There was more crashing in the undergrowth and the two men who had accompanied Rowena’s attacker came bursting onto the scene.
'Are alright your majesty?’
Your majesty? Rowena questioned in her head as she looked at the man they were addressing as their king.
‘It’s alright boys, I’m fine.’ He got to his feet pulling Rowena up with him. ‘I caught her.’
‘Well done sire,’ Ishak said, slapping him on the back. All the men laughed and they began walking back the way they had come, dragging Rowena along with them.
‘I don’t understand,’ Rowena protested as she was lead into some sort of camp, where three other men were milling around. At the sight of their leader dragging in a beautiful girl by the arm, smiles spread across all of their faces. ‘Who are you?’
‘Your worst nightmare,’ growled one of the men playfully. Rowena shrunk back, away from him.
‘Now, Erik. We have to be nice to our guest.’ Although his voice suggested he was joking, there was a hint of authority to it that said he was being serious, which Rowena noticed and was grateful for. With a sense of confidence Rowena began to speak again.
‘Talk to me. Tell me who you are.’
‘All in good time my little princess, all in good time.’ He laughed as he let go of her arm and making her sit down in the centre of the camp by pushing down on her shoulders. ‘Hans,’ he called,’ watch her for me will you.’ He turned back to Rowena. ‘Please don’t try to run away again. You’ll just be tiring yourself out, and we’ve got a lot of walking to do today.’
‘Where are you taking me?’ She called after him, as he walked away. She would have chased after him, but the big guy from earlier was standing between her and where the man was disappearing to, so she stayed where she was.
My little princess, Rowena thought. He can’t know what I really am.
But what if he does?
Thoughts flew around her head as people bustled around her, tidying up the camp, rolling up mattresses and blankets and putting out the fire.
‘Are we ready to set off Ishak?’ The leader asked, surveying the now cleared space.
‘I think so your majesty,’ was the response. From observing the men’s packing, Rowena had managed to learn most of the men’s names and purposes. The man, Hans, who had been given the job of watching her was the brute force, not much brain but could pack a punch. Ishak was the leader’s right hand man, he oversaw everything that went on and organized everyone else. Erik, the man who had growled at her when she arrived, was the cook; he was in charge of the food and the fire. And the final two members of their band were Lukas and Jem. As far as Rowena could tell, they didn’t have a specific job; they just did whatever the others told them to do.
However, the leader still had no name. None of the others addressed him with his real name, only speaking to him as ‘your majesty’. Rowena had no idea what that meant. Was he the unofficial king of the Wild Lands? Or was he only their king. Or was it just a sign of respect for their leader? He certainly looked regal with his chiseled features, height and presence, but he acted like any common man, laughing and joking with the other men and getting into their petty and jokey fights. It didn’t make sense.
He strode over to where Rowena was, having remained still for the good part of an hour. He patted Hans on the back, indicating that he could go and held out his other hand to Rowena. She refused to take it and stood up on her own, holding her head high and trying to look as powerful as possible.
‘So that’s the way it is?’ He said, slightly amused by her defiance. ‘So then my lady,’ he said, giving her a very extravagant and sarcastic bow, ‘may I have the pleasure of knowing your name?’
‘Only if you tell me yours.’
‘Ah but I asked first, so you have to give me yours first.’ Rowena thought about it, not sure how to proceed. She didn’t trust any of these men, for obvious reasons. How did she know that they would not kill her as soon as she told them her real name?
‘My name is Ena,’ she lied, using the shortened form of her name.
‘Well good day to you Ena. My name is Artem Novak, and from the way you were observing us earlier I assume you have worked out the names of my friends.’ Rowena blushed, but refused to hide behind her hair, as she wanted to.
‘So what is it you want with me?’ She said strongly.
‘Well you’re rich, as we can tell by the contents of this bag,’ he held up Rowena’s cloth bag containing everything she had in the world at this point, ‘and it’s our job to find pretty expensive things and sell them on.’
‘Give me that back,’ Rowena said through gritted teeth.
‘I don’t think I can do that,’ Artem replied, a smile pulling up one corner of his lips.
‘I said give it back.’ Rowena lost her temper and threw herself at him, to the surprise of everyone around. She could see the shock in Artem’s eyes as she hit him, losing his balance and falling backwards onto the ground. Unfortunately for Rowena, once she had lost the element of surprise, her opponent had the upper hand, being both stronger and heavier than her. As she fought to grab the bag, Artem flipped her over onto her back and pinned her down.
‘We really need to stop doing this,’ Artem joked as he stared down at Rowena’s burning face.
‘Let me go!’ She struggled but he had a firm grip on her wrists and the weight of his body was too much for her to dislodge.
'I can’t risk doing that until you’ve calmed down Ena.’ He seemed to be enjoying this too much for Rowena’s liking but after a lot of huffing and puffing, she began to calm down. ‘See isn’t that better.’ The patronizing tone to his voice almost set Rowena off again, but she controlled her anger and remained impassive. ‘Do you promise you won’t attack me again?’
‘I’m not going to promise that,’ Rowena spat at him.
‘Then we’re just going to have to wait until you can make that promise.’ Artem said smiling. ‘I’ve got all day.’ Rowena fought with herself internally about what to do next. She wasn’t getting anywhere by being pinned to the ground and maybe she could do a deal with these people. But on the other hand, she was a princess and shouldn’t have to make deals with thugs.
‘OK I promise I won’t attack you. Now let me go.’
‘What’s the magic word?’ Artem was really enjoying teasing her; she was so easy to wind up.
‘Don’t push your luck,’ Rowena said threateningly.
‘You forget who is in control here,’ Artem pointed out. ‘Now what’s the magic word?’
'Can you let me up, please,’ Rowena said in her politest voice.
‘My pleasure Ena,’ he said cordially, helping her to her feet. ‘Now if you don’t mind we have somewhere we need to get to, and you’re coming with us.’