Nyota was nearly bowled over by Lark and Sophie as they rushed into the Trianon, all happy chatter and giggles. She listened as the girls told her all about their day; how they ate cookies and pet kittens at Mommy Marie’s friend’s house, then climbed The Tower and saw the pretty pink and purple towers of The Castle.

She nodded and oohed and asked a question here and there as the girls chattered on, overlapping each other but not caring. Marie followed them in. She was wearing the pasted smile, the one that strove to show the world that all was well, when the truth was far from it. She waved briefly, then breezed through, probably to find Majel.

Moose followed not far behind. He seemed to be letting Marie out on a leash… letting her get farther and farther from him. He stopped when he saw Nyota and the girls, releasing Marie from her tether now that they were home.

Nyota held his gaze as the girls chattered on. Nothing was said between them. There was just an exchange of energy, a potential thrill that had yet to be decided.

They’d done so frequently over the past few weeks.

So, what kind of social rules do we go by when we all come from such different backgrounds?

She decided to make up her own. “Come and sit with us a while.” Nyota tried to sound inviting, letting him know she wasn’t just being polite, that she really did want him there.

“Sit here!” Sophie demanded, picking out a large chair for the large man. Of course, she then squirmed up into it, which made it difficult for him to sit down. He scooped up the tiny girl and balanced her on his knee while he settled himself into the chair. Lark climbed into her mother’s lap, wanting snuggles.

“I take it the trip was enjoyable for them. How about you?”

“I had thoroughly expected to be thoroughly bored, but I actually had a fascinating conversation with Clovis.”

Nyota’s eyes narrowed as she listened to Moose recount the story. “I’ve never heard it put in such plain terms, but other people I’ve talked to have alluded to similar things. Sometimes they mention a new arrival who never seems to find a place in society, and…”

“…and?” Moose raised his eyebrows.

“…and they don’t know whatever became of them. And they speak as if it really didn’t matter. I had thought that perhaps some people found there way to other places, perhaps somewhere beyond The Castle.”

“There is nothing beyond The Castle,” announced Galen, joining them. “There is The Hamlet, The City, The Town, and a few others. But very few people have ever been to The Castle at all.”

Nyota and Moose watched as Galen choose a chair and sat down. “You are both from times far ahead of mine… so tell me, does it seem strange to you that people here don’t seem to know about or care about The Castle? Shouldn’t it be the center of commerce and government and everything for the region? Is this something that changed over the years, and I just don’t understand because my time seems to be earlier than most everyone else’s?”

Moose answered first. “Actually, I think you’re right. I think the inhabitant’s lackadaisical attitude towards The Castle is one of those mysterious things controlled by… well, maybe by the Madwoman? Do you think she is the one behind the force that is constantly nudging us?”

Nyota listened carefully. There was some kind of excitement building inside her, something she should do.

“Jane Charlotte definitely either influences or controls a lot of what goes on. I’ve only gone back to The Castle a couple of times since seeing her, but I haven’t gone in. The lay of the land there is very different than it is here.” He paused. “It is not the same place. I can go all around The Castle and see the city that surrounds it, but… but I can’t see where “here” is from The Castle. The only way to get from here to The Castle and back is to use a very lonely looking road through The Woods. A road that reeks of enchantment.”

Galen wasn’t done yet. “Did you notice that I was there watching you leave The Town, and yet I was waiting to see you arrive at The City?”

“Well, yeah… you’re just one man on horseback, and you’re adept. Of course you move faster.”

Galen shook his head. “It’s magic. I move through The Woods. I can go it, then come out again anywhere I please.” He wrinkled his brow again. “Not anywhere… just The City, The Town, etc. There is definitely a limited area to The Place. And try as I might, I can go no farther. It is as if nothing exists beyond The Place, unless you can reach The Castle. From The Castle I was able to travel to several very different outlying towns, and back again.”

“I know what we need to do.” They all looked up to see Marie in the doorway. Nyota sat up straight, noticing some kind of change in her friend. Marie had always seemed insecure. She always needed a hand to hold, she needed reassurance. But that was not the Marie who stood in the doorway. The woman in the doorway was a queen, a woman used to making decisions for everyone else.

Marie held their attention not because she demanded it, but because it came naturally to all of them to want to hear what this queen had to say.

“We must go to The Castle. I must meet with Jane Charlotte.”

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-ke