As Lumina wondered what to do, the salon phone rang and the octopus lunged for it. “Salon La Mer! Madame Ruckus speaking. wewe bet, ma’am, we can squeeze wewe in before the ball—four o’clock tomorrow?” She penciled something in an appointment book with one tentacle. She used a sekunde tentacle to apply zaidi blush to a customer and two zaidi to sweep hair from the floor and help a teenage mermaid pick a style from a glossy magazine.
Eight arms sure come in handy in this place, Lumina mused.
“Madame Ruckus!” another customer called.
“Hang on, honey,” she replied. “I can only do eight things at once!”
All this activity made Lumina dizzy—in a good way. Sure, she had styled Kuda’s mane hundreds of times, but it had always been just for fun. She couldn’t imagine being an actual stylist, creating new looks every siku in such a busy and exciting place.
Just then, Kuda tugged on her arm and pointed out the front window. “Scylla’s coming!” the sea horse warned. “Quick—disguise hair!”
Lumina gasped as she saw her aunt heading down the street—right toward the salon! Faster than a flying fish, she directed the pearls in her hair. They twisted her locks into a peekaboo hairstyle, covering half her face.
Freaking out, Kuda grabbed a nearby wig and slapped it crookedly on her head.
The Marafiki stood perfectly still as Scylla paused and peered into the salon window. She looked closely at Kuda and Lumina for a long moment, but then she kept walking.
Kuda nearly fainted with relief. “Whoa, that was close!” she said.
Madame Ruckus hung up her phone and spun to face Lumina. Her mouth dropped open in shock when she saw Lumina’s elaborate new hairdo. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “You got the job!”
Lumina grinned. “A job?” she repeated in disbelief. “I have a job?” The zaidi she alisema it, the zaidi excited she got. If she worked at Salon La Mer she could be a part of the hustle and bustle every day! No zaidi time spent kwa herself, with only Kuda for company. Plus, she would get to do what she loved: she could use her creativity to help people look their best and live life to the fullest. She could help people feel confident and happy—just like she’d done for Spike. But what would Aunt Scylla say?
She didn’t have time to think about it, because the inayofuata thing she knew, Madame Ruckus ushered over the teen mergirl she’d helped sort through magazines. She plopped her down in the styling chair in front of Lumina.
“Here’s your first customer!” she announced, waving a tentacle dramatically through the air. “Lunch break’s at noon. We close at five. kwa the way, what’s your name, hon?” She rushed off without waiting for an answer.
“Lumina!” Lumina called after her.
“Okay, Scylla’s gone,” Kuda said, ditching the wig. “Let’s get out of here.”
Lumina looked at the teen waiting expectantly in her chair. “I have a customer,” she said.
Kuda rolled her eyes. “Remember the royal castle? The reason we came here in the first place?”
Lumina frowned. “You’re right,” she said, running her fingers through the teen’s limp hair. “But she needs me. Just look.”
The teen mermaid looked offended.
“We’ll leave right after this, Kuda,” Lumina promised.
''Isn’t it exciting? My first job!”
Kuda sighed. Once Lumina had made up her mind, there was no use arguing. She helped fasten a styling cape around the girl, and Lumina busily got to work.
The stylist at the inayofuata station leaned over. “So you’re the new stylist, huh?” she said. Lumina nodded. “Well, newbie, I got two rules: keep your hand out of my tip jar, and don’t ever touch my lucky brush. Okay?” She held up a beautiful silver-handled hairbrush.
Lumina bit her lip. “Sure, I guess,” she alisema uncertainly. It seemed that not everyone at Salon La Mer was as friendly as Madame Ruckus.
“Don’t let her scare you, honey!” Madame Ruckus called to Lumina from across the room. “That’s Sandrine—she’s half barracuda.” Then the octopus pointed to another stylist. “And this is Cora. She does nails and tails,” she explained.
Cora gave a friendly wave from across the salon.
Lumina relaxed a little.
“Can wewe do my hair like her?” Lumina’s teen customer asked. She held up a picture ripped from a magazine.
Lumina examined the picture. “Well, I can if wewe want. But wewe know what might look even better—”
“I want to look like her!” the girl whined.
Sandrine leaned over and whispered in Lumina’s ear. “Piece of advice, newbie: just give them what they want. Trust me; they’re all wearing the same hairstyle.”
