King of the Land of the Sun: Part Three
While Hestra and Julius were eating, Altador had had to change – he couldn't go running around the city dressed in finery, both because it would draw far too much attention and because it would be wasteful in the extreme. Jazan had had the same problem, but thankfully he'd brought plain clothes to use if he came across the opportunity to spar Altadorian soldiers. He was a few inches shorter than Altador, but he had broader shoulders, and Altador wouldn't have been able to lend him anything.
Altador put on a simple shirt and plain trousers and sandals – he knew that most of his people knew his face, but foreign Thieves' Guild members, unused to a king who regularly walked the streets of his city in order to talk to his people, might be confused for long enough for Altador, Kelland, and Jazan to get close to them.
And if they could get close, the battle was mostly won. Altador was a hunter in his bones, and he could feel this. They'd flush out their quarry and hunt them down, and even the notoriously tricky Thieves' Guild would be no match for a righteous thief and two powerful kings.
Kelland, Hestra, Julius, and Jazan were already by the entrance to the Hall of Heroes – Julius was intensely interested in Jazan's saber, and Jazan had actually taken it out and let the scrawny orange Lutari handle it. Altador smiled. He'd heard various Faeries and other dignitaries describe Jazan as unapproachable and unfriendly, but it seemed that even he had a soft spot for children.
Kelland stood at Altador's approach, as did Hestra. The Blue Kyrii swept some of her red-gold hair out of her face, and those strange icy eyes turned to meet Altador's. They reminded him of the eyes of Psellia or Siyana – they seemed as if they could strip bare all pretension to get at the truth. But Altador had nothing to fear from such eyes. He had never hid who he was, or who he wanted to be. But he knew that many would avoid that gaze. So he smiled at her as she looked at him, and was gratified by a small, surprised smile received in return.
He wiped his brow – he had put on a short cloak as well to cover the sword strapped to his back, and the day was getting warmer than he'd anticipated. "Hestra, Julius, do you think that Laila, Constantine, and Tristan will all still be with Nymala?"
Hestra nodded. "I think so. Are we going there?"
Julius asked, "Can I carry your sword, sir?"
Jazan sighed and shook his head. "No – I need to have it in case we come across Thieves' Guild."
Kelland said, "Or you could just turn them into Altachucks."
Jazan shook his head. "I prefer Scamanders."
Julius's eyes widened hugely under his mop of blond curls. "You can do that?"
Jazan said, "I'm not going to demonstrate. It tends to discomfit people. Altador, which way are we going?"
Julius took off at a run. "Follow me!"
Fortunately, Julius couldn't keep up his pace for long. When he ran at a sprint, he was every bit as fast as the adults in the group, and a good deal more agile than either Jazan or Altador – the two kings were both built for battlefields, not darting down alleys and scaling walls. But they were still able to walk quickly, and before too long they'd reached the streets and plazas that made up the Coliseum marketplace.
Hestra and Julius led them to Nymala's flower stall – her home was in the building behind it. A slender gold Gelert girl leaned out a window. "Hestra! Julius! What have you done?"
Hestra said reasonably, "We went to get Kelland, Laila, just as Auntie Nymala said. And Kelland decided to bring King Altador and King Jazan."
A voice said from inside, "Kings? What's this about kings?" Nymala leaned out the window next to Laila. The silver-haired eventide Kougra cried, "Sweet Fyora – Your Majesties! Come in – come in! I won't say I'm prepared for company..."
Altador cut her off. "Because you've been taking care of two gallant young fools, and I thank you for that, Nymala. There's no need to make a fuss over us. We merely need to speak to Constantine and Tristan."
Nymala nodded, abruptly switching to businesslike. "Very well, then. Laila, go down and show our guests upstairs – and Julius, you scamp, don't touch anything!"
Julius looked wounded. Hestra only giggled.
Laila led the way quickly – the young Gelert was a nervous creature, eyes darting from one corner of the room to the next, hands always in motion, and nose constantly twitching as she sniffed the air. To help her be more at ease, Altador focused on their surroundings instead. The house was small – only a single room on each floor, like most of the row-houses in this part of town – and most of the furnishings were old and worn, but everything was clean and any tears in rugs or curtains had been mended with stiches so small as to almost be invisible. Nymala may have been poor, but the old flower-vendor had her pride.
