The Melting Marsh (Chapter 14)

Petuna and Phineas decided to split up and inspect different areas around the marsh. They wandered among the trees and Petuna was on extreme alert in case the Scalding Steam Maker was nearby. She was grateful for the fact that he could only survive in the marsh so as long as she stayed away from the mists of steam, she would be safe. Phineas decided that the best view he would get of the marsh was if he climbed one of the trees. He grabbed hold of the trunk and used its thick, ribbed surface to hoist himself up until he reached a sturdy branch. He held on to the trunk and stood on the branch looking out. That was when he saw it.

There was an old bridge hanging in midair. They had not seen it before because it was high up above the thickly clustered trees. The leaves from the trees had hidden it from view. Phineas examined the bridge from his position on the tree branch. Wooden boards were lined up along the length of the bridge sideways and they were held together by long pieces of rope on either side. It seemed that several wooden boards were missing and the middle of the bridge ended up twisted around itself. It created a tension that had worn the rope into a threadbare existence. The only thing that kept the bridge from breaking in two was a fine piece of rope which held one section of the wooden boards to the next.

Phineas looked down at the marsh and saw that the steam mists hardly reached the bridge. It was that high up. The bridge stretched from one end of the marsh to the other side and was fixed in place by solid trees on either side of the marsh. Whoever built the bridge had built it for the purpose of getting across. It was just what they needed. He searched for Petuna among the trees until he found her rummaging through, trying to find a way across. He quickly climbed down the tree and made his way towards her.

“Petuna!” called out Phineas in a loud whisper.

Petuna turned around at the sound of his voice and straightened up. She had been struggling to find a way around the marsh because of the jungle of trees she had been trying to untangle.

“Phineas, there doesn’t seem to be any way around the marsh,” she sighed.

“Nevermind about that now I want to show you something,” he said, beckoning to her to follow him.

She kept close to him until they reached the tree which Phineas had just climbed. He hesitated for a second before giving her a cheeky smile.

“Would you like a little adventure?” he teased.

“Phineas, this is no time for games!” she snapped at him.

“Alright, alright, but just I want to show you something I found and the only way to see it is by climbing this tree,” he paused.

“Very well, but this better be worth it!”

He helped her up and together they climbed the tree until they reached the branch where Phineas had been earlier. Petuna saw it at once and gasped in disbelief.

“A bridge! I can’t believe it! It’s exactly what we need!” she exclaimed.

“Not quite a solid bridge though, notice the missing boards and how it hangs there twisted. If it weren’t for that single piece of rope holding the two sections together, the bridge would’ve collapsed,” said Phineas.

“Mmm, I wonder who built it,” said Petuna thoughtfully, “And how do we get to it?”

“It looks like the bridge is supported by these two trees.” Phineas pointed to two trees on either side of the marsh, “We’d probably have to climb up the nearest tree, cross the bridge and then go down that tree at the far end.”

“Alright, let’s do it!” Petuna started to descend the tree cautiously. Phineas looked at her, surprised by her instantaneous zeal.

“But, Petuna,” called Phineas after her but she had already reached the ground and was standing waiting for him. He fumbled down the tree until he reached the ground panting.

“Come on,” said Petuna decisively as she started to walk away towards the nearest tree that supported the bridge.

“Wait, Petuna, wait!”

Petuna turned around with raised eyebrows. Phineas caught up with her.

“It’s not safe, Petuna,” said Phineas, “the bridge may give way by virtue of our own weight!”

“I know,” said Petuna in a matter of fact manner, “but we have no other choice.” She paused and searched his face.

“It’s either we take this risk or wait for the others to catch up with us,” continued Petuna, “We’re dead either way but at least if we use the bridge we have a chance – a small chance but still it’s something.”

Phineas admired her courage and could not but follow her lead. They walked towards the tree and looked up. Sure enough, they saw one end of the bridge tied firmly to the tree. Petuna was about to start climbing the tree when Phineas stopped her.

“Wait! Wait – uhh – listen, maybe I should test it first to see how much weight it’ll handle,” said Phineas.

“No, Phineas, I go first!” said Petuna decisively. She could not risk the bridge giving way if Phineas went first, killing any chance she had of leaving. She had to do all she could to reach her father and warn him. She was sure that Phineas would eventually find a way out and besides, those after them were humans; his people. He would know how to deal with them.

Phineas nodded and climbed after her slowly. They reached the top of the tree and looked at the bridge before them. It was dangling precariously over the marsh. The mists of steam looked small from this height. Petuna closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Phineas looked at her with concern, “Are you sure, Your Highness?”

Petuna nodded without opening her eyes. When she finally did, she smiled softly at him and said, “When I get to the other side, if I get to the other side, start crossing over.”

Phineas nodded again. She paused momentarily then smiled at him softly and said, “See you on the other side.”

