Simon Knox and the Prophecy of Asragur – extract

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Dear Bookworms,

Come and join Simon and his friends on their trip through a country beyond all your imaginations.

This book is a must read for anyone who:

still is as curious as a child and wants to be part of a great adventure.

I hope my readers have as much fun with Simon Knox and the Prophecy of Asragur as I had while creating this magic story.

Do you want to find out more about this fantastic tale and all its funny creatures?

Then get your Kindle ebook right now and discover this fascinating juvenile novel.

This is the link to your next adventure trip – do not miss it!

http://www.amazon.com/Simon-Knox-and-the-Prophecy-of-Asragur/dp/B00GC4ZJ9U

As I am a quite curiuos person, I am really looking forward to your comments. Therefore I would like to offer the first six chapters of this magic story for free here on wordpress.com.

Furthermore I would like to thank Philip Smith eBook Universe. who encouraged me to start thinking about my work again. I will definitely list my novel with those guys.

Now have fun with Simon Knox and his friends 🙂

 

Chapter 1

„Simon, rise and shine you sleepyhead. We’re running late. Breakfast is in fifteen minutes“. Patricia Knox flung open the door to her son’s room; in no time the curtains were pulled aside and the window opened. It was the start of a beautiful summer day and a mild breeze came in through the window from the harbour, which neither impressed nor encouraged Simon to stir, whose tuft of red hair peeked out from under the bed covers.

A bit unnerved, Patricia ran her fingers through her disheveled blond hair, straightened her robe and snatched her son’s blanket off him and let it fall to the floor next to the bed. „Don’t forget to brush your teeth. Now shake a leg! You haven’t even packed yet, you know“, she commented through gritted teeth when she saw the t-shirts she had ironed the evening before still on the dresser where she had put them.

She rushed out of the room and Simon listened to the creaking of the stairs as she hurried down to the kitchen.

„Just five more minutes“, he thought and turned over again to the other side. The banging of dishes, the smell of freshly-toasted bread, eggs and bacon finally woke him up. He sprawled and stretched before slowly opening his eyes. Sea air found its way to his nose through the open window. He listened to the goings-on of the harbour and the sporadic cries of the ever-hungry seagulls, who fought for the fish scraps thrown into the water by the fishermen each and every day.

„Summer holidays, at last“, he rejoiced.

Simon had passed the fifth grade without any trouble. He was eleven years old with fiery red hair, freckles and perky brown eyes. He was perhaps a bit small for his age and also a bit chubby which he was teased about at school sometimes. The fact that he liked to daydream, not always paying attention like he should have, didn’t exactly make him popular among the kids. Actually he only had one good friend: Richard Dawson, Richie for short, who was himself a bit different than others. Richard was also eleven years old, in the same grade as Simon and wore thick horn-rimmed glasses. What’s more, Richie was just about the tallest in his class and had dark, neatly parted hair. He was lanky and sometimes a bit clumsy, well-nigh scatterbrained. But he was Simon’s best friend.

While most of their classmates got together after school to play soccer, cricket or something like that, the two friends loved walking through the port. Both had a passion for the ships that docked at the Portsmouth harbour everyday. They took snapshots of every newcomer and pasted the pictures in an album while spinning their own stories about where the ships were from and the exciting journeys of the yachts, cutters and container ships.

But now summer vacation had begun and Simon and Richie wouldn’t be pasting any new pictures into their album, since Simon was to spend the summer with his great-aunt Abygale. She lived five hours away from Portsmouth in a small village at the seaside, in the county of Devon. Little did Simon know that he would be seeing his friend Richie again very soon and that the adventure of their lives was about to begin.

„Simon, these eggs are getting cold“, sounded the slightly irritated voice of his mother from the kitchen. She must have burned her finger on the pan, for suddenly she cursed loudly.

„Are you awake?“, she called up the stairs from the hall. „How can it take so long to get out of bed“, Patricia sighed, returning to the kitchen to pour herself another cup of coffee.

She really didn’t feel so good about sending Simon to Aunt Abygale for the first weeks of school holidays. But ever since her separation from Eduard Knox, Simon’s father, two years before, nothing was the same as it used to be. They had moved to Portsmouth and Patricia had gone back to work last year as an editor for a London publishing house. Basically she had plenty of time for herself and her son, since she was able to do a great deal of her work at home. However, there were important seminars and book reviews scheduled for this summer that she could not simply postpone. Aunt Abygale didn’t hesitate to invite Simon to spend part of this school vacation at her place. She liked the boy very much, all the more because she’d never had children of her own.

Patricia looked out of the kitchen window at the front garden of her small cosy house. Simon would be spending a nice summer at the seaside. He loved the water, the beach and of course the harbour with its small, colourful houses and fishing boats.

She took a deep breath, got over her guilty conscience and went about making sandwiches for Simon’s train ride.

Simon reached up and stretched, sat up, tousled his red hair and rubbed the sleepers out of his eyes. He yawned and looked around in his room. He had absolutely no desire to think about what to pack and what not. “Just a few t-shirts, shorts, his favorite jeans and a jacket”, that should be enough”, he thought.

„Should I tidy up“, he wondered, as he crawled out of bed and looked around his room, which was a bit messy. Actually things were scattered all over the place: small parts to model ships not yet completed, comics under and next to the bed, numerous snapshots of ships that he and Richie hadn’t yet put into the album, and so on. Even his desk under the roof window could have used some order. But he could also take care of it after his vacation, he decided, and climbed onto his desk to look out of the window in the direction of the harbour.

Something was different than usual on this Monday morning. Sure, it was the first day of the school holidays. But that wasn’t it. Hadn’t he seen a face at his window last night? Or had it only been a dream? He couldn’t remember. He let his view of the harbour wander back over the roof. Something was glistening in the morning sun and drew Simon’s attention – a small, round object stuck under his window between the roof shingles. Maybe it’s a coin? No, it’s probably not a coin. He liked letting marbles roll down the roof gutter, only to fish them out of the rain barrel down in the garden later on. But a coin?, no chance! He didn’t have so much pocket money that he could simply throw it out the window.

He became curious, reached out dangerously far over the windowsill and tried to grab the glittering object. But in vain! He slid forward just a bit. He stretched his arm more and more and after some effort, he was holding a strange glittering platelet in his hands. It was elastic but solid, too. Similar to the nacre that forms inside a shell, it shimmered in his hand. Perhaps it could be the scale of a big fish? But how did it end up on the roof? He couldn’t make any sense of it and crawled back into his room, deep in thought.

„Simon, I hope you’re finally up. Your hot chocolate was warm once upon a time“, he heard his mother’s voice say, no longer quite so full of understanding, breaking up his thoughts.

„Yes, Mum, I’ll be down there in five minutes!“, Simon hollered and trudged down the hall to the bathroom.

There he splashed some water on this face, brushed his teeth and quickly ran the comb once through his hair. „That’ll have to do for now“, thought Simon, quickly putting on his jeans and t-shirt, randomly stuffing the most necessary things in his travel bag and ran down the stairs into the kitchen, where his mother was sitting behind her newspaper and acting as cool as a cucumber.

She raised her eyebrows over a corner of the paper and looked at Simon. „Good morning, sweetheart. I hope you slept well?“ Somehow she had managed to wrap her hair around those huge light-blue curlers.

„Hmm“, mumbled Simon. „Is there anymore orange juice?“

„Sit down and eat your eggs, dear, I’ll bring you a glass“, Patricia replied, laid the paper aside, went to the fridge and returned to the table with a glass of juice. Simon listlessly poked around at his omelette. She studied him.

„Tell me, young man, were you walking around on the roof again last night? Haven’t I told you, several times now, not to roll marbles down the gutter? One of these days you’re going to tumble down yourself and then all I can do is call the fire brigade, an ambulance and who knows what else. That’s not really necessary, is it?“ She put the glass of orange juice on the table, all the time keeping a watchful eye on him. It seemed that she was really expecting an answer from him so early in the morning.

„No, that wasn’t me“, Simon murmured. „I’ve already rolled all of my marbles down into the rain barrel. I need to fish them out before we leave,“ he replied absently. Simon was still thinking about that strange platelet he had found between the roof shingles.

Did he really see a face in front of his window last night? And what about that weird scratching sound on the window pane? It seems his mother had also heard something. It was better to keep his thoughts to himself, before he made a fool of himself. Maybe he ought to tell Richie about his discovery after all they had agreed to write to each other.

Patricia hesitated and seemed to be waiting for a more detailed explanation from her son; but then gave up. „Well then, it must have been a couple of cats“, she sighed, sitting back down, making sure her curlers were in place and turning her attention back to the newspaper.

When breakfast was finished, the dishes done and Simon’s lunch packed for the trip, he ambled to the rain barrel. He was now hanging upside-down with legs kicking in the air over the battered barrel, which was in the cover of a wild hedge behind the house. With an effort, he retrieved all of the coloured marbles from the murky water and dropped them into a small brown leather bag.

Fortunately there was not much rainwater in the barrel so that he crawled back out fairly dry. He looked down: „Thank goodness nothing’s dirty“, he thought. His mother wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to have him change his clothes. And that’s the last thing he wanted to do.

„I have to call Richie!“, the thought suddenly hit him. „I have to tell him about my discovery!“ Simon ran up the stairs to the house two at a time. Standing in the hallway, he stopped and listened. It seemed like his mother was in the bathroom devoting herself to her curlers. He went over to the small, round wooden table next to the stairs, where the telephone was and dialed the Dawson’s number. After the third ring, the phone was answered by the shrill but friendly voice of Emma Dawson, Richie’s mother. „Good morning, Mrs. Dawson. This is Simon. May I speak to Richie, please?“

„Simon, how good of you to call one more time“, greeting him cheerfully. „I thought you would already be on the way to your aunt. Or will you be leaving tomorrow? Have you already packed, how is Patricia?“ She was firing one question after the other at him. Taken aback Simon replied: „Um, yes, today. I’m leaving today. I just have to speak with Richie beforehand!“

„Richard, Richard“, Emma Dawson called throughout the house. „Just a moment please, Simon. He’ll be right here. Riiichaard! Simon’s on the phone. Hurry up, he doesn’t have much time!“, she shouted loud enough that the neighbors surely knew that he was on the phone. Simon could hear Richie storming down the stairs and Emma Dawson whispering: „… now you can tell him the good news yourself.“

„Sure, mum, thanks“, Richie panted completely out of breath, snatching the receiver from his mother before she had the chance to pass along all her best regards to Simon’s mother.

„Hi Simon“, Richie wheezed into the receiver.

„I have something to tell you“, both of them hastened to share the news they had.

„OK, you first“, said Simon. What did your mother mean by good news?“, he wanted to know.

„You won’t believe it“, Richie began. „My father is going on an expedition during school holidays and I get to go with him“, Richie informed his friend excitedly. Simon gave a loud groan and wondered what was so good about this news.

Richie’s father, Professor Gerald Dawson, was a biologist and head of the research department for a pharmaceutical company. It wasn’t any surprise to Simon that Professor Dawson was once again going on a trip to the far reaches of the world to look for unknown plants. But it surprised Simon that Richie was allowed to accompany his father this time on an expedition that was not completely free of danger.

„We are going to Exmoor, where he wants to compare deposits of certain lichens and mosses with those of Dartmoor“, Richie said, drawing Simon back from his thoughts. „In any case he will try to prove that the „Opegrapha fumosa„, an exceedingly rare species of lichens, is not only endemically native to Exmoor“, Richie proudly concluded his brief excursion into domestic flora.

„You’re travelling to Exmoor?“, asked Simon in disbelief as he began to get the point.

„Yes, isn’t that great?“, Richie rejoiced, jumping for joy and just missed falling on Daphne, the Dawson’s chubby cat, who was purring around his legs.

