Nyota watched the men eat with gusto. They had spent much more time lost than most guests did, and she felt bad that they had gone for so long without sustenance, or answers.

Not that I have many…

She had witnessed the strange magic of the place work on all kinds of people. Galen and Moose were the first who had immediately questioned the strangeness of accepting the new life that was handed them.

I like these men.

“You’re speaking French, aren’t you?” Moose asked Marie.  Marie had a mouthful of food, but she nodded yes. “Yet I can still understand you.”

“She is Marie Antionette.” The pronouncement slipped out before she could stop herself. It was just such an interesting fact… and judging by Moose’s technology, he was from a time at least a few years ahead of Nyota’s own. He would know who she was.

The large man actually choked on his food. “She’s who? Marie Antionette?” Then, remembering his manners, he addressed Marie directly. “You are Marie Antionette? Queen of France?”

Marie seemed amused, fortunately. Only a few guests had recognized her name, but his reaction was definitely the strongest.

Moose fidgeted.  His jaw moved but no words came out.

Marie saved him from embarrassment, knowing what he wanted to ask. “Yes. Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Queen of France and Navarre. Wife of Louis XVI until forced from the throne and…” she paused for dramatic effect. She’d told this story a few times already. “…beheaded at the guillotine on 16 October 1793.” She smiled, as if to comfort him from the blow of such a dramatic revelation. “And yet although I felt the blade on my neck, when I opened my eyes I was in a Meadow. And I knew I was safe.”

“I know now that my baby and I were also at the moment of our death when we came here,” said Nyota.

“You have a baby?” asked Galen, still eating heartily. He had followed the exchange between Moose and Marie with interest, but no recognition. Nyota guessed he was from some earlier time. How much earlier, she had no idea.

“Yes. Lark is about a year old. Just a few months younger than Sophie.”

“Sophie?”

“Sophie is my baby.”

Moose looked surprised again. “Your baby? Sophie…” he looked thoughtful a moment, as if trying to recall his facts. “Sophie died as an infant, didn’t she? Only one of your children survived past childhood.”

The effect his words had on Marie was instant. “You know about my children?” Marie blanched, falling back in her chair and dropping her fork. Nyota knew what was in her friend’s heart. She also knew that Marie did not want to say the words.

Nyota spoke them for her. “Moose, if you know the history, which of Marie’s children survived past childhood?”

Marie reached out for Nyota’s hand. Moose seemed to understand the importance of the information he was about to share, and so spoke slowly and respectfully, knowing it would be difficult to hear. “Only Marie Therese survived. She married  her cousin, Louis Antoine, and lived to be over fifty, but they never had children. Both Marie’s boys named Louis died in childhood, of sickness. One before her execution, the other after.”

To everyone’s surprise, Marie smiled brightly. “Oh, but my boys did not die! It was their father’s idea to tell everyone that Louis Joseph had taken ill and parished, but we trusted him to friends who spirited him away.” Her smile faded. “Of course, if history recalls the lie we told, and not the truth, it means the deception was never found out. I will never know what became of him. And we planned to do the same for Louis Charles, although I do not know if our friends were successful.”

“If your three oldest children all lived, it would explain…” Moose laughed at himself. “Well, explain as far as the rules of this place go, why Sophie is the only child who arrived here with you.”

Marie sat back up straight in her chair, a queen again for a brief moment. “You are right about the rule… about people arriving here at the moment of death. But who decides which of us is saved? My husband was not. I was drawn to his tomb when I arrived, as if to prove that he was indeed gone.” The queen disappeared again, leaving the scared and broken woman behind. “I need not wait for him.”

Moose was leaning forward, obviously fascinated by Marie’s tale. Nyota was glad someone had arrived to give Marie answers. As for herself, she would have none. She was no one to history. She would only be remembered by a few friends, and many of those had probably been killed when she was.

Moose asked Marie another question. “Did you love him? Your husband? You were given no choice but to marry him, and at such a young age…”

Fortunately, the question seemed to put Marie at ease. “Oh, I loved Louie. He was my husband, after all.” She looked at Nyota then. Nyota knew that look, the look that said her friend was trusting her not to judge. “But although we were lovers in the literal sense, and had four wonderful children together, he was more like a close friend, or even a brother to me.” She looked down at her lap. “Love, yes. Of a kind.” The she looked directly into Nyota’s eyes. “Louis was really my best, best friend. Only he truly understood… only he went through it all with me.”

Galen joined the conversation again. “But you found his tomb? Here? In this place?” Galen waited while the women nodded. “Well then, I think that is a place we should look for some answers.”

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-gd

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