Melody's Unicorn

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Melody's Unicorn by Richard Swan
Genre
An angry young girl must seek the meaning of a riddling prophecy that will send her in quest of a unicorn in this world and in Faërie, before a final confrontation with a terrible adversary.

Prologue

The wolf stood at the edge of the clearing. The subtle browns and fawns and greys of its coat made it almost invisible in the dappled light from the trees above. Only its eyes were clear, glinting pools of light fixed on Melody where she stood in the open with her father. Melody stared back. She had noticed the eyes first, and then her keen sight had begun to separate the shape of the wolf from its shadows, until she could see the whole of the beast as clearly as if it were drawn in ink against the background. There was no mistake. It wasn’t a dog, some Alsatian or wolfhound that had strayed into the forest, or been brought by an adventurous walker. This was a wolf, pure and wild, and it was standing watching her with fierce intensity. As yet it made no move to attack, but Melody wasn’t in any doubt as to its capabilities or intentions. It could rip her apart before she could move three paces, and the presence of her father would do nothing to stop it.

Melody was torn between fear and anger. The fear was a natural thing, the response of any human being out in the open, menaced by a predator. The anger was personal. To her, wolves meant one thing, the death of her mother seven years before. She too had been in this forest; she too had been stalked and threatened by a wolf. She had died.

Abruptly Melody’s anger turned to wild, uncontrollable rage. She raised her left hand, the plain brass ring on her forefinger glowing in the sunlight, and pointed at the wolf. Her father shouted, ‘Don’t!’ But it was too late. Melody concentrated all her mind on the wolf’s head, between the eyes that were suddenly assailed by doubt, and wished with all her heart that the wolf would die.

There was no sound. The wolf’s head snapped back, arching as if hit by a bullet. Its body quivered, jerked into the air, then slumped lifeless to the ground. Where there had been a threatening predator there was just a heap of disordered fur and flesh. Melody could feel her own heart beating fast and the rush of air from her lips as she exhaled the breath she had been holding since she’d first seen the wolf.

‘Why did you do that?’ Her father’s voice was stern, even angry. Melody had never known him angry, never heard such a tone. He was the calmest, mildest, kindest man she could ever imagine.

‘It was a wolf,’ she answered simply, and the rage she had felt still echoed in her words. ‘A wolf killed my mother. The wolf had to die.’

Her father gripped her by the shoulders, not gently, and spun her round. His voice hadn’t lost its edge. ‘Why did it have to die? Is one death answered by another? Is this all you’ve ever learnt?’

Melody met his gaze, wouldn’t look down, but his depth of anger stunned her. He’d never spoken harshly to her, never raised his voice to anyone. He was the calm, measured forester, not disturbed or provoked by anything.

The core of Melody’s rage had been spent in her destruction of the wolf, but the lingering emotion that had been with her all her life remained.

‘That creature killed my mother!’ She wanted to shout, but restrained herself, just. ‘It would have killed me, and you too, if I’d let it live! I had to kill it.’

Her father continued to hold her by the shoulders, and stared at her almost with hostility. ‘Do you know that? Do you know this was the creature you believe killed your mother? Do you know it would have attacked? What if it had come to say sorry?

Melody was about to retort that wolves didn’t say sorry, that was a stupid idea, but her mind was caught by two other words her father had used.

‘What do you mean, “you believe”? What are you saying? That my mother wasn’t killed by a wolf? You’re the one who told me that, don’t you remember?’

To her surprise it was her father whose gaze faltered first. He looked away, over her shoulder, towards the carcase of the wolf.

‘It isn’t as simple as that. You were too young. I told you that your mother had been killed by a wolf, but I’m not certain. It’s not clear exactly what happened.’

‘What do you mean?’ Melody repeated. She was confused, the anger draining away and leaving a mixture of emotions. The shock of the wolf’s appearance and death, and her surprise at her father’s attitude, were being overlaid by a sense of uncertainty. It sounded as if all the things she’d believed were about to be undermined.

Her father let go of her and drew himself up to his full height, standing tall as if to compose his feelings and set himself to what he had to do. Melody had often seen him use the same gesture before a difficult task, whether that was the felling of a particularly stubborn tree or an argument with one of her teachers over his daughter’s moody and rebellious temperament. His gaze came back from the wolf to rest on her, but there wasn’t one of his comforting smiles on which she so often depended. His face was stern, resolute.

