Free Fantasy Feature January 2022 | Legends of Lasniniar: Lady Justice

Legends of Lasniniar Lady Justice cover

In the world of Lasniniar, few chase after adventure quite like Iarion and Barlo.

The elf and dwarf duo enjoy the challenge of unraveling a difficult problem. Especially if it involves a journey and a battle to get the blood pumping.

But both friends remain cooped up at Dwarvenhome, bound by the ties of Barlo’s family.

…Until an intercepted message proves too intriguing to ignore.

A stand-alone fantasy story of Lasniniar’s favorite team of adventurers by Jacquelyn Smith.

Now, you can read it for free on this site for one month only. This short story also comes in ebook and paperback format–both on its own, and as part of the Legends of Lasniniar Bond Forger Collection.

Legends of Lasniniar: Lady Justice

Jacquelyn Smith

“Your turn,” Iarion said, gesturing toward Barlo.

“Are you sure that’s the move you want to make?” Barlo asked his elf friend, trying to hide his consternation.

Iarion smiled, flicking one of his long, white braids over his shoulder. “I’m sure.”

Barlo suppressed a curse and forced himself to study the board while stroking his beard. He and Iarion were playing Mines and Caverns, a dwarven strategy game Barlo had taught Iarion only two days before to pass the time while he was visiting Dwarvenhome. Although Barlo had already lived an entire lifetime, he was still considered a young dwarf since he was barely in his twenties. As a result, his parents were cautious about letting him leave the underground city, which irked him. Iarion’s visit had been a welcome relief from the daily burden of trying to hide the secret of his previous life—until the elf started winning at Mines and Caverns, that is.

He must be cheating somehow…

Barlo was an expert player. Few in Dwarvenhome could match his skill, and no one wanted to face him in tournaments. He had beaten Iarion soundly at first, but the elf had improved with each game, picking up the elaborate rules quickly. Now he had Barlo’s Clan Chief cornered. Barlo furrowed his considerable brows and looked for a way out.

“Ah!” A smile spread across Barlo’s face.

Iarion had been fixated on trapping Barlo’s Clan Chief, but he had forgotten about his lesser pieces. Barlo picked up the bronze figurine that represented a miner. It was currently located in a cave of no consequence—except for the presence of a hidden tunnel. Barlo used the passage to move his miner into Iarion’s starsilver mine, his most precious commodity.

“The starsilver’s mine now,” Barlo said, hiding his relief. “I win. Again.

Iarion smacked his own forehead, rolling his golden-flecked, sapphire eyes. “How did I forget that secret passage?”

Barlo shrugged. “It’s a complicated game. You’re still playing it quite well.”

“You did a good job of distracting me with your Clan Chief,” Iarion said. “If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought you had forgotten about the secret tunnel as well.”

“Yes.” Barlo cleared his throat. “Well, I’ve had much more experience than you. I’m obviously going to be better at bluffing.”

“Do you think we can play again?” Iarion asked. “I really thought I was going to win this time.”

Barlo grasped for an excuse. Iarion’s loss had been too close for comfort. “I don’t know… We’ve played so many games today already—”

“Excuse me, Barlo?” a travel worn dwarf carrying a heavy load of packs said, approaching the small gallery off the main street where Barlo and Iarion were playing.

“Yes?” Barlo said, eager for the perfectly timed interruption.

“Have you seen your uncle?” the dwarf asked. “I need to speak with him.” Barlo’s uncle, Khalid, was the current Chief of Clans for Dwarvenhome.

“Probably in another council session,” Barlo said, suppressing a sour expression. “Why do you ask?”

“I’ve just come back from Belierumar. I went there to trade, but something’s afoot there. The outlying villages are all in an uproar. Seems people are going missing. Some are even being found dead. The city guards have tried to investigate, but the locals seem to want to keep the matter to themselves. They’ve become suspicious of any outsiders.” The dwarf sighed. “I wasn’t able to make a single trade! I don’t think it’s safe for anyone to visit the human city right now. I wanted to pass the information along to your uncle.”

“I see,” Barlo said in a bored-sounding voice. “Well, as I said, you’ll probably find him in the Meeting Hall.” He gave the trader a negligent wave. The other dwarf bobbed a nod of thanks and left.

Barlo waited until the trader was out of earshot before turning to speak to Iarion.

“So, what do you think?” He asked in a hushed voice. His brown eyes were alight with interest.

“About what?” Iarion asked, his eyes wide with false innocence. “You were speaking Dwarvish just now.”

Barlo snorted. “Don’t play coy with me. I know you understand Dwarvish well enough.”

“It sounds like the people of Belierumar are having some problems,” Iarion said with a shrug. “Nothing to do with us.”

“Oh, come on,” Barlo said. “I know you want to go investigate, just like I do. It’s Golaron and Silvaranwyn’s children who rule the city. Wouldn’t they want us to help?”

“I suppose,” Iarion said. “But we haven’t exactly been invited.”

Barlo shook his head. “The Ruling Family of Belierumar knows nothing of me being reborn. As far as they know, their adopted uncle is long dead. They’re not going to ask us to come.”

“It would probably be better not to be affiliated with the ruling city anyway,” Iarion mused. “It sounds like the villagers don’t even trust the city guards.”

“Aha! I knew you were interested.”

