Marie awoke earlier than usual, feeling happy in anticipation of the day. Usually, she felt lost. But today was different.

There was something different about the men they had found yesterday. She felt that Galen and Moose would be… close. They would not disappear into The Hamlet or The City, making lives of their own elsewhere.

They would stay.

Although Galen was nowhere to be found in the morning, Majel reassured them that he was off exploring, and would be fine. Moose was willing to accompany the women into the city to buy the things he would need for his house.

Marie had not ventured far from the Hamlet since finding Sophie. But the trip to The Town had turned out all right… more than all right, in fact.

“He’s just going along with the way of things for now…” Nyota mused when they had a moment alone.  “He has not fully accepted what is happening to him, but he is playing along.”

Marie lowered her hands to her sides, leaving her face untouched. “Have you accepted it? The way things are?”

Nyota finished applying gloss to her lips, then turned to face her. “Yes.” It was a declaration. Her voice was steady, her neck long and straight, holding her chin high. “I do not have to understand it, but I accept it.”

Marie regarded herself in the mirror.  Her arms lay at her sides. Her hair fell about her face softly.She had not felt like attempting any elaborate hair-styles since arriving in The Hamlet. She hadn’t preened much at all since Louis died.

“I think I have accepted it.” Marie agreed. “I think some… version of me did die at the guillotine. But I live on.” Her voice softened. “And so does Sophie.”

The little girls were standing on the counter in the powder room, looking at themselves in the mirror. Lark was smearing lip gloss all over her mouth, while Sophie distributed powder all over herself.

Marie smiled.

I spent every minute I could at my hamlet when I was queen. I hated being wrenched away from it for all the ridiculous expectations of aristocracy. But now that I have The Trianon and The Hamlet… and no expectations, no requirements pulling me away… 

“Look Mama!” Sophie said, applying powder to her hair.

Marie indulged her daughter, telling her what a lovely mess she’d made, then regarded herself in the mirror.

Am I a queen? Inside myself, is that part of who I am? Was it ever, or was that just a mask I wore? 

Marie helped Sophie brush all the extra powder away, then lifted her down. It was so precious, not just having her daughter alive and well, but having her near. She could take Sophie with her, or just stay home and play with her all day long. No one told her that it was unbecoming of a queen to be the primary caregiver to her child.

“I think I need to know.” Marie decided. “I… appreciate what I have here. My very life, and that of my daughter. But I have so many questions! If Marie-Therese and my sons survived, I understand why they are not here. But why not Louis? Why would whatever power rules this place not save him? Why would they make such a point to show me my husband’s tomb? My friend Anne died only a few years ago, yet she has been in this place long enough to raise several sons. And Sophie… Sophie… was lost to us several years ago, and yet she is here just as small as she was.” They walked out of the ladies’ room to find Moose waiting for them patiently. Marie assessed the man. Handsome beyond fault. Intelligent, and protective.

She appreciated that protective instinct more than anything. She hadn’t realized just how vulnerable she had come to feel until his presence alleviated it. Even though she’d only known him a day, she felt safe around him. Every little mannerism, every glance told her that he would keep her safe.

Is that why I had to know that my husband is gone? So that I would move on, maybe even marry again?

Moose stood up when they came out, and he picked up Lark when she reached up to him.

“Are you finished? Is there anything else you need?” Nyota asked Moose.

“Poke me with a fork, I’m done. I have never done so much shopping in my life, even with my sisters.”

Marie felt an odd twist at his words. “In my life…” the words had a new meaning. And did he worry about his sisters? Did he wonder how he could get back to them?

She didn’t want to think about him leaving.

As the coach pulled up The Trianon, they saw a horse and rider approaching, leading two other animals.

“Galen! Have you been shopping too?” Moose asked as the younger man led his horse up to them.

“Better than that. I’ve been to The Castle.”

Marie gasped. Nyota looked visibly interested. As usual, Nyota spoke for them both. “You’ve been to The Castle? What’s it like?”

Marie listened as Galen recounted his troubles in reaching The Castle, and his eventual meeting with the Madwoman.

“…and I’ve felt no pull since then. In fact, she told me this horse’s name is “Homer” because he will always lead me home.”

Marie felt something odd happening in her brain. She knew that Galen wasn’t speaking French, yet she still understood him. And beyond that, she recognized the word “home” in English, and the subtle joke that a horse named “Homer” would lead Galen home.

“She also said the Donkey’s name was Xote, but I’ve no idea why.”

Marie laughed outright, as did Moose. “A Donkey named Xote?” Moose chuckled.

Nyota looked confused. “Hoe… tay? This is a funny name.”

Marie explained. “There is a silly character in a silly book. His name is Don Quixote. Apparently the Madwoman is well read, with a sense of humor.”

“The other horse she says belongs to Moose.” Galen said, ignoring their mirth. Marie wondered if he had a sense of humor at all.

Moose was still chuckling. “And his name?”

“None that I know of. I suppose you can name him yourself.”

“Oh… OK.” Moose said, swallowing the last chuckle, but still grinning. “Just one thing, Galen. Can you teach me to ride? I’ve never even seen a horse close up, much less ridden one.”

Finally, one corner of Galen’s mouth twitched.

Is there a sense of humor there after all?

“Fine then. But if I teach you to ride him, I get to name him.”

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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