‘It’s time you knew the truth. I never told you, because the lie seemed simpler. It seemed a kind of ending, something definite, to tell you that your mother had been killed by that wolf. The truth is, I don’t know. There was a wolf, or wolves, sure enough, and they had stalked your mother in this forest, very near here. I have woodsman’s craft enough to tell all that. But I don’t know that she died. Her body was never found. She just disappeared. There were no signs of struggle, or violence, no sign that she used her power against her enemies or that she was overcome. She just vanished. Gone. I’ve never seen her again, nor any sign of her, nor any indication of what might have happened. I’ve thought through every possibility, walked every path and off every path, looking for evidence. There is none. What happened to her, perhaps only a wolf could tell us.’

There was a long silence as Melody’s mind tried to take in what was being said to her. She remembered her mother as a tall, beautiful woman with immense strength of character and immense power, all focused through the intricate silver ring she wore like moonlight on her left hand. The ring was what Melody remembered most clearly of all, the wonder of it and its strange otherworldly beauty. Her mother had told her she would inherit it in the fullness of time, and as a tiny girl she had been overawed at the thought. The ring had vanished along with her mother, and for years Melody had imagined it lost somewhere in this vast forest where, she had always believed, her dead mother lay. Her own brass ring and her own temperament were pale imitations of her mother’s power and greatness, ways of remembering what she had lost. For seven years she had mourned her mother, had vowed to avenge her. Now her father was telling her that neither her grief nor her vengeance were what she had thought them to be.

There was something else though, something her father had said. “Only a wolf could tell us.” And earlier he’d said that perhaps the wolf had come to say sorry.

She looked up at him. ‘What do you mean, about wolves being sorry and able to tell us things? Do you believe that? What do you know about wolves?’

Her father’s shoulders had sagged as he’d explained about her mother’s disappearance. She watched him draw himself up again as if coming to another difficult decision.

‘Not a lot, but more than you’d expect. There’s so much that you don’t know, that I’ve never been able to talk about. It was too painful for me, and too difficult to explain it to you.’ To her immense surprise, Melody saw that her father was on the verge of tears. She’d never seen him cry. Instinctively she reached out to him and they hugged, clinging on to each other for support.

‘Your mother was a remarkable woman,’ her father said in a voice so low she could barely catch it. He was trying not to let the tears prevent him speaking altogether. ‘Special to me, of course, but much more than that. She had power, true power, you know that. And she understood so many things that I’ve never guessed at. There were creatures in my woods that I hadn’t seen, and I think she could talk to them in ways I couldn’t imagine. I knew there were wolves here, despite what any authorities might say, but I didn’t view them as dangerous. She used to disappear in the forest for days, sometimes weeks, but I never worried. She was part of it, or it was part of her.’

‘That’s why you didn’t want me to kill the wolf,’ said Melody with sudden understanding. ‘You didn’t view it as a threat. You thought it might be able to give us information about what happened to my mother.’

Her father hesitated. ‘Not exactly. It’s more basic than that. I don’t think you should kill any living thing without knowing why you’re doing it. We kill stuff all our lives, to eat or to help us, but we don’t do so thoughtlessly. When I chop down a tree I know why I’m doing it, and I apologise for taking its life. And I don’t know that the wolf could have helped us. I don’t know that it wasn’t a threat. You may have been right. But you didn’t think before you acted.’

Melody did cry then, long and soundlessly. All the grief for her mother, all the sorrow that she couldn’t be what her father wanted her to be, couldn’t be calm and thoughtful, all her emotional life blended into one long shaking and sobbing. Her father held her, not speaking, until the tide of emotion had slowly receded.

‘I’m sorry, love,’ he whispered. ‘I know what it’s been like for you, how it’s been.’

Melody tried to speak calmly. ‘It’s been hard for you too.’

She felt her father’s grip tighten. ‘Yes, it has. Harder than you’ll ever know. Not for you to know. What’s done is done, and we must deal with it.’ So saying, he drew himself away from Melody a little, and raised her chin so that he could look in her eyes.

‘There’s so much going on, I don’t understand a lot of it. You have power too, that comes from your mother, but you don’t control it in the same way. I feel you need to know more about yourself, to discover who you are.’

