Arosa sat still for the long ride to Wallace’s Fish Camp. David seemed speechless, but that was fine for the moment. Arosa had her own thoughts to contend with, and they were quite enough. Apparently, the theme for the day had not yet finished.
Presently, Arosa was remembering the plots and plans they had made.
“With the Emperor so preoccupied in Gwarhor and in the West, now is the time to strike for freedom.” That was Arosa’s own father who said that. Her mother was quiet, but in full accord. Her Great Uncle Festus, as Captain-General of the ships of Nova, Admiral as Arosa translated in her mind, he shouted “Here! Here!” or the equivalent in the tongue of Nova. Dunovan was more thoughtful.
“With our combined fleets we can rule in the Southern Sea.” He said. “But on land, we must all hang together or we will surely all hang separately.”
Arosa shook her head. That was from the American Revolution, but the sentiment was the same. Poor, brave, sweet, senseless Dunovan.
A tear came to Arosa’s eye.
She remembered that last time she saw Dunovan, all dressed for war in glittering chain and shining bronze. Such a glorious knight he was, and what devotion he had from every man who followed him to their doom. She cried for days when word came. Poor Lila was almost neglected, and would have been if not for the nurse and the faithful, loving servants that surrounded her. Arosa tried to turn her mind from her memory of Dunovan, thinking that her serious thoughts about David was bringing it all to the surface; but apparently the vision-like moment was not done.
She remembered the messenger, every speck of dirt on the man’s clothes, every drop of sweat on the man’s broad forehead; how he had ridden all night with the news and run up the great castle steps with tears in his own eyes. Her Mother and Father were poisoned. Her great uncle was ruined at sea and would not be coming back. The Empire was in Nova and her unremarkable second cousin Verko, a sixteen-year-old boy with no ambition whatsoever, had been installed on the throne. The boy would do as he was told and he was closest to the throne, after her. Apparently, the Emperor Kzurga had no intention of having her return to Nova, and she dared not stay in Truscas. It would be her death, certain.
She remembered all of the hints her mother-in-law Callista dropped into everyday conversation. She should go away. She was not of the right blood to rule in Truscas, even if her daughter was. She should find another home to spend her days. Of course, none of it was said in so many words, but it was the sentiment. Arosa would have to have been an ignorant fool not to know this.
But it was not for Callista’s sake that she found this world and came to this place of exile. It was for the people. Arosa was part of the rebellion, even if only a little part. The Emperor might have forgiven her for her part in the conspiracy, but she could not count on that. Truscas was in danger of invasion as long as she stayed the Queen. Barten-Cur came from the house of Nova, sought her out, and together, they ran. She said nothing, though, because Callista would have certainly tried to kidnap Lila and keep her in hiding.
They arrived at the fish camp and Arosa stepped out of the car almost before David turned off the engine. She did not want him to see her cry. Not just yet.
“Are you all right?” David asked kindly.
“David.” Arosa hesitated for one last moment, and then she made up her mind. Before we go any further in this relationship, there is something you need to know.” He was about to say something stupid so she spoke first. “I’m not from this world.”
David paused. He looked at her closely. “From the way you are dressed.” He started to make a joke, but then he pulled himself up as tall as he could stand. “I think I can almost believe you. You are much too beautiful for a small Georgia town.”
Arosa smiled. That was not exactly true, but she did not mind hearing it. Still, she felt she had to tell him and that feeling came with an urgency she did not understand. She took his hand and walked him to the side of the parking lot where no one would go. She stopped there and raised her hands, the magic flowing from her fingers. A bubble-like structure surrounded them, which would muffle any sounds they made and make them all but invisible to any eyes that were not on top of them. Then she turned to David and let her wings out, pushing them slowly against the air until she was hovering about three feet from the ground. David looked scared for a moment, but he calmed a little when she spoke. “I have a story to tell you, over dinner if you don’t mind. I’m starving.” She landed, burst the bubble with a thought, took David’s arm and led him to the door before he could raise a protest.
Barten-Cur imagined there was a kind of orchestrated madness going on in the gym. It had been used during the day, of course, so it could not be decorated for the dance until after school. Jessica and her eighth grade “in-crowd,” Mindy, Savannah and Shakira were putting up streamers. The wannabes, Brittany, Nichole and Molly were plastering the walls with Halloween motifs. Coach Beemer had the four prime members of the eighth grade football team setting up chairs and a few tables. There was Tyler Hamm, the quarterback, Alex the center, Brad the linebacker, and Colin the defensive end. They were in practice uniforms, and Barten-Cur guessed those uniforms would be doubling for their Halloween costumes at the dance.
Barten-Cur held his ears for a minute. “Sorry. Sorry.” Mister Deal, the music teacher was setting the volume for the music and testing the equipment.
