They went deeper and deeper into the forest. Anxious to see what awaited them, Simon and Richie followed the three elves.
Here and there a rabbit peeped out at them curiously and remarkable blue and white mushrooms grew on the great moss-covered tree roots. It was growing dark and soon they would be surrounded by total darkness.
"We are almost there", Anjoux whispered and Simon heard the soft gurgle of a brook. They paused at a place in thick undergrowth where two brooks ran together to form a small river, only to continue on in the direction of the sea.
Nanik looked around cautiously and, leaving the thicket, jumped from stone to stone to get to the other side of the stream. A large bush grew at the edge of the shallow stream, where the elf then sought refuge. Dakko did the same, scampering over the water without a sound and disappeared among the big green leaves.
"It's your turn, Simon. Just be careful. The stones are pretty slippery", Anjoux prompted him to leave his cover and to follow the two elves. Simon looked around first before creeping over to the stream. He carefully placed one foot after the other and then with one long jump, he landed on the other side with dry feet. He crawled to Nanik and Dakko under the bush and together they looked on as Richie, balancing perilously with his arms, made it safely to the other side. Anjoux was the last one to cross over. Simon and Richie had to rub their eyes to believe what they were seeing. The feet of the elf girl didn't even touch the stones in the water. Instead, she practically floated to the other side.
"Show off!", Nanik snorted.
And so Anjoux joined them. "OK, let's go", she beamed at Simon and Richie and disappeared among the branches of the huge bush.
"After you", Nanik grinned with pretended friendliness and let them go first. Richie didn't hesitate. In hope of getting something to eat soon, he forgot his fear and took off through the thick branches.
"And now you, Simon", Nanik invited him to follow Anjoux and Richie. Simon felt his way slowly ahead. The deeper he crawled into the undergrowth, the darker it became. He could hardly see his own hand before his eyes. Suddenly he fell forward into a large black hole that literally swallowed him up. A short time later, after turning on his own axis while sliding down a long, deep passageway, he plopped down at the feet of Anjoux and Richie. Laughing, they helped Simon to his feet.
"Welcome to Leyhda", Anjoux greeted him giggling. Still in a daze, he watched as Nanik and Dakko shot out of the tunnel and landed safely on their feet, obviously having had more practice.
"That was fun", Nanik laughed and led the way with Dakko.
Simon looked around. They were standing in a huge cave that branched off into many other caves, like in a labyrinth. A small passage led them through the maze deeper into the earth.
There were sun crystals to light the way as well, just like Biggs had said. The moor elves used the radiating power of the crystals without which survival so far below the moorland would not be possible.
Anjoux led Simon and Richie through the underground world. Without the help of the little elf, they would have been hopelessly lost in the innumerable passageways before them.
"As you can see, Leyhda is surrounded by a huge and somewhat dangerous labyrinth of caves. Once you lose your bearing here, you will be forever lost", she explained. "There are only two entrances", she continued. "This one we entered and another one far from here in the east, hidden deep in the cliffs over the sea. For now we will only use the one here in the forest. It is more secure. You are the first outsiders to ever enter Leyhda. And in case some poor creature ever tries to find the moor elves, its search will end here. It might be why we have not yet been found out. In the coming days you will only be allowed to leave and enter Leyhda with an escort. It's for your own safety but of course for ours as well", she instructed Simon and Richie and led them yet deeper into the maze of narrow passageways.
"Halt, who goes there?", a low voice suddenly sounded out of the darkness of a cave. An elf armed with bow and arrow came slowly toward them. The bow was drawn back and aimed at Simon and Richie, who winced with shock.
"It's me Teldan, Anjoux", their escort replied and so the big and strong elf lowered this bow. He peered at the newcomers sceptically.
"What are you doing here outside so late?", Teldan asked warily.
"These two have just come through the World Gateway to Morana and need Elian's help", Anjoux explained.
"I see", grumbled the guard. "Welcome to Leyhda. I'm still going to keep an eye on them", Teldan turned to Anjoux again and returned to his post in the near darkness of the cave.
"Whew, that was close", she moaned in relief. "There are guards all over the place here surrounding the city and they actually have orders to shoot at anyone or anything that doesn't look like a moor elf, especially at Rodan."
She smiled at Simon and Richie and got moving again. Leyhda, the underground city of the moor elves, couldn't be much further. Simon already noticed the first sounds and smells.
And then unexpectedly, around the next bend, there was the legendary city of the elves, Leyhda.
"Here we are", Anjoux proudly presented the uniquely beautiful view of her city. Simon and Richie had already tried to picture Leyhda in their mind's eye. The view they had before them exceeded by far anything they could have imagined.
