Once a Scarab: Part Seven
Tomos and Horace headed out early the next morning on the long trip to the Palace – Tomos knew that Horace wanted to avoid Zina fretting over him. Tomos understood all too well – he knew that Nabile was dying to come with them.
He wished she was here, too. But she was best working with Jazan – the mages and Old Reggin would need someone less scary than Jazan to talk to. At least Horace was easier to work with than Bokan – if Tomos couldn't have Nabile at his back, the tall yellow Blumaroo was his next choice. Tomos clutched the letter from Nabile to Lejka. He opened it, just to see, but it looked like orderly black squiggles to him.
Horace looked over his shoulder. "You know, she could be calling us a pair of mutant Slorgs and we wouldn't know."
Tomos said, "She'd never do something like that. Too much depends on this."
Horace said, "Still. A Scarab, writing? None of the rest of us can do more than scribble our names."
Tomos was getting irritated quickly. "Once a Scarab, always a Scarab. Don't talk about her like she's some sort of traitor."
Horace said diplomatically, "I wasn't saying that. But you have to have seen that she's not the same."
They had to climb over a building to avoid some guards that seemed to be setting up a gate on Coltzan Way. Tomos was grateful – it gave him an excuse to not look at Horace. "Of course she's the same! She's Nabile! She'll always be Nabile."
"Well, of course she's Nabile. But Nabile now isn't the same as Nabile before you two got lost in the ruins and she married the king."
Tomos shook his head as he jumped up onto the roof. "Don't talk stupid, Horace."
Tomos looked around quickly – he recognized a plump red Poogle woman on the roof as a washerwoman. She said, "Boys, have you heard the news? Akhmaris has taken over the city!"
Horace nodded grimly. "Yes, we've heard."
The woman kept pegging up clothes on her line as she said, "Be careful, you two. You know he's always told the Princess – Fyora protect her – that she was too easy on thieves."
Horace tipped his hat to her. "Don't worry, ma'am, both of us like our skins in the condition they're in."
She said, "They're setting up more guard stations, and they say they're recruiting. There's no telling how many guards there are now, though, because Vivian told me that Ro was fired on the spot when he refused to swear to Akhmaris."
Tomos looked at Horace. Had the Blumaroo had the idea that he had?
If he had, he didn't show it. "Thank you, ma'am. We'll warn anyone we see."
Tomos said, "You know, we could try to get ex-guards on our side. If they won't swear to Akhmaris in order to save their jobs, that means they'll probably fight for the princess. We're going to need more manpower than merchants and thieves."
Horace snorted. "Guards? That's nuts. They'll probably drag us into the cells themselves."
Horace shook his head. "You're probably still confused from the sleep gas. Save your breath for climbing."
Tomos snorted at the dismissal. If the former guards cared about loyalty to the princess enough to be cast out, they'd certainly fight to restore her. And Nabile was a Scarab to the bone, just like the rest of them! Couldn't Horace just listen to him?
He thought vindictively that he'd like to tell King Jazan that Horace had doubted Nabile's loyalty and see what happened. But no, that would be too mean. He followed the Blumaroo in silence, good mood completely ruined.
Soon they reached the palace, creeping through the garden below the infirmary. Horace held a hand out. "You lead from here, Tomos. You're more familiar with this place than I am."
It was an old routine – Tomos got on the bench and jumped up onto the windowsill. It was empty, but they had to be quiet, and so he gave Horace the all-clear sign rather than saying anything as he jumped onto the bed and then down to the ground. He leaned against the bedpost as Horace joined him. Tomos asked in a whisper, "Do we go find Lejka, or wait here and hope she comes in?"
And that was when a hand from under the bed grabbed Tomos around the ankle.
Tomos couldn't suppress a yelp before he got control of himself – he tried to kick at the grey hand that held him, but the grip was too strong. Horace had jumped back in shock. And then a Tonu's head looked out from under the bed – Tomos gasped, "General Dacon!"
The general frowned as he let go of Tomos's ankle. "You're those two thief friends of the queen's! What are you doing in here?"
Horace said, "Princess Amira sent us to see if you were safe."
General Dacon crawled out from under the bed and stood, stretching. Tomos said, trying to be friendly, "I've had to hide under that bed myself. It gets hot, doesn't it?"
But the Tonu wasn't listening. "Where's Amira? Is she safe?"
Horace said, "She's hiding out with the Scarabs – Nabile got her out of the dungeon Akhmaris had her in."
The general sagged against the bed in relief. "Oh, thank Fyora."
Tomos remembered the other name Amira had mentioned. "Do you know where Enarka is?"
General Dacon said, "We escaped here together. Call me paranoid, but I had a few servants keeping an eye on Akhmaris. I didn't get enough warning to save the princess, but we had the time to convince Lejka to hide us."
Horace nodded. "Okay. So we talk to Lejka, grab Enarka, and get out of here before Akhmaris catches us. Plan?"
General Dacon sighed. "When that's what a plan looks like, I know things have gotten bad. I should have had Akhmaris sent to the southern border with Mentu years ago, but his family would have raised a stink."
There was a rap on the door – the Tonu said, "That's Lejka's signal."
The door opened, and the yellow Kau slid in. Her eyes widened. "Dacon, who are the ruffians?"
