It Takes a Thief: Part Three
As they walked back to the palace as inconspicuously as possible, Nabile didn't question how much she trusted the tall thief and the little adventurer at her back. She knew quite well how much she could trust them. She could trust Kanrik to do what was best for himself and the Thieves' Guild, and she could trust Hannah to ultimately side with him. Her job would be to make sure that what was best for Kanrik coincided with what was best for Qasala for as long as possible, and not try to test the Master Thief's loyalty. The Qasalans didn't know enough about the Sway and the way they operated. Jazan would hate it, but they needed Kanrik.
She'd let down her hair as they left the inn, letting it hang in front of her face and hopefully shield her from anyone who would question the company she kept. Hannah and Kanrik both had cloaks and hoods, which made them look a little more like desert travelers. They made the journey in silence – no need to draw extra attention to themselves.
Finally, they made their way into a back entrance of the palace which opened into a little-used corridor.
A little-used corridor where, Nabile saw, Caspar and Aldie had industriously set up a fort using several blankets and pieces of furniture that she recognized from other areas of the palace. Of course, one particular ugly gilt table was far more use here than it was in the mages' vestibule, and Nabile had always thought that the little carpet in Jazan's office – currently serving as a door hanging – was both useless and uncomfortable to the touch.
Aldie said, "Mama, we're making a tower so we can..."
Then she fell silent. Nabile realized that the twins were both staring at Kanrik wide-eyed, and they both moved closer to her. Caspar asked, "Who's he?"
Nabile said, "He's here to see Father." Plenty of strange-looking people came to see Jazan, and the children accepted that explanation readily and crawled back into their haphazard domain.
Hannah snickered. "You scare small children." Kanrik merely grunted, and Nabile grinned.
They were close to Jazan's study here – Nabile went ahead, and opened the door. Jazan was still reading, rocking Neera's cradle with his foot as she slept on. But he looked up at her as she walked in, warm golden eyes wide with concern. "What's happened, Nabile? Mirzah said something about the Master Thief!"
Nabile said, "We have a problem. And, believe it or not, the people who are about to walk into your office aren't it."
Jazan looked up at her then. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
Nabile held out her hands. "Assuredly not. But once I've explained, I think you'll agree that we're short on other choices."
And that was when Kanrik and Hannah came in.
In an instant, Jazan was up on his feet and out from behind the desk, his sword in one hand and a fireball in the other, blocking the cradle from view In the same moment, Kanrik drew his sword and the same long knife with which he'd threatened Nabile as he pushed Hannah behind himself.
Nabile cried, "No, no, no!" She said to Jazan, "We've made an agreement."
Jazan's eyes were narrow. "An agreement. With the Master Thief. And how much does his word mean?"
Kanrik's face was just as unfriendly. "When I give my word, I keep it, Your Majesty."
Nabile had to keep this from coming to a fight. Jazan had been taken by surprise, and tended to react angrily to surprises. And Kanrik clearly wasn't about to back down. She said, "If we'll all sit down, we can explain everything. There's no reason to fight each other – as strange as it seems, I think we're on the same side."
Hannah asked from her position in the doorway, "Is that queen-speak for telling them they're behaving like two Werelupes fighting over a bone?"
Kanrik muttered, "Hannah..."
Hannah frowned up at him. "This whole trip, you've been telling me to keep quiet until we figure out where the Sway is and what nasty magical artifacts they've got. I know it's more your avenue than mine, so I get it. But I'm not going to let you get into a fight that isn't even necessary and that you're probably going to lose."
Kanrik relaxed ever so slightly. Nabile took her chance – she scooped up Neera from her cradle just as she started to fuss, and handed the little pink Zafara to Jazan. He had to sheath his sword and let his magic dissipate in order to pick her up and cradle her. After a few moments, he handed the baby back to Nabile, with a smile so small that only Nabile, who knew him so well, would be able to tell it was even present. "Point taken. So what's this about those egotistical power-hungry maniacs?"
Kanrik shot a look at Jazan, but he and Hannah pulled up two chairs, and Nabile took another. She explained quickly how she'd seen Kanrik in the market and pursued him, leaving out the bit where she'd gotten overmatched and threatened with a knife – not only did it not make her look particularly clever, but it would also make Jazan dislike Kanrik even more.
