The coronation was splendid. It was not only the decoration of the throne room; every street and building was under the sign of the Gritchac with flags, fabrics hanging from the windows, and lit-up art murals covering the walls. The throne itself was guarded by two giant glass Gritchacs, a male, and a female. Usually, these two statues were stored in the Frigellyan history museum, in the sovereigns’ room. As the light goes through their bodies from a skylight, people can see rainbow colors shining inside from time to time. Beth had never seen such beautiful crafts before.
As for Abeena, she wore a long white dress, with golden embroideries, notably a Gritchac under the sole strap over her left arm. She received her crown, which was more of a diadem, from the former King himself. A Frigellyan crown is a personal object a sovereign receives for his or her entire life.. Abeena’s was golden, like every Frygellyan crown, with a white pearly stone on the front.
As it had been on Dalygaran, the celebration was first and foremost for the people. The streets were alive with joy. Abeena took the sovereign’s oath after having walked from the Castle to the High Court, followed by the former royal couple, while taking care to greet as many people as possible along the way. Everywhere she went people cleared a path to let her through. The event was broadcast all over the planet with projections beamed up to the open sky. Beth asked herself how this worked, as there were no visible screens, yet there it was, a three dimensional picture of the new Queen that everybody could see by simply raising their heads to the sky. Then, as more and more pictures filled the air, the sky became a giant kaleidoscope. Wherever you were on the planet, you were somehow able to see these giant projections from the proper angle.
When Abeena had spoken her oath, she received from the former King the keys to Frigellya. Beth asked herself why they were so called. These keys didn’t open or close anything. They were two golden-crossed rings, prettily crafted and of a large size. Only the one who held them in one’s hands could see what was engraved on them: a Gritchac on the one ring, and a crown on the other; the sovereign and the noble animal, united to protect the planet that has been passed on from sovereign to sovereign.
Meanwhile, at the Frigellyan Earth-Dalygaran Territory…
Sylvester and Paul watch the coronation on a screen in the main room of the new Territory where the inaugural ceremony is about to take place. The day before, Mira and Reymo explained to them the process of the inauguration ceremony for this place, the only one they will be allowed to come to on Frigellya. Noticing that the royal procession would soon arrive at the castle, they head straight for the door that the sovereign will cross in a few minutes.
Above the door, a screen allows them to see the new Queen’s progress.
Sylvester begins to knead his hands.
– I’m nervous too, says Paul.
– Sylvester, we have been living as undergrounders for 25 years. We had no friends, saw almost nobody, and we’re here at a celebration where we’re the guests of honor. There will be 300 guests here tonight… And look how we’re dressed…
Even if no special dressing was required for this ceremony, Paul and Sylvester, as honored guests wanted to look their best. They both chose a dark, clean-lined costume, blue for Sylvester, brown for Paul, each with a white shirt.
Sylvester relaxes a bit.
– I think we have style, he answers Paul.
– Indeed. Hey, here they are.
Sylvester and Paul have to wait until the Queen takes her place just in front of the door and gives the agreed upon little head signal to open it.
Abeena waits a few moments so that the crowd accompanying her can stand still and be silent. Then she opens her arms.
– That’s the signal for the people participating in the door-opening ceremony to join her, comments Sylvester.
Through their screen, the two men can see the former King, the former Queen, Christopher, the Major and Beth coming up to her, one after the other. The door-opening ceremony is performed with those who ordered the creation of the Territory, along with those who signed and witnessed its official recognition.
Then the new Queen nods slightly as agreed and the two Smiths open the two door leaves. Beth and the Major are the first to cross the threshold. Beth positions herself by Sylvester’s side, and her partner stands at Paul’s. Christopher takes his place by Abeena’s side, while his father stands at the other. As for the former Queen, she is at her husband’s arm. It is now time for the Frigellyan greeting. Everybody joins hands as is customary. When it’s over, Abeena is the next person to cross the door, followed by all the others. Then the group turns to face the crowd, bowing their heads slightly to welcome them.
– May the guests come in and the celebrations begin, says Abeena very ceremoniously.