Lumina sighed and continued combing the girl’s hair. “Hmm,” she mumbled to herself. Then she got an idea. She spun the girl away from the mirror and grabbed a fistful of pearls from her pouch.
“Lumina, no!” Kuda cried, realizing that Lumina was about to take matters into her own hands. She did it to Kuda all the time, but this was a paying customer. Lumina could get in trouble!
Lumina ignored her friend—she had a plan. She tossed the pearls into the air and conducted them to lift and shape the girl’s hair into a magnificent modern style. She dotted the girl’s new, soft waves with pearls and paused to think. “Let me see your eyes,” she said, bending down to look. She changed the pearls’ color to match the girl’s lovely green eyes. Then she whirled the chair around again to onyesha her client her handiwork.
Kuda held her breath in fear.
“Hey!” the girl gasped, her mouth dropping open in shock. But her shock soon turned to glee. “That is SO. TOTALLY. AWESOME!” she cried, turning to admire her new look from every angle.
Lumina beamed proudly. “I knew you’d like it,” she told the girl.
“Like it? I upendo it!” the girl cried, bursting with excitement. She stood up so everyone in the salon could see her.
The salon exploded with compliments, and the girl blushed happily. Then she rushed out the door to onyesha her friends.
“Okay,” Kuda conceded. “You got lucky—nobody saw that. Now can we go?”
Lumina grinned. “Next!” she called.
Another teen mermaid plopped down in Lumina’s chair. “I want my hair just like wewe did hers!” she announced.
“Are wewe sure?” Lumina asked. “How about something special—just for you?”
“Really?” the girl squealed.
Lumina nodded and grabbed another handful of pearls. Chapter 9
Back at the castle, Caligo met the ten-soldier Trident Squad in a dark underground passage. The squad carried dangerous trident weapons and wore special shoulder patches to set them apart from the rest of the royal guard.
“Have wewe briefed the men about the ball?” Caligo asked the Trident captain. Everything had to go as planned for Caligo to seize the kiti cha enzi and get rid of Scylla.
“Yes, sir,” the captain replied. “Don’t worry—they know exactly what to do.”
Caligo smirked. “Splendid. I’ll meet wewe back at the barracks,” he said.
Just then, Scylla stepped out of the shadows to greet him.
“Everything is arranged,” Caligo explained. “The rest is up to you.”
“I’ll have access to the king?” Scylla asked.
“Yes,” Caligo replied. “The royal beverage steward has taken ill.” He gave Scylla an evil wink and gestured for her to follow him down the hall.
They worked their way toward the servers’ quarters behind the grand ballroom and entered the beverage closet. Inside, bottles of all shapes and sizes lined the fancy wrought-iron shelves.
“You will take the steward’s place at the ball and serve mulberry nectar to the royal party—including His Majesty,” Caligo explained. He pointed to a set of goblets and an empty pitcher on a giant silver serving tray.
Scylla nodded. All she needed to do was add a few drops of poison to the king’s goblet and their plan would be complete.
“The king will present the Pearl of the Sea to my son, then drink the toast. Then be gone forever,” Caligo alisema darkly.
“I have the ingredients,” Scylla told him. “But I’ll need time to brew the poison.”
Caligo smiled menacingly. “You rid me of one pest seventeen years ago—now you’ll rid me of another. Needless to say, wewe will be suitably rewarded.”
Scylla pulled her hooded vazi, pazia over her face and turned to exit.
“Oh, kwa the way,” Caligo alisema casually. “I understand wewe have a niece.”
“What of it?” Scylla scoffed, trying to hide her unease. How did Caligo know about Lumina? And worse, did he suspect that Lumina was the very same princess she’d kidnapped all those years ago?
Caligo smiled. “Please give her my regards,” he said.
Scylla shivered at Caligo’s threatening tone and hurried on her way. Only time would tell just how much danger she— and Lumina—were in. She vowed to be prepared.
The inayofuata day, Lumina worked hard on her third client at Salon La Mer. “What color kanzu, gown are wewe wearing to the ball?” she asked.
“Hot pink with teal accents,” the girl replied.
Lumina just waved her arms and—ping!—the pearl accents she’d added to the girl’s hair turned teal. She spun the girl around to face the mirror.
“This is amazing!” the girl said, gasping with delight.
