|"What are your intentions here, sir?" she asked.|
The next morning, the sun rose to reveal a second clan—in the middle of the midnight revelry so common among the uncouth merchants—dead around their tables, some even with food and drink still clutched in their stiff, cold hands.
Once again, Melanie stood at her bedroom window, asked, "Aslan, do you walk tonight?" and heard him reply, "I walk."
That night, a third clan was driven out of town by unseen visions. Village gossip reported hearing strange wailings coming from the clan about vengeful farmers plowing them like weeds, and weavers unraveling the tents, to destroy them.
Melanie received these reports from various servants. She smiled each time. Three gone, four to go, she thought. At this rate, we could reopen the marketplace by next week!
True to pattern, over the next two days, as Melanie sought Aslan in the night, two clans departed, badly frightened. The second night, a terrible cry went up among the tribe, something nearly unintelligible about a "great animal" that terrified them all. Melanie stuck the bell next to her throne. A servant appeared.
"Tell Pareshin we may be able to reopen the market by the weekend."
The servant grinned. He anticipated a celebratory free day in the marketplace to satisfy his desires. But ... he worried that there would be no merchants left once the marketplace reopened.
The messenger forgot his worries as he entered the tent where Captain Pareshin and his guards slept between rotations. The captain looked exhausted. The servant was glad to give him good news. "Her Ladyship says that we may be able to reopen the marketplace by the weekend."
Captain Pareshin nodded. Somehow, this young foreigner had managed to accomplish in her first week what the Lords of Nast had spent generations attempting.
"It is good," he replied heavily. "My men are wasted, even with the rotations. There are too many alleys and not enough men. But something seems to happen every night. We will wait for the end of the week, in two days."
The servant left the tent, glancing over his shoulder just in time to see one solder relieve another. Neither appeared very alert. Poor souls! The way the rotation had to be set, each soldier only had a few hours to sleep before he needed to relieve a compatriot, if he had slept at all. The servant was glad their suffering would end soon.
That night . . . nothing happened. Two merchant clans still remained.
Melanie wondered at this, but did not fret over it. She considered herself too busy with plans of reforming Nast. […] Such was her concentration on these plans and memories that, for the first time in a week, Melanie forgot to ask Aslan if he would walk. Still, she waited with growing expectation for him to act.
But no dramatic rousting occurred. The next day came and went but the two groups remained, laughing and carousing as if they had outwitted the curses and spirits that had driven away the others.
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[Excerpt from Chapter 7]
Melanie, watching from her window, heard all and leaned back, satisfied. Someone behind her cleared his throat. She turned to behold a pageboy. "Yes, what is it?" she asked.
"Please, Milady, there is a guild just come, and their leader seeks an audience with Your Ladyship."
Intrigued, Melanie replied, "Take me to them." She followed the young boy down to the courtyard, where stood the sorriest-looking guild she had yet seen.
Their hair was unkempt, the people and animals painfully thin, and one of the many-times-broken-and-ill-repaired wagons smelt awfully of rotten foods. One of the men, a gaunt, spectral figure whose clothes—once undoubtedly fine silks and material as would befit a merchant—hung in dirty tatters from his haggard frame, stood away from the rest and knelt before Melanie.
"Hail thou, Lady of Nast!" he said in a weary voice, as one physically spent, "May your province flourish under your rule!"
Melanie blushed at the praise, yet looked squarely into the man's sunken, glassy eyes. "What are your intentions here, sir?" she asked.
The man stood, but kept a humble, respectful posture. "If it please your Ladyship, I am but a merchant, Galor by name, who desires for the present nothing more than to rest after the long journey we have made, perhaps restock our supply in the market over a few days, after which we—with your Ladyship's permission—would do what we could to contribute to the economy, and conduct business out of only a small corner."
An alarm went off in Melanie's mind at the words conduct business. "I have just issued a formal proclamation and closed the marketplace. I intend to make an end to all you merchants coming in, buying at a pittance, and selling at exorbitant rates, effectually robbing from already-poor citizens. I am afraid you have come too late."
Galor's face fell so low, Melanie wondered if he would collapse in the dirt at her feet. "Oh, your Ladyship! Please do not send us away! We come from afar, in Ettinsmoor, and we have traveled through dangerous lands in Narnia and Archenland to reach this land, with only the intentions of enriching the commerce. As you can see, we have allowed our health, our food, and our clothes to spoil, but we have taken great pains to preserve our wares for the use of your people! If you send us away, oh merciful Lady, I fear we will not survive the return expedition." His tone was pleading, pathetic, and sincere. Melanie even thought she saw tears in his eyes. She did not doubt his word, yet she knew she must remain firm, in case Aslan should return and find her disobeying orders!
She replied to Galor, "Very well, then; I will see to it that my servants give you fresh food and clothing, and you may sojourn a few days in one of the apartments recently vacated by the previous merchants. During this time I will consider your request. Once you and your clan are rested and satisfied, you may come before me, and we will discuss the matter further."
Galor smiled gratefully. "Oh thank you, Milady! How generous you are!" he gestured back to the company with him, "Hail!" he cried, bowing low. "Hail!" they echoed, following his lead. The girl hid the blush of her embarrassment by merely nodding and retiring into the castle.
"Milady," Pareshin called. She faced him. "You handled that very well, in my opinion, ma'am." He nodded respectfully before heading to the infirmary to have his wounds tended.
Melanie sighed. It wasn't handled! All she'd done was stall for more time, with no idea what on earth she would do when Galor and his clan were restored, and not even the slightest hint of Aslan's return. Melanie never bothered asking if he'd walk any more. She wondered if he intended to return at all.