“You can stop pulling me now. I’m walking in the direction you want me to go.”
Galen was irritated. He was walking along the road, directly to The Castle, and the pull was getting stronger and stronger even though he was going with it instead of against it. “Can you hear me? Are you watching me, whoever you are?” he shouted into the air.
The road became wider, and soon he found himself in a crowd of people either hurrying or meandering along the sidewalks of a busy street. Carriages came and went with little regard to the pedestrians. Horseless carriages moved more quickly and kept to the inner lanes of the street, while slower moving vehicles were nearer to the sidewalks. The smell of horse manure mixed with many others he could not recognize. A few people cast sideways glances at him when he talked out loud to the invisible force. Most people ignored him.
And then he realized something. Although in The Town and The City and The Hamlet he’d been able to understand every word people said, on the crowded street heading towards The Castle all he heard was babble. Not a single person was speaking a language he recognized.
He was so close to the castle that it loomed above him on his left as the street began to curve around it to the right. There was a solid, continuous block of businesses between the street and The Castle, and no obvious way inside. He stepped into one business and looked around. It seemed to sell leather goods, everything from boots to harnesses and saddles. There was no back door, just an area that was obviously designated for employees.
The pull was urging him back to the street.
The next business he tried was selling small shiny things made of metal and some other reflective material. He had no idea what to make of them, and so left.
The third business he understood. Patrons were sitting either at tables or along a long counter. Everyone had a drink, and the smell of alcohol permeated the air. Having no money, he decided to wander through the crowd and see what he could glean. Although most people were absorbed in their own lives and conversations, quite a few gave him a second look, as if he stood out somehow. He wasn’t sure in what way he was different; he wore the tee shirt and jeans that Moose had chosen for them, and quite a few other men were wearing similar attire.
He listened carefully, but could not make out any words, nor could he discern from people’s body language why he seemed peculiar to them.
“Sumasshedshaya.” The word carried over the background noise of the bar. Galen turned to see a man about his age, hair flaming red, gesturing to him with a glass in his hand.
“Sue… mass… shaya?” Galen tried to repeat the word.
“Da. Sumasshedshaya. Vy prinadlezhite k sumasshedshaya.”
“Jane.” He pointed at Galen’s chest, then made a motion with his fingers. Galen thought the fingers glowed for a moment, like they were on fire. “You go to Jane.”
“I go to The Castle. Who is Jane?”
A petite, thin young woman brushed past them on the way out of the bar. The only word Galen caught from her was “Jane.” The rather large man behind her seemed offended by her words, and muttered something in protest.
The fiery man chuckled, then explained to Galen “She says “Jayne is a girl’s name.” The man with her… his name is Jayne.”
Galen started to get up. “Is that the Jane you’re talking about?”
The man put a hand on his shoulder. “No. You belong to Jane Charlotte. Sumasshedshaya. The madwoman at The Castle.”
Galen wanted to ask more, but another man was beckoning to his companion from the stairs in the back of the bar. “How do I find her? And what do you mean I belong to her?”
The man was already halfway to the back of the bar, but he shouted back over the din, “You go. She pulls you.”
Sure enough, the pull was beckoning him back outside. He followed the street farther, and after a few more minutes he saw a break in the row of businesses. There was a large traffic circle at the break, where small vehicles with single riders zipped in and out of lanes filled with larger vehicles. Other streets led off in many directions, and one wide boulevard led directly into The Castle.
Galen found himself somewhat pressed in the crowd, and he caught one unsuccessful pickpocket whom he let go with a warning. The boulevard into The Castle was lined with high walls. Arrow slits were obviously not just for decoration. Guards looked down on the crowds and traffic from their posts atop the walls.
Eventually all the vehicles followed the road down into a tunnel, while all the pedestrian traffic had no choice but to follow the sidewalks up to a mezzanine. There were many doors and archways, all very different, but Galen could not read any of the signs. The pull was confused in all the chaos. As he watched, the characters on all the signs became the Roman symbols he was familiar with.
He laughed. “Thank you, but I can’t read in any language, not even my own.” The signs all flipped back to unfamiliar characters, but one was blinking on and off.
He approached the entry with the blinking sign. The guard at the door said something in a language he didn’t understand.