Another teen mermaid bounded through the door. She ran toward Sandrine. “Are wewe Lumina?” she asked.
Sandrine rolled her eyes and pointed toward Lumina’s station. “Next chair over. Better get in line,” she alisema grumpily, pointing to the long line of mermaids waiting for a turn in Lumina’s chair. “She’s only been here two days and everyone thinks she invented hair.”
“Oh dear, Kuda,” Lumina said. We’re going to need a lot zaidi pearls!”
Meanwhile, Caligo banged his fist against his office desk. “Gone? What do wewe mean?”
Murray floated around the room and explained his visit to the sea cave again. “Gone. Vanished. Now she’s here, now she’s not. The place was empty.”
Caligo looked out the window. “Blast! Someone must have tipped her off.”
“I don’t think so,” Murray reasoned. “She left a note saying she was coming to the city. And I found this.” He dangled Lumina’s baby bracelet from his tail.
Caligo snatched it and examined it closely. “The royal crest!” he exclaimed. “Then it is her! That old mermaid double-crossed me! The princess is alive!”
Murray gave a sly grin. “The king and Queen will be thrilled.”
Caligo clenched his fist around the bracelet, practically rushing its beads. The princess complicated his plan considerably. The fact that she was alive meant that she—not Fergis—was the rightful heir to the throne. “This could ruin everything! We’ve got to get rid of her. tafuta everywhere! Get all your slimiest, sleaziest, creepiest cronies together.”
“Not a problem,” Murray responded. “That’s the only kind I know.”
Caligo’s eyes blazed. “Find. That. Girl,” he commanded.
Back at the salon, Lumina and the other stylists worked quickly. Word had spread about the exciting new styles coming out of Salon La Mer, and it seemed everyone wanted an appointment. They were so busy, they had even run out of supplies.
Just then, Madame Ruckus came bustling through the back door, holding armfuls of boxes.
New supplies—yes! Lumina thought. Then she noticed a handsome merman trailing behind Madame Ruckus. He carried another armload of boxes. A dolphin friend accompanied him.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he alisema from behind his load. “Perhaps wewe could be of some assistance. I’m afraid we’re a bit lost.”
But Madame Ruckus didn’t hear him. “Thanks. You’re a doll. Just plop those boxes right here, and I’ll grab some more.” She breezed back outside.
“Of course,” the merman said, practically dropping the boxes on the floor. “Oof!”
“Oh, good. Delivery is here,” Sandrine said, tearing open one of the boxes and grabbing some hairspray.
Lumina swam over and smiled. “Did wewe bring some styling gel?” she asked politely.
“Styling gel?” the merman replied.
Lumina opened a box and grabbed a bottle. “Here it is.”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’m a bit new to this,” the merman said, smiling sheepishly.
“It’s okay. This is my first job, too. I’m Lumina,” she said.
''Pleasure to meet you, Lumina. I’m Delphin,” the merman replied.
“Dolphin?” Lumina asked, unsure that she’d heard him right.
“No, Delphin. Don’t worry, I get that a lot,” the merman replied, chuckling.
“Come on,” his dolphin friend clicked. “We’re late! We were supposed to be at the palace an saa ago.”
Delphin nodded. “I hope to see wewe again!” he called to Lumina as he raced toward the door.
“Handsome!” Cora whispered to Lumina as Delphin exited.
“Well, aren’t wewe the lucky one,” Sandrine said.
Madame Ruckus burst through the door with another round of boxes. She deposited them on the floor and whirled around with excitement. “Ladies! Hold on to your hairpins!” she cried. “I’ve got delightful news! I just ran into a dear old friend on the royal staff, and guess what she gave me?” She waved a piece of paper in the air.
''An invitation?” guessed Cora.
“To the royal ball?” cried Lumina.
“Tonight?” Sandrine asked.
Madame Ruckus clapped all eight of her tentacles. “For the whole staff!” she shouted, bubbling over with delight.
Lumina, Cora, and Sandrine jumped up and down, dancing together in a circle. Lumina could hardly believe her good fortune. Spending time preparing other mermaids for the special event had made her long even zaidi to be a part of it all. Here was her chance!
Suddenly, Cora and Sandrine stopped dancing and looked serious.
