Kings and Curses: Part One
King Jazan the Fourth looked down at the letter sitting on his desk. King Roo of Roo Island wanted to establish a trade agreement with Qasala. Jazan was fairly sure that there was no harm in it – he didn't see the Blumaroo king or an island that was even smaller than Jazan's city-state as a threat. But he also didn't see what the advantages were of making this agreement with a place whose main exports were springs, games, and a few hard-to-get-rid-of hairy purple bugs.
He looked up at the wall of his office – there were various treaties and trade agreements framed up there so he could look at them while he was working. Since Qasala had ties with almost every other kingdom or state in Neopia, it sometimes felt like Jazan was wrapped in a Spyder's web. At least all of the agreements were fair, and none made it impossible to fulfill any of the others.
He remembered when he'd first become king – it had basically just been Sakhmet and Qasala. But in the long years since, explorers had crossed and re-crossed the globe, connecting it more closely each time. Some of the ties, like his friendship with King Altador, he valued. But he could have done without meeting the scheming new governor of Krawk Island or the rather supercilious emperor of Shenkuu.
He wasn't entirely sure if he liked this net of alliances. Qasala had rebuilt itself after two centuries of cursed darkness. Its people were self-sufficient and strong. But that seemed to be the way of things these days, and if Jazan could help expunge evil from other corners of Neopia, he was always glad to lend a hand.
At that moment, the door swung open, and Jazan looked up – it was his son, Caspar. At sixteen, the desert Ixi was now just as tall as his father, though not as broad in the shoulders – he and his twin sister both took after their slender mother. Behind him trailed ten-year-old Jessamine. The little royal Kacheek said, "I've got a question about the book I was reading, and Caspar couldn't answer it."
Jazan smiled fondly. Caspar and Jessamine were the scholars of the family – Caspar's twin Esmeralda was far fonder of swordwork than schoolwork, and twelve-year-old Neera had a horror of anything she considered unladylike, with ink-stains being high on the list. "What's the question?"
Caspar said, "There's a reference to the Seven Lost Kings – it's not especially important in this book, but she wondered what they were, and I've never heard of them."
Jazan leaned back in his chair, taking the opportunity to stretch muscles that were cramped and sore from leaning over a desk all day. "The Seven Lost Kings are the kings whose bodies do not lie in the crypts below the Qasalan palace. Perhaps their tombs are in some hidden place, or perhaps their bones lie scattered among the sands. They are Melchior the Old, Kistrach Stonehand, Orthias, Zharek II, Aurajar the Cruel, Ilastran, and Vanithad Farseer. I'm surprised you've never come across the names before – their legend is fairly common."
Caspar asked, "Why's it so common?"
Jazan shrugged. "It's a mystery, and there are more than a few people who can't keep their noses out of a mystery. And what's more, I've told you that our people like to keep their kings where they can see them. When they don't know where a past king's body rests – it tends to make them wonder whether the king rests at all."
Caspar looked at the letter Jazan had been reading. "Roo Island?" Jazan noticed his eyes flicker to the big map of Neopia that hung opposite the treaties. Jessamine plopped down in one of the chairs that sat on the other side of the desk and continued reading her book. Then Caspar asked, "Would Razul count as a lost king, then?"
Jazan hadn't thought of that. After more than two decades he no longer flinched every time Razul was mentioned, but that didn't mean that he wanted to dwell on the old king any more than was absolutely necessary. "I assume so. However, the Seven Lost Kings has a nicer ring to it, and I'd rather the old demon stick to being remembered as a tale to frighten naughty children."
Caspar shrugged. "Makes sense. Need my help with anything?"
Now that he was mostly grown, Jazan was delegating more and more tasks to his heir, in order to prepare him for that day in the future when the piles of papers and scrolls – some orderly, others in a mess – would be his responsibility. "You could send a few replies to those nobles who're responding about the convocation next month. Thank them for coming. I can't give it to a clerk, but getting a reply from you should keep them from squawking about disrespect."
Caspar pulled up a chair and got to work. Jazan looked once more at the Roo Island letter and decided that it would be worth discussing with some of his advisors later, to see whether they saw some merit to it that their cynical king might have missed. He pulled up the next – a report from one of his commanders on the bandits near the mountains.
He'd heard it said that Neopia was getting smaller. And the smaller it got, the more of it seemed to end up on Jazan's desk wanting a king's eye and signature. From her chair, Jessamine asked, "Father, what's ineffable mean?"
"Incapable of being expressed in words. What in Neopia are you reading?"
