Category: What Would Have Been


Marie had no idea what some of the listed professions were. However that was what advisers were for; she simply had to find one who was from the proper era to interpret. The most exciting discovery so far was Omar, a man ancient in both his era of origin and the number of years he had lived in The Place. Omar was inside the Library of Alexandria as it burned. When he saw the flames, he started grabbing scrolls, hoping to save at least something. He did not escape the flames, but when he arrived in The Place he still had all the scrolls with him.

One of the professions listed on the initial census was “warth filler” which turned out to be something from ancient Egypt. The warths apparently produced an electric current. However the woman who had once been a warth filler had no idea how the warth actually worked. In The Place, she was a flower seller, a profession she loved and enjoyed.

There were samples of technologies from Minoan civilization as well as advanced science from Moose’s time and beyond. Many of them Marie had never heard of.

“The challenge is…” Nyota mused “…the more advanced the technology is, the more dependent it is on other technologies.”

“And we’re incomplete. We have many people with pieces of advanced knowledge, but they don’t know how to manufacture all the parts,” said Marie.

Marie looked around the Inn. They had gradually taken over the entire building, but it was obvious some other facility would have to be found. Representatives from The Town and every other community in The Place were constantly coming and going, reporting on changes and asking questions. Between the two of them, Marie and Nyota had so far been able to give everyone at least a partial answer, even if that answer was “That’s the first we’ve heard about that…but we should look into it.”

Every night Marie collapsed into bed exhausted. At least she was no longer alone. With Galen she had found a love that completed her in ways she’d never even realized she needed. It was like the breakthrough of their sexual connection had led to greater and greater levels of intimacy. He had proposed only a few days after their night in The Cottage. Marie did hesitate, but only because there were so many strange new things happening around them. But Galen was her rock and her strength, and it made more sense to go through the changes with him by her side than to deny herself something she deeply desired just because she was afraid of the unknown.

The Castle was close to the horizon when they watched from The Tower. When they stood on the balcony at The Cathedral Saint Denis, it was often difficult to see at all.

One morning Marie awoke with a strong urge to look at The Castle.

“No. Not now. Not yet.” Galen insisted, then proceeded to ravish her senseless.

After thoroughly enjoying her ravishment, she eventually got her way. Galen carried Sophie up the stairs since her little legs couldn’t handle the long climb very well. At the top, they found Moose, Nyota, and Lark already gazing at The Castle in the distance.

“It’s almost on the horizon now. It’s hard to make out the individual parts,” said Nyota.

Marie shivered in the cool morning air, and Galen wrapped his arms around her. Sophie and Lark peered through the railing, somehow quiet, as if they realized something important was about to happen. Marie strained to see The Castle, and Moose handed her a small telescope.

Although The Castle looked different every day, they’d never seen it actively change. But it was changing now. New towers were rising behind it as the towers closest to them faded or shrank. It was as if it was slowly creeping away from them.

After an hour, there was nothing more to see. The last of the towers had disappeared over the horizon.

“I’d suggest we take the shuttle, and see where it’s gone, but something tells me it won’t be there,” said Moose.

“Perhaps we should take the shuttle…” Galen was gesturing to something that had appeared closer, in the place where The Castle had stood when it was still close to them. Marie looked through the telescope, but whatever it was it wasn’t nearly as tall as The Castle had been.

“Yes…” Marie looked up at Moose. “Please, let us take the shuttle.”

Her heart raced with anticipation. There was something familiar about it, but she could not pinpoint just what it was. All she’d been able to see beyond the hills and trees was that there was some kind of building there.

Sitting behind Moose as he piloted the shuttle, Marie grasped Galen’s hand tightly. Her knuckles grew white as she looked down, recognizing the shape of the building even though she’d never before seen it from the air.

They landed in the courtyard, and stepped out into the morning sun. Although the smells and sound of many fountains wafted over the air, it seemed deserted, uninhabited…

…but new. Like her Trianon had been new.

Marie retraced the steps she’d taken when she was still only a teenager, betrothed to the Dauphin of France. In those days, she had been filled with both hope and fear, knowing that although she had been made welcome, not everyone was happy with the idea that their future queen was a daughter of the Emperor of Austria.

On this day, Marie was again filled with both hope and fear. But she climbed the steps, and entered the Palace of Versailles, confident that this time, with these people, they would use the gifts they were given to make a safe and happy new life for all.

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 is the end. I did leave it open, so I could write more stories later if I want. Meanwhile, I like to think that they all lived happily ever after.

…with perhaps just an adventure or two along the way.

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-mQ

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Carol Kane and Billy Crystal as Valerie and Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride.” OK, so not exactly a scene from THIS story, but it upholds the spirit well!

Moose and Galen sat atop their horses at the edge of The Woods. The first streaks of sunrise were just barely beginning to crest the horizon.

Moose peered through his scope, cobbled together from his space suit. It was still too dark to see The Castle, but any minute now…

“There! Do you see it?” Galen pointed to the sky, his arm making an arc as if tracing the path of something in flight. Moose followed where he was pointing. It was definitely a shuttlecraft of some kind. And it had to be of sufficiently advanced design, as it had neither wings nor propeller.

“That’ll do…” Moose said, turning his scope on the shuttle’s destination. Finally, after eight straight days of trying, The Castle finally had a high tech appearance, as opposed to the fanciful and magical looks it had taken on over the past week. One day, it had even looked like it was made of gingerbread and candy, as if taunting the moon man.

They rode onwards, Homer always slightly in the lead, making their way towards The Castle. That early in the morning, traffic was light but already a steady stream of people rode or walked in and out, going about their business. Moose hoped they blended in well enough to go unnoticed; the mission they had in mind required a certain degree of stealth.

Once inside, they looked up and around, trying to figure out where the shuttles were entering the structure. None happened to appear at just that moment, and people were starting to give them funny looks, wondering what the two men were looking at.

