Petuna woke up to the sound of loud arguing voices that had just stopped. It took her a moment to find her bearings. She was getting tired of all the negative energy that she had been exposed to over the last day. It was more than she had experienced in a very long time. She opened her eyes slowly and tried to get up. Her body ached all over and her neck was stinging. She brought her hand up to it and felt a sore patch, held on to it for a while until she felt the stinging no more. It was a quick fix but she knew that she would have to ration her magic from now on. Looking around her, she saw walls made of large columns of timber secured together by a form of rope. There was no ceiling and the room should have been well lit with all the natural light but this was not the case. The columns were too high for anyone to climb over and there seemed to be thorns at the top of the columns. She realised that she must have been taken away from the clearing and she must be back somewhere among the cluster of trees in the Dark Forest.
Petuna sat up resting against one of the wooden timbers, her knees supporting her hunched over back. The ground was covered with a weaving of rope that formed a very basic rug. There was a small table in one corner of the room that had a wooden cup and plate on the top. She could see that there was water and some food there. The room was small and smelled damp. A slight breeze was seeping through the gaps in the timber columns. She heard voices outside again and strained her ears.
The door opened slightly and a tall, thin man appeared. Petuna straightened herself up.
“Where am I? And who are you?”
The man blinked several times without uttering a word. Suddenly the leader appeared and walked into the room.
“How dare you hold me here!” cried Petuna in fury.
The leader looked at her with interest as she stood in the middle of the room. He circled her and thought of how he could make use of her. He was not prepared to let go of her just yet. It was interesting the way that the doctor had struggled and shouted out in retaliation when he saw her. This must have meant something. After all, there were many secrets that were slowly being uncovered in this journey that they were making. He was determined to get to the bottom of it all.
“Now now, we are not here to harm you. It’s far too dangerous for a pretty one like you to be roaming this forest unattended. We are here to protect you.”
Petuna was suspicious and watched him as he came to a stop in front of her, a make-believe smile spread across his face.
“It’s obvious that you are a long way from home,” he continued as he started to pace around her once again, “I doubt that someone of your, stature,” he looked up at her with a twinkle in his eyes, “would wander in a unkempt state and without some company at least.”
Petuna waited until he finished to flick a quick look at him.
“It is obvious that you have been running,” he looked at her again to test her reaction to his words, “from someone.” He paused again, searching her face, “Or some-thing.” He spoke slowly and with emphasis. He was not going to give anything away but he needed to know more about her.
He made his way towards the water and food on the table.
“You haven’t eaten anything. You must be hungry, please, take this. You need your strength.” He reached and handed the food and water to her.
Petuna stared at him in contempt, ignoring his gesture. She did not trust him and alarm bells had not stopped ringing from the moment he had walked in the room.
“What have you done to the man with the glasses on his face?” demanded Petuna.
The leader shot a glance of bewilderment at her, “the man with the.. .” His voice trailed off as he tried to understand what she was talking about. “I’m sorry?”
“The man that you were holding captive. What have you done with him? Where is he?” demanded Petuna again.
He took a moment to make the connection between her description of spectacles and his prisoner before he threw his head back and gave out a huge laugh.
“I hardly find this situation amusing. Your incivility baffles me!”
“He is fine, don’t you worry,” he said still laughing at her words, “for now!”
Petuna glared at him, “What do you want of me!”
The man took a few more paces from one end of the room to the other, then back again.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Anton and I am chief commander.”
Petuna looked at him cautiously before speaking, “I am Princess Petuna, daughter of King Kornelius who is the ruler of this land – the Land of the Flowing River.”
He looked down at the ground for a moment until his disbelief subsided. He was certain that there was a great secret that was about to be uncovered. He had to find a way of knowing and almost instantly an idea hit him. He bowed before Princess Petuna and said, “At your service, Your Highness.”
He had to keep up appearances. Petuna looked at him in amazement. Perhaps he truly meant no harm and it had only been a matter of him not knowing who she was. Still, Petuna decided not to trust him completely.
“Where is the prisoner?” she demanded.
“I will take you to him, Your Highness,” said the man. His plan was starting to work. He led her out of the room. Soon they were outside and standing before several huts. Tall timber columns were held together by rope. They were arranged in a neat row. She wondered who had built these huts and more importantly who these people were. Perhaps the prisoner could shed some light on this mystery. There were other men standing near the huts. Petuna and Anton walked on passing one hut after another until they came to a stop.