She held up the book – a history of Qasala that Jazan remembered from his own youth, that collected some of the more interesting pieces of the city's past and told them as stories. He asked "Is Nightsteed having you read that?"
She frowned. "And I have to write a report."
Caspar held up his pen. "Don't you dare complain about reports. You don't know how dull some of this heir business gets."
Jazan pointed out, "When I first started letting you help me with this, you were thrilled."
Caspar laughed ruefully. "Then I realized why you were so glad to pawn it off onto me."
Then the door was thrown open, banging against the wall, and Esmeralda ran in. Tall – though not as tall as her twin and father – and thin, the boyish tunic and trousers she wore and the sword at her side showed that she'd just come from practicing. "Father! Mama sent me up here to warn you. Some explorer wannabe's shouldered his way out of the loony lineup and he's headed up to see you."
Caspar asked, "What's he after?"
As far as anyone outside the palace knew, Queen Nabile's duties were random, taken on wherever there was a need for an extra pair of hands. But her main job was taking care of the "loony lineup," as insiders called it – all of the paranoid conspiracy theorists, egoists, and chronic complainers who felt it was their right to share every thought they had with the King of Qasala. The guards took care of most of them, but a few always managed to get in. Jazan was eternally grateful that his far more even-tempered wife took care of pretending to note their delusions and sending them on their way. He would have merely turned them into Scamanders, and that wouldn't have been good for his image in the eyes of his people.
Caspar asked, "Wannabe explorer? Aldie, I'll bet you fifty Neopoints he thinks he's found the tomb of Melchior the Old."
Esmeralda grinned. "And I'll bet you fifty Neopoints that he thinks he's found the Flaming Blade."
Jessamine looked up from her book. "The tomb would be more interesting."
Esmeralda shook her head in mock-sorrow. "I've let you spend too much time with Caspar, sister. Swords are far more interesting."
They all sat down and contrived to not show how much they were listening as the door opened once more.
A mustached orange Lutari wearing a straw hat with a walked in jauntily. Jazan disliked him at once. He had to admit to himself that he preferred it when people were just a little afraid of him – it was easier to convince someone he turned out to like that there was no need to be frightened than it was to teach some jumped-up idiot to mind his place. The Lutari said, "You've got quite the bureaucracy around this place, Jazan. Took me a while to find my way through."
Jazan stood up – at least he was taller than this intruder. "As far as you're concerned, I am 'Your Majesty.'" There was the sound of a smothered giggle from one of the children. "And part of that 'bureaucracy' that you're avoiding was my queen, who is responsible for requests such as yours."
The Lutari leaned on the table. "I'm Roxton. Roxton Colchester. I'm an explorer by trade – I helped introduce Moltara to the world."
Jazan had heard the name before, but that didn't mean he was impressed. King Altador, Queen Fyora – they'd built kingdoms. Anyone could trip over one. "Very well," he said, not even trying to hide the irritation in his voice. "So what are you doing in Qasala?"
He pulled a roll of paper out of a battered leather knapsack with a flourish. "I'm friends with Clara Chatham, one of the best researchers out there. She uncovered this old scroll, which leads to the tomb of King Aurajar of Qasala."
Before the Lutari could say anything else, Jazan snatched the scroll out of his hand. Aurajar the Cruel – that old Draik hadn't earned his name unjustly. The only king who'd done more than Aurajar to harm Qasala was Razul. He was the worst of the Seven Lost Kings, a mage-king with far more power than a man that wicked deserved, and this madman wanted to dig him up?
Roxton grabbed for the scroll – Jazan kept it away from him. "Hey! That's mine! King or no, you can't take a man's property!"
Jazan scowled at him. "This is going to lead you to a treasure that belongs to Qasala. As I am the ruler of Qasala, I get to make the final decision regarding those treasures – so, yes, I can."
Roxton folded his arms across his battered shirt and vest. "Neopia deserves to have access to its treasures! Only a tyrant would keep his people away from their history!"
Jazan leaned forward – he was certain that fury had changed his eyes from their normal gold to ruby-red. "Out. Get out. I don't want to see your face in this city again."
Roxton shrugged. "Okay. Take my scroll. I have more."
Jazan didn't trust himself to speak – he merely pointed at the door. The spell that would change this infuriating twit into a Grackle Bug was leaping temptingly to mind. The only thing that kept him from using it was the thought of the example it would set for the children.
The explorer bowed mockingly, and then let the door slam shut behind him.
To be continued...
Feel free to email me with comments, complaints, questions, et cetera, Happy reading!