The upper floor was reached by a narrow stair. Nymala's bed was up there, but the battered young Christmas Lupe and brown Draik were sitting in chairs. Their clothes were torn, they would both have splendid black eyes in the morning, and the Draik was holding a handkerchief to his nose. The Lupe leaped to his feet. "Milord Altador!"
Altador shook his head at the young squire. "No need, Constantine. No, Tristan, don't get up. Keep your head tilted back – and next time don't let an enforcer punch you in the nose."
Kelland sat down on the floor, cross-legged. Nymala followed and sat on her bed – Laila, Julius, and Hestra all joined her there. Jazan remained by the door, leaning against the frame, his eyes closed. Laila was definitely casting a lot of her wary, twitching glances in his direction – perhaps he was trying not to frighten anybody more. It wasn't much help, since Altador could dimly sense his magical aura even from his own place by the window. If anyone could feel that power, they'd be uneasy anyway. Altador took over the questioning – he thought that Constantine and Tristan were more likely to talk to him than they were to Kelland, especially since they were both quite a bit taller than the Techo thief. "So what happened? Besides you two losing a fight."
Constantine started – he'd always been the leader of their miscreant band of two. The Lupe said, "There were three of them. A Krawk, a Xweetok, and a Hissi. They were all foreign folks from their clothes, and that Hissi was Darigani. They were bothering Laila, so I stepped in to... ask them to desist."
Laila looked down, twisting the worn cloth of her dress back and forth in her hands, letting her long golden hair fall over her face. Her long ears hung limply. While the bed was already crowded, Altador sat down beside her. "Laila, don't blame yourself. This is the Thieves' Guild. They were looking for an excuse to start a fight. If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone like Hestra or Julius."
Tristan had clearly caught on to the Gelert's mood. He said casually, "Hey, Laila, you aren't that special. Constantine and I would have jumped any bullies we saw. Don't go bothering yourself."
She stuck out her tongue at Tristan, but at least she'd sat up straighter, and there was more life to her eyes.
Tristan added, "That Hissi, he was a nasty one. Quicker than an angry Vaeolus. And that Krawk was smarter than your average street tough."
Kelland asked, "Did you hear any names?"
Constantine said, "They ran off when the guard showed up, and my ears were ringing, but I thought I heard one of them say, 'Mim won't like this.'"
So they had a Krawk, a Xweetok, a Hissi, and someone named Mim. He said, "It's a start – especially since we have a name."
Hestra piped up, "Julius and I could put the word around that they're foreigners. Most of the common folk wouldn't go out of their way to protect foreign thieves."
Nymala ruffled Julius's hair, but her eyes were worried, "We've used up all our patience on our own little ne'er-do-wells, that's why."
Kelland nodded. "That's a good way to start. Sure, the real scum won't care as long as Neopoints are exchanged, but I've got a better idea of where to start looking for them. We should make sure our conniving friends can't blend in among the tradespeople."
Laila said slowly, "I think I remember hearing another name. I was a little dazed, but someone else talked about getting back to another person who was waiting for them. Masila. That was it. Masila."
The room was dead silent, until Jazan groaned, "Sweet Fyora."
Altador heartily agreed. He didn't want Masila in his city. He would have been a good deal happier if Masila hadn't even been on the same land mass.
Laila said, "How bad is this Masila?"
Kelland asked, "Did you hear of the mess on Terror Mountain where that demon nearly destroyed the Bori? She orchestrated that. Maneuvered Galem and Kanrik into place like pawns on a chessboard. And when Galem took the fall she came out smelling like a rose. She's sly, she's smart, and she's absolutely evil. And if she's here, that means this isn't even a real Thieves' Guild operation. It's a bunch of rogue thieves trying to set themselves up in competition with the Thieves' Guild – and that's even worse."
Constantine said, "Well, we can't hardly not fight her, right?"
Jazan nodded. Altador did as well, and he said, "She could cause far too much harm to Altador if allowed to wander free.
"Kelland, go to all your contacts – tell them Masila is here. Julius, Hestra, Laila, and Nymala – if you would all spread to word as well, I would be grateful, but be safe."
Constantine asked, "Can we help?"
Tristan added, "We've seen them. We'll know them."
Constantine said proudly, "They'll know us, too. We weren't the only ones to come out of that with black eyes."
Altador nodded. "Very well."
He was a hunter. Masila was a plotter. He wasn't sure whether he'd be able to stop her.
But he couldn't do anything else but fight as hard as he could.
To be continued...