“Well, Homer, where do you think the shuttle bay is?” asked Galen.

Moose swore the horse made an inquisitive snort. “The big flying machines.” Galen explained.

Homer snorted again as if to say “Oh. Those.” and walked calmly off down a wide corridor. Moose was relieved to see they weren’t the only ones with horses, although it did seem to be the exception, not the rule. They turned several corners, and found themselves in what seemed to be a lift bay.

“Going Up” said a mechanical voice, and one set of doors opened on their right. Homer waltzed right into the lift, followed by Manny. Galen and Moose looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and followed.

Moose looked at the buttons. At least they were in a script he knew. Galen shook his head in confusion. “OK Homer, what floor?” Moose asked.

The horse snorted in disgust.

“How about the top?” Moose asked, his finger hovering over the highest button.

Homer snorted “Uh Uh!” emphatically.

Moose called out numbers in descending order until the horse seemed happy. He pushed the button and felt the subtle shift that told him they were  upwardly mobile.

The doors opened and Moose stifled a nostalgic sigh. Bright metal and plastics gleamed everywhere. Machinery hummed, and there were even a few robots scurrying about their business. One tiny bot rolled up to them and bleepled a question. Unfortunately, Moose had no idea what that particular set of beeps and whistles meant. He tried not to trip over it as they stepped out of the lift.

Both horses backed out slowly, then Manny decided he had to do what all horses do. The tiny robot whirled in panicked circles for a moment, then sat itself down close to the mess, blinking a red warning light. Galen and Moose began to lead the horses away, but were interrupted as a small contingent of tiny bots swept in to clean up the mess. Moose continued glancing behind them as Galen scouted ahead, but no one seemed to mind them being there. There were even a few other animals being loaded into or off of various shuttlecraft, although they were all caged.

Homer stopped, forcing the rest of the party to halt as well. Moose nervously looked back to the cleaning crew, which was now following them, as if in anticipation of another mess. Homer looked right, then left, and then headed off to the right.

“Are you sure he knows where he’s going?” Moose asked under his breath.

“No. But he’s never steered me wrong before. Let’s see where he’s taking us.”

Moose eyed the larger ships in the landing area, wondering just how much he could get away with. If he was going to be stuck in The Place, and it seemed he was, then he was going to be stuck with as much technology as he could carry. Spending the rest of his life teaching the antiquarians how to improve upon aqueducts and gas lamps seemed daunting. He knew he wasn’t the only high-tech inhabitant of The Place.

A set of tools was sitting innocently on a crate, and Moose picked it up. He instantly felt guilty, as theft was not something he would normally commit, but circumstances were… difficult. And time was limited.

He handed the tool case to Galen, and managed to snag a few other useful items as they walked through the bay. Homer paused a few times, looking around him, but always resumed his march, destination unknown.

Moose had just about decided to risk stealing one of the larger ships when Homer suddenly broke into a trot, snorting happily. On the other side of the large ship was a shuttle, big enough to fit a dozen people in the cab, and a dozen horses in the cargo bay. In fact, it seemed designed for that, with narrow stalls that had feeding troughs and water bowls. Homer entered one and Manny another. Both started munching on whatever was in the troughs.

“Moose…” Galen was pointing at the roof of the shuttle. “Do you understand this?”

Moose stepped around to the other side where he could put some distance between himself and the shuttle. They were close to one of the large openings to the bay, and natural light streamed in.

On top of the shuttle was a ridiculously huge red bow.

And on the side of the shuttle was a name…

Umbra.

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-mF

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

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.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-mb

Marie woke as she felt cautious fingers wiping the tears from her cheeks. She could stifle the sobs and hide her shame at his rejection, but there was nothing she could do about the tears.

Galen was lying near her, still on top of the blankets, still wrapped in his own covering. Delicate light filtered in through the lone window. His face looked absolutely serious, and just a bit confused. “Marie, why are you crying?”

She reminded herself that he was from a time centuries before. He didn’t know her story. He didn’t know her shame. “I’m just remembering the early years of my marriage. How I lay in my husband’s bed, night after night, still a virgin after eight years of marriage.”

“Eight years?” His tone was incredulous, and she couldn’t blame him. “Why? Was that the custom?”

Marie shook her head. “No, no. Quite the opposite. Every day, the maids and various courtiers would check the sheets for signs of blood, signs that I had been “deflowered,” but years passed, and… nothing.”

“But why? You did eventually have children…”

Marie nodded. “Eventually, yes.” She took a deep breath, trying to figure out how best to explain. “My husband was a younger son. He was not raised to rule. When his father and older brothers died and he became the heir… it was overwhelming. Suddenly everyone expected everything from him.” She lost herself for a moment, thinking about how their lives were both the same and yet different. “He always tried to please them all. But of course, that’s impossible. Many people did not like the idea of him marrying an Austrian princess. As long as our marriage remained unconsummated, he could have easily gotten rid of me.”

Galen did not look shocked, but his furrowed brow definitely showed disapproval. “Get rid of his wife? What kind of a man was he?”

Marie wanted to reach out and touch Galen’s face, reassure her that it was simply the way things were done, but she was afraid even that simple touch would be too much for her to bear. “Louis was a gentle man. And unfortunately… weak. He did eventually consummate our marriage, and I produced an heir to the throne.”

“And then all hell broke loose.”

“Yes. Then all hell broke loose.”

She watched the gears turning over in his mind. She loved watching him. He had a keen intellect, and often saw through problems that those residents from more… technologically advanced ages couldn’t figure out. He had a way of simplifying things.

“Sophie died. That is why she is here with you.”

Marie nodded. She didn’t like to think about it, she was only glad to have her.

“And here… you know your husband is gone… so you are free to take lovers.”

