Scarab Queen: Part Two
When Nabile entered Jazan's study, the Kyrii king was sitting at the desk, scowling as he peered at a dusty old scroll that was most likely written in something that barely resembled modern Neopian Common. Jazan could read a few different languages, most of which had been ancient even before he'd been cursed for two hundred years, and he spoke Old Qasalan almost as fluently as he spoke Common. Nabile thought it was impressive, even though she didn't want to try them herself. She had enough else to learn.
Especially if she wanted to show Sarikash and Onas what she was capable of.
Nightsteed looked up at her first. "Good afternoon, Nabile."
Then Jazan looked up. "Nabile!"
Before anyone could ask what she'd been doing – she wasn't sure how well she'd lie – she asked, "What are you reading?"
Jazan said, "Some old records from Khamtef and Mentu in the south – they had constitutions similar to what I'm thinking of at one point. Of course, Heksas replaced them with the 'do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it' method of governance. That's the trouble – I need some mechanism that will keep a future king from simply throwing out anything that could spoil his ambitions. Or, I should say, one of the troubles. The other is a structure that would allow other mages the support to take on the king if he became a danger to his people, without turning into the Sakhmeti Mages' College and their backing of the attempted usurper a few months ago."
Nabile got the general idea. The king still needed to be the king and be in charge, but somehow there needed to be someone else who could hold the king accountable, and since magic ran in the line of the Qasalan royalty – more of their kings had been mages than not – magic needed to be involved. It would be an elaborate balancing act, but if anyone could pull it off, he could. She asked, "Nightsteed, could I ask you a few questions? We should probably step outside so Jazan can focus."
Nightsteed grumbled good-naturedly, "It's getting him to stop focusing and return to reality that's the problem." He followed Nabile out of the room, and nodded at her to come with him into his own office, which was mostly being used as a storage area for all the different papers that Jazan and the others working on rebuilding the legal system were dealing with. "What's wrong?"
He'd practically raised Jazan – it didn't surprise Nabile that he could tell something had happened. She sat on the edge of the desk and told him what she'd overheard.
Nightsteed sighed. "Should have expected that, sooner or later. Was thinking it would be later, though. I'm glad you didn't tell Jazan – he would have been angry with them, and Sarikash is far too influential for Jazan to get into a fight with him. I wouldn't worry about Onas – he's a grasping, whinging little toady. And that's being kind."
"But I agree with you that it's time for you to prove yourself as a reigning queen, not just the wife of the king. You're certainly capable of it."
Nightsteed wasn't one for beating around the bush. If he said that, he meant it, and it made Nabile happy to know that he had that kind of faith in her. "Thank you." She added, "So what should I do?"
Nightsteed said, "If I were you, I would treat this as a military campaign. Sarikash is the ultimate goal – the opposing fortress, so to speak. If you were a general with armies, would you start off by going straight for the heart of the enemy fortifications?"
Nabile shook her head – that was obvious, even to someone who knew even less about military things than she did about politics in general. Nightsteed said, "Of course not. What you do is start with outlying posts, easier targets that you're likely to win. The analogy isn't perfect. Each Qasalan noble could be seen as a fortress, but also as allied forces who will be able to 'attack' fortresses of their own, winning people over to you."
Nabile tried to untangle the analogy. "So I ought to get people to like me who already like me?"
Nightsteed said, "I don't think anyone dislikes you. Except perhaps Onas – and if Onas doesn't like you, that's probably a sign that you're doing something right, so don't worry about it. What you are doing is convincing them that you are a capable leader instead of merely a nice young lady. And you should start with people who are inclined to trust Jazan's judgment and therefore his trust in you. I'd suggest Kiyaa, his current Chief Mage – if you have her supporting you, no one will be able to dismiss you out of hand."
Kiyaa was nice enough, but a little frightening – a tall strawberry Kau who always dressed in billowing robes of bright green that matched the green of her eyes. Nabile hadn't really talked to her much, though she liked her apprentice, Mirzah. They were the same age, and Mirzah was funny, if short-tempered and inclined to sarcasm.
Nightsteed continued, "You should also talk with Lord Farouli and Lady Zara – they're doing a lot of work on the constitution, and if you have them to back you as well as Jazan, you'll be included."
Nabile frowned. "I'm not sure I'm ready to help with that."
The Uni smiled at her. "You'll have to do a lot of work – but you have been already. And if you can contribute in a valuable manner to that document, sign your name at the bottom, there's not a noble in this whole Nuria-blessed desert then can call you ornamental."
Nabile sighed. "If. If."
