Scarab Queen: Part Six
Nabile really wasn't surprised to see that Onas was one of the people arguing. He was shouting at Lady Isadre, a red Vandagyre whom Jazan regularly referred to as a vain, pompous twit. "If you think me a fool, say it to my face!"
Heh. Onas had no right to ask anyone else to speak to his face, given how he'd spoken of Nabile behind her back. Isadre merely drew herself up taller. "Very well, then. Only a fool spends so much time and effort gathering support for a silver mine that likely doesn't even exist."
Oh, great. Jazan had pointed out yesterday evening that, at the very least, Onas's preoccupation with the potential wealth of that silver mine kept him from getting into anyone else's hair. They didn't need Isadre to divert him from that and to some area where he might actually be a problem. Nabile decided that something needed to happen here, and quickly. "Excuse me. What's the problem here?"
Both nobles glared at her, and Isadre tossed her golden hair and looked down her beak at Nabile, which made Nabile want to punch her. But punching Jazan's nobles wouldn't do any good for her cause, as satisfying as it might be in the short term. "Onas continues to blather on about projects with little basis in reality, while there are more important matters to be concerned with."
Nabile replied, trying to keep her voice as even as Lady Zara's, "Lord Onas is an adult, and is perfectly capable of deciding how to spend his own time and attentions." Was she really defending the Yurble? Sweet Fyora. She continued, "There are other people attempting to work here, and shouting does nothing for them or for you."
Lady Isadre drew herself up even taller. "Milady, some of us have spent our entire lives in Qasala, and are capable of deciding how to spend our own time and attentions."
It took everything Nabile had to not slap the Vandagyre then and there. But queens didn't get to start street brawls. Instead, she said, "Lord Onas's project is not disturbing anyone else. The two of you shouting are disturbing a large number of people meeting around this courtyard." There were other meeting rooms around the fountain courtyard, and several of them had people leaning out and watching the scene. She added, "I don't need to have lived in Qasala more than five minutes to realize that a lord and lady screaming at each other like fruit-sellers isn't conducive to getting work done." She exercised restraint and did not call the other woman out for throwing her own words back in her face.
If Lady Zara had been less regal, Nabile would have called the sound she made a snort.
Then Lady Isadre looked down at Nabile and hissed, pure poison in her eyes, "I don't care how many rings the king puts on your finger. This city will ice over before I let some jumped-up street rat tell me what to do."
Nabile struck her across the face.
Isadre reeled back, putting a feathered hand to her face – Nabile took a step back, too, as the Vandagyre's beak had scratched her hand, and it hurt. Then Isadre rushed at Nabile, attempting to hit her back, but she was so obvious about it that Nabile dodged as easy as breathing – she knew five-year-olds who could fight better than that.
Then Farouli roared, "Stop!" He grabbed Isadre's arm. He hadn't really needed too – all of them had fallen silent. Even Onas. Nabile was flushing, and she knew it – she knew she shouldn't have hit Isadre, but the Vandagyre's insult had struck home in a way that Nabile had been unprepared for.
Off the streets for less than a year and she was already losing her cool. Tomos would laugh his head off.
Onas had apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Or that he was content with being a sniveling Grackle Bug. He fled, running back into the meeting room he'd been in, and out through there and away.
Farouli continued, "Lady Isadre, that was entirely inappropriate."
Isadre said, feathers bristling, "And laying hands upon me was not?"
Nabile couldn't bring herself to apologize. She knew she probably should, but she couldn't. Not after what she'd said, and the way she'd said it.
Lady Zara said diplomatically, "Perhaps we ought to return to our own meeting – I would like to keep the king's plans for the Scarabs."
Nabile would have to tell Jazan about this, she knew, before he heard about it from someone else who had seen. Or Isadre – she glared daggers at Nabile and then departed, flouncing past the fountain.
So much for trying to get Sarikash on her side. Sure, Isadre had had it coming, but mature, diplomatic queens weren't supposed to hit self-important noblewomen. This particular episode wasn't going to do Nabile's mission any good. And she'd have to tell Jazan, and he wouldn't say anything, but she knew he'd be disappointed.
She couldn't have brought herself to apologize for hitting Isadre. But maybe if she said something to Zara and Farouli, she could still salvage some good out of this meeting. As they walked back into their own room, she said, "I'm sorry for that scene."
Zara smiled at her. "Think nothing of it. I've wanted to strike Isadre for years."