‘And how am I going to do that? Where’s the mother who should teach me, show me how to use my power and what I’m supposed to do with it?’

Her father’s eyes closed for a moment, then opened again. ‘I know. We’ve both lost what we need. And I’ve done all I could for you. So I think we ought to look elsewhere. I have a cousin in London, he knows about these things. I think you should go to stay with him for the summer, to see if he can help.’

‘I’ve never been to London.’

‘No. And you’ve never met my cousin either. There’s a world of experiences waiting for you, and London itself is a special place. I don’t know, but for some reason I think it’s important that you go there.’

Melody was torn. Part of her had stirred at his words, and the idea of going somewhere unknown and finding completely new things was exciting. At the same time she was aware of how much her father needed her, how she needed him, and the thought of leaving him scared her.

‘Because it’ll help me understand myself?’ she said uncertainly.

‘More than that. I can’t explain properly because it’s just a feeling. An intuition, if you like, and your mother taught me to trust such promptings. “What the heart says is right.” Don’t you remember her saying that?’

Melody did, very clearly. It was one of the things that conjured her mother’s voice and face most vividly. “What the heart says is right.” As a young child Melody thought it meant that you could do whatever you fancied, and it had led her into a lot of trouble. At this moment she thought she realised better what her mother had really intended her to learn. “What the heart says is right.” Yes, she trusted her father; she felt that what he said was destined to be. London. She would go to London.

Chapter One: A Way In

‘You can’t come in here!’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re a girl!’

With that the door slammed and Melody was left standing on the doorstep, shocked. She’d arrived at the house in Ealing and checked that she had the right address, then looked for a bell. There wasn’t one. There was only a knocker in the shape of a lion, set high up on the blue door. She liked lions, and this one had a friendly face. She reached up and rapped it firmly against the striking plate, and was rewarded by a dull reverberation that seemed to travel not only through the door but through the whole house. A few seconds later the door was thrown open, and she was confronted by a boy who looked older than her but was only about her own height. His dark features were contorted into a hostile look, and the conversation between them was brief and, apparently in his view, final. The slamming of the door was worse than if he’d slapped her in the face.

She was furious. It wasn’t the same rage that she’d felt when confronted by the wolf, but it had similar origins. She couldn’t take it out on the boy, so she looked at the door instead. Superficially, it was an ordinary front door on an ordinary Victorian semi-detached house on an ordinary residential street. But below the bright blue gloss paint, Melody could sense that the door was made of solid oak. It would be. More to the point, she could sense that it was constructed of vertical panels, and that it was weak down its centre line.

She smiled grimly to herself and raised her left hand, extending the forefinger so that it pointed directly at the weak line in the door. She focused her whole mind on the brass ring that she wore on that finger, and spoke a single word.

There was a crack of sound, and the door split apart, its two shattered halves rammed backwards against the frame. More than the effect of the knocker, the shock seemed to shake the house. In the hall, startled beyond description, stood the boy who had refused Melody entrance.

‘May I come in now?’ she said with exaggerated politeness, but there was an edge of anger in her voice and her finger pointed straight at the shrinking figure. The boy was silent.

From behind him emerged a man, tall and stern and with greying hair and a pinched face.

‘What’s going on?’ he demanded.

The boy remained silent, staring at Melody as if in shock.

‘This person,’ said Melody coldly, and the barely controlled anger in her voice was obvious, ‘refused to let me in. So I decided to knock.’

The man ignored the evidence of her ‘knocking’, and continued, ‘What do you want?’

‘I’ve come to stay,’ Melody said simply. She was so angry that she’d lost all manners, and strode into the house past both the boy and the man. It wasn’t until she was half way down the dark narrow hall that she turned to face the two figures, who were now silhouetted against the light from outside. ‘I thought I was expected.’

The boy at last found his voice, but he didn’t speak directly to her. ‘That door’ll take days to replace,’ he complained.

‘Be quiet, Tamar,’ said the man, gesturing the boy to silence and focusing his attention on Melody. ‘Who are you, and why are you here?’

‘My name’s Melody. My father wrote to his cousin Corann, and he said I could stay.’

‘We didn’t know anything about it.’

