[Excerpt from Chapter 8]
Melanie watched as the produce so carefully tended by Marven and other farmers like him were submitted to the moneychangers for a handful of metal tokens only half their worth. Five yards of the thick, close-knit woolen cloth suitable for the cold Nastian winter changed hands for only three yards of thin, gaudy material assured as "the latest fashion." The potter could not clothe his child, and small wonder! His carefully crafted, practical pots had not the aesthetic appeal of the brightly colored, overly ornamented vases of imitation plaster.
Marven paid most of his tokens for his new scythe-blade. Melanie followed him as he took the remainder to a small office marked Land Shares.
A wizened, crafty, oily-skinned man who smelt heavily sat at a desk in the dark room. He peered at Marven and adjusted his velvet cap before reaching across the desk for the monies Marven laid before him. The long sleeves of his ornate robe flared about his scrawny wrists as he first counted out the money and then opened a small box full of receipts. He pulled one out and looked long at it, his red tongue snaking out to lick his lips as he glanced from Marven, to the money, to the paper, and back to Marven. Finally, he set down the paper and made a few marks.
"Very well, farmer," he said in a soft, greedy voice, "your debt is nearly paid. Perhaps by next market-day you will have enough to make the last payment."
Marven first paled, then flushed as his beard bristled, a sure sign he was angry. "Now see here, Shiloq!" he struggled to keep his voice even, "I have been paying this debt all the six years since you first loaned me the money to purchase it! Surely by now I've paid what I owe three times over!"
Shiloq smiled wickedly. "Oh, but I have the amount written here." He tapped the paper, knowing full well that it was not possible for Marven to understand the writing. Melanie, however, read the figures between the greedy man's fingers.
PAID TO FARMER FOR ONE ACRE GOOD LAND—§300
Paid - §60
Paid - §130
Paid - §78
Paid - §56
Paid - §106
Paid - §40
Paid - §50
Paid - §60
Paid - §50
She made the calculations in her head. Before she realized it, she spoke aloud, "According to your records, sir, this farmer has paid more than twice what he owes."
Shiloq's mouth twisted and his eyes bulged. "An impertinent chit you have there, farmer!" he spat.
Marven's hand slammed on the desk as he reclaimed the money he no longer owed from the swindler. "Aye!" he shot back, "but she's smart as well, so I'll not reprimand her!" He left with his money.
Without a word he dragged Melanie through the crowd until they reached the bookseller's wagon. "Pick one," he told her. Remembering Taurin's school, Melanie selected a simple primer. Marven did not ask the price but paid the bookseller every coin in his hand.
[Excerpt from Chapter 9]
Susan, over dinner that evening, vainly attempted joviality. She made small talk with Benton and laughed as if she hadn't a care in the world… They walked to a nearby park. As they circumnavigated the park and returned to Benton's car, Susan found herself telling Benton all about Melanie, and New Telmar, and Ed and Lucy "going to Narnia," and her struggles with her doubts. "What is more, I feel trapped whenever something of that nature surfaces because it reminds me how truly uncertain I am of my beliefs."
Benton appeared deep in thought as he helped Susan into the car. He slid in next to her behind the steering wheel and she looked away, cheeks burning with shame.
"Susan, look at me."
"I need to tell you something. Since I first met you, I confess you have had a profound impact on me. You captured my admiration like no other girl could. You were open, honest, friendly, very smart . . . " His voice dropped so low, Susan had to lean forward to hear him. He reached out and stroked her hair, " . . . and very beautiful. I care about you."
Susan closed her eyes, merely listening to Benton's voice. His face was so close, she could feel his breath as he continued, "I love . . ."
The instant his lips brushed hers, Susan saw behind her eyelids the face of her first kiss—
"Oh!" she cried, pulling away. Benton caught her hand.
"It is because I care for you that I give you this advice: forget Narnia! It has nothing to do with real life, I assure you. It may have been entertaining while you were younger, but you are not a little girl anymore, Susan! It's time to move on." Benton shifted in his seat to be able to look Susan in the eye.
"Susan, you have fallen victim to your own childish imagination. You are like a toddler who cannot discern between real life and fantasy. Let me help you become a mature adult.
"Whenever you find yourself thinking of Narnia, I want you to give yourself a good shake and tell yourself, 'Susan, there is no such thing as Narnia!' Try it with me now. Look me in the eye and tell me, 'Benton, there is no such thing as Narnia.' Try it!"
Susan gazed at him and slowly repeated, "Benton, there is no such thing—" She stopped and horror transformed her features as instead of Benton she saw Caspian's face!
"I want to go home!" she cried.
Benton wordlessly started the car and steered back to Ketterley House. He opened the door for Susan, and she alighted but did not immediately enter the house. She stood looking at Benton and holding his hand.
"I-I'm sorry, Ben," she said quietly.
Benton sighed, "I am, too," he said softly.
"I will say it," Susan promised.
Benton gave her a half-smile. "I believe you. Good night, Susan."
Susan went straight upstairs as soon as she got inside the door. She could hear Melanie and Lucy's soft breathing coming from their beds. She looked at herself in the mirror. "All right, Susan," she whispered to herself resolutely, "now's your chance. There is . . . there is—" Oh! What was the use?
Why on earth did she feel so . . . wretched? As if she was trying to force herself to say something she did not really believe?