“What are we going to wear?” they asked. Chapter 10
A short while later, Murray slithered into a nearby alleyway. He peered into a dumpster and spied his two cronies, Wormwood and Garth. If anyone could track down Lumina, it was these two. They weren’t the brightest eels in the sea, but they could follow instructions.
“Hi, Boss!” Garth hissed in a goofy voice. “We were just having lunch.”
“Charming,” Murray sneered, turning up his nose at the smell. “Any sign of the princess yet?”
“We already found fifty girls who match her picture,” Wormwood announced.
“What picture?” Murray responded.
Garth whipped out a baby picture of the princess and proudly showed his boss. “It’s the only one we could find. She’s drooling, but isn’t she just adorable?” he asked.
Murray felt his face redden with anger. “You’ve been looking for babies?” He didn’t bother explaining that the princess they were looking for was now seventeen years old.
Garth nodded dumbly as Wormwood said, “Don’t worry, Boss. We brought them all to Caligo.”
Murray froze with fear at the thought of his boss surrounded kwa dozens of babies. Caligo would certainly blame him. He gulped. Was that Caligo’s voice he heard on the tide?
He drew his knucklehead Marafiki a zaidi hivi karibuni picture and dashed to clean up their mess.
At noon, Lumina, Kuda, Cora, Sandrine, and Madame Ruckus talked and laughed as they made their way down the mitaani, mtaa to go shopping for the ball. They entered a clothing duka with two giant gargoyles kwa its doorway.
Inside the store, Madame Ruckus bounced about with enthusiasm. She fluttered over to Lumina and the girls, wearing a sparkling bangle bracelet.
“Look what I found, girls!” she cried. “Don’t wewe upendo what this sparkle does for my tentacles? I’d better buy seven more,” she continued, floating away.
Lumina flipped through a rack of drab-looking dresses and frowned. It didn’t look like they had much to choose from.
“There’s not much left, huh?” alisema Cora, echoing Lumina’s thoughts.
“Nothing I’d wear to a ball,” Sandrine agreed. “I guess the good gowns sold out long ago.”
Lumina furrowed her brow and took another look through the rack. Her imagination kicked into high gear, and she smiled. “Oh, I don’t know,” she started. “I think we could do a lot with what’s here. Add some ribbons, a little ruching, a little rickrack, and—presto!—our very own original styles!”
Cora clapped her hands together. “You really think so?” she asked hopefully.
Lumina beamed. “Absolutely! And it’ll be fun, too!”
Sandrine raised an eyebrow. “Fun?” she questioned.
Lumina plucked a plain pink dress from the rack. She spun around, holding it up to herself in the full-length mirror. “Like this,” she stated. “I upendo this color. I could do all kinds of things to spice it up.”
Cora touched a corner of the dress, admiring it. “Ooh, I didn’t see this one. You’re right—that pink is epic!”
Lumina held the dress against Cora, smiling warmly. “You know what? It’s an even better color for you. wewe take it,” she said, offering the dress to Cora.
“What?” Cora said, startled kwa Lumina’s kindness. “Oh, no, I couldn’t. wewe saw it first.”
“But it’s going to look so amazing on you! Here, take it. Please,” Lumina insisted.
''Are wewe sure?”
“Wow, thank you!” Cora cried, bounding off joyfully to try on the dress.
Sandrine crossed her arms and stared at Lumina. “Are wewe for real? That was the last dress in your size in the store! And the color was perfect for you. wewe alisema so yourself.”
“It’s okay, really,” Lumina replied cheerfully. “I’m certain I’ll find another one.” She swam off in tafuta of another dress.
Sandrine shook her head in disbelief. “It’s sure not what I would have done,” she mumbled.
Kuda swam up behind her. “But it’s what Lumina does,” she remarked proudly.
As the girls shopped, Wormwood and Garth waited outside. They had trailed Lumina all the way to the store and were about to put their plan in motion. Wormwood shook out a «large, mermaid-size sack. They zipped around to the shop’s front entrance and coiled themselves around the gargoyles. Now all they had to do was wait.
“Got everything I need—and a little more!” Madame Ruckus sang, holding eight armfuls of shopping bags. “See wewe back at the salon, ladies!”
She swam out the door—and right into Wormwood and Garth’s trap! “Now!” Garth yelled.
They yanked the sack down over the octopus in one quick motion.
“Got her!” Wormwood replied.
They cinched the bag closed and tried to tow it away.