The day before, during the briefing on the ceremony, Mira and Reymo explained that the guests were drawn by lots from among the capital’s inhabitants. The draw picked out a household in general, but its members, namely the heads of the family, were then free to make arrangements as to who would attend. Attendance, however, was not mandatory. One could give up one’s invitation to whomever one wanted.
– Really? wondered Beth. And there is no black market?
– A royal invitation is not goods to be sold in market, retorted Mira outraged.
– All right, it’s just an Earthling’s question, hastened Beth in answer.
Back in the main room, from where they had watched the coronation, Sylvester and Paul can’t believe their eyes. They had left an empty room, and now return to see its walls lined with tables covered with food and drink. As Frigellyans are connoisseurs of fine cuisine, they are fond of colorful and elaborate presentation, and today, castles, crowns, and even Gritchacs can be found drawn or sculpted in some of the meals. A sweet music can be heard in the background as the crowd enters the room in a steady stream. When Abeena estimates there are enough people inside, she holds her hand to Christopher. They position themselves face to face, holding each other by the waist on one side and palm-to-palm at shoulder level on the other side.
– Ball opening, she whispers to Beth, who is watching them with eyes wide open.
– Oh, she answers.
With the music now grown louder, the crowd moves almost instantaneously to the periphery of the room, to give space to and watch the new Queen and her partner.
– Do you know how to dance? Beth asks the Major.
– Of course, he answers. As a Chief Commander of a planet like Dalygaran, it’s sort of a diplomatic duty.
– You mean you danced in receptions on other planets?
– Yes. All across the universe people dance. Not always in pairs, but I have to say, I prefer it this way, to dance with a lady, that is.
– You? The tenebrous Major Moon Crystal… you like to dance in a pair?
– Mysterious, enigmatic, if you prefer. You weren’t someone very approachable before…
– … before you came and made me lose my mind.
– O-ho, what mighty words!
– When I danced, even with a perfect stranger, what I loved most was the kindness that was shared, the simple joy to accompany someone in rhythm. Maybe it was just my way to unwind from work that I normally let myself be completely absorbed in. And even if things have changed today, thanks to you, I still love it.
– Well, I personally don’t know how to dance.
– You went along with the farandole on Dalygaran.
– I used my anticipation abilities.
While Beth and the Major are speaking, other couples start to dance around Christopher and Abeena. The Major holds his hand out to Beth.
– Let’s have a try, he says. I suppose people dance at Earthly weddings…
– So we have to train. You’ll see, it’s easy. Don’t think. Just let yourself be guided by the music. Feel what I feel… Yes, that’s it. Let it go.
And the two young people start their first ever dance.
– You’re doing fine, he whispers in her ear.
Sylvester and Paul, who have seen the entire scene unfold, now watch the couple spinning round the room.
– Would you do me the honor of this dance, Sir?
Paul turns around brutally, surprised by the voice he just heard.
– Yes, silly goose, it’s me.
– Hey, at least, for once, it’s not me, chuckles Sylvester.
– Yes, you’re quite the pro, retorts Paul.
– Ha, ha, answers back Sylvester.
Real children, notices Nelly, looking at one after the other. Then she says,
– Sylvester, I’m going to relieve you of this bully for the evening.
– You’ve got all my gratitude, Nelly.
And Nelly goes away, taking Paul with her by the arm.
– Come along, Paul! she says
– You know how to dance?
– No more than you, I’m afraid.
– This is a minor detail after all, isn’t it?
– Yes, a teeny weeny little thing. What I want is to be by your side.
– I can see that. Aren’t we supposed to meet again in one week?
– Well, I did all that I could to minimize delays. I started by calling Frigellya before the date you gave me, and it allowed them to invite me to the reception. Isn’t it fantastic?
– I’m really… happy you’re here. Indeed.
– Oh, Paul, this wait is torture. I was dying to see you. And you know what? I’m working to shorten the room’s construction from 3 weeks to 10 days. I’ve learnt a lot about organization, thanks to Raymond. And since my team knows who is going to be operated on first, they naturally agreed to work continuously. We’ll be able to come here sooner for the assembling.