Anton turned to her and said, “Your Highness, the prisoner is in there. I will let you in and you may speak to him at your leisure.”
Petuna nodded and Anton gave a knowing look to the guard standing outside the hut and whispered something in his ear. They opened the door and very soon Petuna found herself standing in a room which was not that dissimilar to the one she had just been in. The door closed behind her.
She took a step forward and looked around. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the room. A bag lay on the ground along with a wooden cup and plate. She looked up and noticed that again there was no ceiling. It was brighter in here and she could start to make out the details. At the far end of the room sat the prisoner on the ground, his head resting on his arms and knees. He bolted up when he saw her, an expression of surprise on his face.
“Are you alright?” she enquired.
The man nodded involuntarily. He quickly reached for the small table and cleared it off. He indicated to her to sit down. “Please,” he said.
Petuna took a few more steps into the room and sat on the small wooden table. It was obviously not built very well. Her feet awkwardly reached the ground. The man stood away watching her with his hand to his head. He started pacing back and forth, his mind deep in thought.
“What is your name?” asked Petuna.
The man stopped pacing and looked around him cautiously.
“My name is Phineas,” he said bringing his pointer finger to his lips. He came closer to Petuna and whispered, “We must be careful what we say. They must not hear us.”
Petuna looked around her then at Phineas as he sat on the ground near her. She nodded and decided she had to find out what was going on. She felt safer here. Petuna slid off the table and sat facing Phineas on the ground. She leaned closer to him and in a whisper, “Who are these people? Are we in danger?”
Phineas nodded incessantly, “I will tell you everything but first you must tell me, are you who you say you are?”
Petuna looked at him not quite understanding what he meant.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you really the princess of this land?” whispered Phineas.
“Of course I am, who else would I be?”
Petuna frowned at him. The only way she could do that was to use her magic and she was running quite short with her supply. Phineas was rubbing his wrists. They were marked with red bruises from the restraints that had been placed on him.
“I can only show you a little of what I can do,” said Petuna. She placed her fingers on one of his wrists and concentrated hard until the redness start to fade. She had to stop when she started feeling weak. Phineas looked at his wrist in disbelief.
“It – It really is true. My word! It really exists!”
He tried to suppress his excitement so no one would hear him. Petuna watched him closely.
“Now I have shown you what you asked. I need to hear an explanation.”
Phineas sat closer to her, making sure that his voice was no louder than a whisper.
“I come from a land very far away,” he started, “a land much farther away than you can ever imagine. Even I can’t believe it. It is another world.” He watched her closely as he spoke thoughtfully.
“Who are these people?” asked Petuna.
Phineas sighed and said, “They are from my land.”
“But why are they holding you prisoner? They were going to kill you!”
“Shhh, keep your voice down,” pleaded Phineas before giving out a long sigh. “It’s a very long story, Your Highness, but..”
“Please call me, Petuna.”
“Petuna,” he smiled slightly. She was right. They had to start trusting each other if they were going to make it out of here alive. “You must listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you. You might find it to be an incredible story but I swear to you that every word I say is the truth. You must trust me. I will try to make it as simple as possible and please feel free to interrupt me if I get carried away,” he smiled to himself, “I am known to gibber away!”
Petuna considered him closely and nodded. But before Phineas could start his story they heard some shuffling outside the hut. Phineas quickly grabbed Petuna by her hand and they both got up. In an instant he sat her down on the table and threw himself into the farthest corner of the room. He brought his pointer finger up to his lips with his eyes bulging wide.
“Don’t say a word,” he mouthed.
Petuna looked at him, fear gripping her. The door opened and Anton stood in the light. He surveyed the room closely.
“Your Highness, I think it must be time for you to rest back in your hut now don’t you think?” said Anton carefully.
Petuna looked at him questioningly before casting a quick glance at Phineas. He had his head in his arms and was looking down at the ground. Petuna got up and went away with Anton. Moments later she found herself back in her hut. She stood in the centre of the room trying to come to grips with the few words that Phineas had uttered. He was about to tell her something grave and important. But another land? Another world, even? Why were they holding him prisoner? A million questions rushed through her head and she wanted answers.
Meanwhile, Anton stood outside considering how best to get the doctor to speak and tell him more about this curious maiden who had just stumbled upon them. He thought he could get a conversation going between the girl and the doctor while he eavesdropped outside. But all he heard were whispers. He could not risk the doctor revealing who they were to her. He had to find another way.