Melissa's Magic Harp: Part Three

As they worked, Arnide told Melissa and Aroyela that the Witch had captured everyone who ventured into the Very North and made them her slaves. "If only we could escape," she sighed as she swept the corridor. "But it's hopeless - if the Witch recaptures us, she'll have three new statues in the courtyard."

"Stop that talking and get working!" screamed the Witch, appearing behind the three girls. "Aroyela! Go down to the kitchen and turn the spit! I'm going to show Melissa where Ferdus, Cheron and Zillia are . . ."

Melissa found herself being led up to the tower room. There, she saw the harp propped in a corner and Zillia imprisoned in a cage hanging from the ceiling. "Zillia!" exclaimed Melissa.

"I must tell you something, Melissa," said Zillia sadly. "There is a reason why I'm being held here - my father is King of the Fairies."

"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Melissa.

"Last year, I quarreled with my sister, Rhunda - we're twins, you see so it's anyone's guess which of us will get the throne. But, that time, Rhunda insulted me so much that I ran away from home. I met Orma soon after and we travelled together until we were captured by those awful pirates . . ."

Melissa shuddered; her experience with the pirates was something she would sooner forget herself.

"Now then, Zillia," said the Witch in a deceptively soothing voice, "if you write to your father and ask him to send me a thousand bags of fairy dust as your ransom, I will be most happy to release you."

"Never!" cried Zillia, who knew how dangerous fairy dust could be in the wrong hands.

"Then I shall keep you here forever!" hissed the Witch as she hustled Melissa out of the tower. "Come on, Melissa - I'll let you see Ferdus and Cheron next."

Ferdus and Cheron were in the stables, the centaur in one of the stalls and the fox tethered to a post. Melissa hugged him and stroked his reddish-brown fur.

"Excellent!" said the Witch in her cold voice. "I have you all in my power and there is no escape!"

Melissa ran from the stables and into the Castle. She sat down at a table and began to cry; she would probably never get the harp back now and it was the only way she would ever get back home. Then, she thought of Orma, a stone statue somewhere in the courtyard.

She looked up to see Arnide standing beside her. "Melissa," she said. "Melissa, don't cry. We'll defeat the Witch somehow - I know we will."

"I hope so too, Arnide," said Melissa brokenly, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief Arnide had given her. By the time she had stopped crying, she felt better and went back to work.

A week passed. Directed by the Witch, Melissa and Aroyela slaved from dawn to dusk. They were determine to escape somehow, but, with the Witch around, they stood little chance of succeeding.

At night, Melissa would slip out to feed Ferdus. She always sat on the floor of the stable and tried to think of a way to destroy the Witch. Ferdus would look into the little girl's eyes and whine softly as if to say, "I understand, Melissa, and I wish I could help you."

One afternoon, Melissa was tidying the tower room when her gaze fell on the harp. "Maybe," she thought, "the harp can help us. If I play it in front of the Witch, its magic might put and end to her evil . . ."

She told Aroyela and Arnide of her plan. "I'll need all the help I can get," she said. "Arnide, can you sneak into the stables and free Ferdus and Cheron. Aroyela, be on the lookout - I'll shout if anything goes wrong."

It was midnight and the whole castle was asleep when a small figure scrambled through a high window and climbed down a makeshift rope of bedclothes. Arnide crept across the statue-filled courtyard and into the stables. There, she crouched in the straw and waited for her chance.

She stole past dozing horses and reindeer until she found Cheron tethered by his human waist in one of the stalls.

"Cheron," she whispered as she began to undo his tether, "I've come to get you out. I'm the girl who brought you before the Witch when you first arrived here, remember? I'm on your side Cheron - we all are, only the Witch has enslaved everyone in this realm."

Having freed Ferdus, Arnide hurried back across the courtyard and smuggled the two into the Castle. She was just in time as the Castle was beginning to wake up.

To Melissa, the morning seemed to last forever. The Witch had no idea what Melissa was planning, but she made her work harder than ever. But, finally, her chance to put her plan into action came.