– And who are we to them?
– The creators of the one who’s going to give us our humanity.
– Well, it sounds great.
While Nelly and Paul continue chatting and spinning, in their own way, Sylvester is surprised to feel someone pull at his sleeve.
– Are you the Earthling Sylvester? asks a little girl.
– Er, yes.
– Come with me.
And the little girl takes his hand and leads him through the crowd. When she finally stops, she says,
– This is my older sister Oriel. She doesn’t dare ask you for a dance.
– Killya! protests the older sister. May you pardon her, Sir. She’s just a kid. I told her I dreamt to dance with you and she took me up on it.
– Why what?
– Why do you dream to dance with me?
– You’re an Earthling!
– And unaccompanied, the younger sister chimes in.
Sylvester starts to laugh, and says to himself maybe it is time to learn to relax. So, shyly, he ends up saying, “yes” as he holds out his hand.
– You agree? asks Oriel in disbelief.
– Yes, if you promise to be lenient with me. I have never danced before.
– I promise. I will teach you all that I know.
Oriel takes his hand and puts it around her waist as they proceed to the dance floor.
– Close your eyes, she suggests to him.
– If you have never danced, close your eyes. That’s it. Listen to the music. Let it go through your body. Can you feel the rhythm?
– I… I think so.
– Let yourself be carried by it. Just let your body swing softly now. That’s good. Now open your eyes. We’re going to move together. Move your feet, and I’ll follow. Feel the music. Great. Small step, by small step. You see, it’s not so difficult.
Sylvester smiles as he does his first ever dance steps with Oriel. He really enjoys it, all the more as she keeps her promise and teaches him the other dance steps she knows as they go along. After a while, she asks,
– Will you dance with my friends after this? They’ve never danced with an Earthling either.
Sylvester laughs again. He is not used to being an attraction, and he says to himself it could be pleasant.
– I’ve got all evening. If you’re certain your friends want to dance with me…
– Oh, I’m sure.
Later in the evening
Sylvester, who is being passed from young lady to young lady, decides to take a pause. They are all curious and well informed, he says to himself.
He really fancies a fresh drink and so heads to the tables. He takes advantage of the break to eat some canapés, when a shout of joy makes him turn around.
Lucia calls his name as she knows it and awkwardly runs to throw herself in his arms. Sylvester is touched by this demonstration of affection. The child got attached to him when he and Paul had their stay on Frigellya before their trial. One evening Lucia was inconsolable, and when Christopher failed to calm her down, Sylvester just took her into his arms and began to hum the tune he usually whistles when he is painting. Lucia at last stopped crying to listen to him. Since then, whenever she sees him, she stretches her arms out for him to carry her and hum something for her. As for Sylvester, he calls her “my little princess” or “little sun ray” and loves to spin her in the air, as her father does. And Lucia squeals in delight every time.
He does this now, just to hear her laughter. Then he does some dance steps with her, humming a bit as he moves.
– Look, here comes Daddy, he says, seeing Christopher.
Lucia turns her head, loftily ignoring her father.
– I see, you want one more dance. That’s ok, but this will be our last one and then I’ll give you back to your father.
Lucia smiles and hangs on to Sylvester’s neck. She tries to sing along to the music with some “baaaah, baaaah, baaahs.”
When the music stops, Sylvester heads toward Christopher. Lucia clings on to him.
– It’s time to say good-bye. Would you give me a hug? he says.
– Nah! she answers.
Christopher, having witnessed the scene, comes to rescue Sylvester.
– Lucia, it’s time to go to bed, sweetheart. Say good-bye to Sylvester.
– Hey, my little princess is not going to cry, right?
He kisses her on the cheek. She kisses him too. Then Sylvester gives her back to her father. He waves softly and she imitates him.
– Good-bye, princess.
– Oobah! she answers.
Sylvester is greatly shaken. All the time he had Lucia in his arms, he never stopped seeing the face of the young lady who now occupies his room on Earth. He feels embarrassed. He goes to find his friends, and noticing Beth busy at a table, he comes to her and asks her to go with him to a quiet place.
