|"Each of you will go to the five other provinces ... and travel
to as many |
markets as it takes to distribute all your goods freely..."
[Excerpt from Chapter 10]
After breakfast one morning, Melanie brought up a suggestion she'd been mulling over for quite some time.
"Lord Martan, I have seen the success of the giving-houses, and the way they work so smoothly among out own people. Besides, even in these few weeks since Aslan drove the merchants out, the market has become the trading-place I always wanted it to be."
Martan looked up at Melanie with arched eyebrows. "There's a plan at the end of this, I know it. Very well, you've begun nicely, Lady Melanie, now finish it!"
Melanie chuckled. "Well, all right then, here it is: what if we took half of the surplus apportioned for the giving houses, and divided it into five parts, and sent five delegations into the other provinces, to give away the produce and goods for free? It would broaden our horizons, and make an affirming national impact!"
Martan's expression did not show the support Melanie was looking for, and he did not leave Melanie in suspense for long.
"I can give you numerous compelling reasons why this quaint idea of yours would simply not work: First, you recall the reputation Nast has had since the olden days."
Melanie frowned. "You mean, the old saying, 'It's no good if it's Nastie'? Don't tell me it's still the national consensus!"
Martan nodded ruefully, "I'm afraid so, at least among the nearby provinces, I'm not so sure about Sordell and Telami." He rolled his eyes, "and that abominable Outskirts only serves as a reinforcement of the deplorable opinion.
"My second reason: I'm sorry, Melanie, but it's just not fiscally possible. Have you seen the farms?"
"Well, yes . . . some of them, but—"
"Then you know the condition of the majority of farms in Nast. Last year's harvest was barely enough to feed ourselves, much less for trading in the marketplace. We even had to close down some of the giving-houses, for lack of surplus. Planting season was very bad, as well. I am glad you—ah, Aslan—drove away the merchants, else we would have probably incurred debt with them in addition to the debt we still owe the other provinces!"
"Martan," Melanie chided, "have faith! I'm sure Aslan would approve of the formation of giving-delegations! How about this: we wait two months, till the harvest, and if there is enough, we will take it as a sign that it is Aslan's will to send out giving-delegations. Would you give your permission to this?"
Martan signed and shrugged. "Well, you are my superior . . ."
"Oh, stop it!"
"Very well; if there's a good enough harvest (which I doubt), we will send out your delegations."
Melanie sat back with a triumphant smile, "Thank you, Milord."
Melanie called together the fifty artisans and farmers living on the farms around Nast, and divided them into five delegations of ten people each. Before sending them out, she told them her expectations of them.
"Each of you will go to the five other provinces of Telmar: Puriva, Eveston, Sordell, Venna, and Telami. Stay as a group and travel to as many markets as it takes to distribute all your goods freely. You are to take no money or form of payment for them, and you must continue traveling around the province until your wagons are empty."
"But Milady," one of the farmers asked, "What if we are beaten? What if the other Telmarines refuse to accept what we offer simply because it is from Nast? What if they try to kill us?"
Others chimed in, but Melanie raised her hand and received instant silence.
"Citizens of Nast—farmers and artisans, all! You forget whose you are! From whom have we received this bountiful harvest?"
The farmers hesitated until an old weaver spoke up, "From Aslan."
Melanie nodded. "If Aslan can make such fruitfulness from barren ground, can you not have faith that he will so much more protect you, who are all infinitely more precious than all the harvest in the world?"
She sat back, satisfied with the grateful expressions on the faces before her. "I shall eagerly await your reports, which you must give immediately on your return. Aslan be with you all!"
[Excerpt from Chapter 11]
Nearly a week after the delegations departed, Melanie and Martan sat at breakfast when a servant announced the arrival of the first delegation.
"Escort them into the great hall!" Melanie ordered.
Such a bedraggled group met her eyes! Many bruises, a few black eyes, cuts and scrapes, and a few even had broken arms or legs. Melanie received them graciously.
The "head delegate," a potter by the name of Jord, bowed (carefully, on account of his bruised ribs) and announced, "We went to Puriva, as you sent us, Your Ladyship."
