Not long after their departure, Simon noticed how they were leaving the labyrinth caves by a different route than the one they had taken to come to the city of elves. He looked around nervously. He was quite sure about it. They had not taken this path the day before.
"Richie", he whispered to his friend in front of him.
"Have you noticed that we are taking a completely different route? Yesterday we came from the north. But now we are headed in an eastern direction towards the cliffs."
"I was just thinking the same thing a few minutes ago", Richie replied quietly, without stopping. "I'm afraid we will indeed come out somewhere on the cliffs. I can already smell the sea."
"What a bummer! Get ready to start climbing again, buddy. There surely won't be any stairs where we are going", Simon replied and didn't feel good at all about climbing over rocks high above the raging sea.
"Boys, stop dawdling around. We have a ways to go today", Teldan, bringing up the rear, hurried them along.
Simon thought it over. Anjoux had mentioned two entrances you could take to get to Leyhda. And one of them was hidden in the cliffs that dropped straight down to the sea. A shiver ran down his spine. Meanwhile he also smelled the sea and it seemed Richie had been right. They would really have to do some climbing. Simon groaned to himself. "Anything but that", he pleaded quietly and noticed it was getting lighter. They came upon a huge cave, the entrance to which was well hidden behind the curtain of a waterfall that thundered into the deep. Lhasmo indicated that they should all gather around him and Teldan.
"We will be leaving Leyhda for a long time", Lhasmo said with serious demeanour. "It is very well possible that some of us will never return. After you pass the waterfall, climbing along the cliffs, there will be no turning back. Now would be the time to turn back, in case any of you might have reconsidered." He glanced at each of them and one after the other shook his head. The Elder nodded at them and was satisfied. He was aware of the danger that lies ahead.
"Follow me now one at a time. Keep a safe distance to the person in front of you, to avoid pulling him with you in case you should fall.”
Lhasmo led them along the edge of the cave. They were so close to the waterfall now that they could have touched it. The loud roar of the falling water allowed them to communicate only by hand signals. Simon got dizzy looking down into the deep.
One after another, they set out along the edge. It was Richie's turn next. His face was as white as chalk as he pressed along the wall and felt his way, step by step. Carefully he passed the waterfall until he made it to the outside. Simon looked at Teldan, who signalised for him to follow Richie and the others.
His heart was beating a mile a minute. He hugged the rocky wall and drew near to the abyss with shaky knees. As he passed the waterfall, he felt that his legs would give out on him. He desperately held tight to the rocks and carefully pushed his way to the outside. And just like that, it was light. A strong wind almost knocked him down into the depths below. To his right, the water was falling at a breathtaking speed down to the sea where it joined the raging waves below. Simon stood bolt upright and paralyzed with fear on a small crumbling ledge of rock. A mighty precipice opened before him and the surf crashed into the rocks hundreds of yards below.
He was dizzy and on the verge of being sick. He slowly turned his head and looked to the left. A narrow path led from the ledge he was on around a massive rock that arose out of the sea. He watched as Lhasmo guided the small group. Carefully they passed every obstacle.
Trying to find some place to grip on the face of the rock, Simon followed the others step by step, his knees about to give out.
It was a mild summer day. Still, there was a strong wind stirring up the sea that made their passage along the narrow path difficult.
The nightmare found no end. Simon's stomach twisted in knots. One moment of inattention caused him to falter. Suddenly a hole appeared from nowhere in the path. Simon lost his grip. He missed plunging to his death by a hair's breadth, thanks to Teldan, who grabbed him just in time and pressed him to the rocky wall.
Shaking with his eyes closed, Simon leaned against the cold rock and tried to get his fear under control again. What in the world had he gotten himself into, he thought and cold sweat trickled down his spine. They felt their way further along, step by step, until Simon noticed the path slowly rising. Lhasmo paused to let Simon and Teldan catch up to the others, who also had to deal with their fears and weak knees.
"Simon, thank goodness! Are you all right?", Richie wanted to know, happy that his best friend had not fallen into the abyss.
"Whew, I was lucky! That was really close", Simon was relieved.
