Simon Knox and the Prophecy of Asragur

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Chapter 11

Simon and Richie trudged behind Anjoux for what seemed like forever, and she still hadn't said a word about the mysterious lake. Instead, she seemed to be lost in her thoughts. The two wondered why it was so important to reach Gozhal before full moon.

"Go ahead, ask her", Richie whispered to Simon. They caught up with Anjoux, who was some distance ahead of them and Simon pulled at her cloak.

"Would you finally tell us about the lake? We're dying of curiosity! What is this lake all about?", he drilled.

"What?", Anoux asked and looked at them blankly without making the connection.

"Oh yeah, the lake, of course", she recalled. "Sorry, I forgot all about it."

"Is everything OK with you?", Simon asked. "You seem so absent", he remarked and was concerned.

"Oh! No, no. Everything is just fine", she assured them. "I was just in thought. Sorry about that."

"Why are we going to this lake? And why do we have to be there by full moon?", she heard Richie ask impatiently to her left.

"The holy lake of Gozhal has been the center of strength and the origin of life for the moor elves since the beginning of time", Anjoux began her tale while Simon and Richie listened intently.

"Gozhal is a very special lake, surely the most beautiful one you will have ever seen. It is as clear as glass and shines a vibrant blue when the sun hits its surface. It is situated among a chain of hills that form the border between Xuria and Dragoma's dusty empire.

"Who is Dragoma?", Richie interrupted Anjoux's story

"Let her continue with the story", Simon checked his friend's impatience.

"Believe me, you will find out who the evil Dragoma is. A lot sooner than you'd like to", Anjoux promised, smiling bitterly and continuing with her story.

"Gozhal is the epitome of purity and beauty for the elves. Its water is clear and fresh. The shells have lived on the bottom of the lake since the dawning of time. This place has become a sanctuary for us elves.

Every one hundred years, at summer's end and only at full moon, the shells of Gozhal open. Only during this one night, when the moon is full and shining brightly over the lake, they give us a precious gift", Anjoux explained.

"Each shell contains a precious pearl with magical power and beauty that gives us moor elves new life."

"Does that mean you elves are immortal?", asked Richie incredulously.

"No, of course we are not immortal. But one potion made of a pearl ground into powder provides us a life free of disease and pain for hundreds of years. Another legend says that such a potion can even raise the dead back to life. That legend is surely the reason why Lhasmo is taking us there."

"You mean that, in case something happens to one of us, the potion could heal his wounds? Or maybe even revive him?", Simon asked, somewhat sceptical.

"Well, at least that's what I assume", Anjoux nodded. "I have not tried it out myself, however. Just imagine though, Simon, if something happened to you on this trip. How could Asragur's prophecy be fulfilled? Morana would be lost forever", she stated aloud for the first time what all of them feared.

At once Simon's throat tightened. For the first time, the importance of the dragon king's prophecy and its consequences were very clear to him.

The fate of Morana was closely tied to his own. They were one! Should he fail, Morana would be plunged into eternal darkness and terror. That sudden knowledge weighed a ton on him and Simon had to stop to rest for a moment. He groaned and tried to breathe deeply.

"Hey, Simon, what's the matter?", Richie asked alarmed.

"I'll be all right", Simon said, who had turned quite pale. "Anjoux, what else can you tell us about Gozhal?", he asked, drawing the attention away from himself.

"Oh yeah, the lake", she remembered. She took a moment to think and gave Simon a worried look. But he nodded for her to continue the story.

"Deep down on the bottom of Gozhal there is a temple, in the midst of a beautiful garden, built by the mist fairies in honour of the sacred shells."

Anjoux faltered briefly and had to swallow. Simon and Richie could see she was fighting back tears. But the little elf composed herself quickly again.

"You should know that my mother's people had lived in the fog of Gozhal until Rodan came to seize the power for himself. He destroyed the temple and killed most of the fairies. Gozhal was once covered by a soft silky mist, many years ago, which was to safeguard its secret from greedy and power-possessed beings. After Rodan had killed or banished the last of the fairies, the protecting mist also disappeared, exposing the purity of the holy lake." Anjoux thought again about the fate of her mother and gave a short sob. But she continued her story.

