Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 189,271,873 Issue: 551 | 29th day of Relaxing, Y14
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Kings and Curses: Part Two

by saphira_27


As soon as the Lutari had left, Esmeralda burst out laughing. "He's crazy!"

      Caspar added, grinning, "Wackier than a Weewoo."

      Jessamine said, "It was a tomb, though. Does that mean that Caspar won the bet?"

      Esmeralda shook her head adamantly. "Nope. He guessed it would be Melchior the Old's tomb, not just any tomb. Keep your hands off my money!"

      They thought it was funny. They thought it had been a joke. Jazan let out a breath of relief – they hadn't seen, then, how close their father had been to losing his temper. If they'd seen that, they wouldn't be able to laugh. He took a few deep breaths, trying to regain full control of himself before he said anything else.

      He'd have to do something – read this scroll himself, and if it turned out to be real he'd have to keep that foolish Lutari from trying to get into the tomb. Jazan was certain that Aurajar would have guarded his final resting place well, and the warding spells would only be surpassed in their lethality by their inventiveness. He said, "It's just about time to stop for the day – I think the rest of what I have here can be left for the morrow. I'm going to go find your mother."

      Caspar said, "I'll straighten some of this up, Father."

      Jazan sighed. "I'll be grateful." He ruffled Caspar's short black hair as he passed him.

      Esmeralda asked, "Will you come spar with me later, Father?" Jessamine was already completely reabsorbed in her book.

      Jazan nodded. "Perhaps. I need to find Nabile and decide what ought to be done about that... character. If I have time I will." He reflected wryly that he wouldn't be able to practice swordwork with his daughter much longer without embarrassing himself. Caspar was a proficient swordsman, but Esmeralda had a true gift, and every time Jazan fought her it was a little harder to win.

      He found Nabile in the front entry hall – the pink Ixi had been headed up the stairs toward his office. She asked, "Did the crazy explorer get upstairs?"

      Jazan nodded. "And I sent him straight back down."

      He hadn't let the irritation slide into his voice, but he hadn't needed to – Nabile could tell anyway. She always could. She asked, "What did he say to you?"

      "Well, first he said he wanted to dig up Aurajar the Cruel. And then he called me a tyrant for telling him he couldn't."

      Nabile winced. "Maybe I should have sent him to Mirzah, instead."

      Jazan couldn't help but laugh at the image. Mirzah was the leader of the Qasalan Mages' College, and one of the few people Jazan knew with a temper shorter than his own. Where he'd only thought about turning this Roxton into a Grackle Bug, Mirzah would have actually done it. Then Nabile asked, "Do you think he could be a serious problem?"

      Jazan unrolled the scroll. "I'll read this, and then we'll know."

      He looked down – it had been meticulously done, with the translation neatly written under the Old Qasalan characters.

     "Aurajar sleeps in the northern borderlands

     In the temple to his own glory

     Sleeps, and dreams

     Of the day he shall step back into the light he hates

     And turn all into darkness

     Beware the sign of the crown and the star

     Beware the third hill."

      Jazan frowned. "It would have fallen into a rhythm in the Old Qasalan – very like most poetry of that period. Most crackpots and forgers can't write that well."

      Nabile pointed to faint lines on the paper. "You can see where someone erased pencil-marks – they were tracing something so they could get the hieroglyphs right."

      Jazan sighed. "I'm going to call it genuine."

      Nabile asked, pleading, "Why must people read warnings and think that they're actually invitations?" Jazan just leaned against the cool stone wall and shut his eyes. Then Nabile took his hand. "Let's go to the fountain in the little courtyard – the spray makes it nice and cool there, and we can at least worry about evil kings and cursed tombs in comfort."

      They were the only ones in this courtyard inside the palace – everyone else was probably resting before their suppers. Jazan sat on the tiled rim of the fountain, looking at the arched doorways and the palms and flowers that thrived in the cooler, moister air brought by the flowing water. Nabile perched beside him, and then dipped her hands in the basin and spread the water across her face. "Oh, it was brilliant to add this."