"If it hadn't been for Teldan, I would have been fed to the fish", he said, peering down below with a shudder. At that moment they were about twenty yards below the top of the cliff. Lhasmo gave Anjoux a signal, whereupon the little elf took Dakko and Nanik by the hand and floated upwards. Their eyes tensely followed the elves to the top of the cliff.
"Simon, Richie", they heard Lhasmos voice. "You're next", he said and pointed to Anjoux, who was waiting with outstretched hands to lift them to safety. She took their hands and at once they felt the pleasant feeling of warmth and weightlessness they had experienced before.
As light as a soap bubble, they floated off the edge and on up to the cliff. Their feelings of fear and insecurity left them all at once. However, they felt drained and exhausted, as if they had been travelling for hours. Simon and Richie joined Nanik and Dakko, who were lying in fragrant heather trying to regain their strength.
"Are you boys OK?", Nanik wanted to know and turned to Simon.
"Sure, thanks. That was pretty hairy down there on the path", Simon said.
"Yeah, we saw it. Oh man, we freaked when you suddenly lost your grip", Dakko said, who had livened up a bit.
"Always watch where you step", Nanik warned them. "This is only the beginning. It'll get a lot more dangerous. We're lucky that Elian decided to send Anjoux along with us. Although she can sometimes get on your nerves, she is the only one of us who has the ability to float weightlessly around obstacles. But her powers are also limited. The day will come when she won't be able or allowed to use her powers. That's why it's so important for us to take care of each other.
Anjoux inherited that special gift from her mother. She was a mist fairy, you should know", he explained and all of a sudden he was no longer the quarrelsome elf that had just yesterday demanded toll from them.
"Yeah, I know", Simon countered. "She told us all about it this morning.”
Nanik looked at him and nodded. He knew that Anoux had told them about her mother's death and didn't want to add anything else to it.
Anjoux, Lhasmo and Teldan soon joined them. They all had a short rest together, while Simon and Richie were lost in their own thoughts.
Lhasmo was the first to stand up again. He searched his surroundings and rubbed his beard deep in thought. His body jolted and it seemed he had made a certain decision.
"We have to go now. Soon it will be dark. We can set up camp in the forest. Out in the open we are easy to spot for Rodan's scouts", he explained to the others, who were also standing and ready to march.
"Simon, you and Richie go with Anjoux to gather herbs and mushrooms for our evening meal. Teldan and Nanik, you can go hunting", he ordered.
"Dakko, you can come with me to gather firewood and prepare the camp. When nightfall sets in, we will all meet at the stream that borders Leyhda to the south. We will spend the next few days there. Be careful and stay under cover", he warned them. They silently nodded their heads and took off in different directions.
Anjoux, Simon and Richie roamed the forest with their eyes to the ground, in hope of finding some sort of food. Anjoux finally spotted something at the edge of the clearing. Mushrooms grew from a rotten tree root that was covered in moss and half way torn out of the ground.
"Hmm, blue butterlings, delicious", she exclaimed and at once went about removing the strange-looking mushrooms with her knife and dropping them into her leather bag.
"I've seen them before", Simon recalled the blue shimmering mushrooms with white stems. "But they look rather poisonous, don't they?"
"Oh yes, you're right about that", Anjoux smiled and kept on working. "They are in fact deadly poisonous", she added casually and giggled to herself when she saw their blank expressions. Richie promptly dropped his knife and started shaking the poisonous stuff out of his bag. He just stared at Anjoux.
"I'm supposed to eat poisonous mushrooms?" he asked, trying to keep his composure. "You might as well just throw us off the cliffs", he said warily. "Why go to all this trouble?"
Anjoux gave them a cheeky grin. "They're absolutely delicious, believe me. You will see. Of course they are only edible in connection with a certain herb that we need to find before dark. Don't worry. Nobody here wants to poison you", she calmed the two and led them to the clearing, where they were soon standing in front of an inconspicuous little plant.
"You see, there's one", Anjoux proudly pointed down to the ground. Simon and Richie looked sceptical. She bent down, picked something from the grass and held a small plain flower with thin petals up to their noses. Simon slowly took the plant from Anjoux and held it to his nose.
"It smells so sweet!", Simon was surprised and handed the herb to Richie.