When the girl had finished polishing the harp, she turned to the Witch. "If you don't mind," she said, hoping she sounded casual enough, "I'll play a tune for you."

"Would you?" smiled the Witch. "Go on then, child. I've always loved music."

Melissa sat down at the harp and began to play it. As she played, she sang a beautiful song that seemed to come into her head out of nowhere. Actually, the harp was channeling its magic through her and the song was part of the spell on it; if anyone of pure heart played the harp, they too would start singing the same haunting words.

"Stop!" screamed the Witch, clasping hold of her head. "You're making me want to cry and tears will destroy all my powers!"

Melissa smiled to herself; it was working so far. Unfortunately, the Witch saw the smile and turned on Melissa. "You shifty brat!" she cursed. "You planned this, didn't you? Very well, you shall become a statue like many others who have chosen to oppose me!"

With that, she pulled out her wand and recited the turning-to-stone spell:

"Tippery tone
Derry dell . . ."

Melissa broke loose and ran to the window as the Witch's wand disappeared up the Witch's sleeve, sulking at having been stopped from casting the spell. She looked down, saw Aroyela in the courtyard below and screamed for help. Aroyela ran inside and started up the stairs, trying to get to her friend before she suffered the same fate as Orma. Then, as if responding to an invisable cue, the slaves working in the Castle dropped what they were doing and headed in the direction of the tower-room.

Arnide, however, was already in the tower-room, hidden in a cupboard with Ferdus and Cheron. Seeing what was happening, she waited until the Witch's back was to the cupboard - then, she leapt out on her.

Get off me, brat!" the Witch screamed. "As soon as I get my wand out, I'll turn you to stone!""

While the Witch was distracted by Arnide clinging to her like a limpet, Melissa hurried freed Zillia and hurried back to the harp. She began to play it again, ignoring the Witch's protests. At that moment, the slaves reached the tower-room and burst in to find the Witch advancing on Melissa as she sat playing the harp . . .

"Melissa!" called Aroyela. "Melissa!" She ran across the room, holding out her arms to Melissa who fell forward, fainting with relief. Seeing the Witch start to crumble before their eyes, Cheron quickly snatched her wand away from her dessicating hand and threw it out of the window. It broke in two instantly.

Turning back to Aroyela and the others, he saw them staring at a small pile of grey powder. Melissa's plan had succeeded - the Witch of the Very North had been defeated by the power of the very harp she had stolen and tried to use for evil.

Arnide scooped up the powder and threw it out of the open window. "That's an end to her," she said grimly. "And good riddance!"

"It worked," said Melissa climbing unsteadily to her feet as Arnide disposed of the Witch's remains. "Now we must get out of here."

The newly freed slaves ran down the the stairs, through the Castle and into the courtyard where an amzing sight greeted them. Hundreds of people and animals milled around, brushing off snow and looking as if they had never been turned to stone.

"Are we safe?" asked a voice behind Melissa. The girl turned and found that it was Orma who had spoken.

"Yes, Orma," she said, suddenly finding it quite normal that a raccoon should talk. "The Witch is gone forever."

That night, Arnide and Aroyela raided the Witch's kitchen and prepared a delicious feast to celebrate their freedom. At the feast, all those freed slaves who did not come from the Very North made plans to return home. The rest would stay to rebuild the realm with Arnide as its new Queen - one of her first orders was for the removal of the sign the Witch had placed on the borderline.

A few days later, Melissa and her friends set off after saying their goodbyes to Arnide. Heading south, they, found that, the further they got from the Very North, the thinner the covering of snow on the ground became. Spring flowers came into bloom, carpeting the Northland. From somewhere, birds twittered and the sun began to warm their backs.

One day, Cheron stopped Melissa in her tracks. "Melissa, I know this area," he said. "The Forest of Mystery can't be too far . . ."

The travellers detoured in the direction Cheron indicated and, as the sun set, they reached a cool shady forest. It was Cheron's home, the Forest of Mystery; he led his friends deep into the trees and told them to watch what happened next.

