Melissa's Magic Harp

It was about one-hundred-and-forty years ago and many families had travelled west to the fertile valleys of California and Oregon. One such person was Mr Patrick Arrowley, who lived on a small farm with his wife, Prudence, and their three children.

The eldest of the three, Peggy, was nearly twelve. Melissa was eight and little Tommy was five. The family had arrived in 1852, the year Melissa was born.

One day, Melissa was drawing water from the well when she heard someone crying softly. She dropped her bucket and ran towards the sound; she was far too soft-hearted a little girl not to do so.

She found a young girl about her own age sitting on a log, her jet-black hair hanging over her shoulders, her brown eyes filled with tears.

"What's wrong?" asked Melissa. "Can I help you?"

"I have lost it," wept the other little girl.

"What have you lost?" asked Melissa.

"My ruby necklace. I took it off to bathe in the river and, when I got out of the water, it was gone."

"I'll help you look," said Melissa.

"Oh, would you? The clasp's shaped like a phoenix."

The girls searched the forest for what seemed like hours. Eventually, Melissa saw something shiny on the ground - she reached towards it and produced a ruby necklace with a clasp shaped like a phoenix emerging from the ashes.

"That's it!" said the girl. "I'll give you my magic harp as a reward for your kindness." With that, she waved her hand and a small harp which was made entirely out of gold appeared. "It will bring you good luck," the girl explained.

Thanking the girl, Melissa took the harp and ran back to the farm. Her mother was standing by the fence with her hands on her hips. "Wher have you been?" she demanded.

Melissa had to tell her about the girl in the forest, expecting to be scolded. However, her mother just shrugged and said, "Go on in, Melissa - Peggy will be here soon."

It seemed as if the harp really was magic. From then on, the Arrowley's led a god life. The two cows never went dry, the harvest looked like it would be good and Mrs Arrowley had a healthy baby girl called Elizabeth.

However, there was an evil Witch in the Land over the Rainbow - which was where the girl in the forest came from - who wanted the harp for herself. She sent two of her servants to steal it.

Melissa was in town with Tommy when they appeared behind her. "Hello, young lady," said one. "I hear you've got a fine harp - care to sell it?"

"It's not for sale," said Melissa, who didn't like the look of these two men. "Leave me alone!"

"Drat!" muttered the second servant. "Let's get back."

At Castle Dredmore, from which she ruled over her realm, the Witch was furious. "What?!" she screamed. "You say you failed to get it?! You fools can't even stand up to a little girl!"

"But - but . . ." stammered the servants, terrified of what they knew the Witch would do to them.

"I'll do it myself!" hissed the Witch. "Stand aside!"

Late that night, the Witch entered the Arrowleys' cabin. She found the harp and tucked it under her arm. However, as she left, she accidentally kicked a stone and woke Poppy the black and white dog.

Poppy scampered upstairs and leapt on top of Melissa. "What is it, girl?" she mumbled drowsily. "I'm . . . coming."

Melissa got out of bed and went into the dark garden. She saw the Witch's footprints going towards the trees and began to follow them.

Suddenly, there was a great gust of wind and Melissa found herself being lifted into the air.

Melissa was carried high over the town. At first, she felt a bit dizzy and was araid of falling. But, after a while, she relaxed and lay back on a pillow of air.

Minutes later, she felt herself being gently lowered to the ground. Melissa looked round and saw that she was in a forest with a stream running through it. She got up and ran to the stream.

She sat washing her feet for a few minutes before getting up and beginning to follow the long twisting path through the forest. Eventually, she reached a clearing where an old woman sat under an apple tree, her embroidery on her lap.

"Pardon me," said Melissa, "but what is this place?"

"It is the Land over the Rainbow," replied the old woman. "Come in, child."

She turned to go into her cottage, beckoning to Melissa who followed. Melissa found herself in the cosiest room she had ever seen. There were flowers on the mantelpiece and the furniture - consisting of a wooden table with red checked cloth and matching chairs - looked very quaint.

"Now", said the old woman, "you can't stay in your nightgown - I'll make you some clothes." Melissa was given a dark blue cotton dress and black shoes.

She was also given a gold locket shaped like a heart. She vowed to wear it every day, little suspecting that it was a Locket of Forgetfulness and would make her forget all about her home and the harp. For the old woman was actually a kindly witch who wanted a young girl to be her apprentice and didn't want that apprentice to run away.

Three months passed in the enchanted garden where the sun always shone and still Melissa laughed and played there. Not once did she think of the harp, her parents or her brother and sisters - until the day she broke the Locket of Forgetfulness.

The instant the chain snapped, Melissa began to remember again. "The harp!" she gasped, running out of the garden.

Once Melissa was out of the garden, she saw that summer was over and it was now early winter. The leaves were gone from the trees and there was a light covering of snow where-ever the space in the forest canopy permitted.

A little way on, Melissa saw a fox with its foot caught in some vines. She crouched down and set to work on them. It took the little girl several minutes before the fox was free. As soon as it was, it leapt up and, turning round, barked to Melissa as if to say, "Follow me, little girl!"

All through the forest they trudged. At first, it was quite pleasent, but, in the afternoon, the woods grew deeper and the way harder. It seemed to Melissa that they would never get where-ever they were going.

Finally, Melissa saw a palace made entirely out of glass. The fox had sat down on the lawn and Melissa followed it into the grounds. There, she saw the most beautiful girl she could ever have imagined. Her hair was the colour of the sun and she wore a long white satin dress that might have been a continuation of her skin, the colours were so similar.

"I - I'm Melissa," stammered Melissa. "What's your name?"