“Man, she’s heavier than she looks,” Garth alisema when he saw the picture Murray had drawn for them.
As they hauled the sack down the street, Madame Ruckus poked one, then two tentacles out of the opening. She tapped the eels on the shoulder.
Wormwood and Garth turned around. “Huh?”
Madame Ruckus slapped them with her tentacles, causing them to drop the sack. She escaped from the bag angrily and continued smacking the eels. “What do wewe think you’re doing, wewe slimy little worms? I’ll use wewe to floss my teeth!”
“Oh! Oof! Mercy!” the bumbling eels cried, struggling to get out of Madame’s way.
''But it was no use. Madame Ruckus was furious. She dragged the eels to a nearby lamppost and tied them to it. That will teach them to mess with a lady, she thought. She dusted off her tentacles, collected her bags, and swam away.
Lumina and Kuda swam over to the boutique’s accessories counter, where they ran into Spike the stonefish. He still had pearls on his spikes and was checking out some scarves.
“Hi, guys!” he exclaimed. “Say, can wewe help me pick out a scarf for the ball?”
“Spike! You’re going to the ball, too?” Kuda asked.
Spike puffed out his chest proudly. “Since Lumina pearlized me, I’m getting invited everywhere!” he explained.
Lumina picked up a hat from a nearby table. “This color might look nice with your spikes,” she suggested.
Spike left the scarf display and tried on Lumina’s hat. “I just realized I don’t have a neck. So maybe a nice hat will do.”
Just then, Lumina heard the town clock strike one.
“It’s getting late,” Kuda warned. “We’d better get going if wewe want to find another dress.”
Lumina and her Marafiki waved good-bye to Spike and headed down the street, peering into duka windows for zaidi ball gowns. All around them, the streets of Seagundia were bustling with activity.
“I don’t know where else to suggest,” Cora alisema worriedly. “Seems like there’s not another ball kanzu, gown left in the kingdom.”
Lumina waved away Cora’s worries. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out for tonight.”
As they crossed the street, two rough-looking eels jumped in front of them with a large empty sack. “Aha!” they shouted.
But suddenly, a fancy dhahabu carriage pulled kwa two orca whales came hurtling down the street. Bump! It smacked right into the two eels, sending them flying.
“Yaaaaaaoo!” they cried as they landed on the other side of the street.
Lumina shook her head. So much activity today!
“This neighborhood’s getting weird,”
Inside their golden two-orca carriage, Fergis looked out the window, concerned. “Father,” he asked, turning to Caligo in the kiti, kiti cha beside him. “Did we just hit some pedestrians?”
“Who knows? Probably,” Caligo responded. “Let’s just get wewe to the tailor’s. For one night, wewe need to look a little less like you. Then you’ve got a hair appointment—with the trendy new stylist at Madame Ruckus’s salon. ” Chapter 11
After their lunchtime shopping trip, Lumina returned to work at Salon La Mer. She fashioned a librarian’s hair to look like an open, pearl-studded book!
“It’s wonderful!” the librarian gasped. “I can’t wait to onyesha everyone back at the library!”
Lumina beamed and then reorganized her station for her inayofuata customer. Being the “it” hairstylist sure was exhausting! “Has anyone seen my brush?” she asked.
Sandrine held out her silver-handled hairbrush. “Here. Use mine,” she offered.
Lumina was touched. “But isn’t this your lucky hairbrush?” she asked.
Sandrine waved her hand through the air. “Don’t make a big deal out of it,” she grumbled.
Lumina grinned. With energy renewed, she waited for her inayofuata client to arrive.
Just then, the chime above the salon’s front door tinkled. Caligo and Fergis walked in. Fergis stopped to sniff a maua, ua arrangement on the counter as Caligo conversed with Madame Ruckus. She pointed to Lumina.
Caligo pulled Fergis toward Lumina’s styling chair. “You’re the new stylist in town?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. I’m—”
Caligo cut her off. “Whatever. I hear you’re a miracle worker. Can wewe do something with this?” he asked, shoving Fergis toward her.
Lumina nodded. “Absolutely. ”
''Good luck,” Caligo replied meanly. “You’d be the first.” Then he stormed out of the salon.
Lumina studied Fergis. He seemed shy, unsure of himself. “I’m Lumina,” she alisema softly. “Would wewe like to take a seat?”
