|"Mag, an Outskirts girl...."|
Melanie met Martan's sincere face with a serious one.
"There are the Outskirts, Milord," she said in a low voice.
Martan's brow furrowed in confusion, "The Outskirts? What about them?"
Melanie was shocked, "Has Your Lordship ever seen them?"
"No; Father never spoke of them, and whenever I needed to leave the City (which was not often), it was always in a closed carriage. Frankly, I don't see why they should concern me, if they existed during Father's time and he never did anything for them!"
"But they are under your rule, are they not?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so, but—"
Melanie silenced him by taking his hand. "Then I think it is time you took stock of your jurisdiction, Lord Martan."
Martan's mask of composure melted at the stench wafting from the area, and he gawked askance at the inhabitants of these rampantly dilapidated holes in the walls. He reluctantly reminded himself that these—creatures—were just as much "his people" as the more affluent citizens to which he had become accustomed.
As the driver threaded his way down side streets and back toward the castle, Melanie looked to Martan. The young man was deeply impacted by what he saw.
"Those," he croaked, his voice so heavy with emotion that it was barely a whisper, "those are my people . . ."
"They are, Milord," Melanie replied gravely.
"But why . . . how is it that the Outskirts have fallen into such degradation? Why do those people not choose to take better care of themselves?"
"Because you give them no reason to," Melanie said suddenly.
Martan cast an arrogant glance in her direction. "I? You are blaming me for that? I had nothing to do with it!"
"Tell me, Lord Martan, how did you merit your position? What did you do to earn that lordship?"
"Well, nothing; I came to it by birth-right."
"If you came to it by birth-right then you are not required to do anything to maintain it, because it is naturally yours, correct?"
"Yes; Melanie, I wish you would tell me—"
"In a moment, Milord. If you came into the position by birth, and are not required to do anything beyond that which pleases you, why then do you not?"
"Melanie, we agreed to follow Aslan's will, to glorify him in our rule."
"Why is it your desire to please Aslan?"
Martan, thoroughly frustrated, sighed, "It is out of gratitude to his gifts to me and his love and forgiveness! Now will you explain yourself, instead of interrogating me with strange questions?"
Melanie smiled, "Yes: you asked a while earlier why the Outskirters have never bettered their position, and I told you they had no reason to do so. Consider: you, like your father and your grandfather and every other Lord of Nast, have ruled for yourself, and done things for your own benefit." She looked out the window. "The Outskirters know nothing of Aslan's love, nor how he can change a life and make things new. They know of no power in the world that can ever change them, nor people's perception of them."
Something in Melanie's words pierced deep into Martan's heart. "They must be told!" he said.
Melanie nodded, "Yes, but how would it be if they were shown an example of Aslan's love, as well as told?"
Martan whirled away from the window, "Milady, you have given me an idea! Page!"
A pageboy appeared at his Lord's call.
"Gather me the delegations, as well as the craftsmen and women of the town. Tell them to assemble in the square, as I have an important announcement to make!"
"What are you going to do, Martan?" Melanie asked.
"I am going to aid the Outskirts, myself if I have to! They will see Aslan's love!" he grabbed Melanie's hand, his eyes alight, "Melanie, we will rebuild the Outskirts!"
Mag, an Outskirts girl, pulled the filthy rag she used for a shawl closer around her. The biting wind still blew upon her bones, as if she had nothing on her skeletal frame (which was nearly true). She picked her way between garbage piles to the hovel she shared with her aunt.
A steady scraping noise would have hardly attracted her attention, if Mag hadn't caught sight of the person making it: a farmer's wife. She was (Mag thought) richly adorned in a long, flannel dress and a woolen shawl, thick and soft. To the wonderment of the bare-footed, wide-eyed girl, this angelic, queenly woman was actually sweeping the streets of the Outskirts!
Mag stood and watched as the good woman—one who usually passed through these streets without a second glance—swept all the much and filth into wheel-barrow pushed by none other than her husband. The afternoon sun drove away the morning mists as the farmer's wife looked straight at Mag and smiled! Mag hesitated and tried to shrink back into the hovel, but the farmer's wife came near her, still smiling. The fearful girl saw more movement, and saw that the streets were fairly crawling with farmers and townsfolk; what were they doing? Why were they here? Mag had never done anything wrong . . . she hoped.
The farmer's wife drew her hands up; Mag was sure this lady would strike her, but no! Instead, the beautiful farmer's wife undid the gorgeous brooch that fastened her thick shawl, and gently pulled the shawl around Mag's own thin shoulders! The girl gasped as warmth such as she had never known seeped all the way through her much faster than the cold ever had.
"Mag?" Her aunt's creaky voice interrupted the wondrous moment from within the hovel, "What are ye doin', chile?"
The farmer's wife peered into the door and asked Mag, "Is it your mother?"
Mag could not speak, for fear the dream would be over, and the farmer's wife and her shawl would disappear into the mists; she only shook her head.
"May I go in to her?"
Mag was startled. No one, whether from the town or the outlying farms, ever went into an Outskirts home!
"Mag! Who's thar wi' ye?" Mag's aunt demanded.
The farmer's wife still waited for an answer from Mag. The little girl, emboldened by the warmth encompassing her, nodded again and led the miracle woman into the place she called home.
The farmer's wife surveyed in pity the small room that was home for the little girl and her glassy-eyed, invalid aunt. The only difference between inside the hovel and outside it was the four walls around them and the roof over their heads. The garbage, the stench; it was all the same.
Mag smiled obliviously as she climbed onto her aunt's lap and gave her the shawl the same way the farmer's wife had.
"Lawd a' mercy!" Mag's aunt gasped when she felt the fine wool about her shoulders. "Whar did ye git that?"
The farmer's wife smiled, "I bring you greetings from Aslan."
Something in that name thrilled little Mag and emboldened her to speak.
"Please," she said in her delicate little voice, "who is Aslan?"
By the time Telmar approached winter, every citizen in Nast had a secure place to live. Not an ounce of edible produce remained above ground, but the unripe was pulled with the ripe, to mature safely underground where the cold would not spoil them. The wool had long since been made into many warm blankets, or yarn and knit onto many warm clothes to share.
Melanie, from the highest window in the castle, gazed anxiously at the dark, menacing clouds building just beyond the mountain passes that marked the edges of Venna to the north, and Puriva to the south. She knew Nast was protected for the most part, on account of its location within a small, flat, low, bowl-like valley between these two provinces.
Still, by the looks of the black clouds amassing on the horizon, Melanie wondered how much protection even those mountains would afford against a blizzard.
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