Chapter One: The Shack
It was the light that woke her. Even though it was weak and grainy it had poured through the gaps in the roof.
'At least it didn't rain.' DG muttered to herself as she got slowly out of the makeshift bed and began to get dressed.
The shack wasn't even really a shack. At some point a long, long time ago it had been a cottage. Now it was the shell of a building half collapsed against an ancient and gnarly tree. The windows were broken, the door hung limply by a single rust coloured hinge. Any furniture that had been left had, DG supposed, been used by passersby for firewood or taken by locals in need. She didn't mind. She managed perfectly well at the moment, even if her almost-bed made her back click alarming sometimes.
DG began her usual morning routine. She forced herself to wash in the last of yesterday's water; she would have to get more later. The water was freezing and made her gasp and mutter to herself. After drying her glacial face; DG scraped out the fire place- or more accurately she scraped out the area underneath the biggest hole in the roof. After piling in more wood from the heap in the corner, she surveyed the room.
It needed a roof. It need better walls. A carpet would be nice... More importantly than those things she needed more firewood, more water and more food. DG let her head rest on the wall behind her as she tilted her head up to stare at the blue sky. More than anything else, she thought, I need a plan. It was almost a year... an annual; she corrected herself, since the witch had been defeated. DG let her mind wander again back over the incredible time... She wished...
'Water first. Then roof.' Her voice sounded weak and hollow in the sunny silence of the shack. Pushing away from the wall DG shook herself mentally and grabbing her water bucket she left.
DG felt so much better having walked out to the stream about half a mile from the shack. She'd picked the shack because of its location. Near enough to the path and a village a few hundred metres further away, but far enough into the forest that so far no one had found her. She'd only been there about ten days. That had been long enough to develop a routine, to adapt to not seeing people and to completely ignore the fact that she had to make a decision about the future.
The air was warm with a slight breeze. The forest was coated in a golden glow, she took a deep breath. Maybe she would do some work on a roof today and then read for a little while, it was so beautiful...
Coming into sight of the shack DG stopped. Something wasn't right. There was someone here. DG froze and pushed herself behind a tree. From where she was she could see the shack and the woods behind it. Closing her eyes she listened as intensely as she could. White light glowed gently as her magic caught up the intention and gave aid. There was a horse in the forest, off to the left. She heard it shuffling and moving around slightly. Something moved behind her, heading back toward the stream. Dispelling the magic DG opened her eyes and moved carefully towards the shack. En-route she picked up a branch and raised it above her head.
The shack was empty. Letting out her long held breath DG let the branch fall to the floor. It was probably someone from the village have a ride out into the forest. Nothing to panic about. She took a few calming breaths.
DG spun round instinctively magic flared slightly around her hands. She reigned it back though- she knew that voice.
'Cain!' The Tin-man was silhouetted against the forest, looking strong and capable. His blue gaze checked over her.
'You look tired.'
DG gestured weakly at the shack in way of response. She wrinkled her nose trying to think of something to say.
'You found me.'
'You thought I wouldn't?'
'Well... I... I...' Again she was stuck for something to say... 'I'll make some tea.'
The tea was black. There weren't many places to get milk in the shack. DG sat sipping hers; legs folded under her on the almost-bed. The Tin-man stood in the corner holding the battered mug, not speaking and not making eye contact.
DG couldn't decide whether she was angry or relieved to be found by Cain. She was, almost definitely, frustrated to be have been found. But Wyatt Cain was stood there in front of her, silent and suddenly huge. She felt like a toddler having been caught with her hand in the biscuit tin.
In contrast Cain felt sick. He'd found the girl. That hadn't been too hard if he was honest. He'd had a pretty good idea which way she'd head and after that he'd just kept looking. That was always his plan for searching for anything- keep looking. Keeping looking until you find it. Her. And now he had. She sat before him looking exhausted but otherwise perfect. In a rundown little hut in the middle of the forest; sleeping on a pile of wood and sack of feathers. She must have been buying food from the local village. He couldn't imagine the kid hunting.
The silence stretched out between them like hundred miles. Vast and painful.
'You could pretend I'm not here.' The suggestion was barely above a whisper but it was still said with confidence. Cain hadn't been shocked when they had found out that DG was a princess. The way she spoke and acted- it drew people to her, made them feel at ease, at home and it also brooked no arguments. He was however surprised.
'Pretend I'm not here. Pretend you didn't find me.'
'But I did find you!'
'I know that. If you hadn't you wouldn't need to pretend!' DG wasn't whispering now. She got to her feet, eyes blazing.
'I can't just pretend I didn't find you.' Cain struggled to get his head around the girls words.
'Then just give me a twenty minute head start. Let me get away- say I escaped you.'
'No one would believe that.'
'Say I used my magic on you.'
Cain stayed silent. He knew she could do that. He also hoped she wouldn't.
'No. Kid, no.'
'Then stay.' Her voice dropped again.
'What?' For the second time in two minutes he was shocked.
'Stay. I'll move on. You stay here. Don't you ever get tired?' DG whirled through the sentence running her circling thoughts into a single idea.
'Of course I do.'
'I mean tired of banquets and balls. Of talking to people. Tired of being so public!'
'I'm not a princess'
DG fought the flicker of a smile that tugged at her lips. She also fought the image of Cain as a princess. Shutting her eyes against the image of pink tulle, she took a deep breath.
'No. But you are head of security for the whole of the O.Z. You're always busy. You have to be in meetings as much as I do. You're setting up the whole Tin Man system again, chasing Long-coats. You have to see a hundred different people a day about a thousand different problems. Everyone needs you to do something for them. You never have any time to yourself.'
The Tin-Man nodded slightly.
'Then stay. Leave it. Have a life which is entirely yours. Have chance to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.'
'I have responsibilities. People rely on me. On you. We both can't just let them down. We both have a family.'
DG didn't respond. She looked away. The sun light was coming through the roof hotly now. Burning her face and making it look like there were tiny diamonds dancing in the air all around.
'Your sister misses you. Your parents too. Raw and the head-case are out searching for you.'
'They miss the Princess Dorothy Gale.'
'That's you.' Cain met her eyes now. She held his gaze for a few seconds then dropped hers to the floor.
'I don't think it is.' Walking quickly across the shack's floor she put her hand on his arm. 'Please Cain. I can't do this. I can't be some mythical magical Princess who fixes the whole world. Please. Please just get back on your horse and say you couldn't find me.'
Cain looked at her face. Looked around the shack again. Back at her face, the pleading look and nodded slightly. It wasn't agreement it was as if he'd come to a decision. DG decided to take it as agreement anyway.
'Thank you!' Wyatt Cain, former Tin-Man and now Commander of the O.Z defences put his hand on top of hers.
'Things aren't too good back in Central City, Kid. People are sick.'
'You'll fix it.' DG grinned at him. He nodded again. She went to pull away and realised that his friendly pressure on her hand has now a vice-like grip. 'Cain?'
Moving quickly he used her shock to duck and lift her onto his shoulder. He walked out to his horse, still peacefully eating grass behind the shack. He dumped her onto its back. As she struggled to pull away he clipped shackles on to her wrists. White magic flared at them rapidly. Fading a few seconds after it lit.
'Cain!' DG screamed and struggled against the magic-proof shackles.
Wyatt Cain didn't answer. Gathering up her things he stored them in the saddle bags and then mounted his horse. DG, still screaming and struggling, hung over the horse's neck in front of him.
Glancing back at the shack he urged his horse back towards the Old Road and Central City.