They set out towards the north before dawn. Grewels had already flown away in the middle of the night in search of a suitable place to cross the Andal River. They were trudging through the deep snow that had fallen overnight. With the coming of winter, a cold silence came over Morana. The icy north wind blew snowflakes in their faces, causing them to crouch deeper into their cloaks. They would reach the Andal by midday, according to Lhasmo.
The sun gradually came up, revealing the winter wonderland surrounding them. They marched on, one after the other, through snow that in some places reached their knees. Nanik and Teldan were roaming the surrounding woods in search of something to eat. Simon hoped they would succeed. It seemed like forever since he had last eaten. So they plodded on in silence and followed Lhasmo with growling stomachs.
The Elder led them deeper into the winter landscape. After putting some miles behind them, they finally heard the rushing waters of the river Andal.
Just as Lhasmo had promised, they reached the banks of the river at high noon. Crossing over the river at this point, though, would have been impossible. The water rushed by rapidly and crashed into the rocky riverbank. Exhausted, they sat down on a boulder that wasn't so warm in spite of the winter sun. Just as Simon was about to ask which direction they would take, a dark shadow flew by over their heads. Grewels then landed in their midst in good humor.
"Isn't this great? I love the wintertime!", the dragon greeted them and swirled a cloud of snow over the weary travellers with his powerful tail. He beamed in satisfaction at the rather grumpy faces of the children. Lhasmo couldn't keep from laughing. He had also noticed that his fellow travellers were not in the best of moods.
"Hello Grewels, nice to see you", he greeted the dragon and shook the snow out of his hair. "Tell me, is anything new?", he inquired. "I hope you were able to find a suitable place for us to cross the river on dry feet. Of course Anjoux could also get us over to the other side safely, but she's just as starved and hungry as the rest of us. She needs to save her strength as well."
Indeed, the otherwise lively Anjoux looked a bit worn out today. Their exhausting journey had also taken its toll on the elf girl. For this reason all of their faces brightened when Grewels told them about an old tree that had fallen over, not quite two miles east of there, where they could get to the other side of the river dry and safe.
They followed the dragon in good spirits. The prospects of a warm fire and good-smelling herbal tea helped them to forget the troubles of the last few hours. So they romped around in the snow and enjoyed a good snowball fight.
They could already make out the campfire up ahead. And with joy they saw that Teldan and Nanik had already made themselves comfortable around the fire. Their luck at hunting had not forsaken them, for they picked up the scent of freshly roasted meat. Happy to see that their friends were unharmed, they ran to the fire and came to an abrupt stop. Simon couldn't believe his eyes. There was really something to eat. Nanik and Teldan were roasting a great number of plump birds. The surprise was perfect and the smell of roasted meat made their mouths water. But their breath caught as soon as Simon and Richie saw the big pile of black feathers near the two elves. Were they supposed to eat ravens? Grewels seemed to notice what they were thinking.
"Don't be shy now, gentlemen. There's plenty for everyone. Dig in! You must be dying of hunger", he invited them to sit down, devouring a whole raven in one bite himself.
The others didn't have to be told twice. In no time they were each holding one of the birds between their fingers. Smacking their lips with pleasure, they crammed their stomachs full.
Simon and Richie alone hesitated because of Rodan's scouts behind them, up in the tree tops of the dark forest, screaming bloody murder.
"I've never eaten raven", Simon confessed and looked at the crispy birds a bit uncertainly. He heard Richie's stomach growling next to him. "Why not?", Richie took courage and grabbed one of the enticing ravens.
"I've eaten lizards, which I wasn't crazy about doing. I guess one of Rodan's ravens isn't going to kill me either", he decided and enjoyed his dinner. Simon hesitated. Meanwhile Grewels licked off his paws and grabbed another one.