"The temple as well as the garden have been abandoned and in ruin deep in the lake ever since the last mist fairy has disappeared.

But the shells still live down there and fulfil their destiny every one hundred years, namely to give and maintain life."

Simon and Richie listened to the sad story with lumps in their throats. They could imagine how hard it must be for Anjoux to return to the place where the fight against Rodan had cost her mother's life. An awkward silence followed. Richie was the first to find his voice again.

"Uh, there must be a catch somewhere", he carefully expressed his concern. "How do we get to the shells? It doesn't sound like they will simply spit out their pearls on the shore, does it?"

Anjoux had to laugh. "No, you're right about that. You have to dive down to them and remove the pearls by hand out of their huge maws. Lhasmo will give you exact instructions when the time comes. I heard that it is not completely free of danger. The shells snap shut at once after the pearls have been removed. You should remove the pearl nimbly and quickly withdraw your hands before the shell snaps shut. Because before you know it, the shell can grab you. And then nobody will be able to help you", she warned them.

"Oh", was all Simon could say about this latest challenge. He wasn't such a good swimmer to begin with and couldn't imagine how he was supposed to dive deep into the cold water in the middle of the night at full moon. Not to mention gathering the pearls. Richie was having similar doubts. How in the world were they to perform such a task, without risking their own lives?

"Are you serious?", he asked, looking at Anjoux wide-eyed. "I'm not a fish, neither a diver for pearls", he argued.

"To be honest, I'm not crazy about being fed to a shell either", Simon interjected, sharing Richie's fears.

"Don't look at me that way. You wanted to know everything about the lake and its shells. So stop complaining. You should see this task as a further test on our way to the Well, nothing more but nothing less either. Lhasmo will fill you in on everything else when the time is right", she explained and started marching again to catch up with the group.

Simon and Richie glanced at each other doubtfully. "OK, so we will dive", Simon conceded with slumping shoulders.

"I suppose we have no other choice", Richie also gave in to his fate and followed the others, a bit queasy in the stomach.

As Lhasmo had promised, they spent most of the next two days on their feet. It had begun to rain during the night. They had been trudging for hours on end through the lush green countryside between the hills where the holy lake was hiding. They climbed one hill after another. The landscape was getting rougher. Huge boulders, overgrown with lichens and moss, broke through the lush green of the meadows and the valleys were filled with small woods.

The travellers walked along quietly, each of them completely focused on putting one painful foot forward after the other. Simon had long lost his orientation and could hardly feel his legs anymore. This stage of their journey seemed to go on forever. How was he supposed to find the strength to dive for the holy shells?

Lhasmo led them up a steep slope. He was the first to reach the top and looked down at the valley before him in satisfaction. A cool wind arose and quickly drove the rain clouds away over the hills. Simon and the others finally reached the summit, and the exhausted hikers were rewarded with a breathtaking view of beauty.

"Welcome to the Lake of Gozhal", Lhasmo beamed and spread his arms.

Anjoux had not promised too much. The beauty of the lake took their breath away.

Gozhal, the holy lake of the moor elves, lay before them, nestled in a valley of green hills and deep forests. Huge boulders broke forth here and there from lush green meadows. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and gave the lake a clear blue sheen. Lhasmo inhaled the air deeply, which smelled of damp soil. Autumn would soon be arriving in Morana. The nights were already growing cooler. Here and there you could make out leaves of colour in the dense foliage of the treetops.

"Enough dreaming", he thought and hastened his friends to move on. The moon would be full over Gozhal this night. If they wanted to rest for a while, they would have to hurry to find a suitable camping site. There was a lot to take care of before the moon arose. He secretly hoped that Rodan was not yet on their heels.

