Once a Scarab: Part Six
Nabile entered the Scarab hideout – a room on the upper story of an abandoned building – first. When she did, she was immediately jumped on and hugged by Zina. "Nabile! You're safe! We've all been worried half to death!"
Nabile disentangled herself and looked over Zina's shoulder – Amira was right behind her, beaming. Kuraj was sitting in a corner with Horace, talking in a low voice. Raq and Yari also came up and hugged her – Nabile ruffled the hair of the green Acara and the red Cybunny, the two youngest Scarabs.
Bokan slouched against a wall, but even the sulky Techo's eyes brightened to see her. She could smell the smoke of the hearth fire and whatever had been made – and apparently burned – for dinner, and the scented candles that Zina always stole to give it a homey air. She'd gotten the idea from Resa, who'd been with the Scarabs when Nabile was little.
She found tears coming to her eyes as Kuraj and Horace got up to hug her and Tomos, who'd come in right behind her. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed it.
And then Tomos looked over at Bokan. "Give me a good reason..."
The Techo cut Tomos off. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But his coin purse was right there – it was stupid, I know."
Tomos still looked angry. But Nabile had thought it over, and she explained, "If Tomos hadn't been arrested, I wouldn't have come to Qasala to break him out, and I wouldn't have been able to rescue Amira, and Jazan wouldn't have gotten here before Akhmaris blocked off the city to magic. It was all for the best – though you still oughtn't to do it again."
Then she realized everyone was staring at her. Yari asked, "The king's here?"
Horace asked, "Blocked off what?"
Then Jazan came in the door. "I'm sorry – I was just setting up a few simple wards so we don't need to worry about being found. Should we start with explaining what's going on?"
Zina pulled a pot off the fire. "Tea! Real tea! The princess gave us the money, Nabile."
Amira took her clay cup gratefully, and Nabile did as well, as they all sat down in a circle on the floor. Nabile sat with Tomos on one side and Jazan on the other. Jazan asked, unable to keep a little of the horror out of his voice, "Is this where you grew up, Nabile?"
Even though Jazan was far from snobbish, he'd never known a life without servants, a real bed and as much food as he could want. She knew that to his eyes, this little room – smoky from the hearth fire, floor littered with thin pallets and holey blankets and what few possessions the Scarabs had – was the picture of abject poverty. To Nabile, it looked comfortable, homey.
She remembered how often he'd apologized to her when she first came to Qasala about how he wished things could have been better, since the city was still in ruins. He hadn't realized that she thought she'd been delivered to the lap of luxury. He'd eventually understood that even a partially-destroyed palace was still amazing to a former street urchin, but he'd never before seen a Scarab hideout. So she told him, "They moved here after the fires – I've never actually been to this hideout, though I knew where it was. But all our places have looked something like this." She squeezed his hand. "What's important is that the Scarabs always stay together. We look out for each other."
He still looked concerned. But she'd told him about how she'd offered to help them start over in Qasala, and how they'd refused. She'd never expected them to do anything but refuse. The Scarabs, like the other poor of Sakhmet, didn't have much, but they did have their pride.
She wished she had the time to talk with him a little more. But Tomos was starting to explain what happened after they were separated from Amira. Nabile smiled at Jazan when Tomos explained how he'd scared the bounty hunters witless.
Yari asked, eyes wide, "You really turned him into a Scamander?"
Jazan winced. "I... lost my temper. But he'll change back in a day or so."
Nabile chuckled – Jazan clearly wasn't familiar with the typical eleven-year-old boy. Yari asked in horror, "Why does he need to change back? I would've left him that way."
Raq, only two years older, was not to be outdone. "And I would've turned him into a Grackle Bug."
Horace sighed. "Which is why I'm glad you two aren't mages. We need a plan. Uh, milady. Sir."
Nabile shook her head. Horace was always the one that the Scarabs looked to as a leader. The tall yellow Blumaroo could still be the leader, even though Jazan and Amira were here. Neither was trying to steal his place. Zina said, "It's simple enough. We need to figure out how to get the princess's throne back."
Bokan asked, "And how in Fyora's name is that going to work? There are nine of us!"