„We’ll be staying in a small guest house in Ilfracombe“, he continued. „You get it? That means we can spend the school holidays together and have all kinds of fun, Simon. We are leaving bright and early on Wednesday“, Richie said, beside himself with joy.

„Oh man, Richie, that’s awesome!“, Simon enthused.

„You also wanted to tell me something“, Richie reminded him.

„Simon, are you ready? We are leaving in five minutes, otherwise you’ll miss your train“, warned his mother’s voice from the bathroom.

„OK, Mum, I’ll hurry!“, Simon shouted up the stairs.

„Richie, I have to get a few things together here. I’ll tell you everything on Wednesday. Let’s meet at 3 in the afternoon, in front of Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream Parlour in Ilfracombe.“

„Okey-dokey, I can even take my bicycle along. Dad said, we will drive the delivery truck from his lab“, Richie explained, happy that he wouldn’t have to use some old rusty bike in Ilfracombe.

They ended the call and Simon raced up the stairs. It won’t hurt to take along the album and pictures of ships, he decided and really looked forward to spending holidays with his best friend.

Pensively, his eyes roamed over the desk. That bright round thing was still where he had left it and gleamed in the morning sun. He took in its details again and ran his fingers over the smooth surface. Try as he might, he just couldn’t figure out where the strange platelet came from and why it had suddenly appeared on the roof.

„What are you?“, he asked thoughtfully. But the scale-shaped thing would not yet reveal its secret. Simon sighed. He would surely figure it out together with Richie. So he packed the shining platelet next to the photo album and photos in a side pocket of the travel bag, snapped it shut and slid down the banister to the hallway.

The summer break promised to become a great adventure and he looked forward more and more to the time he would be spending with Richie; apart from that, there were also Aunt Abygale’s blueberry pies and gingerbread cookies that she always had freshly baked in supply.

He was now ready to leave and could hardly wait to board the train in Portsmouth Harbour.

Chapter 2

Patricia Knox watched the train leave the station long after Simon had climbed aboard. „What a morning“, she thought and sighed deeply. Needless to say they had been running late again. However, they managed to beat the morning rush-hour traffic by cutting several red lights along the way.

They reached the train station of Portsmouth Harbour on time at 10:23. And just a few moments later, the train on platform one departed for Westbury.

Patricia’s guilty conscience about letting Simon spend a great deal of his holidays with Aunt Abygale was soothed as soon as she had learned that Richard Dawson would also be spending the summer in Devon with his father.

 ***

 Abygale Greenwood lived in a very old but beautiful house in the small fishing town of Fiddleton, nestled just a few miles east of Ilfracombe among high cliffs, near the beach and the offshoots of Exmoor in the countryside. Greenwood Castle, as she was used to calling her home, was built of natural stone walls, with small gables, a crooked turret on the east side and white glazed windows and doors. A massive waist-high wall overgrown with heather, made of rocks, encompassed a wild garden that could be accessed only through a small red door.

Aunt Abygale was an enthusiastic amateur gardener, although a closer look at the property revealed a passion mainly for her beloved rose and lavender beds that lined a big terrace on the southwest side of the house. In the middle of a garden filled with summer flowers and high grasses, there was an ancient oak tree that gave the place an enchanted and mystical atmosphere.

Nobody knew exactly how old Abygale Greenwood was, because the quirky but friendly and kind lady would always give the same answer to such an impolite question: „Alas, as if age really means anything. I am somewhere between one hundred and one hundred and twenty. But I feel considerably younger“, she assures, usually with a mischievous wink.

Aunt Abygale was absolutely delighted when she received the call from her niece Patricia at around noon, telling her Simon’s time of arrival.

„3:35 p.m. at the train station, oh I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t seen the boy for ages now“, she complained half-heartedly.

„Thanks a lot, Aunt Abygale. I really owe you one“, Patricia said and once again her guilty conscience of the morning crept over her.

„Trish, my dear child, everything is just fine. I can’t wait for the boy to get here“, assured Abygale Greenwood, while putting her glasses on and writing her shopping list for the week.

„He will know what to do with himself here, believe me“, she told her niece. „And when he brings along his friend Richard, all the better, it will liven things up again around here“, she affirmed. „Spending half the summer with an old bag like me is really not much fun for a boy his age“, she continued and smiled to herself.

After ending the call, she went about straightening up Simon’s room and preparing dough for the blueberry muffins he loved so much.

While sitting in the train, daydreaming and looking out the window, Simon tried once again to solve the mystery of that strange thing that suddenly twinkled his way in the morning under his room window.

He had to change trains in Westbury and Exeter. For the last stretch of his journey he had a nice window seat with a table, where he had spread out a few comics and his photo album with pictures of ships. But he just couldn’t concentrate. Across from him sat a fat man with a red face and moustache who was faintly snoring with his hands clasped on his round belly and his glasses slid down on this nose. Simon giggled quietly and fed the small, shaggy dog who sat to the right of its slumbering master. The dog took the rest of his ham sandwich carefully from his hand and proceeded to devour it with a smacking noise of pleasure.

Aunt Abygale got to the station in Barnstaple on time at 3:35 p.m., where Simon’s train rolled in on platform two, on time.

Simon saw her standing at the end of the track waiting for him. He was overjoyed to see her again. As always she was neatly dressed; with a white blouse, the collar of which was held together with an ivory pin, a beige tweed skirt and footwear that was sturdy but not the least bit stumpy.

She seemed a bit rushed because her hair bun, always properly fixed on top of her head, was coming undone. She was wearing small glasses on the tip of her nose, as she often did, which were attached to a chain hanging around her neck so as not to lose them.

She came towards Simon with open arms.

„Lad, it’s nice that you’re finally here“, she said and gave him a big hug. She had a fresh smell, like roses and lavender, just like her garden in the summer.

„Did you have a nice trip?“, she wanted to know.

„Hello Aunt Abygale“, Simon replied joyfully and let her tousle his disheveled red hair.

„Yes, everything went well. We were running late once again this morning, but Mum stepped on the gas to get us there on time“, he smiled back to her.

„I already phoned with her and heard all about the mad rush to the train station“, Aunt Abygale reported with a slight smile and shake of the head.

She drove a fairly old car herself. Not sleek and sporty like her niece’s car but one almost as old as she was. At least that’s what Simon was thinking when he saw the rusty-gray vehicle. But Abygale Greenwood would never dream of getting herself a new car at her age. So they drove, not quite as fast as the drive that morning had been, a few miles northeast from Barnstaple to Fiddleton, where Simon’s summer holidays finally began in Greenwood Castle.

After arriving at Aunt Abygale’s house, they had tea and Simon devoured half a dozen delicious blueberry muffins, the best he had ever tasted. He showed her his latest pictures of ships in his album and they played a few rounds of Scrabble until suppertime.

After Simon scoffed two large helpings of meatloaf, they sat on the terrace till nightfall and Abygale Greenwood shared one of her fantastic stories with her grandnephew.

As a well-read and educated woman she had traveled the world with Simon’s great uncle, Harold Greenwood, and therefore always had a ready supply of new tales of adventure from nearly all parts of the Earth.

Simon was fascinated listening to her tell about a safari in South Africa, where she tracked down man-eating lions with her husband and a troop of big game hunters. Apparently one or more members of that expedition fell prey to the insatiable appetite of the lions, thus she ended the day’s tale with gruesome undertones in her voice.

It really didn’t matter to Simon how much his great aunt added to the adventures, as they were exciting enough in themselves. He had never before met anyone who could tell such beautiful, exciting and compelling stories as she did. Her tales of South Africa gave Abygale Greenwood a fantastic idea that Simon and Richie could camp out in the very same tent she had used weeks on end on the expedition in the African bush. Simon was excited. This vacation was going to be nothing but great.

The very next day the two of them started looking for the tent that was wrapped in canvas somewhere in the attic of Greenwood Castle, hidden among all of the memorabilia of long-past expeditions. Simon was amazed by the many things his great aunt had collected over the years. In one corner were imposing wooden figures and fearful masks from Africa, along with artfully carved ivory.

A handmade chess game of green and white jade that she had brought back from China was set up on a small table decorated with gold though quite dusty, among numerous Asian lanterns. There were also all kinds of swords, fancy daggers and antique pistols, as well as moth-eaten tiger skins that his great uncle had brought back from India and Pakistan. In a small chest with iron fittings, Simon found yellowed maps and sea charts as well as a small hinged compass made of tarnished brass, which he helped himself to along with some binoculars. „You never know when you might need such things“, he was thinking.

After they found the tent and put it in the garden to air out, Simon got to work on a rusty bicycle that was in the shed behind the house. Not much could be done to the old bicycle. He patched up the front tyre, pumped plenty of air into both wheels, freed the frame of dirt and dust and adjusted the seat. After all, he was planning to tour the Exmoor with Richie.

He spent part of the afternoon with Aunt Abygale in the rose beds and helped her pull weeds. While she prepared dinner, he used the time to walk along the beach and collect shells and stones, which he really loved doing. He ended up throwing most of the stones back into the water, and the shells he took back with him to the house were few.

 ***

„Wednesday is here at last“, Simon said with joy the next day. Richie and his father were sure to be on their way to Ilfracombe, he thought excitedly. He could finally tell his friend all about his mysterious find of two days before. Maybe Richie would have an explanation for the scale-like thing that cast its spell on him the more he thought about it. It didn’t seem as radiant though as it had two days ago. He had a feeling it was changing.

He quickly packed the compass, binoculars, some money and his mysterious finding into his backpack and raced down the stairs into the kitchen to Aunt Abygale. She was just making Simon a couple of sandwiches for his trip when he came storming in.

„Wouldn’t it be better if I drove you there, lad?“, she asked a bit worriedly. „I was already planning to drive to Ilfracombe later on and could drop you off at Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream Parlour.“

„No, no, Aunt Aby“, Simon said and thanked her. „Richie will also have his bicycle with him. We might want to ride onto Exmoor“, he added happily.

„OK, whatever you think“, she sighed. „But whatever you do, be careful and don’t ride near the cliffs. Terrible accidents happen every year because people here on holiday just don’t pay attention“, she cautioned him, wrapping the sandwiches and handing him an apple.

„There you go, take off now! And don’t forget that we will be eating at seven o’clock. Oh, and you wanted to set up the tent with Richard, otherwise you won’t be having a safari camp today. And if you should happen to see Professor Dawson, please give him my best regards. Richard is more than welcome. It’s no trouble at all. I still don’t understand, how a person thinks that a boy can have fun by crawling through the moor with his father looking for some kind of fungus“, she mused.

„Lichen!“, Simon corrected her.

„What?“, inquired Aunt Aby blankly.

„He is looking for a certain type of lichen or moss, according to Richie.“

„Whatever“, Abygale gestured dismissively. „Whether fungus, or moss, or whatever. It’s all nonsense! Children should be able to enjoy their summer holidays. Life gets serious early enough“, ending her short lecture and sending Simon off, who in no time buckled his backpack on his back, hopped on his bicycle and left.

She watched him leave with a smile on her face and decided to take a nap in the shade of the old oak tree before tea time.

Simon peddled just as fast as he could. No way could he be late and raced along the coastal road at breakneck speed. He passed Pier Hotel at the harbour and turned left onto Quayfield Road. He made a beeline to the next crossing, crossed over Victoria Street and then made a sharp turn to the right into Highfield Road. A bit out of breath, he made to Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream Parlour on time, which was located in Highfield Road at the corner of Castle Hill.

Richie was already there, sitting on the steps in front of Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream and Sweet Shop. He had leaned his bicycle against the wall of the small redbrick house with the large shop window. With his backpack on his knees, he saw Simon coming from far off around the corner, while his nose was taking in the smell of freshly-baked chocolate cookies, various flavours of ice cream and a variety of other treats.