Marie was torn between feeling insulted and giggling at his obvious discomfort with the idea. She peered into his eyes, trying to figure out the source of his discomfort.

She saw jealousy.

Galen… is jealous… of… of Phillip? Of one brief indiscretion in a moment of weakness and desperation?

She thought back to the night of the ball, how Galen had seen her with the man from The Castle. He hadn’t shown an iota of emotion then.

Then again, he seldom does. Only with the babies does he let his guard down.

“My Louis loved me, but it wasn’t a passionate love. He cared dearly for me and our children, and he wanted me to be happy. After I had produced an heir to the throne, I did have lovers. Louis knew. I think he might have been a little jealous, but only because he knew they were giving me something he himself could not. He staunchly defended me from my critics, even when the things those critics were saying were completely true.”

“You do not believe in the sanctity of marriage?”

Marie fell back against the pillow, exasperated, but patient. Galen had absolutely no idea of just how decadent was the French court before the Revolution.

“I wish with all my heart that my marriage could have been… different. But it was what it was. A political alliance. An affectionate union.” She paused, looking at his face and hoping for some hint of what was behind the facade. At least he was listening… really listening. That was a rare thing to find in a man, in her experience. “I spent my life being jealous of my friends with real marriages. Even those whose unions were politically arranged, like mine, sometimes found love.”

Wheels were turning in Galen’s head, and it drove her mad that she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

When he spoke again, his voice was so soft, she almost couldn’t hear. “What do you want, Marie? More lovers?”

She curled into herself. She wanted to be held, but knew that was too much to ask of him. “I’ve never been adept at making a good man love me. Lovers… lovers are much easier to come by.” She looked at her own hands, just to have an excuse not to look at him. “Perhaps lovers is all I will ever have.”

She closed her eyes, wishing that the tears would not come, but knowing she was powerless to stop them. When she felt his lips pressed to her forehead, she told herself it was only his way of comforting her, that it meant nothing.

When the blankets shifted, and he joined her in the bed, all sense of reason vanished. He brushed her hair away from her face and she opened her eyes. The face that was usually hard and unreadable had softened. He wasn’t quite smiling, but there was something in his eyes that wouldn’t let her look away.

“I don’t want to be just your lover, Marie.”

His hand snaked behind her head and his lips met hers. He bent to her instead of pulling her to him, and he kissed her softly. One slow, gentle kiss was followed by another, and her hands drifted over his shoulders and through his hair. She couldn’t think straight, but she knew instinctively that both her body and her heart were safe with this man.

She leaned her head back and he brushed kisses over her throat, patient and loving all the while. His hands pushed away the last of the blanket she’d been wrapped in, and he slowly began to explore her skin.

A jolt of pleasure shot through her as his mouth found her breast. She writhed, first curling towards him and then stretching to give him better access. Skin on skin, he paid tribute to every inch of her body, stroking her arms, kissing her belly, and caressing her soft curves.

Marie explored him as well. Galen had the body of a gladiator, a man used to frequent combat. His arms felt like steel under her small fingers. She pushed away from him just enough to allow her hands to seek lower. She found his erection waiting for her, and she smiled when he gasped at the feel of her fingers. She watched his face as she stroked him. She discovered he especially liked it when she ran her fingers along the prominent vein, and he tensed when she cupped his sack. He didn’t seem to realize he was slowly rolling onto his back, and she took advantage of his distraction. She straddled him, pressing his cock against his stomach as she covered it with her own folds. She stroked his chest, enjoying the sensations his erection was giving her before she even took him inside.

Marie stretched down to kiss him. It was a more heated, voracious kiss than the tender affection they’d begun, and she felt his erection spring skyward. Galen reached one hand down to hold himself in place as she sank onto him, enfolding him completely. She wobbled slightly, and he grasped her hands in his, intertwining their fingers. He held his arms steady, and she used him to adjust herself, taking a few strokes at a time to find what new sensations she could experience. His hips moved beneath her, undulating as she writhed.

She released his hands and braced herself with her hands on his chest. Galen leaned up slightly, shifting his weight to his elbows. Marie found his shoulders and Galen raised his hips, methodically stroking into her as she held onto him. She found herself falling up, climaxing before she even realized she was close. She collapsed against him and he enfolded her into his arms, somehow stroking and petting her without ever letting her go.

Marie melted into him, unaware of anything but his masculine form protecting and encircling her as well as penetrating and impaling. Soon, his hips started to move again, and she realized she was under him. He kissed her again, tenderly, and her legs wrapped around him instinctively. The bed became a cloud, and he was her sky. She was lost in the sensations of making love, of finding love that had been denied too long.

In the distance, she heard someone knocking, and she wondered who had found them. But she realized it was only the headboard banging against the wall as Galen pounded her into the mattress. She exploded again, becoming stars in his sky as the rapture encompassed her. She clung to him as he shuddered into her, moaning loudly with his release.

And she fell asleep as he gazed down at her, entwined in a way that promised he would never let her go.

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-lY

Galen scratched the donkey’s ears, thanking him for allowing them to load him up with a picnic for the girls. Xote was a rather fickle beast, and it took some persuading to convince him to do any work at all. Galen was usually the only one who could coax Xote to let the humans put the picnic baskets on his back.

Galen looked up at the clear blue sky, judging that rain was unlikely. Nyota was inside, waking the girls from their nap. Marie had gone in search of their most recent arrival. The bell had tolled an hour ago, and she hadn’t yet returned.

Xote snorted, and Galen took a step back. Suddenly the donkey bucked, then ran off in the direction of The Meadow.

“Stupid, uncooperative beast…” Galen muttered under his breath as he took off after him. Xote might be lazy, but he was also fast when he wanted to be.

Galen didn’t bother racing after the donkey. He’d have better luck catching him if he let the beast tire himself out first.

He expected Xote to slow down when he reached The Meadow, with all the yummy clover to eat. But instead of slowing down, the donkey was streaking through the grass, heading for The Woods on the other side.

