Melanie was special from the very beginning. You couldn’t tell it to look at her. She lay in her crib like an ordinary infant, only a tiny covering of fuzz on her head. But when she cried, you knew immediately that something was different. Normally, crying babies make you want to plug your ears or run away or possibly tear your hair out if you can’t do either of the first things. Not Melanie’s cry. Her little face scrunched up and her mouth opened up in a wide, angry frown, but the noise that came out was so smooth and sweet that anyone who heard it felt better about their life immediately. It made you want to cuddle her and feed her and be near her forever.
Needless to say, Melanie was a well loved child.
As she grew, the whole village came to recognize the power of her voice. It didn’t matter if she was talking, laughing, or crying, anyone who heard her felt instantly at peace. And when she sang…well, no one in the village got any work done when Melanie sang. Those who were particular strong would stop what they were doing and listen and have pleasant day dreams. Those who weren’t particularly strong would generally fall asleep.
It was her singing which eventually drew the notice of the queen. It just so happened that one day as Melanie was walking home from school, the queen was passing through the village in her carriage on her way home from visiting her old grandmother. The queen was feeling very sad about her sick grandmother and very worried about going home to the king until the sound of a little girl singing suddenly soothed all her cares away and caused her to drift into the first real sleep she had slept in weeks.
As soon as her carriage left town and the queen was out of earshot of that voice, she started awake. She immediately insisted that her driver turn the carriage around, and she went into the village to search for the sound of that powerful music. The townspeople knew immediately it must have been Melanie, and so it was that just as Melanie’s mother was putting dinner on the table, the queen knocked on the door of their cottage!
We can skip over the long and boring conversations that ensued. The end result was that the next morning, the queen set off for the palace, taking eight-year-old Melanie with her and leaving behind her very worried parents with no sweet voice to soothe their cares.
In the palace, Melanie was treated like a princess. In fact, the queen treated her even better than her own two daughters, the actual princesses. This was because she had never had any use for her daughters, while Melanie was someone she needed desperately.
You see, the king in this country was a very bad man. He was bitter and angry and thought of no one but himself. He made unfair laws and never listened to any complaints. He gave huge parties for people who flattered him and exiled anyone who dared to criticize him. He had fits of temper in which he would break dishes and throw shoes at innocent people who happened to be in the way.
It was for this last reason that the queen wanted Melanie. The queen was tired of her dishes being broken, and more than once she herself had been on the receiving end of a shoe. But she knew that if she sent Melanie in to talk to the king when he was in a bad mood, he would calm down quickly, and if that didn’t work, the girl could just sing and put him to sleep.
This plan worked perfectly, and from the day Melanie moved into the palace, it became a much more peaceful place. The servants, who had been treated horribly before, were grateful for the break. The queen was happy to be safe from flying shoes, and even the two princesses weren’t as jealous as they might have been, probably because they had lots of late night conversations with Melanie, and her voice soothed them to sleep so happily.
This might have been a happily ever after for everyone (for even Melanie benefited from the finest food and access to beautiful gardens and a first rate education) if the king hadn’t accidentally made a discovery of his own.
One day, just after Melanie turned 16, she was in the throne room reading out loud to the king and soothing his frazzled nerves, when two lords entered the room, both demanding that the king take back his new law that everyone in the kingdom had to pay money to build a statue of the king in the town square. The lords were quite irate about it, but the minute they charged into the room and heard Melanie reading, they both stopped. Suddenly they couldn’t remember why they had been so upset. Something about the new law being too much for the poor workers? The king, of course, though he was feeling peaceful, was still quite selfish, so he refused to change his law. The two lords smiled and nodded and left without another word.
Outside the palace and back on their horses, they suddenly remembered their anger, but by then, of course, it was too late to go back and say anything. They had already agreed to the law.
The king saw a new way to always have what he wanted. From that day on, he made any law he chose, but instead of having his heralds read out the laws, he sent Melanie around from village to village, reading it all in her soothing voice. If anyone came later to complain, he sent them to Melanie for an hour, and they left without another word.
