Once a Scarab: Part One
Tomos didn't find it that hard to elude the palace guards as he snuck into one of the many gardens that surrounded the building. Everyone was still too busy celebrating the defeat of Razul or rebuilding all of the things he'd destroyed to cause trouble for the nobility, and the soldiers had gotten lazy as a result.
He wasn't about to complain. Otherwise the Scarabs wouldn't have been able to get past them as often as they needed to. After one last check for guards, he crossed to the wall. The window he needed was on the second story, but it was over a bench – it was easy enough to stand on the bench, jump to the windowsill and pull himself over, which he did, grunting as he swung his legs over.
Nabile said happily, "Tomos!"
She looked better than she had the last time he visited her sickroom – most of the bandages were gone, there was more light in her eyes and color to her cheeks, and she was actually sitting up in her bed, not propped against pillows. Next to her bed, King Jazan slumped in an armchair, fast asleep.
He asked, "How are you doing?"
She smiled. "I was actually strong enough to get up and walk around a bit today – every day's better. The nurse thinks we might be able to go back to Qasala in a week or two." She said softly, "It'll be for the best – you're going to get hurt one of these days, sneaking up here to see me."
He shrugged. That wasn't nearly as important as making sure that Nabile was still okay and all of these royal types were treating her right. When he'd first come to the Palace to find out what had happened to her, while the fires were still blazing, she had looked altogether too dead for him to forget easily. "Well, what in Fyora's name did you go and get yourself made a queen for if not so you could bail your best friend out if he needs it?"
She laughed. He asked, "You're getting treated well here, right?"
She nodded, glancing over at the sleeping Kyrii. "It's funny. Being married to a sorcerer tends to make people decide they'll deal with a past as a pickpocket."
Tomos's first reaction was to think furiously that the scaring people who tried to get at Nabile was his job. That was their routine. She picked pockets while he covered her, or made distractions while he stole their food. He'd always had her back. She had saved his hide once or twice when all hadn't gone as planned, but it was all part and parcel of a thief partnership. He changed the subject quickly. "What's that book you've got there?"
She picked up the slim volume. "It's some old legends. I've been practicing reading a lot. There's not much else the nurse will let me do, and I need to be able to read better if I'm going to be able to help Jazan when we go home."
Then they both fell silent as someone outside said, "If she's awake, Your Highness."
Tomos didn't need to be told what to do – he vaulted over the bed into the room and then dove underneath it. Thankfully it was a rich person bed with a bedskirt that went to the floor, so he couldn't be seen. It was probably comfortable – how could Nabile stay awake?
Then there was a sharp knock on the door, and Tomos recognized Princess Amira's voice. "Nabile, are you awake?"
Nabile said, "I am, but Jazan's not."
A deep voice – the king's – muttered, "I am now, with you stirring up that racket."
The door opened, and Tomos could see a desert Aisha's feet with golden sandals. "How are you feeling, Nabile?"
"Better all the time."
King Jazan said, "I can't believe you let me fall asleep like that. I should have been reading the letters Nightsteed brought from Qasala."
Nabile chided, "No, you shouldn't have been. You don't sleep near enough."
King Jazan replied, teasing gently, "Well, you don't eat nearly enough, so I suppose we're even."
Tomos grimaced. He was glad she was happy. He really was. But he didn't want some dour Kyrii sorcerer to have as many running jokes and memories with Nabile as he had, king or no, married to her or no.
But things weren't going to change – she was still Nabile! She was still trying to mother everyone else while completely ignoring her own welfare – she would have insisted she was fine if her legs were falling off. She was still sunny and cheerful and clever. Nothing had happened to change him, so as long as she was still the same, they would still be the same, even if they didn't both live in Sakhmet anymore.
And at least he was fairly certain that King Jazan couldn't make her laugh by juggling stolen fruit.
They started talking about people he didn't know anything about – Tomos was getting rather bored, but he was certain that if he crawled out now, Princess Amira would call for the guards, and that was only if King Jazan didn't turn him into something unnatural first.
It seemed like an eternity – a hot, airless eternity that made him want to fall asleep – until the door finally shut behind the princess's tail. Nabile said, "Tomos came to visit while you were sleeping."
The king said, "That's good – I know you're used to more company than this."
Then she laughed – Tomos almost did too, as she said, "He's still here, actually. He had to hide under the bed when Amira came in."
