Honor Among Thieves: Part Seven
By the time Marlos woke the next morning, Nabile had already returned with several Tchea Fruits and a carved walking stick. The Draik resolved to never ask any questions about where they'd come from.
Tomos said, "We ought to go back and get the others. All the Scarabs together on this one."
But Nabile said, "You'll never get all the way there and back to the palace."
Tomos threw the Tchea pit at his friend's head. "Try and stop me!"
Something had occurred to Marlos. "It might not even be the best of ideas. We needed every hand ready when we went to Marcia's in order to get through there as quickly as we could. But we'll be going to the heart of the Palace if we mean to get to King Coltzan. Eight Scarabs and one scribe might attract a good deal too much attention."
Nabile sighed. "And attention will lead to us getting a long stay in the dungeons."
Tomos frowned. "Doesn't seem right to be doing something awesome without the rest of the Scarabs at our backs."
Marlos thought about what they could do. That was how to do this. Sort out the options like he used to sort out colored inks – like he wanted to do again. "Tomos's ankle rules out trying to climb in some window. Our best bet will be to try and blend with the crowds. In the day before the Solstice, there'll be plenty of them." He cast a critical eye over the two Scarabs. "We may need to get clean clothes again. No one goes to the Palace covered in dirt, no matter how poor they are."
He had a few coins left, and gave them to Nabile. She said, "I could just steal the clothes and save you the money."
Marlos shook his head. While he was awake, he'd prefer that they actually buy things.
When Nabile got back, they all changed quickly – Marlos kept his desert trader gear, but there were clean clothes for the two street urchins, and Nabile had acquired a brush so she could comb out her hair and tie it back more neatly.
He looked at them, a little bemused. Never in a thousand years would he have ever considered approaching the king with two thieves by his side.
Of course, he also would never have considered approaching the king at all. That wasn't the sort of thing that Marlos had thought that people like himself did, unless it was to drop off a manuscript. And he'd also done quite a lot of things these last few days that he would never have imagined, until he'd overheard the wrong conversation that night a seeming eternity ago.
He wanted his old life back. He wanted it back so badly that he could taste it. And yet, somehow, he knew that it wouldn't be quite the same. He'd seen things. He'd dared things. Who else in the Scribes' Hall would believe that timid Marlos would lead a break-in into a lady knight's chambers?
For that matter, who'd believe that fastidious Marlos had broken bread with street thieves? He'd probably be keeping most of the events of the last several days to himself, for fear of being looked at as a madman. Or for fear of being arrested for aiding street thieves – while he didn't have much in common with them, he did share their dislike of the idea of a dungeon cell.
Though the Scarabs were on his side, which was more than Marlos could say for most of Sakhmet. And he was grateful to them, and he hoped that the others were safe. But going to find them would waste valuable time – they were on the opposite side of the city, and there was no telling what Marcia might do in reaction to their robbery.
Tomos said once more, "I wish we could have everyone with us."
Nabile punched him affectionately in the arm, right on his Scarab tattoo. "It's better this way. And you'll get to rub Bokan's nose in it for missing out."
Tomos brightened up considerably, and the three left their refuge and began the walk back to the Palace.
Marlos's job was to look as unsuspicious as was possible. Nabile and Tomos were both supposed to look pathetic – people from the city often came to seek help from the palace healers, and Tomos looked like a prime candidate for that. Nabile and Tomos were both confident in their abilities to charm do-gooders out of their purses, and were certain that the same look might get them past guards who weren't too wary.
Marlos was more afraid. He was certain that, even if one of the two had robbed someone here before, their victim was unlikely to remember their face. But Marlos was certain to have been palace news, and there were plenty of people who might recognize a skinny desert Draik as the scribe run amok.
He was familiar with the public areas of the palace. But they seemed different to him now – stranger, more unfriendly. He knew it was his own anxiety painting his surroundings, but that didn't stop him from strongly disliking the difference. He tried to assure himself as they reached the intersection of two corridors that it would all be back to normal as soon as there was no longer a warrant for his arrest.
