Lady Sandstorm: Part Three
Hanso and Brynn only looked confused – Jazan realized that they probably had no idea what was going on. He asked, “Nightsteed, could we have a history lesson for all concerned?”
Nightsteed began, “Majah’s from the western foothills – he’s a perennial problem to Sakhmet and Qasala. Heksas is from the far southern dunes – Mentu. He overran Khamtef years ago. That’s when Princess Sankara came to Sakhmet.”
Amira was as angry as Jazan had ever seen her. “And murdered my father because he wouldn’t give her an army! And then my younger sister tried to usurp my throne!”
Nabile whispered in Jazan’s ear, “Her family’s almost as messed up as yours.”
Jazan sighed. “Not even close.” Though I’m the only one left of it now... it’s hard to have family issues when the family consists of you.
But I’m not the only one left anymore. The curse is over. Nabile, Caspar, Esmeralda... What more family do I need?
Dacon said politely, “Princess Amira, I know you’re upset...”
Tomos cried, “Upset? Of course Princess Amira is upset! With Heksas and Majah as allies, they’ll outnumber us two to one! And we have all of that on top of earthquakes and volcanoes – this is really, really, really, really bad!”
Hanso stuck his hands in the pockets of his coat. “So, sounds like you’re going to need some extra help. Brynn and I are with you all the way.”
Sambar said, “Unless you’ve got an army with you, I’m thankful but it won’t help a whole lot.”
The journey to free the faeries... an army... Altador! Jazan said quickly, “I’ll contact King Altador – I can reach his Council through magic. It’ll be a week at the least before he can get an army here, but surely that would be better than nothing.”
Amira asked, “Could we call upon the faeries?”
Nabile shook her head. “No need to bring faeries into it... they prefer being the last resort rather than the first. Let’s go back to the palace. We’ll all think better out of the heat.”
That evening, they were all gathered in the large meeting room outside of the library. Jazan looked down the table... in addition to those who had been on the volcano that morning, there were other councilors and generals from Sakhmet and Qasala. Nabile sat at his left and Amira at his right as he said, “We have a problem... well, several problems. I won’t insult the intelligence of anyone in this room by explaining them again. What we need are solutions. I am going to contact King Altador and ask for aid. Does anyone else have any ideas?”
One elderly Qasalan statesman raised his hand. “I had a thought – Sankara hates Heksas as much as anyone. We could ask for her help...”
Princess Amira slammed her hand on the table. “Absolutely not! We are not relying on that murderous, traitorous, backstabbing Aisha for anything!”
Tomos pointed out, “She’s gone batty anyway – she’s spent the last two years in her tower under guard trying to build a scale model of the Khonsu Palace with fifty decks of cards.”
Amira snapped, “And you aren’t helpful!”
Nabile set a hand on her cousin’s shoulder – Jazan was glad. She was a good deal better at calming people down than he was. “Amira, we’re all under stress. We all know that we’re in trouble. Please just think! The Sakhmeti have had far more experience with the southerners and the hill people than the Qasalans have – we need your help.”
A general from Sakhmet said, “I think we should try and recruit some of the desert traders... they ought to know Heksas won’t stand for them if he takes over.”
An elderly woman retorted, “You can’t trust desert traders as far as you can throw them – if Heksas and Majah offer them coin, we’re done for!”
A Sakhmet advisor cried, “Majah and Heksas are bad enough, but we aren’t doing anything to solve the earthquakes and volcanoes! Have the Sakhmeti mages gotten a chance to look at it yet?”
Jazan didn’t like the implication that he and Mirzah didn’t know what they were doing. “I assure you, I inspected it myself, and I was quite thorough. Anyone that tells you there is more to be gleaned from that volcano is lying.”
“Your Majesty, but surely the more mages who inspect the site, the better...”
Mirzah stood up. “There’s nothing there! Any more mages sent out will just be a waste of time and magic! And if you doubt my capabilities, I can turn you into a Geb and then we’ll see who’s capable!”
By that point, various other ideas were being shouted out and then promptly shouted down. Jazan couldn’t follow any of the conversations. There were too many and they were all far too loud.