“I don’t understand. I am…”
“Aha!” The guard’s demeanor instantly changed. “You are here to see the Noble Sorceress. Go right in.”
Galen was taken aback at the sudden change in both demeanor and language. He was about to ask where he was supposed to go, but the pull was stronger than ever, leaving no doubt.
The Castle was a maze, and there were fewer and fewer people the further he went. At last he stood before a door which opened just as he was about to knock.
“You’re here!” A woman was walking swiftly towards him, away from a window that backlit her body and made it difficult to see her face. Galen stumbled through the door, as if pushed and pulled simultaneously. Alert, he looked around him, but saw no person, no obvious threat.
She slowed as she approached him, taking his hands in hers as if he was a precious and welcome visitor.
“Are you the one who brought me here? Can you answer my questions?”
“Your hands… so strong… it is a shame you had to die…”
“Did I die? Is this some kind of afterlife?”
“Ned had to die as well. It showed what kind of King Joffrey might be…”
“Who is Ned? And King Joffrey?”
“Ned’s not here… Ned’s not mine…”
Galen carefully but firmly removed the woman’s hands from his own, and stepped back. The door was closed behind him.
She was startled. She looked at him like she had no idea what he was doing there.
“Are you Jane Charlotte? Did you bring me here?”
She took a deep breath. “Let’s go sit down.”
The woman turned abruptly, walking back towards the window. Her form was svelte and young, although her face had betrayed her age as… well, older than any woman he’d ever met. She went to a chair near the window, and gestured for him to sit across from her. The small table between them was empty, but after he sat down there was suddenly a tray there with some kind of biscuits, as well as very fragile looking cups and a container that obviously held some kind of hot liquid because it steamed when the woman poured it into the cups.
He accepted the drink she handed him, even though he felt like he might break the tiny cup. He didn’t drink it.
“Jamie… I know it must be confusing. You had such a short life…”
“I’m not dead…” he protested. He wanted to add “…and I’m not Jamie,” but the woman only paused a moment to look past him wistfully before going on.
“…but I had no idea you would be so… so strong… there is so much more potential in you, so much you could do and be…”
Galen interrupted. “If you saved my life by bringing me here, then you have my thanks. But where is this? Am I a captive?”
“A captive? Oh, no no no…” Jane scooched closer to him, and Galen realized that the chairs they had been sitting on had magically become a couch. “…well, you can come and go as you please…”
“Like I came to the castle? I had to fight the pull all the way.”
Jane paused, her eyes dropping to Galen’s chest, and then her own lap. Suddenly, she looked up, meeting his eyes. She was younger than she had been before. “No more pull for you.” She announced it like it was a great honor or reward she was bestowing upon him. “The others needed it. You do not. You…”
She sighed heavily, and placed her fingers delicately on his chest. Galen froze. He didn’t like the intimacy of the touch, but it seemed innocent enough, and he wanted to keep her talking.
“You can be the catalyst.”
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: Together
- Chapter Eleven: Getting to Know You
- Chapter Twelve: One is Silver and the Other Gold
- Chapter Thirteen: An Old Old Friend
- Chapter Fourteen: Oldest and Youngest
- Chapter Fifteen: The Return to the Crypt
- Chapter Sixteen: Next
- Chapter Seventeen: Do What You’re Told
- Chapter Eighteen: Jane
- Chapter Nineteen: A Donkey Named Xote
- Chapter Twenty: A Horse Named Manny
- Chapter Twenty-one: Tea and Politics
- Chapter Twenty-two: The Long Ride Home
- Chapter Twenty-three: Afar
- Chapter Twenty-four: Comparing Notes
- Chapter Twenty-five: Audience and Entourage
- Chapter Twenty-six: Phillip
- Chapter Twenty-seven: The Ball
- Chapter Twenty-eight: Seduction
- Chapter Twenty-nine: Kindred Spirits
- Chapter Thirty: Meddling Madwoman
- Chapter Thirty-one: The Penultimate Ingredient
- Chapter Thirty-two: A Clear Path
- Chapter Thirty-three: A Transition
- Chapter Thirty-four: Have Fun Storming The Castle
- Chapter Thirty-five: A Beginning
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 chapter has Easter Eggs… there may be more later… I talked to one of the Janes this week, and obtained her blessing on the “vague reference only a few people will get!”
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-ij