I Will Stand Alone: Part Two
Jazan stared at Nightsteed. "What's Lord Asyir been arrested for?"
Nightsteed shook his head. "The warrant didn't say. Which means your father thinks he's been conspiring against him."
Jazan put a hand to his face. "I saw him and Lord Seji whispering earlier today – why in Neopia were they that stupid?"
"Well, apparently only Asyir's stupid, as Seji's still free."
Jazan tried to think. There wasn't much to be done right now. But he knew already that he'd have to do something. Razul couldn't be allowed to destroy another good man. He said, "Is there any word on what's happened to Asyir's family? Lady Masazi or their daughters?"
Nightsteed said, "No. But if they're smart they're packing to leave for Sakhmet, or someplace even farther removed. You know how the king is."
All too well. Jazan rubbed his forehead. "I don't think there's anything that we can do tonight. We'll have to find out what he's charged with and where he's being held, and what we can do without my father deciding we're conspiring against him."
Nightsteed chuckled darkly. "We are conspiring against him."
Jazan looked at the door. "I'm the crown prince. Since the king doesn't take care of his people, those duties fall to me. If it makes him my enemy, so be it."
Nightsteed shook his head. "Just listen to you. Sixteen going on sixty." Jazan glared at him, and the Uni amended, "I know there's no other choice, and it wasn't likely to happen any other way – but it doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see you get to act like a child one of these days."
Jazan said, "There's no use talking about might-have-been." Then he had an idea. "If we can make it happen discreetly, we ought to talk to Lord Seji. He might know what Asyir was involved in. And if there are conspirators – if this isn't just a delusion of Razul's – we can try to cover them up or get them out of here."
Nightsteed nodded. "Good thinking, Jazan. I'll see you in the morning."
Jazan looked at his desk after Nightsteed left. Sitting by his inkpot was a small portrait of a desert Ixi with long black hair and golden eyes that were the double of his own, though he hadn't yet developed the lines of sorrow that edged hers. His mother, Queen Esmeralda, whom he barely even remembered. She wouldn't want him to act like a child. She would want him to use every bit of power and cunning that he possessed in order to help the people that Razul tyrannized.
He laid a hand on the frame. "I'll do it, Mother. One of these days, he'll overreach, and I'll be waiting for him. Even if I have to do it alone, I'll do it. I swear."
There was no sign of Lord Seji in the palace the next morning when Jazan attempted to look for him – he knew that it was only common sense for the Hissi to make himself scarce after his friend had been arrested, but it made things more difficult. Jazan, as his father's son, was far too conspicuous to leave the palace easily. If he was seen outside, it would raise questions, and none of the answers would please Razul.
Jazan hated to send Nightsteed to do the work – he didn't like asking the closest friend he had to take a risk like that. But it wasn't half as large of a risk for him. One of Nightsteed's duties was that of head librarian in the Qasalan library, and he often went out looking for new books or scrolls. If he was looking for Seji, everyone would just assume that the lord had a text that Nightsteed wanted to buy. So Jazan decided to take the paper he was supposed to write and the book he was supposed to write it on – Nightsteed never let any crisis get in the way of giving him work to do – and sit in the front entry hall. If anything happened, it would be there, since his father was in the throne room today.
The main hall was completely empty, morning sun shining through dust motes that swirled idly without anything to disturb them. It was a tradition that dated to the dawn of Qasala that once a month the king held court in the throne room to hear out anyone who wished to speak to him, but while Razul still kept to the custom, it was only because he was always allowed to attend to his usual work interrupted. No sane Qasalan citizen wanted to draw the king's attention if it could possibly be avoided.
But Jazan hadn't even sat down before the heavy doors of the Qasalan palace were thrown open with such force that their hinges rattled.
Standing in the doorway was a tall, solidly built purple Elephante woman in a pink silk hood and gown, holding a golden wand with a stone that glowed with a soft rose color. But there was nothing soft in the Elephante matron's expression. Lady Masazi, Lord Asyir's wife, radiated anger the same way the streets outside radiated heat.
