Burgruine Frauenburg RUINS and church, Watercolor painting from Brunhilde Mayer, Unzmarkt-Frauenburg.

Marie browsed through the gallery, openly admiring the art while the young artist followed behind her, almost simpering in his eagerness to please. She wasn’t sure how she’d become such a celebrity in The Place, but it had happened. Not only did the new arrivals look to her for guidance, but those citizens who had lived all their lives in The Madwoman’s little world had begun to seek her out.

“And you paint The Castle every day?” Marie made it sound like a compliment, like she was amazed at the diligence the young artist showed. It wasn’t too difficult because, actually, she was impressed. The paintings, though not masterpieces, were very nice.

More importantly, they showed a record of how The Castle changed over time.

Sometimes the spires were light and airy, with flying buttresses holding up impossible loads. Other times it was dark and foreboding, a solid and squat structure with few windows.

Nyota was ahead of her, studying the most recent paintings. “And these? Does it seem to you that The Castle is farther away in these?”

Marie went to stand by her friend. After seeing the other paintings, it was obvious that The Castle was farther away in the more recent paintings. “It does.” She turned to the artist. “Are these drawn from the same vantage point, or did you find a closer perspective from which to draw?”

“Oh, I have a dozen or so favorite places. Some I use more than others. Like this…” he pointed at one of the recent paintings “…and this…” he pointed at one from several days earlier “…were both done from a certain balcony on The Cathedral of Saint Denis.”

He went on to point out which others were also painted from that same balcony. Although The Castle seemed to be more or less in the same place in all the early paintings, for the past month or so it looked like it was getting farther and farther away.

Marie listened to Nyota recount the discovery to the others when they gathered together in an Inn they had rented close to Saint Denis. Moose, Galen, Clovis, and about a dozen others who had become advisers to them were cataloging all the changes, no matter how subtle, that had been noticed over the past few weeks.

“And these have popped up at the edge of The Woods near The City, The Town, The Village… everywhere!” The young woman carefully sketched what looked like a large tower with some kind of enclosure at the top. “They’re smooth, like they’re made completely of metal. There was a ladder reaching to the top, but none of us was brave enough to climb it. And there were long tubes coming out of it, also.”

“I saw one of these…” added Galen. “It was connected to an aqueduct coming out of The Woods. It hasn’t been there for long, less than ten days.”

“Water Towers.” Moose said with authority. “The Place always functioned without them, the water magically appearing wherever it was needed. So why do we have water towers now?”

“And the roads are not fixing themselves,” added Clovis.

Marie looked at Nyota. Her friend returned her gaze, as if their two minds were focusing as one. Then, as if receiving a sudden inspiration, Nyota’s jaw dropped slightly, and her back straightened. Marie knew what she was going to say. “It’s like we are adolescents, being given the tools we need, while we’re slowly pushed out of the nest.”

Marie nodded. “Perhaps The Madwoman grows tired of her game?”

Moose looked thoughtful. “And The Castle, which represents the source of magic, is pulling away from us. Soon, it might be gone completely.”

Marie expected herself to feel afraid at the thought of losing their benefactor. But instead, she felt only hope, and anticipation.

What great things we could do, all of us, with this new beginning…

And they began to plan.

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-mt