‘Now you do,’ said Melody, and without waiting for a further reply, she turned as if to explore the house. 

The man turned again and looked at what remained after Melody’s forcible entrance, then hurried after her. 

‘We don’t want you here.’

Before Melody could retort even more rudely than she had done so far, a man’s figure appeared at the far end of the corridor, where a couple of steps led down to what might be a kitchen.

‘What seems to be the trouble?’

The voice of the newcomer was calm, measured. Melody sensed that this voice would always be reasonable, and reasoning. She felt its owner would discount emotional outbursts, and wouldn’t make decisions based on them. It was also a voice that reminded her of her father’s.

‘Corann?’

‘Yes, I’m Corann. Who’re you?’

‘Melody. My father wrote to you.’

‘Ah, yes. But as I said, what seems to be the trouble here?’ 

‘I was trying to explain to these people,’ Melody said, striving to speak in the most deliberate and polite way she could, ‘that I’ve come to stay. They don’t seem to want me here, and they seem to think there’s a problem because I’m a girl, but I don’t believe that can be a real barrier.’

There was a silence, as if the new figure were assessing her, or perhaps just assessing the situation in the hall.

‘Hmm. That was a remarkable display of power with the door. And yet my companions seem to have taken against you. Let me see. I think we may be able to come to an accommodation.’ There was a suggestion of laughter in the voice of which Melody was instantly aware, and she recognised the joke in his words. Did he mean that they could make an arrangement, and did he literally mean that she could stay there, that she would be accepted? Her mind lifted with hope, but she told herself to be cautious.

‘Yes indeed,’ continued the voice, as if catching her thought. ‘I think we may be what you need, but there will have to be some adjustment on both sides. How good are you at adjusting?’

Melody’s hopeful mood diminished. Her father had always told her she needed to try harder to get on with people, to be less moody, less angry. His own imperturbability had not been passed on to his daughter.

‘Is it always me who has to adjust?’ The question left Melody’s lips before she had time to call it back, but she cursed herself when she realised that it might antagonise this person whom she hoped would be on her side.

‘No lack of spirit, I see,’ said the voice, and the trace of amusement was still evident. ‘A shrewd question, too. But not one any of us could easily answer, at least not so early on. You’ll have to wait and see what develops, I think. And you’ll have to see what my companions here have to say on the matter.’

While the figure had been speaking it had also moved forward, and now emerged where light from the doorway illuminated its head. The face belonged to a youngish West Indian man, perhaps thirty or thirty-five years old, with alert eyes and a soft-featured face which was framed by a cap of wiry hair. He smiled at Melody as he drew near, a smile that illuminated his features and made him look even younger. It was a face that you immediately wanted to trust, and although Melody tried to remain cautious she hoped that he would befriend her.

‘For my part you’re welcome here,’ he said at last, having looked carefully at her as if noting the way she relaxed in his presence. ‘I’m Corann, as you know. I see you’ve already met Ruric – and Tamar, who’s a most promising student.’

‘Thank you. I’ve come for the summer, and to study here, if you’ll have me. My father wanted me to come, and said you could help me learn to control and develop the power I have.’ Melody spoke formally and proudly, as she’d been taught, but there was an edge of uncertainty in her voice that she had not betrayed when her entrance into the house was being denied.

‘If we’ll have you?’ queried Corann with another smile. ‘You must know very little about the nature of power if you ask that. The question is, will you have us?’ And he waited, silent and patient, for her to answer.

Melody was confused. It was true that she knew almost nothing about the way her power worked. All she knew was her own strength and her own ability. She would have to learn fast, and with this man at least she would have to be honest.

‘It’s true that I have very little knowledge. That’s why I came here. Will you teach me?’ As she spoke she lifted her gaze, and met the soft brown eyes that were watching her closely. She hadn’t intended the remark to sound personal, but she found that she meant exactly what she’d said. She wanted this particular man, Corann, to teach her. She was aware that her thoughts and her manner were excluding Ruric who stood behind her, and dismissing Tamar whose hostility she could feel like a physical force, but she couldn’t help it. It was their fault, she felt, for challenging her.

‘Naturally we will,’ Corann replied, seeming to ignore the intensity of her question and defusing the awkward atmosphere in the hall. ‘Follow me and we’ll show you the house.’