He was fairly close to losing his temper and shouting... he knew that if he looked in a mirror, his eyes would have changed from gold to ruby-red. And it’s times like this when I understand why my father disbanded all of the councils... it’s so much easier to just make these decisions by yourself.
No – I can’t think like that. That’s the exact sort of philosophy that led to him cursing Qasala in order to obtain immortality. So I have to put up with these bureaucrats shouting like Caspar and Esmeralda fighting over toys, because it’s this or become a tyrant. He took a deep breath, trying to think of a half-polite way to tell everyone to be quiet.
Nabile laid a hand on his arm and whispered, “Let’s go try and talk to Altador. I bet they won’t even notice if we leave.”
Outside the meeting room in the safety of one of the palace’s corridors, he leaned against a wall and sighed, closing his eyes. “They’re such children...”
He opened his eyes again as Nabile folded her arms and grinned at him. “Just because you’re over two hundred years old doesn’t mean you get to lord it over us, Your Majesty.”
He couldn’t help but smile back. “I can’t lord anything over you, Nabile – you wouldn’t let me.”
She snickered. “Quite true.”
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
Esmeralda came running to meet them, trailing one of her Usukis behind her. “Daddy, look! Keladry broke!” She held it up tearfully – the arm had fallen off. “Can you fix it, Daddy?”
Jazan took the doll in his hands. The magic to repair it was simple... in a matter of seconds, it was fixed. Esmeralda hugged him tightly. “Thanks, Daddy!” Then she ran back to wherever she had set up her latest “doll city”, talking to herself excitedly about sword fights and rescuing Draiks and something about a faerie with a pie.
He smiled. He liked doing small things for the children with his magic... as long as it could be used for fixing Usukis and helping people as well as cursing, blasting, and destroying, then it was good for something after all.
Nabile observed, “Maybe we should just let them come up with a solution. It certainly seems like Aldie has an involved plan right there.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want them to know any more about this than they have to. There’ll be time enough for them to have the weight of the world on their shoulders.”
Jazan walked quickly to his workroom... he kept the scrying ball in there. Nabile had to half-run to keep up, but he knew that she didn’t mind. She knew that time was of the essence. Altador would need every second they could give him in order to mobilize his army.
He laid his hand on the ball where it lay on top of its pedestal – Nabile set her hand on it as well, and in an instant they were surrounded by the Council Chamber in Altador. It was semitransparent, with his own clutter of books, potions, and artifacts in the background, and he knew that to whomever was in the hall at the moment he and Nabile would look like ghosts.
Altador was the only one in the room – he was sitting in his chair cleaning his sword. He smiled when he saw them. “King Jazan! Nabile! How are the children?”
Nabile said, “They’re doing quite well, thank you.”
Jazan dispensed with the pleasantries... there would be time for them after Altador had brought an army to help them fight. “We have a problem, King Altador. Lord Majah in the foothills has allied himself with King Heksas of Mentu and Khamtef. They outnumber us significantly, and we’ve also been having trouble with earthquakes and volcanoes. We need help.”
Altador nodded. “You’ve helped us before, Jazan. I’ll bring as many as the Council will allow as quickly as I can. It’ll take me...”
He knew – no need to waste time discussing things they both knew. “At least a week. We just got word of the alliance this morning... it’ll take them that long to reach the River Sakh.”
The old Lupe sheathed his sword. “Very well, then. I hope to see you in person soon – guard your city well, King Jazan!”
Jazan let the magic end and his workroom flooded back into full reality around them. “Well, we don’t know what the Council will do for us.”
Nabile pointed out, “After you helped their mages repair that dam, and that whole business with the faeries, I’m certain they’ll be willing to help.”
He nodded. “I hope you’re right, Nabile.”
That was when a sound shook the room around them – a female voice, multiplied a thousand times, so that it vibrated in his bones. She spoke in the old Qasalan tongue but used simple words, and he could understand. He wished he couldn’t.
Nabile’s purple eyes were wide as she looked up at him. “Jazan, I picked out ‘Elzamyr Akhu.’ Did that say... could it be...?”
He nodded. “She said, ‘Beware, Qasalans. Lady Sandstorm has returned.’” All of a sudden, he understood. The volcano – the earthquake – that was Lady Sandstorm escaping from her prison!
She’s somehow escaped, and now she wants to kill us all.
To be continued...