Fergis remembered his manners. “Oh, of course. Thank you.” He sat in the chair as Lumina draped a styling cape around him.
“Is that a Robena Graniflora?” he asked, staring intently at a potted plant on Lumina’s station.
Lumina shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Hey, Cora, what kind of plant is this?” she called to Cora at the nail station.
Cora looked up and cocked her head. “Green?” she ventured. Clearly she didn’t know any zaidi about plants than Lumina did.
Fergis looked from the plant to Cora. Lumina noticed he couldn’t stop staring at her. “She’s beautiful,” he whispered.
“I’ll introduce wewe when we’re done,” Lumina alisema with a wink.
Fergis settled in comfortably, and Lumina summoned her pearls.
A short while later, Lumina kept her promise. Fergis, with a spiffy updated haircut, followed her across the salon to Cora’s nail station.
“Hello, I’m Fergis,” he began, nervously extending his hand.
“I’m Cora,” she alisema with a warm smile.
“Do wewe like plants?” Fergis asked.
“Uh . . . I have a fern,” she replied.
“You do?” Fergis cried, overly excited to have something to talk about with her. “Have wewe ever tried feeding it a mix of bonemeal and phosphorus? It does wonders for the seedlings!”
“I’ll give that a try,” Cora replied, raising an eyebrow at Lumina.
Lumina stepped away. She hoped a friendship between them might bloom. Fergis sure seemed to need one.
As the town clock chimed five o’clock, Madame Ruckus turned the sign on the salon door to CLOSED. Sandrine, Cora, and Lumina put away their styling equipment for the day. Kuda lent a helping hand.
Once everything was tidy, Madame Ruckus gave the word. “All right, ladies—time to get ready for the ball!”
Excitedly, the girls set to work. They dragged out the plain-Jane dresses they had bought on their lunch break. They started with Sandrine’s first, and then Cora’s. Lumina showed them how to turn a boring dress into a showstopping gown. She added ribbons, gems, flowers, and seashells to give each kanzu, gown a personal touch.
Once she had finished, Sandrine and Cora tried their gowns on. They twirled in front of the mirror, marveling at Lumina’s exquisite detailing.
Lumina tapped her chin with her pointer finger, thinking. “Maybe one last thing.” She rummaged through her styling station and pulled out a couple of jewels. She pinned a small, jeweled rosette on each dress and stepped back. “There! Perfect. wewe two look fantastic!” she exclaimed.
Madame Ruckus nodded her approval. “Now, put on your sunglasses, ladies, and prepare to be blinded kwa fabulous!” She swept into the inayofuata room to change into her ensemble. Once dressed, she sashayed through the door, covered head to tentacles in jewels and glitter.
Lumina smiled and shielded her eyes. It really was blinding!
The girls clapped their hands with delight.
“Thank you,” Madame Ruckus alisema graciously. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Everyone cracked up.
“Okay, Lumina, we do your kanzu, gown next!” Cora said, as the town clock struck eight. Everyone froze.
“Oh no!” Lumina cried. “The ball has started! wewe guys go and I’ll catch up with wewe there. I insist.”
Sandrine, Cora, and Madame Ruckus eyed each other.
Finally, Sandrine spoke. “You never got a dress, did you?” she asked gently.
“Oh, I’m fine—really,” Lumina sputtered. She didn’t want them to worry about her and miss the ball.
But Kuda, her oldest and dearest friend, knew better. She knew Lumina always put everyone else first. She also knew that deep down Lumina would be heartbroken to miss her chance to attend the ball.
“No, she didn’t. She got busy with clients; she never had time,” Kuda answered.
“But does that mean you’re not going to the ball?” Cora asked.
Lumina shook her head. “I’ve been waiting to see the ngome all my life. I’m not going to let something like a kanzu, gown stop me,” she replied bravely.
Madame Ruckus rubbed her jaw in thought. Lumina was her best stylist. And she had a moyo as big as her own. She couldn’t let Lumina flounder. “Ladies,” she commanded, pointing her tentacles in eight different directions. “Grab everything wewe can find here that’s made of fabric!”
The girls and Kuda raced to action.
Lumina blushed. “No, really, wewe don’t need to,” she protested.
But the fins were already set in motion.
“I’ll get the shampoo capes!” Cora called.