Their breath caught and they didn't know where to look first. They were standing before a gigantic cave of rock, so big that the two friends could make out neither height nor the surface area. There were caves on all sides, where the elves lived, jutting out of the rocks crowded close together. Innumerable terraces had been carved into the rock in laborious work from the unseen ceiling of the cave down to the ground.
Here and there they could see elf children chasing each other and climbing the rough wooden ladders that connected the different levels of the city. Handmade reed mats were hanging in front of doorways and windows, and orange-red flowers twined their way up the cold, grey rock.
There was a small garden on each level of the terraced city, where herbs, small red berries, carrots and all sorts of vegetables were planted with special care.
A broad path went down the middle of the city of elves, bordered by craftsmen, herbalists and hunters offering their goods at crowded booths. But also fresh fish, nasty-smelling health juices and wild honey were being haggled over.
A ball of tightly woven cloth exchanged owners and at the stand across from there, an exasperated mother tried her best to get her stubborn son to put some leather boots on his bare, dirty feet.
At one of the many stands, where artfully created daggers and bows were offered, two elves were arguing loudly about the price of a richly ornamented bow. It didn't appear that they would ever come to an agreement.
Simon and Richie were totally amazed.
An older elf, surrounded by children, caused little pieces of rock to dance in the air which, in a twinkling of an eye, were transformed into colourful butterflies that fluttered all around the astonished group. The elf children squealed for joy and wanted to see it again.
Some of the dwellers simply sat in front of their caves, enjoying all the goings-on and talking with each other. Others passed the time by playing a funny board game. Big shiny, rainbow-coloured beetles served as the playing pieces and where sent their way through a wooden labyrinth. The stakes must have been high because the crawling bugs were cheered on from all sides.
From the ledge where they were standing, Simon and Richie had a phenomenal view of the city. Far into the interior of the great cave they could just make out some sort of grand area, which was completely empty except for a flute player and a platform with three large chairs. That must be the gathering place of the elves, the centre of Leyhda and the meeting place of the Council of Elders, whose wise leader was Elian.
Anjoux hopped from one leg to the other and pulled Simon and Richie out of their amazement. "Wait here. I'll go tell my father. I'll be right back", the little elf said and with a gentle "plop", she vanished into thin air.
"How does she do that?", Richie wanted to know.
"We should ask her later on", Simon said, and the two returned their eyes to what was going on below them.
Shortly after Anjoux vanished, a murmur went through the crowd and the hustle and bustle died down. Simon and Richie didn't feel so well in their skins. The first sceptical looks came their way and the entire city gathered together. More and more elves gathered on the terraces of their caves to have a good view of what was about to happen. Within a few minutes, the attention of the entire elf population was focused on them. Wherever Simon and Richie looked, they were confronted with stone-faced elves.
As suddenly as Anjoux had vanished, she was standing again in front of them smiling. Simon and Richie were nearly startled to death as before. The little elf giggled and pointed below. "You see, my people are waiting for you. My father and the council look forward to making your acquaintance. Don't be afraid, nothing will happen to you", she soothed and led them to the edge of the cliff and took both by the hand.
The boys felt warmness in their chest and instantly had a feeling of weightlessness. A feeling of happiness passed through their bodies like they had seldom felt before. For a moment they forgot all of the trouble and dangers of the day and floated with Anjoux down to the city, where they were awaited in anticipation.
A quiet murmuring arose as the three touched ground again in the middle of the moor elves. They made their way through the crowd and encountered fearful but also friendly looks.
Simon could still not believe that an entire people lived here, so far under the moorland. Richie was just as fascinated. From here below everything seemed so huge. All goings-on in Leyhda had ceased. Only quiet whispering and murmuring could be heard.
Simon and Richie slowly approached the centre, the big square that they had already sighted from high above on the cliff. The crowd parted for them and they followed Anjoux to the great square, where three elf men were waiting to receive them at the front on the stone platform. Attentive glances followed them from all directions and Simon felt awkward and didn't know where to look. He was relieved to see that Richie had the same problem, who was walking alongside him red in the face and looking to the ground.
Simon looked around. The big area was now surrounded by hundreds of moor elves. "Well, this should be fun", he thought to himself and played nervously with the strap of his backpack.
They were meanwhile drawing near to the Elders. Shortly before they reached the platform, Anjoux signed for them to stay put and turned to the leaders of her people and spoke with a clear voice.
"Father, High Council", she addressed the three Elders. "I would like to introduce Simon Knox, the Chosen One of Asragur, and his friend Richard. Today at sunrise, they went through the World Gateway to come to Morana.
"Now then, my daughter", Elian answered. "Let the two step forward." Anjoux shoved Simon and Richie towards the Council of Elders, gave them a wink of encouragement and disappeared into the background.
