Djarret swung his sword around. With a single blow he flung the dagger away. His next blow went through Kervaal’s chest. “This is for my friend. A life for a life!” He kicked the dead man in the side once again and left the hall. His warriors followed him without a word.
Melissa looked around for Kervaal’s adviser who had hidden behind the throne. He was grinning.
Djarret stood beside her, and tears ran over his face. “Why did he attack me? I only came to talk.”
Melissa put a hand on his arm and pointed to the adviser who finally dared to leave his hiding-place.
“You should have listened to my advice, Kervaal. Ceres is a much better master than Durimeh.” The adviser picked up the dagger. “He’ll be delighted, if I tell him how I killed you. Slain by your own brother. What a laugh!”
“He threw the dagger?” Djarret grabbed his head with both hands.
Melissa nodded. “And he pushed Kervaal forward, so that you thought he attacked you.”
Djarret swayed. Melissa took his arm and supported him. He wrapped both arms around her and cried. Melissa did not know what to do. She had never seen a man break down. Finally, she gently patted his back and waited for his tears to dry up.
Imperceptibly Kervaal’s throne room faded away, and they stood on the edge of the battle-field again. The spell that had frozen Djarret had dissolved. A little stiffly, Melissa held him in her arm while he sniffled and dried his tears with the back of his hand.
He sank into the grass and pulled Melissa along. “After I killed my brother, I did not care about anything. I didn’t mind following Ceres’ orders, even if I had to kill my own men.” He turned his tearstained face toward her. “Please, kill me. I cannot live with this knowledge.”
“I am not a murderess. I only wanted to understand why you are so cruel.” Melissa wondered if she could do something for Djarret. She suspected that his collapse was only the beginning of slow healing.
“Nobody can undo all the sorrow I caused. People will scorn me and curse my name eternally.”
Melissa had an idea. “You are young enough to change and to begin a new life.” She looked into his eyes. “You probably won’t like what I will do now, but it will give you the time and the new start that you need. Will you trust me?”
Djarret shrugged. “Even a witch as powerful as you cannot help me. Only death can free me.”
“I don’t think so,” Melissa said and looked around for the Talking Trees. The cherry stood near Prince Victor and Lysande who took care of a small wound on the prince’s arm.
“Cherry. Here is somebody who would like to be a tree for a while,” Melissa said.
“Wonderful! Carry on like that, and we’ll have Greenwitch back at equilibrium in no time at all,” the cherry said. It started the silent song that had already turned the magician into a tree. A few moments later, a weeping willow stood in Djarret’s place.
Melissa looked up to the pale green leaves. “You will have three years now. That should be enough time to change.”
The willow rustled its crown. It sounded content. “What will happen to my warriors?”
“I will send them home with Korosadja’s help. I promise.”
Lysande reached for Melissa’s arm. “Hey, how did you do that?”
“Turning him into a tree.”
Melissa explained the exchange between the Talking Trees and Greenwitch’s people to Lsyande.
“They really teach you to perform true magic in only the three years?”
“I think that you only learn to use your own talents in the best possible way,” Melissa said.
Lysande’s eyes shone. “I want to become a tree, too. Will you help me when you’re done?”
Prince Victor grabbed her other arm. “But you won’t turn into a tree, will you?” He looked worried.
Melissa swallowed. “I will return with my aunt to our own world. You knew that.”
To evade Victor’s disappointed gaze, she got up and walked over to her aunt Freya who sat in the grass next to Reginald and stroked his mane with a strange smile.
Melissa grinned. “Well, Reginald, did you finally find a willing victim?”
The stallion jumped up and shook his mane. “I haven’t enchanted her on purpose. I swear.”
Melissa could have sworn that he felt guilty. “Don’t worry. We will return to our world now anyway. There, she cannot follow your spell any more. Perhaps she will forget it one day.”
She looked around for her friends once more. Her heart hurt when she realized that she would never see them again. I don’t want to go back! I don’t want to live my whole life without magic, dragons, spiders, or unicorns. She looked at her aunt who sat on the ground still smiling. Beside her, Leander practiced walking on six legs. She bit her lower lip to keep from crying. I feel more at home on Greenwitch than on Earth. Why can’t I stay?
Why do you have to go? the cherry asked in her mind. Who forces you?
Melissa held her breath. Of course, no-one could force her to go. What about Freya and Herbert? She looked at her aunt who stared at the blue sky smiling. Suddenly, she realized how much she had changed her aunt’s life. And now, she must take care of Uncle Herbert. He needs her urgently. She squatted beside Freya and took her hand.
Her aunt needed a moment to recognize her. “Melissa! This is the strangest dream of my whole life. Is it time to wake up?”
Melissa nodded. It was difficult for her to tell Freya what she had decided.
“This isn’t a dream, Aunt Freya. I will send you back to Earth now, but I will not come along. Here in Greenwitch, I feel at home for the first time since Mom’s death.”
Her aunt reacted more calmly than she had expected. “It is good to know that you finally found yourself, my sweetie. But Herbert and I will miss you very much.”
“Maybe I will learn how to visit Earth. Djarret and his people have proven that it’s possible. But we won’t see each other till then. I only hope that Uncle Herbert gets better soon.”
Freya smiled. She looked relaxed and happy. Melissa hugged her and kissed her cheek.
Freya giggled like a young girl. “See, it can’t be more than a dream or a story. In a fairy tale, I would get the water of the life that will heal Herbert.”
“That isn’t impossible,” Reginald said. “I could let my healing magic flow into a bottle of water or a piece of fruit.”
Melissa was surprised. “Would that work on Earth?”
“Well, your uncle won’t jump out of bed when he eats the fruit, but he will heal in time.”
Fortunately, there was an apple tree with the Talking Trees that bore ripe fruits. Melissa picked the most beautiful one, and Reginald filled it with a generous portion of healing magic. Melissa handed it to her aunt and took Korosadja from her pocket. She was relieved that the stone hadn’t disappeared yet. “Please, take Djarret’s men back to their families. It would be the best, if nobody from Ceres army ever learned that they returned.”
The stone glowed. One by one, the black dressed fighters disappeared. Soon, the battle-field was empty.
Melissa held her breath but Korosadja still lay on her palm. “Please return aunt Freya and the apple to my uncle’s hospital room on Earth. Make sure that no doctor and no nurse will enter the room before my uncle has eaten the apple.”
Freya, clutching the apple, waved briefly before she also disappeared. Melissa looked at her empty hands. Together with her aunt, the mysterious magic stone had vanished. Now, there was no way back for a long time. She thought of Djarret and that he would be free in three years. It is good that I am staying. There is still so much work. She turned to her friends.
Victor, Lysande, Reginald and Leander stared at her open mouthed.
The dragon blew little smoke clouds into the sky. “I thought you meant to go home with your aunt.”
“Yes, I thought so too,” Melissa said. “But then I noticed that I am home already.” Laughter bubbled up inside of her and joined the shouts of joy from her friends.
Lysande grabbed her arm. “What are you waiting for? Let’s look for a Talking Tree.” She took Melissa’s hand and pulled her along.