"Simon, you have to eat!", Lhasmo admonished him to put his concerns aside. "You need strength, just like the rest of us. We should be glad that Rodan sent so many of his scouts after us. Otherwise we would have to continue our journey on empty stomachs." Simon knew that Lhasmo was right. So he got over it and sat down to the others. It seemed that the cawing of the ravens around him was growing louder. Simon felt queasy. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples. His head droned. The wailing of the black birds drilled deeper into his thoughts. Anjoux nudged him and handed over a pitiable raven. She looked at him as if she knew what he was going through.
"Simon, take a bite and then it will stop. Trust me!", she said.
Pulling himself together, he accepted it. As the screaming of the ravens in his head became unbearable, he sampled his first bite of the delicious-smelling meat. At once it was quiet again. The feathered traitors ceased their wailing. The only sounds he could now hear were the rapid rushing of the river and his friends enjoying their meal. Suddenly Simon realized just how hungry he was. He looked around cautiously and saw the last of the ravens fly away.
"What was that all about?", he asked Anjoux, who was looking at him a bit concerned. "And where did all the ravens go?", he wanted to know.
"They won't be in a hurry to come back", Grewels chuckled. "In any case they are no longer a danger to us, and they definitely won't be telling on us to Rodan!", he assured them, leaning back full and content.
"Why not?", Richie asked curiously and wiped off his mouth with the back of his hand. "We only ate a few of them. If I saw right, there was a whole flock of the beasts over there in the trees, just a few minutes ago. They've gone to tell Rodan that we ate some of their friends for lunch.”
"No, they won't do that!", Anjoux cut in. "According to legend, a raven will never betray you once you have eaten the flesh of one of its brothers. Nobody knows why. It either has to do with a spell that paralyzes their tongues and makes you invisible to them, or they are simply afraid that the same thing could happen to them. The mighty Rodan could do a headstand and it wouldn't do him any good. He won't find out our present location from the ravens", Anjoux explained gleefully. "Their beaks are forever sealed!", the little elf said with a smirk and grabbed another bird from the fire.
"We should have hunted ravens from the start", Simon remarked, enjoying the taste.
"Hmm, right", Richie smacked his lips next to him. "They are so delicious", he gushed and licked his fingers one at a time.
"If we had thought about eating Rodan's scouts earlier, he wouldn't have found us at the Lake of Gozhal. That was a close call!" Nanik recalled and picked his teeth clean with a wooden splinter.
"Yes, it might have made things easier", Lhasmo admitted. "In any case, we need to make use of this small advantage. The scoundrel no doubt knows the exact route we are taking. But he can only guess how far we've come. His black scouts are now useless to him. He won't get a word out of them. We have a long ways to go. We will be passing through the Gate of the Damned this very night. All of you will need a lot of courage and strength for the test to come. The spirits of those creatures which are imprisoned between the Gate's portals will do everything in their power to hinder you from passing through. They will attempt to mislead you with illusions. Once upon a time they had set out to overthrow the throne of the dragon king. They were rewarded with banishment. If Simon fails to save the Well of Hope in time, the Gate will open and those imprisoned therein will be set free. We needn't worry too much about Rodan for the time being. We have to move quickly and beat him there", Lhasmo admonished them.
Full and content, wrapped in their cloaks, they stared into the flames of the fire, each of them lost in thoughts. Nanik and Dakko were already asleep and fatigue also came over Simon. He was grateful for the break, as his feet were hurting terribly. He couldn't imagine taking one more step. Snuggled down next to him, Richie was also sound asleep. Even Grewels treated himself to a nap, sitting against a boulder with his claws folded on his plump belly. Simon blinked sleepily into the flames before closing his eyes.
Just Lhasmo kept watch. Satisfied of the progress they had made, he decided to allow them a short break. He glanced around and saw the peak of Mount Tularon rising up in the distance. They would be passing through the Gate of the Damned this night at the foot of Mount Rham.
Simon was the Chosen One, of that Lhasmo was certain. He would be willing to give his own life to get the boy safely to the Well and thus fulfil the prophecy of the dragon king.
