The interior of Royal Tybalt Hall was brightly lit and three spotlights were directed forward. The stage had been decorated with red, white, and blue ribbon, and three large flags hung above it: the Accord Banner of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, and the flags of Freedonia and Mirsanna on either side of it. Just to the right of the stage, a large sign on a tripod easel proclaimed “Fashion tells the world who you are, before you speak!” On the left was a similar placard that announced “Ladies Auxiliary Fashion Show”.
The house was packed and most of the audience had been sitting for a good half an hour when trumpets directed them to stand and turn toward the royal box. Freedonian Princess Henrietta stepped out into the light, resplendent in a jewel-encrusted gown, and stopped in front of her chair. Prince Clitus followed, his bright red uniform covered with medals. He raised a white-gloved hand and waved. He took his spot two seats away from Henrietta. Somewhat timidly, Ester stepped around to stand between them. Clitus glanced down to see that her seat had been properly modified for her.
“Shall we sit?”
The three of them took their places, Esther placing her tail through the hole provided.
“I’ve never been to a fashion show before,” she said.
“I hope you enjoy it,” he replied. “I’m afraid the novelty has worn off for me.”
She turned to look at him.
“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy looking at pretty girls in pretty dresses as much as the next fellow. But then I see that everywhere, don’t I? They never just show up to meet me in a frock. And I honestly don’t much care if the dresses are this year’s or next year’s.”
“They want to look their best for you,” said Esther. “You are one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. Look at them down there. I’m sure most of them want to kill me right now.”
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “They are happy you’re here instead of one of them. That way, they still have hope to marry a prince, less than charming though he may be.”
“I think you’re very charming,” she said, somewhat dejectedly.
“You have to say that,” he returned. “You’re my best friend.”
“I feel the same way about you.”
“Das ist exciting. No?” asked Henrietta, leaning forward to look past Esther.
Clitus smiled and nodded.
The orchestra began tuning their instruments and the three sat listening to the discordant sound and their own thoughts for several minutes. The Prince’s man Bob, leaned over his shoulder and passed him a folded note.
“What is it?” asked Esther, after he had read it and folded it back up. “Do you have to leave? Is it an important matter of state?”
“Hardly,” said Clitus. “It’s from Sir Redry Moorn, telling me his step-daughters are going to be wearing some of the fashions on stage.”
“Do you like one of them? Both of them?”
“Please. I get enough of my brother’s leftovers as it is. I’m sorry I even came now.” He quickly glanced over at Henrietta, relieved to see that she hadn’t heard him.
“I know something that will cheer you up,” said Esther. “Iolana and Terra are going to be part of the show too.”
“Lady Iolana is here?” he asked, excitedly.
“Lady Iolana is just so… She’s the most beautiful, most intelligent, and most accomplished young lady in the entire Kingdom. I would give anything if she had some interest in me.”
“I’m afraid you’re out of luck,” said Esther. “Of course, so is every other young man. She has her mind set on living the life of an old maid. I think there is only one young man in whom she ever had any interest, and he’s married and in Birmisia.”
“That’s what everyone keeps telling me. Well at least she’s not interested in Tybalt.” He sniffed and then lowered his voice. “I don’t think I could bear to see them together. Still, it will be nice to see her on stage.”
“Yes, and Lady Terra.” He frowned. “Lady Terra.”
“Don’t fancy her?” asked Esther.
“Oh, I like her, a lot, and I admire her. She’s so brave, living among the lizzies and all that. I mean, she’s fierce. And well, the whole incident in Blackbottom…”
“What incident in Blackbottom?”
“Oh, nothing. My point is that she’s not the typical Brech woman. Lady Iolana says she eschews tea parties, book clubs, and other lady’s activities. She doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks.” He lowered his voice, “She’s really more like a boy, isn’t she?”
“She’s certainly different now,” agreed Esther. “Back when we were in Birmisia, she was a timid little girl.”
“I like her,” said Clitus. “I just don’t see her as attractive.”
“I like her too,” said Henrietta.
Clitus smiled and nodded.
The orchestra began playing and the first young woman stepped out from behind the curtain and, somewhat nervously, began the walk across the stage. Her bright pink day dress was cut for a small bustle, but they were too far away to make out many details. Prince Clitus handed Esther an opera glass, but after trying it, she found that she could only look through one eye at a time.
“Oh look,” he said, glancing down at his watch. “It’s Lady Honoria.”
“She looks nice,” said Esther.
The young woman in question wore a lime green day dress trimmed with black lace. As she made her way across the stage, she glanced up toward the royal box and gave her bottom a little shake.
“Ssss,” hissed a shocked Esther.
“Oh my,” said Henrietta.
Clitus looked bored.
Seven or eight other young ladies took their journeys across the front of the theater to display the latest designs. Almost inevitably, they tried to at least make eye contact with the Prince. Lady Josephine Willington actually stopped amid stage and lifted her skirts to expose her shins.
The prince’s interests were only piqued when the next young woman stepped out.
“Look! It’s Lady Iolana!” he said, excitedly.
Iolana was wearing a black walking dress with white lace. A black top hat was balanced upon her cascading blond hair. She stepped primly across the stage, spun on a heel and returned.
“She is magnificent.”
“She did look very nice,” said Ester.
“Sie ist schön,” said Henrietta.
“Oh goody,” said Clitus, without enthusiasm. “Here comes Lady Honoria again.”