"Don't be shy, Simon and Richard", Elian said with a voice that was firm but also kind. The two friends looked and nodded at each other, and accepted Elian's invitation.
The youngest of the three leaders stood up from his throne, looked down at Simon and Richie and approached them with a smile.
"Welcome to Leyhda, humans. My name is Wilgram."
The elf that was stepping down from the platform had long brown hair like most of the others here. His, however, had strands of grey hair and he had wrinkles around his alert, blue eyes. He was clothed the same as Nanik and Dakko. In addition, he wore a long dark-green cloak on his shoulders, with a large hood.
Wilgram came up to Simon and Richie and looked them over thoroughly. "We had assumed that Asragur would provide us with a mighty warrior to fight against Rodan. Instead, fate has provided us with two young humans to rescue Morana", he raised a mocking voice and the crowd began to laugh. He pointed a finger at the two friends and spoke his words again to the crowd and the two Elders.
"What can they accomplish that we could not accomplish up to now?", he asked the elves and looked up to Elian. Elian sat in thought on his throne and ran his hand through his beard in contemplation.
"Well", the elf to Elians right interjected. "I have the impression that the two boys are pretty tough. It seems that the spirit of the dragon king is watching over them. Otherwise they wouldn't have made it as far as Leyhda but would by now be feed for Rodan's ravens", he defended the two boys.
He also came closer and scrutinized Simon and Richie with his black eyes. He had black-grey hair and wore a short goatee.
The tension decreased a bit and he stepped in front of them. "Welcome to Leyhda. My name is Lhasmo", he greeted the newcomers and gave them a friendly smile. He carried a bow and a quiver filled with arrows over his shoulder. He had on a leather breastplate to protect his upper body and also wore a green cloak.
"It will take years to make good warriors out of them. Who knows if we have that much time?", Wilgram drew the attention back to himself and expressed his concerns. He walked nervously back and forth next to the boys. "I agree with you, Wilgram. Nobody knows how much time we still have", Lhasmo concurred.
"My word", Wilgram started again. "What if Asragur was wrong in his prophecy and our guests landed here by mistake? What if ...?", the Elder was going on when Simon finally lost patience and found the courage to speak.
"We don't have much more time", he said and looked at the Elders one by one. "And in case you are wondering: No, I didn't just land here by chance. To be honest, I would much rather be at home than here. But it has happened just as the dragon king prophesied. I am the Chosen One!", Simon exclaimed and to prove his point, removed Asragur's scale out of his pocket. He held it high for everyone to see. A murmur of amazement went through the crowd, which ended abruptly as Simon continued.
"The dragon Grewels told me about the revelation of the prophecy. And there is no doubt at all that I have been called to rescue Morana. I am here to ask for your help and would be thankful for any support you can give me to perform this nearly impossible task", Simon ended his brief lecture.
Richie patted him approvingly on the shoulder. "That was a good job, buddy. After all, we are not going to put up with everything here."
Wilgram looked bewildered to Lhasmo. What should he do with such an impertinent human boy like this? Lhasmo took Simon and Richie's side and all around them the whispering and murmuring turned into a noisy debate.
Elian stood up from his seat and silenced the crowd instantly with a one move of his hand. He slowly approached Simon and Richie.
Elian was a strong and very mighty elf. Just as his fellow Lhasmo, he wore a leather breastplate. But he was the only one of the three Elders who did not wear the colours of the forest. Elian wore trousers and shoes from light-coloured, almost white, deerskin. His shirt was made of fine white yarn and his cloak of light-grey wool with silver threads. As the others, he also wore a belt around his waist. But instead of a hunting knife, he carried with him a large dagger with gemstones on the grip, hanging in a golden sheath. The grey curls that fell to his shoulders were kept in place by braided leather straps. Simon and Richie looked into a bearded face with dark blue eyes.
"I welcome you, my friends. Show me Asragur's scale, Simon", Elian said and Simon gave it to him.
The Elder held the scale in his hands and ran his finger over it in thought. He closed his eyes for a moment, as if he could look into the future with the help of Asragur's scale, which wouldn't have surprised Simon.
Wilgram and Lhasmo also had a look at the scale of their erstwhile ruler, full of awe. Lhasmo put his hand on Simon's shoulder. "I admit I have my doubts. But you are a brave fellow, Simon Knox", he laughed. "You have brought life into this old musty cave", he rejoiced and whispered in Simon's ear: "To be honest, it was about time. After a while it can get pretty boring down here", he grinned and rejoined the conversation.
"One thing's clear", Simon heard Elian say. "The two boys need our full support. Otherwise Morana is doomed."