Nightsteed nudged her with his horn – at least he did it gently. Nabile had seen him deal Jazan much sharper reminders with it when his patience had been tried. It was rather sweet, though – if anyone else tried to hit Jazan with anything, Jazan would probably return it with interest. The old Uni informed her, "You can do it. Nothing wrong with your head, girl, as long as you don't let that idiot Onas get to it."
Nabile hopped down off the desk. "So, try and be nice to Kiyaa, Farouli, and Zara."
Nightsteed amended, "Not just nice. You're doing nice well, but nice isn't nearly enough. What you need is helpful. Talk to them about the work they're doing. Ask Jazan and me to tell you what we know so you'll be able to ask intelligent questions."
This was going to be a lot of work. But it was important. Nabile's life was in Qasala now – her life was the life of Qasala's queen. She couldn't resort to the old street thief method of getting your buddies together and ganging up on whoever had insulted you. Though she bet that Raq and Yari – those two little hoodlums – would love the chance to beat up a Lord of Qasala if they thought they would actually get away with it. But Nightsteed was giving her the tools to fight in this strange world of the Qasalan palace, and she needed to accept that and get to work. She nodded. "Thank you, Nightsteed."
He smiled. "Now get that scroll up there – the one with the red tassel. It's a dictionary, and he's going to need it for Old Qasalan legal terms."
As Nightsteed said that, Jazan called, "Nightsteed! Nabile! As long as you're in there, would you bring me the Akharan scroll – the one that's the legal dictionary?"
Nabile couldn't keep herself from laughing. "I'm bringing it, Jazan."
She carried it back to him and laid it on the desk – he rested his hand over hers for a second as she did, looking up at her and smiling. She smiled back, then grabbed a stool close by so she could pull it up and sit next to him. He had a sheaf of parchment on his desk where he was writing clean notes that he would share with the others who were working with him, but it was paired with a few thick journals in which he had been scrawling notes, diagrams, references, and other lines of inquiry. He was taking all of this incredibly seriously, and Nabile was glad – she was glad that Jazan was a king that really cared about doing right by his people, instead of a ruler who only cared about his own wealth and power. She rested a hand on his shoulder. "You're doing well. You really are."
He had a sliced Queela fruit on a little plate to eat while he was reading and taking notes – he offered Nabile a slice, and then ate a piece of it himself as she nibbled the spicy fruit. Qasalan cuisine was dominated by the spicy Queela and the earthy Quando, and if Nabile hadn't learned early on to eat anything that wasn't running away from her, it would have been hard to adapt to the different textures and flavors.
She'd managed to adapt to the food, though. She could adapt to everything else. Jazan asked, "Nabile, would you hail a courier? I need to send some spell ideas to Kiyaa to help with the rebuilding efforts."
Nabile needed to speak to Kiyaa anyway – she would be a good place to start. "I can do it." And she was supposed to ask questions. "What sort of spells?"
Jazan said, "We were talking about ways that magic could be used to stabilize foundations – there are still a lot of foundations and wall bases intact, and if they could be repaired and reused instead of ripping them out and starting afresh, the work in the city could be much quicker."
That made a lot of sense. Nabile commented, "It's interesting to see magic used for practical things like that. Important mages in Sakhmet wouldn't have been caught dead walking in the outer city, let alone using their magic there."
Jazan looked at her, his golden eyes bright and alive with his ideas. "They never would have before in Qasala, either. That's part of the point. Not merely that we have so much rebuilding to do that magic could make a real difference – to get our mages used to actually using their magic for the benefit of people instead of for their own comfort and status. Are you sure you want to take that to the mages yourself? It's one of the benefits of being in charge that we actually get to make other people do the legwork."
Nightsteed had told Nabile that Jazan rather enjoyed that, not because he liked lording it over people, but he had grown up used to treating everyone as a potential spy for his father. It was refreshing to him to be able to hand people diagrams and orders without wondering whether Razul would end up seeing them and what that evil maniac might read into them. Nabile said, "I like walking around – I need to learn to not get lost. And half your notes are in Old Qasalan, so I can't even read those, let alone that scroll." She hopped off her stool and picked up the magic-diagram-looking pile.
Jazan raised his eyebrows. "Those are ground surveys for the new walls. Kiyaa's papers are over there."
Nabile felt herself blush and looked down at the correct papers – Jazan chuckled gently, without any mockery or condescension. "Though, given the surveyors' handwriting, I can see where one might become confused. I think I'll take dinner here – will you join me?"
Nabile nodded. "Of course." Then she hefted the papers and set off for the mages' workrooms, for Jazan's errand and for the first part of her own mission.
To be continued...