A Bandit's Tale: A Savaad Story
Diogo opened his eyes and attempted to scratch an arm that was not there. He jumped up in his straw bed, looked to his left and cursed. It was the dream, the same damn dream he had for going on five years. The smooth stump that remained of his left arm was still there despite the clarity of his bedtime wish. He rubbed his stubbled chin with his right hand, his only hand, and tumbled out of bed. At least there was work to do, if babysitting the feed store in town could be considered work. He went out back and washed his face in the rainwater barrel then ambled over to the shed behind his house. There was no need to dress; he'd fallen to sleep in his clothes after a long night of drinking and telling lies with his old mates. Two Fingers, the shopkeeper, didn't care what he looked like as long as he came to work and kept the petty thieves out of his shop. Despite his limitations Diogo was still a good swordsman, better that most in the Valley, and there was no one better at intimidation. He used to be a bandit; intimidation was part of his talent.
By sunrise he'd saddled his mule and rode into town. The streets were busy with early shoppers gathering food for the morning meal. Diogo rode to the feed shop, tethered his mule and entered the ragged establishment.
"You're late!" Two Fingers shouted. He was a tall, bad-tempered Unicoi Cherokee and one of the richest men in town. He marched up to Diogo, wringing his hands on his apron.
"I lost three bags of feed because of you, three! I turn my back for one minute and those bastards stole them that quick!"
Diogo shrugged. "Give me their names and I'll bring back your feed...and their hands."
The shopkeeper's face shagged. "No violence, at least not like that. The Savaads would hang us both."
The name Savaad sent a tingle through Diogo's stump. "We don't want them involved," he agreed. "How about we just consider this a loss?"
Two Fingers nodded. "Don't be late again. Not many people in this town would hire a one arm bandit."
Diogo took up his post just outside the shop entrance. The mention of the Savaads was still bothering him by day's end. He would have to meet with his friends that night for more drinking. Some memories needed soaking with whiskey to stay in hidden away.
Diogo went directly to the longhouse after sundown. Two Fingers paid him a day wages minus the hours he missed, enough to buy a decent meal and a few beers, as long as his friends didn't show. The longhouse was a short ride from the feed store and just before the main marketplace. Aromas of fresh cooked meat and vegetables usurped the normally pungent odor of the village and his stomach growled. He reached the sturdy pine building famished.
"Diogo!" His friends sat at their normal table the fireplace with one noticeable addition. There was food on the table, lots of it, and pitchers of beer as well. The source of such bounty stood with a ragged smile on his bearded, umber face. Diogo experienced his first genuine smile in days. His best friend, Sitewu, had finally returned.
"What the hell are you doing still alive?" he shouted as he charged the table. The two met and hugged, smacking each other's back.
"You always said I was too ugly to die," Sitewu answered. "I guess you were right."
Another man stood; his chubby brown face bordered by black hair that cascaded to his shoulders.
"You never greet us like that," Inola argued.
"I see you scum every day."
Another man, a pale fellow with thin red hair and too many freckles barked out a laugh.
"Better us than the devil!"
He sat with his companions, taking the seat by Sitewu.
"So, the army is back?"
Sitewu drained a gourd of beer. "Back and victorious."
"Who would have believed the Savaads would take down the Empress?" Inola said.
"I damn sure wouldn't have," the red headed man said.
"Of course, you wouldn't, Sean." Diogo joined his friend with a beer.
Sean sucked his teeth. "If those Bucadans hadn't arrived with those damn machines the Savaads would be feeding the worms."
Inola tore a leg off the huge hen steaming before them. "Speculation, my friend. The fact is they won. We'll all be the better for it.”
Diogo was reaching for the bowl of collards when a sharp pain laced his left stump. He grimaced and grabbed at where his arm used to be.
"What's wrong?" Sitewu asked.
"Hell if I know," Diogo replied.
The door to the longhouse swung open again and Diogo turned instinctively. Three men entered and the patrons fell into shocked silence. Diogo knew now why his arm ached. The first man was a giant, ducking his head as he entered. He pulled back his hood to reveal a youthful face draped by beaded braids. Samoht Drachir Savaad was the magic man of the Savaad clan and now Grand Wizard of the Empire after his defeat of Arr in that invisible realm known as The Fabric. He barely acknowledged the patrons as he lumbered to the bar. The man behind him took in the sights before him, especially those of the women and barmaids. A brilliant smile creased his face and winked.
"A good evening to you all!" he shouted. Velesoor Savaad was a jovial spirit and a ladies’ man. It was he who traveled to Bucada, repeating a journey he and Samoht had taken months ago and returning with the army that turned the tide against the empress. His cheer broke the trance among the patrons and the murmur of conversation returned, although muted. The third man entered and Diogo's arm burned like fire. He was the shortest of the three though by no means a stunted man. His hard muscles were obvious despite his cloak and the grin on his face seemed forced. The braids on his head were drawn up into a war tail, the black, red and green beads a symbol of his high rank. He was Naheem Nhoj Savaad, leader of the Savaad Clan, Common Lord of Savaadu, and victorious leader over the Empress. He was also the man who took Diogo's arm.
Diogo watched Naheem's eyes scan the room then meet his. The Savaad hesitated and Diogo thought he saw recognition in the warrior's eyes. He quickly dismissed the thought; it was long ago and a messy, confused confrontation.