“But what about your parents?” Iarion asked. “They’ll never let you go.”

Barlo rolled his eyes. “That’s why they’ll never know we’re going. We’ll leave a note telling them we’re going camping in the Adar Daran for a few days to cure our boredom. They’ve had no problem with it before.”

“A note,” Iarion said in a flat voice.

“Well, I’m not going to lie to my parents’ faces!” Barlo protested. “I think we can both agree lying isn’t my strong suit. Besides, my mother is at the market right now, and my father is in his forge. It’s the perfect opportunity.”

“If your parents find out I took you all the way to Belierumar without their consent…”

“But they won’t!” Barlo slammed his hand on the table, disturbing the game board. “Come on, Iarion. It’s like I’m slowly suffocating in this place. I can’t tell anyone I’m capable of taking care of myself without giving away my secret, and no other dwarf is interested in acting as my chaperon as I wander about the countryside. Even that trader goes about his business as quickly as possible to get back here as soon as he can. The only time I get to go anywhere or do anything interesting is when you visit!”

Iarion shook his head in mock regret. “I’ve been a bad influence on you.”

Barlo’s expression turned hopeful. “So we’re going, right? I really think we could do some good, Iarion.”

Iarion sighed. “Of course, we’re going. I have no desire to have you nag me about it for the next several days.”

“Persuade,” Barlo said. “The word you want is ‘persuade.’”

“Trust me, it’s not persuading when you do it.” Iarion said with a pointed look.

“All right, how about persistent persuasion?” Barlo asked with a grin. “Is that more accurate?”

Iarion groaned. “Let’s just go already. We’ll need to get packed before your parents get home.”

Barlo smirked. “See? Persistent persuasion. Works like a charm.”

* * *

Barlo felt a bit guilty about leaving Dwarvenhome without telling his parents the truth, but he knew it was for the best. He would never convince them he was fit to go off on adventures without being forced to reveal his rebirth, which he had sworn to keep secret.

He and Iarion traveled north through the Narrow Pass to the Daran Nunadan. For once, the journey went smoothly. Now the surrounding villages of Belierumar were in sight, with the walled capital city and the tower it was named after looming in the distance.

“So where do we start?” Iarion asked.

Barlo gave him a suspicious look. “You’re asking me?

“Of course I’m asking you. This was your idea, after all.”

Barlo grunted. The elf had a point. “I guess we can start with the closest village… That one, over there.” He pointed. “We can mill around, and try to pick up some of the local gossip. It might give us a lead.”

“What do we tell the villagers?” Iarion asked. “We don’t exactly fit in with the locals.”

Barlo scowled in frustration. “I don’t know… We’re just a couple of travelers passing through. Use your imagination. Or am I going to have to do everything on this mission myself?”

Iarion gave him a mocking smile. “I just wanted to make sure we get our story straight. Don’t you like being in charge?”

“Not when it means you act like a vacant-headed idiot,” Barlo muttered. He had no doubt Iarion had heard him. The elf’s pointed ears were far more sensitive than his own.

“Let’s get moving,” Barlo said in a louder voice.

“It shall be as you command, fearless leader.” Iarion made a graceful bow, gesturing for Barlo to walk ahead of him.

“Somehow, I doubt it.”

* * *

Barlo and Iarion arrived just in time for a funeral. A procession of men carried a shrouded body through the village streets, surrounded by throngs of people. The elf and dwarf allowed themselves to be drawn into the crowd. Although a funeral was usually a cause for mourning, this was not a quiet affair. The entire village seemed to have turned out for the event, and everyone was speaking at once in hushed tones of speculation.

“Poor lad. Maybe if he hadn’t fallen in with the wrong sort, things might have turned out differently. He was so young, too.”

“Don’t be a fool. He was always a bad one. Why, he was caught forcing himself on one of the barmaids at the Singing Cat only a few months back.”

A third voice chimed in. “And I heard he’d done things even worse. He must have been rotten, or he wouldn’t be dead now, would he?”

Barlo was puzzled by the last remark, but was soon distracted by new voices nearby.

“So, are you going to join Lady Justice?”

“Can’t. My sons already ran off with her, and someone needs to look after the farm.”

“Did you hear her lot saved old Janus from some highwaymen last week? Tried to rob and kill him on the way to Kettle Crossing.”

“You don’t say. I don’t know what we ever did without her around. She’s touched by some higher power, I tell you. There’s something about her…”

“I know what you mean. And I don’t think it’s just her mixed blood, either. I’ve heard she speaks to spirits, and they answer her.”

The speakers drifted out of Barlo’s hearing, but another conversation was already taking over.

“As soon as this funeral is over, I’m off to join her,” a furtive, male voice said. “You should come with me. Just think what it’ll be like to ride at her side!”

A second male voice answered. “I wish I could, but I’m all my mother’s got. I can’t leave her alone to take care of things.”

“That’s too bad. She’s making some real changes around here. I’ll be off doing great deeds while you’re stuck in the village.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Sometimes I think I’ll never get out of this backwater…”

“Excuse me,” Barlo said, squirming through the press of bodies to reach the two speakers. “Are you talking about Lady Justice?”

Two boys with barely a hint of stubble on their faces looked down at him with wary expressions.

“What business is it of yours?” the first speaker asked, glaring at him from under a thatch of brown hair.

