Once a Scarab: Part Eleven
Even though Princess Amira was shorter than he was, she was moving almost at a run as they left the house they'd been told to stay in, and Tomos had to work to keep up. She snapped, "I'm no cosseted flower, to stay behind and wait when the people loyal to me are in danger!"
Tomos tried to persuade her – despite what Nabile had told him, he wasn't willing to tackle her and sit on her, as he would have when Bokan tried to do something stupid in the heat of the moment. "It's not cowardice, Princess – it's sanity!"
She retorted, "I need to be there! If I'm not there, my people may think that Jazan is taking over Sakhmet for himself!"
Tomos said, "No one will think that, because no one will see him, because Nabile told me that he'll be exhausted after breaking that barrier!"
She turned to look at him with derision. "Oh, sweet Fyora! Don't tell me that you were happy about babysitting me and not getting to see any action."
Actually, when all the shouting and the fireworks started and Akhmaris yelled for an attack, Tomos had been perfectly content to stay safe, but he wasn't about to admit to that. Amira said, "I want to go to the palace, and the throne room."
It was official – Nabile was the only sane royal person that he knew.
But he wasn't quite sure how to say no to the princess, since she would be back in power shortly. He didn't want her to be angry with him, since, despite the reassurances, he hadn't liked his last stay in a cell and he didn't want it to happen again. So he merely followed and drew his sword, even though he couldn't really do much more than scare anyone with it.
The side door Princess Amira took to enter the palace was deserted – the guard had either fled or went to join the fighting, which Tomos could hear raging in the plaza. He looked around, taking in the wealth around him, hoping that his dirty feet weren't leaving any mess on the clean floor.
He wouldn't dare steal anything, though. Not with the princess right here.
He didn't know the way to the throne room himself – while he'd been there once, when Nabile married Jazan, he hadn't really been paying attention to the route. So he followed the princess, looking around and hoping that no one bigger than him was going to try and attack him. She pushed open a set of tall doors – the gold had to be merely gilt, or she wouldn't have been able to move them. Tomos looked around – this place seemed a lot bigger empty. Gold and jewels winked in every corner, and he felt small and scrubby.
"So, Amira, did you bring your street rat cousin with you?"
Tomos wheeled – Akhmaris stood in front of the throne! Amira crossed her arms as she glared at him. "I knew you'd be here."
Tomos's first instinct was to ask why she'd brought them here, then. But he swallowed that. He had to show Akhmaris that there was only one rat in the room, and it wasn't the Scarab. He stood tall and gripped his sword, hoping desperately that he wouldn't actually have to fight with it.
Then Akhmaris looked straight at him. "Another street rat, Amira? Are you starting a collection?"
Tomos let himself get angry, angry at the way this Eyrie sneered at him, angry at the way he tried to use this city to fulfill his own ambitions, angry at the way he'd treated Nabile. He said, "Call me what you like. But you're going to pay for what you've said about Nabile."
The princess stood next to him, icy and dignified. "The Qasalan army has come to our aid. King Jazan made it to the city before your mages created the block. It's over, Akhmaris. You've lost. You can have a place in the same tower as Sankara, if you like – and anyone else who doubts the strength of the lawful ruler of Sakhmet can join you!"
And then Akhmaris drew his sword. "My guards are still fighting, but fortunately I don't need them. Your studies have never involved weapons, Amira, and I'm certain that dumb thug you brought with you has never touched a sword before today. He holds it like a shovel."
Tomos adjusted his grip on the hilt. He whispered to the princess, "Get behind me." He'd been given a job. Everyone trusted him to do that job. Scarabs didn't have much, but they did have their word. As a Scarab, when he gave his word, he meant it. He told Akhmaris, "You're going to have to come through me."
Akhmaris advanced on him like a gilded demon – Tomos gave Princess Amira a look. Thankfully, she understood it, and backed away. She needed to keep away, or he'd be distracted. Then he started looking around again – Akhmaris was bigger, with a better sword and more training. Tomos needed to even out the odds a little more.
There were several suits of armor along the walls of the throne room – one, by the portrait of Princess Neera, had a spear. That would work better – he could make Akhmaris keep his distance. He dived for it and grabbed it, letting his sword fall. Behind Akhmaris's back, he could see Princess Amira taking a sword from another.
But Tomos had more pressing matters to deal with – Akhmaris was stalking still closer to him. He asked, green eyes narrowed, "Really? You expect to fight me? Boy, hand over the princess to me, and I may let you live."
Tomos kept the spear pointed straight at the Eyrie – he had to keep him far away enough that he couldn't use his sword. He could only hope that all of the jewelry and finery that the usurper was wearing would keep him from taking to the air easily, or Tomos was doomed.
Tomos knew he just had to stall for time, like when he had to keep distracting onlookers while Nabile finished picking their pockets. Akhmaris would be alone, soon, and people would come to find them, and all he had to do was keep himself and the princess alive until then. He jabbed a little, knowing he couldn't actually hit the Eyrie. He just wanted to look as though he was putting up a fight.