Simon braked hard and came to a stop right at Richie’s feet. He was panting.

„Hey Richie! Whew, what a ride! Where are your things, or is a backpack all you’ve got?“, he asked out of breath.

„Nah“, replied Richie and stood up from the steps to put Simon’s bicycle next to his. „They are probably already on the way to your aunt’s“, Richie said happily. „She invited my father for tea and asked him to bring along my things. After all, children should enjoy their holidays and not have to crawl around in the moor. That’s just not right for a boy in my age…“, Richie grinned.

„Ha, ha, your poor father“, Simon chuckled. „I can just imagine what her lecture sounded like. She told me the same thing today. And believe me. Abygale Greenwood can be quite persuasive. Even a Professor Dawson doesn’t stand a chance to contradict“, Simon laughed and could picture the poor professor putting up with a lecture about how to raise children.

„I knew that Aunt Aby was up to something“, Simon said and looked forward to a few carefree days with his buddy.

„Yes, thank goodness! I was already seeing myself crawling through the bushes of Exmoor day in and day out. Your aunt has real class“, Richie laughed and they entered Mr. Twiggle’s.

Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream Parlour was the ultimate paradise for everyone with a sweet tooth, whether they lived in town or in the surrounding area or were here on holiday. Simon loved the shop. Whenever he was visiting Aunt Abygale, he had to pay a visit to this wonderland at least once. Richard who had the sweet sticky pleasure for the first time stepped into the shop after Simon and his amazement found no end. With wide-opened eyes, he remained standing in the middle of the shop and just didn’t know where to look first. Although the two-storey house was inconspicuous on the outside, inside it was a dream for every sweet tooth, big or small.

As usual there was a lot going on. On the right side, next to the door, was a large display window where wide white shelves were embedded. The shelves held big lidded jars with all sorts of cookies, biscuits, waffles and macaroons, the fragrance of which filled the entire shop. Connected to the shop window was the heart of Mr. Twiggle’s business, the ice cream counter.

There were over thirty flavours of ice cream to choose from and every year a new creation was added.

„Wow! It’s so incredible here“, Richie exclaimed. The sweet surroundings finally got him on the move and he made his way over to Simon. Richie passed by faces as amazed as his own, people who had the same problem of choosing fruit drops, jelly beans or maybe some gingerbread cookies and ice cream.

„Simon, this is so cool“, Richie enthused.

„Happy you like it here“, Simon laughed and waited to be served at the ice cream counter.

„We sure don’t have such a cool shop in Portsmouth“, his friend said enviously, who still couldn’t believe the wide variety of cookies and ice cream he saw. After standing in line long enough, Simon decided on a monster scoop of rhubarb-marzipan ice cream. He also treated himself to a large bag of mixed cookies while Richie chose to sweeten up his afternoon with a scoop of strawberry ice cream and a bar of peppermint chocolate. They left the shop and sat down on an old bench on the other side of the street in the shade of an old tree.

„As I recall, you wanted to tell me something extremely important“, Richie reminded his friend while enjoying his tasty ice cream.

„Right, hold this a second“, Simon told Richie and handed him his cone with the two scoops tilting dangerously to the side. Richie took the ice cream cone from him and Simon started rummaging through his backpack. After he found the platelet, he took back his ice cream and placed that magical shining thing expectantly in Richie’s hand. He went about examining it at once.

„That’s a big fish scale. Did you find it here on the beach?“, he asked Simon, blinking at him over the rim of his glasses.

„No, I didn’t. It was stuck in the roof under my window on Monday morning. I had a feeling that someone was at my window during the night. And just imagine, my Mum also heard something. It could be that I imagined the whole thing and there might be a simple explanation for how this piece came to be on our roof“, he told him and nibbled on his ice cream. Richie played with the platelet in his hand and looked at Simon thoughtfully.

„So it was under your window ledge? OK, let me think a minute. One thing I can tell you for sure. It is definitely the scale of an animal. I guess we can rule out a fish. A fish would not simply jump out of the water and make its way along a few streets up onto the roof.“

Simon scratched, clueless. „But what else could it have been?“, he asked. „There aren’t that many scaly animals on earth, are there?“

„No, there aren’t“, Richie replied deep in thought.

„I only know of lizards, snakes or …“ He paused and Simon looked at him with eyes wide open. „Dragons!“, he blurted out.

„Dragons in Portsmouth?“, Simon said amazed and looked at Richie incredulously. „Sure, Rich. That’s the brightest idea of all! About as likely as fish climbing upon the roof“, Simon laughed.

„It was just an idea“, Richie snarled, a little offended.

„It changed colours“, Simon added, „on Monday it was radiant white and shimmered like a pearl. Since then it has turned to a light blue“. However it was clear that this information did Richie as good as it did himself. And so for now he returned the scale to his backpack.

When they finished their ice cream, they decided to postpone their trip to the cliffs in the moor till the next day. They were running late and didn’t want to keep Aunt Abygale waiting with the meal and they also had to set up the tent for the night. So they grabbed their backpacks, ambled over to their bicycles and took their time riding back to Greenwood Castle.

When they got back to the house, they saw that Professor Dawson had brought Richie’s things. They were neatly arranged to the right of the staircase in the hallway. According to Aunt Aby, they had enjoyed good conversation with a cup of tea and a few cucumber sandwiches. After he had admired her rose beds and was given politely-formulated advice about how holidays should be made suitable for children, she went into the kitchen to prepare dinner for her young guests, pleased with herself and the rest of the world.

Dinner consisted of a huge stack of lamb chops, corn on the cob with butter, freshly baked bread, salad and her famous peach pudding for desert. Following dinner and an exciting story by Aunt Abygale, the two boys made their way to the garden to set up camp under the old oak tree, loaded down with provisions, sleeping bags, covers, a flashlight and lanterns.

The old tent had seen better days, that was for sure. It smelled a bit moldy, was stained and had mended tears here and there. But it would keep out wind and rain just as it had many years ago when Simon’s great aunt, together with her husband, had traveled around the world.

Chapter 3

The two friends set up their camp. A light wind was coming up, so it might turn chilly in the night. But that wouldn’t ruin the adventure. They both wore thick sweaters and also took their jackets into the tent.

It turned dark and Simon and Richie were stretched out on their sleeping bags, gluing pictures into their album by the light of the lantern. Over in the house, Aunt Abygale had turned off the lights an hour before and the small estate was in ghostly darkness. In the back part of the garden, something rustled near the gorse bushes.

„What was that?“ Richie said with a jolt and looked at Simon anxiously.

„No idea“, he said and continued to nibble on his chocolate cookie and busy himself with his ships. „It was surely a rabbit“, Simon said absently.

„Yeah, I suppose you’re right“, Richie calmed down some.

There was a rustling in the bushes again. It was so loud this time that even Simon was alarmed and looked up from his photo album. Twigs snapped. And then all was quiet again.

„I don’t think a rabbit would make so much noise hopping through the bushes“, Richard commented, his heart beating for fear. „Maybe we should better sleep in the house“, he suggested and drew back into the tent.

„It could have been a fox“, it occurred to Simon, knowing right away that this information wouldn’t calm Richie down much. Especially since he wasn’t sure himself and was also a bit nervous.

„Let’s have a look“, he suggested all of a sudden and grabbed his flashlight. Richie looked at him incredulously and instead of jumping up to look into matter, he entrenched himself in his sleeping bag.

„Come on, Richie, don’t be a scaredy cat!“ Simon prompted, shining his flashlight around in the dark garden. Richie anxiously moved a little closer to the opening of the tent when suddenly there was a rustling in the bush again. But this time they clearly heard wheezing.

From one moment to the next, the boys were terror-stricken. They carefully leaned out of the tent and pointed the flashlight in the direction of where they thought the strange noises were coming from.

The two friends froze and Richie nearly peed his pants for fear. Two green eyes starred at them from out of the thicket and they were absolutely sure that they were not the eyes of the neighbour’s cat. Richie poked Simon. „You got any idea what we are supposed to do now?“, he whispered fearfully.

„Not the slightest“, Simon replied. And before they could consider who or what was staring at them from the undergrowth, the terror grew instantly worse. No more than twenty metres away, a fireball shot up into the air which slowly started to turn on its own axis and came towards them inexorably. Simon and Richie were paralysed with horror and fear. They couldn’t move an inch, let alone bring themselves to say anything. They were rooted in front of their tent and stared spellbound at the fireball drawing menacingly near to them.

„Oh my goodness, a ball-lightning!“, Richie screamed, the first one to find his voice again, and threw himself to the ground with his arms protecting his head.

„Simon, we’re going to die. That thing’s going to burn us alive!“, he wailed at Simon’s feet.

„Richie, that’s not a ball-lightning! It must be something else!“, said Simon, who couldn’t take his eyes off the brightly shining ball. The faster it rotated and drew near to the boys, the more clearly the two friends became aware of the loud puffing and groan that came from within that turned into a bloodcurdling scream and ended abruptly when the ball reached the entrance of the tent. No longer rotating, the glistening bright ball of light hovered about a meter over Simon’s head.

Simon tried to get a closer look and kept his hands over his eyes because of the bright light. A biting smell of sulfur reached their noses and Richie found the courage to place himself next to Simon when it became clear that the ball meant them no harm with all the noise it had made. „What the heck was that all about?“, asked Richie, staring at the fireball and forgetting his fear.

„I don’t have a clue“, Simon said.

Suddenly there was a strong blast, causing both of them to scream and knocking them back inside the tent onto their sleeping bags.

They remained still for a moment, completely stunned and not knowing what had happened. The loud whistling noise in their ears was staggering and they feared that they would never again be able to hear a peeping sound. They slowly recovered and dared a glance toward the front of the tent, where only a few moments before the fireball had hovered above their heads.

The smell of sulfur was stronger than ever and brought tears to their eyes. Not believing their eyes, a fat grey dragon was moving around in the grass in front of their tent. Silently moaning and cursing to itself, the creature stretched its wings. Carefully sweeping its scaly tail, the dragon raised its head while grumbling. With its mouth full of grass and dirt, the dragon finally looked directly at the boys with its fierce green eyes.

„Yuck, disgusting“, snarled the enraged dragon and spit grass and black dirt in a high arc. Fascinated, Simon and Richie watched as their strange guest slowly sat back on strong hind legs. He was at least three heads taller than Richie with a scaly, slate grey body that was lighter in colour on his well-nourished belly, a powerful tail that slapped around furiously and strong, sharp claws. The wings were similar to those of a bat and situated on the back, and there were horny scales from the head to the tip of the tail. The head was lizard-like with small ears out of which small tufts of fur grew. Cunning green eyes, a wrinkled face and a wide mouth with sharp teeth completed the picture of their nocturnal visitor, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Outraged, the dragon puffed smoke out of his nostrils, looked down and gave himself a shake and grumpily began knocking the dirt from his scale-studded skin while stamping a foot and swearing.

„Just look at me, what a mess!“ Simon thought, just as Richie, that he was dreaming and had difficulty believing what was going on before his eyes.

„Now that we know that dragons really exist, perhaps we should reconsider the theory of fish that climb up on roofs“, Richie whispered, still staring in utter fascination as the grumbling dragon dusted himself off.

„Now’s not the time for that, Richie“, Simon said, turning silently to his friend and saw out of the corner of his eye how their scaly visitor was rummaging through a somewhat greasy-looking, old leather bag he was carrying over his shoulder.

„Not that too! Half of it is mush, squashed, inedible!“, moaned the dragon and shook out the contents of the bag on to the ground. Simon and Richie couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw fleecy and beeping little fur balls rolling around on the ground. The dragon sat down awkwardly in front of the tent and started sorting through his travelling companions. Those little fur balls that no longer moved, they had no doubt been cute little animals of some sort, were heedlessly thrown into the thicket. Those members of the tour group who were still alive he put back into the bag.