"At the first few markets, we were completely ignored. In the third one, we met with minimal success, but in the name of Aslan, we persevered, just as you instructed us. Many merchants, when they found we were from Nast, beat us away from the market, and spoiled all our goods. We did not think we could continue on, but we have returned, our wagons are empty, and, by the Lion, we are in one piece! Hail Aslan!"
Melanie clapped her hands enthusiastically, "Well done! I will see that my personal doctor attends to all of you."
The Purivian delegation bowed and left. Melanie turned to Martan, "You see? Perhaps this won't turn out so very terrible after all."
Two days later, the delegation to Venna returned with empty wagons and downcast faces. Their leader reported:
"We were teased and mocked at every market we saw. We were not harmed, but that was because no one even wanted to get near enough to touch us. We were ever mindful of your orders though, Milady, and we purposed to persevere until we could find someone willing to accept our food.
"We had been traveling for four days, and still no one would accept our offerings. We knew our food would begin to spoil if we could not give it away, so we prayed to Aslan to lead us to someone who would take our food."
Melanie listened with wide eyes, "What happened then?"
The man shrugged. "We were passing a farm where the farmer was out mucking his pigsty. He asked us who we were, and what we were doing, and when we told him of our dilemma, he offered to take al the food! At first we were grateful, but immediately on receiving the produce, he carelessly threw it to his pigs! We reproached him, but he shrugged and told us that was all it was good for, because it came from Nast! The indignity we suffer, Milady!"
Melanie smiled sympathetically, "Such indignities will not go unnoticed, my friend. Remember that Aslan had to suffer indignities for our sake, too. Tell me, how did you dispose of your other goods?"
"We traveled in the furthest villages from the marketplaces, where there were many infirm and elderly who could not go to market, or they could not afford the wares sold there. They accepted goods from our hands willingly enough!"
"Excellent; it is exactly why I wanted you all to go! Consider the size of the other provinces, the number of markets they have. Their wealth has made them forgetful of others, and if citizens of their own province do not come to the aid of the poor, who then shall look after them? It is we who must show them Aslan's love, not only to the poor people who receive us willingly, but to the farmers who think ill of us as well.
"Well done, good farmers! Please partake of a banquet I have prepared in your honor."
She gestured to the massive table, and the delegation accepted their Lady's unwarranted hospitality graciously.
That very evening, the delegation to Eveston returned with their empty wagons, unscathed and looking quite pleased with themselves.
"Hail, Lady Melanie!" the leader began, not knowing that two other delegations had arrived ahead of him, "I am pleased to report that we have carried out your orders with little or no opposition. Verily, when the people heard the goods were free, they were only too willing to forego spending money on useless trinkets and receive more practical things from us!"
Martan was surprised at this man's boldness. "How can this be? What did you say to the people that made them so receptive?"
"We merely told them that we offered goods and produce at no cost, and they welcomed us."
Melanie sensed a lie concealed in the half-truth, and sought to bring it out by asking, "And when they asked you where you came from, how did you reply?"
The pompous delegate's eyes immediately dropped, and he tried vainly to raise them. "I—ah, we . . . That question did not often come up, so—"
"How did you respond?" Melanie persisted.
The man was so ashamed, he could not answer her, so Melanie immediately deduced what it would have been, and said it herself. "I think the question came up more often than you will admit. You either avoided it, or perhaps you reassured your customers that you were not from Nast." She frowned upon the guilty crowd. "Why are you so ashamed of the one province in Telmar who knows Aslan? Is the Great Lion so capricious, that he would condone generosity and dishonesty in the same breath? You have given everything away, but you did so by deception. You did not obey my orders with honesty. You are dismissed, for I have nothing more to say to you."
They filed out of the room, completely cowed.
After the last delegation had returned safely, Melanie turned to Martan. "Well, Milord, how has our project fared in your eyes?"
Martan replied reluctantly, "Rather like I feared. It may take forever for Nast to be rid of her terrible reputation, if Aslan wills we should be rid of it at all!"
Melanie shrugged, "I think he does will it. I believe, Martan, that we shall see the tide of fortune change its course at Aslan's paw within our lifetime. If there is one thing I have learned from Aslan, it is that we must be content to wait for him in such matters."
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