|"Well, Mella," the girl said, "M'name's
Satchelle, and |
I'm much obliged to make yer acquaintance."
"Good day t'ye!" a cheery voice called as she entered.
"Good day," Melanie returned, scanning the shelves and crates for the items she needed.
The girl to whom the cheery voice belonged, a happy, round-faced redhead, came out from the corner where she had been restocking the shelves.
"D'ye have aught to trade?" she asked Melanie.
Melanie shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that—"
The girl waved away her words kindly. "And a fine givin' 'ouse this'd be if we didn't give things fer free! Daen't ya fret about it; take what ye likes!" The girl gestured generously around the shop. She then turned back to Melanie and peered at the girl's face. "Ehh, just when Ah thinks Ah knows me patrons, a new face comes trapsin' in the door. What's yer name, lass?"
Melanie finally found what she was looking for: a hooded cape. As she fastened it around her neck, she began to reply, "Mela—" she stopped mid-answer, deciding suddenly to keep her identity a secret, at least for the present time.
"Well, Mella," the girl said, "M'name's Satchelle, and I'm much obliged to make yer acquaintance."
Melanie smiled at this talkative girl. "Tell me, Satchelle," she said, "Where are you from? I know by your voice that you are not Telmarine."
Satchelle laughed. "Aich, no! Very nearly, but not a full Telmarine. Ma grandfather immigrated from the Nairth near fifty years ago, and we've lived here ever since."
"How long have you owned this giving-house?" Melanie asked, for one of her ideas had been for the proprietors of the giving houses to also own them.
"This house was given to my grandfather by auld Laird Steward, Sir Taurin himsel'!" Satchelle announced proudly.
She smiled ruefully, “…Ye must know, Mella, I am enjoying mysel' the likes as I've never, talkin' wi' ye, and ye not makin' fun or getting' angry over ma queer way of puttin' things!" She looked at Melanie with an expression so starved for acceptance that Melanie's heart immediately went out to her.
"Chat away then, dear girl!" Melanie cried. "Tell me about Naslan. What is he?"
Satchelle's face glowed. "Why, he's the Lion in the Temple!"
Melanie didn't have to work very hard to appear convincingly stunned at this reply. "You have a real lion in your temple?" she gasped.
Satchelle laughed, "Nay, not a real one! Naslan is a great big bronze statue, wi' a golden 'ead! Sae beautiful ta look at, ye cannae believe!"
Melanie felt very confused, and showed it. "So, Naslan is a bronze statue?"
"Aye, lass, that he is!"
The warmth of this reply made Melanie even more discombobulated. "But, earlier you said to Brion that you wished Naslan to give speed to his limbs. How can a statue do this?"
"Aich, that I canna answer, miss. I daen't understand much the ways of the Temple-people. 'Tis just something we say, y'know, 'Naslan grant us’ one thing or another, 'Naslan preserve us.' I daen't rightly know what it means, but I say it all the same."
The young lady happened to cast an eye over her shoulder. "Ah, and here cooms Brion the Fleet right now!"
The pound of running feet and the sound of panting breath, and Brion caught up with the two ladies.
"I wist ye've been pinin' fer me all the whilst ye didn't have me, dearest sister of sisters!" he told Satchelle cheekily.
She mussed his hair, "Nay, ye little beggar's-brat! I was just tellin' Mella here that we ought to stop an' thank the Naslan ye warn't 'round to torment us with your high winds!"
Yet as she said this, her pretty blue eyes shone with love.
Satchelle and Brion glanced at the road ahead, and sobered instantly. Both siblings moved to either side of Melanie and took her arms, protectively.
Melanie gazed up at the sight that elicited such a reaction from her new friends.
"What is this place?" she gasped.
[Excerpt from Chapter 3]
Satchelle sniffed at these heart-wrenching sights. "'Natural deterioration' they call it," she remarked wryly. "Them's just fancy words for 'not my problem'!" She turned to Melanie. "This be the Outskirts, Mella. You'll be wantin' to stay near Brion 'n' I. They are no' a very kind people in these parts. We'll see you safe through here. Oy! Leave off, now!"
This last she spoke to a particularly pathetic heap of garbage that was not garbage itself, but a young boy dressed in garbage! Satchelle reached an experienced hand around the cowering Melanie, and batted the boy's grasping, grimy paws.
Satchelle's shouts drew the Outskirters like cockroaches out of their holes and into the street.
"Oy, there'sa purty-one!"
"Jest see 'er cringe!"
"Aye! Don't ya wanta curl inter a ball, wench?"
"Let's rush 'er!"
So saying, the whole crowd rushed upon the wide-eyed, horrified girl. Melanie froze in terror.
"Now for it, Brion!" Satchelle threw here arm around Melanie on one side, and Brion did the same on the other side. With their guest thus sandwiched between them, the siblings made their way out of the pressing throng.
Just when Melanie was beginning to fret that they would never make it through, Satchelle and Brion released her onto a cobblestone street.
"There y'are, Miss Mella! Safe 'n' sound, and not a pretty hair 'armed!"
Melanie expressed her thanks just as Brion cried, "Look out!" and pushed the two girls to the side of the road as a large, heavy wagon thundered on the narrow street they had just navigated.
Melanie glanced back anxiously. What had become of all those people in the street?
To her horror, she saw that, though many of them had escaped harm, there were a few poor souls not so lucky against the heartless wagon as their comrades. These unfortunates now received help from others, but Melanie saw one form—a girl—who lay perfectly still in the filthy lane. It did not occur to Melanie why this child remained in the road until a woman—the girl's mother—ran screaming to her pathetic figure. "Oh! My child! Oh my darling! My baby!"
With such cries, the distraught woman knelt in the putrescence next to her daughter and lifted the pale, limp body onto her lap. Rocking back and forth, the mother wailed, "Why? Have we suffered enough? My baby! My baby!"
The intense, communal camaraderie in the Outskirts displayed itself in the way its inhabitants immediately gathered around the woman and her dead child, comforting her and adding their cries to hers. Melanie stood rooted to the spot in horror and astonishment. Here was support and kinship she had never seen even in the well-ordered community of New Telmar. She had never even factored it into her social reform plans. Yet as she watched the "garbage-dwellers" come together in a time of loss, a time of need, she realized the inestimable value of compassion.
She was so struck by this concept that Satchelle fairly had to pull her away down the street and into the Square.
Once she set foot in the town square, Melanie soon forgot the thought-provoking sight in the street of the Outskirts. Verily, she couldn't even hear their howling wails above the cacophony filling her ears.
If the Outskirts had convinced her she was in a later year, the Square seemed to display the opposite. Where Melanie had left only one merchant guild, under heavy (she thought) restriction, here now before her was a whole Square-full of the odious breed, loudly hawking their wares with more abandon than she had ever seen even on her first visit to the City. The whole Square was awash with color, clamor, and so many scents to confuse every physical faculty! Melanie clung tightly to Brion and Satchelle as the stalwart young lady completely ignored the myriad jewels, clothes, foods, and spices thrust at her in her determination to reach her destination: the Temple.
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