It Takes a Thief: Part Five
Kanrik had to admit that, though King Jazan was potentially Meepit-in-the-moonlight mad, he exhibited fine desert hospitality. The guest rooms of the Qasalan Palace were very well-appointed, and Kanrik didn't have to be within speaking distance of that little rat Hanso. He had no idea how he'd managed to keep his position as Queen Fyora's Master Thief – hah! – but he supposed that scum always rose to the surface.
Hannah walked in and plopped down on the cushioned bench in the little sitting room. "This place is fantastic! Far better than the inn."
"Except for the crazy Kyrii king and the pickpocket who's grown too big for his britches."
"There's a blank journal in one of the desks. Mine's almost full."
"I don't like this, Hannah. Not at all. King Jazan involved is bad enough. But Queen Fyora's sycophants? I prefer to avoid Faerieland and everything associated with it. It's not worth it."
"I don't know whether the journal's actually for the guests, or whether someone else left it here, but it should be okay if I use it, right?"
"King Jazan, Fyora, the Sway, and nasty magical artifacts. If it was any less important, I'd kick the sand of this Faerie-forsaken place off my feet and head somewhere nice with lots of rich idiots."
"It's a really nice one – good-quality paper, a leather binding, and even a wrapper so it won't get wet if my pack does."
"I think..." He turned and looked at her. "You aren't listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"
She shrugged cheerfully. "You're pacing, worrying , and whining. As soon as you actually start doing something helpful, I'll be all ears. Until then, I'm going to sit back and relax."
Kanrik shot her a look – she leaned back on the bench, put her hands behind her head, and started to whistle a sailing shanty.
He wasn't going to win this one. He decided to not even fight, and sat down beside her. "So. Do you have any ideas?"
Hannah counted on her fingers. "We need to first find the Sway. Then we need to figure out what their plan is. Third, we need to find out how they attempt to carry it out. Fourth, we need to stop them, and fifth, we need to get safely out of the desert before our truce with King Jazan ends."
Kanrik added, "Preferably with a few valuables in our pockets that no one else seems to want."
Hannah grinned at him. "Well, of course. Anything the Sway already stole is fair game, right?"
He grinned back. "Exactly."
Hannah continued, "Some nosing around should net us some hole where the Sway is gathering operatives – they've got to be recruiting the sort of folks they're using for the dirty work. There'll be a trail."
There was something fierce in her night-blue eyes, and Kanrik had an uncomfortable feeling that he knew exactly what she was about to suggest. "You're not going undercover and trying to sign up with them."
She sat up. "Of course I am! It's exactly how we can get in there! You heard Queen Nabile earlier. She can use her wedding ring to call the king. We get ourselves in there, find out enough to tear out the Sway's smuggling operation by the roots, and then she brings in the king and the guard and they set about like Plumpies in a breakfast buffet."
Kanrik frowned. Nabile seemed somewhat capable, at least. "What if she's too easily recognized?"
Hannah said, "Then I'll borrow the ring and take Hanso or Brynn. I'm not nearly foolhardy enough to try and go in alone. But you're far too easy to recognize. You'll have to wait with the backup."
He knew that. And he didn't like it. Part of him didn't like having to send Hannah to do something dangerous without him to fight beside her. Another part didn't like anyone else doing his fighting for him. And a third quite simply disliked missing something that promised to be exciting. He sighed. "That idiot Hanso is not going to be your only backup."
Hannah asked, "What's wrong with him? He didn't seem so bad."
"He tried to steal from the Thieves' Guild while he was a member. He didn't even have the decency to do it skillfully – any child could have followed his trail! Oh, he's lucky I'm not Galem. I saw what he did to thieves who tried thieving from him. And now he hides behind Fyora's skirts so he can run to Mommy when anyone looks at him the wrong way."
Hannah snickered. "You don't like this guy."
Kanrik raised his eyebrows at her. "What? I thought my description was extremely generous."
Hannah asked, more seriously, "Do you intend to try and steal the ring and the coronet?"
Kanrik shook his head. "I'm greedy, not stupid. If I try to pocket anything magical, the king'll be after me. But he's got enough gold and jewels around this place that I doubt he'd miss a few that weren't even his to start out with." He leaned back and stretched. "But a mission's not a success unless there's some profit involved. Keep your eyes peeled."
Hannah asked, "Do you believe it? That it takes a thief to catch a thief?"