– Wait a sec; I’ll just grab a quick bite. I’m absolutely starving.
Sylvester waits until Beth has finished with her food and points to a door. When they are on the other side Beth says,
– Wow, it’s very peaceful here.
– Beth, I want to go home.
– What, already? Is there something wrong?
– I’m very uncomfortable. Lucia is too much attached to me.
– Oh, so you noticed it, too. But I don’t see what it has to do with…
– She threw herself into my arms.
– Yes, and she began to say my name…
– Oh, says Beth, who just realizes her misunderstanding.
– When the kid hangs herself around my neck, it’s the adult’s face I see. It’s extremely disconcerting.
– Oh, I see.
– That’s just it…I’m sure you do; but I… I don’t understand anything about this.
– Well, you’re experiencing an emotional split between two versions of the same person: the kid who is very informal with you, and the older one…
– … who has no idea about that. I have the sensation of being wrong by letting the small one behave so with me.
– With regard to adult Lucia?
– Yes, that’s what I feel. Beth, I’m really lost. Especially with all these changes all around me these past weeks. Do you know that Paul is whistling too, now?
– Yes, I already heard him. It’s contagious you know. David whistles too from time to time for a short while.
– Yes, I tell you.
Beth can see Sylvester getting a little more relaxed.
– Still, I want to go home, he repeats.
– Everybody is going to look for you.
– Just tell them I’m exhausted, which is not far from the truth. I danced a lot.
– I saw that. David has had lots of success tonight, too. The Dalygaran in a human body…
– And you?
– Yes, the only gamma woman from 25th-century Earth, she answers laughing. So, you’re sure, you want to go home?
– The transporter is in a corner of the entrance hall.
– I can’t go there.
– Ok, I’ll tell David and I’ll come back with it. Will you wait for me here?
– Yes, I’m going to stay where it’s quiet.
Back at the two Smiths’ apartment
When the transporter materializes, a great surprise awaits Beth and Sylvester. Lucia is sitting in an armchair; facing her are her father and Abeena, in their older versions.
– Oh, says Christopher, you weren’t supposed to come back this early…
– Sylvester? Oh my Gritchac, you’ve not changed since the last time I saw you…
– Mom, they’re back from the coronation.
– Mom? wonders Beth.
– Abeena and I ended up getting married. We brought up Lucia together.
– I knew it, says Beth joyfully.
– That we were married? asks Abeena.
– That you were made for one another, answers Beth. Your love story has just begun here…
Sylvester who has remained silent until now, takes advantage of the silence to say,
– I really don’t know why I stopped come to Frigellya, when Lucia was still a kid. She didn’t recognize me when she arrived here.
– We don’t know either, answers Abeena.
– Sylvester, Beth, what’s going on? Why did you come back so early? asks Abeena.
– Sylvester wanted…
– … to come and find a canvas to immortalize the event, he completes as he dashes to his studio
Beth opens her eyes wide, and so do Abeena and Christopher.
When Sylvester is back, Abeena speaks,
– You’d left materials on Frigellya. I showed you the room where everything was stored.
– Yes, I know. But there wasn’t any canvas of this size, answers Sylvester, holding up a fresh sample.
– I’ve always suspected that the one you did that night came from our stock…, Abeena whispers with a tinge of disappointment.
– This type of canvas can only come from here. Beth, please, let’s go.
– Let’s go, she repeats.
After they dematerialize, Abeena mutters,
– As far as I can remember, everybody went away very late, that night… We missed this return.
Then, thinking back about the evening, she adds,
– You know, Lucia, Sylvester had a great success that night. He danced with lots of young ladies and…
Suddenly Lucia gets up and runs away. Her parents can hear a door being slammed.
– Oh, says Abeena.
Christopher and her look at each other.
– What’s gotten into her? asks Christopher.
– I think our daughter is in love.
– You understand now why Sylvester didn’t come to Frigellya anymore. He couldn’t be emotionally committed to two Lucias. As a kid she was very attached to him. Poor him… It must have been really heart-breaking.
– You think these two will…
– Remember Beth and David’s wedding? He came with a beautiful young lady. Didn’t she remind you of someone today? What was her name again?
