“In here, your majesty.” The grizzled old man said, holding his box with the crystal close to his face and staring hard as if seeing something in the glittering stone that no other eyes could perceive. “There was much magic present for a moment, and then all at once it was over, like the undoing of a half-woven spell.”
The Queen nodded and turned to her troops. “Be on your guard, Captain Tor.” She said. “We stumbled innocently into that hedge of warning, so at least someone knows we are coming. And Count Severas.” She turned to the man who was dressed like a sixteenth century dandy complete with gold-hilted saber at his side. “We are not here to fight these people. We only want the girl.”
The Count nodded, as if giving a slight bow to his Queen, but his eyes betrayed other thoughts in his mind.
“Wizard!” The Queen called and the grizzled old man came to her, showing far more respect in his bow than the Count had shown. “Are you sure?” This woman was demanding.
The Wizard looked around at the Count, Captain Tor and several of the soldiers, but he saw no support in any of them. “Majesty.” He hedged. “I was told there was no magic in this world, but there is much interference in the atmosphere. The Princess and her daughter should have been easy to locate, sticking out in the midst of the crowd like a goat among sheep, but it has not been so.” The Queen’s look hardened. The Wizard winced a little. “I am reasonably sure there is magic active in this place, but of the source and person, I cannot honestly say.”
“Are there no other sources?” The Queen clearly wanted some assurance.
The Wizard shook his head, slowly. “I have picked up something, but it is some distance from here, and I am not certain. There is much interference in the atmosphere, but of this place, I am certain, though who or what may be responsible, I cannot say.”
The Queen nodded. She signaled the soldiers and motioned for Captain Tor to precede her while she and the Count and her Wizard brought up the rear.
Mister Deal finally got the music turned down. “Fire Alarm?” He asked above many voices which were asking the same thing.
“Hold on. Hold on.” The baby Principal was saying. He stepped over to the music riser. “Hold on.” He said to the squeal of feedback as he turned on the microphone. Mister Deal quickly adjusted the volume. “That’s not the fire alarm or any other bell I know.” The class bell in the school was really a loud buzzer. “Don’t panic. I am sure it is nothing to be concerned about and there is a simple explanation.”
With that, the explanation for the bell entered the room. They were soldiers, dressed in late medieval garb, and they spread themselves around the gym, surrounding the middle school students. Clearly, the soldiers were surprised to find so many children and even more surprised to find them dressed up in costumes, though they hardly recognized most of the characters they were pretending to be. An old man with a limp and a young one with gold braid and a swagger entered next, and then came the woman. She was dressed in a gown that fitted her shapely figure, but her hair was gray, indicating the fact that she was a good bit older than she might have wanted to appear. The woman had deep-set, but very active eyes. She was clearly a woman of power, used to being obeyed without question, and she was presently speaking to the soldiers in a tongue that she assumed no one knew. But Barten-Cur knew the words, and so did Wendel Carter. Wendel slid up to the scarecrow in the corner and did his best to blend into the decorations.
Finally, the woman, who was evidently in charge, turned to the slack-jawed crowd and spoke in English. “All right. Where is she?”
Principal Barlow paused a minute before he responded into the microphone. “Where is who?”
Arosa sipped her coffee and looked at David. David still hardly knew what to say. He had accepted her story. He could not reasonably do otherwise; but it was not every day a person had undeniable evidence that there were not only other worlds filled with other, intelligent life in the universe, but your girlfriend, to say the least, was one of those other… People?
“After the rebellion failed, my Mother-in-law made overtures of peace with the Empire. I do not blame her. It was what she had to do in the lost cause, and I suppose it was wise, after all, that she stayed away from any hint of rebellion from the beginning. The Emperor was willing to allow for that, because he was so preoccupied in the North and West. That much was true.”
“Politics.” David said. “Bad as the school system.”
“Oh, not that bad.” Arosa said with a smile. “But bad enough.”
“But it was not safe for you and your baby.” David understood.
Arosa confirmed and shook her head. “Who knows if we will ever be able to go home again?” She looked sad for a moment before she shouted. “Ouch!”
“Umph.” The fat man grunted at her as he got off her wing and headed back to his seat.
A tear came to Arosa’s eye as she reached back and pulled her wing forward. It was completely resilient and flexible and not easily broken, but the foot and shoe of the clumsy fat man was painful. A few more tears came as Arosa stroked her wing like a wounded bird.
“Hey!” David shouted at the man. “At least apologize you klutz.” He was angry, partly because he knew the wings were real, and partly because he was really feeling for the unfairness of Arosa, and Lila’s exile.
The fat man looked at his little wife and pulled out a wad of money. “Here.” He said, throwing a five-dollar bill in David’s direction. “Buy your woman a new costume.” He laughed, thinking he was funny. David hardly clenched his fist before striking the fat man in the jaw, knocking him right out of the chair.
The man got up screaming mad, but he was a stranger in town while David was the High School Principal and Arosa was the Middle School Librarian. There were three farmers and two merchants from town who grabbed the fat man and showed him the door. The man’s poor wife got up and she did lean over to Arosa to quietly apologize.
“I’ll be all right.” Arosa said, and since no one else was looking, their eyes all being focused on the struggle at the front door, she spread her wing and fluttered it a minute. “He didn’t break anything.”
The woman’s eyes got big. She screamed and ran after her husband.