And there, talking to one of the younger scribes, were Lady Marcia and her mage. Marlos laid his hands on the shoulders of the Scarabs. Though he was so scared he was trembling, he forced them all to move slowly, not make any sudden movements that would draw the lady knight's battle-trained eye.
Tomos sagged with relief as they passed out of sight. He opened his mouth to say something, but Nabile elbowed him none too gently, and he glared at her and closed it again. Marlos muttered, "We need to keep quiet. We're getting closer to the throne room and the people who work directly for the King, and the guards here will be a little more awake."
Tomos muttered, "I wish we had Bokan here."
Nabile said, "He'd bring this all down around our ears."
"But he'd cause a big distraction and we could get through while they were arresting him."
Nabile snickered, but then she said, "I'm worried about why Marcia and that mage were meeting in daylight. They were sneaking around at night before."
Marlos said, "They're almost ready. We found poison, but we don't know how the magic is going to use it, or whether we got all of it. I only hope that they didn't decide they needed to attack early."
Tomos gulped. "Oh, I hope we don't get caught in the middle of something nasty."
Nabile reminded him, "Nuria bless us, shut your mouth unless you want it to happen!"
Marlos felt almost sick with fear – he silenced them both with a look, and kept his ears on the people around them. Plenty were looking for the king or one of his lords or senators. Finally, he heard someone say, "The king's in his study right now. That means he doesn't want to listen to the issues of every butcher, backer, and candlestick-maker. Go talk to a steward if you think you're being cheated – and if you think arguing with one of those cold-blooded penny-pinchers will help."
Nabile and Tomos both giggled – the merchant in question cast a sour look at them. "Glad someone's enjoying themselves." Marlos couldn't afford to be seen as suspicious – he nodded politely and pretended to be a stern father shepherding his children on. But at least they knew where to find the king – as a senior scribe, Marlos had been to the king's study a few times when he was delivering the final copies of treaties to be signed.
So he led the way – past the statue of Chen-Ra holding the Orb of Khammar, down another hall, past the painting of Coltzan I defeating the evil sorcerer Jazan the Third of the lost city of Qasala. He'd always liked that one, but there was no time to stop and admire it today. Tomos and Nabile stared at the splendor around them – mosaic tiles on the floors, paintings, sculptures, pottery, draperies – with wide eyes, and Marlos noticed that Tomos was forcing his hands into his pockets. Meanwhile, Marlos focused on looking harried, as he always did when he didn't want to be disturbed. If he looked like he was on an important mission, others were more likely to treat him that way. He'd learned that early on.
He knew there would be some sort of guardian-spell at the door to warn the king of their approach, but he didn't tend to post actual guards. Marlos had heard at some point – he'd heard enough from others talking at the water table in the Scribes' Hall that the individual occasions began to blend together – that the king thought that real guards might eavesdrop, and as the king was a strong warrior there was little doubt that he could defend himself as well as any soldier could.
Here. The door, wood painted and inlaid with precious metals and gems. And mercifully, no one was around. Nabile and Tomos were both trembling slightly – so was Marlos, to be perfectly honest. He was no more prepared for this than these two urchins, and yet he knew that they had no other choice but to go forward.
He knocked. Next to him, Tomos ran a grubby finger down a strip of gold leaf, and Nabile thrust a bony elbow into his shoulder.
And then the door opened.
King Coltzan III was a big Lupe, tall and broad-shouldered – Marlos wasn't short, though he was no giant, and yet the Draik barely came up to his king's shoulder. The king looked down at him with the clear air of a man who'd been interrupted. "Yes?"
Marlos swallowed a few times to get his throat working. "Uh... Your Majesty, we think your life is in danger."
A single eyebrow went up, but the king didn't say anything. He added, "It's Lady Marcia. She thinks that she'll have more influence if she can get Vyssa onto the throne."
And then the Lupe's eyes narrowed sharply. "You're Marlos. The scribe she's accused of robbing her."
"I overheard her and some Krawk mage talking after staying late in the Scribe's Hall. She made up the story and the mage helped her fake the evidence in order to frame me." He listened to himself and winced – he sounded like a complete lunatic. "It's a crazy story, I know. Your Majesty."
The king frowned.
And that was when the window directly behind him shattered, and something huge and dark leaped through.
To be continued...