Kings and Curses: Part Three
The image of Queen Fyora flickered ghostlike in the middle of Jazan's mage workroom – he caught himself looking around to make sure that he hadn't left last night's coffee cups lying out and that his spell books were back in place. It was all in order, as he normally kept it – since Jazan didn't want a hapless servant interfering with one of his workings, he cleaned this room himself – but Queen Fyora had always had this effect of making him feel like a grubby child caught in a wrongdoing. He inclined his head slightly – he owed no more than that to a fellow monarch, and despite her age and power she was only that, a fellow, not a superior. "Good afternoon." Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Caspar bow and Esmeralda fail to approximate a curtsey in her practice clothes.
Nabile asked, "Has something gone wrong, milady?"
Fyora closed her violet eyes briefly. "I've received word that the tomb of Aurajar the Cruel has been rediscovered."
Jazan asked, "How did you find out? We just found out ourselves under an hour ago!"
Fyora sighed. "A messenger from Shenkuu just arrived with word that the scroll was discovered in the repository of the Lunar Temple."
When Jazan got his hands on whoever shipped that scroll there, turning them into a Scamander would be far too good for them. Queen Fyora continued, "Aurajar was king in Qasala when I ascended the throne. Before he disappeared, he swore that he would return to his city. I fear for the desert, and for Neopia, if his tomb is opened."
Jazan got a slightly sick feeling in his stomach, remembering the way Razul had looked on his return from the grave. No years could ease the memory of the horror he'd felt that day. Jazan said, "We intend to try and beat this explorer to the tomb. He's a cocky little piece of Meepit bait – he won't be talked out of it. He called me a tyrant for even trying."
Caspar added, "Milady, we think we'll ward to tomb to prevent anyone from reaching the door, and to alert us if someone tries. Do you think that will work?"
Queen Fyora nodded. "Your father and his advisors have a good plan, Prince Caspar. But I think I will also send Captain Brynneth and Hanso to Qasala – they have experience with finding forgotten places, and should be of use to you."
Jazan reminded himself that Queen Fyora wasn't trying to supersede his authority – she was merely trying to help. And Hanso and Brynn tended to be useful in tough spots. He also reminded himself that, even if she were being overbearing, he didn't want to set a bad example for his son by snapping at her. As he got older, he looked to his father more and more for how he ought to behave as king one day, and Jazan always had to keep that in mind.
So he merely nodded. "We'll be grateful for the help, milady."
Queen Fyora said, "I'll have them arrive by dawn tomorrow – will your mages help anchor the spell?"
Of course they would – did she think Jazan was going to try and make trouble? Jazan had to admit to himself that a part of him would like to be contrary, but that particular part always wanted to be contrary, and quashing it when speaking to the Faerie Queen had become second nature by now. Jazan nodded once more. Then he had an idea, and added, "We'll try to track down that explorer tonight – even if he's made that scroll public knowledge, stopping him from trying to find Aurajar will give us breathing room."
Fyora said, "Thank you, Jazan." Then the image flickered and disappeared.
Nabile sighed. "Is anyone else a little worried that Fyora seemed so nervous about this?"
Jazan looked around – Esmeralda, Caspar, Sambar, and Mirzah had all raised their hands, and Nightsteed had held up a hoof. Esmeralda asked, "Does this mean that Aurajar's going to come back as a fiery demon like Razul did?"
Before Jazan could arrange his horror at the very idea into a coherent sentence, Sambar said vehemently, "Sweet Fyora, Princess! Don't even talk like that!"
Mirzah said, "I like that idea of trying to track him down tonight, King Jazan."
Sambar nodded. "Sir, would you like me to start sending scouts to all the wayhouses?"
Caspar offered, "He seemed like the bragging type."
Jazan said, "Caspar's right. You should be able to get word of him – Mister 'I'm the one who introduced Moltara to the world' didn't seem like the sort to keep himself to himself. Send scouts with the authority to make an arrest – if he's seen, I don't want him getting away."
Then he pulled out the scroll. It might be useless, but it might also be worth a try. "Mirzah, would you help me try and find an essence in this scroll? If he's handled it enough, we might be able to trace it back to him."
"Of course, King Jazan."
Nabile only sighed. "I'll have your dinner sent up here, then."