She held on to the tree and tested the first wooden board with her foot. It creaked slightly but nothing else happened. Placing her other foot on the board, she kept holding on to the tree then waited. Still nothing happened so she let go of one hand and held on to the rope before slowly transferring her weight over as she placed her other hand on the other side of the rope. Phineas was sweating as he watched her take her first step and gulped deeply. Petuna slowly took another step into the bridge and again it creaked but she kept steady and decided not to look down. After a few more steps, the bridge started to creak and slowly sway. Petuna stopped in her tracks until the bridge stabilised again. She was almost near the point where the bridge twisted and had no wooden boards. Her hands started shaking as she took one step after another until she finally reached midway.

“This is the tricky bit,” she said.

She would have to step over the missing boards in such a way to get to the other section of the bridge. In the process, she had to try and bring the bridge back to its regular position. It would mean untwisting the bridge. She held on to the rope tightly and took a big step forward so that she reached the first wooden board on the new section of the bridge. That was when the bridge gave way. Petuna screamed as the rope unravelled. Before she knew it she was dangling in the air. She was still holding on to the rope.

“Petuna!” shouted Phineas.

Petuna held on to the rope tightly and tried to hoist herself up but the more she wriggled the more the rope unravelled. She stayed still and looked down in horror. The final thread of rope broke and one half of the bridge fell towards Phineas while the other half fell to the far end. Petuna found herself being hurled towards one end of the marsh but her fingers could not hold on to the rope much longer. She screamed as she fell towards the marsh.

"Petuna!” Phineas shouted again. He clambered down the tree and started to make his way towards the marsh. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks as he saw Petuna close her eyes and point her fingers towards the marsh. A huge bubble of water formed that cushioned her against the fall. Phineas’ mouth fell open as he watched her magic at work. The water bubble acted as a barrier between her and the marsh. She kneeled down and touched the bubble with her hands and it slowly started moving towards land. As it moved, the bubble hovered over mists of steam and the heat from them started melting away thin layers of the water bubble. She furrowed her brow and focused harder to get to land as fast as she could. She had to get to the other side before the entire bubble melted. Petuna tried to gauge the distance that she still had to cover. She saw the water guzzling on either side of her and thin mists of steam shooting up in the air. Short and fast breaths were all she could muster as she tried to make the bubble flow faster. She dared not think that any one of these mists might be the Scalding Steam Maker.

“Petuna!” yelled Phineas.

Petuna turned her head, “Stay where you are Phineas, this is far too dangerous, you’ll burn and melt away if you try to cross!”

The water bubble was down to its last layer and Petuna tried harder to speed up its flow. She was only a few metres away from the land. Suddenly, she felt a tiny snowflake on her nose. At first she brushed it aside thinking it must be her imagination. Then another snowflake landed on her cheek and another on her eyelashes. Soon she saw soft flakes of snow falling before her and all around her. The steam mists were strong enough to melt the flakes into water as soon as they touched them. But soon the snow flakes turned into a shower of snow and it was falling faster than the steam could melt it. Before she knew it snow covered the entire marsh and it still kept snowingy. Petuna’s water bubble had finally melted but she was saved by the snow. She found herself knee deep in snow and made her way across the short remaining distance to land. When she finally reached the far side she collapsed on the ground. Closing her eyes, she smiled as she felt the snow fall softly on her face.

Phineas who had just witnessed the amazing scene before him was speechless. He followed Petuna’s lead and waded through the snow until he collapsed by Petuna’s side.

“What in the world!” exclaimed Phineas at what he had just seen, “Are you used to extreme weather conditions here?”

Petuna was still lying on the ground with a huge grin on her face enjoying the snow. She could not wipe the smile off her face. Her heart was beating fast with joy. She opened her eyes and blinked the snow off her eyelids before sitting up and laughing.

“Not unusually!” she said cheerfully, “But do you know what this means?”

“Uhhh, not a clue!”

“It means that we are not alone,” said Petuna with relief. She looked up at the sky and blew kisses into the air.

“Uhh, right,” said Phineas as he scratched his head.

“This is a message from Cloud Bearer. He must be watching over us and he must have seen what just happened,” said Petuna as she skipped on the spot.

“Cloud Bear-er?” frowned Phineas.

Petuna stopped skipping around when she became aware of Phineas’ confusion and laughed out heartily.

“Oh! I’ll explain it all to you in good time! But for now we’re safe and we don’t have a moment to lose! We need to move on,” said Petuna as she grabbed Phineas’ hand and dragged him along.

They walked side by side while it still snowed until they could no longer see the marsh. Despite the continuous shower, it felt warm. It was like the temperature had not changed and they did not feel cold at all. Before they knew it, the snow had stopped when they had not even noticed it. Petuna walked with a spring in her step and a smile that seemed to be permanently fixed on her face. Phineas wondered what had just happened and he kept thinking about the magic that he had seen in action. He knew that there was still plenty to learn about this land. He glanced at the princess and realised that the courage he saw in her was not to be underestimated. Petuna walked along breathing in a sense of achievement and joy. She knew that her father must be watching over her and things will be alright. Little did she know that things never are as they seem and that far greater dangers lay ahead.

The End

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