Pain, soreness in his limbs. A cool, steady breeze buffeting his face. Foul taste in his mouth: dirt, leaves, grass, twigs. In his ears, the sound of birdsong and - running water? Nostrils alive with a familiar stench: sweat. Rank sweat. An armpit? No, a groin. His groin. What?

Rhydian opened his eyes and was alarmed to discover he was staring at his thighs. Come to think of it, this was hardly the most unsettling thing about the picture now in view. He tried to move.


Rhydian groaned and collapsed back onto - no, that couldn't be right. He appeared for all the world to be stretched out at forty-five degrees to the horizontal on a grass slope above a stream of some sort, but Rhydian knew at once this had to be an illusion. A dream, in fact. If he simply screwed his eyes shut tightly enough, he would wake up back in his room - which, technically speaking, he had never left - and life would begin to make sense again. But the attempt failed, leaving him gazing up in confusion at a broad blue open sky. Next he tried pinching himself, but with this and all subsequent efforts to return home ending much the same way (i.e. with him thrashing exasperatedly at the soil) he was at length forced to conclude that, against all rational probability, he really was lying in a ditch out in the country somewhere. Once the initial panic brought on by this realisation had passed, Rhydian felt sufficiently intrigued to sit up and take stock of his surroundings.

On the opposite bank of the stream - in reality little more than a trickle - a tall hedge grew, whose bare branches only partially obscured the barbed wire fence running through it. The hedge meant that the ditch and several yards of field behind it were cast into shade, but beyond the sunlight sparkled, painting the morning rich shades of green and ochre. A rolling patchwork of fields stretched as far as the eye could see, some fallow, like this; others ploughed and ready for planting. The slope on Rhydian's right led up to a grassy knoll, crowned with a grove of splendid oak trees. All in all, thought Rhydian, if you were going to randomly wake up somewhere with no memory of how you arrived, you could hardly have picked a nicer spot.

Grunting with the effort, Rhydian slowly hauled himself up, thrusting out both arms to steady himself when he felt he might fall. After stumbling for several moments on legs made of jelly, he at last reached the line separating light from shade, and beyond, immediately flopped onto the lush grass. There he lay still, allowing the sun's rays to caress his stiff body, grateful for its warmth. It really was a beautiful morning, which meant (this being February) that it had been a cold night: indeed, the ground where Rhydian had just been lying was hard with frost. Strangely, Rhydian found that he himself, although numb, wasn't all that cold: no redness of skin, no trace of hypothermia. Nevertheless, the position in which he had awoken had been nothing short of excruciating: legs pointing more or less straight out, but with his upper body curved round to such an absurd degree that his forehead was practically level with his knees, head resting in the crook of his arm. Consequently, the right-hand side of Rhydian's pyjamas was caked in dirt and leaves, while the left remained pristine. The leaves represented only a small fraction of the heaped pile on which he had so awkwardly reposed, almost as though someone - perhaps Rhydian himself - had swept them there intentionally beforehand. Why anyone would do such a thing was just one of several questions whose answers currently eluded him.

Now somewhat recovered and able to think once more, Rhydian set his mind to solving the mystery surrounding his present circumstances. Sleepwalking appeared to be ruled out: no countryside remotely like this existed near the house he lived in with his foster parents, he was sure of it. Greenbelt, yes, but nothing on this scale. Had he been kidnapped? Drugged? But then, why go to the trouble of spiriting a fourteen-year-old foster kid from his bedroom, only to dump him unharmed in a field? So he was suffering from amnesia: that had to be it. He had travelled out here by himself, lain down, and gone to sleep, forgetting everything by the time he awoke.

While this theory fitted the known facts, there was still something not right about it, something Rhydian struggled to put his finger on. For one thing, he clearly remembered falling asleep in his bed back in Finchley - something, as it happened, he was unusually pleased that night to have done. He'd been suffering all week from the most wretched bout of insomnia ever known, accompanied by agonising, pulsing throbs in his head, jaw, hands, feet. And...he had dreamt, hadn't he? Yes, Rhydian was quite sure he had been asleep throughout the night, dreaming. Dreaming of things so extraordinary, so impossible, they could not but have been a dream.

Ah yes, the dream. Now, how had it started? Since his mind's current task was going nowhere - and, for the moment, neither was Rhydian - he might as well try to remember. Let's see. He'd felt himself dozing, dozing, slipping out onto the welcoming black river of unconsciousness. Floating there for a space - an hour, or two, who could say? And then -