That was Tomos's cue to roll out from under the bed and get to his feet, stretching and taking a deep breath of clean air. Then he remembered himself and bowed quickly to the Kyrii, who was looking at him askance. "Good afternoon, Your Highness – ah, Majesty."
There was an awkward silence – sure, the man was Nabile's husband, but that didn't mean that Tomos knew what to say to him. Finally, Nabile asked, "How are Raq and Zina?"
The green Acara had gotten knocked sideways by the old fire-demon, and the red Zafara hadn't dodged a fireball quickly enough. He said, "Raq can actually see straight now. Zina's tail is fine, too, though the old healer said the fur may never grow back the same."
King Jazan stood. "You'll be okay, Nabile? I ought to go find Nightsteed."
"Of course, Jazan."
Tomos couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief as he left. Nabile said, sitting up a little straighter, "He's really very sweet when you get to know him."
Tomos shrugged. "I'm certain he is. We don't have anything in common, is all, except for you, and you aren't the most interesting thing to talk about at the moment." He actually found the king more than a little intimidating, but he wasn't about to say so.
She threw a pillow at him – he dodged easily. She complained, "Just because I'm stuck in bed like a limp noodle doesn't mean I'm not interesting!"
He fetched the pillow and gave it back to her, then sat on the bed in contented quiet. Finally, he asked, "You're sure everyone's treating you well?"
She sighed. "Most everyone, especially now that I'm in here and don't actually see many people. But some of the nobles don't like me much – they either don't like my background or don't like Jazan. They don't say it – probably because they're scared of him – but you know."
He did know. There was plenty people could do to be nasty without any words whatsoever. Thieves were used to it.
She continued, "I'll admit it, Tomos. I want to go back to Qasala. There, I'm a queen. No matter how long I stay in Sakhmet, some of these people will never see me as anything but a thief playing dress-up." She asked, "Why don't you come, too? You and the Scarabs? I'll help you find work. I know I can do it."
Tomos shook his head. "The answer's the same as the last time you asked. No. We don't take charity – not even charity from one of our own." He patted her shoulder. "It's just like with you and the idiot nobles here. If we came to Qasala like that, we'd never be anything but the queen's poor charity cases. You know that."
She sighed. "I do. But I can still hope, can't I? Being a queen is great, and Jazan's wonderful, but you're my family, and with all the rebuilding to be done I don't know when I'll be able to come back and see you after I go, and I'm going to miss you! I'm going to miss all of you so much – and especially you, Tomos."
She looked up at him with her big purple eyes, but Tomos was probably the only person in Sakhmet able to resist the charm that had tricked so many rich do-gooders out of their purses. "Nabile, no. Sakhmet's still my place." Then he asked, "Does that look work on the princess and the king?"
She snickered. "This look is gold. Especially when I had all the bandages on, I could have whatever I wanted. Funny – I become the perfect beggar as soon as I didn't need it anymore."
Then she reached under her pillow and handed him a couple of thin gold bracelets, the kind meant to be worn in clusters. "Sell these. Amira gave them to me, but I don't want them – I don't like things rattling on my wrists. You can tell these noblewomen haven't ever had to pick pockets. Please, if you won't let me do anything else, at least take these."
The bracelets weren't so valuable they'd draw attention, but they'd be a help. Tomos slipped them into his pocket – the other Scarabs wouldn't feel bad about accepting them from her. He fluffed a few of the pillows for her as he got up. "Need me to get you anything?"
She reminded him, "If anyone else sees you, they'll cause a scene and you'll get arrested and I'll have to come look pathetic to bail you out and then Jazan will scold me for exerting myself." She smiled. "You can at least know that he'll take care of mothering me when you're not here to do it."
He couldn't help but ask, "Who's going to mother me without you, though?"
She said, "I'll send letters through Kuraj the tailor. He's good at reading things to you. I'll come visit as soon as I can – and maybe you can see me again before I leave."
Tomos nodded. "I'll try and sneak as many of us in here as I can."
She warned, "Be safe." But then her smile reasserted itself. "Don't worry about me, Tomos. Remember. Once a Scarab..." She pushed up the sleeve of her nightgown, showing her tattoo.
He put a gloved hand to his own. "Always a Scarab. Take care, Nabile."
She lay back and pulled the blankets up over herself as he climbed up onto the window, and he jumped out and down, ready to make the journey back to the market and the slums.
There was no use worrying about her. She was safe. She was safer than all the Scarabs. She was healing, and she'd be fine, and they'd still be best friends like they'd always been. Nothing could change that.
To be continued...
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