He held an extra fat specimen in his claws, examined it in detail and tossed it in the air. Simon and Richie’s blood ran cold as suddenly a flame shot forward out of the mouth of their guest, turning the poor little squeaking creature into a flame before disappearing between the teeth of the hungry traveller. Simon turned white as a sheet and felt chills down his spine. Richie was also as quiet as a mouse and was about ready to throw up when he heard how the dragon enjoyed his meal, smacking his lips and chewing thoroughly.

The snack must have been overdue, for right after the scaly beast finished his meal, his facial features relaxed. Picking his teeth clean with a sharp claw, he was now interested in his surroundings. After a mighty burp, the dragon rubbed his belly in satisfaction and let his eyes come to rest on Simon and Richie. The situation seemed to relax a bit. Still they remained cautious, neither of them wanting to put their trust, just like that, in a fluffy ball grilling monster. After the three of them just sat there quietly looking at each other, however, curiosity caused Simon and Richie to move in a bit closer to the dragon.

„Who are you?“, asked Simon.

„And where are you from and what are you doing here?“, Richie added.

„My name is Grewels, Excubidor of the holy Well of Hope of Morana, Simon. And I’ve been looking for you for a long time now“, the dragon replied with his deep, smoky voice while thrusting his chest out proudly.

„However, there was no mention in the prophecy about your round-eyed friend“, Grewels commented with raised eyebrows and looked Richard over from top to bottom.

„These are glasses I’m wearing“, said Richie indignantly and glared at the impudent dragon, who was rather amused by the boy’s sudden courage but remained unperturbed. Simon couldn’t make heads or tails out of what Grewels was saying.

„Excubidor?, Well of Hope?, Morana?, and what kind of story is that about a prophecy?“, he stammered to the monster.

The dragon examined Simon with narrowed eyes and shaking his head, he sighed. „Oh my, you don’t really know, do you? Oh dear, we’d better start at the beginning“, groaned Grewels a bit irritated and said more to himself: „Great, just as I imagined it would be – an unenlightened human, together with such a perky, four-eyed friend. Always the same, everything’s up to me and here the Gateway will be closing this night. I said from the beginning that I don’t like field service. But nobody listens to me. Grewels can do it, he’ll swing it somehow“, he griped to himself.

„Err…“, harrumphed Simon and interrupted Grewels, who was slowly drowning in self-pity.

„You seem to be pressed for time. Maybe you can just tell us the short version“, he suggested to the dragon. Grewels paused briefly, looked at Simon reproachfully and thought for a moment.

„Hm, yeah OK“, he snarled, „we don’t have much time but I’ll do my best“.

„Once upon a time, a thousand years ago“, Grewels began his story as Simon and Richie listened with pounding hearts.

„…the mighty dragon Asragur ruled over Morana, a land beyond imagination, created from the dreams and hopes of dragons. A holy Well deep within Mount Tularon, for centuries nurtured by the devotion of the dragons, was to be the center of the universe, of good, of abundance and of peace for all eternity. That’s what the prophecy said.

Asragur was the greatest and most magnificent dragon of all. He was the first of our kind, chosen from the beginning of time to nurture the Well of Hope by his devotion, so that all beings in his kingdom could live forever in peace and prosperity.

One day it happened that a baby boy was born of the elves in the moorland Xuria. He was a strong child and filled his parents with joy and happiness, going by the name of Rodan; a boy who was different from others. He was taller and stronger than other kids his age, with black hair and cold, grey eyes. Over the years the boy turned into a full-grown elf, handsome but also cruel, and his people began to fear him because nothing good came out of him and he was in league with the powers of darkness. So it happened that the Council of Elders banished Rodan from Xuria for life, hoping never to fear him again and to live in peace.

Many years passed and as fate would have it, the aged Asragur was weary of his office and became careless. More and more he would fly over his kingdom, hoping somehow to escape his lonely calling in life. So it happened one day that Asragur’s path crossed with Rodan’s, who in the course of time had become a mighty but embittered wizard. Asragur was well aware of who he was dealing with but nevertheless entered a dangerous power struggle which would give the victor power over the Well of Hope as well as over all of Morana.

Asragur failed to obtain victory! His strength could not withstand Rodan’s might. It suddenly occurred to the dragon king that he had been careless with the future of his kingdom. And it would be cast into an age of darkness and fear, should Rodan gain power over the Well of Hope.

With his last ounce of strength, he managed to withdraw into the deep caves of Mount Tularon. But he also knew that as long as Rodan was alive, he would not give up his search to find the Well and claim his prize.

There wasn’t much time left for him to provide protection for his kingdom. The dragon king summoned his remaining powers of magic and banished Rodan to the castle of rocks in Lake Eldor, where he is waiting full of hate and hope that the Well will begin to dry up.

If the Well of Hope should shrivel to a mere trickle of water, Asragur’s spell will be broken and he will arise over Morana. Near to death, Asragur wrote his last words on the sacred stones at the edge of the Well and his prophecy being revealed to a creature pure in heart, which comes to quench his thirst.

With strength fading and devotion to his great dream, Asragur nurtured the Well of Hope one last time by sinking down himself in its depths. Only one of his scales did he leave behind, the one he wore directly over his heart, to be found by the person who would one day come to free Morana.

Centuries went by in the land and it seemed that Rodan was to remain imprisoned in his castle for all eternity. But Asragur’s magic was not powerful enough to protect his kingdom from Rodan’s dark powers forever. The Well began to dry up and hope started to fade in the once flourishing country. Fear and distrust made their way into Morana. And the first bloody battles raged for the dragon throne of the once gracious ruler“, Grewels continued, the boys spellbound by the words of the dragon.

„Like every other creature in Morana, Rodan also knew about the prophecy of the dragon king. But Asragur’s magic was still too powerful for him to break out of his prison. He has therefore had no other choice than to sit around idly.

However, he has succeeded recently to subdue the people of Raven. The clever blackbirds have since been crowing treacherously in the air. He sends them in great flocks throughout the land so that the skies are darkened over Morana. Fear and terror has ruled our lives since then. Like a spider that lies in wait in its web for the next fly, Rodan is waiting for the Well of Hope to gradually dry up and to withstand the Chosen One.

The time has come!

The great Gateway to the Worlds has opened to clear the path to Morana for the Chosen One. The One, who can keep the Well from drying out and thus bring peace and hope once again to Morana. But the black elf will do everything in his power to stain the prophecy with the blood of the Chosen One so that he can finally rise up over Morana“, the dragon explained and looked at Simon with imploring eyes.

„You are the Chosen One, Simon! You are the only one who has the power to block Rodan’s way and free our country from this curse. Many dangers will await you, but trust me, you shall not be alone. Please, you must come with me through the Gateway. We are lost without you!“, Grewels finished his story, blew his nose loudly and looked up again to see two incredulous faces.

Simon, holding Asragur’s scale in his hands, was the first to speak up.

„Oh man, what an exciting story! I might be crazy, but are you absolutely sure that I am the Chosen One or did you lose your way coming here?“, he asked the dragon in disbelief, who again had one of those little animals in his mouth.

Simon looked on in disgust as their gluttonous visitor reached into his leather bag again, grabbed one of the frightened, squeaking fur balls, threw it in the air and contently swallowed it with a grunt.

„And what in the world are those things you keep scarfing down?“

„Oh, those are deep-burrowers“, the dragon replied absently while rummaging in his bag again for another snack and, finding a specially fat one, popped it into his mouth.

„Hmm, they’re simply delicious. But they are not easy to find since they usually hide between the roots of grass apple trees. We cliff dragons love these little beasts. They tickle your throat when you swallow them in one piece!“, Grewels laughed and then pondered Simon’s actual question.

„And yes, Simon“, smacking his lips in contentment. „We are certain. Asragur’s scale is assigned for you. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this long trip upon myself. Not to mention the detour coming here. I had no idea you were planning to make a journey“, Grewels grumbled, who impressed Simon and Richie as rather lazy and gluttonous.

„When you were first born, the prophecy was revealed to one of our own that you are the only one who can save Morana. We knew of you and just had to wait until you were old enough“, Grewels added while chewing.

„Who is we?“, Richie butted in, after listening the whole time in silence. Grewels considered Richie with an unfriendly look, rolled his eyes and continued.

„We are cliff dragons, the last of our kind. There are an estimated one hundred of us left, and if the Well dries up completely, we will be no more in a few years“, Grewels explained sadly.

„We have always been the guards of the Well, and still are today. Asragur was our king until the day he gave himself up for the benefit of all. Somehow he has remained our king to this very day. And we shall protect his legacy for all time. Should the Well dry up one of these days, which will soon be the case, young man, nobody will remember our kind Asragur; they will forget all about us as well“, the dragon predicted.

„Therefore let us get going quickly. The Gateway to Morana is opened only this night. If we miss this point in time, then everything will be lost and we will be doomed.

Rodan will rise and defile or even destroy the Well, and hope will never return to our land again“, Grewels lamented. Looking sideways to Richie he added: „If it has to be, your friend can come along as well“, he confessed sullenly.

„That’s really generous of you“, Richie told the dragon. „Thanks a lot. I believe I’ll pass“, he was reluctant to help the unfriendly beast.

„Then I’ll go by myself“, Simon decided and saw how his friend’s jaw dropped.

„Man, Richie, don’t be an idiot! We have to help! At least I do! This adventure is right up our alley. We will never again experience such a thing“, Simon tried to persuade him.

„Sure, if we survive“, Richie replied with doubt. But of course he couldn’t let Simon go alone. He was his best friend and he would definitely need his support on this journey. Letting him down was completely out of the question. If only it wasn’t for this strange dragon’s obscure story and his gross eating habits. Richie didn’t trust the scaly beast the least bit and planned to keep an eye on him.

„Practically nothing can happen to you“, the dragon said with a wide grin. He was so sure of himself.

„Well, OK“, Richie gave in. „Let’s pack up a few things. They quickly packed the absolute necessities. A couple of sandwiches Aunt Aby had made for Simon at midday, the bag of cookies from Mr. Twiggle’s Ice Cream Parlour, a couple of lambchops, corncobs and some bread from dinner as well as Simon’s pocket knife, the binoculars and the compass from the attic, and also a blanket.

Grewels told them to hurry. The dragon hopped around nervously and flapped his wings in a flurry. Simon looked at the dragon king’s scale. „It’s changing its colour again“, he said to Grewels and held it up to the dragon. „What does it mean?“, he wanted to know.

„Well“, Grewels began a bit rushed. „Simply this: When the scale turns black, that means we were too slow! Is that explanation good enough for now?“, he asked gruffly. Without waiting for an answer, he lumbered into the air with flapping wings and called to the boys. „Follow me! We’ve no time to lose and there’s a long trip ahead of us“.

Hurrying the two friends along, Grewels flew in the lead. The full moon was out on this cool night and Simon was glad to be wearing his thick pullover and jacket. But what was awaiting them? Could he trust the dragon? Richie, who was running next to him and cursing under his breath, didn’t seem to trust Grewels.

They reached the foothills of Exmoor and made their way deeper into moorland along the cliffs. They could hear the raging waves of the windswept ocean

slamming in the rocks below. Quiet and spooky, the moor stretched out before them.

„Simon, I’m afraid!“, said Richie. „What if this is a trap and he is just waiting to throw us off the cliff, so that he and his scaly kind can devour us bit by bit?“, he whispered in worry.

„I don’t feel so good about it either. We’ve been travelling well over an hour now without knowing where we are actually going, let alone how much further we have to go“, Simon whispered back, making sure Grewels couldn’t hear them.

