Nyota heard the bell toll for the third time that day, and she still hadn’t found the first two guests.

She wondered if perhaps they had made their way to the Hamlet unaided. Marie would take care of them if they found her…. She was at the Trianon, discussing with Majel who was expected and where they would live.

She had yet to hear any of the new arrivals complain about their accommodations. Most had been almost eager to take up an occupation, as if their other lives had been somehow…

Wrong.

My life was certainly wrong. Build something, knowing that it would be torn down. Plant crops? They will be stolen, or burned before they can be harvested. Yes, my previous life was most certainly wrong.

Sophie was the first to spot them. “Radish!” she called out, and toddled as fast as her little legs could carry her. Lark pulled herself up by grabbing a fistful of her mother’s pantleg.

Radish (as the friendly sheep had been named) was indeed interested in something lying in the tall grass. Nyota scooped up Lark and strode through the grass after Sophie.

“Bonjour!” said the toddler enthusiastically, addressing someone on the ground.

“Hello.” Nyota added, gazing down and smiling at the new arrivals, a young man and a young woman, both bald. But while he seemed to have some kind of stubble growing back, her head was smooth. She even had some kind of design painted there. Their clothes were askew, and they lay entwined, clinging to each other.

The woman sat up, her face turning beet red. The man sat up, drawing her to him protectively. “Oh! I….” the woman stuttered.

“It’s all right. You’re safe here.”

Wherever “here” is…I still don’t know.

Nyota tried to sound reassuring. Over the past few weeks, she and Marie had found many such people, lost and wandering, yet somehow drawn to the Hamlet.

Like both Marie and Nyota, their last memory had been one of imminent death.

“Where are we?” asked the young man, relaxing visibly as Sophie proceeded to take radishes out of her pockets and feed them to the sheep.

Nyota took a deep breath. “Doh!” said Lark helpfully. Her verbal skills were growing exponentially.

“Yes, this is the Meadow.” Nyota nodded. “And we can take you back to the Hamlet. You’re probably hungry, and it’s almost time for tea.”

Nyota led them back to the Trianon. She stayed quiet, letting the two of them talk through the strange experience. Apparently the young man had actually attended the funeral for his young love, who died of some incurable disease that also took her hair. His last memory was a year later, getting into a car with a friend to make sure he got home safely after having a few drinks.

The calmness of new arrivals never ceased to amaze her. By all logical reasoning, they should be screaming and panic-stricken, or at least defensive and cautious. But each and every one seemed more than willing to trust her. They all slid into the odd situation as if it was something that was meant to be…

As if a wrong had been made right.

Δ

“Did the third guest ever show up?” Nyota asked that night, after the young lovers had been safely ensconced in a tiny cottage right in the middle of the Hamlet.

“No. Majel said his name is Galen, but no-one has seen a strange man wandering anywhere. Perhaps he made his way to the city?” Nyota rocked in a comfortable chair as the former queen drew a blanket over the two little girls, who had fallen asleep earlier than usual after a particularly energetic afternoon chasing baby bunny rabbits. They snuggled together like puppies, hugging their dolls and looking so very adorable. Sophie was only a few months older, but she was much bigger than Lark, who was a tiny thing.

Nyota watched her friend, looking so peaceful and happy. It still seemed difficult to believe that the woman was Marie Antionette, the French Queen who had met an untimely death at the guillotine hundreds of years ago. Nyota thought that perhaps Marie would demand in a queenly way to be taken to the castle and meet their benefactors, but she never left the Hamlet. Even the Meadow made her uncomfortable. She had left the task of furnishing the Petit Trianon to Majel, simply mentioning what kind of things she might like, and seeing them magically delivered a day or so later.

Marie sank back onto the oversize settee. She grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her, looking very small and frail. Nyota’s heart melted just a little. She had no idea what her friend was going through, even though they were both in the same situation. But where Nyota’s previous life had been filled with fear and helplessness, Marie had gone from being a wealthy, spoiled noblewoman to being forced to live in exile and then…executed. She had left three children behind; two sons whom she hoped were still in hiding, presumed dead, and a daughter whom Marie hoped would find protection in marriage, or perhaps sanctuary with Marie’s family in Austria.

Marie’s eyes squeezed shut, as if forcing back some unwanted memory. Nyota went to her and wrapped strong arms around her friend. “It’s all right. We’re all safe now. It’s all right.” Marie didn’t say anything. She just lay her head on Nyota’s chest, soaking in the warmth.

As the sun sank lower, the tension gradually eased out of Marie’s limbs. The former queen clung like a small child, needing the comfort, needing the presence of some other person who understood.

Nyota kissed the top of her head and offered the comfort her friend needed.

And the bell tolled once more.

What Would Have Been

 

 

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.


The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-dS