If this was his way of calming the situation down and making everything seem more normal, it worked. He hadn’t asked Ruric and Tamar for their opinion, and as they didn’t interrupt, it appeared that they were agreeing to the arrangement. He made no reference to the broken door, nor the confrontation that he had interrupted. Instead, he simply led the way down long corridors, up dark staircases, until Melody had seen all the rooms that the house possessed. She in turn felt the anger with which she’d arrived, and the uncertainty she’d experienced when Corann appeared, both gradually melt away, so that by the time the little group of four returned to the long entrance hall there was no visible sign of the tension between them. Ruric and Tamar had followed them round, almost silent except when Corann asked them to explain the function of a particular room or object. The kitchen, the dining room, the lounge and the library, the rooms on the upper floors that were used as studies or bedrooms, all had been visited and examined.

‘So there’s the house,’ said Corann as they stood once more in the light from the broken door, which none of them had mentioned. ‘Do you still wish to stay, Melody?’

‘I definitely want to stay. That’s why I came. But is the choosing all on my side?’ And this time Melody tacitly acknowledged the presence of Ruric and Tamar, admitting that if she were to stay they would have to accept her, even if they didn’t like her.

Corann paused and looked at her, as if seeing more in her than had first appeared.

‘A better question. But one more that reveals your ignorance of the ways of power. I see you have a lot to learn.’ There was another space of silence, which Melody was already beginning to realise as a feature of Corann’s character, as if he never said anything before weighing up the effect of his words. She forced herself to be patient until he should choose to continue. ‘Well then,’ he said at last, ‘we may as well begin now. Know this. The choosing is on both sides. No two people, no two beings, come together entirely by chance, and certainly do not stay together without choice. But the balance varies. If one person’s will is strong, it may take little choice from the other to draw them together. Where each chooses equally, the link may be strange and complex.’

Melody was silent in her turn, trying to understand what was being said. 

‘You’re wondering how strong your own will is,’ continued Corann for her, ‘or you’re wondering how strong ours is, which is part of the same question. It’s true that when two great wills confront each other there is the potential for terrible conflict, as you’ll discover. But in this instance there’s no problem. Your desire in the matter is strong, so ours gives way to yours.’ And his eyes flickered towards the front door, as a reminder of how forcefully she had expressed her will.

Melody stirred.

‘But it’s not just a question of two people, is it? What happens when there’s more than two?’

Corann smiled again. ‘You mean our companions. I said earlier that you’d hear what they had to say on their own account, but I think you’ll find that their silence since your arrival is already an answer. Ruric?’

The dark man frowned, and was slow to speak. ‘You know I defer to your decisions. It’s your house. If you’ve accepted her, I shall do so, whatever my will.’ It seemed to Melody that this was hardly a positive answer, but Corann let it pass and turned to Tamar.

‘It’s not up to me,’ said Tamar shortly, and Melody didn’t need to hear the tone of his voice to know that his hostility to her was undiminished. Corann raised an eyebrow, but didn’t reply directly. He turned his attention back to her.

‘There you are, then,’ he said, as if it was all settled. ‘The only question is which room you’ll have. At the moment there’s only the four of us here, so I should think the attic suite will be most suitable. You’ll have some privacy there, and space to spread yourself. Do you have any luggage?’

‘Only a suitcase, outside. I travelled light.’

Corann nodded, accepting this. ‘And your parents are happy for you to remain here, as long as necessary?’

Melody didn’t ask what he meant by ‘necessary’. ‘My father is. My mother’s dead. Or rather she disappeared, seven years ago. It was my father who told me about you, said that if I was so insistent on learning I’d best come here and find out what I could. He said I’d learnt little enough anywhere else.’

‘Well, you can contact him and tell him you’ve arrived. I’ll speak to him and make certain that he’s happy for you to remain, as long as you wish. You’ll have to work while you’re here, of course, and while you learn. But I don’t think you’ll mind that.’

Melody shook her head. ‘No. Father’s a forester. He works all hours, and I do too. I’ve looked after the house since I could walk. And I help him too when he lets me. I’m used to making my own way.’

