The Writings of Michael J. Bowler

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Children of the Knight IV

A Brief Excerpt from

And The Children Shall Lead

The room was packed, with Arthur’s leadership team filling out the front row, followed by row upon row of chatting, excited, tunic-clad youth of varying ages and ethnicities. Mayor Soto sat in the front row beside Reyna and Esteban, wearing his standard grey suit with a sky blue tie. He grinned when he saw Lance and Ricky enter.

Lance looked out at his fellow knights, his peers, as he and Ricky strode to their seats to the right of Arthur’s massive throne. All heads seemed to turn as one and focus on the two boys, and Lance felt momentary panic wash over him. Forcing himself to stand as proper as possible, he ignored the “looks” he knew he might be imagining. The chattering quelled as everyone realized the gathering had begun. Yet even as Arthur emerged from behind his throne to stand majestically before it, Lance knew almost every eye remained on him and Ricky.

Arthur, attired in his formal tunic, pants, elegant red cloak, and sporting his large, jeweled crown, unsheathed Excalibur and held the enormous sword aloft, causing the chandelier lights to sparkle off its shimmering blade in a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors. The assemblage quieted and took their seats, gazing up at the king expectantly.

“My noble knights and ladies,” the king began, leaning in to the microphone on its stand before him. “Welcome to our first gathering of the next phase of our crusade.”

There were cheers and applause from the knights, whose eager and expectant faces excitedly regarded their king and mentor.

“As you all know, we ultimately won our battle for the hearts and minds of Californians, for they chose to return childhood to its rightful owners – you.”

There was more applause, but also some scowls and shaking of heads from the older kids, Lance noted with dismay. He snuck a quick look Ricky’s way, and the other boy’s sly wink instantly calmed him.

“Before we move ahead with the next phase,” Arthur went on confidently, “we have an honored guest with us today who wishes to address all of you. I give you the mayor of Los Angeles, Julian Soto.”

The mayor rose to his feet amidst thunderous applause from the knights, led vociferously by Lance and Ricky who stood to welcome the man up onto the stage with them. Soto had been publicly supportive of Arthur and Lance and their proposition, to the dismay of many in the political arena. The short Latino man with the close-cropped hair and round face greeted Lance and Ricky with a huge grin, before winking at Chris and bowing to Jenny.

The mayor went on to greet Arthur with a bow, and the king stuck out a hand of friendship. They shook warmly and Arthur stepped back away from the microphone, sitting in his throne and motioning the boys to resume their seats.

The mayor grinned out at the applauding youth, obviously gratified by their response. He held up a hand to quell them.

“You should be applauding yourselves for pulling off the most significant victory for youth this state has ever seen,” he began, and then raised his own hands to applaud.

The kids cheered and stomped excitedly.

When they again subsided, the mayor looked out over their eager faces soberly. “The election, however, was the easy part. Now the real work begins, and that’s where I need your help. Your prop becomes law on January one, and that means the system and the state can no longer give up on kids, can no longer throw them away into jail or prison and pretend they never existed.”

More applause and cheers erupted from the assembled kids, and once more the mayor awaited their attention.

Lance turned his eyes onto the crowd as his fellow knights allowed their cheers to subside. All of them were focused on the man at the microphone. But one set of eyes remained riveted on him – they belonged to a tall, lean African- American kid whose name Lance couldn’t recall – a new recruit, another ex-gang member. Marvell, wasn’t that his name?

Why is he mad dogging me?

The mayor’s voice pulled his attention from the glaring boy.

“The problem of troubled youth in troubled neighborhoods, or even in rich ones, won’t be solved by me or the government. It will be solved by you who live in those communities. That’s why I’m setting up a task force to brainstorm ideas that can solve, or alleviate, some of these social ills that plague our youth, and I want as many of you as possible to sit on that task force. I want to begin next week, organizing meetings with you and community leaders and professionals to begin putting into place real and sound interventions. The City Council and I are committed to making this thing work, and give kids more reasons to reject gangs and drugs than to accept them. But you all are the key. You have the answers – it’s just that no one’s ever consulted you before. Now I am. How many are willing to help me?”

Almost every sword and every hand flew upward.

The mayor grinned. “Outstanding. I’ll have a sign-up sheet at the conclusion of the gathering for all who are interested. Just give me a way to contact you and we’ll begin setting up the groups next week. Thank you all for showing the world that Los Angeles has the best young people in this country, and for being the leaders we adults need to emulate.”

More thunderous applause, cheers, and foot stomping followed his remarks as the grinning man turned to Arthur. The king rose and shook his hand again, and then Soto bowed to Lance and Ricky before dropping down the three small steps to the floor and resuming his seat.

Arthur returned to the microphone and looked out at the excited young people before him. “That brings us to our next step forward. As you are aware, my sons have formulated an audacious plan to amend your United States Constitution to provide stronger protections for youth such as yourselves. I do not pretend to understand the workings of this country, but my sons have been doing their homework and they have consulted with my attorney, Samuel, about how best to proceed. To explain their plan and present their new bill of rights, I give you Prince Lance and Sir Ricky.”

The applause, to Lance’s great delight, became thunderous in its intensity as the knights rose to their feet, some clapping, others waving their swords and stomping their booted feet. And then the chant arose, “Long live Lance! Long live Lance! Long live Lance!” In the front row, Reyna, Esteban, Justin, Darnell, Techie, Enrique, and Luis chanted the loudest.

Lance basked in the adulation of his peers, his fears washing away like dust off a car under a light spring rain.

The chanting died down, and everyone resumed his or her seat. Everyone except the African-American kid Lance had spotted earlier. He remained standing, glaring around him in amazement.

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