„Grewels“, Simon called to the dragon. „Where are you taking us?”.

The dragon turned, flapping his wings in the air, and looked annoyed at the boys. „Well, my friends. It’s not much further. You see? Over there on the high cliffs is the Gateway to Morana“, Grewels pointed out and kept flying in that direction. Simon and Richie wondered what this Gateway was all about.

Could they simply pass through it, did they need a key or perhaps it was not a Gateway in the traditional sense? From far away all they could make out were ominous black cliffs rising up before them, with waves raging against their rocks below and foam spraying upwards in the moonlight.

„We probably have to climb up some of the cliffs and the Gateway will be somewhere in a cave between the rocks“, Richie guessed. Grewels stepped up speed and the boys had to pick up their pace just to keep up with the dragon. It smelled of heather and saltwater. The moon peeked out again from a thick cloud, revealing a small herd of wild ponies standing closely together next to a gorse bush not far from the travelling intruders. All was quiet, except for the sound of the surf below, the flapping of their mysterious companion’s wings and their own hurried steps.

They were drawing near to the place Grewels had pointed to in what seemed ages ago. Simon could guess where the dragon was leading them to. The path grew steeper and the boys had to work hard to stay up with Grewels. With determination, the dragon pressed on, headed for the highest point they could see.

„Richie, it feels like we are almost there“, Simon panted.

„Why do you think so?“, Richie wanted to know, not feeling so good himself.

„Because up ahead is the highest point on Exmoor, the Great Hangman!“, Simon explained out of breath. „I was up here with my dad one time. And believe me, it wouldn’t be fun to climb those cliffs as well. Up there is a two hundred meter drop nearly straight down into the sea. One false step would end our adventure here and now, before it has even begun“, Simon added dryly. Richie’s face turned ashen and for fear he could only make a faint groan.

„What have I got myself get into?“, he sighed to himself. „Close my eyes and hope for the best“, he told himself. Now that they were already here, he had to know what else the night would bring.

Grewels had already reached the top of the cliff, stood flapping his wings and cheered the boys on to climb the last distance. „Just a few more feet and you’ve made it. Put some effort into it!“, he commanded Simon and Richie, who crawled up onto the top of the Great Hangman pretty worn out and fell right away into some soft heather, where they remained for a moment to catch their breath.

They got to their feet at the same time and looked at Grewels, who was hovering way above them with lightly flapping wings.

„I can’t see a Gateway anywhere“, Richie said turning to Simon. He had a bad feeling that something here was foul. Simon, who was also looking around, turned to the dragon.

„Grewels, there’s no Gateway here!“, he shouted up to him.

„Be patient for just a moment. The Gateway will soon be ready to receive you“, he encouraged them.

Simon and Richie looked at each other helplessly and fear arose in them. The wind picked up and the roaring of the sea at the bottom of the cliffs became louder and more powerful.

„It’s time!“, Grewels raised his voice towards the surf. The air began to shimmer all around the breakers. The night scenery on Exmoor in the moonlight seemed to dissolve before their eyes. They held each other’s hands tightly. The Great Hangman they were standing on, with their backs to the abyss, started to quake and the raging waves turned louder and louder and thundered in their ears.

The moon was still visible, but otherwise everything sank into weaving darkness.

„Now!“, Grewels shouted loudly into the roaring noise, shooting hot steam from his nostrils.

All of a sudden the dragon inflated to four times his size and then with all his might blew hot wind in the direction of the two friends.

The spray of hot air from the dragon’s lungs was so strong that Simon and Richie were picked up off their feet and carried several meters out over the abyss, over open sea, where they plunged spinning into the deep.

They screamed for fright like they had never screamed before in their lives. Having completely lost their orientation, the poor boys raced with gruelling speed towards the stormy sea and surely to certain death.

The only thing Simon was aware of was a piercing scream that filled his ears. Had the dragon tricked them? It was his last thought before all was still and darkness surrounded him.

Chapter 4

„At long last!“, Rodan’s voice echoed from the castle out over the Lake of Eldor. The great rock in the middle of the lake, where Rodan’s prison had been built by Asragur’s magic, began to quake. The fog of Eldor revealed to its lord that the great Gateway to the Worlds had opened and granted the Chosen One entrance into Morana. Now it was only a matter of time until the last of Asragur’s magic spell would be broken by Rodan’s increasing power.

The castle looked foreboding upon the nearly black rock in the middle of the lake, the shore of which was surrounded by hills and dark forests. A quiet and cold forsaken place, built for all eternity or so it seemed. Helpless to do anything, Rodan had wandered around in the cold corridors of the dungeon, lit only by a few torches here and there, during these past centuries. He knew every single stone of this dark dwelling place, from the massive tower to the large hall down below.

The day of reckoning was drawing near. Rodan had sworn to crush anyone who refused to submit to his authority. He looked out over the water and a gruesome smile came to his face, revealing a deep scar under his right eye from his battle with Asragur.

Rodan had always been a fierce and furious elf, who demonstrated his superiority in his early years by playing horrible and dangerous games with the children of the moor elves. As a young elf, he delved into the black arts. Any morals, compassion or gentleness he might have had long ago disappeared from his being.

Full of hate, he thought back to the day when he was called to appear before the Council of Elders, only to be expelled, not only from the village but from Xuria entirely.

They had been afraid of him, he could sense it. He could literally smell their fear. He enjoyed the feeling and a pleasant shiver ran down his spine.

They were nothing but worms and dared to oppose him, and again he was blind with rage.

Rodan had spat at the feet of his people and cursed them for all eternity.

„Someday I will be the mightiest prince Morana has ever brought forth. The moor elves will beg for mercy on their knees, before I utterly destroy Xuria“, he had spoken in a clear voice and conjured with raised hands. The skies over the moorland had grown dark.

Shortly thereafter, Rodan disappeared from the moor and peace gradually returned to Xuria.

From that time on he roamed Morana and in time became known as a mighty wizard to be feared throughout the land. Dark shadows always announced his arrival and terrified the creatures of Morana.

After wandering for so long and being tired of loneliness, Rodan met the Nagrim Oldur who, for worse rather than better, struggled through life in a small wood just east of Mount Tularon. He was also an outcast like Rodan.

The hunchbacked attacker ambushed his victim from behind with a moss-covered tree root to rob him of his food, money and boots.

Oldur punched at Rodan with a loud roar, not realizing whom he was trying to rob of property and life. Rodan warded off the attack of the Nagrim with one swift movement, like shooing a bothersome fly. Oldur flew in the air above Rodan’s head and landed on his back in the middle of the path.

Rodan’s shadow rose menacingly over Oldur. Like scales falling from his eyes, Oldur suddenly realized whom he had attacked. He was sore afraid and began to whimper and beg for his life.

„Oh my lord, my master“, the Nagrim sobbed miserably in desperation. „Please forgive me. I will do anything you wish. But spare my miserable life. You will see that…“

„Shut up!“, Rodan commanded the squirming worm under him. The feeling of power and superiority was exhilarating and so he chose to show mercy. He stood over the Nagrim with his legs spread and his cold eyes were upon the one who was lying at his feet and begging for his life.

„On your knees, you dwarf!“, he commanded. Oldur scrambled to his knees, and looking up submissively, noticed a twitching at the corner of Rodan’s mouth.

„Pitiful, stupid creature“, Rodan thought and stared at the Nagrim with his baldhead and hunchback, who held his hands sobbingly over a face disfigured by scars and warts. Rodan considered how this hapless good-for-nothing, clothed in rags, could be of use to him. He decided that it was time for a mighty wizard of his status to have a servant to do the dirty work he himself detested so much. Thus he spoke to frightened Oldur. „Stand up, you worm! I will spare your life. In return, you shall serve me for all the days of your life. From now on, you will do what I tell you!“, he said and leaned menacingly over his new servant.

„My master, my gracious lord“, Oldur the minion replied. Again he fell to his knees and kissed Rodan’s boots.

„Many thanks. I will prove myself worthy of your mercy and be your faithful servant.“

Disgusted, Rodan gave the Nagrim a kick. „Grab my bundle and make haste, before I change my mind“, he spoke grimly and continued on his way. Happy to be alive, Oldur went quickly about gathering his new master’s belongings and hurried to follow Rodan.

Oldur very quickly proved to be as cold and cruel as his new master. Moreover, his submissive manner and his fearful gratitude made him a faithful and reliable servant, who endured his master’s many temper tantrums in silence. But the first time in his life Oldur wore boots which Rodan provided him, along with coarse trousers, a simple shirt and a cloak to keep him warm. All of this only served to strengthen Oldur’s loyalty towards his master and to bind them all the more ominously.

Many years passed in the land and Rodan turned into an elf driven by his desire for power and revenge. Impatiently, he roamed around Morana in search of Asragur the dragon king, to challenge him to the fight that would decide everything.

Help came by chance. One fateful day in the ravines of Mount Tularon, Rodan stood his ground against Asragur, knowing full well how powerful the dragon was.

„Your way ends here, elf!“, Asragur thundered to Rodan. The dragon straightened up to his full terrifying height in front of Rodan.

„You can no longer keep me from the Well, Asragur. You will have to kill me, dragon“, was Rodan’s cold reply, sensing the chance this moment held for him – namely to usurp the power over the Well and to reign over Morana forever.

„So be it!“, Asragur replied.

A fight to determine the fate of Morana broke out in the snow-covered hills of Mount Tularon.

Rodan ordered his servant to run for cover and started his attack on Asragur. The hours passed and they both fought to utter exhaustion.

Asragur knew that losing this fight would open the way to the Well for Rodan, thus forfeiting Morana’s future. With all his might, the dragon forced himself into the air and gashed Rodan in the face with a powerful stroke of his tail. Weak and panting, knowing his end was near, Rodan fell backwards into the snow, bleeding badly. He watched as Asragur went into a dive, moving in for the kill.

Right before the dragon king reached Rodan, Oldur tossed a dagger to his master who rammed it into Asragur’s body. Roaring with pain from the dagger in his chest and angry over being tricked, Asragur stood in front of a tired Rodan who was smirking with victory.

„You tricked me, Rodan of Xuria!“, he thundered.

„I defeated you, Asragur, and now I demand my prize from you. I am the new lord of the Well and henceforth the ruler of Morana forever. Reveal now the way to the Well, king of dragons, before the last breath of life leaves your scaly body“, demanded Rodan.

„You shall receive exactly what you deserve, elf“, Asragur rumbled and the sky began to turn dark. A mighty storm came up and ice and snow lashed down over the land. All of Morana began to quake and huge rocks arose out of the water masses of the Lake of Eldor, upon which a castle appeared by the power of Asragur’s magic.

All the inhabitants of Morana were witnesses to the next words of Asragur, which were carried to the farthest reaches of the land by the storm.

„Rodan, you fool, listen to my words“, the dragon swore to his adversary. „The Well of Hope will manifest itself only to him who comes with a pure heart to quench his thirst. Only he shall be worthy to escort the Chosen One to Morana. Some day in the distant future, long after my reign has ended and before the Well has dried up completely, the great Gateway to the Worlds shall open to allow entrance to Morana for the new ruler. His power and devotion will nourish the Well for many years and will lead Morana into a prosperous future!“, Asragur’s words droned over the land.

„Rodan“, Asragur angrily continued and lifted himself one last time into the air. „Henceforth you shall be banned to the fortress in the Lake of Eldor for the rest of your life, to ensure peace and hope again in Morana!“, spoke Asragur, dropping down into the ravine to escape any counterspell by Rodan.

The snowstorm was so strong that Rodan and Oldur could hardly remain on their feet. Rodan heard Asragur roar angrily one last time out of the depths of the ravine. At once he felt the powerful magic of the dragon king. The icy storm carried him and his loyal servant away to the gloomy dungeon, where Rodan was to abide to the end of his days.

