Honor Among Thieves: Part Four
Stealing the proof they needed would be, as it turned out, far easier said than done. It would either be in Lady Marcia's apartment in the palace or the mage's rooms in the Mages' College. And both, to Marlos, sounded about as wise as throwing gold coins into the middle of the Sakhmet marketplace – though wise and necessary might turn out to be very different things. And while the Scarabs – especially the boys – were regular fountains of ideas, no one ever said that teenaged boys were the creators of good ideas. Some of their schemes wouldn't have been possible even with six mages and a regiment at their backs.
So Marlos was relieved when Resa finally said, "I think it's time for us all to rest a little." While Marlos himself didn't typically rest in the heat of the day, he knew that most Sakhmeti did, and after the poor sleep he'd had last night he definitely could use a nap. Though the holey, musty-smelling blanket he was handed did give him pause. He was used to making his bed every morning before he left for work, and washing the sheets often.
He thought sadly of his own bedroom – clean and comfortable, with a shelf full of his favorite books by the bed so he could reach for one without leaving the warmth of the covers. His window faced east, and in the mornings the light of dawn woke him gently. And then he thought of his living room adjoining it, with the bigger bookshelf and the comfortable chairs and the table in case he wanted to eat there. Then there was the family with young children that lived on the story above him, and the elderly couple that dwelt below – he missed it all so much that it seemed for a moment that he could barely breathe.
Zina asked, "How about a story? I want to hear the one about the beggar girl who became a queen."
Bokan snorted. "Not that stupid story again."
Nabile snapped, "It's a good story! You never want to hear about anything but knights and desert raiders."
"At least desert raiders are real! When's the last time someone like us got let into a palace?"
Ilias stretched out on his pallet. "Folk like us get let into the palace all the time!"
Bokan scowled at him. "I didn't mean the dungeons."
Ilias said, feigning bemusement. "Oh. Afraid I can't help you, then."
Eventually they settled on a story about the old founder of Sakhmet, Chen-Ra. Marlos had heard this one before, so he wrapped himself in his blanket and turned toward the wall. He started trying to approach the problem logically. His two links to the crime were Marcia and the mage. He didn't even know the mage's name, let alone how to find his rooms. They would have to investigate Marcia...
And though his mind still whirled, weariness overcame all, and he started wondering whether Chen-Ra would be able to help them, after he'd defeated his old enemy Khammar.
And then he fell asleep.
After more discussion that afternoon and evening – frequently interrupted by name-calling, accusations of idiocy, and minor violence among the Scarabs, especially Tomos and Bokan – they thought they had a semblance of a workable plan.
Well, the Scarabs thought that they had a workable plan. Marlos found it to be utter madness, but at this point inaction would be as deadly as even the most foolish of plots. They were actually intending to break into Lady Marcia's rooms at the Palace – Nabile and Zina were going to pose as servant girls to get directions, and then the rest of the Scarabs would get in the windows.
Marlos asked, "Aren't you worried about guards?"
Nabile snorted. "We can run circles around guards any day of the week."
Resa added, "And the fancy types have parties all this week for the solstice – you should hear the maids whining at market! Lady Marcia won't be around in the evening. No one will be. They'll all be at noble city houses."
Bokan sighed. "We ought to be hanging around outside those houses picking the pockets of stragglers."
Tomos said, "Come on, we're breaking into the Palace! What thief's ever managed that? The Copper Crowns will eat their hearts out!"
"No, they'll laugh their tails off – when we're all warming up a dungeon cell!"
Dom sighed. "Give it a rest, Bokan."
Bokan was about to retort, but Ilias clapped a big hand over the Techo's mouth, and after a few muffled protests he subsided into sullen silence.
Zina said, "Nabile and I will have to get servants' dresses – I think we can get some at that one place off Gebmid Way that always has them outside."
Marlos said, "You don't need to steal it – I could give you the money."
Resa shook her head. "They won't sell servant's garb to rag-tag like us. They'll think we're pretending to be maids so we can sneak into houses and steal."
