|"...the small box nearly overflowed with gold and jewels of every color..."|
[Excerpt from Chapter 8]
The streets of the City were crooked and narrow, and most of the buildings looked so alike that strangers to it often lost themselves in the winding alleys. For one supposedly from the wide plains of Ettinsmoor, Galor seemed rather adept at finding his way through the lanes and roads. They were soon settled comfortably throughout the building. Servants from Lady Melanie brought at least two wagons' worth of clean food and raiment, and the apartment was situated conveniently near a well. With many praises and blessings for Her Ladyship, Galor accepted the gifts and saw the servants away from the building. Once they were out of sight, he instructed one of his men to draw a pail of water for him, and, in the privacy of his own apartment, began to wash.
It must have been a sight to see not only the dirt come off with the water, but a bit more scrubbing took off the tired haggardness as well! Galor laughed at his reflection when he finished. It looked as if he had removed ten years of his life and darkened his skin, all with a common sponge! His comrades washed as well, and took care afterwards not to show their faces outside. A completely different group than the one Melanie showed compassion on now met in the apartments she had given them that evening.
"So, Brother Galor, do we prepare to set up tomorrow?"
Galor smiled and shook his head. "I know how eager you all are. We are men of Eveston, the grand jewel of Telmar! It was much too easy to slip out of the city in the dead of night, while the spirit drove our comrades out by force. It was simple to find a field invisible from the castle, rend our own clothes, distress our wagons, and leave our food out to rot while we painted our faces to appear destitute. Lady Melanie is a soft, compassionate young girl, but she is also wise. How will it appear if we—a group of starving men and women—are suddenly hale overnight? No, Brother Finno; we will bide our time, partaking of Her Ladyship's hospitality, for three days. Meanwhile, I want every one of you wooing the villagers: do services for them, pay them compliments, and the like. If I make my guess aright, Lady Melanie will want to know what we are like while she is considering our request. If the report is favorable, we may be able to sway her."
"If you have been observing us, you know how we have treated your people, and how we have taken pains to associate among them, and not seclude ourselves." He paused for effect. "Incidentally, it was only the other day that I heard something truly amazing concerning your Ladyship; so amazing, that we can only assume it is gossip unless you can enlighten us as to the truth."
His eyes were so clever and teasing, that Melanie could not help returning with a merry grin, "Tell me what you have heard and I shall do my utmost to ascertain whether they are true."
Galor shrugged nonchalantly, "Oh, it wasn't anything very serious at all. They say you were the one who called out the Spirit that drove all the other merchants away; is this true?"
Melanie's smile dropped as she regained her decorum. "To an extent, Galor; while it is true I know this Spirit, I am a servant of his, and not his master."
"Then perhaps this Spirit would permit you to let us stay if we offered gifts." The merchant's mysterious expression piqued Melanie's curiosity.
"Gifts?" she echoed.
Galor nodded and produced a small chest he had prepared for exactly this moment. Sliding on silk gloves, he unlocked the small, carved chest and pried back the lid.
Melanie gasped at what she saw: the small box nearly overflowed with gold and jewels of every color that glowed so brightly with their own light that all the fine decorations of the room seemed dark and pale in comparison.
"These are our finest treasures," Galor whispered suavely, "handed down from the first generation of our guild." He picked up a ruby and let it shimmer in his palm before placing it back atop the other treasures. It struck the gold coin with an almost musical sound. "Would not your Spirit accept them as tribute and allow us to stay?"
Melanie swallowed as the charm of the riches dimmed slightly. "I'm not sure . . ." she began, but Galor closed the chest of treasure with a most humble, pitiful expression.
"Your Ladyship, we are fully prepared to submit to any requirement or restriction you deem appropriate. Only permit us to do business here."
[Excerpt from Chapter 9]
Something within Melanie sank when she heard Aslan's deep, soul-piercing voice. She did not lift her head.
His tone grew more insistent, and with a guilty heart Melanie sat up, but still did not meet those great, noble eyes.
"Child, what have you done?" He asked the question very innocently, but Melanie couldn't help feeling that he knew all about it. Or, perhaps he didn't? If he only knew the circumstances, and not the logic behind them, perhaps Melanie could explain. After all, her actions hadn't been wrong . . . entirely.
Melanie finally raised her head, but Aslan no longer stood before her. Soundlessly, the great Lion had crossed the room and now stood at the window overlooking the Square. Melanie knew he could see the merchants doing their business, the business she had permitted, when he had expressly told her to let him divest the city of them. Guiltily, she watched him for any sign of disapproval, but Aslan remained neutral, merely standing, watching, his tail swaying back and forth.
"What have you done, Child?" Aslan finally broke that awful silence.
"I—" Melanie's voice cracked, and she realized with surprise that her mouth suddenly felt very dry. She swallowed, and her explanation came out a bit faster than she wanted it to, "I tried to do the right thing, Aslan, truly! I thought if I put a lot of restraints on them it would discourage them, maybe influence them to leave . . ."
"Yet they professed such admiration for you that you listened to your pride instead of to me, and promised them protection. Come here, Child."
Melanie attempted to regain Aslan's good graces by bringing the treasure-chest with her when she joined him at the window. "But see," she tried again, "I am not the only one they desired to honor. Here, they entrusted this treasure for me to give you." She started to open the box, but Aslan suddenly whirled upon her and snarled so fiercely and with such a terrible expression that she very quickly clapped it shut again.
"Melanie," he reprimanded her sternly, "you have fallen double-victim to your own pride, first in words, then in riches. Do I desire jewels and gold? Entire worlds are at my disposal, countries to do with as I please, what need do I have for tribute? Child, the sweetest treasure to me is a meek and humble heart!"
Tears itched at Melanie's eyes. "I'm sorry, Aslan," she said hoarsely, "I . . . I should have waited. I was wrong; Please forgive me."
Aslan's face relaxed, no longer so terrifying. "You are forgiven, Child, but there will be consequences for your decisions. By that chest you hold in your hands, evil will come to the world of Narnia."
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