“It’s just that everyone seems to be talking about her,” Barlo said in a guileless voice. “I’ve never heard of her before, but she sounds wonderful. I was hoping you could tell me more about her.”

“She’s the bravest, noblest, most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen,” the second boy said, staring off into the distance with a smile on his lips. “She’s setting things right around here. No one can best her in battle.” His friend elbowed him sharply and he fell silent, blushing.

“And she doesn’t take kindly to nosy strangers,” the brown haired boy said with a scowl.

“But what if I wanted to join her?” Barlo asked, his eyes wide with feigned innocence. “Who wouldn’t want to follow such a magnificent woman?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Other strangers have tried to find her—ones who meant her harm. We won’t betray her trust to the likes of a dwarf. C’mon, Marl, we’ve wasted enough time already. Let’s go.” He grabbed his friend’s arm and dragged him away from Barlo and into the crowd.

Barlo stared after them, trying to make sense of everything he had heard.

* * *

“…and they almost seem to worship her as some kind of hero,” Barlo said to Iarion as they wandered the village streets, which had emptied now that the funeral was over.

“That matches with what I heard,” Iarion said with a nod.

“I couldn’t get anyone to give me more information. They all just clammed up once I started asking questions, no matter how innocent.” Barlo frowned. “It’s obvious she’s causing the disappearances with her recruiting. But what about the deaths?”

Iarion shrugged. “Maybe she’s trying to stop them. It would explain why everyone is so protective of her. Either way, finding her seems to be our best bet.”

“So they clammed up on you too? I thought maybe it was more of a dwarf thing.”

“It was strange,” Iarion said, shaking his head. “It was as if they wanted to tell me more, but weren’t sure whether they should.”

“Huh. Not quite the same treatment as I got.” Barlo stroked his beard, considering. “The only lad who told me anything was a love-struck mooncalf. The others were borderline hostile.”

“We need to find someone willing to tell us more.” Iarion leaned against a nearby wall. “I’m sure these people know how to find her. Do you think your mooncalf would help us?”

Barlo leaned beside him. “I doubt it. I’m guessing his friend gave him a thorough tongue-lashing after he talked to me. He’s bound to be wary now. Who else can we ask? We’ve been here for hours asking questions already, and I think some of the villagers are starting to consider asking us to leave. From the looks I’ve been getting, they may decide to do it with torches and pitchforks.”

“I don’t know. Maybe we should try the next town. We might find someone willing to talk there.”

Barlo sighed. “It’s not much of a plan, but I don’t think we should stay here past sundown anyway. I suppose—Hey!”

While he and Iarion were talking, a small figure had crept out from a nearby alley unnoticed and cut Barlo’s purse from his belt. Barlo made a lunge for the thief, but he was already darting away. Barlo shouted a curse and ran after him. He heard Iarion’s light footsteps on the cobblestones behind him.

The young thief led them on a merry chase, leading them to the poorer section of the village, where the streets were unpaved and narrow. None of the villagers intervened. Barlo knew Iarion could have easily outpaced him with his longer stride, but Barlo stubbornly refused to allow his friend to take the lead. He was determined to catch the thief himself.

What Barlo lacked in stride length, he made up for in stamina. After several minutes of pursuit, the thief eventually began to tire, and Barlo gained ground. He was forced to breathe through his mouth due to the stench of human and animal waste lining his already narrow path. He stepped in something unpleasantly slippery, and scrambled to maintain his footing with a grimace.

“Nobody… steals… a dwarf’s purse!” He puffed out the words between breaths. He thought he might have heard Iarion’s dry chuckle behind him.

The thief looked over his shoulder to judge Barlo’s distance. Barlo used the opportunity to put on a burst of speed and tackle him with a grunt. The boy landed with a satisfying splat on the soiled ground and began squirming.

“Get off! Get off me!”

His arms and legs writhed, but his torso was firmly sandwiched between Barlo’s heavy body and the ground.

“Give me my purse,” Barlo growled.

“I can’t get it,” the boy said in a breathless voice. “You’re crushing me!”

Barlo heard Iarion’s laughing voice behind them. “You’d better let him up. I’ll be amazed if you didn’t break any of his ribs. I know firsthand how heavy you are.”

Barlo flushed, remembering the time when he had used Iarion as a jumping-off point to attack a dragon while the elf had been on all fours.

“I’m lighter now,” he said in an indignant voice as he clambered off the boy, pulling his ax from his belt to hold it ready. “I’m younger, and I’m in better shape.”

“Still,” Iarion said, looking dubious, “I wouldn’t wish a dwarven body slam on anyone.”

“It got the job done, didn’t it?” Barlo yanked his purse from the boy’s pocket.

He looked down at his attacker. The boy was stick-thin, with hollowed cheeks. He wore a grimy smock, now covered with dark stains from his tumble, and his face was smudged with dirt. Barlo eyed him with suspicion, his ax still in hand.

“Why did you take my purse?” he asked. “Aren’t you afraid of Lady Justice? I thought she was cleaning up this place.”

“Lady Justice is a fake,” the boy said, fairly spitting the words.

“What do you mean?” Iarion asked, leaning forward to help the boy to his feet.

The boy looked at Iarion’s extended hand for a moment before taking it. “She says she’s serving some kind of magic, helpin’ good people and protectin’ them from the bad ones. She even says she’ll give the bad ones a chance to turn things around. But I know different.” The boy scowled.