– Oh no!
– Oh yes!
– I was far from imagining…
– So was I. Let’s talk to our daughter.
On Frigellya, in a peaceful room in the Earth-Dalygaran Territory
– I thought you were exhausted.
– To stay there, with those three in the living room? I think it would be even worse than being here.
– Three people who don’t know why I didn’t come back here anymore. I felt their total lack of understanding. It didn’t really ease me. I could either come back with you, or run away like a savage into my studio. I chose to do what wouldn’t portray me as a… social misfit.
– This story bothers you, doesn’t it?
– Why I didn’t come back to Frigellya?
– Yes. Maybe it has something to do with what you told me earlier about Lucia. You don’t know how to behave with the child now that you see the face of the adult when you’re with her…
– Yes, that’s true, and…?
– Sylvester, really, don’t you understand?
– I’m sorry; I can’t see what there is to understand.
– It doesn’t matter, you silly goose.
– Oh, bloody hell. I would like people to stop calling me that.
– It’s affectionate.
– Well, be affectionate with someone else then…
– Oh, you’re really grumpy tonight. Come along, Sylvester. Are you really going to paint or was it just a pretense?
– Painting will relax me, and even rest me. I’m going to bring the colors and the easel.
When Sylvester is back in the main room, Abeena sees him and goes to him,
– Oh, you’ve found your materials.
– Er, yes.
– I’m looking forward to seeing your work.
– I’m going to find a “quiet” place to settle in.
– That won’t be easy, guffaws Abeena.
– That doesn’t matter, answers Sylvester. Then, noticing a place at the periphery of the room without any tables, he goes there. In addition to the large canvas he brought from home, Sylvester puts at his feet the other two he brought from the Frigellyan storeroom. Looking around, he searches for Oriel. As he can’t find her, he takes one of the small canvases and starts to draw her from memory.
– You’re drawing my sister, says Killya.
– You’re still up? answers Sylvester.
– I’m not a baby, retorts the little girl offended.
– You’re right, you’re not a baby, repeats Sylvester softly. Do you know where your sister is?
– She’s outside, taking fresh air. Is it true, that you can’t go outside?
– Yes, that’s true. I have to stay in the Earth-Dalygaran Territory. If you see her, can you send her to me?
– Ok, says the little girl. Then she turns on her heels.
Sylvester has already started the big canvas, when Oriel plants herself in front of him.
– Killya told me you were looking for me.
– Yes, I’ve got something for you, young lady.
And he holds out to her the portrait he made of her, with a message written at the bottom right corner: “To the one who taught me to dance. The Earthling, Sylvester.”
– It’s for me?
– Yes, in memory of this excellent evening.
– It’s for me?
– Yes, it’s what I said.
– It’s for me!
Sylvester bursts out laughing.
– Yes, Oriel. And I hope that, like me, you’ll never forget this evening all your life.
– There’s no way I will, Mister Earthling. Thank you. You’re really a nice guy.
Oriel goes away at full speed, so impatient is she to show this trophy to her girlfriends.
“Nice guy. That’s much better than silly goose,” says Sylvester to himself. Then he goes on with his large canvas.
For their part, Paul and Nelly, who didn’t leave each other the whole evening long, come closer to Sylvester as soon as they see him with his canvas.
– What are you doing? asks Paul.
– I’m relaxing.
– That’s not what I meant.
– I know.
– It never happens, does it, that you two stop squabbling? You’re really terrible.
– I’ll immortalize this evening my own way. This canvas will stay here. It’s my present to the Queen. But I’ve just begun.
– I’m hungry, says Nelly. Have you already had something to eat Sylvester?
– Yes, earlier I nibbled a bit. Off you go. The food is starting to disappear from the tables…
– See you later, Sylvester, says Nelly.
He answers with a nod and watches them head to the buffet. They have only taken a few steps when an announcement can be heard:
– Ladies and gentlemen, please clear the floor area. In a few moments, the dance floor will receive a troop of acrobats, in the purest Earthly tradition. Following the performance, everyone will be invited to participate in a Dalygaran farandole and we’ll finish with the Frigellyan chorus our Queen chose in honor of our guests.
