It had taken much patience and encouragement to coax Melissa’s horse to trust the dragon not to pierce it with his claws. After the flight, it announced neighing that it would never fly again. It sulked the rest of the way to Lysande’s home so that Melissa had nobody to talk to. She didn’t mind. She watched the first beams of sunlight break through the canopy and cuddled deeper into her coat. Finally, she saw the whitewashed house shimmer through the trees, and soon rode into the yard.
A white ball of feathers rushed her. The horse neighed and reared. Melissa fell to the ground like a bag of flour. While the horse galloped away, the white raven struck at Melissa again. At the last moment, she protected her eyes from Lukas’s sharp beak with her arms. Passing her, the raven chopped a wound into her arm. He gained height, turned and started another dive.
“Stop it, Lukas! Lysande sends me.” Melissa stretched her left hand toward the bird. A big ruby ring sparkled on her finger. “See this. She has even lent me her ring.”
The raven stopped his attack mid-air but kept circling. Melissa got up, patted the dirt from her traveling dress, picked up her coat and looked at the wound on her arm. It hurt but it wasn’t dangerous.
“That wasn’t particularly nice,” she reprimanded Lukas. “I only came so you can help me to find the Talking Trees.”
The raven cawed. “I wonder why she would trust you.”
“We shared a vision. Now, will you please fly through the woods and fetch me when you find a Talking Tree?”
Lukas sat down high above on the branch of a tree, crooked his head and stared at Melissa as only a raven can stare. His deep black-button eyes examined her. “You can understand me?”
“Please, you have to help me.”
“Why should I? Only a little while ago, my mistress recognized you as the Black Shadow.”
“Lysande has been mistaken. The Black Shadow she saw is one of Ceres’ men searching for Korosadja. And I have it.”
“Show me.” Lukas hopped down a couple of branches and gazed at the stone Melissa held up. “It really is Korosadja,” he croaked.
Melissa nodded. “If I were one of Ceres’ people, I would have been on my way back to him long ago. That I am here proves that I don’t belong to his Dark Warriors.”
Lukas cawed. He hopped to and fro, down and up again. “Very well, I will help you.” He spread his wings and flew over the roof of the house.
Since it was still cool, Melissa put on the coat before she followed Lukas. She walked over the yard and discovered a narrow path of slabs of natural stone which passed the house on the left. Soon, she stood in the garden behind the house. A few rows of vegetables, a herb spiral, some salad and a handful of paltry fruit-trees were all that survived the shadow of the woods.
“You should make the clearing bigger so that the plants get more sun,” she said to Lukas.
The raven cawed mockingly. “What do you think Lysande has been trying for the last ten years? By the way, how did you get past the house?”
“On the path. Why? Is it forbidden to use it?”
Lukas clattered his beak with glee. “You must have strong protective magic. Lysande put her strongest spell around the house. Not that it amounts to much.”
“You sound so negative. Don’t you like Lysande?”
“She is my best friend! But she is not the most talented witch.”
“I think she is talented. She has even taken me along into one of her visions.”
“Oh yes, her visions are fantastic. But the whole traditional stuff with abracadabra and hocus-pocus is not in her nature. I am assuming you didn’t notice anything when you trampled through her spells, did you?”
Melissa shook her head. “Korosadja protects me. If I know how to handle it correctly, I can use it to protect us all. Now, fly and let us look for one of those trees.” Secretly, she was surprised at the abilities Korosadja had given her already.
Lukas crooked his head. “I am rather fast. How will you follow me?”
“Since you chased away my horse, you can look for it, and I will walk for a while. You’ll have to wait for me from time to time.”
Lukas croaked his consent and shot away over the treetops.
Melissa followed him as fast as she could. Just in case, she took Korosadja from her pocket and held it in her hand.
She was sure that it would protect her from danger in her pocket, too, but she didn’t want to take a risk. After all, Reginald had warned her.
Djarret sat beneath a tree and leant against the powerful trunk. Rays of the morning sun fell through the canopy and danced on the mossy ground. He slid a piece of dried meat in his mouth and followed it with water.