Badly injured and feeling how his strength was failing him, Asragur withdrew to the protection of the cold caves hidden deep within the ravines of Mount Tularon. Before putting one last mighty spell over the Well, he wrote down his prophecy upon the sacred stones. Approaching the Well for the last time, he sank into its depths forever more. Only a scale that had covered Asragur’s heart remained at the edge of the Well.

„It won’t be long“, thought Rodan and stepped through the gloomy hall of the dungeon. Soon Asragur’s spell would no longer be strong enough to hold him in this prison. The Chosen One had finally arrived. He would smash him like a cockroach, Rodan swore. Sinister laughing escaped this throat and carried out to lake. Time was short and he had to forestall the Chosen One by whatever means.

He wandered up the tower and looked over to Eldor, the moon reflected in its dark waters. His floor-length coat, made of ravens that had refused to submit to Rodan, blew in the arising wind. It appeared as if he would rise into the air to escape his damp prison. But he would have to be patient a little longer.

A lot of time had gone by and meanwhile grey strands could be seen in his long black hair. He angrily thought back on all the centuries full of deprivation, coldness and inactivity.

„The ravens!“, he thought and went back into the dark hall.

„Oldur, Oldur!“, he shouted through the castle. „Where have you gotten to, you good-for-nothing?“

The patter of feet hurried up the ancient stone steps to the hall.

„You wish, my lord?“, Oldur asked bowing down to Rodan.

„The fog of Eldor has brought glad tidings that the Chosen One has come through the Gateway to Morana to accept Asragur’s legacy.

„That is joyful news, master“, Oldur replied.

„Send the ravens throughout the land. They are to bring me daily reports. I’ve got to know who is foolish enough to stand in my way and who he has at his side“, ordered Rodan.

„My time is almost here“, he continued to think out loud and his narrow lips formed a grim smile.

„What are you standing around for? Get a move on, or else! Or should I feed you to the ravens, Oldur?“, he asked his servant and laughed aloud.

„No, lord, don’t do that! I’ll hurry!“, Oldur hurried off in haste to do what was commanded him.

Chapter 5

Simon was conscious of noise in his ears. „What a nightmare“, he was thinking and didn’t dare open his eyes yet. Where in the world was he? He remained very still. Something was moving under him. He could hear the wind blowing, but couldn’t feel it.

They had been swept from the Great Hangman and plunged into a bottomless abyss. It seems that Grewels had played a deadly joke on them. Well, apparently they were dead and were on their way to nowhere. Simon slowly opened his eyes, first one and then the other. He froze! Were his senses tricking him? Richie lay next to him and began to stir and moan. He hoped that his buddy was all in one piece and would stay cool when he opened his eyes to take everything in, Simon worried.

„Hey Richie, wake up!“, Simon whispered and shook his friend on the shoulder. Richie was holding his head. He felt like it was about to explode. He slowly opened his eyes, which at once opened so wide that Simon feared that they would pop right out of their sockets.

„Holy cow!“, escaped from Richie’s mouth. He sat up with a jerk and looked around in confusion. He and Simon were sitting between giant feathers on the back of a bird. At least he hoped that it was a bird, because he’d had enough of fire-spitting dragons.

„How the heck did we get here?“, he wanted to know.

„Hmm“, Simon tried to remember. „I believe Grewels literally blew us through the Gateway. And when we got through it, we fell into the deep. I can still remember a scream. Then all was dark.  At first I thought it was you. But now I figure that it was the bird we are now sitting on, who is now taking us to who knows where. It looks as if the bird was waiting on the other side to catch us in the air“, Simon concluded.

„That might all be true, but where is he taking us? And where the hell is Grewels? He’s the one who got us into this!“, Richie complained. And rightly so, Simon found. Carefully he got up on his knees, holding on to a giant feather, and signaled Richie to do the same.

Curious and yet afraid, they stuck their heads through the feathers, only to encounter an icy wind. They were in fact situated between the enormous wings of a mighty eagle. Nearly soundless, they glided through the air and saw nothing but water clear to the horizon.

„Greetings, Simon Knox, Deliverer of Morana and you too, Richard Dawson, welcome!“, the boys heard the clear, friendly voice of the eagle. They looked at each other in disbelief. „I’m going crazy”, Richie whispered. „It’s a speaking eagle. Nobody would ever believe us“, of that he was certain.

„Thank you for rescuing us. We are in your debt“, Simon thanked him politely.

„It was my honour to render this service to you. My name is Nephtor. Grewels has told me a lot about you. Indeed, he did not exaggerate. You humans are really courageous.“

„Where is Grewels?“, Richie interrupted the eagle. „He almost got us killed“, he added angrily.

„My friends, Grewels will meet you in Morana when the time is right.“

„Whatever that means“, Richie thought sourly.

„It was never his intention to betray or harm you in any way. He might be an angry and rude dragon. But believe me, his heart is in the right place.“ The two friends pondered the words of the eagle and hoped in their hearts that they were true.

„Tell me, Nephtor“, asked Simon. „Where exactly are you taking us to and how long will it be, till we get to Morana?“

„Well, my friends, we have a long way to go. When the sun rises in the east, you will be able to see Morana in the distance at dawn. I have orders to accompany you to the edge of the moorland Xuria. Simon, the task before you will be difficult and extremely dangerous. Both of you have a lot to learn. Otherwise you will not succeed against Rodan. Which would mean your death but also the destruction of Morana“, Nephtor explained to the two boys.

Destruction?, Death? Simon felt queasy when he recalled Grewels’ warnings about what awaited them in Morana. However, the words of the eagle had more of a calming effect.

„But what should we do, Nephtor? What can we possibly do against such a mighty Rodan?“, Simon asked the eagle.

„Trust in the strong bond of your friendship, Simon. That bond, plus the wisdom of the elves, will give you the strength you need to fulfill your calling“, Nephtor replied kindly.

„Thanks, Nephtor“, Simon said. He and Richie crawled back into the warmth of the feathers of this friendly eagle. The events of the last few hours affected them hard and they fell asleep in no time.

 ***

„Wake up, sleepyheads!“, they heard Nephtor’s voice waking them up the next morning. Awake at once, Simon and Richie quickly made their way forward to peer between the feathers. The sun arose and the three flew along the coasts of Morana. High cliffs jutted upwards from the sea, slammed by foaming waves.

„Hey Simon, just look at that!“, Richie was exited and pointed to the coast they were rapidly approaching.

„They look just like the cliffs at the edge of Exmoor.“

Looking at the coasts of Morana drawing nearer, Simon had mixed feelings. Thinking about their trip to Exmoor yesterday, the hair on the back of his neck stood up. The two friends became pensive. What was awaiting them? Who and what dangers would they encounter? Was it really Simon who could save Morana? So many questions twirled around in their heads and they feared the answers they knew would inevitably come their way. Their future was like a blank piece of paper yet to be written on.

„Hold on!“, Nephtor shouted. „We’re going down!“

The eagle flew towards the cliffs in a nosedive. Simon’s and Richie’s stomachs turned. They closed their eyes and held on frantically to the feathers of the eagle. Before they crashed into the rocks, Nephtor slowed down their rapid descent with a few powerful flaps of his wings and flew in an elegant curve. They made a soft landing in the heather. Simon and Richie slid down Nephtor’s back and were glad to be standing on solid ground again. Still a bit wobbly in the legs, they looked around in uncertainty.

„It seems to me like Aunt Aby’s house should only be a few miles from here. Even the cliffs and the moorland look just like at home“, Simon said in amazement.

„Nephtor, where exactly are we and what are we supposed to do now?“, he asked the eagle.

„We find ourselves on the edge of the moorland Xuria, Simon. From now on you are on your own. Walk southwards along the cliffs until you come to the Andal River. Following the river in western direction, you will come to a big stone bridge that will get you over the river. Cross the bridge and continue your journey southwards. Not long afterwards you will reach the edge of a large forest.

Leyhda, the underground city of the moor elves, is located in the middle of the forest. You have to find Elian, their eldest and speak in front of the great council. You have something valuable with you, Simon: Asragur’s scale! They will know what to do and you will be safe. Be certain of their protection, trust your heart and let them lead you“. The eagle spread his powerful wings and made ready to depart.

„Many thanks, Nephtor“, Simon called out to their new friend.

„We shall see each other again, Simon Knox. May the spirit of Asragur protect you, lads!“

Simon and Richie watched as the eagle slowly disappeared into the blue sky.

„So what do we do now?“, asked Richie, who was bewildered suddenly to be utterly on his own. Simon reflected a moment.

„It’s a nice warm day. Let’s take off our sweaters and jackets and have a bite to eat. I’m dying of hunger! Where’s your backpack with the blanket?“, Simon wanted to know and removed his jacket. Richie, working on taking his sweater off, replied: „I must have lost it when Grewels blew us through the Gateway“, he grumbled sullenly. „Do you have any idea how far it is to Leyhda?“

„No“, replied Simon and looked at the scale of the dragon king that he had pulled out of his pants pocket. The scale had turned light grey and was gradually losing its magical shimmer. Simon sighed and showed it to Richie. „We will only take a short break and eat something. We have to ration our food. Who knows when we will get something to eat again?”

Richie nodded. He was also quite hungry. And so the two boys looked for a nice place on the cliffs and each of them had a sandwich and shared an apple, all of which Aunt Aby had given to Simon for his trip to Ilfracombe.

It was good that Simon had brought his pocket knife along to help him cut the apple in four parts. They looked out over the sea and Richie asked: „Do you believe we will ever see home again, Simon? Maybe they’re already looking for us. What time is it, anyway?“

Simon looked at his watch. „Hm, that’s strange. Look, it says it’s quarter to two“. Simon held up his watch to Richie.

„That must have been the time when we went through the Gateway. Could be that the watch stopped and will start up again normally when we go back through the Gateway?“, Richie guessed.

„That might be“, Simon replied. „We will find out“, he added with a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. They remained sitting for a while and Simon checked to make sure his compass was working. „Perfect!“, he said relieved. And so the two friends started out on their adventure into the unknown.

It was a beautiful summer day, which gave them the impression that they had never passed through the Gateway to Morana, for Xuria was so similar to Exmoor. Far below at the foot of the cliffs, the waves thundered against the rugged rocks. Xuria stretched out before them as far as the eye could see. The familiar moorland turned into a range of small woods, murmuring brooks and expanding wet meadows. Jagged rocks shining brightly in the sun jutted out here and there into the lovely countryside. Beautiful coloured butterflies, in such a size they had never seen, lingered on flowers here and there to be refreshed by their nectar. And cobalt blue birds, with breasts of red and funny black caps, fluttered around them and filled the fragrant summer air with their song.

The sun was up high as Simon and Richie came to the edge of a small wood, and so they decided to take a short break under the shade of some trees. The colourful goings-on fascinated them so much that they didn’t notice movement in the heather and dirt being kicked up behind them. Something or other was making tracks directly towards the two unsuspecting friends.

„Finally some shade“, Simon groaned and they sat down on the soft moss at the foot of a great oak tree. Just as Simon realized that there were only three lamb chops and a little bread left, they both felt the ground shake, and the quake grew stronger. Paralyzed by fright they looked on as something was headed their way below the woodland ground. Before they could even think about escaping, a huge mound of dirt rose up in front of them. A hairy creature of some kind peaked out of the dirt at them curiously, with cheeky little button eyes.

„AAHHH!“, Simon and Richie screamed together, still holding lamb chops in their hands.