"Just try it", Anoux asked them and pulled some more of them out of the grass. Simon and Richie each tried a petal and spit it right back out almost at the same time.
"Yuk! It's like eating a spoonful of salt", Richie complained and spit again. Simon did the same and gave Anjoux a look. She thought it was funny and bent over with laughter. "You should have seen your faces!", she giggled. "You didn't expect such a plain little plant to be so strong, did you?"
"No, we didn't", Richie snarled feeling tricked.
"How can something that smells so sweet taste just like salt?", Simon asked.
"Well, I really don't know the answer to that either", Anjoux replied. "We call it Salt of Xuria. You see, we moor elves used to get our salt from the sea. But since living far below the moor, the path to the sea has become too dangerous. We still have freedom of movement here in the forest and can hide from Rodan's ravens. There is no place to hide at the seaside and so all of Leyhda would be in danger if even one moor elf was to be captured by Rodan."
"And this plant protects you from the mushroom's poison?", Simon asked and took another whiff of the white flower. He couldn't imagine how many elves had given their lives to find out how certain foods can be prepared and consumed without danger.
"This plant not only protects us from the poison of certain mushrooms and fruits. We also use it as a medicinal plant. I don't even know its official name. We call it the no-puke herb. We season our food with it and use it to heal wounds and reduce fever by making a paste of its leaves", she explained.
"As you can see, this plant is useful to us in many ways. But enough talk. We have to hurry! It will be dark soon. Let's keep picking. These plants will surely come in handy on our journey", Anjoux told Simon and Richie and searched the ground for more.
Totally focused on their search for the no-puke herb, they didn't notice the raven in a nearby tree at the edge of the clearing, observing them with cunning eyes.
As it began to grow dark, it was time to join the others at the camp. Anjoux led Simon and Richie deeper into the forest, which was turning spookier by the minute, allowing their black-feathered pursuer to stay close at hand. After marching on foot for what seemed like forever through the undergrowth, the three heard the babble of a stream and then spotted the glow of a small fire, where Lhasmo and the others were gathered.
Teldan and Nanik had been successful at hunting and two nice sized rabbits were already roasting over the fire and giving off a mouth-watering aroma. Nanik had also tried his luck at fishing and had caught three trouts on down the stream.
"We were about ready to start searching the forest for you three", Lhasmo greeted his fosterlings. "Were you followed?", he asked worriedly.
"No, we were careful", Anjoux said not knowing, that one of Rodan's scouts had followed them to the camp.
Simon and Richie helped Nanik and Dakko to wash and clean the mushrooms. Afterwards they wrapped them together with the no-puke herb in thick leaves, as Teldan showed them. The wraps were then placed in the hot embers, where they were turned over now and then.
The meal was delicious. Simon and Richie even found the courage to try some of the mushrooms. After such an eventful day, they were all tired and starving. It was a peaceful summer evening. They sat around the campfire and enjoyed listening to the stories told by Teldan and Lhasmo. Later on, after the fire had died down, they wrapped themselves in their warm cloaks and fell asleep at once. Only Lhasmo and Teldan were not able to rest completely, as they took turns watching over their sleeping friends.
The sun rose over Xuria. Simon stretched and opened his sleepy eyes, peering from his cloak. He looked around. Richie and Teldan had already made a fire and the elf was showing him how to use a knife to gut a fish. Nanik was still sleeping. Lhasmo and Anjoux were nowhere to be seen. They had already left the camp before sunrise.
Dakko was also wide awake and standing in the brook with rolled up pant legs, trying to catch trouts and small crayfish, of which there were plenty in this area.
"Good morning", Richie said and smiled at Simon. "You won't believe it but I've already caught two trouts with my bare hands", he said proudly and pointed to the fish in front of him with the knife.
"Good morning", Simon said, still half asleep. "How did you do that", he wanted to know and sat up.
"Teldan showed me how to do it. After you get used to the cold water so that your chattering teeth will no longer scare the fish away, they swim pretty close and all you have to do is make a grab as fast as lightning", he explained and glanced at Teldan, who was busy cleaning a fish.
"Ha, got another one!", they heard Dakko shout. A trout made a high arch through the air and landed wiggling on the ground before them.