They finally came to rest, exhausted, on the seashore under the shelter of a huge rock. Simon and Richie pulled off their boots and cooled their weary feet in the clear water. What relief! They couldn't have held out much longer anyway. They were lost in thought. It wouldn't be long before this one special night would fall and they would have to dive into the depths of the lake in search of the sacred shells.

After gathering wood for the fire, Anjoux and Dakko joined Simon and Richie. Together they skipped small flat stones across the smooth surface of the lake.

"Where are the others?", Simon wanted to know and looked around the camp.

"Teldan and Lhasmo are hunting and Nanik wanted to catch some fish further down", Anjoux replied and blinked dreamily into the afternoon sun.

"Are you boys as nervous as I am?'", Dakko asked Simon and Richie, while skipping another stone across Gozhal's sparkling surface.

"You have to ask? And how! I can't think about anything else", Simon replied. "But why are you so nervous?", Simon wondered. He thought it over. "Wait a minute. Does that mean that you will also be diving for those pearls?"

"Yes, I'm afraid that Nanik and I also have to take this test. We will be diving with you to the temple garden to gather the pearls. Believe me when I say, it won't be fun. It has been a custom for ages now that the courage of those elf boys who have been called to be warriors is put to the test. We will have to prove ourselves this night and accept the gifts of the shells at the bottom of Gozhal.

Even Lhasmo came to this place as a young elf and had to prove his courage and resolve. If we strictly follow his instructions, we should succeed in removing the pearls from their shells tonight. However, these are dangerous times we live in and I don't think that even Lhasmo can be completely sure of what awaits us down there this night", Dakko reflected and then looked for another stone to throw.

"That's not exactly good news, is it?", Richie said and sat down next to Anjoux, who was dosing in the sun.

"It'll all turn out just fine. Together we will pass this test", Simon tried to comfort his friend Richie. He tried to sound determined and convincing. He could tell by the sceptical looks on the faces of the others that he wasn't successful.

Nanik caught and prepared some fish, but no one really had an appetite. Nevertheless they took a few small bites to gain strength. The sun was nearly down and the four boys were fidgety beyond measure. They were restless as they sat around the campfire, each one struggling with their own fears.

"We should get going now", Lhasmo said and let his eyes wander out over the dark water of the lake. "The entrance to the temple is located at the large rock on the south shore of Gozhal, hidden at the bottom of the lake. You will have to pass through it to get to the garden of the mist fairies, where the shells will open up for you", the Elder explained. The tension was immense and Simon and Richie could feel their hearts pounding wildly as they followed Lhasmo to Gozhal's south shore. Meanwhile the night had fallen and the moon was hidden behind thick clouds.

They walked together in silence for a good hour before reaching the seashore as Lhasmo had described. Huge boulders protruded from deep within the waters. What was awaiting them this night? Simon wondered, racking his brain about how in the world he should accomplish this insurmountable task.

The moon emerged between the thick clouds.

They carefully climbed the steps that had once been carved out of the stone by the hands of elves.

Once at the top, there was a full view of the lake spreading out before them. A light wind arose, blurring the mirror image of the moon that was shining over mystic lake, immersing the landscape in a silver light. It won't be long now, Simon thought uneasily. Richie also grew nervous, for he began fidgeting from one foot to the other. The silence around them was spooky. Not a peep could be heard. It seemed that the night itself was waiting for the magical moment. Even the owls, the rulers of nocturnal forest, remained silent this night.

Lhasmo stepped up to his four brave charges. "Don't forget what I told you! Trust in your own power and always keep an eye on your friends down there", he admonished them. He opened this leather bag, revealing a glimmer of light. He brought forth four small sun crystals fastened to thin leather straps. He placed one of the glowing stones in each of the boys' hands.

"These crystals not only contain the light of Leyhda. They will also keep evil away from you. Simon and Richie tied the luminous crystals around their necks with shaky hands.

Nanik and Dakko were antsy and acted like they could hardly wait to dive into the cold waters. Because as soon as the stones were hanging around their necks, they cast off their cloaks, slipped out of their shirts and boots and were ready to jump off the boulder.