There was a rustling in the bushes and another centaur appeared . . . and another . . . and another, until there were a dozen of them - both male and female - calling to Cheron to join them. "I have returned home at last," he said to Melissa and the others. "Goodbye, my friends - we will meet each other again." With that he turned and galloped into the forest.

The others turned and headed south towards Zillia's father's kingdom. Zillia had promised to return home with Orma and ask her father to give Ferdus the ability to speak. She couldn't understand how Orma had suddenly developed this gift, but guessed it had something to do with the Witch's magic.

The following afternoon, they reached a clearing. "This is my home," said Zillia. "Come, Orma."

To Melissa's delight, she found herself in a tiny village of fairies. "Excuse me?" she said to an old fairy woman sitting on a mushroom. "Could you tell me where the Royal Palace is?

"Up that hill," said the old fairy, pointing to a small hill. "Now be off with you - I've got better things to do than sit talking to great creatures like you."

The palace looked just over four feet high, the same height as Melissa. Tiny soldiers in red uniforms guarded it.

"Halt!" called out one. "Who goes there?"

"The Princess Zillia has returned!" announced Orma. "We're her new friends."

"Enter!" ordered the soldier after checking that Zillia was indeed among the party.

The throneroom was so small that Melissa could see that there was no room for anyone bigger than a fairy. She and her friends watched through a window as all the fairy soldiers and servants in the room stood to attention when two very regal looking fairies entered. One had a grey beard and wore a long robe trimmed with gold - the other looked a little like Zillia, only her dress was green.

"Father! Rhunda!" exclaimed Zillia, running towards them since the ceiling was too low for her to fly easily. With a laugh, the King of the Fairies took his daughter in his arms.

Tears came to Melissa's eyes as she watched this scene. Suddenly, although she loved her new friends dearly, she wanted desperately to go home. By the time she, Aroyela and Ferdus had said a tearful goodbye to Orma and Zillia, promising to meet them again soon, she could think of almost nothing else.

Reaching the coast, they joined the crew of a ship bound for the Very East, which would stop to get supplies on the beach where the three travellers had been captured by the pirates. The voyage proved long but uneventful, the spring weather sunny and warm. Melissa began to enjoy the sea air and thought of her mother, who must think something terrible had happened to her daughter by now.

When the ship docked, they asked leave to go ashore. After all their adventures, the long walk through the forest seemed nothing at all and, before she knew it, Melissa was once again in the palace of glass. Aroyela presented Melissa with a pretty pink dress with a lace collar and Melissa accepted it gratefully since she was finding her red dress rather stuffy and she had outgrown the one the good witch gave her. They stood outside, waiting for the gale that had brought Melissa to this land to begin.

"Goodbye, my friends," said Melissa. "I'll never forget you and I promise to come back."

"Goodbye, Melissa," said Aroyela. "I hope you don't mind if I keep the harp - it should be safe here now that the Witch of the Very North is dead."

"I'll miss you, Melissa," added Ferdus. "May we meet again."

"I'll be back!" called Melissa as she was lifted into the air and once again blown Over the Rainbow.

Moments later, she sat up to find herself in her own garden. Tommy was playing with Poppy on the lawn, while Peggy held Elizabeth in her arms and Mrs Arrowley stood on the porch, watching her children.

Melissa ran forward in excitement. "Look, everyone!" she called. "It's me - Melissa!"

"Melissa, my little girl!" said Mrs Arrowley, holding her second eldest against herself with one arm. "You're home!"

Years later, when Melissa had married and had children of her own, she would often tell them about her extraordinary adventures in the Land over the Rainbow.

"Did the Witch really turn people to stone?" little Hetty asked one night.

"Yes, darling," said Melissa. "More about it tomorrow night. Goodnight, children."

Melissa kissed her children and went back downstairs. She would never forget the Land over the Rainbow and the new friends she made there.

There is a law in the Land over the Rainbow which states that no outsider can visit it more than seven times. Melissa left it for the last time six years after her adventure in the Very North.

The Land over the Rainbow is always there and, you never know, but maybe you'll have a chance to visit it, just like Melissa.