“What does she do to the bad ones?” Barlo asked with a frown.

“She kills ‘em. She killed my da last week.”

“In battle, you mean,” Iarion said. “She kills them in battle, right?”

The boy snorted. “My da was no warrior. He was just out of work and lost in the drink since Ma died. It was up to me to look out for us. I tried to get honest work, but no one would hire me. Lady Justice found out about my stealin’, and wanted to find me. She asked my da all kinds of questions, but he wouldn’t answer. She started talkin’ to herself, as if she was hearin’ voices. Seems the voices were tellin’ her my da was a bad man, so she killed him with her sword while he just stood there.”

“How do you know all this?” Barlo asked, stunned.

“I was there,” the boy said, his voice breaking. “Just coming home from a job, when I heard voices inside, so I snuck to the window to look. I wanted to do something, but I was too scared. I thought Lady Justice would kill me for sure. If she didn’t, her men would have.”

“But you’re just a young lad!” Barlo said, shaking his head.

The boy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. The people in these parts are mad for her. They do whatever she says. She has a whole army that follows her around.”

“Where is she now?” Iarion asked.

“Don’t know,” the boy said. “I tried to find out, so I can get revenge for my da, but I don’t dare get close enough to her men for them to notice me.” He scuffed the ground with his bare foot.

“Don’t worry,” Iarion said, laying a comforting hand on the boy’s slender shoulder. “We came here to get to the bottom of things. We’ll deal with Lady Justice. Do you at least know where she originally came from?”

“Story goes, she was born in Sweetspring. It’s a few hours northeast of here.” The boy looked up at Iarion with shining eyes. “Are you really goin’ to take care of Lady Justice? I know I’m not a good person, but she didn’t have to kill my da, and I know she’s killed other people too.”

“No one person has the right to decide who lives or dies,” Iarion said. “We’ll find her and put a stop to it.”

“Here,” Barlo said in a gruff voice. He handed the boy a stack of coins from his purse.

The boy’s eyes widened. “Th-thank you!”

“Just try to stay out of trouble.” Barlo tousled the lad’s hair before giving him a sheepish look. “Oh, and sorry I squashed you.”

* * *

Barlo and Iarion left the village before it got dark. The villagers were already suspicious of their questions about Lady Justice. The last thing the two companions needed was to be attacked in their sleep at a local inn.

It’s not as if we have the coin to afford a room now anyway.

Barlo tried to remember why giving the thief his coin had seemed like such a good idea while trying to find a comfortable position on his bedroll. He slept fitfully until it was his turn to take watch. His dreams were filled with a hooded figure that killed or spared people at whim.

He pondered the situation while staring out into the darkness and listening to Iarion’s soft breathing. Just who was this woman who was wreaking havoc through the countryside? Surely, her actions would convince most rational people she was a maniac, but the villagers seemed in awe of her.

What if the lad was lying? He’s a thief, after all…

But Barlo sensed he had been telling the truth. He could see no reason for anyone to make up such a tale, when the entire village was on the verge of worshipping Lady Justice. Who would believe him?

As soon as the sun had risen, Barlo roused Iarion for a light breakfast of dried fruit and some bread before heading northeast for Sweetspring. They reached the village before noon. It was smaller than the previous village, but it was a hive of activity. People browsed the market, or rushed past on errands. Barlo and Iarion both listened for word of Lady Justice, but heard nothing new.

“What should we do?” Barlo asked after an hour of wandering. “I know it’s risky to ask questions, but this isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“Maybe we should split up,” Iarion said. “We can cover more ground, and we might seem less suspicious or threatening on our own.”

“And if one of us gets into trouble, the other won’t be compromised,” Barlo agreed with a grunt. “Good plan. I’ll go this way. We can meet back here in an hour.”

Iarion nodded and headed in the opposite direction. Barlo wandered the village streets wearing what he hoped was a friendly expression, and looked for someone to talk to. Most of the villagers seemed to avoid him when he tried to catch their glance or offer a greeting though. He wasn’t sure whether it was heightened suspicion on Lady Justice’s behalf, or just a prejudice toward dwarves in general. Either way, it was frustrating.

He eventually found a group of children playing some kind of game involving a ball. Thinking they would be easier to make conversation with than the adults he had encountered so far, Barlo approached.

“Hello there,” he said in a cheerful voice. “I’m a stranger in these parts. I was hoping I could find someone knowledgeable who could help me out.”

“What d’you need help for?” a boy in coveralls asked, snatching the ball from the air. Even though he was probably only seven years old, he was Barlo’s height. Some of the older children were even taller.

“Well, I’ve been hearing all kinds of wonderful tales about someone called Lady Justice,” Barlo said, keeping his tone light and pleasant. “I have to admit, I’m a bit fascinated. Someone mentioned to me that this is the village where she was born, so I decided to come here to try to learn more about her.”

“Lady Justice! Lady Justice!” a toddler cried, clapping her hands in delight. She began to march about, and move her arm as if she were wielding a sword.

The boy in the coveralls grabbed her shoulder, pulling her up short. “What d’you want to know more about her for?” His eyes narrowed.

“I’m just curious, is all,” Barlo said with a smile. “She sounds amazing. We don’t have anything like her where I come from.”