      He grinned – it had been her idea to have a fountain in the palace itself to mirror the larger public one in the city square. "You did well." He caught a straying drop of water before it could fall onto her silk dress – she smiled back.

      Nightsteed trotted through one of the arches. "Caspar told me the whole story – we have a nutty explorer seeking Aurajar's tomb?"

      Jazan held out the scroll so he could read it. "It seems real enough to me."

      Nightsteed nodded grim assent. "To me as well."

      Nabile asked, "So what are our choices? Do we just sit back and let the traps in the tomb do their work?"

      Jazan shook his head. "Aurajar had a nasty streak. I wouldn't put it past him to have left the seeds of a plague or a disaster in there that could spell ruin for the whole city."

      General Sambar said, "One curse is more than enough for any of us to have to live through."

      Jazan looked up – General Sambar and Mirzah were walking into the courtyard, followed by Caspar and Esmeralda. The giant royal Elephante and the little blue Acara were two of Jazan's most trusted advisors. Mirzah explained, "Caspar and Esmeralda brought us and explained what's going on. Is it real?"

      Jazan nodded. "Yes." Then he said to the twins, "Thank you very much for your help."

      Esmeralda sat down on the edge of the fountain on Nabile's other side. "You know what would be a really good thank-you? If you let us stay and listen."

      Jazan looked at Nabile – she grinned wryly. He said, "If your mother says you can."

      They both immediately turned pleading eyes on Nabile – since they were each taller than she was, it no longer had the effect that it had when they were small. She raised an eyebrow at Jazan, then nodded. "Okay – but no telling Neera or Jessa."

      Sambar took a wooden bench from between two archways – he and Mirzah sat there, with Jazan and Nabile remaining on the fountain. Nightsteed stood by Jazan's side, and the twins both arranged themselves cross-legged on the tile floor.

      Jazan took a deep breath. "Well, we all know what's going on. There's an explorer who's close to finding the tomb of Aurajar the Cruel, and we can't afford to just leave him to his own devices."

      Sambar said, "Maybe we should find it first. We could post a guard."

      Mirzah shook her head. "Bored, edgy guards in the borderlands end up falling asleep or breaking in themselves to relieve the tension. Better to set some warning spells that'll leave any curiosity speakers trussed up like a Petpetpet in a Spyder web."

      Nabile said, "Maybe we could bring in outside help. Hanso and Brynn are still in charge of Queen Fyora's artifact retrieval team, right?"

      Jazan shook his head. "We don't want anything retrieved out of there. We want it left in peace." He'd learned to tolerate Hanso over the years, but there were limits, and he would not actually ask that Ixi for help.

      Caspar said, "Well, if we're not going to talk to Faerieland, then it's up to us. And if we can't just leave the tomb and cross our fingers, then we'd better get started finding it."

      There was no one quite like a sixteen-year-old for cutting to the heart of a matter. Jazan looked at his son with pride. He really would make a great king one day. He nodded. "Caspar's put it well – that seems to be our most viable choice."

      Sambar said, "We'll have to get some reliable people. Kioke's squad is good at finding things, but there's a lot of Fyora-forsaken borderland to comb through and not a lot of people."

      Jazan loved it when this happened – they had faced a potential problem, but now the solution was in reach. And while the solution wasn't without its risks, it was still the best one as far as Jazan could see, and he got to be here watching it come into being piece by piece, something crafted out of words and ideas that would keep his people safe.

      That was when a lanky apprentice mage ran in. "King Jazan! King Jazan!"

      Jazan's stomach sank – it was the one assigned to watch over the scrying ball this week. "Who is it?"

      "Queen Fyora, sir. She wishes to talk to you."

      Esmeralda piped up, "Can we come? We promise we'll be quiet and well-behaved and you won't even know we're there!"

      Nabile's purple eyes were wide. She knew as well as he did that Queen Fyora never bothered to scry him to inquire after the health of his family. Something was going wrong, and Jazan had a gut feeling that this routine, if slightly unnerving, matter of an explorer and a lost tomb was about to become much, much worse.

To be continued...

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