“Mira and Reymo forgot to tell us about this detail of the evening,” says Beth to herself.
The acrobats come on stage. Beth had seen many circus shows in her life, but this is the first time she can see one with her Dalygaran empathy. The fascination she can feel in all the people around her is mesmerizing and contagious. Her favorite Dalygaran is open-mouthed. She passes her hand along his back, encircles his waist, and snuggles up against him.
– They are made of elastic, he whispers in her ear.
She answers with a smile. In front of them, the performers build a human pyramid, contort in unnatural ways, hang from poles and each other horizontally like flags and do other, impossible balancing tricks that simply boggle the viewers’ minds.
In his corner, Sylvester has stopped drawing and stands up to be able to see better. It is the first show of this kind he has ever seen. Like everybody else, he is transfixed..
When the act is finished, as announced the Dalygaran farandole begins, led by the Queen herself. Beth and the Major let themselves be snatched by the passing crowd, who also pull Paul, Nelly and Sylvester on their way. Quickly, the larger farandole splits into several smaller ones. As happens on Dalygran when lines meet, members of smaller groups perform more complex figures. But as Frigellyans are not used to this kind of dance, it’s more of a joyful boondoggle that can be seen before each farandole makes its own way again.
When the music stops, Christopher starts to sing, alone and with a powerful voice, the song in honor of the guests from Earth and Dalygaran. Then all the people in the room join the chorus. Beth hasn’t felt such an emotion since the children sang the Gold Ring Rise song for her.
Without understanding how, Beth, the Major, Paul, Nelly and Sylvester end up in the center of the room and the crowd starts to form circles around them. Then the circles start to move, one after the other, the first clockwise, the second counter clockwise, then clockwise again and so on to the outer circles.
Beth and the Major hold hands. Nelly clutches Paul’s arm. Sylvester would like to have someone to grab hold of, so much so that it makes him feel dizzy.
As the song ends, the circles open and the Queen heads toward them, holding on to Christopher’s arm. She stops a few steps from them and bows in a gracious curtsey, followed by Christopher, though his bow is somewhat stiffer. It is the greatest honor a Frigellyan Queen can offer her guests.
– If the Queen bows in front of you, said Mira during the briefing, come to meet her. The person facing her will have to hold a hand out to her to make her rise. Don’t make her wait too long; it would be impolite.
The Major holds out his hand to the Queen. And though nothing had been said about Christopher, Beth takes the initiative of holding out her hand to him.
– The person who would raise the Queen, bows in return, added Mira.
And as the royals rise, the Major and Beth bow in their turn, to have Abeena and Christopher raise them again. Applause bursts out in the room.
When it calms a little, the Queen takes a few steps to detach herself from the group and ceremoniously says, “May the celebration go on.” The music starts again straightaway.
Paul and Nelly, who missed the chance to eat before the lights went off for the show, are surprised to see that all the tables are well supplied again.
– Let’s go and eat, says Paul, dragging Nelly with him.
As people move again onto the dance floor, Sylvester goes back to his drawing. As for the Major and Beth, they decide to go and have some fresh air in the Castle’s park. There is a little bench near a fountain they particularly love. As they sit there Beth says,
– We’ll have to decide a date for our wedding now that this territory is open. We can do it whenever we want.
– On Dalygaran, weddings are celebrated the day of the Gold Ring rise. When two people are bound and announce they want to marry, the wedding is automatically for the next rise. It’s a collective ceremony, and the celebration is magnificent. It seems to be very different on Earth. I gathered my information, he says smiling.
Then he adds,
– Let’s get married on Earth a short while before the next Gold Ring rise and participate in the Dalygaran ceremony to follow. Father will be delighted.
– And when will that be?
– I’ve got to count more precisely, but roughly 3 to 4 months, at the very most.
– Wow, that’s short notice.
– Short? On the contrary, I find it too long.
– But we have to organize everything; inform people, find our wedding outfits, a caterer…
– Oh, the Queen didn’t tell you anything, did she?
