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I figured I’d go ahead and post the second chapter of my novel.  Chapter 1 is here, in case anyone missed it.

This second chapter introduces another one of the main characters: Mel (probably my favorite character actually).  Hope you like it!  As before, feedback is welcomed.

Chapter 2: Mel

The girl’s not clever”, Madame Eshra said as she crumbled a dry scone between her impressively long fingernails, “And she’s not pretty”. Her beady grey eyes darted to the young girl seated next to her. The girl was skinny and miserable looking, her blonde stringy hair covering her face like a veil. She didn’t even appear to know that they were speaking about her.

The girl’s uncle cleared his throat awkwardly and began twirling a silver ring around his finger. “And?” he asked.

“And so I want you to take her”, She replied matter-of-factly.
He stared at his sister, stunned, and placed his tea down carefully. “Take her…where?” he asked.

“Travelling with you”, she replied, “Just for a while, just until she’s out of this phase”.

“And what phase would that be?” he asked. He glanced at his niece once again, wondering if she was sickly.

Madame Eshra sighed and delicately pulled the girl’s hair aside as one would a curtain. Her head was tilted downward and in her lap was a thick book with a red binding. She did not look up, but even so, he could tell that she was a bit older than he had thought originally. Fifteen? Maybe sixteen? He tried in vain to remember what year she had been born.

He glanced at his sister, trying to understand what it was she wanted to show him. She nodded at the book in the girl’s lap. “Reading?” he asked finally, “The phase you want her to get over, is reading?”

“Nasty habit”, she replied. “And you know what they say about people who read, don’t you?”

“That they are literate?” he asked with a laugh. Why, if his sister only saw the amount of books he has in his caravan this very moment.

But she frowned, and placed her cane sternly on the floor as if she was about to stand up. “It’s not enough that we are descended from those people”, she hissed, “That we have to live isolated away from everyone in this old house with only a skeleton crew of servants to keep us alive”-Her brother almost laughed at that statement. If forty servants weren’t enough for two people, he didn’t know what number was- “Now my daughter is showing signs of one of them”.

She was quite disheveled; her hand shook as she raised her tea to her lips. He looked her over carefully. It had been at least ten years since he had seen his sister, but the two exchanged letters at least once a month. The years had not been kind to her. The wrinkles beneath her eyes were made more prominent by their deep purple color. Her mouth seemed to be caught in a permanent frown, and despite the pink powder she put on her cheeks, he could tell her skin was pasty. He wondered if she left the house at all.

“One of them?” he asked. He wasn’t entirely sure what she was getting at. He couldn’t see a whole lot else to do in this huge desolate mansion aside from read.

“You know”, she said, her voice lowering considerably, “like her father”.

He laughed again. “Magic? You can’t actually think she’s got magic? Magicians are obsolete. They disappeared even before the creatures themselves did.” He glanced at the girl. He could not deny that she certainly looked unhealthy, far too skinny and pale.

“She is just lonely”, he said, “She’s stuck all the way out here with you in this wasteland, and you won’t let any of your maids speak to her. If you would just consider moving to a town. Somewhere where there are people to-”

“You know why I can’t leave”, His sister snapped. “You know why I’m out here”.
He sighed and nodded in submission, because unfortunately he did know. And there was no talking to her when she was like this.

“But what about you?” he asked, “I don’t feel right leaving you here all alone”.

“Tell me where you plan to go for the next year”, she said, “Make a schedule. If I need you, I’ll send a messenger”.

He nodded halfheartedly. He didn’t know how to tell her that his business wasn’t predictable enough to have his entire year planned out. “All right then”, he said, “I suppose it may do her some good, after all”. His sister’s face transformed into a very slight smile, but it was still the first one he had seen since he arrived, so he welcomed it.

“How do you feel about that Kathryn?” he said to the girl in soft voice, “That might be nice, don’t you think?”

His sister’s smile faltered. “That’s the other thing”, she said, “She doesn’t speak anymore”.

At first, he thought he had misheard her. “What do you mean?”, he asked.

“No words, not for a few years now”, she waved her hand as if it was nothing. “Like I said: a phase”.

But as they sped away in his caravan, the girl’s eerie stare on him as steered his horses, he couldn’t help thinking that it was not, in fact, ‘nothing’. And he quite wished he had been told that bit of information before he had agreed to take her.

‘Perhaps she’s a fool’, he thought to himself, as he remembered a certain boy who’d lived in his town growing up. The boy was dim, and every time he spoke, his words came out jumbled and peculiar sounding. After a while, the boy stopped speaking altogether.

But then, after an hour or so, the girl opened her satchel and pulled out that same book she had been reading before, and he began to think otherwise. It couldn’t have been less than five hundred pages, and the writing seemed quite dense. Not many knew how to read anymore, and even less enjoyed it.

‘She’s just odd’, he thought to himself, ‘And how could she not be? After all, she grew up in that house without another person her age for miles and miles. Interacting with only her strange mother, and all those servants who refuse to speak to her.’