“I should think so!” Ms Gloria Finster, the art teacher, shouted from the refreshment table. “I almost dropped the punch.” She was emptying orange soda and fruit punch into a big bowl. It was supposed to end up pumpkin color, but in truth it was more the color of Georgia red clay-mud.
Ms Addams, Language Arts and Mister Johnson, Social Studies, chose that moment to enter from the Cafeteria side, carrying trays of cookies.
“I don’t dress.” Mister Johnson was saying.
Barten stared for a minute at Ms Addams. She was maybe twenty-five, and by far the prettiest woman at the school, after the Princess, to be sure.
“But you have so many good choices to choose from.” She was arguing with the older man.
“Dead white men.” Mister Johnson complained.
“All right, then. Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King. Someone!”
“I don’t do Halloween. I don’t dress.” Mister Johnson insisted.
“Bob and Emily are coming as a disco couple.” Ms Finster spoke up from the punch bowl. She was talking about the math and science teachers. “Isn’t that cute?”
“I don’t do cute, either.” Mister Johnson said, but he almost smiled by accident as he said it.
“Excuse me.” Barten-Cur heard a voice behind him and he had to step aside. He had been blocking the door and Ms Ramirez the Spanish teacher wanted in. She was followed by a half-dozen seventh graders, Nate and Karen, fat Brian, and Maria who could hardly speak any English. Coach Beemer had his eyes open, though, and he immediately came up to Adam, a rather large young man for the seventh grade.
“So Adam.” The coach said. “Thought any more about football?” He was a direct kind of person. Adam was not in the mood.
“I don’t know.” He hedged.
Shakira came up looking for her cousin. “Where’s Tasha?” She asked. Tasha had it bad for big Adam.
“I don’t know.” Adam repeated himself.
Ms Finster shouted out from the refreshment table. “Come to help?”
“No.” Adam answered for them all. “We’re just passing through.” He tried to hide among his fellow seventh graders, but his head towered over the others, as they all waited on Ms Ramirez.
“We’re about done anyway.” Ms Finster admitted.
“Who let the peons in here?” Jessica asked in a superior tone, referring to the seventh graders in general. She was halfway up a ladder and turned for a good look.
“Don’t touch them.” Mindy said. “You might catch something.”
“No telling where they’ve been.” Savannah added.
The seventh graders looked at each other, but that just made the girls laugh. Brittany stepped forward from the window, however, and just had to say something.
“Come on, Jessica. Get off your high horse.”
“Is pickle face talking to me?” Jessica responded. Brittany’s mom had the bad sense to dress her daughter as a pickle in the first grade. It was a cute costume at the time; but now that Brittany was of an age where things were beginning to break out on her face for real, Jessica thought it was a good time to remind everyone of that costume. Brittany fumed, but she said nothing knowing that it would have only made matters worse. She left, red angry, and Nichole and Molly followed.
“See you at six.” Ms Finster shouted after them, hoping to turn everyone’s thoughts from Jessica’s cruel words, but it did not really help. Jessica laughed and climbed the rest of the ladder.
“Tyler!” Jessica called sweetly to the quarterback. “Hand me the streamer.” Barten-Cur noticed the streamer extended to the foot of the ladder, but Tyler was not paying attention. He moved when Ms Ramirez left with the seventh graders in her train. He reached the streamer and handed it up. Jessica took one look down at that ugly, wart-face and screamed. She kept on screaming, too, until everyone came and Barten-Cur finally put down the streamer and walked away. Of course, Jessica claimed that she had merely been startled by the custodian’s face, but if that was true, one scream would have been enough.
“Sorry Mister Cur.” Tom Deal, the music teacher, took in on himself to speak for everyone; but then they all had to focus on Jessica, which was all Jessica really wanted.
Barten-Cur went over to the window, not giving the attitude of the girl a second thought. Because of his appearance, he had been treated that way his whole life; even back in the old world. Then, he remembered! He rushed out of the gym and shot for his pick-up. The drive was short, but by the time he arrived at the house, everyone was gone.
Barten locked the front door, Lila having forgotten again, and he stood on the front porch for a long time pondering what to do. All he could envision was Truscan soldiers invading the school, and people getting hurt. Seventh and Eighth graders were in no position to defend themselves, he thought. To be sure, there were only a dozen places in town to eat out, and half of them were fast food restaurants. Barten-Cur could have found his Princess easily enough, but he did not think of that. He was worried about Lila, if the soldiers came. He guessed they would be looking for her, and Arosa, but Lila especially had no one else to look after her. He made up his mind.
He went to his apartment and retrieved a potion he had made some time ago. “To keep in practice.” He told himself. He had intended it for the Wallabys’ dogs, thinking they would do less damage to the property as squirrels, but he never used it. Lady Arosa said he was not to do magic except in extreme emergency, like if Lila’s life was in danger. Well, this counted, but he would have to be careful about it so as not to get in trouble.