– Which one, the former or the new one?
– The former, the one who proposed to host the wedding at the castle. She wants to organize all that is going to happen here: buffet, music, everything; in short, she’s going to make us an Earthly wedding we’re supposed to remember all our lives. We just have to find the guests.
– And the dress…
– I didn’t succeed in dissuading her from giving us our wedding outfits.
– When did all this happen?
– After Sylvester and Paul’s trial, before we went back to Earth. She talked to me about this as if you’d already known. Well, at least that was what I thought at that moment…
– I didn’t.
– I can see that. Do you want us to do it another way?
– I… I don’t want to hurt her feelings. But we’ll have to talk to her. We couldn’t have a wedding too… royal, if you see what I mean.
– Oh, you fear it could be too…
– … chic, like this evening.
– We’ll try to talk with her before leaving tonight, yes?
Then the two young people stay silent for a while, just watching the stars above them.
– Shall we go back to the reception? Beth says suddenly.
– Sure. Let’s go.
When they are back in the room, they can see Nori for the first time in the evening. The former Queen and King, who have remained very discreet throughout the night, accompany him. The young couple goes toward them to greet them. The Queen says,
– We almost have to force him to go out of his apartment.
– I don’t feel like celebrating, protests Nori. I was just coming to greet you…
– Have you already seen the others? asks Beth.
– We’ve just arrived, points out the King.
– Nori, Paul has come with a friend, Nelly. Look, they’re over there, says the Major pointing to them. Come with me that I can present her to you.
Beth stays with the former sovereigns.
Your Majesty, she says, talking to the Queen. I wanted to speak to you about our wedding plans. it’s very nice of you to propose to organize our wedding here, even if I still don’t know how it could be done with our Earthling guests…
– Don’t worry, my child. Mira and Reymo have already thought about this. The guests will come here with a lift, which will be in reality a transporter. Mira has promised that they’ll step out without noticing anything out of the ordinary. The only way out will be the same lift that brings them back to Earth. And if they have a look through the windows, they will see your district. Everything’s going to be all right…
– Majesty, there’s, er… something else…
– I’m listening, my child.
– You know, on Earth, I’ve got a social status, and I’m not supposed to have too sumptuous a wedding party…
The Queen bursts out laughing.
– My child, we’ll set up everything, but this is your wedding. So we propose, you decide, this will be a full collaboration.
Beth starts to relax and smiles.
After a short silence she adds,
– For the dress, I…
– Beth, everything on this day will be Earthling: food, music, even the furniture.
– However, we’d like you to accept our offer to wear a Frigellyan dress. It’d be a great honor for us, adds the King.
Beth doesn’t have the heart to disappoint them and finally agrees.
“I’ll manage something with mom,” she thinks.
– Oh, this kind of reception isn’t for people of our age anymore, the old couple sigh as they take leave of her.
Beth goes to look for her partner. She sees him and Nori, chatting with Sylvester. She comes and joins them. As she looks at the drawing, she says with admiration,
– You’ve excelled yourself tonight, Sylvester.
– Everybody seems to agree on this, he answers, with a real satisfaction in his voice.
Paul and Nelly catch up with the group.
– I’m exhausted, says Paul.
– You’re just a sissy, teases Nelly. Would anyone like to be my partner while this gentleman takes a little rest? Nori, you’ve just arrived. Would you fancy a dance or two?
– Please, do it for me or she’s going to drag me down, implores Paul falsely.
Nelly takes Nori’s hand authoritatively and leads him to the dance floor.
– You know, this evening I danced for the first time in my life, and that one there–she points at Paul with her chin–it was his first time, too. Teach me something that I can impress him with, she says in a low voice. Please, do this for me…
Nelly’s imploring tone at last makes Nori smile. He whispers back in her ear mischievously,
– You’re going to regret it.
– That’s what we’re going to find out, she answers with a hint of defiance in her voice.
Paul watches the scene and says to his friends,
– She’s formidable. Just a few seconds with her and he’s already smiling. She managed to take his mind off things, after he told her why he was so sullen. His story is terrible.
– It was a really bad day, adds Beth.