“Kathryn”, he said to her. At first she gave no sign of acknowledgment, but then slowly, she lifted her head and her dark blue eyes reached his. “Should you ever choose to speak, you can just call me Mel. Your mother used to call me that growing up because she couldn’t pronounce Melvin”, he said. She made no movement but he had a feeling that she was listening. “Should you never choose to speak again, then that is perfectly fine. However it will be a year of seeing new places and meeting new people. And I have to say, you’ll only be getting about half the experience should you decide not to speak to a single one of them.”

Her mouth didn’t move, but she looked thoughtful. Eventually, she gave a slight nod, and turned back to her book.

Though it was a small step, Mel was quite sure he had just accomplished something.

It was two weeks before they passed anything other than a ghost town. “You mother doesn’t do anything halfheartedly, does she?” Mel said to Kathryn, “She decides to move away from people, and so she moves two hundred miles from a single soul”.
Kathryn smiled slightly. This was how communicating with her had become. Not a sound escaped her lips, but when he said something funny or clever, he got some small response.

The town they had come to was called, “Murder’s Brook”, even though a brook hadn’t run through it in at least a hundred years. There was a sole inn, and his horses trotted directly to it. He had stayed there a number of times, and they knew the sign of it meant fresh hay and water.

“Take them to the stables and see that they are well fed”, he said to a boy who came to meet them. “Come along Katheryn”. Slowly, she stepped down from the caravan. Her eyes were wide, and she took in the boy, then the inn, then the street as people walked along it going about their day. She was still for some time, looking like a deer frozen at the sound of danger.

“Is…she all right sir?” the boy asked.

“She’s just fine. Come along”, Mel lead her inside.

Kathryn seemed even more stunned at the interior of the inn. A few men crowded around dirty tables eating and drinking, while women in aprons hurried about collecting used plates and bowls. Everything seemed to be covered in a thin layer of grease and dirt. ‘She’s probably never seen anything like this before in her life’, he realized as he studied her expression. He couldn’t entirely comprehend whether it was intrigue or disgust.

He purchased two rooms from the surly innkeeper, and handed Katheryn her key.

“Are you hungry?” he asked. She shook her head.

Her eating habits had quickly become one of his main concerns. He offered her food about five times a day, all in large portions. Usually, she would shake her head and turn back to her book. Occasionally, she would pick at a few pieces of dried fruit or nuts. He wouldn’t have been so adamant about it if she wasn’t so skinny; he didn’t know what was holding her together. He was terrified at the idea of returning to his sister and explaining that her daughter had starved herself to death.

An idea occurred to him, however, and he turned to the innkeeper and said, “Two cinnamon cakes please”. She nodded and disappeared for a moment.

“They are very good here, the best I’ve ever had”, he explained to Kathryn, who was still wide-eyed and staring at the men eating a few feet away.

The innkeeper returned and led them to a table. She placed two small cakes covered in thick yellow icing in front of them. Kathryn looked at them skeptically, and wrinkled her nose. Mel took a bite of his, as she watched him with a strange curiosity. “Go on”, he insisted.

She took one tentative bite of it. The moment it touched her tongue, he could see her eyes light up a little. She chewed it delicately and then took a much larger bite.
All the food served in his sister’s house seemed to be bland, and he had to admit, the food he brought travelling wasn’t much better. Perhaps he just had to present her with things that were too good to turn down.

He was pleased when she finished the whole cake. “We’ll get a good amount of those to take with us when we leave”, he assured her, and she smiled slightly in return.
They spent the rest of the day wandering in and out of the town’s few shops. He bought all kinds of snacks, the best, most flavorful ones he could find. They looked through toy shops, and marveled at painted dolls. He bought her a blue dress that he caught her eyeing in a window, and she smiled brightly when he handed it to her, boxed up with a ribbon. By far her favorite part was the chickens, which seemed to wander the road freely. She tore up bits of bread and fed it to them, not even minding when they pecked her hand. She even gave out a shrill laugh when one climbed atop her shoulder
He’d never had a daughter, but he couldn’t help wondering if this was what it felt like.
At the end of the day, before she went to her room for the night, he presented her with something: a small leather-bound book, sealed shut with wax.

She gave him a gracious nod and tore open the seal. Her expression turned very quickly to confusion when she saw that the pages were empty.

“You see, no one prints books anymore”, he explained, “Not for about a hundred years or so, when the magicians disappeared and the Dark Years passed. Of course, most books were about the magicians. Once magic was marked illegal, there wasn’t too much to write about, was there? So I thought maybe you could write your own story. You’ve read enough books after all; perhaps you can be the one to bring them back into this world.”

She stared at it as if it was an entirely new object than she had been holding one moment before. And then, something truly miraculous happened. She parted her lips and said, “Thank you”. Her voice was strong, and clear as a bell. He almost thought he had imagined it.

Then she smiled and walked into her room. He couldn’t help but wonder if she just chose to save her voice for special occasions, or if this was the first time in a number of years she actually had something to say.