“Maximus?” Galen suggested.

“Too Roman…” answered Moose.

“Mary?”

“Hey… you checked, didn’t you? He’s a he, right?”

Galen chuckled. “How about Man, then? You’re a man named Moose, he can be a horse named Man.”

Moose considered that. Sitting on the horse while it walked around was easy. Telling it where to go was a different matter entirely. But Galen was a patient teacher, and soon Moose was able to convince the beast to go left and right, start or stop when he wanted it to.

“Man… how about Manny? I had a friend named Manny once…” the thought of old friends stung. He still had no idea where he was, or how to get back home, but at least he was safe and well-fed, with a roof over his head. He would play along until he figured out what else to do.

He’d grilled Galen about his trip to The Castle, and Galen was forthcoming with every detail. Another trip to The Castle was in order, but he would learn to ride first. And perhaps accomplish a few more things…

They were riding in circles around The Meadow when the bell rang out. The men looked at each other. “A new arrival?”

As if in answer, a man wearing a three piece suit sat up in the grass only a few feet ahead of them, and began to scream.

Moose slid off his horse and approached the man cautiously. The new arrival’s clothing meant he was closer to Moose’s era than to Galen’s.

Looks like Nyota’s time, but not her country…

“It’s all right, you’re safe here. I know you probably went through something pretty traumatic just now, but you’ve come to a safe place.”

The new arrival eventually calmed down, and they walked back to The Trianon where Majel took charge.

“You found him?” asked Marie, hurrying towards them, Sophie bouncing in her arms.

“We almost tripped over him,” answered Galen. The younger man kept his eyes on the little girl instead of her mother, as if reluctant to lock eyes with Marie. He wondered at that.

There’s some kind of conflict there, but I’ve no idea what it is. Then again, he’s probably dealing with future shock while I’m experiencing just the opposite.

“Horsie!” Sophie squealed and reached towards the animals.

Moose took the little girl from Marie. “Do you want to help Galen and me pat the horsies while your Mama takes care of our new guest?”

He felt a warmth on his arm, and saw that Marie had laid one hand on his bicep. As he watched, she lay her cheek on his arm as well. He froze, uncertain what the intimate touch meant, but she only had eyes for Sophie. “Do you want to go with Moose and pet the horsie?” she asked her daughter. A squeal of delight was her answer, and Marie detached herself, turning to the new arrival.

Moose watched Marie walk away, the sway of her hips catching his eye. If he remembered his history correctly, she died a few years before she would have been forty. That meant she was only a couple of years older than him.

Moose looked up at Galen, who was still sitting on Homer. The younger man’s mouth was open just slightly, not agape, but close to it. He was also watching Marie’s sway.

“She’s a beautiful woman.” Moose said quietly, conscious of the fact that he was holding the woman’s daughter.

Galen barely nodded, then slipped out of the saddle. “You know her from history… tell me, what kind of a queen was she?” he asked as they led the horses to the stable.

“A very young one. She was from a country called Austria, and her brothers and sisters married other princes and princesses from neighboring countries. She was married by proxy when she was still a child…”

“Still a child? And what is “by proxy?””

“Well, still a child… um… she was actually delivered to her husband at age fifteen, but they were officially married sometime before that.”

“Is fifteen considered a child?”

“Well… in my time it sure as heck is. And it has been for ages… but I guess in her time it wasn’t so unusual.”

“What do you mean she was “handed over” to her husband’s family?”

“Oh, her husband was Louis the Sixteenth of France. His grandfather was the King when they got married, but his older brothers and his father were all dead, so he was the King’s heir. In those days, the French had very rigid rules and ideas about how royals must behave. So, when she was fifteen, she left Austria, literally leaving behind everything of her own, everything that was Austrian. At the border, the French gave her new clothes so that absolutely nothing remained of what they called a “foreign court.””

“Was she a hostage?”

Moose laughed. “Yes and no. She was a princess both ways, from her birth and from her marriage. She had all kinds of official titles. She was incredibly wealthy, and lived in luxury. But like I said, the French had very rigid rules, and even after she was queen she was tightly constrained by those rules.”

“How soon after becoming queen was she…” Galen looked at Sophie, then reworded his question. “How soon after becoming queen did she arrive here?”

Moose watched Sophie peek through the slats at Xote, who simply lay in the hay watching her from the opposite side of his stall. “Her husband became King when he was nineteen. Marie was a few years younger. He openly acknowledged that he was too young to rule, but he did his best.”

“It was a boy King who strung me up and…” he glanced at Sophie again “…sent me here. But although I hardly consider a man of nineteen years to be a boy, you’re right, it is rather young to become the ruler of a country. Especially if he expected his father and older brother to hold the position, not him.”

Moose nodded. “So, to answer your question, it was about twenty years.”

“And…although young, were they popular? Marie and her husband King?”

Moose scratched his chin. He’d found an old-fashioned razor and shaved with it, but it wasn’t nearly as close or long-lasting as the modern implements he was used to. “They were caught in a flood. It started long before their reign, and even if he’d been a stronger King, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to stop it.”

“Stronger?”

“Louis the sixteenth was a good king as in… he wanted to do the right thing. He was conscientious and responsible, but also easily influenced. He wanted to make everyone happy, and that just wasn’t possible. The French nobility desperately clung to their privileges, while the common people began to grumble louder and louder about their plight.”

“Was their plight terrible? Did Louis know?”

“I’m not really sure just how bad it was. Certainly, the common people lived in relative poverty while the nobility enjoyed all kinds of wasteful luxury. But there have been other societies in history who have suffered worse and not…” Sophie wasn’t listened, but still, he was careful about his words. “…and not taken such drastic measures.”

“Mama!” Sophie called, but it was Nyota, not Marie who came into the stable. Lark let go of her mother’s hand to toddle over to Sophie. Moose had noticed that both girls frequently called both women “Mama,” probably because they had formed something of family together. Nyota and Lark had their own home, but they spent all their days with Marie.

“Am I interrupting?” she asked, approaching the men with a smile. “I can take Sophie off your hands if you like.”

Moose observed the silliest goofy grin on Galen’s face. “No! She’s no trouble at all.” Galen’s face looked every bit the doting father, and Moose wondered if the young man had left any family behind. He was from an era where a man in his early twenties might already have several children.

Nyota walked over to the girls, and coaxed Xote to his feet with the promise of a carrot. “I need to go talk with our new arrival. He’s from our time, and I’d like to find out what I can from him. Do you want to come back inside with nurse? Or stay out here with the horsies?”

Moose didn’t exactly hear a coherent answer from the girls, but their jumping and squealing made it clear that they wanted to stay. The jumping and squealing also had the effect of sending Xote off to the far end of his stall again, where he lay down facing the wall, ignoring all the humans. Moose also didn’t catch what Galen said, but apparently he promised they would look after the girls for a while.

Moose thought about all he had to do. He had to see if he could get the various components of his suit to work. He had to visit The Castle and find whoever was flying the shuttle.  He had to…

He had many things to do. But apparently, his most urgent task was to teach a couple of one-year-old girls how to stay calm enough to coax a donkey to eat a carrot.

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! At this point, if each chapter averages a thousand words, that means it’s about 20k. Half a novel. If this is the halfway point (I’m not sure… maybe 3/4) then it will end up novel length.

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-iZ