Princess Petuna opened her eyes wondering why it suddenly felt so cold before remembering what had happened to her. She was not appropriately dressed and her castle gown was smeared with mud. Some of the crystals had fallen out somewhere along the way. She looked around her and then up at the sky. She could hardly see any sky. Perhaps that is why she felt so cold despite the time of day when the sun should have been at its peak. She was lying on the ground and must have drifted off from exhaustion. Now she started to feel hungry. She caught sight of some wild mushrooms growing near the foot of the nearby tree. They would have to do. Picking one up, she dusted the soil off its surface lightly and brought it up to her nose to smell it. It felt firm and smelled musty. She would have to risk it; she was that hungry. A few more mushrooms helped subdue her hunger before she decided to continue on through the forest.
Her mind was deep in thought as she tried to figure out a way back to the castle. She wondered whether her fairies had realised her disappearance yet and why Storm Blazer had not followed her into the forest. Her mind kept reeling until she felt it throbbing at the temples. She could almost hear sounds and voices ringing in her ears. Petuna stopped for a moment to compose herself.
“I must be tired,” she thought.
Then she heard it again. She stayed still and pricked up her ears. She did hear voices and she tried to follow the direction of the sound. She crept on her toes trying to keep as quiet as possible, every now and then stopping to listen. The voices were getting louder now and there seemed to be an argument. Petuna found herself up against a thick bush and she crouched down to look through the gaps in the foliage.
There were a group of men who looked unlike anything she had ever seen before. They were dressed in unusual clothes and held strange objects in their hands. There were about ten of them. Two of them were holding onto one man tightly by the shoulders. His arms seemed to be restrained behind his back. He was wearing something on his face too, a pair of circularly cut glasses that were held together by a metal frame. The frame rested on his nose and the sides went around to the back of his ears. She edged closer. He was speaking now and seemed to be struggling. It was obvious that he was being held against his will. She tried to listen to what was being said but the bushes stopped the sound from carrying through clearly.
She started climbing a nearby tree and hid in a crevice between two branches. She could see and hear them clearly now. The captive man was being led towards a clearing. The other men kept pointing their strange looking objects at him. There seemed to be a leader amongst them because he was the one who kept arguing with the captive man. He was well-built and was dressed in dark brown clothes.
“Don’t do anything you will regret,” spoke the captive man.
Their leader sneered at him and took a few steps towards him until he was facing him, “Be careful what you wish for.”
“Listen to me! I am your only hope to get back. Without me you have no way to get out of here. For goodness sake, don’t you realise what you’re meddling with here?”
“What I’m meddling with is your arrogance. You would do yourself a favour to shut it.”
“You are treading on dangerous turf and you just have no clue what you’re dealing with…”
The man in the dark brown clothes suddenly punched the captive man in the stomach before he could continue his sentence, making him curl over in pain. The man walked over to the other and started whispering in his ear. He did this for a while and every so often the men would turn and look at the captive man, who was still being held firmly by the others. Petuna’s breath was short and fast and her heart was beating fast as she watched what was going to happen next.
Their leader had finished speaking and the men left to fetch things from boxes that were lying on the ground. The man took something out of his clothes and brought it to his mouth. It looked like a thin, white rolled up bunch of leaves. He took out something else from another part of his clothes, a small box. Petuna watched as he took out a small wooden splint from the box and kept striking it against the edge of the box. He started doing this fiercely and repeatedly before throwing it to the ground along with the white roll that was in his mouth and mumbling words to himself. A frown was fixed on his face.
“Don’t expect that to work here,” the captive man said.
The leader looked up at him, “What – are – you – on – about.” He started advancing towards him with a mean look in his eyes.
“The match - it won’t work here.”
Petuna scrunched up her face wondering what a match was but listened on attentively.
“I’m warning you, doc. One more smart remark out of you and you’re a dead man.”
The captive looked away almost biting his tongue to stop himself from saying something at the man. But the man continued as he edged closer to him, “Admit it, doctor.”
The captive man turned to give him a challenging look, “Admit what exactly.”
The man kicked the ground with his foot and mockingly said, “That you want this just as much, if not more than we do.”