Maybe some people would look at it that way. Nabile hoped so – maybe if Isadre had irritated enough people Nabile might not have completely destroyed her attempt at acting queenly.
Farouli added, "It was rash on your part, true, but Isadre's behavior rendered it understandable. I doubt I could have stood still had someone said such to me. Some will hold it against you – but those men and women likely would have agreed with Isadre to begin with, and were unlikely to support you anyway."
That made Nabile feel better – and it wasn't coming from Nightsteed or Jazan, who would have consoled her whether she really deserved it or not. She said, "I'm trying to help Jazan more, learn more about how to govern so I can really rule with him. I'm going to be at the constitution meetings – you are, too, right?"
Zara nodded. "We actually have some notes on what we'd like to present for the introduction. Would you like to luncheon with us and see them?"
That was really nice of her to make the offer. Nabile smiled at the Ruki. "I'd be glad to."
Nabile enjoyed lunch with the lord and lady – they'd taken it upon themselves to draft a possible introduction for the constitution, laying out the goals and principles of Qasala's government. It was really well-written, Nabile thought, and it said all the things Jazan had been talking about – she definitely intended to support it. And they'd said that, provided Jazan could give them a satisfactory scheme for the protective spells for their own manor, they'd let him have the Five Scarabs. She was in a good enough mood that the Isadre incident slipped from the forefront of her mind when she walked into the study.
It returned immediately, though, when Jazan and Nightsteed immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at her. Finally, Jazan asked slowly, "What's this I hear about you getting into a brawl with Lady Isadre?"
Nabile felt herself flush scarlet. "It wasn't a brawl! I slapped her, she tried to hit me back but I dodged because she hits like a little kid, and then Farouli grabbed her before she could try again."
Nightsteed said, "General Sambar told us about it, but he said he couldn't hear what Isadre said – only that Zara and Farouli seemed to be offended, too."
The quote was still seared into Nabile's mind. "She said, 'I don't care how many rings the king puts on your finger. This city will ice over before I let some jumped-up street rat tell me what to do.' So I'm still not really sorry I hit her, even though I know it's not queenly like I'm trying to be."
Jazan's eyes narrowed. "She's lucky you only hit her. If anyone spoke to you that way in my hearing, I'd..." He cut off, clearly musing on various possibilities. Nabile took her seat on the stool by his desk.
Nightsteed said, "I wouldn't worry too much about it. I mean, people like Onas will take it as proof you're unfit to be queen, but most of the sane, reasonable people in Qasala have always wanted to take a swing at Isadre."
Nabile nodded. "That's what Farouli said. I still shouldn't have done it, though. I know that."
Jazan smiled gently at her. "I hate to say that it's good you feel bad about it. But you're not a bully, Nabile, and all the power in the world couldn't make you become one. You were angry – justifiably so – and you lost your temper. And next time, you'll be more prepared."
Nightsteed offered, "I'll help you think of some comebacks for next time you have to deal with her. At least she's not involved in the constitution."
Jazan snorted. "Of course she's not. She's an empty-headed, scheming, vapid narcissist."
Nabile then gave him the report on Farouli and Isadre. Jazan sighed in relief. "That's good. Kiyaa can give the journeymen the project – they're all working on protective spells lately for the rebuilding, and they'll get the chance to get some experience. And they spoke with you about the meeting tomorrow?"
Nabile nodded. "We had lunch together. It was nice to talk with them – Lady Zara's actually pretty funny."
Jazan asked, "Why does that surprise you?"
Nabile tried to explain. "Well, she's so beautiful... and she always seems so dignified... I suppose I thought she'd be full of herself."
Jazan still looked a little confused. "Why would being beautiful mean she's full of herself? You're beautiful, and you're not full of yourself."
Nightsteed burst out laughing. Nabile flushed scarlet, and Jazan did, too, though it was hard to see against his coloring. Jazan said quickly, "Well, I'm going to organize my notes for the meeting tomorrow. Want to help? It may give you some ideas." He mused, "I may have you sit by Onas. If he thinks you'll hit him if he says anything stupid, perhaps he'll keep his foolish tongue in his head."
Nightsteed said, "May I suggest not using the Queen of Qasala as an enforcer?"
Nabile shrugged, grinning at Jazan as she did. "Well, I'm trying to help out however I can."
Nightsteed laughed again, and this time Nabile and Jazan joined in.
To be continued...