It Takes a Thief: Part One
"Nabile, are you coming to the marketplace with me or not?"
Nabile looked up from the letter Amira had written to her – Mirzah, Jazan's chief mage, was standing over her. "I just need to go make sure Jazan isn't drowning in paperwork and small children, and then I'll be ready."
The diminutive blue Acara snorted. "He's the king. Of course he's drowning in paperwork."
Nabile had been sitting by one of the Qasalan palace's courtyard fountains – it was a good deal cooler than any stuffy study could be on a sweltering desert afternoon. Of course, she never had to deal with paperwork important enough to cause a war if it looked sloppy or had water spots, whereas Jazan did. She walked quickly through the palace to Jazan's study – behind her, Mirzah grumbled good-naturedly about silly tall people and their silly long legs as she half-jogged to keep up.
Nabile knocked on the dark, aged wood of the door to Jazan's study. "It's me!" She opened the door.
She was immediately rushed by the twins, Caspar and Esmeralda. The five-year-old Desert Ixis both hugged her tightly around the waist. Aldie held up a wooden sword. "Look what Father's shown me, Mama!"
Nabile smiled as Aldie began to carefully go through the movements of a basic sword exercise as Caspar tugged her other hand. "Mama, look at my puzzle!"
Jazan looked up from his desk in the center of the room – Nabile smiled once again as she saw that Jazan was using one of his feet to rock one-year-old Neera, asleep in her cradle, so he had the use of both his hands. Jazan scolded gently, "Quiet, you two! You'll wake the baby! And Esmeralda, if you attempt to use Caspar as a practice dummy one more time I'll take that sword away."
Nabile couldn't help but laugh as she shook her head. "They aren't distracting you too much, are they?"
Jazan smiled. "Of course not. Even fighting, they're still far cuter and more entertaining than some of my lords could ever be. And from the way Salmo and Onas are each whining to me about the other encroaching on their territory, likely more mature as well."
"I'm leaving with Mirzah... she wants me to help her pick out a new robe for the Sakhmeti state visit next month."
Jazan looked back down at his paperwork. "She does know that it doesn't matter what she wears, as long as she waits to turn anyone into Grackle Bugs until I tell her to?"
Nabile pointed out, "You know that if you or Mirzah turn any of Amira's nobles into Petpets, I'm going to have to listen to her complain about it."
"Why would she complain? I'd be thrilled if she let Pashki turn Salmo and Onas into Grackle Bugs."
Nabile smiled again – Caspar was back to his puzzle, and Aldie was fighting the lampstand. She always thought it was funny to see Jazan's staid office overrun by small children, and to see how happy it made her solemn Kyrii king to have them there. "I'll be back soon."
Mirzah was waiting outside. She sighed. "Why must we have state visits? Why can't you and the king just invite Princess Amira for a luncheon? It would be easier than putting up with Vyssa and all those snotty, self-important nobles who look down their noses at our royalty."
Nabile did agree a little. While she and her cousin Amira were good friends, and the Aisha princess had many good and honorable vassals, Amira's little sister Vyssa and quite a few others of Sakhmet's nobility were both disdainful of Nabile's youth as a street thief and openly distrustful of Jazan due to his past with dark magic.
After twelve years as queen, Nabile no longer was shaken too much by the rudeness – she'd learned that becoming queen wasn't like in stories, where everyone magically loved you, and she'd always known as a thief that she couldn't let meanness hurt her or she'd never do anything but curl up in a ball and cry. But she and Jazan were well-liked in Qasala, and the behavior of certain snootier Sakhmeti never entirely ceased to be an unpleasant shock.
Still, Nabile didn't want to encourage Mirzah's grousing or someone would end up turned into a Grackle Bug. "It'll be fine. We've made it alive thus far." She smiled. "I'll just carry Neera around with me. They'll be too busy cooing at her to make any comments about street rats."
Mirzah said thoughtfully, "Maybe I could keep Aldie with me. Because she's so young, if she whacks anyone with that practice blade the king gave her it's obviously an accident..."
Nabile scolded, only half joking, "No using my five-year-old to cause a diplomatic fracas. Do it yourself."
Mirzah gave an exaggerated sigh. "Can't a mage get any help around here?"