"Not so hasty my friends!", Lhasmo held them back. "You will go in one at a time. Just wait a minute". Lhasmo reached again into his leather bag and brought out a small black bottle.

"Before the great moment arrives, each of you must take a swallow of this potion. It will protect you from Gozhal's cold and you will be able to swim through the depths of the sacred lake like the fish", Lhasmo explained and gave the small bottle to Nanik and Dakko.

Meanwhile Simon and Richie had also stripped down to their trousers and looked on, partly in amusement, partly in reluctance, when they saw the nasty look on the faces of their elf friends as they swallowed the contents of the little bottle.

Dakko shook himself violently as he passed the elixir on to Richie, who put the bottle to his lips bravely and took a big swallow of the nasty brew. With the liquid still on his tongue, Richie passed the bottle to Simon with his eyes pinched closed. Simon had the impression that his friend was doing everything in his power not to vomit.

Now it was Simon's turn. He focused on the little black bottle in his hand and noticed, from the corner of his eye, Richie holding his belly with a painful expression on his face. "Eyes closed and hope for the best. Too late to back down now!", he thought and took a big swallow of the magic potion.

Simon was nearly knocked off his feet. He had never in his life tasted anything so nasty. Extreme bitterness spread in his mouth and a sharp pain passed through his body. He dropped the bottle at once and bent over in nausea and pain. His chest felt like it was paralyzed and he could hardly breathe.

But as quickly as the physical pain had come upon him, just as quickly was all discomfort driven from his body by soothing warmth.

Lhasmo strained to find some sign on the dark surface of the water. "Look there, it's starting!", he called and pointed to the middle of the lake.

Simon looked to where Lhasmo was pointing. A soft pink shimmering light slowly spread out from the deep bottom of the lake up to the surface and immersed Gozhal in the colours of a sunrise. Simon and Richie had never seen anything so magical before. Their initial fear gradually gave way to a desire to dive into the rapturous beauty of colour and water.

"Nanik, Dakko, it's time. You two go first", Lhasmo prompted the two elf boys to set out on their task ahead. Simon watched as Nanik bravely jumped into the lake head first. Shortly after, Dakko jumped into the waters of Gozhal with a look of determination. Now it was his turn to plunge into the shimmering water. He overcame all his doubts, took a deep breath and jumped.

Clear, ice-cold water surrounded him. But strangely enough, Simon found it to be quite pleasant. He couldn't feel any cold. He looked around and saw Richie swimming hard to catch up with him.

They swam deeper and deeper towards the bottom of the lake and its mysterious play of lights. Simon felt unusually light and free. Spurred on by this cozy feeling of comfort, he continued to immerse toward an unknown destination, his curiosity growing all the more.

They had been underwater for quite some time, and yet Simon felt no urge to rise to the surface to catch a breath of air. He enjoyed the weightlessness and swam like a fish through the clear water.

The deeper they swam towards the middle of the lake, the more clearly they could make out the shape of the once magnificent temple. Deep below they spotted Nanik and Dakko, who were swimming among thick granite columns of the deserted temple of the mist fairies, nearing the entrance. They soon disappeared inside the ruins that were overgrown with seaweed.

Simon motioned Richie to follow him quickly. They passed by huge columns and reached a dark long hallway, the end of which they supposed led to the mysterious garden. They carefully made their way deeper into the darkness towards the rosy glow at the other end of the temple. Only the sun crystals they wore around their necks were able to penetrate the darkness. Small blue fish passed by and they could see silver glistening graphics on the walls peeking out here and there from the seaweed, although Simon and Richie had no idea what they meant. Gradually it grew lighter. There was a large hole in the back wall of the ruins, which Simon and Richie then swam through. They came to a halt and could only stare at the breathtaking view before them.

Far below them they could see the enchanted temple garden. At one time well-protected by the mist fairies, the garden had been planted in a wide gorge.