Tomos pointed out, "I'm counting the king as at least five, myself." Nabile laughed.
Amira said, "Well, since there aren't nearly enough of us, we're going to have to find allies. Who could we ask?"
Horace said, "There's Oran – you know, the Grarrl who sells the Tchea Fruits? He helped us during the... uh... the..."
Jazan sighed and finished, "When I attacked Sakhmet. Please continue."
Horace gulped. "Well, he would probably help us again, if we can convince him it's worth his time."
Amira said, "Akhmaris has always fancied himself the conqueror. He'll have no time to spend on merchants and their troubles. Mages and armies. That's where he wants to build his power. I only hope that he hasn't hurt Dacon – I know Dacon would never betray me, or Enarka, or many of my other advisors. I hope they're safe."
Nabile knew Amira hadn't meant to let that quaver into her voice – she continued quickly, in order to let her cousin get herself back under control, "Well, we'll have allies in the palace. But what we need are allies out here."
Jazan said, "There have to be lesser mages, not affiliated with the College, who won't be happy with the block that's been set up. If we could find a few..." He scowled. "We need to take out that block, so I can get aid from the Qasalan mages and send for the Qasalan army. If we can get them over here, Akhmaris may be forced to stand down."
Zina's eyes lit up. "Old Reggin! She's got messenger Weewoos – I bet they can get past the guards and the magic!"
Tomos said, "Zina, you're a genius."
Jazan nodded. "Well, first thing tomorrow, I'll find this Old Reggin and ask her to send a few messages for me. And then I'll find some mages. I'll be able to sense their auras if that Fyora-blasted block doesn't drown them out." He put a hand to his forehead – Nabile knew that meant he was developing a killer headache. She didn't envy him, sensing magic – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste were all she could deal with.
Kuraj said, "I can help talk to the merchants – your friend Oran included. They may be more willing to listen to me than to the Scarabs. The princess is right. They will all know that Akhmaris is no friend to them."
Bokan said, "Some of the other thieves should help us. The Shadowfeet, the Copper Crowns – life will be a lot harder for a thief under Akhmaris than it ever would have been under Amira. We've all heard stories of the laws that he's tried to have passed."
Nabile said, "Raq, Yari, Bokan – you ought to spread the word among the thieves, and the other people around here, since you can't persuade worth beans. I'll go with Jazan to find the mages."
Horace said, "Zina, you should stay here with Amira." If Tomos had ever dared suggest such a thing to Nabile, she would have hit him. But Zina was sweet-natured, and would get along with Amira best. Zina nodded, and asked, "What are you going to be doing?"
Horace looked over at Tomos. "Since Tomos has gotten an inside view of the palace recently," Tomos snickered, and the Blumaroo continued, "I'm going to take him and we're going to see what we can find out about the princess's allies."
Nabile bit her lip. She wanted to go with them. She knew the palace far better than they did. But she needed to go with Jazan – he'd never get near the mages or Old Reggin without her. They'd flee when they saw him coming. She forced herself to think. What could she give them? What could she do to keep them safe? Who did she know who could help them?
Everyone looked at her in confusion – even Jazan and Amira, who knew who she was, wouldn't have reached her conclusion yet. She explained, "Lejka is the matron in the infirmary. The Yellow Kau who nursed me. She liked me. And if Akhmaris is going behave like Amira thinks he will, she won't like him. You both know how to get into the infirmary – I'll write you a letter to give her, and maybe she'll help you. And if not, it's not well-guarded, and you'll be able to escape."
Jazan smiled at her. "You're brilliant, Nabile."
Tomos grinned, too. "The king ought to make you some sort of general."
Nabile couldn't help but smile back, even though the situation was so dire. "I'm the queen. That's far better than being some boring general."
Horace took another drink of his tea. "We'd all better go to bed – it's late, and we've got a long day tomorrow."
Nabile sighed. It would be a very long day, and they'd all be risking their necks constantly. She would be the safest of all of them with Jazan at her side – she felt selfish for being so well-protected, even though she knew it was merely the way the plan worked.
But with all the Scarabs, Jazan, Princess Amira, and Kuraj working together, she couldn't help but believe that they would end up on top in the end.
To be continued...