,Nyota could accept that her new friend was Marie Antionette...just as she could accept some kind of futuristic car whizzing down the street past two donkey carts and several people on horseback. She still had no idea where she was or why, but at least she felt safe.
She could not remember feeling safe, ever.
It was a good feeling.
She accepted the fact that she was following some inner pull to a place she didn’t know, while at the same time acknowledging just how strange it was for her to do so, without inhibition or fear.
Lark is happy here.
Her usually quiet, wide-eyed baby was happy. And burbling. And cooing.
Her Lark, who at eight months old had already learned that sometimes it was bad to cry, was making the kind of noises that babies should make. Happy noises. Spontaneous noises.
The city was fascinating. She had never been in a place with paved roads and such large buildings, and it was beyond strange. The people were of all colors and nationalities, and dressed in every variety of fashion imaginable. Some looked like they belonged from some other time, like Marie. Others, like their time had not yet come.
The hamlet turned out to be a quaint little village on the outskirts of the city. Marie seemed to recognize parts of it, but she was unfamiliar with the layout and they wandered along the streets and paths for a while. It was beautiful, with buildings and gardens and artwork. Well, she assumed it was artwork. Some of the sculptures were quite strange. One, a large blue box, seemed out of place on the path. A tall, slender man nodded good morning to them both before stepping inside and shutting the door behind him.
Marie rambled on about her Petit Trianon, a retreat she used to get away from the demands of court life. After wandering for a while, they found a building with four large columns in front. Nyota regarded the building with curiosity.
Instead of becoming more excited, Marie grew agitated. She froze, listening for something. She stumbled forwards, then caught herself and looked back at Nyota and Lark.
“Is that a baby crying?” Nyota asked.
Marie broke into a run. She stumbled up the steps and burst through the doors.
Nyota followed after her. She had no idea what had upset Marie so much. Why would the sound of a baby crying have such a profound effect on a queen?
The building had not looked all that big from the courtyard, but once inside Nyota had to peek into several rooms before she finally found Marie, crumpled to the floor hugging a toddler to her chest and rocking back and forth chanting “Oh mon chéri, mon chéri de bébé, je pensais que je vous avais perdu à jamais!” It was strange how the words sounded so French, yet Nyota knew what her new friend was saying.
She tried to remember what she had learned about Marie Antionette.
Did the Marie Antionette I learned about in school have any children?
A young maid hovered over an elegant crib, but although her cheeks were flushed, she looked happy over what seemed to be a reunion.
Nyota sank to the floor next to Marie. Her new friend was completely beside herself, tears flowing down her cheeks. The toddler squirmed, as if she didn’t like being squeezed so tightly.
“What a beautiful baby! What is her name?” She assumed it was a girl… the toddler was dressed in so many frills it was hard to tell, but she did have little pink bows everywhere.
It took Marie a few minutes to be able to answer her. Nyota waited patiently while the young maid handed Marie a handkerchief.
“Sophie.” Marie spoke softly. “But she…” Marie trailed off, sealing her lips as if afraid to speak the words. Her eyes went to the Kitenge draped over Nyota’s shoulder. Nyota took it in her hands, fingering the bullet holes.
“Oh…” Nyota realized what Marie did not want to speak aloud. “How did it happen?”
How could the child of a queen die? Could the people who sentenced the queen to the guillotine be so cruel as to murder a child?
“She was not yet a year old.” Marie spoke softly, almost a whisper. “She was sickly… she had seizures… she was having trouble with her new teeth…” Marie shook her head, not willing to tell any more. “But that was six years ago, and here she is still as small as she was then.”
“Pardon me, my lady, but Majel told me the babe is fine now. No more seizures, and the teeth have cut through just fine. She loves the frozen cookies I made.” The maid beamed at both of them, as if everything was right in the world.
“Who is Majel?” they both asked.
“Oh! You’ve arrived. How wonderful.” A woman dressed similar to the maid appeared from another doorway and bustled into the room. “I am Majel. It is so good to meet you both at last.”
“You were expecting us?” Nyota asked. Marie leaned closer to her, clutching her baby. Lark reached out, and Sophie laughed as the smaller baby grasped her hand.
“We were quite ready. The trianon was purposely left unfurnished, as we expect that Marie will like to choose something new and more appropriate to furnish it. But the Miller’s house has some very nice, very basic furnishings.”
“The Miller’s house?”
“That would be your new home, my dear lady.” said Majel. “I do hope it will be to your liking. It is nothing like what you were familiar with before, but we thought you would be happiest if you could be near Marie.”
“My new home?” Nyota laughed.
My new home? Certainly, a queen appears in this purgatory and finds her old, familiar retreat. And what would be waiting for me? A hut with a dirt floor? A place that would be burned down or trampled by men with guns who never bothered to explain what they wanted… they simply took everything? A new home? My new home?
“Yes. As a matter of fact, lunch will be ready there soon. I’m sure you are both hungry, after your ordeal.”
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.
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