Murmurs of approval could be heard around them. Lhasmo turned to Richie and asked irritably: "Tell me Richard, what is that weird thing you have on your nose?" The group gathered around Simon's friend and studied the strange contraption in Richie's face.
"My eyes are not so good. That's why I have to wear these things. We call them glasses", he explained, taking them off and placing them in Lhasmo's hands.
The Elder weighed the glasses in his hand and looked at them from all sides. Then he carefully put them on. He waited in anticipation to see if these magical things would improve his eyesight. Shortly thereafter he took them off again, a bit disappointed. "I believe something is broken", he said and gave them back to Richie. "I can see much better without your glasses", he complained to Richie.
"They only work for my eyes", Richie explained and put the glasses back on.
Elian, having calmly looked on, turned serious towards Richie. "These glasses, as you call them, will soon hinder you from hunting, swimming, fighting and perhaps also from surviving. Anjoux will prepare a special potion for you this night that will strengthen your eyes. You won't need your glasses anymore, at least not here in Morana." Richie glanced sceptically at Simon, who simply shrugged his shoulders. They knew that all they could do is: wait and see.
Elian now spoke to everyone. "The prophecy is beginning to be fulfilled. All of us will do everything in our power to make sure the Chosen One reaches his goal unharmed. The two friends are inexperienced and therefore we will teach them all that they need to know to survive this test. But we will discuss the matter tomorrow. We don't have much time. Asragur's scale is losing its radiance and thus the spell that keeps Rodan imprisoned in his damp dungeon, is getting weaker. His power over Morana is growing day by day.” Excited and fearful murmurings spread throughout the whole city.
"But today we want to welcome our guests", Elian continued and the crowd quieted down again. "Get everything ready for a great feast", Elian requested and right away the moor elves spread out in every direction and started on the preparations with joy. Everybody thought to contribute something for the festival. Elian, Lhasmo and Wilgram turned to Simon and Richie with a solemn look. With one more worried look at the scale of the dragon king, Elian returned it to Simon.
"It won't be easy, my friends. To have even the slightest chance against Rodan, you will have to think like an elf. You will have to know the forest, the moorland and the mountains. A hard time of learning is coming upon you. We will deliberate tomorrow and then let you know who will be in charge of your training. Eat, drink and be merry. Tomorrow a new life begins for you", Elian concluded and returned them to Anjoux's care.
"I hope we wake up soon and hear Aunt Abygale calling us to breakfast", Richie craved, who apparently wanted to get back home as soon as possible and had forgotten how hungry he was.
"And before I forget", he added hastily as he saw Anjoux coming their way, "remind me never to set foot again on any moor. It's nothing but trouble", he muttered.
"Is everything all right with you two? You look a bit upset", Anjoux said concerned.
"Is everything all right?", Richie mocked Anjoux. "Nothing is all right!", he started and wanted to get into it. But Simon poked him in the ribs and gave him the evil eye. The elf girl looked at them in amusement. "Well, it'll be OK", she smiled. "A hot bath, fresh clothing, something to eat and a lot of sleep will put the world in order again", she hummed to them and started to lead them to their quarters.
They made their way through the crowd of busy elves, who were happily preparing the feast in their honour. Behind the big gathering place, a small alley branched off and led deep into the cave. Astonished they followed Anjoux through the narrow lane. There was not a trace of the hustle and bustle of before.
They stood before yet another cave. It was also carved into the rocks but differed somewhat from the other caves.
"So, here we are. You will sleep here until the Council of Elders decide otherwise. Sorry to say that I cannot tell you when you will be taking off again. We are pressed for time and your search for the well could already start in the morning", Anjoux said and shrugged her shoulders. She pulled the reed mat aside at the entrance to the cave and invited her guests to step in. Simon and Richie entered the cave with curiosity.
They entered a living room, in the middle of which was a heavy wooden table with four chairs. At the front of the room there was a hearth, with a large kettle hanging over cold ashes. An old deer fur was placed on the cold floor and dried herbs were hanging everywhere from the ceiling, giving off a sweet fragrance.
Looking around, they were speechless. A quiver with sharp arrows was hanging on the left wall. A bow and an ax were next to a shelf full of books covered in rough leather. To the right of the entrance, a ladder led upstairs to a small alcove. "You will be sleeping up there", Anjoux explained, who noticed Simon's questioning look. "But not till later", she laughed. "Come on, I'll show you the garden", she motioned for her guests to follow.
Next to the ladder that led up to the sleeping quarters, there was a narrow corridor by which they left the homely cave. The garden was just a few feet away. Simon could hear the lapping of water before they got there. The corridor widened towards the end and opened to a wonderful green oasis. One they never would have expected to find so far under the earth. They went straight to the waterfall that poured out into a small pool.