“We might as well talk to him, Lem,” a boy with a baggy hat said to the one in the coveralls. “He seems all right.”

“I don’t know…” Lem said. “Those guards from the city said they were ‘just curious’ too. What if he wants to hurt her? Look at that huge ax on his belt!”

“This thing?” Barlo asked, gesturing to his waist. “I always carry it. You can’t expect a dwarf to travel unarmed!”

“Hurt Lady Justice?” the little girl asked, her eyes filling with tears.

“No, no, of course not!” Barlo felt as if he were losing control of the situation. “I just—”

“No hurt Lady Justice!” The little girl scowled at him.

Barlo shook his head. “I’m not—”

“He wants to hurt Lady Justice?” an older boy asked, sauntering over to join the conversation with a few of his friends.

Lem gave Barlo a suspicious glare. “I think he might.”

“No, I—”

“Well, we’ll show him, won’t we?” the older boy said with a grim smile.

He scooped a rock from the ground and threw it at Barlo. He was too surprised to dodge the missile, and it struck him hard just below his eye, drawing blood.

“Lady Justice!” the little girl cried, throwing a rock of her own. It bounced off Barlo’s helm.

Within moments, the children had surrounded him, throwing rocks and garbage while shouting taunts. Barlo could to nothing but try to shield his face with his arms. He could hardly draw his ax on mere children, and he was afraid if he even tried to defend himself without it, he might hurt someone.

The knot of children tightened around him, becoming more bold when he didn’t fight back. They would be within reach soon, which meant they would probably start using their fists and feet. Barlo growled in frustration. The children were hardly worthy opponents, but with their numbers, they could do him real damage. Blood was already pouring freely from the jagged cut under his eye, swelling the lower lid.

A gob of spit from someone in the crowd landed on his beard. He was just steeling himself to take action when he heard a familiar voice call out from beyond the press of bodies. His knees went weak with relief.

“What’s going on here?” Iarion demanded.

“None of your business!” someone called back.

“Oooh, look! He’s an elf.”

The attacks gradually came to a stop as all the children turned to stare.

“He was asking questions about Lady Justice!” Lem said in their defense.

“I see,” Iarion said in a level voice. “And would Lady Justice want you behaving this way?”

“We were protecting her,” one of the children said. “We were being brave, just like her!”

“I don’t know about you, but ganging up on someone doesn’t seem very brave to me.” Iarion raised an eyebrow.

“But he has an ax!” Lem said, his cheeks reddening.

“He wasn’t using it though, was he?” Iarion said, his voice stern. “Even when you were hurting him, he never tried to use it against you, even though he could have. He could have killed all of you if he had wanted to, but he didn’t even try to hurt you.”

“I guess that’s true,” Lem said, frowning. “But—”

“Enough,” Iarion said, cutting his protest short with a fierce scowl. “There is no excuse for attacking someone who has done nothing to you, and won’t even fight back. Doing it as a group doesn’t make it any less foolish. You might have killed him if I hadn’t arrived when I did. How would that have made you feel? You would have killed an innocent person for no reason. He’ll need to see a healer as it is. Now, I want you all to go home and think long and hard about what you did.”

The children remained motionless, staring up at him with wide eyes.

Iarion’s eyes flashed. “Now! Get out of my sight, before I lose my temper.”

Shocked into action, the children scattered. The boy with the baggy hat lingered. He was the only one who had hung back during the attack.

“Old Hilde is the healer around here,” he said in a quiet voice. “You can find her two streets over.” He pointed.

Barlo managed a weak smile. “Thanks.”

The boy shook his head. “I’m real sorry they hurt you.” He turned and ran off down a side street, disappearing from sight, leaving Barlo and Iarion to try to figure out what had just happened.

Iarion sighed. “I can’t leave you alone for one moment, can I?” He leaned down to inspect the cut under Barlo’s eye.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Barlo said. “I had the situation under control.”

“Yes, I noticed that.” Iarion rolled his eyes before sending a black look in the direction most of the retreating children had fled. “I don’t know if I would have been as restrained as you. They may only be children, but they were doing some real damage.”

“It’s not their fault—not really,” Barlo said, wincing as Iarion probed his stinging flesh. “Their parents are probably fanatics for Lady Justice. I’ll bet what they did here wasn’t much different from what they’ve seen adults do to anyone they perceive as a threat.”

“I suppose,” Iarion grumbled. “I just can’t believe you were attacked by a group of children. It’s unnerving.”

“Do I really need to see a healer?” Barlo asked. “Can’t you just patch me up?”

“Yes, but I think visiting the village healer might be useful. If this is where Lady Justice grew up, the healer will probably know her. Your injuries give us a legitimate reason to visit.”

“So, I’m taking it you haven’t had any more luck in this place than I have,” Barlo said, before realizing that wasn’t exactly true. “Informationally speaking, I mean. I’m sure no child would dare throw rocks at an elf.” He gave a wry smile.

“They wouldn’t throw them at dwarves either, if they knew what was good for them…” Iarion shook his head. “No. I haven’t been able to learn anything new. Now, come on. Let’s get you to Hilde. The sooner we can leave this place, the better.”