‘Yes,’ said Corann, ‘that at least is obvious. So, it’s decided. But before you’ve even settled in, I have an errand for you. I’ve got a parcel that needs taking to the post office, and it’s urgent. You can take it for me. Tamar will go with you to show you the way and make sure you don’t get lost. Meanwhile Ruric and I will shore up the door, at least until we can get it mended properly. We can hardly leave a gaping hole in the front of the house – this is London after all, and too many people would see it as an invitation.’ 

Corann gave nobody any space to speak or protest, and so a couple of minutes later Melody and Tamar found themselves walking down the road together. Neither of them seemed willing to break the silence, and Melody wondered why Corann had sent them. The parcel couldn’t have been that urgent, and Tamar could have gone on his own, couldn’t he? Corann evidently intended that they be together, but she refused to apologise to Tamar for the incident with the door, and it was clear that he didn’t intend to apologise for insulting her.

While they were waiting in the queue at the post office counter, Melody took the opportunity to look more closely at her new companion. Tamar was perhaps her own age or a year or two older, with a slender, elegant figure. His olive skin and black hair gave him a brooding expression, which seemed to be an extension of his personality. Melody could tell that he wasn’t happy, but it seemed to her more like melancholy than anger. She knew he didn’t like her and didn’t want to be with her, but she felt there was more to it than that. Perhaps there was something in his background, something about his family that had pushed him away and made him solitary. She made up her mind to find out more about him, if she could get past his guard of antagonism.

She made her first attempt as they walked back to the house, by asking how long he’d been there.

‘A few weeks,’ he said, apparently unwilling to be dragged into conversation.

‘And whose idea was it for you to come?’ she persisted, wanting to draw some kind of answers from him. ‘Was it your own decision, like me, or did your parents want you to be trained?’

He shrugged. ‘My parents didn’t care. They never liked me. I’ve got this sister – half-sister really. She’s done everything right, got good results, went to university. She’s ten years older than me. Always seen me as a waste of space. No good at school, no good at any job. No talent, according to her, apart from wrecking things. Kept saying I ought to find something useful to do, but she didn’t reckon I’d be worth anything. But I can do things. She just doesn’t know. A friend of mine told me about this place, said I could be trained to use my skills. So I came. Nothing to stay at home for.’

‘You’re like me then,’ said Melody, pleased to have got him to say so much. ‘No good at school, but not useless altogether. We’ve got skills, and power. What can you do especially?’

‘Nothing, really. And we’re not the same. You’re a girl.’

Melody rolled her eyes and would have liked to hit him, but restrained herself. Perhaps the experience of having a half-sister had turned him against all women. She’d just have to be patient and hope he accepted her – eventually.

It was as they turned the corner into their road that Melody saw something out of the corner of her eye, sloping away down an alleyway opposite.

‘Wolf!’ she cried.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ said Tamar, irritated. ‘It was a dog.’

‘It was a wolf. I know the difference.’

‘There aren’t any wolves in London.’

‘Says who?’

‘Says everybody. Wolves died out in the Middle Ages. You’re dreaming.’

‘It was a wolf. I know what I’m talking about.’

‘How?’

‘At home, in Staffordshire, in the forest with my father. We were attacked by a wolf.’

Tamar was frankly contemptuous. ‘Staffordshire? Wolves? Oh please. Give us a break. There aren’t any wolves any more. You saw dogs. Alsatians maybe, big dogs, sure, but not wolves.’

Melody stopped and turned to him, cold fury in her face. ‘It was a wolf. I killed it to stop it attacking us. You may not believe in wolves, you may not have the wit to recognise a wolf, but I know. And trust me, what we just saw was another wolf.’

‘What you saw. I didn’t see anything much. A tail, a bit of fur, a Labrador maybe. A German shepherd, if you insist. No wolf.’

‘You’re a fool.’

Tamar stared at her angrily. He clearly wasn’t used to being challenged, but didn’t know how to combat her self-assurance, and turned away in disgust. Melody meanwhile was too distracted by what she’d seen to pursue the argument further. It had been a wolf, she knew that. What did it mean? A wolf had pursued her mother, a wolf had challenged her and her father, and here was one in the back streets of Ealing. Was she being stalked across the country by dangerous forces? She didn’t want to discuss it with Tamar, but she’d have to find out. For the moment she tried to put it to the back of her mind.

