Galen didn’t even hear the trap door release beneath his feet, but he felt the noose tighten around his neck for just a split second before the rope broke. He hit the ground running, hoping there would be enough confusion for him to escape.
If the boy king wanted him dead, he’d have to catch him first.
Galen tripped and rolled over rough terrain. Unable to see, he scrambled back to his feet and kept running. The burlap bag over his head was stifling his breath, and the string closing it seemed to be tied in a knot.
He tripped three more times before he finally got the bag off of his head, but Galen never stopped running. He didn’t even look behind him as he fled. He pushed through the forest, not caring what direction he was going as long as it took him farther from the illegitimate king and his henchmen.
After running all out for well over an hour, an unexpectedly soft patch of ground caused him to turn his ankle and he collapsed to the ground. His chest heaved and he hoped he wasn’t making too much noise. He hadn’t heard any shouts or signs of pursuit, but he couldn’t be sure.
He lay as still as possible, listening for any sign of pursuit. The grasses were barely tall enough to conceal him, as long as he was perfectly flat and his captors weren’t too close.
The only noise was the twitter of a songbird, and the answer of its mate.
He sat up, gazing around himself in awe.
If there is an edge to the Roman Empire, I have certainly found it…
Delicate, slender trees rose to form a dappled canopy overhead. They were very different from the thick, heavy trees and dense underbrush he’d been travelling through the past several weeks. A dense carpet of purple flowers decorated the forest floor.
He rose to his feet. There was no sign of pursuit. No sense of imminent danger.
A sense of peace and calm washed over him. It wasn’t gentle…in fact it knocked him off his feet. His knees were suddenly weak, unable to support his weight and he fell flat on his face.
He laughed hysterically, there on the damp ground. He laughed until his sides ached, and they were already tired from his long run. Eventually, his laughs turned to wheezing, and he got to his feet once more.
There was an odd light coming from the edge of the forest. He waded through the purple flowers, the trees and brush were sparse.
He walked slowly, as if he was simply out for an afternoon stroll. As he reached the treeline, he looked down to a shallow valley. A long blue lake stretched from left to right. The sun was directly overhead; he had lost his sense of direction. Off to the left were signs of a small town. Beyond it, in the distance, he thought he could make out the towers of a huge castle.
Feeling completely at ease, Galen walked leisurely down the gentle slope towards the lake. He came across an actual footpath, and followed it down to where there was a small dock with a row boat. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
The water looked cool and clean, and he tasted it carefully. It was sweet, and he drank his fill. Looking around him, but still seeing no one, he pulled off his boots and stripped off his clothes. They were filthy; he hadn’t had a chance to bathe or clean his clothes in weeks.
Stupid would-be king probably sentenced me to death based on my smell alone!
After testing the water’s depth and the placement of rocks, Galen dove towards the deeper part of the lake. The cool water tingled on his dirty skin.
Perhaps I should try my luck in town…though I have no money to speak of. Perhaps they would let me work?
Even after a couple of hours, there was still no sign of the owners of the boat nor any other inhabitants of woods or town. The rumbling of his stomach prompted him to try his luck at fishing. The town was a risk. The least he could do was to fill his stomach and dry his clothes first.
He walked along the shore a ways, away from the town. He found an inlet with steep banks that offered a bit of shelter and privacy, and built a small fire. Catching a few fish proved to be easier than he thought, and soon his stomach was stuffed.
The stars were strange. He had never paid close attention to them, but he knew they were somehow… wrong. But it felt good to feel safe, with a warm fire, freshly washed clothes, and a full belly.
The moon was spectacularly bright and full.
In the morning, I will try my luck in the town. As long as I see no Roman soldiers…
A curious whistling sound cut through the early evening air. One of the stars was falling from the sky.
With a spectacular splash, it landed in the deepest part of the lake. Galen watched the ripples lap the shore, stunned that such a thing could happen.
Then something bobbed to the surface of the water.
Then that something moved. It thrashed like a man, although it was larger and bulkier, like a man with heavy armor. But men in armor sank like stones, and this was floating.
Thrashing, but floating.
He pulled off his shirt quickly, but didn’t take the time to untie his trousers. The water was definitely colder than it had been earlier, and when he got out he would only have his small fire, not the sun to warm him.
If he could bring the thing to shore without it drowning them both.
Note regarding the image: A friend on Google+ shared this, and I was immediately struck by the surreal feel of it. I started thinking about how it would exactly the kind of place Galen would find himself. I asked my friend for permission, since it seemed to be their photo, but a couple of weeks later I finally got the answer “Go ahead. I have no idea whose picture it is. I just thought it was cool!” (I paraphrase) So, I used a google image search, and found this same picture on a ton of sites. The same result for a different search engine. I started clicking though them, but after a dozen pages with just a collection of “pictures I randomly stole because I thought they were awesome” (again, I paraphrase) I gave up.
I’d really like to find out who holds the copyright. I want to not only get their permission to use the photo (And yes, I do realize that I already have…and no, I don’t feel right about that but I did it anyway) but I want to find out how it ended up being so widely shared, and how they feel about that.
What Would Have Been
- Chapter One: Epitaph for a King
- Chapter Two: Nyota
- Deleted Scene from Chapter Three: Flavor
- Chapter Three: Trianon
- Chapter Four: Hamlet
- Chapter Five: The Miller’s House
- Chapter Six: The Bell Tolls for Thee
- Chapter Seven: Galen
- Interview With Ulysees “Moose” Umbra
- Chapter Eight: Moose
- Chapter Nine: Found
- Chapter Ten:
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-ef