Galen jogged after him, cursing the donkey all the way. But just as Xote reached the treeline, a woman’s scream pierced the air.

Marie!

Galen sprinted to The Woods, judging that the donkey was heading towards the screams. As Galen reached the treeline, he heard a scream again, off to the right. Xote crashed through the underbrush, straight ahead.

“Marie!” he yelled, leaping over fallen logs and crashing through brush in the direction of her scream.

I knew she needed a security detail, even this close to home…I said she needed someone to watch over her, but…

Galen caught a glimpse of something up ahead, lumbering through The Woods. It was vaguely human-shaped, but large, and moved strangely, like some kind of monster. He was rapidly catching up, but the creature reached a clear area or path and put on a burst of speed. Galen reached the path mere moments later, and caught a glimpse of Marie ahead. The monster was gaining on her as she attempted to run in her dainty slippers.

Galen leaped, tackling the thing from behind and crashing with it to the ground. It snarled in rage, and fought back with a strength far greater than Galen could have guessed. Galen’s mind flashed back to seeing his father fight a bear in the arena; the bear was far larger and stronger than any man, but Galen knew the creature was underfed and drugged, giving his father the advantage. His father had won great acclaim for that fight, and he carried the scars to show for it.

Whatever the thing was, it could hardly be called human. It had the eyes, nose, mouth and ears of a man, but every feature was grotesquely distorted. It snarled like a bear and tried to pin him to the ground, but Galen slipped from its grasp and drew his dagger. As the creature swiped at him, Galen swiped back, slicing completely through one claw and halfway through another. The beast shrieked in pain and redoubled its attack, flailing wildly as blood flowed freely from its wounds. Galen danced backwards, then in one swift motion darted into the monster’s embrace, burying the dagger in its gut and eviscerating it in just a few strokes.

The beast crashed to the ground, and Galen withdrew his dagger, only to use it again to slice the monster’s throat and ensure that it was truly dead.

He heard Marie scream again, from somewhere up the path. Leaving the body where it fell, he ran to her.

“Out of my way, you filthy beast!” Marie screamed. Xote was blocking the path, adamantly refusing to let her come back to the scene of the battle.

“Xote! Git!” Galen commanded, adding a whistle to get the donkey’s attention. He barely had time to drop his dagger as Marie flung herself at him. Before he knew what was happening, her lips were crushing his, then she abruptly pulled away, holding his face in her hands.

“Are you all right?” They both spoke at the same time. Marie laughed, but Galen stubbornly insisted on her reassurance.

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. Just terrified. But you…” she began wiping at his blood covered arms with her clean and dainty sleeve.

Galen’s hands refused to let go of her, but she didn’t seem to mind. He watched, unable to move as she scraped the blood off, looking for signs of injury.

She kissed me…

He couldn’t be sure whether she was just swept up in the moment, or whether there was something else behind it. Relief and gratitude. That must be it. He knew Marie’s opinion of him, and it didn’t make sense that she should… have feelings for him.

He couldn’t make himself let go. Some power beyond the magic of The Place possessed him. She was in his arms, willingly staying, and he did not want the moment to end.

“Did you kill it? Did it hurt you?”

“Yes. No. I mean… yes, it is dead, but no, I didn’t let it wound me.”

Finally he found the strength to let her go. He looked at her dirty, bloodied sleeves, then down at his own filthy self. “We need to get home. We need to make sure everyone else is all right…”

They walked back down the path the way they had come, Xote meandering slowly behind them. “I only heard The Bell toll once. I’ve never heard of an arrival being such a monster… I have no idea why he was sent here. It took me a long time to find him, but as soon as he saw me, he howled, and…”

Galen stopped short, and Marie stopped mid sentence. Not only was there no dead body, but what had been the barest trace of a path had somehow turned into a well-trod path wide enough for the two of them to easily walk side by side.

Xote shouldered past them, and continued walking.

“Something’s changed… can your pull tell you which way is home?”

“Well, I don’t usually need it to tell me how to get home. It just tells me when there’s something I should attend to…” Marie paused, looking around her. “But now that you mention it, the only “pull” I feel is that we should follow the donkey.”

Galen growled. Usually when he was in The Woods, he had his horse, Homer. Homer could always take him wherever in The Place he wanted to go, taking shortcuts through The Woods, taking advantage of their magical properties.

Galen took a few deep breaths. He suspected that all was well back at home, and that Jane Charlotte was simply having some fun with them.

“Well, our choices are to go forwards along the path, following the donkey, or we could go back the way we came, in which case we would certainly find ourselves either turned about, or somewhere we don’t want to be.”

“We could always go crashing through the trees…” Marie teased. She seemed remarkably composed for someone who had almost been killed by a huge monster.

Galen smiled, and Marie radiated back at him. It felt good, to be smiling with her. But it also felt terribly strange and too unfamiliar. Or perhaps “too familiar” was more accurate for their respective positions.

They didn’t make a verbal decision, but both of them turned to continue following the wide path in the direction Xote had gone. Soon enough they came to the end of the path, where they found a small door set into the hillside. Xote was waiting patiently, eating sugarbeets off a low table, as if they’d been put there just for him.

The door slipped open as Marie approached. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

In answer, strains of music began to play. Galen gently but firmly pulled her back, away from the door. She acquiesced readily, letting him examine the room before letting her enter.

It was a simple cottage, dominated by one large bed. It was piled with fluffy blankets, and sprinkled with rose petals.

Subtlety is not one of The Madwoman’s strong points.

A machine in one corner was producing music out of a large curved funnel. There was a black disk on top of the machine’s flat surface, and it was turning at a constant speed. A narrow arm hung over the black disk, scraping it.

There was a fireplace with logs ready to light. As Galen looked around for some means of doing so, an ember appeared under the logs and soon they were burning steadily.