Tomos passed her the paper. "Ma'am, here's a letter from Nabile."
Lejka smiled. "Oh – you must be her Scarab friends, then. I apologize." She looked them over. "You could both stand to gain some weight. None of you thieves eat enough, do you?"
Horace shrugged. "We'd eat enough if we had the opportunity, ma'am."
Lejka read the letter in silence – Tomos wondered what Nabile had written. Behind him, Horace explained all that they knew to the general, but Tomos didn't listen. Finally, the yellow Kau nodded. "I'll be glad to let anyone into the palace through my infirmary when the time comes. But you should take Dacon and Enarka with you when you go – they'll be more help with the princess, Queen Nabile, and King Jazan."
General Dacon asked, "You have King Jazan with you?"
Tomos nodded. "Saved our tails last night."
The general pumped a fist in the air. "Yes!" When they all looked at him askance, he said, "The man may be scarier than a horde of Meepits, but we'll be glad to have him when things get nasty."
General Dacon started musing to himself about allies as Lejka slid out of the room. He said, "I'll have to find all of those fired guards – they'll be happy to fight against Akhmaris. I'll stop at a few of my friends' houses on our way back to your hideout, if we can."
Tomos stuck his tongue out at Horace. He'd been right! Horace merely rolled his eyes.
Then he remembered that he'd just done that in front of Princess Amira's most trusted general. He winced. The Scarabs were Nabile's family, and Horace had informed them all that no one could be allowed to think that Nabile had been raised among a bunch of hoodlums. He needed to remember that and behave better.
And then Enarka came in. There was a smile on the little blue Shoyru's face. "We're planning a rebellion?"
Dacon smiled back. "Yep, Shorty. These two gentlemen will take us back to where Amira's hiding out."
They started discussing the details, but Tomos heard a harsh voice from the other side of the closed door. They only had to look at each other for a second – Enarka and Dacon dashed for the space under the bed, and Tomos and Horace jumped over the ledge and out the window to stand on the bench below, half-hidden by a bush.
Tomos froze, heart beating quickly, as above them they heard the door open and Lejka said, "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, my lord."
Akhmaris said, "The title is 'Your Majesty,' Lejka."
"But I don't understand... Your Majesty. Why did you wish to talk to me in here?"
Akhmaris replied, "A little privacy, that is all. Now, Lejka, don't play me. I know that you were Amira's chief healer, and you cared for that thief after the fires ravaged Sakhmet."
Lejka said softly, "I must ask your pardon, You Majesty, but 'that thief' has been formally crowned a princess of Sakhmet and the queen of Qasala."
He said silkily, "Why, Lejka. If I were a harsher man, I'd have to accuse you of divided loyalties. Were you quite fond of the street rat?"
Tomos clenched his fists, and Horace laid a hand on his shoulder. But Tomos was still furious – no one got to talk about Nabile like that where Tomos could hear. Lejka said, "I cared for her for weeks. Is that so surprising?"
"Perhaps it is surprising for a woman who surely doesn't want to be accused of treason."
Akhmaris had been speaking pleasantly before – now his voice dropped to a hiss. "I will have Amira and that wretched urchin back under my control if I must tear this city apart to find them. They will not be allowed to get word to the demon-king in Qasala. This city is mine now, Lejka. You will do well to realize that."
"Your Majesty, why do you tell me this?"
"So you have a chance to think. If they come to you for aid, who is more likely to be able to help you – two powerless young women, or the King of Sakhmet? Now, I need to go speak to my mages. Remember this, Lejka."
And then the door shut. Several moments passed, and then Lejka asked, "Are you still here?"
Tomos vaulted up into the room – nearly braining Enarka, who was crawling out from under the bed. "Oh – sorry, sir!"
Horace bounded in next, and then General Dacon emerged again, flexing. The general said, "Lejka, perhaps you ought to come with us."
Lejka shook her head. "The princess and the queen asked me to use my position here and this window to let fighters into the Palace when the time comes. I will do my duty. As soon as you are gone, I will have no more secrets besides the ones inside my own mind."
General Dacon bowed. "We will leave quickly, then."
The yellow Kau merely nodded – she hid it well, but Tomos could still see that she was tense with fear. He bowed to her as well, and said, "Don't do anything stupid, ma'am. If Akhmaris comes after you, head to Kuraj's shop – he's the tailor on Coltzan Way. He'll take you to our hideout. The princess and Nabile will understand, I know."
She smiled. "Thank you, Tomos." But her smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
Tomos and Horace had to help General Dacon climb out the window – the Tonu was built for strength, not agility. At least Enarka was able to fly. Still, Tomos sighed. With the general, they'd have to keep to the ground again – he couldn't climb.
Instead of dwelling on the dangers of the trip back to the hideout or the directions the general was giving, he focused on what he'd like to say to Akhmaris next time they met. He allowed himself a smile at how scared Akhmaris would be if he knew that King Jazan was already here and angry. But he'd been openly disrespectful of Nabile in Tomos's hearing, and Tomos wasn't going to let the Qasalan king deliver that bill.
If Tomos had his way, Akhmaris was going to learn a harsh lesson about the loyalty of Scarabs.
To be continued...