Jazan ate, but he didn't really notice what it was that he was eating – he was sitting side-by-side with Mirzah at his long worktable, blending his powers with hers, trying to get the piece of parchment to tell them who had made it and who had held it. Finally, Jazan managed to catch the image of a blue Wocky with delicate features and carrot-colored hair – she was the one who had copied the Old Qasalan out so carefully. From the room she was sitting in, it looked as if she'd done the work in Shenkuu. He sighed as he looked in the mirror he'd used for the purpose. That was no help.
Then Mirzah held up the cup of water that worked best for her own spells. "Here's that Lutari explorer." The image was fainter – he hadn't expended as much effort on working out the scroll, or it hadn't been in his possession as long.
Jazan laid his hand on the table, and Mirzah laid hers on top of it – the tiny Acara's hand looked like it belonged on a doll next to his own. They pushed together with their magic, ordering the scroll to give itself up, to tell them who had handled it, where it had been.
Then, in a cup of steaming tea on the table, two images flashed. One was a gangly young Kougra in a Shenkuu-style straw hat, and the other was a dim room with bunk beds whose red-stone walls showed that it was in Qasala. Jazan applied one last bit of power to that image, forcing it to stay put.
Wait – steaming tea? Jazan was jerked out of the magical half-trance to notice Nabile leaning against the end of the table. She asked, "Are you two ready to rejoin the living yet?"
Jazan stood up, and then noticed how cramped his muscles had gotten. As he stretched, he asked, "What time is it?"
"Past nine. See anything?"
Jazan described the boy, and showed her the pictures of the young woman and the Qasalan room, then said, "Looks like a cheap boardinghouse to me."
Nabile nodded briskly. "Drink your tea – I'll go tell Caspar and Esmeralda to relay that to the searchers. We put them to manning the communication spells."
While neither of the twins was an especially gifted mage on their own, there was no stronger magic available to mortal mages than that of twins pooling their powers. Jazan set them to any job that needed more strength than finesse. "Thank you, Nabile."
Mirzah stood and groaned. "I'll go tell them – I'm better at sharing images than you are, Jazan. I can show them the people, and they can show our scouts." She hobbled out the door. Jazan sat again, then took the cup of tea and swirled it around to destroy the image before he drank it down. It never tasted quite right after it had been used for magic, but it was hot and strong and that was all that mattered.
Nabile pulled up the other chair. "Think this'll work?"
He sighed heavily. "I've got an awful feeling about this whole affair."
She laid her hands over both of his. "You have awful feelings about a lot of things. You're the king – it's your job to plan for the worst. But that doesn't mean that it'll actually happen."
Jazan met her eyes. "Tell me that you believe this'll be easy to solve."
Her shoulders slumped, though she didn't lower her gaze. "I don't. To be rather honest, I was hoping that you'd tell me I was being foolish and to stop worrying."
He looked around – there was a pot of tea and a few more cups, so he refilled his own and poured some for Nabile. He drank, and said wryly, "It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to say such a thing."
She nodded and grinned. "Then I'd be able to tease you for being a hypocrite, and then we'd both be able to take our minds off this mess for a while."
He brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "We're the king and the queen. We don't get that luxury."
She leaned her head on the table. "I can wish for it for just a moment, can't I?"
He nodded as he laid a hand on her shoulder. "Fyora knows that I do it enough."
Then he heard a faint voice in his head – Caspar and Esmeralda both called Father! Father! Come down here, now!
He pushed himself to his feet again. "The twins are calling – there must be news!"
Nabile followed, and they both broke into a half-run as they went to find their children.
Caspar and Esmeralda were sitting in the front hall, with a shield that had been polished to a mirror sheen. The face of a tracker whose name escaped Jazan – a grizzled camouflage Elephante – was reflected in it. "Milord, we've had some good luck and some bad luck."
Jazan cut the pleasantries. "Don't bother asking me which I'd prefer to hear first – just tell me what I need to know."
"We were at the Golden Horus when we got your news – turned out that the innkeeper had been renting a room to a Lutari, a Wocky, and a Kougra these last several days."
"Since you aren't telling me you found them..."
The Eyrie winced. "They left late this afternoon, supplied for a long desert trek."
Nabile put her face in her hands. Esmeralda cried, "They've stolen a march on us!"
Jazan quashed the urge to break something, pulled himself together, and said, "Call all of the scouts in. Start gathering materials for our own expedition. As soon as Hanso and Brynn arrive, we're going to go after them. I want everyone in here and ready to go by dawn."
To be continued...