Richie caught a glimpse of Nanik and Dakko as they disappeared into the gorge and signed Simon to follow him. They swam with strong strokes along the dark rock faces after the two elves and quickly reached their destination.

Swarms of silver-grey shimmering mullets were startled by their presence and swam quickly away. Long yellow grass danced in the cold currents and a forest of high green climbing plants swayed softly in the rosy shimmer of the water. Small red crayfish with strong claws were snapping at each other but stopped their fighting when they saw the intruders and buried themselves quickly into the bedrock. Large dark rocks with flowering seaweed traversed the sandy ground of the garden.

And then Simon saw his first shell, under the shelter of a rock and getting ready to open. They had to take a good look because the shells were hard to make out situated between seaweed and the dark rock. But as they opened, the rosy light from within gave away their position. Simon and Richie would not have expected such impressive specimens in their wildest dreams. Like an oyster the size of a pumpkin, the shell was about to entrust them with its greatest secret. The further it opened, the lighter it became. Simon and Richie swam a bit closer to catch a glimpse of the fascinating spectacle.

The shell was now completely open and light reflected off a red shimmering, cherry-sized pearl, which had grown next to the shell's heart in the course of the past hundred years. Simon and Richie looked at each other, not sure what to do. Before the shell changed its mind, however, Simon carefully reached for the pearl. Curiously he touched its smooth soft surface, not noticing that the shell was about to close again. Richie reacted in a flash and pulled his friend quickly aside. Suddenly the shell snapped shut again with tremendous strength.

That was close. If Simon hadn't pulled his hand out of the shell in time, his journey would have abruptly ended here and now. Richie took the pearl from him and looked at it in amazement. Its rosy shine had vanished with its removal from the shell. He was holding a milky white, fragile looking pearl in his hands.

They noticed how other shells around them were beginning to open. Richie returned the pearl to Simon, who placed it in a small leather bag he wore on his waistband.

The two friends got busy collecting the other pearls. There was no trace of Nanik and Dakko. They had surely ventured deeper into the garden and were busy filling their own bags with pearls, Simon thought as they swam to the next shell.

"Simon, Simon!", whispered a threatening voice, just as he was loosening another pearl out of a shell. They stopped what they were doing, looked around fearfully and then at each other. Richie indicated to Simon that they had enough pearls and should get out of there at once. Just when Simon nodded his agreement, the shell snapped closed, grabbing Simon's sun crystal that had hung around his neck.

Simon thrashed and kicked to free himself from the situation, but the leather strap pulled tighter around his neck. Richie tried with all his might to sever the leather strap around Simon's neck, visibly in panic. But all his efforts were in vain. Simon was irreversibly stuck and no kicking or pulling would help.

That evil but familiar voice sounded in their ears.

"Death will overtake you, oh humans, and I will finish what I started on the huge stone bridge. You will be sorry for the day you crossed my path!", threatened Rodan and broke into terrifying laughter.

Richie looked around for Nanik and Dakko in desperation. But they seem to have vanished into thin air. Rodan might have already killed them and left their lifeless bodies to the cold currents.

Simon urged Richie to leave him behind and seek safety. Richie was not about to leave his best friend alone.

Rodan's voice came closer and closer to them. His grim laughter made their blood run cold.

"You can no longer escape from me. I will rule over Morana forever! You have forfeited your lives!"

They combined their strength again to loosen the leather strap from Simon's neck, without success. How much longer would Lhasmo's potion work before they suffered a wretched death here below?

They never had the chance to answer this question. Suddenly they were caught up in an icy current. Simon tried desperately to hold on to Richie. But the ice-cold maelstrom was too strong and Richie was pulled down into the darkness of Gozhal.

They were now separated. Panic took hold of Simon. What was he going to do? Would he ever see Richie again? His eyes filled with tears of desperation and fear. There had to be a way out. Simon thought hard about how to free himself from this deadly situation. "Think!", he told himself.

A short distance away, a greyish veil pushed its way through the thicket of the high climbing plants and came toward him slowly and menacingly.