After a moment of silence, Sylvester says,
– Nelly is a great woman. I hope one day, I’ll find somebody, too.
Paul whispers in Beth’s ear,
– He still hasn’t noticed anything?
– It’s complicated, she retorts, whispering too.
Paul is puzzled by this answer.
After a few dances, Nelly comes back.
– I’m the one exhausted this time. Nori, you’re a great dancer and an excellent teacher. Thank you very much for your patience.
– Nelly, it was a pleasure. Beth, would mind dancing with me?
– Let’s go.
As she goes away with Nori, Sylvester declares his canvas is finished. He has one canvas left.
– I think I know what I’m going to draw on this one. But I need to be a little bit… alone.
Seeing Oriel, he tells the Major,
– That young lady over there is an Earthling fan. You’re the one with a Dalygaran mind. You’re going to have a great success, David.
David bursts out laughing.
– Copy. I’m going to ask her for a dance.
– And you two, aren’t you hungry, or thirsty? he says to Paul and Nelly.
– Ok, ok, we’re going away, grumbles Paul. You’re so unsociable…
– Is the pot calling the kettle black? retorts Sylvester.
Paul pretends not having heard anything and doesn’t turn around, though he says to Nelly,
– He’s really letting me have it tonight, isn’t he?
– He’s just coming out of his shell. This is a good thing, she answers.
– Hey, old grump, you should be delighted at this, says Nelly with a little jab in his ribs. You are both going to become human. He’s got his own life to live. It’s time for you two to cut the umbilical cord.
– What? What are you saying…?
– Paul, you’ve let yourself get attached to this kid all these years. Maybe you didn’t show him much affection, but he’s really important to you.
– I know this.
– Damn, Paul, you’re the one who brought him up, can’t you see that?
– Brought him up?
– Yes. He was only 5 years old when you took him with you, am I right?
– And over the last 25 years you were his only point of reference.
Paul does not answer immediately. He thinks it over.
– Do you mean I was for him a sort of a father?
– That’s exactly what I mean, yes.
– I was a disastrous father then.
– But a father no less.
– I had seen myself more like an older brother.
– When the older brother raises the younger one, he takes the father’s place.
– Ok, I surrender.
– Sylvester’ll end up finding someone one day.
– Someone already found him.
– Lucia follows him on his heels, and this silly goose hasn’t noticed anything yet.
– Well, there are extenuating circumstances to consider; he did spend 25 years living an unsocial life with Mr. Grumpy himself.
– Oh, thank you. Thanks a lot.
– Did you have friends or even acquaintances you did things with?
– Very few…
– You see. Unsociable…
Paul does not reply. Nelly, who can sense his irritation, says,
– You know what? How about another dance?
– I’ll get a drink of water, and we’ll go.
Sylvester, meanwhile, starts his last canvas of the evening. He works quickly and efficiently as always, never raising his eyes.
When it is finished, Sylvester gets up to have a fresh drink.
Oriel who was waiting for him to stop drawing, hurries to him and says,
– It’s getting late; I’ve got to go.
– Shall we have a last dance? he proposes.
Oriel smiles and goes with Sylvester to the dance floor. At the end of the dance he greets her the Frigellyan way and goes back to his place where all his friends gather.
– It’s… us, says Paul pointing at the drawing.
– Yes, it’s for Nelly.
– Sylvester, how nice this is. Paul and I, we’re…
– … beaming. Nelly, you’re a magician. I, on the other hand, had Mister Grumpy all my life.
– And here we go again, mutters Paul. It’s my name day today.
– What was I saying, retorts Sylvester amused.
Nelly prevents Paul from answering by putting her index finger on his lips, and hugging him with the other arm.
– I’m exhausted, says Beth.
– Let’s say good-bye to our hosts before going away, proposes the Major.
– I’ll… stay here with Nelly. I’ll come back with her transporter.
– We’ve decided to stay until the party ends. We still have so much to tell each other, adds Nelly.
– Sylvester, will you come with us? asks Beth.
– So good-bye, you two, she says.
– Good-bye, answers Paul and Nelly in chorus.