He recognized the pump and basin from his own home in The Hamlet, and motioned to Marie that it seemed safe to come in.

“I believe Jane Charlotte is playing with us. Although what her purpose is, I can’t imagine.”

Marie looked around the small room as she helped Galen wash the blood off. Seeing how hopeless his shirt was, she directed him to take it off. “Off with that… it’s filthy.” She commanded, more like a nagging housewife than a queen.

Somewhat reluctantly, Galen pulled the shirt off, and took it outside. He quickly took the baskets off of Xote, who turned in a circle three times then sank to the ground like an oversized dog.

“Sit. Good boy,” said Galen after the fact. Xote snorted.

Marie was washing her own sleeves under the cool water. She motioned for him to come back, and she took a wet towel to his sweaty, bloodied chest.

His senses reeled at her touch. She went about cleaning him matter-of-factly, but it didn’t occur to him until she was done that he could have done it himself.

If I’d done it myself, I wouldn’t have to fight down the hardness between my legs… he thought regretfully.

Marie looked at her own soaking wet sleeves, and at Galen’s dirty, blood covered trousers. “Well…”

“Let’s see if there are any extra shirts in some cupboard,” Galen suggested. They both poked in every corner, but all they found were some utensils and an extra pair of slippers that fit Marie.

That says a lot… Jane provides slippers, but no clothing. Humph.

Galen caught Marie lost in thought, staring at his bare torso. When she realized he was watching her in return, she blushed and immediately began to babble.

“Well, I suggest we get as clean as possible, then eat the picnic cook packed for the girls. Who knows how long it will take for us to find The Hamlet again?”

They did just that, then followed the path back the way they came. Xote refused to follow.

After just a few yards, the path dead ended. There was a small, tidy privy there, but it was as if all that existed in The Woods was the tiny cottage built into the hillside, and the privy. The undergrowth was quite dense all around, much more dense that most of The Woods.

They walked back to the cottage.

Xote blinked innocently up at them, slobbering after taking a drink from a trough he hadn’t noticed before.

“Well, I don’t want to stay in these wet things, and you need to get out of those pants.” Marie declared. She went to the bed and began stripping blankets off. She managed to get three before the rest stubbornly remained stuck at the bottom. She humphed and handed him two, keeping one for herself.

“I’ll go wash at the trough.” Galen announced, and walked out the door.

He scanned The Woods as he undressed, but there was no sign of either man nor animal anywhere. He washed his clothes as best he could, then hung them up to dry. Wrapping himself in the blanket, he regarded his furry companion, wishing the animal had the ability to speak.

After some time, Marie peeked out the door, wrapped up in another blanket. “Aren’t you coming back in?”

Galen tried not to think about what she wasn’t wearing under the blanket. “I wasn’t sure if you were finished.”

Marie sighed, slightly exasperated. “Well, it’s getting dark. You should come inside now.”

Galen nodded, said goodnight to the donkey, and followed her in. He closed the door, then found a sturdy chair to wedge against it. There was a large window, but the latch seemed solid enough. It would have to do.

He slowly walked around the cottage, trying not to look at Marie. After he had been back and forth three times, she called out to him. “Galen, I’m sure it’s safe. Please, why don’t you come lie down? There’s plenty of room.”

“My lady, I wouldn’t presume to… I mean, I will be content to sleep in the chair…”

“The chair you wedged under the door handle?”

“…I mean, I can sleep on the floor.” It was indeed very dark outside. The fire continued to burn, the flames providing a subtle light to the small room.

Marie snorted. So did Xote outside the door. “That’s nonsense. Please, Galen, come to bed.” Her voice softened, and turned to a plea. “And please, don’t call me “My lady,” call me Marie.”

Galen turned to her. She was irresistible in the firelight, disheveled by her ordeal. Vulnerable.

He sat down on the edge, still wrapped in his blanket. Marie was still wrapped in hers, and she had also pulled some of the other bedclothes over her.

This is going to be the longest night of my life.

He lay back, on top of the covers, facing away from her. “Thank you, Marie. And goodnight.”

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-lI

Jane observed. As annoying as it was for everyone to have a mind of their own, it was… necessary.

She wandered too close to the window and experienced a sudden bout of vertigo.

Damn them… my window is never supposed to be so high!

She glanced out the window again, seeing only a pretty garden a half story below. She realized too late that the higher vantage point would have let her see The Hamlet, but it was gone now.

Oh well. I have other ways to see them.

She called for Phillip, then remembered that he was away. All the Phillips were. She called for a maid instead, a young woman who scurried to do her bidding.

She glanced out the window again, and a man with bushy eyebrows, mustache and beard smiled in at her. She smiled back, knowing he wasn’t really there. She found comfort in his presence anyway.

The maid brought what she’d asked for, then scurried away as quickly as she was dismissed.

She is the center of his universe… he orbits her, yet never comes near. Not since the ball.

Jane cursed Phillip for taking things too far. Galen’s jealousy was keeping him away, not bringing him closer.

And I let him go… I can no longer directly affect him.

Jane gazed out at the garden for a long time. Phillip was no longer there, but she didn’t mind being alone. She had to think, she had to figure out how to bring about that one final resolution before she let it all go.

Words began to flow from her fingers. The Bell tolled, far away.

Just a nudge. Just… enough. I hope.

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-lB

Marie exuded a calm she did not feel and a confidence she did not possess. Still, she knew how to present herself properly, to be…

A queen. Here I am not… yet I am something else. Something unnamed… can there be such a thing as an unnamed queen?

People were flocking to her. The two young men assigned to protect her stood close by, but did not interfere. She greeted each with the grace of nobility and the kindness of a woman who cared deeply for her people.

These are my people… I was neither born to it nor married to it, but these people look to me for… for something.