"Simon, it's too late", he heard Rodan's cold voice.

"You will now commence your final journey", he said. For a fraction of a second, Simon could see the grimly distorted face of Rodan. Simon shivered. He knew he didn't have much time left.

"...and when you feel that your dream destination is near, then wipe away the image of your starting point from your thoughts. No matter what is mesmerizing you ...", he suddenly heard Anjoux say.

That was the solution. He had to try to think himself away at all costs. So Simon began to concentrate. He freed his mind of all distracting thoughts. The misty veil came nearer and slowly began to wrap itself around Simon.

"Oh no, you won't get away so easily", he heard Rodan's angry voice as a white hand shot out of the fog to hinder him from escaping. Simon could clearly see his new destination and felt the pressure around his neck letting up. The magnificent temple garden and the ghostly fog began to fade. Simon could see the moon and the stars. Yes, that's where he wanted to go. It’s time to get out of here. Quickly back to the surface of the water. Simon gasped for air. It was high time to surface again.

Simon vanished before Rodan's eyes. He rapidly broke the surface of the water and rocketed up into the night.

At once he gasped for air. The water he was falling back down to began to foam and bubble. The lake reared up to a huge all devouring wave. An angry roar filled the night. The moon revealed Rodan's angry distorted face, whose throat opened like a chasm to catch Simon in his freefall.

It looked like all was lost. Rodan had won and would pull Simon down forever into the depths of the dark waters. But before the lethal wave could swallow Simon, two powerful claws grabbed him by the waistband and pulled him up to safety. With one last blood-curdling scream from Rodan, the raging wave collapsed. Afterwards, the lake was once again bathed in the moonlight, calmly situated between the hills.

Simon heard the flapping of mighty wings above his head. "You're pretty heavy, my friend", the trusty voice greeted him.

"Grewels, Grewels! Thank goodness! Rescued in the nick of time!", Simon countered excitedly and tried to look upward.

"Stop fidgeting, otherwise I'll drop you", the dragon ordered, flying a wide curve and steering toward the forest around the lake.

"Where are we flying to?", Simon wanted to know, his teeth chattering from the cold.

"Well, what do you think? Of course back to your friends. They're longing to see you", Grewels panted, not used to flying with so much extra weight.

"Where is Richie? Is he all right?", Simon asked with a lump in his throat.

"He's still a bit pale. I fished him out of the water a good mile from here. Otherwise Rodan would have flushed him to the other side of the world. Not to worry. Everybody is doing well", Grewels assured him. Simon could already make out the campfire the dragon was headed for.

Grewels dropped off Simon near where his friends were, not too gently, landing him on his belly in the damp grass. The dragon flew another round before landing with two flaps of his wings next to Simon, who looked at him wearily.

"I know, I know what you are going to say", Grewels said when he saw Simon's expression, but didn't have to say a word.

"I apologize for the unprofessional landing. But I've never been equipped for passengers", the dragon snorted and turned his head aside huffily.

"Thank you, Grewels", Simon said quietly.

"What did you say?", asked the dragon, looking at Simon astonished. He had no longer expected a thank you, after having swept the two human children off their feet from the Great Hangman through the Gate of the Worlds.

"Thanks for saving my life. I will never forget that. If it wasn't for you, I'd be ..."

"... drowned and food for the fish", Grewels finished the sentence laughing.

"Yes, something like that would have happened to me and to Richie, if it had not been for you. We are forever in your debt".

"Oh well, that wasn't anything special", Grewels replied, lowering his eyes to the ground and bashfully scratching with his claw. Simon stood up and stretched out his hand to him.

"Friends?", he asked the dragon. "Friends!", he countered and gave Simon's hand a squeeze. Simon looked up to Grewels. "Tell me, have you grown?", he asked bemused. Somehow the dragon seemed to be bigger now than at their first encounter in Aunt Aby's garden. How was that possible in such a short time? Or had they been here much longer than what they thought?

