Marie hovered over her perfectly healthy, perfectly happy, sleeping child. No one disturbed her. No one told her she was needed elsewhere, or that she should leave childcare to the nurse or other servants.

I used to linger in my Trianon, wander through the Hamlet… I used to cherish my time here because I knew that there was a world outside that was waiting for me. A world that would judge me, and make demands. A world that would take away what little peace I found.

Marie gazed out the window. The gardens were perfectly kept. Radish the sheep was wandering outside, having followed Sophie from the meadow.

Still she lingered, even though there was no court waiting for her. No mob demanding her head.

No husband.

I miss you, Louie.

“Marie?” It was Nyota, standing in the doorway, bouncing a fussy Lark. The little girl was cutting a new tooth. “Majel says that Galen and Ulysses have been spotted together in the Town. I’m going to ride out and see if I can find them.”

Marie held her arms out and Nyota handed her the fussy baby. She knew what Nyota was going to ask. She was going to ask Marie if she wanted to come with her… to leave the Hamlet.

“I’ll see if I can get Lark to go to sleep while you’re gone.” Marie said with a bright smile, hoping that Nyota would consider the matter settled.

But Nyota squared her shoulders and looked down at Marie with a very parental gaze. Marie smiled innocently back at her friend, but she knew that her face was beet red. At least Lark had stopped fussing, happy with the bob-and-sway motion Marie was making.

Nyota’s face softened. “Annie can look after the girls while we’re gone. Why don’t you come with me this time? It would do you good to get out for a while.”

“To the Town? But that’s on the other side of the City!”

“Yes. Majel says that Galen arrived in the Woods, but somehow he made his way all the way to the Town instead of finding his way to the Hamlet like he was supposed to. It’s only an hour’s ride out. We’ll just see if we can find them, and come right home again.”

“What if someone else arrives and we’re not here? Who will help them?” That is what they did. They helped people. It was their purpose, their calling…

“Marie, it’s only a few hours out of one day. If the bell tolls while we’re gone, Majel will let us know whether the new guests found their way to the Hamlet alone, or whether we need to go find them. It will be fine.” Nyota’s tone changed then. The next words were spoken as a plea, and Marie recognized that her friend was truly worried about Marie’s reluctance to leave her sanctuary. And perhaps Nyota needed someone who would be her friend and companion no matter where life took them… “Please, Marie, come with me.”

Marie held onto Nyota’s hand a bit too tightly as the carriage pulled away from the Petit Trianon, but Nyota didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t the idea of leaving the babies behind that scared her. Annie was a wonderful nurse and both girls adored her.

They were safe.

Marie also felt safe in the Hamlet. She didn’t want to go somewhere she might lose that feeling.

She had not felt so safe in years.

She had not felt so perfectly at peace since she was a small child.

Marie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. They were passing through farmlands edged by a stately Forest. The road was perfectly smooth, and wound up and down and around in just such a way as to make the journey pleasant. Their coachman handled the horses expertly, and they practically flew along the road.

There was no sense of impending doom. No great fear took her peace from her.

I’m still safe…

But she needed more. She did not let go of Nyota’s hand. Some inkling of doubt in her mind told her that her friend’s hand was an extension of the sanctuary, that if she let go, she might…

Something terrible will surely happen.

Nyota withdrew her hand for just a moment to brush a stray hair from her face, then grasped Marie’s hand again.

Nothing terrible happened.

Marie breathed easier. The two of them traveled in comfortable silence until the farmland was behind them and they were passing the outer limits of the Town.

The castle was far in the distance. Every once in a while, they would crest a hill and catch a glimpse of it.

“It’s green!” Marie sat bolt upright, staring at the towers in the distance. The castle was not visible from the hamlet, and so she had only seen it that first day.

Nyota leaned forward and looked. “Oh, well that is certainly different.”

“Different…” Marie was stunned. How could Nyota be so casual about the castle magically changing form? “But how?”

Nyota leaned back. “How? I have no idea. But every day it is different. Sometimes pure white towers soar through the clouds, higher than we can see. Other times it is short and squat. But I do admit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in such a bright color before.”

It was indeed a bright emerald green. It seemed to be nothing but towers, clustered together in varying heights. Soon, the coach dipped down into a valley, and the castle disappeared from sight.

I should not be too surprised, I suppose. My own Trianon has so many more rooms inside than should be able to fit inside such a structure.

They passed a few buildings, and soon the road widened and became the Main Street of the Town.

“Do you have any idea how we will find them?” Marie asked. It was one thing to find a newly arrived guest wandering confused in the Meadow, she had no idea how they would find someone in this unfamiliar place.

“Majel said that guests destined for the Town are pulled to the Pantheon. We will try there, but I thought we might have some lunch first.”

Marie’s stomach turned at the thought of lunch. It wasn’t just that she had spent an hour in a moving carriage. Actually, the ride was very smooth and comfortable. But she did not want to be away from her Hamlet, her Sanctuary, any longer than necessary.

“There’s a place I think you will like very much, it is…”

Nyota stopped talking as the coach lurched. Marie caught herself before she tumbled off the bench.

The coachman opened the small window between them. “My ladies, there is a problem…”

Nyota slipped out of the carriage on the left side. Marie opened the door on the right.

And screamed.

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.

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