“I’ll grab the drapes and curtains!” Sandrine shouted.
“The pink and purple are the prettiest,” Madame Ruckus noted.
“I’ll pick out the trimmings!” announced Kuda, piling seashells, dhahabu ribbons, and jewels onto a nearby table.
“But . . . ,” Lumina protested. She didn’t want her Marafiki to go out of their way for her. But on the inside, her moyo swelled like a song. Chapter 12
Just past eight, the ball was in full swing. Mercouples waltzed to a band playing on a balcony above the dancers. A grand staircase descended on one side of the room, and everything glittered with jewels and scalloped seashells. At the far end of the room, the king and queen’s kiti cha enzi sat waiting for them at the center of a long meza, jedwali on a stage.
Cora and Sandrine danced inayofuata to a large kitindamlo meza, jedwali covered with keki and pastries of all shapes and sizes. Spike stood near them, sampling the sweets.
“Yoo-hoo!” Fergis shouted from across the room. “Cora!”
Cora waved and watched him approach. As he got nearer, she smelled something funny.
Fergis looked down at the maua, ua corsage on her wrist. “The Robena Graniflora!” he gasped with excitement.
Cora nodded. She had added it at the last moment in honor of her new friend, Fergis.
“It’s radiant!” Fergis gushed. “And so are you.”
“I wore a flower, too,” Fergis continued. It’s a—”
Just then, Caligo stormed over. He wore a pearl-studded dress uniform. “Fergis!” he bellowed. “Why aren’t wewe dancing?! You’re supposed to be finding a bride!”
Fergis hung his head. He had really been enjoying his conversation with Cora. He didn’t want to think about all of the rules his father had set for him tonight. “I’ve tried, Father,” he alisema with a sigh. “Really, I have. But no one will dance with me. They mostly swim away screaming when I get near.''
Caligo leaned in toward his son and sniffed. “Whew!” he cried, plugging his nose. “No wonder! What is that stink?”
Fergis puffed out his chest proudly and pointed to his boutonniere. “Oh, that’s my Quidest Fetere,” he explained, touching the maua, ua on his uniform pocket. “It’s quite rare, wewe know. In fact, wewe can only find it—”
“Well, lose it,” Caligo interrupted in a thunderous voice. He grabbed the boutonniere and crumpled it in his hand. “Now get out there and dance!” he commanded, dumping the crushed maua, ua in a nearby planter.
Fergis hung his head miserably.
Cora was worried. She moved toward him and spoke softly. “Does your father always speak to wewe that way?”
“What way?” Fergis asked sadly. The muziki began to play again, snapping him out of his pout. “Oh, there’s the music. Excuse me. Father says I have to go dance.”
Cora placed her hand gently on his arm. “You know, I like to dance,” she said.
Fergis looked surprised. “Really? wewe wouldn’t mind?” he asked.
Cora smiled and took his hand. “And I thought your maua, ua was beautiful,” she alisema as they began to waltz.
Meanwhile, in the ballroom beverage closet, a white-gloved butler unlocked a cabinet. He pointed to a row of bottles, giving instructions. “Their Majesties will be drinking merberry nectar reserve tonight. Be certain wewe serve them first. Is that understood?”
“Perfectly,” Scylla answered, rubbing her hands together.
Back in the ballroom, the party continued. But someone was missing.
“What happened to Lumina?” Cora asked Sandrine, who was dancing inayofuata to her and Fergis.
“As far as I know, she’s still outside with Kuda admiring the castle,” Sandrine replied.
Suddenly, the crowd gasped and grew silent. All eyes turned toward the grand staircase.
Cora and Sandrine looked up and saw Lumina floating gracefully down the stairs. Madame Ruckus and Kuda trailed behind her. Lumina wore a pink-and-purple kanzu, gown studded with shimmering pearls. Around her neck she had fastened a glistening jewel and pearl necklace. She looked magical.
“Girl sure knows how to make an entrance,” Sandrine alisema in awe.
As Lumina glided down the stairs, she tried to take everything in. She had always dreamed of seeing the castle, but she had never imagined she’d actually be attending a royal ball! It was breathtaking.
“Kuda. It’s . . .” Lumina felt at a loss for words.
“I know,” Kuda replied.
Just then, a man in a pearl-studded uniform swept across the room to greet them. Lumina remembered him from the salon. He was her client Fergis’s dad.