"Good going, lad. Keep it up", Teldan encouraged the young elf who was standing completely still in the stream and concentrating on this next catch. "We need two more so that everyone will have enough to eat".
"OK, I'll do my best", Dakko replied from the water. Simon stood up and looked curiously over to Dakko. He always wanted to catch fish himself. And so he pulled off his boots, rolled up his pant legs and carefully waded into the cold water to join Dakko.
Dakko put a finger to his lips and waved Simon to stand next to him. "It's not as hard as it might look like at first", he whispered to Simon.
"Just watch me. Hold real still and don't move, and then the fish will get close to you", Dakko explained. Simon watched as the elf stood completely still and waited for the next fish to come along.
"There's one coming your way", Dakko whispered.
As the trout got closer and dared to nibble on Simon's leg, he shoved both hands into the cold stream quickly, grabbed the fish and held it up for all to see. Right when he was ready to celebrate his triumph, the slippery trout jump out of his hands and back into the water. The others laughed.
"You have to grab them out of the water and toss them onto the bank, all in one motion", Dakko explained with a grin. "You can't hold them for very long, they're much too slippery."
Simon wasn't going to stand for failure and focused ambitiously once again on catching a trout. His third try was successful. He grabbed a handsome specimen and tossed it onto the bank as instructed, where the flapping fish landed on Teldan's neck and slipped down into his shirt. This caused him to jump up and exclaim a few choice words. He was dancing all over the place and finally pulled his shirt out of his trousers. Simon's fish plopped down at the elf's feet.
"I believe that's enough fish for now", Teldan grumbled, while the three boys could hardly contain their laughter.
The commotion woke up Nanik and he laughed along with them.
They were already sitting together around the fire and eating when Lhasmo and Anjoux came back with serious looks on their faces.
"Lhasmo, what did Elian have to say?", Teldan asked the Elder, who joined them around the fire and rubbed his chin in thought. Lhasmo looked around at the group.
"Well", he began slowly. "We need to set out today. Rodan's power is increasing from day to day. His spirit was seen by two fishermen at the Andal River and one of them was plunged into the deep. It still seems that he is at the castle on the rocks. But his spirit and magic have meanwhile grown so strong that he not only uses the fog and ravens for his purposes, but he is also spreading fear and terror throughout Morana. Even the shadow wolves, who have never bowed to his power before, are inclined to join forces with Rodan. At least that's what Biggs, the leader of the Wulloms, is telling", Lhasmo ended his report and asked Simon to show him Asragur's scale. Simon dug the scale out of his leather bag and handed it to him. He was shocked to see that the scale had meanwhile lost its radiance. It appeared grey and lifeless in Lhasmo's hand. "As you can see, this confirms the new developments", Lhasmo spoke again. "Rodan is gaining strength. He is becoming a great threat from day to day. I hope this little scale has enough power left to lead us to the Well after we have passed through the Gate of the Damned. We have to leave as soon as we're finished eating. We must increase our head start and press ahead with training our four young warriors", he decided and everyone agreed. Lhasmo stood up and went over to a nearby tree. He then gave Simon and Richie each a bow and a quiver full of arrows similar to what the others already had.
"You will soon learn how to handle these things. Trust in your skill and courage. If you can catch fish with your bare hands, you can also be a skilled archer.”
He gently let his hand glide over one of the bows.
"This bow can never break because it is carved out of the magic wood of the Tulipa tree, which only we moor elves know about. Additional magic will ensure that the string remains strong and that your quiver is always full. We will have to begin today with instruction in the art of combat"
Their eyes widened with awe as Simon and Richie accepted the gifts. "Many thanks, Lhasmo", Simon replied. "We will certainly not put you to shame and promise to learn quickly and diligently".
Soon afterwards they cleared the camp. The fire was put out and the ashes, along with the scraps of food, were buried. After filling their waterskins with the clear water of the stream, Lhasmo led the group southwards through the forest. Simon and Richie had no idea where they were headed much less where they would next pitch camp. It didn't matter now anyway. They had made new friends and knew that they could trust the moor elves with their lives. They had passed the first trials of their journey.