„AAHHH!“, screamed the small hairy fellow back, more amused than afraid. It seemed he was having fun by frightening the two boys. He crawled out of the mound of dirt and hopped around boldly. After shaking all the dirt off himself, he stood in front of them and looked at Simon and Richie boldfaced and challenging. The furry animal apparently wasn’t dangerous, the boys concluded, and so they relaxed a bit. The creature standing before them was half mole, half beaver, with wiry dark-brown fur, the strong teeth of a rodent and friendly black eyes covered by a few long, coarse hairs. His paws were those of a mole, however covered on top also with thick fur. The little fellow’s beaver tail tapped eagerly on the ground.

„Hmm, that smells quite delicious“, mumbled the furry animal with a quaking voice, whose sniffing nose came closer to Simon’s lamb chop.

„Do you want one as well?“, asked Simon, holding the last lamb chop towards the nosy visitor, who was apparently very hungry.

„Oh how nice of you! I would love it“, said the funny creature and grabbed for the chop with a paw of strong claws. The funny „molebeaver“ leaned back against the mound of dirt and relaxed. One paw was on his rather large belly and the other one was holding on to the meat, which he was sniffing delightedly with his eyes closed.

„Oh, pardon me. I forgot to introduce myself. How rude of me. I’m usually not that way, you must know“, said the friendly rodent, who then bowed to them politely. „Welcome to Morana. My name is Biggs and I am the best and fastest tunnel builder of all of us Wulloms“, he said proudly with a puffed out chest. After the formalities were taken care of, he sat back down as before and turned his full attention to the lamb chop again.

Simon and Richie liked the chubby Wullom.

„Hello Biggs, nice to meet you“, Simon replied with a laugh. „I am Simon and this is my best friend Richie.

„We just arrived in Morana a few hours ago“, Richie added with his mouth full.

„Oh, I am fully aware of who you humans are. Lately we have been hearing about all kinds of things“, Biggs replied, who was now chewing on the bone. Simon and Richie were amused to see that he was about to eat the bone as well. And that he did with great relish, thanks to his sharp teeth.

„We’re on our way to the city of the moor elves“, explained Simon. „Can you perhaps tell us how much farther it is?“

„So, you’re headed to Leyhda, to the moor elves“, Biggs said looking at the two, while licking off each and every claw. „Hm, that was delicious“, he said and patted his belly in contentment.

„Would you like some bread?“,Simon asked and offered Biggs a piece of Aunt Abygale’s freshly-baked bread.

„Only if it’s no trouble“, the hungry Wullom grabbed the piece from Simon’s hand.

„Oh what an excellent aroma“, he raved and let each bite melt in his mouth.

„Well you want to go to the moor elves“, he began in reply to Simon’s question. „Elian will be happy that his underground existence will soon be coming to an end“, Biggs continued. „You should know that the moor elves have been hiding underground for years now for fear of Rodan’s wrath. Nobody knows for sure where their underground city is located, except for me, of course“, the fat rodent said importantly.

„I helped them to dig a few tunnels back then, which was only the neighbourly thing to do. Those moor elves are such friendly and helpful beings. But as neighbours they are simply too loud. The constant music, all that moving around, day in day out, ghastly! My wife Elda and I put up with it for half a year. After having our hibernation interrupted by so much noise, we decided to move to a quieter place.

You know, I always told Elian that he wouldn’t have these problems if Rodan had been given a good smack as a kid. Then he wouldn’t have turned into such a creep, they would still be living in moorland and Elda and I wouldn’t have had to move. But now that you are here, it seems everything will take a turn for the better“, Biggs sighed in contentment and locked his paws behind his head.

„In any case, everybody is longing for your arrival“, he continued apparently forgetting Simon’s question.

He looked at Simon cheerfully.

„I guess there is not much time left otherwise the mightiest of Morana wouldn’t be doing everything to make sure you’re prepared for the task at hand. It’s a good two day’s march from here to Leyhda. But I know a shortcut“, Biggs announced, proud to be of help to his new friends.

„You can save at least a day’s journey, or more.“

„Will you tell us how?“, asked Richie curiously.

„I dug a tunnel clear to the river bank of Andal a few years ago. My wife had been bugging me about it for ages. We are living in dangerous times. She wanted to make sure there would always be a safe route to the water so that she could continue to pick her beloved reed shoots. It would be my honour to guide both of you through the tunnel“, the Wullom generously offered Simon and Richie. The two were absolutely thrilled and after chatting a while longer in the shade with Biggs, they followed him into a network of passages deep below the moorland.

Crawling on all fours in darkness behind their new friend, Simon and Richie noticed that it was growing lighter. Biggs led them into an illuminated cave, where they could finally stand up and look around.

„This is my domain“, the Wullom gestured and let the beauty of the cave have its effect on the boys.

They stood in a huge rock grotto, warmly but also mystically illuminated by luminous and shimmering crystals in the walls.

Simon and Richie were speechless and could hardly believe what they were seeing and the splendour that surrounded them. Simon was the first to finally say something.

„It’s so beautiful here below! How is it possible that these stones can shimmer so far under the earth?“, he turned enquiringly to Biggs and touched the warm and luminous crystals in fascination.

„Well, that’s a good question, my friend. I have a hard time explaining it myself. It is said that there is magic in these stones. In any case we name them sun crystals because they immerse our caves in bright, warm light, without which we could not live here below. I think you will also find some more of them in Leyhda“.

Biggs looked around in the cave, astonishing Simon and Richie when he suddenly took a nosedive and started digging into the cave floor at breath-taking speed. After a few moments, they heard him panting on his way back. He held a specially bright and round crystal in his paws.

„As far as I’m concerned we can take off“, he suggested, hopped out of the hole and disappeared into one of the numerous passageways that branched off the cave.

„Watch your step“, he called back to his companions. „There can be deep holes or even tree roots in the passage“, he warned, and scurried along lighting the way, deeper and deeper into the earth.

Simon and Richie felt a bit ill at ease. There were sections they could only pass through bent over and narrow passages where they had to crawl on their bellies. But if it got them to their destination sooner, then that was all right with them. And so they followed Biggs through the darkness without grumbling.

After what felt like forever, Simon and Richie finally noticed how the tunnel started going upwards. Sooner than expected, they were able to step out of the passageway. It took a while for their eyes to adjust to the bright sunshine. Biggs spread out his dirty paws, stuck his nose in the wind and sucked in the balmy summer air.

„What a glorious day“, he sighed contentedly.

Simon and Richie looked around curiously. They were standing next to a small lake that glistened quietly and peacefully in the afternoon sun. „Where exactly are we?“, Simon asked their hairy friend, who was dozing comfortably in soft heather with a blade of grass between the teeth.

„We are not far from the Andal River. Can you hear the rushing and thundering sound of the water? The river bubbles up here one last time before plunging over the cliff into the sea. A powerful stream that pulls everything with it, one you should never underestimate“, the Wullom warned the newcomers with concern.

„The bridge is not much further. Go around the lake westwards and you will soon see the bridge“, Biggs gave them final directions and then continued his daydreaming.

This was indeed a good place to have a break, Simon and Richie thought. They quickly took off their shoes and socks and waded in the clear, cool water. They freshened up, skipped stones over the water and were amazed by the many colourful dragonflies buzzing around. Just a few feet away, a swarm of light yellow butterflies gathered near the water, apparently looking for refreshment just like Simon and Richie.

But as beautiful as it was here, they couldn’t loiter around for the rest of the day. And so Simon decided that it was time to move on.

It seemed that Biggs was thinking the same thing and turned to the boys with a serious look on his face.

„There are still a lot of things coming your way, my friends. May Asragur’s spirit be with you, that Morana can look into the future with hope. Go now to Elian. You can fully trust him and his people. He is an old and wise elf and you would do good to listen to and follow him. It will only be for your best“, the Wullom advised.

He bade them farewell and handed over the sun crystal to Simon.

„I hope we shall see each other again someday, Simon Knox. Take this stone and trust in its warming power. It will surely prove useful to you.“

„Many thanks, Biggs. We wouldn’t have made it this far without your help“‚, Simon said and Biggs waved off the compliment shyly.

„Good luck to both of you and take care of each other“, said the plump Wullom and disappeared into his tunnel.

Now they were once again alone. Simon packed the sun crystal into his backpack and then they set out for the stone bridge that crossed the Andal River.

Chapter 6

Biggs was right. By the time they were half way around the lake due west, the rushing sound of the river had turned into a mighty roar. Finally they looked to their right to see the impressive bridge, made of one huge rock that would lead them over the bubbling masses of water. The impact of the water here between the rocky banks of the river had formed an enormous gorge in the course of centuries. A milky haze covered the monument and a beautiful rainbow was visible. Simon and Richie were quite impressed. There was definitely no bridge like it in Portsmouth.

They approached the riverbank slowly and stood still in amazement at the bridge. The water raged so powerfully here along the rocky banks that the ground trembled under their feet. Hesitantly they took a few steps onto the bridge. No matter how much they stretched their necks, they could not make out what was on the other side of the bridge, which was completely covered by fog.

„And Asragur made this bridge out of only one gigantic rock?“, asked Richie incredulously without looking away.

„That’s how the saying goes“, Simon answered, also fascinated.

„It would no longer make sense to look for a shallower place to cross, would it?“, Richie asked, with growing unease. Simon looked at him questioningly.

„Well, I don’t feel so good about this fog over there. I have the feeling we are being watched“, Richie stammered anxiously.

„Let’s just start out slowly. If anything happens, then we’ll run as fast as we can to the other shore“, Simon suggested, also worried about the thick wall of fog. He also had a feeling as if something was hiding in the veil of fog on the bridge. But he tried not to let on.

Slowly, step by step, they pushed forward onto the bridge. The raging water shook them to the core and got louder and louder. About halfway across the bridge, right before entering the curtain of fog, Richie suddenly stopped.

„What’s wrong?“, Simon asked.

„I believe I just saw something tall and dark scurrying through the fog. It could have been only a shadow. I’m not sure. But my instinct tells me we had better get out of here quickly“, he told Simon with chattering teeth.

„Richie, nothing’s there“, Simon tried to assure his friend, whose knees were shaking.

Slowly they moved forward until they were surrounded by mist. They could barely see their own hands in front of their faces and yet dared to move deeper into the fog. From somewhere a whisper made its way to their ears. It seemed to be farther away but was drawing closer and becoming clearer. A deep and evil voice spoke to them from all directions.

„There is no escape for you two. You are doomed, little humans!“

Simon and Richie turned around in a circle. But they couldn’t make out where the voice was coming from, which became more threatening. The fog turned darker by the minute and they were about to lose their orientation.

„You Fools! What do you mean by going up against me? Nobody will get in my way and go unpunished, nobody! You shall find death here and Asragur’s legacy shall perish along with you“, the voice threatened.

It grew darker. They stood in the middle of the bridge and could hardly see anything. Somebody started in again speaking threats. Or did the fog itself had a voice? It was dangerously close. In desperation, Simon pulled the sun crystal hastily out of his backpack.

„Run, Richie, run!“, Simon shouted against the raging of the water and the horrible voice. He grabbed Richie by the arm and they ran for their lives to the other side of the river.

The crystal lit their way through the fog and they heard an angry roar behind them that turned into a real storm, threatening to sweep them off the bridge and into the deep gorge below.

The bridge just wouldn’t end. They ran and ran, and didn’t dare look back. A black wall of fog was right on their heels and ready to swallow them up. A cold, horrifying laugh came from behind them and reached to their very core. With their last ounce of strength, out of breath, Simon and Richie jumped into the reed belt that was growing on the riverbank.

An angry outcry sounded from the end of the bridge. Simon turned, only to see the dark haze retreating and being replaced once again by the rainbow. Suddenly it was clear to him that they had narrowly escaped a tragic end. Richie laid panting beside him and Simon also fell back in exhaustion.