They were again in the main cave that protected Leyhda. For everywhere they could see the sun crystal that gave this enchanted garden warmth and light. The walls of the cave here were encircled by big-leafed plants that decorated the grey rocks with beautiful white and pink flowers. Just like a summer meadow, with grass and sweet-smelling, colourful flowers, the magical place was magnificent. High rocks and thick bushes surrounded the little paradise.
Huge ferns, with leaves as tall as Simon himself, grew at the edge of the pool and in the rest of the garden. Simon and Richie had never seen such a beautiful place before.
This fantastic cave, with its glorious plants and the waterfall, made them easily forget that they found themselves deep under the surface of Morana. Colourful butterflies danced around them and gave them the feeling of roaming around in a summer meadow of Exmoor.
Anjoux led Simon and Richie to the small pond at the bottom of the waterfall. Numerous tiny runlets branched off the watering hole and disappeared with a gurgle in the rocks to blossom all the other gardens of the city. Curiously they peered into the water.
Simon got on his knees at the edge of the pool, dipped his hand into the water and then held it to his nose. The water was pleasantly mild and smelled good. "Hey Richie, check this out", he motioned for his friend to sit down and take a whiff of the clear water. Richie hesitated and then put his hand into the clean water. It was warm and felt especially soft. Simon was right. The water had a pleasant fragrance. He looked at Simon in amazement. How was it possible, he wondered and sniffed the water again.
"Hmm, it smells something like lemon", he said. "How is it that clear water has such a fragrance?", he asked Anjoux.
She was pleased that the boys seemed to like their temporary home. She laughed and explained: "This water is special. Herbs are growing on the bottom of the pool to keep the water clean and pure. It’s their fresh fragrance you smell. I'll leave you two alone and will pick you up in time for the festival. Take a bath. It will clean and refresh you up." Anjoux pointed to a big stone on the edge of the pool, under one of the huge ferns. Like magic, two piles of fresh clothes and two pairs of boots appeared.
"Put on new clothes and leave yours here", she said, as Simon and Richie drew closer. "It will be safer for you as well as for us in the future if you cannot be easily recognized. From this evening on, you are moor elves", she winked and left the garden.
Simon and Richie looked over the fresh clothing that Anjoux had laid out for them.
"Man, Simon, just look", Richie was excited and drew a knife out of its sheath.
"That's really cool", Simon replied and tried on a boot. Anjoux had thought of everything. For each of them there was a coarsely woven shirt, soft leather trousers, held up with a braided strap, as well as light deerskin boots and a comfy cloak made of thick wool.
But before they tried on the new things, they jumped into the fragrant water and washed the fear and sweat of the day, not only from their skin but also from their souls. A short time later they managed to get into their new clothing. Now they looked like real moor elves. From now on it would be difficult to recognize them. At least they hoped so and followed Anjoux to the big square, which was filled with music and delicious smells.
Long tables and benches were set up all over the place. The Council of Elders was seated at the front of the square. But Elian, Wilgram and Lhasmo didn't seem to be interested in the delicacies. Instead, they were deep in quiet discussion with worried looks on their faces. Although Simon could very well imagine what the Elders were discussing, he was going to have fun this evening and focused on pleasant thoughts. For it wouldn't be long before the matter became serious. So he swept his worries aside and he and Richie went around sampling the various treats, under Anjoux's guidance of course, which had been especially prepared for them by the moor elves.
Just looking at all the delicious food offered, made the water run in their mouths. Simon finally realized just how hungry he was.
They intended to try a little of everything. However, they soon realized that this would not be possible, considering the huge selection of food placed before them this evening, without getting an upset stomach.
There was rabbit stew and roast boar. Baked fish was served in herb sauce, wrapped in big leaves and cooked over glowing charcoal. There were crayfish with asparagus and cress, freshly baked bread and all sorts of pastries. Simon and Richie steered clear of specialties such as fried maggots and crickets. However the grilled sand lizards, very popular here, could not quicken their appetite. For dessert the two picked out stewed grass apples with wild honey.
"Delicious", Simon gushed and licked the wooden bowl clean. "What exactly are grass apples?", he asked Anjoux, who was sitting next to him nibbling on a sand lizard before attacking her dessert.
"Don't tell me you've never heard of grass apples?", she stared at him in wonder.
"No, not really", Richie said between bites.
"Grass apples grow all over the place here, but mainly in the wet meadows. The elf children use them as ammunition for their slingshots, because you can't eat them raw.”
"I remember", Richie interrupted. "Dakko shot a few of these small green-yellow things at us", he recalled and put his hand on the small bump on this head.