Iarion escorted Barlo down the street, his eyes darting back and forth as he walked, looking for signs of danger. They encountered no one. After several moments of walking in silence, they reached a wooden door marked with a sign of a mortar and pestle. The wood was cracked, and the green paint was peeling. Iarion raised his fist and gave it a hesitant knock.

“Just a moment!” a muffled female voice said from inside.

Barlo heard the sound of shuffling feet and the door opened, revealing an older woman’s seamed face. Although her gray hair was tightly bound in a single braid, and her eyes peered out at them like steel gimlets, the lines around her mouth and eyes indicated she smiled often. She took in Barlo’s appearance, her professional gaze traveling from his head downward, before returning to the cut under his eye.

“Well, I’m not sure what other injuries you’re hiding under all that armor, but that eye needs tending,” she said, stepping aside. “Come in.”

Barlo and Iarion crossed the threshold into a room housing a large cabinet of flasks, a scarred wooden table, and some stools. Bundled herbs dangled form the ceiling, filling the air with their combined scent. Barlo tried not to sneeze.

“Sit there,” the woman said, gesturing to a low stool.

Barlo obeyed, and the woman went to the cabinet, muttering to herself as she inspected its contents. Iarion and Barlo exchanged a dubious look behind her back.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked as she pulled some flasks out and placed them on the table. “I don’t get out much these days, but I don’t think we have elves or dwarves living among us just yet.” She poured some powder into a mortar and measured out a few drops of liquid before mixing the two together.

“Ah, no,” Barlo said, unsure where to begin. “I’m Barlo. I’m from Dwarvenhome, and this is Iarion. He’s from Melaquenya.”

“And I’m Hilde, but I’m guessing you already knew that from the way you showed up at my door.” She added some more ingredients to her concoction. “So, Barlo from Dwarvenhome, how did you get such a nasty cut?”

“He was asking questions about Lady Justice,” Iarion said, taking charge of the conversation. “We’re both rather interested in her, and had heard she was from here. Some people misinterpreted his interest for something more sinister, I’m afraid.” Barlo was grateful Iarion didn’t mention his attackers had been mere children.

“Lady Justice?” Hilde said with a frown. “Oh! You must mean Cariwyn. I’d forgotten they’d started calling her that.”

Iarion frowned. “Cariwyn?”

“You don’t think she was born Lady Justice, do you?” Hilde said with a wry smile. “I was there when she was named. I was her mother’s midwife, you see. A sad story, that is…” She clucked to herself as she ground some more herbs.

“What happened?” Barlo asked.

“Well,” Hilde said as she approached Barlo with her mortar and a sloshing pitcher. “Her mother was the wandering sort, you see. She wasn’t from around here. Beautiful lady, she was, with long, dark hair. Anyway, one night during her travels, she found a wounded man on the road. He was unconscious, but it was clear he was a warrior of some kind. She stopped to help him, and set up camp for the night, but she woke before morning to find he had regained consciousness.” Hilde paused her narrative to flush Barlo’s wound with some water from the pitcher. “This is going to sting a bit, I’m afraid.”

Barlo clenched his teeth to bite back a curse. As soon as Hilde was satisfied the cut was clean, she began applying her paste of herbs with gentle fingers.

“So, Cariwyn’s mother healed the man,” Barlo said, prompting Hilde to continue.

“Yes, but while Cariwyn’s mother had been sleeping, the man had woken, and decided he liked what he saw,” Hilde said. “She opened her eyes to find him already on top of her, pinning her to the ground. He had already pulled down her trousers. She struggled as best she could, and screamed for help, but they were far from the villages, and he overpowered her. When he was finished having his way with her, he reached for his knife to kill her, but it gave her the opening she needed. She elbowed him in the face and took his knife, slashing his throat before he even knew what had happened.”

“Great Galrin’s beard!” Barlo uttered in shock. “I hope she stabbed the bastard a few more times for good measure.”

“She might have,” Hilde said, her expression turning grim. “All I know is she showed up at my door a frightful mess. I took her in and tended to her. It soon became clear she was pregnant. She decided to keep the baby, but she refused to return to her own people. She was too ashamed of what had become of her, I think. She stayed here, and eventually gave birth to little Cariwyn. But the pregnancy was hard on her. It seemed to sap all her strength. The birth was a difficult one. If she hadn’t come to me, I doubt Cariwyn would have survived it. But it was all too much for her mother, I’m afraid. She died after naming her daughter, leaving poor Cariwyn an orphan.”

“Did you end up raising her?” Barlo asked.

Hilde shrugged. “Everyone in the village took turns looking after her. She was such a beautiful little creature, with her mother’s hair and eyes. She was far smarter than the other children her age, and didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. She always had a strong sense of what was right, too. She was always talking to that Quenya of hers, asking it for advice.”

“Excuse me?” Iarion said, giving her a sharp look. “Did you say ‘Quenya?’”

“Of course,” Hilde said with a smile. “I should have realized you would know all about it, being an elf and all.”

“Cariwyn’s mother was an elf, wasn’t she?” Barlo asked, following Iarion’s train of thought, and putting the pieces of Hilde’s narrative together.

Hilde gave him an amused look. “Yes, didn’t I say so?”

“And her father was a human,” Iarion said in a flat voice.

“She’s half-elven,” Hilde said with pride. “Just like Lord Golaron and Lady Silvaranwyn’s children.”