Simon and Richie remained in the reeds without moving. Then Simon sat up and took another fearful look across the bridge. It all looked so peaceful, as if nothing had happened. The water was rushing out to sea and the rainbow was colourful over the impressive structure of the bridge. Richie then joined him, daring a peek from out of the thick reeds and glanced wide-eyed at Simon.

„Are you thinking what I’m thinking?“, he asked and also peered in the direction of the bridge. Simon could hardly believe what they had just experienced. He looked at Richie and slowly nodded.

„We just had our first encounter with Rodan“, he confirmed what Richie was thinking.

„But isn’t he supposed imprisoned at a castle in the middle of Lake Eldor?“, Richie wondered and looked at Simon.

„He is still there. At least I hope. Though, he seems to be powerful enough meanwhile to spread fear and terror throughout the land with his magic. I think it won’t be long before we meet him face to face. We must hurry to Leyhda to warn the elves“, Simon decided and stood up with shaky legs.

„I don’t want to know what Rodan will be capable of once he leaves that castle. In future we will have to take better care“, said Richie and struggled to his feet.

„This encounter could have gone wrong. I’m glad we have the sun crystal. I never thought we would need it so soon. Perhaps Biggs knew more than he was allowed to say?“, Simon supposed and they set out to the south.

„It’s enough adventure for me today. I just want to get to Leyhda as quickly as possible. They certainly won’t seek to kill us over there. Besides that, I’m hungry“, Richie mouthed to himself.

It took a while for them to fight their way through the high reeds. At some places they sank to the ankles in morass and got soaking wet feet. Here and there a frog or a snake crossed their paths, while totally ignoring the newcomers.

They finally made it out of the reed belt and found themselves in a large wet meadow. Thirsty and pestered by mosquitoes, they could see the beginnings of a dark forest in the distance.

„Leyhda must be somewhere ahead in that forest“, Simon poked at Richie and pointed to the tree tops up ahead.

„It’s about time“, he was panting in exhaustion. „My feet hurt, I’m hungry and thirsty and I’m tired of walking“, Richie complained.

The sun was no longer so high in the sky and Simon only hoped that they would reach the city of the moor elves before nightfall. They pulled their remaining strength together and took off marching towards the dark and mysterious forest.

With birds singing, they were relieved to reach the forest and the cool shade of the first trees. A branch snapped and there was a loud noise in the forest. Simon and Richie were nearly startled to death when they saw a large deer break through the undergrowth and quickly make tracks.

They continued on for a while in silence. A small creek crossed their path and they were happy to finally freshen up and quench their thirst. Right when they wanted to set out again on their journey, something zoomed through the air all of a sudden and hit Richie on the back of the head.

„Ouch!“, he cried and jerked forward.

„What’s wrong?“, Simon wanted to know and saw Richie rub the back of this head.

„Something hit me on the head“, he moaned and looked around rubbing his aching skull.

„It was probably just a bumblebee“, Simon tried to calm his friend, when suddenly he also got a painful blow to the head.

„Ouch, what the heck?“, he exclaimed. Richie looked at him enquiringly. Simon was now holding his head as well and, looking around, discovered a small yellow green apple on the ground. Simon picked it up and showed it to Richie.

„I don’t think they simply fall from the trees here“, Simon said and at once had the feeling that they were being observed.

„We won’t be alone much longer“, he whispered to Richie, who was searching carefully in the bushes along the path.

Simon had been right. Suddenly, two figures appeared from nowhere and blocked their way. Simon and Richie were scared to the marrow of their bones. They had neither heard nor seen anybody coming. Now here they stood in the middle of nowhere, far away from home and were once again under attack. Richie was about to lose his composure.

With a scowl on their faces, two elf boys stood in front of them. At least Simon supposed elves looked like that. The shorter of the two was about as tall as Simon. He had long brown hair worn in a braid. Nothing escaped his watchful green eyes. He kept a straight face and aimed his slingshot at Simon and Richie.

The taller of the two stood with legs spread and hands on his hips and looked at them grimly. His hair was also long but lighter. The two unfriendly elves had narrow faces and pointed ears. They were dressed in the colour of the summer forest. A coarsely woven shirt reached down to their thighs and was held in place by a leather strap, where there was also a knife in a leather sheath. They also wore leather trousers and there were light boots on their feet, laced with cords. The taller elf came toward them.

„This is moor elves country, you are trespassing“, he said gravely, examining the two strangers and their weird clothing.

„We’re on our way to see Elian“, Simon shot back and was about ready to punch this show-off in the nose.

„You want to see Elian? Well, well“, the elf continued with his attitude. „There are many creatures who wish to speak to Elian, but few who reach their destination“, he hissed and pulled his knife, causing the shorter one to snicker. Pointing the blade at Simon, he stepped closer.

„If you want to see Elian, you’ll have to get by me“, he threatened.

„That’s right“, the shorter elf added from behind his comrade.

„However, if you are ready to pay toll, we could let you pass through“, he said while guiding the blade of his knife along the strap of Simon’s backpack.

„We have nothing that we could give you“, Richie boldly said. „And if we had, we wouldn’t give it to you. Definitely not to highway robbers like you“, Richie pressed forward and lifted his fists.

„Ah, four-eyes can speak after all“, the elf turned his knife from Simon towards Richie.

„I could slit your belly open or turn you into a toad before you can count to three“, the elf snarled and came dangerously close to Richie.

„That’s enough, stop that now! Nanik, Dakko! Leave them alone and get out of here!“ They heard the bright but sure and loud voice of a girl, who suddenly appeared between the adversaries and stood protectively in front of Simon and Richie.

A small, dainty elf girl, with long, curly hair, spoke with courage.

„Nanik“, she addressed the taller of the elves. „What is this all about?“

„Get lost, Anjoux. This has nothing to do with you. Mind your own business“, Nanik hissed at her, while the short Dakko hid behind this tall friend.

„Our forest is off limits to those two. We tried to tell them in a friendly way. They supposedly want to speak to Elian. Yeah, right! Rodan surely sent them to spy on Leyhda“, he accused Simon and Richie. He looked at them, ready to attack.

„That’s right!“, Dakko added his two cents behind Nanik’s back.

„You should be ashamed of yourselves. We elves don’t start fights. You still don’t understand that, do you!“, Anjoux scolded.

„The day is going to come, you blockheads, when you two will really have to prove how courageous you are. But not today“, the girl was enraged.

„Uh, excuse me“, Simon butted in. „My name is Simon and this is my friend Richie. We came through the great world Gateway. The eagle Nephtor brought us to Xuria so that we may appear before Elian“, he explained to the three incredulous faces. Anjoux’s eyes were wide.

„Then you are the Chosen One?“ she asked Simon excitedly.

„Well, yes, at least that’s what I’ve been told. Although I can hardly believe it myself“, he replied and looked bashfully to the ground.

„Well, Elian will be pleased that Asragur’s prophecy is finally going to be fulfilled. The moor elves have been longing for years now to end their underground existence“.

She turned to Nanik and Dakko and snapped: „You fools wanted to collect toll from the one who has come to save Morana? Very awkward indeed! I wonder how Elian is going to react to this!“

„No, Anjoux! Please don’t say anything to him. We had no idea who was standing before us“, Nanik tried defending himself and Dakko.

„That’s right, we really didn’t know“, Dakko added.

Anjoux gave the two ruffians the evil eye.

„Then apologize to our guests and promise them your support for their difficult task ahead. These days we can’t afford to refuse free passage to our only hope for a peaceful future“, she ended her lecture.

Nanik and Dakko lowered their heads. They had no other choice than to apologize and to give in. Otherwise they would bring on themselves a much longer lecture from Elian and would be punished to boot.

„Yeah, OK, promised“, Nanik murmured. And the four boys made up by shaking hands.

„We are sorry. Welcome to Morana. Of course we would be glad to help you“, they spoke sheepishly.

„So, with that clarified, we’d better be getting back. It will soon be dark“, said the dainty elf girl and naturally led the way deeper into the forest.

After a while, Anjoux suddenly stopped and raised her hand. She listened to the forest, put her finger to her lips and indicated the others not to make a sound. She looked in every direction. From somewhere arose a rustling sound that quickly spread throughout the forest. She looked up fearfully to the treetops. In spite of approaching danger, the little elf did her best to stay calm. She saw a small cave hidden in the thicket and led her troop over there.

„Let’s go, quickly! Over there and don’t make a sound“, she whispered.

Simon and Richie had no idea what could cause the elves such a scare. Squeezed together in the little cave, they hardly dared to breathe. The two boys were pretty queasy. The spooky noise they had heard passed by them over the treetops. And the call of the ravens sounded in the forest.

They were looking for them and seemed to be circling above, because all of a sudden the telltale cries of Rodan’s scouts were all around them. They pulled their heads in and sat closely together in the cave, in the hope that the spectacle would soon be over.

„They are already looking for you“, whispered Anjoux. Rodan must have found out that the Gateway to Morana opened.“

„Yes, we know“, Simon whispered back.

„Before this, we were threatened by a voice that came out of the mist over the bridge. It suddenly turned dark and we were almost plunged into the gorge“, he recalled with horror.

Anjoux couldn’t believe her ears.

„You mean you’ve seen him?“, she asked flustered.

„No, we could only hear his voice. He must have somehow gained power over the fog“, Simon supposed.

„Yes he did long time ago. And he gets stronger from day to day. But I think it will be a while yet till he can leave his prison. Otherwise he would have appeared in person“, Anjoux reasoned with relief.

„We need to use the time left to us“, she spoke to the group and clenched her fists in determination.

Nanik was the first one to venture out of the cave. He quietly crawled out into the open and listened to the forest.

„The coast is clear. They’re gone“, he announced and so the others crawled out, happy to stretch their legs again.

„That was close“, Dakko said and looked around uneasily.

„Nobody should ever find out where Leyhda is located. That would surely spell our doom“, Nanik spoke to Simon and Richie, wanting to make clear to them, how serious the matter was.

„And you really heard Rodan’s voice?“, he enquired.

„Yes, just a few hours ago. It was pretty spooky and very dangerous. But we were able to escape“, Richie explained, gladly showing off some in front of the elves.

„That’s probably why he sent the ravens. For sure he is sitting in his castle about now and boiling over with anger because he couldn’t touch you“, Anjoux thought out loud and hurried the group along, for dusk was falling on the forest.

 ***

Rodan paced back and forth in the dreary hall of his barren, damp prison, tearing his hair with anger. Everything had gone wrong today. To be sure, he was already powerful enough to command the ravens and to use the fog for his evil purposes, but he still was not strong enough to break Asragur’s spell completely. He remained the prisoner of the dragon king.

To all appearances, the Chosen One was human. But how was it possible that the World Gateway allowed two of them to enter? It just didn’t make any sense to him. And this perplexity drove him up the wall. He would gladly kill them both. There could be no doubt about it. He didn’t yet know how. But it was one thing he was sure about. They would die a slow and cruel death.

Today he had failed. He stood on the tower of his dark dungeon and shouted his anger out over the lake and into the night. And the waters of Eldor were transformed into raging waves. Even the ravens had lost track of the children. Rodan decided that such inability would not go unpunished. He laughed horribly at these thoughts.

The Chosen One and his companion were in Xuria, that much was sure. They will seek Elian’s help. And without doubt he will not refuse it to them, the old fool. Rodan would plan something special for Elian, the mighty leader of the elves.

His expulsion out of the moorland still bothered him terribly. The moor elves would pay for it with their lives, each and every one of them. But there was time enough for that. First things first, the children had to go, no matter how.

There were so many dreadful ways to take the lives of those intruders. He didn’t have to commit himself to one certain method at this time. One thing was sure: He was becoming stronger and mightier from day to day. And the death sentence for the Chosen One had already been pronounced on his arrival in Morana.

 

 

 

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