Eleanor of Aquitaine was not known for her patience in life. Two centuries Down Below had tempered her somewhat, but even that hard-earned serenity had long worn thin. Close to six centuries waiting – six! – and her dear second husband Henry Plantagenet had still not joined her in Heaven. (Her first, Louis, was still avoiding her, and she him: his piety had been bad enough on Earth.) She was tired of waiting, tired of reminiscing, and especially tired of watching life go on without her back on Earth. It was about time she went off and had a little fun.
As a young and headstrong Queen of France, Eleanor had accompanied Louis on the Crusade accompanied by her ‘Amazons’ and wagons’ worth of luggage. She had since sworn off religious persecution, but her memories of Constantinople still gleamed appealingly. Why not go see the sights, meet new arrivals and old souls, store up memories to tide her through the centuries to come? She would do the modern thing: a Grand Tour of Heaven.
Matilda-Empress would come, of course; Eleanor’s mother-in-law was still catching up on what she had missed when Below, and the adventure would do her some good. William the knight was out; his company had grown tiresome of late. Abbot Suger...that bore further consideration. For all his sense of humor, the good Abbot was scrupulous in avoiding the slightest risk of Angels’ displeasure, and often advised her to do the same, much as he had in life. She would let him decide for himself.
Who else? Over the last few centuries Eleanor had gathered about her a lively crowd (for Heaven, at any rate) of old friends, relatives, and artistic types in imitation of her old court at Poitiers. She had a particular fondness for collecting Romantic poets as they trickled Up, and was looking forward to the rumored surge in jazz musicians being Judged in the next fifty years.
Queen Liliuokalani usually kept a close eye on her native Hawaiʻi and would likely not be moved from her vigil; Jane Austen was, as per usual, mobbed with admirers, but Eleanor thought her quiet friend might appreciate making herself scarce for a few years. Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze most certainly; Eleanor had an especial regard for women who chose to wear a rich measure of the years they lived on Earth instead of reverting to their first bloom of youth, and Marie-Anne could always be counted on for intelligent conversation. Eleanor might not share the woman’s endless fascination with modern alchemy (“Not alchemy, duchesse d’Aquitaine; chemistry”) but she appreciated Marie-Anne’s attention to detail and loyal adherence to the old courtesies. The révolutionnaires had much to answer for; both Eleanor and Marie-Anne took great satisfaction in how many of them still remained Below. (Their liberal use of the guillotine had more than ensured it.)
After a month’s worth of further planning and ensuring that her informal court would not simply dissipate in her absence, Eleanor had whittled her initial list of some hundred souls down to an extremely modest dozen to accompany her on her travels. No wagons of luggage or dusty roads, nor outward pageantry; they were no longer necessary. Eleanor was confident that the quality of the friends she had cultivated would more than impress.
“A queen?” said Theodora, former empress of the Byzantine Roman Empire. “Charming. Tell me, were you involved in crafting the law in your lands?”
“Law was more my husband’s passion than mine,” Eleanor admitted, feeling a strong sense of irony. Constantinople would be Constantinople, whether one was alive or Up Above. “However, I was quite active in politics...”
“L'enfer, c'est les autres,” said Marie-Anne a touch bitterly.
“My dear friend,” Abigail Adams replied. “If Hell were other people, what does that make Heaven?”
Eleanor had given the mater a great deal of thought centuries before Sartre had been born, though she appreciated a good turn of phrase. “Heaven is being able to choose the other people.” She glanced at the rather plain woman at her side. Eleanor Roosevelt smiled.
“Heaven is other people after there are no more committees to sit on!”
They laughed. “That must be how you got here so quickly,” Jane Austen interjected slyly. “After chairing the drafting committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone thought you must have been a saint!”
“It’s true,” the other Eleanor replied. “I was precocious; I got almost all my time Down Below out of the way when I was alive.”
“It still seems like such an inefficient way of getting anything done,” Eleanor added herself, “but such declarations do seem to at least outlive the people who wrote them.”
“’To live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality’,” Abigail said thoughtfully. “That sounds as a good a definition of Heaven-on-Earth as any.”
“Eleanor,” Matilda-Empress said, “Eleanor. I know that Heaven is vast and full of many realms, but really. Surely there are a sufficient number of interesting people to meet in the normal, familiar part. Whoever is this Wu Zetian you want so desperately to meet?”
“Isabella Stewart Gardner recommended her,” Eleanor said distractedly as she attempted to get her bearings. Usually all one had to do was concentrate to get a sense of where another person was in the afterlife, but the empress seemed to be somewhere unfamiliar. Wait - there. Oh, this was going to be much more interesting than watching time pass for those still alive; why had she waited so long to do this?
Eleanor of Aquitaine thanked the angel politely, drawing in an automatic breath as its glory left her in a rush of wings. The lawyers had done it: Henry’s Judgment day was in three days. She felt – not disappointed, exactly; she was looking forward to his arrival, had anticipated it for centuries. Her Grand Tour had long passed her original planned end-date; it was time to return to the court and catch up with the latest arrivals that she had known in life. Truly, she was ready to rest for a time and burnish her new memories to a fine glow, the better to share them with others.
In life she had Aquitaine; in Heaven she had subtler resources. It would be good to see him again, Eleanor decided; should they quarrel, well, Eleanor Roosevelt was worth an army of lawyers any day.