Read an Excerpt
A Way In
'You can't come in here!'
'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, the door split apart, and 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.
'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 was 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 thirtyfive 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.
'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.'