Oh, the laws the king could make now that no one objected to anything. He made a law that no one could travel without asking him first. He made a law that half of everything everyone owned would be his. He made a law that anytime anyone tasted something they especially loved, they had to stop eating it immediately and send it to the palace for him to try. He made a law that every citizen had to send him a birthday present each year.
Of course, Melanie was very young when she began reading out these laws, but even so, they seemed strange to her and more than a little unfair. Still, she had been trained to be obedient, so she went along until the day she met the orphan.
Melanie was riding back to the palace after delivering the news of yet another ridiculous law when she heard someone crying. She followed the sound to a little shrub by the side of the road, and under its leaves, she found a little boy, dirty, scrawny, and sobbing his heart out.
Of course, the second she asked what was the matter, he stopped crying. He told her that his parents had been forced to give half of their food to the king, and since they were very poor, that only left two loaves of bread and a piece of cheese for the whole family to eat. The next week was the king’s birthday, and they had no present to send. They had already eaten the last of the food. When the king found out they sent nothing, his soldiers came and took the boys’ parents away to the dungeons. The boy had been wandering the streets ever since, looking for something to eat, but had found nothing. No one but the king had any extra these days.
When Melanie heard this, her heart was broken. She saw immediately that her voice had helped to make pitiful slaves of these people, and she felt like the worst tyrant on earth. She wanted to find a way to make it right, but she didn’t know how.
Singing the loveliest song, she knew, Melanie put all the soldiers who guarded her to sleep and carried the sleeping orphan on her own horse, galloping away toward the only place she could think to find wisdom.
The old abbey at the top of the hill was already a peaceful place. The monks who lived there stayed out of most of the evils of the world, and so were not touched by the events of late. They kindly fed the orphan and listened to Melanie’s story. When she had finished, they pondered for a long time.
Finally, they recommended that the safest course of action was for Melanie to come live with them. She could take a vow of silence and then no one would ever misuse her gift again.
Melanie thought they must be right. She felt sad and lonely at the thought of living up here so far away from other people and never singing again, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone again. She knew she was dangerous. She opened her mouth to agree to this solution.
Before she could speak, the orphan boy raised his head from his soup and frowned. How would a vow of silence help his parents? he asked. And what about all those people who were starving? Was she just going to abandon them?
Melanie burst into tears, which made all the monks and the orphan feel that life was truly beautiful in its sadness. Even as she cried, Melanie watched their sympathetic faces, and for the first time since she was eight years old, considered that she might be able to use her voice as she chose, and not as someone else wanted her to.
Leaving the orphan with the monks to be fed and cared for until his parents were released, Melanie made her way down off the mountain.
The king, of course, was very angry that Melanie had put her guards to sleep and disappeared like that, but she spoke quietly to him, and he settled down. She knew from experience that her voice alone would not be enough to overcome the king’s selfishness, so instead, she offered to sing him his favorite lullaby.
Once he was asleep, Melanie went down to the guardroom and had a chat with all the guards. Soon all the prisoners in the dungeons were gathered outside the gates, rubbing their wrists and looking around in confusion. Melanie calmed their fears and sent them home.
Then Melanie went to the keeper of the storeroom and told him a long story. When it was finished, he got his keys and instructed his helpers to begin distributing all the extra food in the pantries.
Finally, Melanie went to the guest rooms, where several prominent lords and ladies were sleeping. She woke them gently and had a few words with them as a group.
Then Melanie left the palace on her favorite horse and never looked back.
When the king woke in the morning, all the lords and ladies were standing around his bed, and more than one had a sword in hand. The lords and ladies explained a few things to the king, and as they did not have Melanie’s voice, he did not take it very well, but in the end, with all those swords so close to his nose, he had no choice but to agree. From then on, things were quite different in the kingdom.
No one from the palace was quite sure where Melanie had gone, but it was definitely true that if you went up into the mountains on a spring or summer day, you would hear the wind singing such a soothing song that you would come home feeling refreshed and rested like you had never felt before.