They wandered out into the marketplace in the big plaza in front of the palace. Nabile loved the bustle – she remembered how quiet Qasala had been when she'd first come here, when the city had been ruined and its people cursed. Now it was bright and full of life and laughter, and she was both proud and humbled that she'd been able to help it happen.
Mirzah walked over to a clothing stall. "Look at these tunics, Nabile! They might be good for Caspar and Aldie."
Nabile picked one up. The quality was good – a necessity for small children who spent most of their time running around, climbing up things, falling off things, and jumping into fights with each other at the slightest provocation. She picked out a dark blue one for Caspar and a dark red for Aldie, and the shopkeeper smiled as she paid him. "Thank you, Your Majesty."
Nabile looked around – Aldie had put holes in the knees of her play trousers again, and she needed to buy some of those as well.
That was when she noticed the tall blue Gelert standing in the entrance to an alley. He was swathed in a dark cloak, which wasn't unusual under the blazing desert sun, and though his dark clothes clearly weren't desert-make, that was still not out of the ordinary, especially in recent years as trade had flourished. What struck Nabile was the man's stance. Relaxed, but the sort of relaxation that could slide into a fighting posture in an instant. Jazan stood like that. What was he on guard about?
And there was something furtive about him. Nabile knew furtive when she saw it. The way the Gelert stood in the shadow in his dark cloak was engineered to blend in without seeming to. He was up to something.
Then he turned to profile, scanning the square himself, and in the process giving Nabile a lovely view of the scar that curved up his muzzle to just under his right eye.
Blue Gelert with a muzzle scar.
Signs of both a warrior and a thief.
Kanrik, the Master Thief of the Thieves' Guild.
Nabile had never met him herself, but she'd heard more than a few tales of him. She'd been a street thief when Galem Darkhand was Master, after all. He'd been something straight out of a nightmare, and Kanrik had managed to beat him in a fair fight! He was said to be a better man than Galem – not that that took much effort – but the Sakhmeti street rats had suffered too much at the hands of Thieves' Guild enforcers for Nabile to trust him farther than she could throw him.
Qasala was her city. What was he doing here?
But as Nabile thought that, Kanrik looked up – straight across the square. Their eyes met. She could tell from his face that he'd seen her, recognized her, and known that she'd recognized him – in that instant, she hoped that he'd seen in her face, as well, that she didn't intend to let him get away with whatever plot he was working. Not in the city that she'd helped Jazan turn from a dream to a reality.
Then he turned and started walking down the alley, just slowly enough to not draw attention.
If he got away, they'd never find him.
Nabile started to follow. Mirzah asked, "Nabile, where are you going? What's wrong?"
Nabile kept her eyes on the retreating Gelert. "It's Kanrik. The Master Thief. Go back to the Palace, warn Jazan. I'm going to tail him so we don't lose him." Catching the expression on Mirzah's face out of the corner of her eye, she added, "It's fine. I won't get too close. But we can't afford to let him run free in Qasala. We've gotten too far for that to happen now."
Mirzah said, "I ought to go with you."
"You couldn't keep up." He'd try to climb, she knew that. But no one climbed better or faster than a Scarab, and Nabile had kept in practice.
The little Acara mage said morosely, "The king's going to turn me into a Scamander and give me to Aldie and Caspar for a pet."
"I'll tell him I made you do it. He'll believe it. Go!"
Fortunately, Nabile had worn a loose blouse and a skirt that allowed plenty of room for movement. As soon as she worked her way through the crowd, she was able to break into a run – she kicked off her sandals so she could go barefoot, and move as silently as the hot wind.
Still, Kanrik looked behind and saw her –she'd known he would. He broke into a run as well, and leapt for the closest wall and began to climb.
Good. He was taller than her, but she doubted that that meant he could climb faster than her. Nabile started climbing the wall closest to her – leaping the flat roofs would allow her to make up some time and narrow the Master Thief's lead.
Master Thief. Queen Fyora's artifact finder Hanso claimed that title, too. But Nabile would take herself and her Scarabs as their equals any day. Up here on the rooftops her queenship, her soft bed in the palace, and her duties as a ruler were distant. Up here she was a scrawny pickpocket who could climb like a Mynci and run like the wind.
And as she tailed Kanrik across the rooftops of Qasala, barely even registering the occasional bemused glances of the others who preferred to walk above the streets, she didn't even try to stop a fierce grin from spreading across her face.
To be continued...
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