When Nabile first plotted with Tomos to rob the rich Kyrii nobleman who had come to ask for Princess Amira's hand in marriage, she little dreamed that she would end up proposing to the selfsame nobleman herself. In her defense, she was trying to save both the cities of Sakhmet and Qasala here, not to mention the happiness of all parties involved; the flaming Baggusses was she going to let another disastrous marriage come to pass, not when she had the power to stop it…
Nabile and the Pteri handmaiden entered the grand hall of the palace just as the ceremony was starting. While scouring the room for a good spot to watch the proceedings from, Nabile's gaze became arrested by the portrait of a strikingly familiar Pink Ixi. She unconsciously drifted towards it.
The smiling young princess depicted in the image was affluent, contented, and carefree — not adjectives Nabile would normally have thought to associate with her mother, who she remembered as a bitter, acerbic woman with pretensions of grandeur. Contrary to what faerietales would have you believe, the premise of "beautiful princess falls for lowly commoner" did not always end in happily-ever-after. Neera spent the last few years of her life shouldering the bill for that lesson, with her daughter picking up the rest of the tab after her death. Nabile reflected sombrely on her childhood before situating herself in front of her mother's likeness.
Prince Jazan and his undead steed were already stationed at the altar. Princess Amira had yet to make an appearance. Nabile could almost imagine the Desert Aisha kicking up a deliberate fuss over her fittings in an attempt to delay the inevitable. The assembled guests were nearly all Sakhmetian, and a highly dispirited lot. You'd think from their expressions that they were attending a funeral rather than a wedding.
Eventually, the bride and her frazzled advisor were dragged in by three Qasalan soldiers. Amira shrieked abuse all the way down the aisle, despite Enarka's best attempts to calm her. When she was deposited next to her future husband, the Princess directed at him a glare so toxic that Nabile was surprised he didn't dissolve into a puddle of goop on the spot. She tried to assess Jazan's reaction. While the prince's expression was hidden from view, his indifferent body language made clear his own opinion of the match. The supposed happy couple stood stiffly apart, radiating a mutual aura of loathing and scorn.
It reminded her so much of her own parents that it hurt.
Nabile waited for her cue. When the officiating Cybunny queried the audience for anyone who had reason to object to the ceremony, she raised her hand. "I do. The Prince has no regard for Amira and she absolutely hates him."
Vocalizations of shock reverberated throughout the hall. Heads whipped around in her direction, with many of the guests seeming terrified that it would be her funeral they would be attending soon.
Jazan certainly looked furious enough to kill. "How dare you interrupt!" he roared. But then recognition flitted through his eyes. "You! How did you leave my tower? ...And in that dress, of all things?" His admonitory glance fell upon the Blue Pteri hovering by Nabile's side. The handmaiden bowed her head and murmurred some perfunctory apology.
"It's alright," said Nabile. "I'm used to hand-me-downs. But you know I speak the truth. You also know the curse will not be broken unless genuine affection exists between you and your bride."
Amira had the bearing of a condemned prisoner who'd just sighted a possible reprieve. "What is this curse you speak of that only... ick... 'genuine affection' can break?"
Jazan regarded his bride-to-be strangely. "Don't you know about the curse of Qasala?"
"As far as I'm concerned, the curse of Qasala is you!" she snapped back.
The Prince frowned and refocused on Nabile. "Who are you?"
She gestured behind her. "Does the subject of this painting remind you of anyone?"
Their collective gaze snapped towards the portrait. It was Enarka who cried out, "My goodness! It can't be! She looks just like Princess Neera."
Jazan stared blankly at him. "Princess who?"
The Shoyru related Neera's scandalous past, ending with, "This young lady's resemblance to the Princess Neera is uncanny. It's almost as if..." He looked questioningly at Nabile.
"Neera was my mother," the Ixi confirmed. "She named me Nabile, after her own mother, Queen Nabilah."
Epiphany dawned across Enarka's features, followed by a sudden flash of hope. "If she is truly a descendant of Princess Neera," he announced in a voice tremulous with suppressed emotion, "then she is of royal blood and Amira's distant cousin."
Nabile asked the advisor, "What's the procedure for vetting royal claimants? I know that I might need to provide additional proof of my identity beyond my word. Queen Nabilah wrote letters to my mother, who hid them away, and if you can give me time to retrieve—"
"That will not be necessary," rasped a female voice. "I will vouch for your authenticity."
An aged but keen-eyed Acara emerged from the crowd. "Princess Neera did indeed bear a daughter named Nabile, who is the spitting image of her mother," she affirmed. "And furthermore, Neera did maintain a secret correspondence with the then Queen Dowager. This girl would not have known those facts unless she were the real thing."
"Senator Barca!" Amira gasped. "You knew that such a cousin of mine existed, yet you never breathed a word?"
Barca calmly met her sovereign's accusatory gaze. "It was from your late father, King Coltzan III, that I first learnt of her existence. And he made me swear not to disclose the information except under very special circumstances."