“What a fascinating story,” Iarion said with a sudden smile. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to finally find someone who knows Cariwyn so well. You must be very proud of her.”

“Oh my, yes,” Hilde said, looking flattered. “She’s come so far from where she started out, you see—leading an army of her own, and righting wrongs all around the countryside.”

“I would love to meet her,” Iarion said, sounding wistful. “I don’t suppose you know where we could find her?”

“As it happens, I do,” Hilde said as she began putting away her supplies. “She still writes me, you know. She should be in Sorrowford in a few days. It was where she was headed next. You can find it on the northern bank of Star Lake, on this side of the river. If you leave today, you should be able to catch up with her there. I’m sure she would be happy to see one of her own kind.”

“Thank you, Hilde,” Iarion said, clasping her hand. “You’ve been very helpful.”

“Thanks for the healing as well,” Barlo said, probing the skin around his cut. The wound was no longer throbbing, and felt pleasantly cool.

“It’s been lovely having some people to chat with for a change. You can thank me by sending my best to Cariwyn,” Hilde said with a smile before handing Barlo a packet. “Apply a thin layer every night before you go to sleep and when you wake up each morning, but only after you’ve rinsed the cut clean. It should heal up nicely.”

She ushered them out the door, closing it behind them.

“Come on,” Iarion said, suddenly all business. “We need to get out of here and start making our way to Sorrowford.”

“What’s wrong?” Barlo asked in a low voice as he trotted at Iarion’s side. “You seemed upset when you found out Lady Justice is a half-elf. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it earlier. I even heard one of the villagers say something about her mixed blood.”

Iarion shook his head. “It’s not good, Barlo—not good at all.”

“What’s the problem? Like Hilde said, Golaron and Silvaranwyn’s children are half-elves.”

“Cariwyn’s mother was a Shadow Elf,” Iarion said. “She was probably from Melaralva, if I had to guess. A Shadow Elf’s connection to the Quenya is already weak. Her daughter’s connection would have been made even more tenuous because the father was a human.”

“Again, just like Golaron and Silvaranwyn’s children.”

Iarion sighed. “Silvaranwyn was born a powerful Light Elf before she faded, and Golaron was a Light Elf in his previous life. But that’s beside the point.”

“Then what?” Barlo asked, feeling lost. “What makes Lady Justice different?”

“She was conceived in violence, and born in death. That would distort any full-blooded elf’s connection to the Quenya, and she is only a half-elf.”

“So, what does that mean?” Barlo asked, a shiver of premonition traveling down his spine.

Iarion met his gaze. “It means she probably isn’t sane.”

* * *

Barlo and Iarion arrived at Sorrowford a few days later. Barlo’s cut had almost completely closed, which pleased him, because he felt certain a new battle was on its way. He and Iarion had no plan yet as to how they would deal with Lady Justice. They were going to be approaching her in the midst of her own army. Their only ploy was to pretend they wanted to join.

“There are guards posted ahead,” Iarion said, shading his eyes to look as they approached the village. “They don’t look friendly.”

Barlo grunted in response. “It will look strange if we turn back now. What do you think?”

Iarion shrugged. “Let’s just see how things go. I doubt they would kill us outright. If they imprison us, we can always escape.”

“So you’re not sure they won’t kill us…” Barlo muttered. “That’s confidence inspiring.”

“You’d better let me do the talking,” Iarion said. “These people seem to prefer speaking with elves.”

Barlo rolled his eyes. “I can’t imagine why.”

Two guards approached. They wore ill-fitting armor and mismatched swords.

“What’s your business here?” the first guard demanded, his hand resting on the pommel of his weapon.

“My friend and I have come to request permission to join Lady Justice,” Iarion said with a friendly smile. “Her friend, Hilde of Sweetspring, sent us.”

The guards looked at each other and shrugged.

“We’ll see what our lady has to say about that. Come with us.”

The two men took all of Iarion’s and Barlo’s weapons and marched them into the village. People stopped to stare as they passed. Barlo noticed several people scurried in the opposite direction at the sight of Lady Justice’s men.

When they reached a large building in the middle of the village, the guards stopped outside. One of them whispered a few words to the man watching over the entrance, who slipped through the entrance. A few moments later, he returned.

“She will see them now,” he said, opening the door.

Barlo was shoved forward, and it took a moment for him to take in his surroundings. The large building was some kind of storage house that had been emptied. A large group of men and several women holding swords were working their way through a series of maneuvers as a female voice shouted instructions. Barlo saw the owner of the voice walking between rows of fighters, stopping occasionally to correct a stance or give praise. Her shining, dark hair only came to her jaw in a bob cut. She was taller than most of the other people in the room, and moved with a lithe grace, that seemed to draw all eyes to her. She wore a gleaming, chain mail shirt beneath a surcoat of deep blue.

She approached at a sedate walk, her green gaze taking in Barlo and Iarion’s appearance. Her facial features were somewhat angular, but aside from her pointed chin, she seemed to favor her human father. She tucked her hair behind her ear in an unconscious gesture, revealing its slightly pointed tip. After glancing at Barlo, her eyes were drawn to Iarion.

“You say Hilde sent you,” she said in a commanding tone that made all other voices seem uneven and crude by comparison. “How do I know this is true?” She seemed to be speaking to Iarion alone.