Moose and Nyota were mingling, being hosts, as were Clovis and Anne. Marie’s friends had hinted that perhaps she should attend the ball on Galen’s arm, but that idea just seemed… awkward.

Galen was an enigma. One moment, he would seem to care deeply for her, watching over and protecting her with a fervor that seemed beyond any self-imposed duty. But the next moment he would retreat to a professional distance, never allowing himself to remain in close proximity for more than a few minutes. He was always moving, always watching the horizon. He did his job exceptionally well, adapting to the leadership position as Marie’s entourage grew.

The ball was no exception. Marie’s eyes kept finding him, always in a different place. He watched her from a distance, but instead of making her feel safe and secure, his gaze sent shivers up her spine.

The shivers were particularly intense tonight. He was dressed in formal  grey pinstripes, in a style that seemed both timeless and out of time. It was appropriate for The Place. The suit was well fitted to his body, showing a trim waist and well muscled torso.

How long has it been?

Marie recalled the last time she’d been with a man. It was with some regret that she admitted it had been a lover, not her husband, but that was simply the way her relationship with Louis worked. She loved him, and he loved her, but it was more the way of two partners filling their ready-made roles. Their love was deep, but not sexual.

In spite of her fears and uncertainties, Marie found herself enjoying the ball immensely. It had all the fun and excitement of the grand events she’d been accustomed to as Queen of France, but there was an air of freedom that went with the knowledge that all the guests were from a wide variety of eras and social backgrounds.

Galen’s eyes were on her again. She knew it before she even turned to see him. His gaze was like fingers on her flesh. Between the dancing and the drinking and the excitement, she began to imagine what it would be like if he would just stay still long enough to actually stroke her flesh with his fingers, instead of raking her with his gaze.

She turned away, chatting with various people as she made her way towards him while her back was turned. That way, it was not at all obvious that she was seeking out his company. She could simply appear near him, and…

Drat!

She reached the wall where he’d been, but he was gone again. She saw him moving purposefully through the crowd, heading directly for a group of older women sitting and watching the dancers. Between the crush of bodies, Marie’s eyes found a familiar face among them.

The madwoman! What is she doing here? She doesn’t respond at all to my invitation, but then she appears anyway? Is that how things are done?

As the crowd passed between her and the circle of women, Marie lost sight of her. Apparently Galen had seen her as well, because he stopped while he was still a few yards away, and immediately began to scan the room. His eyes hit Marie, but remained for only a moment as he assessed that she was safe, and then he continued scanning, presumably for the madwoman. Then he moved off, still scanning the crowd.

“My lady, I beg of you, another dance?” Marie turned to see the strikingly dark features of a man she only knew as “Phillip.” He had danced with her twice already, each time beating away the other suitors as if his words were fists. They didn’t even try to compete when he was around.

Marie listened to the strains of music starting to play. “Why, yes, Phillip. I’d love to dance.”

She allowed herself to be carried off in his very capable embrace. Dancing with him felt almost like the pull that led her around The Hamlet, teasing her with where to go next. She followed his lead easily, as if he gave some undetectable instruction straight into her mind. It was intoxicating, being swept away by someone so strong and so masculine. Someone who so obviously desired her.

As they paused for a brief moment after swirling across the dance floor, she asked the question that had been on her mind for some time. “Phillip… you’re from The Castle, aren’t you?”

He smiled confidently, then held her tightly as he flung himself back into the churning mass of dancers. She squealed in spite of herself as she found herself spinning amidst the dancers, completely under her partner’s control. His breath tickled her neck in a way that made her want more.

The music ended, and he held her gaze as he slowly let her go. His smile seemed… overconfident, as if he knew exactly how he was making her feel. “Until our next dance, madame,” he said, bowed, and melted into the crowd.

Marie knew for certain he was from The Castle when she realized he was nowhere to be seen only moments after leaving her. It was some kind of magic, and he was playing with her.

She liked it.

Marie didn’t see Phillip or Galen for the next few hours, though she felt them watching her. The heat of the crush of bodies was getting to her, even though some kind of magic kept the room a comfortable temperature overall. The heat came from inside her, a pulsing need that refused to be satisfied by mere dancing.

She glanced back at her two bodyguards. They nodded politely, then went back to scanning the crowd around her.

Marie was hit with a sudden need to find Galen. She didn’t know if it was the mysterious pull, or something from deep in her own heart, but she had to find him. She had to make him understand… she had to let him know… she wasn’t just some figurehead who needed his protection. She was…

There.

She found him standing just inside one of the corridors that led to the other rooms. His stance was authoritative, and he seemed to be staring down a guest who was very drunk. Marie moved towards him, wanting to feel his steady presence. She needed a rock to cling to; one who was steady, unaffected by the magic of The Place.

The drunk took a swing at Galen, but he adroitly ducked under the blow and wrapped the man’s arm behind his back, hurrying him through a door and away from other guests.

“Marie… dance with me.” She felt Phillip’s overpowering presence and went to him, falling into him and allowing herself to be carried away. The music was strange to her. It pulsated rather than flowed, and all her mind could envision was the entwining of bodies and thrusting nakedness that had been a rare and wondrous part of her previous life. She felt Phillip’s breath on her neck again, and then his lips brushed her there, sending her reeling.

The music changed subtly, switching tune without ever coming to a close. “Come with me,” Phillip whispered, and she had no choice.

As he led her out of the throng, she saw Jane Charlotte again. The madwoman was talking to the Phillip who had arrived the day before their audience with Jane Charlotte.

What was it that she said about “Her Phillip?” Who is Phillip to her?

But as soon as they were out the door and in the cool night air Phillip pulled her hard against him, crushing her lips in a ravenous kiss. His hands found her curves beneath the silk of her gown, and she wished fervently she could be naked, right then and there, just to feel his skin on hers.

“Come… further…” he pleaded. Or ordered… she could no longer tell the difference. She floated along in his wake, being pulled physically by his strong hand enfolding hers.