Tamar’s mood wasn’t improved when they reached the house and couldn’t use the front door. Superficially it didn’t seem much damaged, because Corann and Ruric had put the two halves back together, but on close inspection it was obvious that they’d nailed it in place so that it wouldn’t shift. Melody and Tamar had to make their way round to the back, where they found Corann alone in the kitchen making coffee.

‘Success?’ he said as they came in. Melody was sure he was referring to the walk rather than the posting of the parcel. It was plain that the trip hadn’t been a success, because Tamar disappeared through the door on the other side of the kitchen without a word. Corann looked at him as he passed, but didn’t speak until he’d left the room.

‘I was going to say something to him about taking a young lady’s luggage up to her room for her, but I don’t think he’d have appreciated it. Never mind, he’ll learn about you in time. And meanwhile you’ll cope, as we know. You’ll have to take your own case up, I’m afraid.’

‘No matter,’ said Melody. ‘I’ll manage.’

It was awkward manoeuvring her large suitcase up the narrow twisting stairs to the attic, but she would rather have died than ask for help. At last she got everything in place, and was able to take stock of her new home. The attic consisted of two rooms, and a separate toilet, which also held a washbasin. The smaller room, under the eaves, had space for a single bed and a small cupboard, but little else. The treat was the second room, which was furnished as a sitting room and was relatively spacious. Bookcases lined one of the walls, filled with an odd assortment of volumes that couldn’t have been just one person’s property. She idly ran her finger along one shelf, noting both familiar and unusual titles, with some repeats that suggested that the collection had been garnered at random from various sources. There was a settee, and two chairs which didn’t match each other. Still, there was more space than she’d expected, and room for people to come and sit, if she ever made any friends in this seemingly hostile house.

When she’d made herself at home, she went back downstairs. On the way she met Ruric, who was coming up. For a moment she thought he would pass without acknowledging her, but suddenly he turned and grabbed her right wrist. He lifted her hand and looked at it, puzzled.

‘Where’s your ring?’

She bit back her anger at being addressed so peremptorily, and raised her left arm.

‘I’m left-handed.’

He dropped her right arm, but made no attempt to touch her outstretched hand.

‘Brass. Brass? How can you do any useful work with brass?’ His tone was cold, almost sneering, and Melody felt herself close to shouting.

‘Yes, it’s brass. It’s all my father could afford. We’re not a rich family. I suppose you have silver, at least.’

He smiled mockingly and raised his own right hand. On the index finger glowed the bright gold of an ancient and ornate signet ring.

‘Yes. Not that it’s much use to me anymore, since I lost my power. Still, it’s better than brass even now.’ And with that he turned and continued on his way upstairs.

Melody stood for a moment, trying to calm down. She sensed that there was envy behind his rudeness. He had lost his power, as all adults did, but he didn’t seem to have come to terms with it. He wanted to belittle her to make himself feel better. She felt that, but couldn’t feel sorry for him. He’d been too rude to her, when he needn’t have been. She waited until she was calmer before making her way down to the kitchen, where Corann was still sitting.

‘All right?’ he asked, and she knew from his tone that he didn’t mean her accommodation. He had heard, or partly heard, the dispute on the stairs. Melody shook her head.

‘Does he have to be that rude? Is he the same to everybody?’

Corann was slow to speak. ‘No, he isn’t always like that. It’s you he objects to. But he’s had a lot of trouble in his life, a lot to put up with. Try to get on with him, and don’t be quick to judge him.’

‘I wasn’t judging him. He was offensive, that’s all.’

Corann bowed his head. ‘You are quick to judge, that’s the problem. You don’t think you are, you don’t want to be, but that’s what happens.’

Comments

alexpage Fri, 06/19/2020 - 22:26

I particularly enjoy a book that, as well as telling a good story with witty prose that encourages you to read 'just one more chapter' until you reach the end, also encourages you to question some of the basics you take for granted, such as truth being in the eye of the beholder. I enjoyed the complexities of all the characters, and the danger of making assumptions when there was more to everything than met the eye. 

I believe if a book has a lesson to teach you that you’ve not yet learnt, it’s a suitable read whether you’re one or one hundred! So, despite the categorisation as a 'children's book' I have no qualms in saying I thoroughly enjoyed this at the age of 27 and would recommend it to both my parents or (if they existed) my children.

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