"King Razul!" she shouted, voice booming and echoing through the hall. "Come out and face me, King Razul!"
She was mad. She was absolutely Meepit-in-the-moonlight mad. Jazan hadn't been seen – he retreated quickly back behind a pillar, so he could watch what unfolded.
The doors of the throne room slammed into the walls with an equally thunderous crash. Jazan could already feel Razul gathering power to himself as he stared at Lady Masazi, pale eyes flashing. "Why would I want to face a traitor's wife?"
She snarled, "My husband's no traitor! You had him dragged away from his dinner without so much as an explanation as to what he's supposed to have done! My husband is loyal to Qasala!"
Razul asked icily, "But is he loyal to me?"
But before she got the chance to respond, Razul attacked. A wave of force flew at Masazi, too quickly for Jazan to tell what it was meant to do.
But Masazi raised her wand, and the wave parted around the shaft of light that arose from it, causing the tiles in the walls to shudder and mortar to rise up in a cloud of dust.
Razul snarled, and another blast ripped forth from his upraised hands – this one, Masazi deflected upward, and the candles in the chandelier above them fell to the floor in puddles of melted wax, sprinkled with the ashes of their wicks. The room was dimmer now, but Jazan was sensing the flow of power as much as he was actually watching, and he was perfectly able to tell what happened next.
Masazi raised her wand to retaliate against Razul with an attack of her own – Jazan cringed at the mistake. Razul was furious, and she shouldn't have let down her defense even for a second. It was all the opening that Razul needed, and he attacked with the speed of a striking snake. Heavy chains appeared around Lady Masazi, dragging the Elephante to her knees and sending her wand flying. The shaft snapped when it hit a wall, and the whole wand disintegrated in a shower of sparks.
Then Razul turned straight toward Jazan's hiding place. "Boy! I see you skulking over there – get over here!"
Oh, sweet Fyora.
Jazan did, keeping up the pretense of the perfect docile child, which had been far easier before his shoulders had filled out. He asked, cringing more than he usually did, "Yes, sir?"
Razul ordered, "Tell me – whom do you serve, boy?"
Jazan knew exactly what answer to give. "I serve you and you alone, sir."
He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Masazi's eyes were narrowed – she clearly thought that he was the loyal patsy that he was pretending to be. He knew that, as far as helping her family later, that was good – she was far too impassioned, far too angry, and she might give him away if he knew the truth.
But that didn't stop him from feeling like the scum that collected in old wells as Razul smirked. "See, Masazi? Even my halfwit son knows where the power lies in Qasala. Perhaps he can explain it to you – you'll have plenty of time to figure it out down in the dungeons."
Masazi snapped, "He could explain it for an age, and I'd never understand why anyone would follow a brute like you!"
Razul said, "Perhaps that's true – you aren't very good at explaining things, are you, boy?"
As Razul laughed, Jazan shook his head. "No, sir."
But Razul was in high good humor at his own wit, and Jazan had an opening. With a subtle spell, he reached out and touched Masazi's mind. It wasn't an easy magic, and if she'd been any farther away, or a less powerful mage, he wouldn't have been able to manage it. As it was, he could only give her four words.
I will help you.
Perhaps her control was better than he'd thought it was – she didn't betray anything as the guards came at their king's orders and took her away.
Jazan was left alone again with a mystery. Why had she done something so utterly foolish as attack Razul? After Asyir had been arrested, it would have been far more intelligent for her to lie low.
There had to be something else going on. Something important enough for Masazi to deliver herself into Razul's hands with a big, noisy magical fight. Jazan would have to figure out what was going on – he wasn't willing to watch more people fall victim to his father. Not if there was anything he could do to prevent it.
Asyir, Masazi, Seji, and whatever they were involved in were all dancing on the edge of a knife. If anything else went wrong for them, they would fall.
Straight into the hands of a mad sorcerer-king.
And if Jazan were discovered, he'd fall alongside them.
To be continued...