“Here’s the one.” The Wizard suddenly announced. He was standing in front of Barten-Cur. “But, oh.” The Wizard looked up from his crystal. “It isn’t the girl or the Princess Arosa.”
The Queen stepped forward. “Well? Explain yourself.”
“Barten-Cur, Majesty.” Barten-Cur said with a genuine bow. “Family retainer to the house of Nova for many generations.”
“Barten-Cur.” The Wizard said with some surprise, a life coming into his eyes which had not previously been present. He stroked his beard. “I have heard of you.”
“And where is Lila? Where is Arosa?” The Queen came straight to the point.
Barten-Cur shrugged. “Alas, her highness is not present at this time. As for the young girl, I cannot say.”
The Queen looked around the room. She was sure Lila was there among the children, but there was no way of singling her out by sight, even if there were no masks and make-up in the way. “Wizard?” She asked.
The Wizard simply shook his head. “There is too much lingering magic in the air, and with the interference in this world, I could not guarantee to find her even if each young girl presented themselves for personal examination, and that would take all night.”
“Some wizard.” The Count scoffed.
“Quiet.” The Queen was thinking.
“If I may suggest.” Barten-Cur raised his voice, humbly. “My Lady has promised to come before the party is over. That would be in a mere two hours. Perhaps you would care to wait?” He knew enough to want the soldiers away from the children, or at least settled in to wait, but after that he would have to think of what to do.
The Queen nodded. “Captain Tor. I want all doors guarded. No one must leave this building, and to be sure we have the cooperation of the children, we will be taking some hostages.”
“Now wait a minute.” Principal Barlow stepped forward. “The children are innocent here. Who are you to come barging in here threatening children. I have never heard of anything so despicable.”
Count Severas winced at the words, and the Wizard ducked a little expecting the Queen’s explosion. They were genuinely surprised at her response. “Quite right.” She said. “We did not come here to frighten children or to hurt them.” She turned to her people. “Take the adults hostage, and Captain Tor, be sure none of the children leave the building. When Princess Arosa arrives, I want her brought to me.” She turned and looked around the crowd. “Children. You may have your masquerade ball, only for your own safety, please do not try to leave the building or my soldiers may have to hurt you after all.” The curious way she smiled as she said those words made even the least among them understand that she was not joking. She spun around and headed back toward the door by which she had entered. The Wizard and Barten-Cur followed. The teachers were less inclined.
“Now wait a minute.” Principal Barlow began again, but Count Severas stepped up and slapped the man with enough strength to knock him to the ground. Even as swords came out to force the issue, Coach Beemer wanted to punch the Count’s lights out; but with a look at old Ms Finster and young Ms Addams, he kept his fist to himself. The teachers got escorted out between soldiers, and when the door closed there was a moment of panic among some of the children.
“Grandpa!” Lila shouted and threw her arms around the man. Wendel Carter straightened up as well as he could. He had gotten stiff standing still for some time.
“I hid in the corner with the other scarecrow.” He said. “It will be all right.”
“I’m scared.” Lila admitted. “They are here for me and Mama.”
Wendel understood and could not help nodding. “But everything will be fine.” He insisted.
“But what can we do, sir?” Chris, the knight asked.
“Ninja.” Peter suggested, but it was not funny. What could a bunch of twelve and thirteen year olds do against trained soldiers?
“First we do this.” Wendel Carter said, and he led his granddaughter to the microphone, and all of her friends followed. He told Lila what to say, but he let her speak to the crowd, imagining that his adult voice might be picked up by the Queen or her troops.
“Attention please. Gather round.” Lila spoke, and most of the kids readily responded; glad that someone was taking charge. Lila saw Brittany and her witches to one side. Jessica and her ladies in waiting were on the far other side, and she briefly wondered what Jessica would say if she knew that Lila was a real Princess. Tyler Hamm and his football players took up the middle. To their right, beside Brittany’s witches, the ROTC crowd was dressed in marine and navy uniforms except for Aaron, who came dressed like an old sea captain, and the seventh graders, Warren and Kate, who were dressed like black belt karate champions. On the other side of the football team, beside Jessica and her ladies in waiting, there were the Gangstas, the enemies of ROTC. Owen was actually dressed like a gangster and Terry was dressed like his moll. There was Rapper Bob, and Celeste, dressed like a rock star. There was also Kyle, the sex fiend, dressed appropriately as a pimp. Far in the back, and last of all, there were the eighth grade geeks. George was a doctor and Shirley a nurse. Ethan looked to be dressed like a dentist, though perhaps a mad one. And Lucy, the class clown was with them, dressed most appropriately of all, as a clown. Beyond that, there were a few more eighth graders and a whole host of seventh graders, most of whom Lila did not know by name.
Once they were gathered and quiet, though the whispers in the little groups never really stopped, Lila began. “The question has been asked. What can we do in this crisis? Is there anything we can do to warn Mrs. Carter or help the teachers?” Lila deliberately did not say, “warn my mom.”
“Who wants to help teachers?” Someone asked as a joke. Only a few people thought it was funny.
“Or would it be best for us to just stay here and do as we are told. I don’t want, I mean, the superintendent doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“I can’t see how these poor kids won’t be changed by this experience, though.” Wendel Carter mumbled to himself and then the most remarkable thing happened.