The sun was no longer so high in the sky and the fire was nearly burned down. Lhasmo reached into his leather bag and tossed a handful of dry herbs into the embers. White biting smoke ascended and reached the noses of his sleeping friends in thin vapours. The smoke gently tickled the nostrils of the loudly snoring dragon. Before Grewels took his next breath, his eyes popped wide open and he leaped to his feet. Disgusted at the smell, he shook his head and held his nose closed. A violent sneeze freed his nose of the stinging odor.
The same happened to the other sleepyheads. Simon, Richie and the elves were hopping around like they had been stung by a tarantula, sneezing their heads off. What was that all about? They stood around the embers and gave Lhasmo a blank look, who couldn't help but laugh.
"Goodness, elf, what kind of pranks are you playing on us?", asked Grewels, swinging his tail around.
"Oh, it was just a bit of magic. Not worth mentioning. It's time to get up. The smoke in your noses has freed you from fatigue and the pain in your limbs. You guys have to be rested up and alert. That's why I pulled the trick on you", Lhasmo explained, clearly amused with the indignant faces surrounding him.
"Wow, he's right! I feel better than ever!", Richie remarked and looked down at himself as if he owned a new pair of legs.
"My goodness! Who would have thought it? I feel like new, without any sore muscles!", Grewels was amazed, beating his wings in excitement and jumping up and down.
Even Simon gave himself a good stretch. The effect of the burnt herbs was amazing. The pain and fatigue lifted off him like a heavy burden. He felt strong enough to uproot trees.
They were instantly spirited with courage and determination. Their destination was within reach. Giving up was out of the question. Rodan had better stay out of their way! They wouldn't think of stepping back, let alone giving up Morana, without a fight!
A little magic worked great wonders. Lhasmo was satisfied as he observed the way they prepared themselves for the next stage of their journey, thirsty for action. They diligently cleaned up the campsite, put out the fire and packed the roasted ravens that were leftover as provisions for the journey.
Lhasmo warily eyed the old tree they were to use as a bridge over the river. The bark of the huge tree was covered by ice and snow, and thick branches blocked their way to the other side of the river. His eyes roamed downstream in the hope of finding a more suitable point to cross the Andal River. But in vain! Suddenly he had an idea. He called the dragon over and conferred with him. "Whatever you do, don't burn it. Got it?", the others heard Lhasmo's warnings.
"Don't worry, it'll be a piece of cake!", Grewels countered and lifted off into the air with two mighty flaps of his wings. Simon, Richie and the elf children watched the dragon leave without a clue of what he was doing. "What's he up to now?", Anjoux wondered.
They watched Grewels in fascination as he flew higher into the air, until he was just a tiny speck in the sky.
Rollicking, the dragon flew around in the air. Up here he felt so free. The peak of Mount Tularon was coloured orange-red in the setting sun. His friends looked like ants far below.
"Time to heat you guys up!", he chuckled. He then pulled in his wings and went into a nosedive down towards his friends.
"Look, he's coming back!", Dakko shouted and pointed to the black dot that was racing towards them.
"Yippee!", Grewels exulted.
"He's not going to ...", Richie began. The sentence went unfinished. Grewels voice droned in their ears. "Take cover!" Before Simon and Richie knew it, they were pushed aside by Anjoux with their faces in the snow. Coming up for air and spitting snow, they raised their heads in time to see Grewels headed for the river. A mighty flame of fire hissed from the mouth of the dragon upon reaching the fallen tree. He flew over the huge tree in a matter of seconds, scorching the old wood with his fire. Sizzling and steaming, the snow and ice melted away and the branches that had blocked their way to the other side were charred to small stumps. After flying one more round, Grewels landed in the snow, visibly satisfied with his work."As I said, a piece of cake!", he said, coughing smoke and sparks from his nostrils. The children laughed and Lhasmo padded Grewels gratefully on the shoulder. "Not bad at all. Looks like we can continue our journey now", Lhasmo was pleased and asked Teldan to cross the river first, to see if the tree would hold them. Grewels had done a good job. Of course the fallen tree was still smouldering here and there, but they reached the other side of the river safely and continued on northwards towards the Gate of the Damned.