Next, Kanrik took over – he leaned back casually in his chair. Nabile recognized the look of someone deliberately trying to be insolent. And Jazan wouldn't take that well either. Kanrik explained, "The Sway's expanding from drawing rooms and secret meetings into theft and smuggling. Specifically, the theft and smuggling of ancient weapons and magical artifacts, to both hurt my business and claim the battlefield in Tyrannia for themselves. And that could mean causing all sorts of havoc in Sakhmet and Qasala as they pillage and blackmail their way into possession of these artifacts.
"We can work with each other. I know more about the Sway and the way it works. I've fought many of their folk. But they've also fought my folk, and would recognize them, which limits how much they can move in Qasala. They won't be ready for any guards or mages that you could spare to come down on their heads."
Nabile added quickly, "I agreed that if we worked together, there would be a truce for the duration of the arrangement and for twenty-four hours afterwards for the Thieves' Guild to leave Qasala. But it only applies to past crimes. It's not a ticket to pocket the Palace silver."
Neera started to fuss again, and Nabile picked her up. The little girl didn't particularly like having to sit in her cradle when big, interesting people were talking above her head, and she quieted, her black hair sticking out in tufts all over, as she sat on Nabile's lap.
Jazan merely rested his forehead on his hand. "The Sway, tampering with old desert artifacts."
Hannah said, "Most of the old desert treasures are Fire artifacts. We'll know if the Sway make a mistake – they'll be able to see the plume of smoke over in Sakhmet."
Nabile had been thinking about who to bring in on the plot as they'd returned. She said, "We'll want to keep this small and select. A few of the mages. Perhaps any backup that I'm certain Kanrik has hiding somewhere."
Jazan smiled slightly once more. "It takes a thief to catch a thief?"
Nabile smiled. "Exactly."
Kanrik said, "They'll have to find other thieves to do that work – Neovian aristocrats and Three Kingdoms nobles aren't doing any safe-breaking. If any of the other big cabals were involved, I'd have heard. They'll be using castoffs, small-timers, street rats, and the like. They'll have roots in the city somehow, and we'll be able to track those if we're careful about it."
Kanrik really was irritatingly casual about throwing the term "street rat" around. Nabile wondered if he'd ever been in a position to have it flung at him alongside the washing-up water. But at least he'd admitted that she was right. If Qasala was getting help, it didn't matter whether it came from someone who ought to watch his mouth a little more or not.
Hannah said, "I may go to a few of the inns that the treasure-hunters frequent. See if any of them have word of artifacts moving. It's not too well-known that I work with you, Kanrik – it should be fine, especially if you have someone else in the palace who could come with me. Any treasure-hunters on staff?"
Jazan scowled. "I find it a wiser policy to leave lost artifacts lost. We remember our history in the desert, and rarely chose to hide our treasures. Most of those cursed things that were sealed tightly or buried deep, to be lost to later generations, were hidden so for a reason."
Hannah nodded. "Makes sense. I try to avoid digging up things that might blow my head off. But if you make something idiot-proof, someone will go and invent a better idiot."
Kanrik snickered, but Jazan merely sighed. Nabile could tell just from looking at him that he'd stay up far too late tonight, working and worrying, and then he'd force himself out of bed tomorrow before even the sun had woken to continue gathering information and researching artifacts.
The door to the study swung open. "Hey, Jazan – ack!"
The door slammed shut again, but Nabile had recognized Hanso's voice.
Kanrik asked, disdain in his voice, "What in Neopia is that jumped-up street rat doing here?"
Jazan said tiredly, "I don't know. But I have a feeling that it's about to make my day even worse."
He didn't need to say it – Nabile knew perfectly well that Hanso showing up at all was enough to make Jazan count a day as worse. She didn't dislike him exactly, but she preferred the company of Scarabs, and she did dislike both listening to Jazan complain about him and the way Hanso obviously took pleasure in driving Jazan crazy.
Then the door cracked open. "Fyora just wanted to let you know that the Ring of Vanithad is missing from Faerieland! Have a nice day!"
An orange hand was stuck in the door. Brynn's no-nonsense voice added, "Hanso, get back here! King Jazan, Queen Fyora believes that the artifact was brought to Qasala. She intended for us to help you recover it and return it to Faerieland."
Few kings of Qasala had made their way into Sakhmeti tales. But Nabile had known the stories of King Vanithad Farseer for as long as she could remember. She didn't know the ring specifically, but anything belonging to him was likely to be trouble.
Brynn practically pushed Hanso into the room – the blue Ixi immediately went to the far wall from Kanrik, who glared at him.
Neera burst into tears.
Looking around at the five other nervous or angry adults in the room, Nabile could hardly blame her.
To be continued...