Nabile and Tomos both snickered. Dom said, "We've got almost a week, still, before she'll try and kill the king. We can afford to take a few days to make sure we do this right. None of us want to be introduced to the Sakhmet jailers."
Marlos shook his head. "Definitely not. I'll bow to your... ah... expertise... in these matters."
Dom nodded with a grin. "You mean you'll leave the thieving to the thieves. Sure you don't want to join up with us, Marlos?"
Marlos looked around at the Scarabs – each skinny youth had a black scarab tattooed on one of their upper arms. He'd asked Nabile why they did that, and she'd responded, with the air of someone repeating a lesson they'd heard many times, "Once a Scarab, always a Scarab."
So while he merely shook his head and laughed a little, as though he found Dom's suggestion a joke, he shuddered a little at the idea of living like this forever, and never getting back to the life he knew and loved. Maybe their plan was risky, but at least it was doing something, rather than just accepting this fate.
Nabile and Zina nodded to each other and left the room – Tomos and Horace followed them. Marlos knew that they were probably going to do something unlawful, and he tried to justify watching and not doing anything. He'd heard the street thieves referred to as a scourge of Sakhmet, but looking at them now, he doubted that the Scarabs were a scourge of anything besides the Grackle Bugs and Scarabugs that tried to get into their home. He didn't see villains. He saw youths – rough-mannered and quarrelsome, but basically good-hearted – who'd banded together to survive.
No, the villains weren't the Scarabs. The villain was the lady knight who'd enraptured half the city, all the while plotting to put the young princess on the throne in order to expand her own power. There was no excuse for her. She wasn't just trying to survive.
And as the Scarabs began to go about their business, Marlos came to the uncomfortable realization that he didn't just have to do this because it was the only possible way to get his life back. He had to do this because he was the only one who knew about this plot against the king, and stopping it was his duty, both as a Sakhmet citizen and as a decent Neopian.
Marlos wasn't used to thinking in terms of the greater good. He was the sort of Draik who dotted his i's and crossed his t's and left the matters of good and evil to people who were more suited for them. He'd heard tales of daring and adventure, and he did enjoy hearing them, but they seemed to interfere with such matters as personal hygiene and regular meals, so he'd certainly never wanted to undertake such a thing himself.
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. "Why the long face, 'Los?" Ilias grinned at him, his wide Chomby face open and honest.
Marlos sighed. "Deep thoughts. I don't like deep thoughts."
Ilias shrugged. "I had some of those once."
Resa and Dom both snorted as one, and Ilias affected a wounded air. "I did say once."
Bokan snorted. "Haven't we all thought enough for one day? I bet there are still some market stalls open, and I'm hungry."
Ilias pointed out, "You're always hungry."
Bokan retorted, "So are you!"
Ilias grinned. "Good point. Let's go, firework."
Dom said after they left, "I think the night after next will be the soonest we'd try anything – tomorrow, Resa and I will go scout around the Palace, see where the guards are lazy these days."
Resa ran a hand through her blonde hair. "Oh, I bet getting into the palace complex will be easy. Servants will be all over the place, just like in the market, and no one will think it odd that they don't recognize us. Just you wait and see."
Dom took a deep drink of his cup of tea. "Don't talk like that, Reese, unless you want to bring every bit of bad luck on the city down on us."
Marlos nodded. He wasn't sure whether that sort of talk was unlucky, but this would be touchy enough without risking it.
Dom said, "I want us to have rope – new stuff, not half-rotted odds and ends. Marlos, you need to stay undercover – would you give Resa the coin to do it?"
Resa was already sliding an armband over her tattoo – Marlos passed her the pouch. If it had been Bokan, he wouldn't have liked the idea, but the Kougra girl seemed a good deal more reliable. Then Dom said, "Come on, then, Marlos. You've worked in the Palace – let's get to work fleshing out this plan of ours."
And Marlos sat down with the young thief, and they talked strategy as the sun moved westward over the city.
To be continued...