Eight-year-old Cathy Sherridan and four of her schoolmates find themselves floating in a boat one summer evening. Curiously, none of them remembers how they came to be there. Soon, the boat runs against land, and the children go exploring. Cathy falls into a lake where she comes upon an ominous lizard-like monster that means her harm.
Lucky for Cathy her three friends jump in the lake to save her and end up fighting the lizard to the death. However, his death throes toss Cathy into the nearby cave, and when she awakens, she follows a new path that will lead her to the land of Ettria. She is safely recovered by The Free People—elves who believe she is one of the helpers predicted to stop the evil Saffron.
Not long after her safe arrival, though, Cathy is kidnapped by a band of goblins—the sworn enemies of The Free People. She is sent to their capital to join girls from all over the country; the chief’s grandson will choose one of them to be his wife. The Free People make plans to rescue Cathy, but what if, for some reason, she doesn’t want to be rescued?