"Oh yes", replied Grewels, proudly puffing out his chest, straightening up to his full size before Simon and stretching his wings.

"Simon, Simon!", he heard Anjoux's relief in her voice and saw his friends running towards them.

"Thank Asragur! We thought you were lost forever", panted Anjoux, a bit out of breath, and embraced Simon.

"Good to see you are doing well, lad. You showed a lot of courage. You can all be very proud of yourselves", Lhasmo said, relieved that nobody was injured. Turning to Grewels he said, "Good going, dragon", the Elder expressed his gratitude to Grewels.

"You were bold and courageous. If it hadn't been for you, Morana would have lost its last hope this night. Thank you so much. I do hope you will accompany us for the rest of our journey?"

"Well, that's what I'm planning to do", replied Grewels. "The whole situation becomes more and more serious, Lhasmo. Rumors are afloat that Rodan's faithful servant, the Nagrim Oldur, is on his way to the forests of Boscra by order of his lord. The leader of the shadow wolves, Tamir, offered his support some time ago to Rodan for the rule of Morana. The time is drawing near when Rodan will be able to break out of Asragur's prison. Oldur will remind Tamir about his promise, provided he is not first torn to shreds by the wolves. Their encounter is not too far away and you will need all the support you can get", Grewels offered Lhasmo his help.

"Thanks a lot, dragon", replied Lhasmo. A courageous companion, such as you are, is always welcome".

"Where is Richie?", Simon interrupted the two and looked around concerned.

"Don't worry. Richie is fast asleep near the fire, wrapped up in his cloak", Lhasmo assured him. "Let him sleep. He can tell you everything tomorrow, after he has regained his strength", he asked Simon to let his friend rest.

"He was very lucky", Anjoux explained and laid her hand on Simon's shoulder. "He must have been totally exhausted fighting against the strong undercurrents that tore you two apart. He was barely alive when Grewels brought him. He had swallowed a lot of water. Lhasmo gave him a healing potion to get him to sleep. He will need his strength because we will be leaving Gozhal early in the morning. You should also get some rest". Anjoux looked into Simon's frightened eyes.

"Don't worry, Simon. Tomorrow he will be as good as new", she assured him, and they returned to their camping site.

Anjoux was right. Simon was worn out as well. All he wanted to do was to coil up next to the fire and sleep. Before he could do that, however, he gave Lhasmo his leather bag with the pearls he and Richie had gathered.

"Well done, Simon Knox", Lhasmo smiled.

"You are a brave fellow and your heart is in the right place. Morana is already in your debt. But enough talk. Tomorrow is a new day. As soon as the sun rises we will continue our journey eastwards. So save your strength and get some sleep, lad", the Elder advised and walked over to Grewels and Teldan, who were talking in whispers off to the side.

Simon trudged to the campfire, wrapped himself in his warm cloak and joined Nanik and Dakko.

"Hey Simon, are you really alright?", Nanik wanted to know and seemed to struggle with his conscience.

"Everything is just fine, thanks. I'm pretty worn out", Simon spoke in monosyllables and stared into the fire.

"Ah, sorry, that we weren't there for you. The three of us together could have freed you. This shouldn't have happened", Nanik apologized and you could see by the look on his face that he felt guilty. He felt he had let his friends down and couldn't really look Simon in the eyes.

"It wouldn't have made any difference anyway, believe me. Rodan had planned everything beforehand. I'm sure he already knew where we were headed. His scouts had surely found us before our departure and eavesdropped on us. Whatever precautions we take, he will always find us. If he had caught all of us together, things might have turned out far worse. I can't imagine, for example, Grewels rescuing all of us at once. It all went pretty well after all. The main thing is that all of us are still alive. That's what matters", Simon said and saw great relief come over Nanik. Simon's words soothed Nanik's conscience for having left his friends alone.

"Anyway, I won't forget this test for the rest of my life", Nanik assured him. "Me neither", countered Simon, who then wrapped himself in the cloak and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

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