“Miss Lumina, welcome! I must thank you. wewe did absolute wonders with Fergis. I almost didn’t recognize him,” he said, pausing. “And then, sadly, I did.”
Lumina winced. “You’re welcome?” she tried.
Just then, a familiar voice stepped in. “I call the first dance.”
Caligo bowed and backed away. “Of course, Prince Delphin.”
The prince whirled Lumina onto the dance floor.
“Prince Delphin?” Lumina asked, shocked. “And wewe deliver hair supplies, too?” She thought back to when she had first met Delphin as a delivery boy at Salon La Mer.
“Well,” the prince replied, winking. “It’s zaidi of a hobby than anything else. When I’m not performing my zaidi princely duties.”
“You’re joking with me,” Lumina replied with a smile.
“And what about you?” Delphin continued. “Hairstylist kwa day, princess kwa night?
''Princess? Who, me?” alisema Lumina, blushing at such a silly thought. “I’m the farthest thing from a princess.”
Delphin gave a sly smile. “Now who’s joking?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Lumina laughed as the prince twirled her around the dance floor. To think that just two days zamani she was playing princess with Kuda at the sea cave, and here she was now, dancing with an actual prince! She could hardly believe her good fortune.
Caligo stepped out onto the empty ngome terrace. He looked nervously at the town clock tower. Almost time. He turned to enter the castle. “Arrgggh!” he cried, jumping with fright.
Murray swung from the doorway and cackled, pleased to have scared Caligo once again. “Sorry,” he hissed. “Everything going as planned?”
“Like clockwork,” Caligo replied, recovering himself. “Their Majesties will grace us with their presence fifteen dakika from now—for what will be the king’s final appearance. What about the girl?''
''We’re zeroing in,” Murray said. “Every crawly creature in town is now looking for a seventeen-year-old blond girl named Lumina. Don’t worry, we’ll get her.”
“Named what?” Caligo whispered fiercely, yanking Murray kwa the collar.
“Lumina,” Murray alisema unsurely. “It was on her note.”
Still clutching Murray kwa the neck, Caligo looked back into the ballroom. “Is that her?” he asked, pointing a finger toward Lumina spinning around the dance floor.
“Um. Why, yes, it would seem so,” Murray managed in a choked voice, feeling Caligo’s grip tighten. “You found her! And all on your own, too!”
Caligo’s eyes narrowed with menace. His plan was coming together.
Inside the ballroom, the muziki came to a stop. Prince Delphin and Lumina applauded for the musicians.
“Dancing in the castle,” Lumina alisema with a happy sigh. “I never would have believed it.”
“Why not?” Delphin asked. “You dance as if you’ve done it a hundred times.”
“Thank you.” Lumina giggled.
“I’ll get us some refreshments,” Delphin offered. “Promise me the inayofuata dance.”
“I promise,” Lumina replied.
The band struck up its inayofuata number. Lumina tapped her fingers to the beat as she waited for the prince to return. Then someone grabbed her wrist and yanked her roughly toward the dance floor.
Lumina was shocked. “Uh . . . Mr. Caligo,” she began awkwardly, trying to free her hand. “Prince Delphin made me promise to dance with him next. But I can promise wewe the next—”
Caligo gripped her wrist tighter and twirled her toward the terrace. “Tell me, Miss Lumina,” he began with a dangerous look in his eye. “Are wewe here with your parents?”
Lumina bit her lip. She started to feel nervous. “My parents? Actually, I was raised kwa my aunt.”
“I see. One of life’s little secrets,” Caligo alisema with a smirk. “Some secrets, however, are best kept under wraps!” He waltzed Lumina out onto the empty terrace. On Caligo’s cue, a mermaid-size sack swooshed down over her from above.
Lumina struggled to break free as the bag scooped her up. She tried not to panic. Then she heard a familiar voice.
“Hey!” Kuda shouted. “What do wewe guys think you’re—”
Whoosh! Lumina heard another sack swoop though the air and then Kuda’s muffled cries as she was trapped inside.
“No witnesses!” Caligo cried.
“Where do wewe want them?” Lumina heard Caligo’s partner in crime ask. He sounded slimy.
“The ngome dungeon,” Caligo replied. “I’ll be down in twenty minutes. This time, I’m going to make sure the job is done right.