"Diogo, are you okay?"
Diogo responded to Sitewu's concerned tone. "I'm fine, friend."
"We can leave if you wish."
Diogo looked at his friend. Sitewu was the only one at the table who knew. It was because of Sitewu that he sat at the table, stump and all.
"No, we can stay. I'm fine."
"I wonder what the hell they're doing here," Sean commented.
Inola brushed his hair from his shoulders. "Yeah, you would think they'd be sitting at some rich man's table drinking fine ale."
"Not them," Sitewu replied. "The Savaads are like us. I don't mean exactly like us, but they don't care for those fine things. They're hard working folks and respectful people. Naheem walked the camps every night during the march, talking with the men and eating with them, too."
"He was just putting on a show," Sean grumbled. "Had you bastards eating out of his hand he did."
Diogo said nothing. The pain in his stump was excruciating. He feared if he opened his mouth, he would release a painful moan. He was about to excuse himself when Sitewu’s exclaimed.
"Shit! He's coming over here!"
Diogo snapped his head up. Naheem Savaad was walking to their table, his eyes on Diogo. His hand sought his sword hilt, why he did not know. He would be dead before he could clinch is fingers. Naheem stood before him, his face stern.
"I know you," he said.
Diogo clinched his teeth, biting back the pain before speaking. "Your mistaken, sir."
Naheem folded his arms across his chest. "No, I'm not. I did that to you."
He nodded his head toward Diogo's stump. Anger and resignation rose in Diogo's throat.
"Yes, you did," he hissed.
"You and ten others were stealing our cattle," Naheem continued. "We ambushed you crossing Cane Creek."
An image came to Diogo's mind. He rode with the Toril gang then, a clan known for livestock rustling. One day they got the notion they were good enough to steal from the Savaads.
Diogo said nothing. Sitewu stood, drawing Naheem's attention.
"Lord Savaad, I am Sitewu Ohura. I marched with you to District."
Naheem nodded and smiled. "I'm grateful for your service. I hope you were compensated well?"
Sitewu swept his hand over the table. "Yes sir, I was."
"Good. Diogo, come with me."
Inola and Sean began to rise but Naheem held up his hand.
"You are valiant but I mean your friend no harm. Besides, you know how this would end."
Inola and Sean sat down, their expressions showing their relief. Naheem place his gaze on Diogo. Diogo's stump burned like fire.
"Will you come with me?" Naheem asked.
Diogo's shoulders slumped. "Yes, I will."
Diogo followed Naheem to the tavern door. The other Savaad, the big one in the cloak, got up from his seat and came as well. The pretty boy looked and them, frowned, and then continued his flirtations with a comely waitress. Naheem continued to walk once they were outside. Diogo turned cold when he saw their destination, a dark alley behind a row of shops. He thought briefly of escape but the big man was closing the gap behind him, his pace accelerated by his wide strides. Naheem was deep within the alley before he stopped. Diogo felt the presence of the big man behind him.
"It's not often I meet a man who survived a confrontation with me," Naheem said. "I know of only a few. Most live because of circumstances."
Diogo was curious. "How would you know? How do you remember?”
Naheem’s face turned solemn. "I remember every man I ever fought, which mean I remember every man I've ever killed. It is the source of my skill. It is also the source of my grief."
He placed his hand on Diogo's shoulder. Diogo flinched and shut his eyes.
"Don't fear, friend. This is the first time I've had an opportunity to right a wrong. I don't know why you decided to try to steal our cattle that day. Time has taught me that things that seem black and white are never so simple. This wound has caused you hardship way beyond losing a few head of cattle would have caused me. Samoht?"
The big man grasped Diogo's shoulders and spun him about. As soon as Diogo looked into Samoht's burning eyes he knew he was before a powerful spell caster.
"This is going to hurt," Samoht rumbled.
Pain exploded in Diogo's stump; a fire worse than when he lost his arm. He yelled and fell to his knees.
"Samoht!" Naheem shouted.
"I told you it wouldn't be easy," Samoht replied. "Help me hold him so he won't run away."
Diogo flailed and screamed as the two Savaads struggled to hold him. The pain became so intense he knew he was dying. As he began to black out it lessened.
"Let him go," Samoht said.
The brothers stepped away. Diogo lurched forward and caught himself. His eyes flew open; he looked before him at two hands, one familiar, the other bloody and new.
"Go home and rest," Samoht instructed. "You'll feel like shit for a few days as the arm strengthens."
Diogo was stunned. "I... I can't stay home. I must work."
A money bag fell between his hands.
"This should be enough to hold you for a time," Naheem spoke. "If your employer fires you, come to Savaadu. I may have a job for you."
Diogo looked up at both brothers. Samoht's face remained grim; Naheem sported a slight smile.
"Thank you," he said.
"No, thank you," Naheem replied.
Diogo heard someone else approaching. The other Savaad appeared, the waitress on his arm.
"Are you two done?" he asked impatiently. Naheem nodded.
"Good, my companion has friends that are dying to meet us."
Naheem patted Diogo's shoulder and the four disappeared into the darkness. Diogo stood, staring in wonderment at his new arm. He thought of going home but instead headed for the tavern. This was a story that needed to be told.