"Yes, that's what they were", Anjoux laughed at the two. "They grow on small trees no taller than the grass in the wet meadows. Or the small trees grow along the ground. That's why we call them grass apples. I hope you liked them?", she asked.
"Very much so", they exclaimed together.
"I'll get another helping", Richie said, grabbed his bowl and disappeared into the crowd.
"Your friend can really put the food away", Anjoux noticed, and wondered how such a boy could eat so much.
"We had practically nothing to eat all day and he was half starving", Simon tried to explain Richie's big appetite and smiled bashfully.
After Richie had also satisfied his hunger, Anjoux took her guests on a short tour of Leyhda. Strangely enough, the underground cave city experienced dusk. As the light grew dimmer it gradually quieted down in the caves and narrow alleys. Simon regarded the sun crystals with amazement overhead and on the cave walls.
"Why do the crystals stop shining?", he asked.
"Oh, don't worry about that", Anjoux reassured him. "The warming light and radiance of the crystals is dependent on the course of the sun. However, they never cease to shine. They only shimmer at night. This way, life here under the moorland also comes to rest", she explained and led them to their quarters.
"See you tomorrow morning. I wish you a pleasant night. Get plenty of sleep, for tomorrow is a very important day. Oh, before I forget", she remembered and handed a small glass bottle to Richie. "Here, please drink this. You'll see, tomorrow you will no longer need your glasses". Richie took the bottle and glanced at Simon, who encouraged him with a nod.
"Don't make such a fuss. Come on, down the hatch with that stuff." Reluctantly, Richie pulled the cork out of the small flask. A light coloured, blue shimmering vapour arose out of the small container and spread a mouldy odour. Richie was sceptical.
"Be brave. It tastes better than it smells", Anjoux pressed him.
"All right then, if you say so", he gave in, pinched his nose, closed his eyes and emptied the bottle in two swallows. Richie made a disgusted face.
"Yuk, that's nasty", he shook himself while Simon and Anjoux laughed aloud when they looked at the face Richie was making.
"Anything that tastes that bad must be healthy", he told himself and returned the empty flask to Anjoux.
"You boys should try to sleep now", she suggested. "Don't be afraid of what is to come", she encouraged them and vanished into thin air.
"We have to ask her tomorrow how she does that", Simon yawned.
They retreated to their cave, climbed the ladder to their berth and fell exhausted into bed. The bed itself was very inviting for sweet dreams as it consisted of fragrant moss, wool blankets and a cozy cover made of rabbit fur.
They were too tired to think about the things they would start learning tomorrow, let alone to consider what the Council of Elders had decided to do about them. And so they fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
Simon had no idea of how long he had slept. He sat up and looked around at their lodging. They were still in Leyhda, the city of the moor elves, deep under the earth. It really wasn't a dream. As unreal as their journey had seemed to them, it now proved to be reality. Simon pinched himself to remove all doubt. He was lost in his thoughts. Richie was still sound asleep next to him. Should he have kept his friend from accompanying him to Morana? After all the prophecy of the old dragon king Asragur had said, that he was the Chosen One who was to find the Well of Hope and save Morana from doom. He had no idea what dangers would be coming their way. The very attack of Rodan on the bridge indicated that this was only the beginning of their adventures. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to Richie, but they had both decided to follow Grewels and pass through the Gateway. There was no turning back. They would have to cover each other's back, more now than before, he thought. Simon turned over and dozed for a while longer.
After a while though, he got up and climbed down the ladder into the living room. Not knowing what to do, he stood at the large table, looked around again and listened for sounds outside. The sun crystals started growing lighter and bathed the city of caves in soft reddish light. Slowly the city started coming to life again. Simon heard voices here and there, the smell of fresh bread filled the air and the first inhabitants of Leyhda got busy cleaning their caves, watering the gardens or sorting their goods for a new day at the market.
Simon decided to take a bath. He entered the garden that looked so peaceful in the early morning light. The flowers had not yet opened up nor were the butterflies fluttering around through the air. It was still nice and quiet here. The only thing that could be heard was the lapping of the water. Simon hopped into the warm water and sank down deeply. He instantly smelled the fragrance of the little red plants that grew on the bottom of the pool and tickled his feet.
A funny prickle spread along his skin and before he knew it, he was wide awake.
Simon had just dried off and slipped into his clothes when suddenly he heard Richie calling for him all excitedly. "Simon, Simon, come quickly!" Simon raced from the garden as if he had been stung by a bee. He came panting into the cave to find Richie beaming next to the table.
"It worked!", he shouted for joy. "It really worked!"
"What are you talking about?", Simon asked, who sat down on a chair out of breath.