"How did Coltzan find out?" Nabile whispered. Coltzan III was her mother's first cousin, and the one who had succeeded to the throne after the previous heir, Neera, had been disgraced. From a certain perspective, a child of Neera's could be considered a threat to the prospects of his own heirs; it was chilling that he knew so much about them, possibly even where they lived.
The Red Acara chuckled knowingly. "You think that Coltzan did not notice the Queen Dowager's aberrant behaviour? Or that he did not think to have her servant followed, to see whether his suspicions could be justified? But do not worry. He was magnanimous, and chose to look the other way. He even restored his cousin's portrait within this hall, in compliance with the Dowager's last wishes." And here one of the most senior politicians in the city bowed to her. "Today, the Grand Hall of Sakhmet shall bear witness to restoration of another kind. Welcome back to your ancestral home, Princess Nabile."
Well. This had to be the easiest time a long-lost royal ever had of getting their claim recognized by a court. And she owed it all to Jazan.
She turned to address the Kyrii prince. "I know your history, Jazan, and why you need to marry a Sakhmetian princess. I also know that deep down you're a kind person, but desperation drove you to do wicked things — and that's something we have in common. But I believe we can help each other there. Amira may not care to wed you, but I do." This declaration triggered an expected commotion throughout the hall. Nearby, Nabile heard Amira gag, "How can she even bear to think of doing that?!" to which Barca wryly replied, "It's either her, or you." She even thought that she heard Tomos's voice yelling out to her, but she couldn't turn around to check. Instead, she folded her hands before her and waited for Jazan's response.
Minutes ticked by, and the Prince of Qasala remained silent, voicing neither acceptance nor rejection.
An irrational fear seized her: what if Jazan decided that he would be better off with Amira after all? The very notion sounded implausible, but "implausible" was the running theme in Sakhmet of late. Oh, if that happened, she would be so humiliated... Nabile disguised her anxiety by jesting light-heartedly, "What? Don't like what you see?"
He blinked, as if waking from a reverie. "Hn? No, it's not that. It's just... How did you come to know of my history, if you don't mind my asking?"
"I learnt about the curse from a prophecy written down on some old tablets beneath Qasala. As to your personal history" — she giggled inexplicably — "like, say, the time you hexed the gardener's boy only to have it backfire — I might have gotten that from your mother's diary."
If Jazan's mouth kept hanging open like that, something was bound to fly into it. "My mother's what?!"
"I found it in the same room as the tablets of prophecy. I thought you knew about it."
"Wh-what else did Mother write about me?"
The too-innocent expression on Nabile's face only seemed to fan his fears. "Lots. Do you want me to recite it all or would you prefer to have it written down in a numbered list?"
Jazan groaned and covered his face with his hands. His Uni friend raised both eyebrow ridges at him and remarked, "If I were you, Jazan, I would not cross her if I could. That is powerful ammunition she holds, the knowledge of all your embarrassing mishaps starting from when you were a mere babe."
Nabile patted Jazan on the shoulder. "Cheer up. There was nothing too off-putting in that diary. The fact that I'm still willing to be with you says a lot, doesn't it?"
Jazan uncovered his face and surveyed Nabile in wonder. "You are... quite unlike anyone I've ever met."
She struck a pose. "That's a given. Granny always did used to say that I was the smartest, sweetest, and prettiest little Ixi in the whole wide world."
He stared at her in bemusement, a smirk slowly framing his lips. "Unrivalled in modesty too, I see."
"Just as you," the Nightsteed deadpanned, "are the epitome of humility. You two are a worthy match."
Jazan eyed his friend askance. "And since when do you condescend to play matchmaker, old friend?"
The cursed steed glanced pointedly at the mummified Qasalan guards and then down at his own bandaged form.
Nabile reached out to the Kyrii prince. "I don't have experience ruling a kingdom, but I'm a quick learner. I can't guarantee a grand dowry, but I can promise you a true feeling of family, not the travesty of one you and Amira would have had to fake had you gone through with your original plans."
Jazan inhaled sharply. "Good Geb," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. "What my parents went through... And I nearly followed in their footsteps!" When he looked at her again, it was with a mixture of gratitude and genuine emotion. "Thank you. No one has ever offered me such kindness."
Nabile planted her hands on her hips in mock indignation. "You think I'm doing this out of 'kindness'? I'm insulted!"
He laughed, begged her pardon, and turned to address her cousin. "Princess Amira, I release you from your obligation." He swept into a courtly bow. Amira looked as if she wanted to pass a cutting remark, but Enarka tugged warningly at her sleeve.
Jazan took his bride gallantly by the arm. "Let us begin the ceremony again." Together, they stepped forward to face the future challenges that lay ahead.
And so it came to pass that Nabile, a descendant from the royal line of Sakhmet, married Jazan, Prince of Qasala. The moment he placed the ring on her finger, the city of Sakhmet returned to the world of the living and the monsters vanished. Nabile returned to Qasala with Jazan as her husband and together they began rebuilding the kingdom.
Author's Note: Big thanks to Em for your encouragement and support!