They hurried across the patio and detoured through a garden, coming back to The Hall away from the heaviest crowds. He lifted her up and her legs wrapped around him, clinging and wanting desperately for him to do more.

She got her wish as he pressed her against a wall, holding her there with the press of his own body. His mouth devoured hers, his tongue delving again and again, stroking her into a frenzy. His capable hands found a way under her skirts, and she gasped as his fingers quickly and expertly removed every barrier until he was stroking her wet folds. The feeling as he penetrated her was almost overwhelming, a relief of a need that had been ever present for years, one which had been building to an unbearable level over the course of the night. She had no sense of time as wave after wave of pleasure washed over her, radiating out from what had once been a tight knot deep inside her, streaming out from every extremity.

Time stood still as the waves of pleasure melted away into satiated puddles. Her legs fell to the ground slowly, slipping down Phillip’s body as he gently eased her to the floor.

“Until our next dance, madame,” he whispered, kissing her neck one last time before leaving her.

When her eyes focused again, she saw Galen. He was watching Phillip leave.

Damn him for covering his expression… damn him for not ever showing one iota of feeling.

Galen’s eyes snapped to her. She held his gaze, brazenly daring him to say anything about her dishevelment.

He stared back at her, not saying a word. Neither his face nor his body betrayed any hint of emotion. Neither disapproval, nor arousal, nor any discernible feeling whatsoever.

Damn him. Damn his body.

Marie covered her own emotions, casually returning his gaze.

And damn my body for wanting him so.

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-l2

Gary Oldman and Jamie Bell in Prada. Great inspiration for Clovis and Galen.

Galen regarded himself in the tall mirror. Clovis’ voice cut through the quiet murmur of scurrying servants preparing for Marie’s Grand Ball. “It’s about time there was some kind of event, some sort of…” the older man made an odd sound, and Galen couldn’t tell if he was just clearing his throat, or somehow commenting on his life situation. “…organization. Cohesion to the community.”

The community was growing. The Hamlet, The City, The Town and a half dozen other unnamed places seemed to be coming together, looking to Marie and Nyota, somehow knowing that something big was on the horizon.

“Sir?”  A young officer appeared in the doorway, looking to Galen for instructions. Galen rattled off directions to his subordinate, then turned back to Clovis. Just as the community was growing, so was Marie’s entourage. Galen and Moose had stepped into the roles of ensuring the security of both Marie and Nyota.

Clovis stared at the mirror. Galen tried to imagine what the man must be contemplating. He knew Clovis had been some sort of nobility from Marie’s time. He knew that, from Marie’s perspective, Clovis and Anne had been beheaded in the beginning of the revolution.

He knew that, in this place, Clovis was… indeterminate. He was a husband and father, a businessman. But no longer nobility.

Galen liked the strange clothes. Surprisingly, he was able to move in them, even though they were fitted rather snugly. What he did not like was the fact that he was expected to appear at the ball and mingle with the guests. He much preferred to circle The Hall from a distance, and leave the close contact to Moose.

“I suppose we should head up there. Anne will be looking for me.” Clovis said. “Would you like to ride with us? Or will you get there on your own?”

“I’ll be riding Homer…”

Clovis laughed, interrupting Galen before he could say any more. “I suppose you like having a quick exit ready, eh? Just in case?”

Galen didn’t answer. He just gave a noncommittal grunt which, fortunately, was more than enough for the older man.

A stable-boy was on hand to take Homer as soon as Galen rode up. The Hall had appeared weeks ago in a field uphill from The Hamlet, presumably for the purpose of hosting a Grand Ball. Galen had thoroughly inspected The Hall both inside and out, and designed exactly the plan he wanted to ensure the security of guests, hosts, and the small army of workers who would make sure the Grand Ball was a success. He made a round of the building, speaking with each and every one of the men and women who worked under him. Guests began to arrive; early-comers who seemed to be afraid of missing out on anything.

Anne and Clovis were also making the rounds, talking with guests and generally being social. As the crowd grew, Nyota appeared on Moose’s arm. Galen stiffened a bit to see them together. It wasn’t that he was jealous that the two of them seemed to be developing a relationship of some kind, it was that Galen trusted Moose to ensure Marie’s safety. He didn’t like having to trust the underlings who were newly hired to watch over…

Her.

Marie entered the ballroom and there was a tangible wave of interest as heads turned to her. There was no official announcement, she simply entered, alone, exuding a confidence that Galen knew was mostly for show. She did not feel confident. She was scared to death of being alone.

But she did it anyway.

Marie began to move through the crowd, her royal smile shining on one and all. Galen was riveted. This was the queen the others talked about. This was the woman…

I can’t think of her as a woman.

Galen’s thoughts were interrupted by an artificial voice announcing that the dancing would soon begin. Majel stood on the small stage, her voice mysteriously amplified. Galen had been privy to the discussions regarding how to handle dancing at the ball, considering that people came from so many different backgrounds. Marie and her coterie had worked out something that worked, including selecting a few simple social dances that could be easily taught during the festivities.

He watched as a small group of hired dancers demonstrated the most basic of dances, and guests began to pair off, eager to join in. Marie was instantly surrounded by prospective partners. He tensed, tempted to get between her and the overly-familiar young (and older) men. He relaxed when Marie took Clovis’ hand for the first dance.

Galen’s attention was demanded on several occasions over the night. Once, a sheep decided to wander in for no apparent reason. There were a few drunks who needed to be escorted home. What disturbed him the most was the glimpses he caught of Jane Charlotte, sometimes as an older woman, sitting with the grande dames, sometimes as a younger woman, dancing with some handsome young man. There were other faces he recognized from The Castle, but whenever he tried to get close, they were gone.

