It’s all about her.
At one point, very early in my conception, the plucky innocent Valeraine was to be the heroine of The Nightmare Lullaby. The story would have been about the young girl befriending the misunderstood monster and working to free said monster from the curse under which she suffers. But I abandoned this tack pretty quickly. Valeraine certainly has heroine potential, and one day I may write a story that is well and truly hers. But this one belongs to the monster. I’ve noted a fair number of fantasy novels that have monstrous protagonists, but not many of those protagonists have been female. Meliroc grew strong in my mind as someone I hadn’t seen before, and wanted to see.
Because I found Meliroc so fascinating to visualize, I’ve commissioned more than one portrait of her. In the one above, she looks wild and fierce, “frightening” as some of my Facebook friends have said. This may be my very favorite of all the drawings Kaysha Siemens has done for me, because of how perfectly she captures that feral intelligence in the character’s eyes. In the one below, Meliroc is dressed in the style in which we see her for most of the novel. Here she wears a melancholy expression, reflecting a different side of her personality.
She really came to life when I decided her perspective should be told first-person. In this quiet sequence from the second chapter, she and her best friend, the tiny Pierpon, talk about the things they love most. (Note: being afraid of the sound of her own voice, for reasons that become clear in the narrative, Meliroc speaks telepathically. That’s why her lines are italicized.)
“What does it mean to be good?
I’d read of goodness in books, and often I imagined it in the faces and manners of people in the towns I passed through. Apparently no one could be truly good in isolation. Good people smiled at each other, aided each other, depended on each other. Good people loved and were loved.
I’d found the pixy-man almost frozen in the snow-drift. I didn’t like pixies. Why hadn’t I left him and walked on? The music — that was it. The music had found some secret thing in my heart and drawn it out of hiding. When I remembered Jickety Pierpon coming to his senses in my hand a thought blossomed in my mind for the first time.
I might be good.
With my tent secure and my bundles unpacked, I stretched my gray wool blanket over the snow and sank down to read. I reached for the thickest of the three books I carried with me, the strange-beings compendium, and tried to consider how Pierpon’s kind had been left out of it. Instead, I caught myself wondering exactly what end I would meet if Cedelair turned me away. My gaze kept gliding up to that lighted window.
‘You’d love to hear what they’re saying now, wouldn’t you?’ chuckled Pierpon with a jerk of his head toward the tantalizing casement. ‘I can listen for you, I can.’
‘Please don’t. Just talk to me and keep my mind from it.’
Hopping onto my blanket, he tilted his head up at me with an interested spark in his eye. ‘All right, then. What shall we talk about?’
‘What’s the thing you love most in all the world?’
‘Tears. Human tears. Now, now, don’t look like that,’ he chortled when I gaped in horror. ‘Tears have value, they do. When a man wakes from a nightmare and weeps into his pillow he’s learned something, and he’ll put his wrongs to right. Humankind would be lost without us, mam’selle Meliroc.’
I tried to weigh this explanation, but it ran up against the wall in my mind that sealed off things I could never remember — people’s names, places’ names, my ‘childhood.’ I winced at a knocking in my head. ‘I never remember my dreams,’ I told Pierpon.
He knitted his wiry eyebrows. “Oh?”
‘But they must be horrible, because when I wake I find my face soaked with tears and my muscles sore as if I’d been shaking all night. I must have done something abominable once, and when I dream it comes back to me, but when I wake it’s always gone again. How can I learn from that?’
A tiny hand touched mine. ‘That’s not how we jicketies work. And I can’t imagine, I can’t, you being guilty of a terrible crime.’
‘You scarcely know me.’
‘I know you saved me. I know you have kind, warm hands.’
I stared at those work-weathered hands, with their tremble that had become second nature to me. ‘They shiver.’
‘That’s because you feel so much, even more than you realize.’ He let out a whispery whistle. ‘So what’s the thing you love most in all the world?’
The memory of the carillon’s songs ran through me, quickening my blood-flow as only my favorite thing could. ‘Music!’
Pierpon clutched his sides with a laughing grin. ‘You’re serious, you are?’
My small friend’s indifference to music was a grave flaw. I resolved to take him in hand and teach him better. ‘How much do you know about music, Master Pierpon?’
‘Valeraine the Vixen has a little wooden pipe. When she blows into it, it makes a noise she calls music.’
A penny-flute, one of the many instruments I’d tried to teach myself to play. All had shattered to splinters under my fingers. ‘Had you never heard music before you came here?’
His black curls quivered as he shook his head. ‘We don’t bother with it back home, we don’t,’ he declared, almost a boast.
Was there a time when I hadn’t known what music was? As my mind fled that dark and dead-silent past, my heart-fire trembled under a press of sympathy for Pierpon. ‘When you hear Mistress Valeraine play, how does it make you feel?’
How much work I had ahead of me!”