Marie and Galen stepped out of the cottage to find that they were no longer in The Woods, but on the edge. A panoramic vista of wildflowers was displayed before them, and they could see The Lookout Tower in The Hamlet in the distance. Xote took off down the path as soon as he heard the door open.

“Well, there goes our beast of burden…” Galen remarked.

Marie laughed. He loved to hear her laugh, especially when he knew it was genuine. She’d responded to his tenderness that morning with eagerness and honesty… he only hoped the honesty would remain when she felt the need to put on the mask of The Queen again.

He picked up the empty picnic baskets, trying to figure out how to easily carry them down the hill. They were light, but unwieldy.  “Let me carry one…” Marie insisted, but he held them both up out of her reach when she jumped to reach them. Jumping made her breasts do interesting things, even though they were once again restrained in her gown…

The sound of hooves brought their attention back to the path, which was now wide and clearly meandered through the fields of flowers. Homer was walking casually up to them, his saddle empty.

“Well, that solves the problem of a beast of burden.” Galen called to his horse and stroked the beast’s nose. It was a simple matter to attach the empty baskets to his saddle, just as they’d been attached to Xote.

Marie took Galen’s arm. Being so close to her used to make him uncomfortable, but now, he just wanted her to be as close to him as she could be. They followed a switchback in the trail, leading down the hill, and Galen glanced back. The Woods were slowly creeping in behind them. The treeline was not as far away as it should have been.

I hope we can find The Cottage again someday… it holds some very precious memories.

A clattering of hooves startled them, and Moose rode into sight.

“Galen! Marie! Are you all right?”

Marie waved happily to him. “Yes, we’re fine. Is everything all right at home?”

“Except for not being able to find whoever arrived with the latest tolling of The Bell, or the two of you, everything’s all right. Well, we had to improvise a picnic, since the girls were rather upset that Galen left without them.”

“Oh no, they’re weren’t too worried, were they?”

“Majel told us that the two of you were fine, and just needed some time away. Her explanations regarding the latest tolling of The Bell were…cryptic, at best.”

“The Madwoman used The Bell to summon a monster. It threatened Marie, but I killed it.” Galen explained.

Moose looked momentarily stunned, then he shook his head. “Well. I can’t say that’s the strangest thing that’s happened to us lately, but it certainly comes close.” Moose glanced at Homer, who was standing patiently, blinking his large eyes. “I see Homer found you. I was trying to follow him, but he’s sneaky.”

Galen patted his horse. “He is indeed a very talented horse. Now, let’s get back home. I have to apologize to the girls for stealing their picnic!”

Back at The Trianon, both girls were bouncing off the walls, asking where they’d been. After thoroughly reassuring and hugging both Sophie and Lark, Marie walked off with Nyota. Galen took the whispers and giggles as a sign that Marie had no regrets about what had transpired at The Cottage.

“Where’s Lark?” Moose asked rather dramatically, as the little girl had her hands firmly clasped around his neck and was dangling down his back.

Galen plucked her off before she could fall. “Here she is!” he declared, tossing her gently in the air while Sophie squealed at his feet.

“My turn!” she demanded. Galen handed Lark to Moose then picked up Sophie, tossing her in the air as well.

Rapid bootsteps sounded from the entryway below. “My lady! My lady!” came the shout. A man came running towards the stairs, only to be stopped by a guard before he got halfway up.

Galen stepped forward as Moose shoed the girls over to their nanny. “It’s all right, let him come.” he ordered. The man hurried up the stairs and Galen gestured him into the room.

The man bowed low to Marie and Nyota as Galen hovered closely behind him. “My lady, my name is John Petersen. I was born in The City, and never in my life have I seen this…”

Petersen paused, as if lost for words. “What is it?” Marie asked.

“It’s a hole, your ladyship. In the street.”

“A hole in the street? How big a hole?”

Petersen gestured with his hands, holding them about shoulder width apart. “It’s this big, and it’s right where most carriage wheels can’t easily avoid it.”

Marie cocked her head slightly, naturally taking on her Queenly aura. “Is this hole causing problems? Why hasn’t it been fixed?”

“That’s just it… it hasn’t been fixed. And no one knows how.”

Nyota joined the conversation. “No one knows how? Certainly holes are a regular occurrence. Who usually fixes them?”

Petersen looked from Nyota to Marie, obviously very concerned and just a little bit confused. “Fixes them? I…” he glanced at Moose, then Galen. “It’s strange enough to see a hole like that, right there in the street. I’ve only heard of it happening a few times, and then, well…”

“Yes, go on.” Marie prompted him gently.

“Well, they always fix themselves. This one’s been like this all day now.”

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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