The field roared with the chaos of stomping and shouting.
Clark, beside him, squeezed his shoulder. “Are there any more questions?” He waited through the grumbling chatter among the delegates but no one stood to speak. “I ask for Anne of Amwell for a show of hands for Article Nine.”
Partly out of respect for the uniform, Richard’s private tale, or fatigue and hunger, the delegates raised their hands almost in salute. His eyes glinting with pleasure, he stepped down.
“Thank you!” exclaimed Anne, joining them. Large envelopes were being hurriedly handed to each of them by members of the military. “My friends, it’s been a long day. You now have, or will shortly, the Prime Directive. You’ve agreed to it, it only needs your signature. In the coming weeks you will be asked to return here to take your place as Councilors of the American Society. Richard and I, and General May, thank you for your patience and commitment. This is a very exciting moment, is it not?”
Applause began in the stands, but as Anne hurried off to join Richard and Clark, she noticed with concern that many envelopes lay unopened as the delegates stood and stretched. The trio hurried inside the dome, making for the bathrooms.
“If it’s been an ordeal for us, consider the transformation it’s been for them,” said Clark to Richard as he hurriedly began changing his clothes.
“Of course!” exclaimed Richard, fiddling with his black bow-tie. “They hadn’t had time to study and digest each article as had Anne and you. It’s a wonder they didn’t get up and walk out after the first article. All in all, I think they took it pretty well.”
“Here, let me,” and Clark redid his tie. “Maybe it’s also an easy choice, retiring into obscurity or holding on to a semblance of power.”
It was five o’clock. Not only was everyone restless, hot, and suffering hours on hard benches and thinly cushioned chairs, appetites were amplified by the sight of the array of foods on long tables inside the dome. And with no one at the podium, many stood and began making their way down the tiers of steps. They paused at the sound of violins. While the last Article was being argued, a string quartet had quietly set up where the celebrities who were now off to airports had sat. Hearing Mozart, with reluctance the audience resumed their seats. What’s going on? We’re starving.
The questioning babble was answered as the music stopped, and after a long moment of silence came the rousing Wedding March. Laughter followed the Cardinal, again garbed in his colorful costume lumbering out through the dome doors (raising groans from the smells of the food) and mounting the podium.
He squeaked and grimaced, hearing laughter. He looked down, saw his soutane was wrongly buttoned and disappeared behind the wood podium to correct it. Seconds later he turned back. Not wasting time re-buttoning, he’d tugged all the buttons open, revealing a wide strap across his belly. Over the laughter, he made a clown face—even cardinals can make mistakes. Now he bolted erect, all business as he saw Richard exiting the dome in white jacket and black tie, running fingers through his wild grey hair. With son Jake smartly tuxedoed and trailing sedately behind, Richard moved to the other side of the podium smiling at the unsmiling delegates. He turned to smile even more broadly at his son David intently sawing away on his viola.
The Cardinal grinned like a schoolboy. He had no book; he needed none, apparently. He beamed down at Richard, then off toward the dome.
The march stopped and the cheering almost drowned out ‘Here Comes the Bride.’ Breathlessly clutching the arm of General May, resplendent in his white dress uniform, they weaved through the crowded dining space. Already beautiful, she was ravishing in a long white clinging gown. In her hair a slim crown of glass beads sparkled in the sunlight.
The pair joined those below the podium. Applause and stamping in the stands went on and on. These two were their lifelines throughout the years of their leadership, then the march, and long after as the first members of the American Society adjusted to life underground. The Cardinal shook his head at the stands, mock-scolding them for attention.
Without fanfare, Richard and Anne, hand crushed in hand, faced up to the former prelate who twisted a mike so the couple’s words could be heard by all, and grinned wildly at his cleverness.
“Anne of Amwell,” slight cough and a British-accented bass voice, “will you take Richard of Amwell to be your partner in life?”
Anne had to wait for the laughter to subside before shouting: “I will!”
Big grin and with the same deep tones, “Richard of Amwell, will you take Anne of Amwell to be your partner in life?”
‘I will.” Hearing only silence, he added, “I will, I really will.”
“Is there present anyone who takes exception to these vows?” There followed a lip-biting silence as the Cardinal peered about roguishly. Back to deep British. “Is there someone who will give this woman—oh!—to this man? Er—today—now?”
Even the wedding party howled, except for the general, clearing his throat. He said a trifle commandingly, “I have the honor and priv—infected by the comedy he launched into a nose-spattering, tearful, long bellowing peel of laughter. Richard and Anne were shocked as their sedate friend bent over coughing. Finally he straightened up, sniffled loudly, wiped his tears on his buttoned sleeve, hollered “Ouch! He shook his head slowly and announced scratchily, “I . . .give . . .this woman to this man. And I . . . this man to this woman!” A burst of applause as he frowned weakly to the laughing party.
“Good, good,” said the Cardinal, a bit unsettled (jealous?) by the previous comedy. “Now, does anyone have rings to exchange?”
“Yes!” Jake called out, then, joining the antic ceremony, cried, “Oh no, I’ve lost it!” and dropped to the ground to a crackle of laughter. Richard and Anne scowled with humor as he stood up with the gold rings. The general laughed and fitted them to the grinning couple’s fingers. More laughter followed the great sighs heard over the sound system.
“Then,” announced the sober ex-priest, “with the powers formerly vested in me,” and he squeaked, and giggled through, “I am plah--peased and ploud to pinnnounce you, Anne, Richard of Amwell . . . life partners.”
More noise as the couple embraced for a gentle kiss. They laughed, reaching up to shake the
hand of the Cardinal but he had vanished. Well, momentarily, for in coming down the steps to join them his gown caught the edge of the rostrum and brought it toppling, but it was quickly righted by Jake. Now he came around to grasp each of the group in a bear hug, only Jake and the general squirming. .Richard thought about the bumbling Cardinal’s unknown future and guessed ‘the first stand-up comic cardinal.’ Penny now came and joined in the hugging and laughter.
Having suffered the Cardinal’s greeting, Clark opened his arms to gather in the newlyweds and Richard’s son. Tears were seen streaming down cheeks. Before the group hurried back into the dome, Clark leaned into the mike. “Would you please join the newlyweds for a bite of wedding cake and a glass of Champagne? Oh, and some other nibbles.”
Great rumble of feet descending the stands, with the delegates already lined up at the dome doors. Just inside was a long bar with every conceivable alcoholic and non beverage. Kitchen staff members helped people with their trays and they returned to their original seats. Indeed, most of the delegates had cleaned their plates as the first of the bleacher crowd entered the wondrously scented display inside the dome.
The wedding party had moved outside beneath the raised array of solar panels to a table filled with plates of food. Penny breathlessly joined them with Champagne and flutes. The pair, jittery from the stressful day, sipped the sparkling wine and picked at the foods. Now they took plates to the dome to greet the members in line. The boys—now including David—used to beer with the troops, dashed inside.