"My name is Aroyela," said the beautiful stranger, who look about eleven years old. "Oh, I see you found Ferdus - that fox is always straying. But aren't you from Over the Rainbow?"

"Y - yes," said Melissa. "How did you know?"

Before she knew it, she was telling Aroyela all about the harp she had lost and how she had been blown to this land.

When she had finished, Aroyela smiled and said, "It must have been the Witch of the Very North who stole the harp. She knows great magic and she uses it to control all those who enter her realm. We must get your harp back as quickly as possible."

"Then we head north!" added Melissa.

"Yes," said Aroyela. "But first I'll have to find you some warm clothes; you can't wear summer clothes in the Very North." Melissa was given a red velvet dress trimmed with white fur and Aroyela put on a pink travelling cape which was lined with velvet. Minutes later, the three of them - Ferdus was Aroyela's pet fox - were walking through the forest to the sea, the first stage of the journey.

They arrived just as the sun was setting. While Aroyela and Ferdus built a shelter out of sticks, Melissa gathered wood for a fire.

When Melissa awoke, it was still dark. The fox was asleep at her feet, his tail curled around his feet, and Aroyela lay in the bracken, her golden hair spread on the ground.

Suddenly, Melissa heard something. She leaned over and shook Aroyela. Soon, the three travellers were moving silently through the shadows, anxious to find out what the noise had been.

Anchored just offshore, there was a sailing ship with a huge skull and crossbones flag flying from the main mast. Melissa and Aroyela gasped as one, realising it could only mean one thing - pirates!

Suddenly, Ferdus squirmed out of Aroyela's arms. "Ferdus, no!" cried Melissa. But, before she could pull him back, someone grabbed her.

"Hoy, mates!" called a mocking voice. "Look what I found - two little girls and a fox!"

"Let me go!" yelled Melissa, struggling vainly in the pirate's strong arms. "Aroyela!"

The girls and Ferdus were bundled onto the ship. Seeing them, the pirate captain, who wore a long dark green coat and had a patch over his left eye, gloated in delight. "Well now," he said, "I ain't never seen such fine captives - lock them in the hold with the other prisoners!"

In the hold, Melissa found herself sitting beside a young boy. Dark hair framed his handsome face, his eyes were silver-grey and his body ended below the waist to become that of a chestnut horse.

"Why - you're a centaur!" said Melissa in surprise. "What's your name?"

"Cheron," replied the centaur. "I come from the Forest of Mystery."

"I'm Melissa," said Melissa. "And these are my friends, Aroyela and Ferdus - we're going to the Very North."

In answer to further questioning, Melissa explained about the harp and how they hoped to retrieve it. Cheron then told them how he came to be captured.

"I climbed onto a rock to catch some fish," he explained. "And, the next thing I knew, my hooves were tied together . . ."

"But where are the other prisoners?" asked Melissa. "The captain said there was more than one."

"There's a fairy in the cage behind you," said Cheron. "And there's a raccoon as well."

Melissa turned round and saw a tiny girl locked in a birdcage. Her brown hair cascaded down her back and she wore a pale blue dress and shoes.

The raccoon had crawled in between Aroyela and Ferdus. "Where does he come from?" asked Melissa. The girl spoke to the centaur, but the fairy answered.

"Not he, she - Orma is a female."

"All right," Melissa correct herself. "Where does she come from?"

"I was with her on a ship," said the fairy, "when they came and raided us. Orma and I thought bravely, but we were surrounded - my name's Zillia, by the way."

Hours passed in their little prison. Ferdus nestled against Melissa and slept. Aroyela and Cheron talked among themselves and Orma climbed up a beam.

Suddenly, Cheron snapped his fingers. "I know how we can escape," he said. "At night, the pirate's take turns on guard . . ."

"So?" demanded Melissa, completely perplexed.

"Well, at midnight, it's Sleepy Sel's turn on guard," said Cheron, who had managed to glean some of the pirates' duty rota from what he had overheard from the deck. "He's always half asleep, so we should be able to sneak past and get to the longboat. When we've done that, we'll row straight to the Northland."

The time ticked slowly, but finally Ferdus heard the ship's bell ring midnight and woke the others. Melissa used a buckle on one of her shoes to pick the lock on Zillia's cage, while Orma bit through the rope that held the hatch closed from the inside. Aroyela pushed open the hatch and climbed through it.

Melissa handed Ferdus up to her friend and followed with Orma in her arms. Zillia came next, leaving only Cheron who, being a centaur, could not climb. Aroyela and Melissa pulled him up. On deck, a fine spray came down on the travellers as they moved from one dark shadow to another.

Suddenly, there was a loud yell. Aroyela had accidentally tripped over Sleepy Sel and landed face down on the wet deck. "What the . . .?" he shouted as he realised what was going on. He ran to the ship's bell and began to sound the alarm.

"Prisoners escaping! Prisoners escaping!"

The other pirates stormed onto the deck, grabbed each of the prisoners and marched them back to the hold. This time, they were locked in tightly.

A few hours later, they were dragged up on deck and tied to each other. The pirate captain looked from one to another before announcing their fate. "You know what 'appens to them what tries to escape?" he gloated. "They walks the plank!"

The six friends exchanged glances and were dragged onto the plank jutting out over the sea. Melissa looked down at the choppy waves and knew they could not last five minutes in such rough water. As the captain prodded them along the plank with his cutlass, Melissa stole a glance at Cheron, who nodded. No-one spoke.

They were getting nearer and nearer to the edge. Eventually, Aroyela fell off the plank, pulling the others after her. The pirates cheered with delight.