"Well, that nasty juice Anjoux gave me yesterday", Richie was overjoyed. "I can see normally now without my glasses", he rejoiced and reached for a book on the shelf. "I can even read without squinting my eyes."
"Far out", said Simon, who would never have believed that a stinking magic potion could have such an effect. But now he was relieved and happy for his friend, who whistled and hopped towards the garden.
Anjoux appeared, as the last few times, without advanced notice. She simply showed up in the middle of the room, just as Simon and Richie were getting ready to stow away their telltale human clothes. Even Simon's watch, the one he had received from his father last year for his birthday, had to be left behind for better or worse. But the two refused to do without the compass and binoculars they had from Aunt Abygale's attic.
"Good morning", Anjoux's bright voice sounded behind them. The two boys almost had a heart attack and turned to look behind them. They were looking at a dainty elf who was holding a basket in her hand and smiled at them.
"I hope you slept well and long enough. Today is going to be a hard day. I can tell you that much already.
"Do you always have to sneak up like that? Someday you will scare us to death. How do you actually do that? From one second you're here and the next you're not. It can really get on one's nerves", Richie complained.
"He's not quite awake yet. Sorry", Simon quickly interjected and gave Richie a warning look.
"Ah, no problem", Anjoux dismissed Richie's bad mood with a wave of the hand and placed the basket on the table.
"He's probably just hungry", she turned to the grouch and gave him a wink. "I see that you are no longer wearing that strange contraption on your nose. I'm glad the potion could help", she said and set the table.
"Oh well, yes, everything is fine. Thanks a lot", Richie mumbled and looked down to the floor.
The basket smelled good and the three of them sat down at the table. Simon and Richie looked on in amazement to see all the things Anjoux brought out of the small basket. Richie's eyes beamed when he saw that she had also brought some grass apple compote with her. She also put a big bowl of oatmeal with strawberries, fresh bread and pork ham on the table, along with a pleasant smelling jug of herbal tea. Finally, she pulled two large leather bags from the basket and gave each of them one.
"We will be travelling for a while", she said. "Pack only what you really need and leave room for food. But now it's time for breakfast", she said and the three dug in to the tasty treats.
Simon was chewing on a big piece of ham and turned to Anjoux. "So now, tell us how you can simply disappear and reappear again. How does that work?", he was curious and rinsed down the food with a big swallow of herbal tea.
"I would also like to know that", Richie said and both of them looked at her expectantly.
"Oh, you mean when I think away? It's really nothing special", she started to explain and put a piece of bread in her mouth. "It's an ancient art that I learned from my mother. She was a mist fairy, you should know", she continued with a touch of sadness in her voice.
"She was a mist fairy?", Richie asked.
"Yes. She died a long time ago. After Rodan had been banished to the rocks castle in the Lake of Eldor by Asragur's magic, we lived happily and in peace for a long time on our beloved moor. But as you already know, the magic of the dragon king is losing its power. One day Rodan gained enough power to bring the ravens and the fog of Morana under his submission. My mother's people opposed Rodan's power with all their might. But it was not enough. He killed many of them and the remainder fled for their lives in all directions. My mother did not escape."
Anjoux swallowed and tears filled her eyes. "But the day will come when he will pay dearly for all of the harm he has caused us", she said angrily and clenched her small fist on the table.
"We are so sorry, Anjoux", Simon stammered and Richie nodded in silence. She gazed at the two of them with determination in her eyes. "Soon all will be better. You have come and the prophecy will be fulfilled. And then peace will reign again", she asserted. She thought for a moment, before continuing on about the gift of thinking away.
"Where were we? Oh right, thinking away. You should know that it can be a very useful gift. It enables you to get from one place to the other within a short time. It is purely a matter of concentration that has to be well trained. The gift helps you to travel long distances over impassable routes but can also bring you in safety in case of danger."
Simon and Richie were spellbound. "Can we also learn it?", Simon asked and already imagined himself at Ilfracombe at Mr. Twiggle's Ice Cream Parlour.
"Well, I would think so. As a matter of fact, I think the Elders have decided to teach you this art", she smiled at them and gave them hope, and then took another bite of oatmeal.
"However, there is a small catch that I think not worth mentioning", she added, stirring her oatmeal and looking somewhat bored.
"What catch?", Richie wanted to know. He somehow had the feeling that this gift of thinking away might not be as simple as Anjoux was letting on.
"Well, how can I explain it?", she wondered. "It's like this. At first, you have to really concentrate very hard. This can cause headaches and fatigue. Some pupils even got sick."
"That's just perfect. That really sounds like a lot of fun", Simon was disappointed and noticed that he, just as Richie, was losing interest in these instructions about the so-called art.