Hopefully, they’re just playing, or spying, not here to cause trouble…

After one fruitless search late into the night, Galen realized it had been a while since he’d seen Marie. The Hall was a large place, and not only was there a ballroom, but several other rooms as well where people were gathering in smaller groups to play cards or converse away from the music.

Galen almost wished he had The Pull again. At least then he would magically know where Marie was.

After passing through several rooms without finding her, he asked Majel, who told him to look outside. There were several interconnected porches and gardens, with meandering paths leading out and back where a couple could easily have a private tryst. There were quite a few guests doing just that.

His ears found her before his eyes did. He didn’t want to believe the sounds he was hearing were coming from her, but it was unmistakable. He moved quietly, conscious of her right to privacy while forced on by his need to ensure that she was safe and well. He came upon them from about ten yards away, close enough to see her shapely calves drop slowly to the floor from where they had been… wrapped around the waist of a tall, well dressed man.

The man pulled away from Marie, leaving her slumped against the wall, a sleepy smile on her face. The man’s hands were busy fastening his pants when his eyes met Galen’s. The man showed him a self-satisfied smile before striding off in the opposite direction.

Galen’s eyes snapped back to Marie. She was watching him.

She didn’t move.

Her little smile remained, though it faded as he watched.

He had no idea whether he should say something…

She held his gaze, as if refusing to apologize for what she’d done.

And what has she done? She is free to take as many lovers as she wishes. What is it to me?

As Marie’s smile faded into a neutral expression, Galen suspected she had been waiting for him to say or do something. But it was too late. Although she’d held his gaze for long moments, she did not acknowledge him at all as she rearranged her clothes and turned to go back to her guests.

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-kR

“Phillip… what did she mean by “You’ll have to ask Phillip?”

After unconventionally arriving in The Meadow, the party had unceremoniously tramped back to The Trianon, dusting themselves off as they went.

Galen was not with them.

Phillip blushed. His manner was usually nervous, but he seemed more confused than ever.

“Forgive me Madame, but I believe there is more to… This Place… than a collection of people out of time.”

“How so?” Nyota answered. It seemed odd that Phillip had addressed her as “Madame,” not Marie.

“Well… I have been comparing histories with as many people as I could. Of course, I’ve just been here for a couple of days, but there seem to be discrepencies…”

“Discrepencies?” asked Marie.

“For example. King Louis the fifteenth of France was beheaded during the French revolution. His grandson, who would have been King Louis the sixteenth, and his grandson’s wife Marie Antionette…” Phillip paused as the import of what he was explaining began to sink in to all around him. “Well, Louis and Marie spent their lives in exile, mostly in Austria. Louis Auguste was never crowned, but he and Marie lived well into their sixties.”

“So, you are from a place where history took a different path.” Nyota nodded solemnly. It was just one more strange fact to include in the puzzle.

“And… I haven’t quite figured this out yet.” Phillip was looking directly at her, and Nyota couldn’t figure out why. He seemed intimidated somehow. “But I take it that you… Nyota… you have no… er… political situation?”

“Political situation? No. My husband, Adjate, he was the one with political aspirations. But he died before Lark was born.”

“I grew up in South Africa. Adjate and Nyota Mbedze ruled the Democratic State of Rwanda for sixteen years. Adjate was elected for four consecutive terms. His wife, Nyota, although she had no official power, was well known and respected as being a key in the transition from a state of chaos to a state with one of the most stable and productive governments in all of Africa.” Phillip let out a deep breath, letting his body relax. He reached out his hand, grasping Nyota’s almost desperately. “Madame… it is a distinct pleasure to meet one of the most admired women in history… even if your own history did not follow the same lines.”

Nyota looked at the little man, and laughed out loud. “Well, why not?” She laughed again, and the stunned entourage slowly began to feel the infection of humor. “How wonderfully fantastic! But who is to say it would not have happened that way? If Adjate had…” she paused, deciding not to think about it. It was past. She had never told Marie about the simple grave marker she had found for her husband in the Hamlet’s churchyard. Nyota hardly wanted to acknowledge it herself. She felt that Marie was being given a life without Louis because it had been an arranged marriage. The young King and Queen may have been affectionate with each other, but Marie’s descriptions of her late husband sounded more like he was just a good friend, not a real lover. Nyota and Adjate had chosen each other…

Or did we? Our families were close long before either of us was born. We were always together. Everyone just assumed we would marry…

The clattering of hooves in the yard outside interrupted her train of thought. Galen burst in, his eyes immediately going to Marie. He paused for a moment, then said “Are… is everyone all right?”

He means “Are you all right, Marie?”

Nyota smiled at the thought. A passionate young man like Galen was just what Marie needed, if only her friend could see it.

Moose took over the conversation. “Yes, we’re all fine…” the two men continued talking, Moose explaining to Galen how they’d suddenly been transported to The Meadow, and Galen relating how he had found himself suddenly alone in the room, with neither the entourage nor Jane Charlotte.

The clattering of more hooves outside interrupted the lull as the men finished comparing notes. A maid scurried in, approaching Marie. “My lady, there is a messenger here to see you.”

“Show him in.” Marie nodded. Nyota was glad that Marie seemed to have retained much of her royal confidence, even when dumped rather rudely into The Meadow. Of course, Marie had held onto Nyota’s arm rather tightly all the way back…

Not just one, but a series of uniformed men strode in. Their dress was fanciful, as if from a children’s storybook about magical castles. The first one strode to Marie and bowed low, handing her an envelope. Each of the others bore armsfull of flowers, all beautiful and fresh and fragrant. A constant stream of delivery-messengers continued to bring in more and more blooms as Marie carefully read the message.

“It is from The Madwoman…” Marie announced, still reading. “She apologizes for the loss of her temper…” the French Queen’s eyebrows knit together, as if confused. “And she had issued a royal command…” Marie addressed her entourage as a whole. “I am to throw a ball.”

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-kD