The man said nothing and turned his head away, his nose changing to a deep red. Still he said nothing, despite the anger that Petuna saw spreading across his face. The man started laughing and shaking his finger.
“You want this more than we do, doctor. And the proof is that you came all the way here with this.”
The man was holding up some device that looked like a combination of a glass tube and a wooden container.
“Give that back to me!” The captive man was enraged and struggling to be set free. The men held him back until he fell down on his knees. His face was sweating and his expression vicious.
“Be careful what you wish for doctor,” said the leader again as he took a few steps away from him. He turned again and pointed the object at the captive again and said, “And now, prepare to die.”
The captive man’s eyes were wide with desperation. Petuna had to do something. They were going to kill him and without realising it, she let out a scream, “Noooo stop!!”
Hand to mouth, Petuna snuggled deeper into the crevice that she was hiding in. The men, caught by surprise, looked around them, trying to find the source of the sound. The leader was advancing towards the tree that she was hiding in, taking slow cautious steps, his eyes and ears alert.
Petuna had climbed down the tree and was hiding behind its trunk as the man advanced further. She took a deep breath and remembered her father’s words to be strong. She had to be strong now. A man was in danger and it was her duty to save him from these people, no matter who they were. She could not allow violence to occur on her land. She stepped out from behind the tree until she was in full view in the clearing.
The men stopped in their tracks and stared at this beautiful and mysterious maiden who was standing before them. Her clothes were dishevelled but she had long flowing hair that were adorned with tiny sparkling crystals, fluid eyes and skin that reflected the sun like a pool of water. She was unlike anything they had ever seen before. There were no trees in this clearing and the sun’s rays were strong. Petuna covered her eyes with her hands as her eyes slowly became accustomed to the light.
Petuna was frightened but tried to appear strong. She was, after all, princess of the land and had all the right to use her authority. She took one step forward towards the leader and said, “Who are you and what do you think you are doing with that man?”
The leader was stunned at the words and fumbled for a response. He looked at the others and they in turn looked back at him. Surprise covered their faces. The leader cast his eyes over Petuna from head to bottom then up again to her face.
“Answer me, I shall not repeat myself,” spoke Petuna again.
The leader advanced towards her until his face was inches away from hers. His breath was strong and smoky, it almost choked her.
“Or what?” he spat at her.
Petuna flinched at his words but composed herself, “I will banish you from this land. No waterway will ever wet you. Droplets will be prohibited from interacting with you. If you stumble upon a pool it will dry up in your face. If you find yourself facing a waterfall, it will turn into ice before you. You will die withered and alone from lack of water and friends. That is what I would do to you.”
She had just surprised herself. She knew that only the king had that power but a little threat would do no harm and besides, she knew that her father would do just that if he were in this position.
The man searched her face momentarily, incredulous with what she had just told him and then threw his head back and let out a huge guffaw. He slowly straightened up again, his shoulders still shaking slightly with laughter and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“I’m sorry but, really, who are you?” the man questioned again softly in between fits of laughter.
Petuna was furious and was tempted to use her magic to turn him into an ice statue. She knew how erratic things would have been had Hetitia been here. Hetitia would have been loose with her magic, thrusting wandering waterfalls all over the place by now.
“You show no shame! Let that man go at once. Let him go now and I will forgive your incivility.”
The captive man was struggling now, trying to shake himself loose from his captors. The leader was signalling to the others with his hands. Petuna felt danger all around her. Perhaps these people truly did not recognise her. After all, she had not ventured outside the castle for years now. She had to make herself known. That would put an end to this masquerade, she was sure.
“Kneel before your princess, you fool. I have been far too patient with you!”
The man’s eyes widened with surprise. The captive man shouted out as he struggled further, “Don’t you even think about it! Stop!”
Petuna felt alarm bells ringing within her again and her heart continued to beat fast. She felt the crystals in her hair soften into droplets of water from her anxiety. She looked at the captive man continuing to struggle and shout at the leader. The others were moving about and suddenly she felt a sharp pain in her neck. Before she knew it the world before her was floating like a sea of water droplets. The men’s faces were growing hazier by the second and her legs felt weak. The trees above her felt like they were swaying in the air and the sound of the captive man seemed muffled. Petuna collapsed on the ground in a heap.