"At home I would simply hop on the bus", Richie said more to himself. It seemed the matter was forgotten for him as he turned his attention back to his ham sandwich.
Anjoux noticed how the two friends lost interest in attending a thinking-away course, but said that they shouldn't always be so pessimistic.
"I only said that it is possible. Not every pupil experiences such side effects", she tried to remove their doubts. "There were some who had no problems at all. On the contrary, they even did very well. As a rule, any problems that come up go away quickly again. Just trust me", Anjoux said and gave them her best smile.
Simon and Richie looked at her sceptically. "I suppose we won't have any other choice", Simon replied.
And so they surrendered for now.
"Very good", Anjoux beamed. "We should be leaving soon now. The Council of Elders has deliberated and is expecting us", she urged them along. Simon and Richie quickly packed the compass, binoculars and the sun crystal from Biggs into their leather bags and threw them over their shoulders.
Shortly thereafter, they were on their way through Leyhda to stand once again before the Council of Elders. They both had an uneasy feeling. They didn't have the slightest idea what was coming their way. Even Anjoux's loud chatter and gesturing next to them could not banish their gloomy mood.
They arrived at the gathering place of the elves, which was not as crowded this morning as it had been when they'd first arrived. Already from afar, Simon and Richie could make out three other elves waiting for them next to the Elders. The tension increased immensely and Simon noticed how nervous Richie was becoming. Anjoux was also aware of the strain her companions were under. "Don't be afraid. Your safety and well-being is the main concern of each and every one of us", she tried to calm them.
They were weak in the knees by the time they got there.
Elian came forward to greet them. "Good morning, my children", he said in a friendly manner. "We are very happy to see that you are doing well. The Council put in a long night of deliberation. Simon and Richie, you came to our land in high spirits and with the best of intentions. However, it won't be enough to survive against Rodan and to perform the difficult task coming upon you. Time is short. Asragur's scale showed us that yesterday.
We have reached a decision. The only way you will stand a chance against such evil is to discard your human nature. You two will have to think and feel like moor elves, otherwise your lives will soon be forfeited. We have therefore decided that you must leave yet today for the peak of Mount Tularon. We simply can't wait any longer", he continued.
Simon and Richie looked around helplessly and could hardly believe how fast things were moving.
"Find the Well, Simon, and save our empire from Rodan, just as Asragur prophesied", Elian raised his voice imploringly.
"You have a long journey ahead of you, filled with many difficulties and dangers. Asragur's spell is growing weaker and it is only a matter of time until Rodan breaks out of his prison. He has already regained a lot of his power. You must by all means reach the Well before he does. Hard training awaits you during your journey. You will have to pass a test or two that will demand your utmost skill, courage and endurance. Don't be afraid. Neither of you will be left alone in your search for the Well". Elian pointed to the small group of elves standing behind him. "I place you in Lhasmo's care, who will make sure you stay on the right path and go about your task with prudence." Lhasmo took a short bow and smiled at Simon and Richie.
"Teldan will also stand by you", Elian continued. "As an experienced warrior and hunter, he will not only be responsible for your safety but will also instruct you in the art of combat and hunting."
Teldan stepped forward and Simon recognized the grim-looking and unflinching elf who had aimed his bow and arrow at them when they had first entered Leyhda's labyrinth of caves with Anjoux.
"Nanik and Dakko will also be accompanying you", Elian pointed to the two adolescents, who boxed each other and apparently looked forward to the dangerous trip.
"They also have a lot to learn. Without discipline and obedience, neither of them will become a good warrior", he turned his words of warning towards Nanik and Dakko, who instantly stood still and looked serious.
"This could be your last journey ever, if you don't watch out for each other", Elian said. "Adhere to what Lhasmo and Teldan instruct you. But that's not enough. You also need to have confidence in your own power. Many dangers await you along the way. And Rodan will go to extremes to stop you. You will be travelling for many weeks, perhaps months, through Morana. There is a predestinated route that the Chosen One must take.
You will have to pass through the Gate of the Damned, at the foot of Mount Tularon. From that point on, the spirit of Asragur will guide you. But take care. Focus on your destination and don't be led astray. Many creatures are also in search of the Well, driven by their hunger for power. Only he who has honourable intentions can pass through the gate. Many unfortunate souls have died in the past centuries, having sought the Well in greed. Since then, their evil spirits are imprisoned in the confines of the gate. They will do their best to lead you astray. You must be prepared for anything to happen. If you stand together, they will have no power over you", Elian warned the others imploringly.
"We wish you good luck. May the spirit of Asragur watch over you and free our beloved country of all evil", he bade the travellers farewell.
And so they headed into an uncertain adventure, with Lhasmo leading the way.