be Continued…

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