Bastille Day, 1876
The tri-color flag flew throughout the city. People marched in celebration of their republic. There were people picnicking in the parks and gardens.
"Bark," a puppy yipped.
"Yes, Estelle," Celeste replied, "But it's all different now. This spot used to be a palace," she waved her hand at a garden filled with flowers and geometrically cut bushes. "The Kaiser's automaton kidnapped Princess Annette from here. Things change too quickly on this planet, a mere two years and everything is different."
"I don't know where she is. I don't know where anyone I once knew is."
Queen Celeste looked largely unchanged. She was a bit more serious, perhaps, and didn't run everywhere the way she once did. Rule of Mars had not been easy, though she was relieved to have her cousins back. In the future they would be a great help. Even with them home she felt a bit lonely and often found herself remembering her past on earth. Yet going here had made her melancholy as well; it wasn't the earth she had left. She knew from Taygete that France was a republic. The old emperor had died, and his wife lived in England. A horrible period of anarchy had followed the collapse of the empire, but now the Third Republic was in place and seemed stable.
The pair came upon the Opera Garnier. It was an imposing structure of stone with statues of composers at the front. There was to be a performance tonight; Celeste smiled to remember that dancers never got regular holidays.
Celeste walked around to the back and found the stage door unlocked. She snuck in and came to the great hall where the rehearsal was taking place. She put Estelle on her lap and watched the performance. At the end she applauded and the puppy yipped in glee.
"Who's there?" said Monsieur Villecourt sternly "Visitors are not welcome… oh dear lord," he exclaimed as he recognized Celeste.
"It was a magnificent performance, Monsieur Villecourt. I'm sure it will be a great success."
"Why must you come back to torment me?" he sounded exasperated.
"Perhaps I would like to try out again," suggested Celeste. She set Estelle down and leapt up on the stage then went through the prima donna's routine effortlessly and flawlessly. The other dancers applauded at the display of skill; all except the prima donna who crossed her arms and stuck her nose in the air in a snit.
Monsieur Villecourt said, "That was marvelous Mademoiselle Celeste, but…"
"…no one wants to see a short redhead dance," they both said together. Monsieur Villecourt stared at her for a moment and then smiled. "I've said that before, haven't I?"
"Every day, it seemed like," replied Celeste.
"As slovenly as you were, you were a marvelous dancer. It's a shame that you're so short and don't dye your hair."
"Some things can't be helped; but is Yvette still with the company?" Celeste said as she looked around.
"Haven't you heard?" Monsieur Villecourt sounded surprised. "She got married."
"Oh," said Celeste. This was certain to be wonderful gossip. "Did Marcel leave his wife?"
"Oh no, it was far more scandalous than that." Monsieur Villecourt shook his head, gravely. "She married his son, Jean," said Monsieur Villecourt.
"No," Celeste was astounded. "Does she love him?"
Monsieur Villecourt shrugged. "I hope so. They say his father hasn't spoken to him in years. Yet they must be alright. They have a home just off the Boulevard Haussmann in a very fashionable neighborhood.
"Thank you, Monsieur, perhaps I shall see the performance tonight."
"I believe there are no tickets to be found, but if you can come do so. It will be a delightful performance," said Monsieur Villecourt and he turned back to his dancers.
Celeste knocked tentatively on the carved oak door of the mansion before her. Monsieur Villecourt had been right; Yvette's neighborhood was fashionable. It was composed of large houses surrounding a small park.
The door opened. "Yes?" a butler with a stern expression and a Scottish accent appeared.
"Hello, I'm here to see Yvette," said Celeste.
"Have you an appointment ot see Madame Pontmercy?"
"No," Celeste admitted.
"I see, then have you a card to present to Madame?"
"No," Celeste said and felt very small.
"Madame is very busy," continued the butler. "Do you have a message I could deliver?"
"Yes, please tell her Celeste d'Ares stopped by to see her."
"Very well, Mademoiselle," said the butler and he shut the door.
"Well, I guess she's an important person now," replied Celeste.
"Bark," Estelle objected.
"On Mars, I am," she reminded Estelle, "On earth I'm just a ballerina." She hopped down the steps, pirouetted and began of series of long dancer's strides down the street. All of a sudden the door of the mansion flew open and a tall blonde woman ran out.
"Celeste, Celeste," she shouted.
"Yvette," Isabella turned, skipped up and hugged her friend closely. Yvette was more womanly than when Celeste had last seen her; a bit heavier, perhaps, but still very beautiful.
"I thought that I would never see you again," said Yvette. "Please come in," she looked down, "And who is this?"
"This is Estelle, she's one of Paul's daughters. He named her after my mom."
"Your mother…" Yvette began cautiously.
"She was dead when I arrived," Celeste frowned.
"I'm sorry, Celeste, but come in," she welcomed Celeste into her home. The foyer had a white tile floor, white paneling with dark carved wood pillars interspersed. Celeste followed.
"Everything is different now," noted Celeste. "There's no more red and ornamentation."
"That went out of fashion with the empire. That princess you saved now lives in Italy married to a prince; but who knows how long they'll stay monarch's there."