Kanrik drew his knife and examined the edge. "Of course I do. Otherwise I'd be by the fire back in Happy Valley right now."
Jazan said, "I don't like this, Nabile. Not at all."
Nabile laid a hand on his shoulder – he sat at his desk, elbows propped on the smooth wooden surface, rubbing his temples. He was weary from the extra strength he'd poured into the protections on the scepter. But it was locked up tightly now, and it also had Mirzah and Zann sleeping in front of it – not because they were an extra layer of protection, but because the spell had exhausted them so that they had merely laid down and dropped off where they stood. Neera slept again as well, as did the twins, curled up around her cradle – their architectural adventures had worn them out, and they still needed naps now and then. She looked over at the children. "Perhaps you ought to join them."
Jazan asked, "And let Hanso and Kanrik strip the palace bare between them?"
Nabile smiled. "If it weren't for Caspar and Aldie getting into absolutely everything, I'd suggest we borrow a tactic from the old rulers and set a few traps of our own."
Jazan smiled back and shook his head. "You tempt me, Nabile, but in a situation like this I don't have the sort of power to spare. Later, however..." His speculative look made Nabile laugh.
Nabile asked, "Have you sent anyone out yet?"
Jazan nodded. "Everyone in the palace is on alert, and I've sent messengers to all in the Mages' College, several other jewelers and sellers of magical objects and tomes, and several busybodies who are always screaming about the riffraff and will have noticed any gatherings. Cities have eyes and ears – someone will have heard something or seen something."
There was a knock on the door. Kanrik's voice said, without preamble, "Hannah has an idea."
Jazan sighed, and straightened his posture. "Come in."
They did, and Hannah explained her plan. Nabile thought it seemed quite straightforward – how better to find out what the Sway was capable of than to waltz right in the front door? And she had still spent more of her life as a thief than not. She could blend in amid the folks they'd be gathering. She nodded. "I'll go."
Jazan looked at her in horror. "Are you out of your mind, Nabile?"
Nabile tried to joke with him. "I'd rather go myself than hand Hanso my wedding ring."
Jazan shook his head. "You're far too easily recognizable."
Nabile said, "You could use a glamour. It wouldn't have to be a complicated one. You wouldn't have to make me look like a Techo – just change the color of my fur and eyes."
Jazan frowned – she had done well, getting him to think of the magical challenge. "That could be possible. Anything more complicated than that would draw too much energy from you."
Nabile continued, "And if I'm, say, a red Ixi with blue eyes instead of a pink Ixi with purple eyes, and I'm dressing like, talking like, and acting like a street thief, I'm taking no more risks than any other spy you could send. Less, really, because I'll fit in better."
Kanrik muttered, "You can get the street rat out of the street, but not the street out of the street rat."
Nabile was getting irritated with his use of that word. At the very least, could he not use it in front of the children? She could tell from their breathing and the way they moved that Caspar and Aldie were no longer asleep. She looked at the two men in the room. "Neither of you would work. Even with a small glamour like that, you're both far too distinctive. And I don't think Brynn could, either. She smells of guard. I think you'll do well, Hannah." She would. Small – she could pass as younger than she was, and a certain mischievous spark in her eye that many of the Scarabs had shared.
Kanrik asked, clearly not wanting the answer, "And Hanso?"
Jazan said, "There's no way he can be trusted. He'll mouth off to the wrong person. He'll brag about his exploits. He'll blow your cover."
Hannah said thoughtfully, "If he only blows his own cover, however, he'd be a magnificent distraction. And if he manages to not mess up, then we've got another person."
Nabile added, "Remember, if there's a problem, I'll call you, and you'll come. It'll take seconds. An extra pair of eyes could be important, and we can't discount Hanso just because you two don't like him." She added, "And remember, Jazan, you'll get to make a glamour for him."
The corners of Jazan's mouth twitched – he wouldn't actually laugh or grin in front of someone he distrusted as much as Kanrik. Kanrik said, "Please turn him pink. Or purple."
Jazan nodded. "On the morrow. It's already almost evening. Give the scouts a night to do their work. This will be safer that way."
Kanrik continued, "Evening. Eventide. There's a color we could turn Hanso."
Hannah grinned. "You two are having far too much fun with that."
Nabile shrugged. "Well, we're likely to have a disaster on our hands, and our plan is rather insane. We might as well laugh while we can."
Jazan murmured, turning back to the papers on his desk, "Fyora vouch for that."
To be continued...