Scarab Queen: Part One
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Nabile padded lightly through the halls of the Qasalan palace – those halls that were complete, at least. There was a small army of stonemasons still at work to complete destroyed sections or to repair damage. After they'd completed the palace and the Qasalan government had a place to work from, the next great project would be to rebuild the city wall. Jazan had been working on the plans for that in the evenings, since he wanted magic to be worked into the very foundation of the stones that could contribute to the city's defense in a time of need.
And he did this after working all day on preparing a new constitution for Qasala. From what Nabile had gathered – Jazan didn't like talking about it much, and she didn't want to press him when it clearly made him unhappy – the reign of Razul had pretty much consisted of "do what I say, now," and people who wanted to live kept their heads down and didn't ask questions. Jazan wanted to create something so that even the king would be answerable to the rule of law.
Nabile knew him well enough, now, to know that more of that than he'd ever admit was driven by a desire to not be like his father, to not be what his father had been. And after Razul had nearly killed her and charbroiled Sakhmet, she couldn't object to that. She could and did object to the fact that he worked altogether too much, though. Nightsteed helped her to object, and between the two of them they could actually get the dear, silly Kyrii to remember to eat and sleep.
Nabile reached a section of the palace that was still under construction – this was where many of the bureaucratic offices would end up. The walls were still uneven from damage and wear, with stones sticking out awaiting the masons' work – she smiled and flexed her hands, then jumped and began to climb up the nearest partial wall. It was an easy climb for a Scarab girl, and it was enjoyable to feel stone under her hands again. And she had to keep in practice, or Tomos and the others would never let her live it down when they saw each other again.
She climbed up high enough in the hot sun that she could see a ways beyond the palace, into the city, where people were busy building and buying and selling. Even though the city was still half-ruined, the people were thriving. Jazan was selling off a lot of old treasures to finance the rebuilding, and folk from all over Neopia had heard that there were jobs to be had and money to be made. Amira had pardoned the Scarabs after they'd taken her side in the debacle with one of her generals trying to take over a few months ago, so they had all chosen to remain in the city of their birth, but Nabile had recognized a few other street thief acquaintances who'd apparently been lured by the chance to start over afresh.
She surveyed the city as the hot wind blew her loose hair around her face, slightly bemused by the fact that most of the people out there called her "Your Majesty" and bowed their heads to her when they saw her. She didn't feel like a queen, even as she sat up here wearing a fine linen dress, gold earrings and bracelets, and a wedding ring that was several hundred years old. She still felt a little – sometimes a lot – like a street thief playing dress-up. But she was doing all she could to learn about how to fill this role that she'd somehow stumbled into. Nightsteed, especially, had been a massive help to her – the Uni was extremely patient and always willing to explain.
She also felt a little guilty wandering around like this when she was certain there was something she could be doing. She didn't understand a lot of what went on yet, but she did what she could to help Jazan and try to learn more.
She climbed down from the wall and decided to go back to where Jazan had temporarily set up his study. It was nice to get out and stretch her legs a bit. Jazan liked working with his sword in the morning, but Nabile didn't think she'd be particularly good with a sword. And she was a Scarab, and swords were guard weapons, and some aversions simply weren't going to be overcome no matter how much of a queen she was.
She heard voices from around the corner when she was about to reach the main hall. She stopped when she heard, "...the queen involved?"
That was Lord Onas, a spotted Yurble whose reedy voice Nabile recognized. The response was deeper. "Even the king has to realize there's no use giving her a part to play in the restructuring of the law."
And that was Lord Sarikash, a camouflage Kougra who had been a top general in his younger days. Nabile bristled and pressed herself closer to her wall as Onas asked, "Should we say anything? The last thing we need is him deciding that she ought to be a part of this, and then trying to mitigate the damage some street rat does to our constitution."
Ai! He should say that to her face and see...
Sarikash chided, "Have some respect. She is the queen, after all, and of Sakhmeti royal blood."
"She has a tattoo, for Nuria's sake."
Sarikash said, as if talking to a small child, "The king has sense. He'll give her some little job that will make her feel like she's doing something important, and he'll keep her away from anything that will actually impact Qasala. She's not going to govern. She's essentially decorative, so it doesn't matter that she wouldn't know how."
"Are you sure..."
"Completely sure. Now please do stop whining and let me see those maps."
They walked away, discussing where there might be a mine in Qasala's northern territories. But Nabile didn't really listen – instead, she leaned against the wall.
Nabile wasn't a stranger to being called names. She and the Scarabs had been called all sorts of names in Sakhmet, which were typically accompanied by being chased or having things thrown at them. So why did it hurt so much now? Why did two lords – small change compared to all the maids, shopkeepers, and guards who had berated her before – make her feel like she was about to cry?
She looked down at herself – the nice dress she was wearing, the jewelry, her hair loose and cleaner than it had ever been on the streets. She even had sandals on, though she'd spent most of her life going about barefoot and she still didn't like wearing them, simply for the sake of propriety.
She was trying. She was trying so hard to be a good queen, to learn all she needed to learn and not be decorative, and they talked about her like she was a little kid who needed to be distracted with something shiny.
And she hadn't intended to get involved with the law work, the new constitution! Oh, she'd heard plenty about it – Jazan used the fact that she didn't know much about law to his advantage, to see how anything he thought up might sound to the ears of his people. It wasn't just that they thought she was incapable – it was that they thought she was too stupid to even realize that she was incapable.
She supposed she'd gone a little soft, too. The Qasalans as a whole liked her – Jazan was the king who'd led them through the curse and finally taken down Razul, and she was the girl of Sakhmeti royal blood who'd helped it happen. It was like a story, that she'd ended up in – the good sort, with "and they lived happily ever after" tagged on the end. She knew that some of the Sakhmeti disliked her for being a Scarab, and Jazan for what he'd done under the influence of the curse, but she hadn't expected to run into that in Qasala.
It was almost worse, because it hadn't really been dislike. It had been just been condescension. They'd just assumed, because she hadn't been raised in this life like Jazan or like themselves, that there was no way she'd be capable of keeping up.
Her first instinct was to go talk to Jazan about it. But then she realized that he wouldn't be a sounding board for this – he'd be angry on her behalf, and likely wouldn't let it pass without talking to Onas and Sarikash about it. "Talking to" likely meaning "shouting at," and potentially going all the way to "temporarily turning into a Scamander." And wouldn't that be just what they'd expect of her? To run to Jazan to solve all her problems like a kid running to Mama? This wasn't something he could do for her. Someone else couldn't prove to those two lords and to any other Qasalans with doubts that Nabile was capable.
Nightsteed. Nightsteed would help her. Nightsteed would give her ideas for how to solve this problem and how to gain some more respect. He might even know if anyone else had said something, so Nabile would know a little more about to whom she needed to prove herself.
She swallowed and squared her shoulders, and put her hand over her Scarab tattoo, which she refused to be ashamed of no matter what Onas said. Tomos and Horace and Zina and all the others would all be laughing at her if they could see her right now, sniffling like some useless upper-class girl who'd never had a problem in her life.
When Scarabs had a problem, they did something about it. There wasn't any spare time to sit and moan.
She looked around the corner to make sure that Sarikash and Onas had indeed moved on, and then went to find Nightsteed.
To be continued...