But then Akhmaris turned, and Tomos saw something shine in his hand. A knife! He was going to throw a knife at Princess Amira! Tomos dropped his spear and hurled himself at the traitorous general, knocking him to the ground as the weapon left his hand – the knife clattered to the floor. The princess screamed, "TOMOS!"'
And then Tomos realized the trouble he was in. A wrestling match wouldn't end well against a larger, heavier opponent, especially if Tomos couldn't find a way to end it quickly. But he was desperate, and far more used to scrambling than Akhmaris was.
He tried to roll away, but Akhmaris's grip was painfully tight – he knew that the Scarab was more agile. Tomos wriggled like he would to escape an angry shopkeeper, using every trick he knew. Akhmaris was tough – he was a fighter. Tomos had to try and get away! His heart was pounding and his body ached with the toll it was taking, but his head was clear. He was a Scarab – he was used to tough situations.
Finally, with a lunge that took all his strength, he shoved the Eyrie off. Akhmaris landed flat on his back – all of the gold and finery he wore ensured that he landed heavily
Tomos couldn't quite believe he managed it. He took a split second to check on the princess – watching from a safe distance with her borrowed sword at the ready – and then he lunged for his spear, every muscle protesting. He stood and pointed it at Akhmaris, who was still lying on his back on the ground. "Don't move. And don't try any dirty tricks like that again. King Jazan's coming, and he's angry."
Then a voice said, "Someone called?"
It was Nabile and Jazan! Akhmaris's eyes widened as they entered the throne room through another door. Nabile said, "Jazan could feel a few of your emotions through the mirror. He could tell you were upset about something, and that Amira was determined, and he guessed that she was dragging you into the Palace. So we followed you here. Good job, Tomos!"
Akhmaris spat at her, "Don't give me that smug look, you little street rat! I'll see your demon-city smashed to –"
He didn't get to finish the statement. There was a red flash, and then Tomos was looking at a small Scamander at the end of his spear. He grabbed it by the tail before it could scamper away. Then the princess took a bowl from by the throne and dumped some dates out of it – Tomos winced at the waste of food – and put it over the little Petpet, and watched it hit the glass uselessly several times before she asked, "Is it permanent?"
King Jazan replied, "Only about six hours – I'm practically drained." He clearly was – he fell to his knees, hands at his temples and eyes shut. Nabile sat beside him, looking just as weary. But he continued, "They should be getting the city back under control – Kiyaa's sending me report. The guards on the walls have surrendered already."
Princess Amira nodded. "Any who didn't deliberately conspire with Akhmaris will be allowed to remain, though they will never receive promotion. I'll need to find new captains and generals."
King Jazan said, "May I suggest Pashki as a new chief of the Mages' College? She's got the right suspicious mindset for it. She won't let anyone plot treason."
Then the princess looked at Tomos. "You saved my life."
He looked down at his dusty feet. "Just did my job, Your Highness."
She said, "I've made my decision. All the thieves who fought with us – all the Scarabs, the Copper Crowns, and the Shadowfeet – will receive full pardons."
Nabile pushed herself to her feet with a groan, and then hugged Princess Amira. "Oh, thank you!"
She said, "And Tomos, I'd like to give you a position as... not exactly an advisor. But someone I can trust to get things done, who will report only to me. Dacon has a few men like that that he sends on missions when he needs things done quietly and thoroughly, and I know the position comes with a rank of captain in the Sakhmet Guard."
Tomos looked up in astonishment. A full pardon. A captain's position. A job working for the Princess herself. And full pardons for all the Scarabs...
But if they weren't thieves, were they still Scarabs? What would happen to them without the desperation that had flung them together? Would this be worth losing his family?
He looked at Nabile, who was beaming at him. She no longer needed to steal to survive. And yet she was still a Scarab to the core. Once a Scarab, always a Scarab. Always loyal to each other, no matter what happened.
So he smiled at Amira. "I accept, Princess."
Nabile threw her arms around him and hugged him. From his position on the floor, King Jazan said, "Congratulations, Tomos." Then he moaned, "Oh, my head..."
Nabile said, "I'll go find Lejka and get you something."
Tomos shook his head. "Oh, no need. I'll go do it."
Amira said, "And, as your first official assignment, after you're done with that, could you and Dacon find a good place to put our Scamander? When he turns back into an Eyrie he won't fit in this bowl."
Tomos threw what he thought was a fairly good salute. "Yes, Princess."
Apparently it wasn't that good – Nabile snickered. He stuck his tongue out at her – with a captaincy came certain liberties, and getting to tease a friend who was also a queen in front of other dignitaries had to be one of them.
And then he jogged off into the palace – a palace that looked a little different, now that he wasn't wondering when he'd be hauled off to its dungeons. Of course, he still didn't know his way around. He had work to do. All of the Scarabs would have work to do to adjust to their new lives.
But he was confident that the work would be worth it.