"That seems to be the fate of all monarchies."
"I didn't mean any offense," Yvette smiled. "Though I am a republican; everyone is these days."
"I've created a parliament and senate on Mars. My aunt locked me in a tower with a library and I read Aristotle and Cicero when I was there; plus I knew a little about England, so I tried that. It's had mixed results, some want more self government, some less." She shrugged. "Being a queen is nowhere near as fun as being a ballerina."
A maid walked in with a tray set with coffee.
"Thank you Heloise," said Yvette. She turned to Celeste as the maid was departing, "Being a wife and a mother isn't as fun as being a ballerina either; but one cannot dance all her life."
"You have children?"
"Just one, a little girl." Yvette leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "I named her Celeste."
"You named her for me?" Celeste was flattered.
"You were the most original person I have ever met. I call her 'Princess.' She goes to the ballet with us and is already mesmerized by it. I want her to study ballet, but Jean will hear nothing of it. Oh, you haven't met Jean."
"No," said Celeste, a little uncomfortable. "Monsieur Villecourt told me a bit about him."
"It was a scandal," smiled Yvette. "How it broke his father's heart. Well it served him right for always promising to leave his wife and never doing it. One day Marcel took me to lunch to meet his son who had just finished college. He was so handsome, and so confident. He put his hand on my knee when his father had stepped away. We met clandestinely for six months until I broke it off with Marcel. When found out the reason he was furious and disowned his son. We eloped shortly thereafter and lived in my flat. Jean became successful at banking and that facilitated a reconciliation of sorts and when his granddaughter was born all was forgiven. He even bought us this house."
"That's sweet," Celeste smiled dreamily. "I hope something like that happens to me, but I doubt it could. When your queen you never knows if someone loves you for whom or for what you are."
"She's a good friend, I'll have to come to earth to see her again." Celeste and Estelle sat at a café near the Opera Garnier. Celeste was savoring a cup of coffee while Estelle gnawed on a steak bone; occasionally dropping it to speak.
"I don't know, it's been years since I came here. It's hard for a queen to get away.
"Magical Ballerina Princess Mars?" A woman in an elegant black dress had come to her table. She had long black hair and sad eyes.
"You must have me confused with some else," Celeste stammered.
"I know it's you. No one else converses with dogs," the woman sat down at the table and opened her hand bag. "Here, I kept this," she pulled out a red mask which looked like it had been made from a single ruby.
"La Vespa?" Celeste whispered.
"That's a name I haven't heard in ages," she smiled. "I kept up vigilante justice when I returned to earth, but my heart wasn't in it. Italy seized the Papal States in confusion of the Franco-Prussian war and my patron was then forbidden to help me. I kept up with my fencing but I don't use it on people any more."
"Paul told me that you were La Vespa. You're some sort of noble, a countess or…"
"A duchess, yes, the Este family has a long and disturbing history. At last we are solvent, though," she frowned. "I had to sell some of my favorite paintings just to keep the palace."
"What happened to your friend?" asked Celeste, trying to change the subject.
"Sister Giulia, I started a hospital in Modena. She's the head nurse now. I think I'll appoint her director when the current one retires, thought that shouldn't be for years. You would be interested in Prince Stefano and Princess Annette. They were married shortly before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. He fought in the French Army, gallantly too as the papers made it sound; but later I learned those accounts were fictitious. No matter, he fled France with Annette just ahead of the mob for England. Now Stefano and Annette live in Italy. She's said to be unhappy stuck with the Italians and he's said to have a mistress for every day of the week. Sister Giulia says that he's showing moderation."
"I see," Celeste's face fell at the news of Annette.
"I'm sorry Celeste, this is one trap from which you cannot rescue her.
Celeste looked up at the word "Rescue," and she began a speech which she had practiced to herself many times. "La Vespa I'm sorry I kissed you. I lost my head and…"
"Don't be sorry," Isabella smiled, for once warmly. "It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I think about it every day. No one else ever kissed me that way."
"You're not upset?"
"I'm sorry I ran away. I was frightened, but now as the years spread out before me as one of the idle rich I find myself wishing that I had stayed."
"You mean you like me," Celeste's face lit up, "But you're a duchess and I'm queen now. I have responsibilities." Her face fell.
"Aren't they awful? But no one really expects much of a duchess. I could be gone for a long time."
"You could?" Celeste smiled again.
"Bark," Estelle interrupted.
"Oh shush you," Celeste turned to Isabella. "She is at that age when she thinks romance is gross; but you could stay on Mars?"
"For some time, if I was invited," replied Isabella.
"Oh will you come with me? We can leave tonight."
"You must give me more time than that. I'm a duchess, I have a ton of stuff to pack. Besides, wouldn't you like to see the opera tonight?"
"You have tickets?"
"I have a box, it was one of my father's vanities I kept. I'd go every time I was in Paris, always hoping to see you. Tonight I have no one to share it with."
Celeste got up and was too choked up to say a word. Feeling as though she was swooning she put her arm into Isabella's and they walked to the opera. Celeste's eyes never left Isabella, staring at her as though she were a Byzantine Icon.