“Because she told us your tale, Lady Cariwyn,” Iarion said with a bow. “She sends you her greetings.”

Her eyes widened for a moment before narrowing. “I am Lady Justice now. Why have you been seeking me?”

“I was drawn from my forest home by the call of the Quenya,” Iarion said, his eyes shining. “I heard tales of a woman warrior cleansing the lands of Belierumar, and knew she was the one I sought. My friend and I learned all we could about your exploits, and eventually found Hilde, who sent us here. We were hoping to join your cause.”

Iarion wore an earnest expression as he spoke. If Barlo hadn’t know any better, he would have sworn the elf was serious.

“The Quenya,” Lady Justice breathed in an awed voice. “It speaks to me as well, but sometimes, listening is… difficult. Is it the same with you?” Barlo thought he saw hunger in her eyes, and sensed they were playing a dangerous game.

“I am a Light Elf, my lady,” Iarion said with a gentle shake of his head. “I was born and raised in the presence of the Quenya. Its glorious song washes over me whenever I wish to hear it.”

Barlo suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at this blatant prevarication, but Lady Justice seemed to sense something was amiss, because she turned to fasten her gaze on him, no longer looking friendly.

“And what of this one?” she demanded. “He cannot hear the Quenya. What is he doing here?”

“He is my good friend, Barlo,” Iarion said. “I have known him for many years.”

Barlo raised an eyebrow at the underwhelming introduction. Lady Justice stared at him, unblinking for several moments before squeezing her eyes shut and holding her hands to her skull. Iarion took a half step forward, but no one else was behaving as if anything were amiss. Lady Justice began muttering to herself in a voice too low to hear. A few moments later, her eyes snapped open, and she graced Iarion with a brilliant smile.

“You may stay, of course,” she said. “I long to hear more about the Quenya and your home. But this one,” she turned to glare at Barlo, her expression suddenly darkening. “This dwarf must go. I am sorry, but the Quenya is warning me against him.”

The guards advanced toward Barlo with bleak expressions.

“But he is my friend!” Iarion said, placing himself in front of Barlo. “Surely, I can vouch for him.”

“I’m afraid you have been deceived,” Lady Justice said, giving him a sympathetic look. “The Quenya must tell you the same. You might be surprised to learn it, but there are many wicked people in this world, and there are even more, who have the potential for wickedness lurking inside them. The Quenya tells me so.” Her eyes shone as she spoke. “None of them should be allowed to survive, or they will continue to prey on innocent people. I am trying to make Lasniniar a better place, but I have only just begun, and there is much cleansing to be done. For your sake, I will give your friend three days to leave the village. We will keep his weapons, so he can do no harm.”

Her followers hung on every word, their eyes full of worship. It was clear they would do anything for her. Barlo felt a knot of fear form in his stomach.

“What happens after three days?” he asked.

Lady Justice ignored him, addressing Iarion instead. “His fate is in your hands. The sooner he leaves this village, the better.”

* * *

“Psst!” A whispered hiss came from the predawn darkness. “Barlo, are you in there?”

Barlo shimmied on elbows and knees to the opening of his hiding place in an old den some creature had dug out under one of the village huts.

“So nice of you to join me,” he grumbled as Iarion’s face came into view. “Have you tired of Lady Justice’s accommodations?”

“What are you doing under there?” Iarion asked. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Well, I wasn’t about to leave you behind with Lady Crazy,” Barlo huffed.

“Yes, I can see that, but why are you here? Is this some kind of dwarf thing I don’t know about?”

“What?” Barlo shook his head. “No! I just don’t think our lady friend intends for me to live through my three days’ grace. I was attacked no less than five times after being escorted off, thanks to her little speech in there. It seems everyone in the village believes they’ll be doing her a favor if they kill me off early.”

Iarion muttered a curse. “She’s kept me at her side since you left, pestering me with questions about the Quenya. She’s completely obsessed.”

“She probably thought to give you the bad news this morning that your friend had met with a terrible accident,” Barlo said with a scowl. “What are we going to do about her? I can’t stay down here forever.”

“I’ve already taken care of that. I told her I can take her to the Quenya, so she can commune with it fully. I also told her humans would not be welcome in Melaquenya, and the Light Elves would see her army as a threat. She’s going to leave the village with me this morning with only a few guards.”

“So we can isolate her on the road. Good.”

“Actually, I was thinking we would just take her to Melaquenya,” Iarion said. “I’m hoping Iadrawyn might be able to use the Quenya to cure her madness.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Barlo asked. “Saviadro was obsessed with the Quenya, and it ended up destroying him.”

“We should at least try,” Iarion said. “It’s not entirely her fault she’s the way she is.”

“I suppose. I don’t like it though. She’s bound to cause trouble.”

“That’s why I brought your things,” Iarion said, dropping a sack by Barlo’s head. “You’d better leave the village now, before everyone wakes. You can follow us when we leave.”

Barlo squirmed out from under the hut with a grunt. He was covered with dirt. He tried to brush some of it off his tunic and beard, but it didn’t do much good. He opened the sack and replaced his ax on his belt with a feeling of relief. Evading a series of fanatics without the comfort of his weapons had not been his idea of a good time.

“I’d better get back,” Iarion said before jogging off into the shrinking shadows.

Barlo trotted in the opposite direction, toward the outskirts of the village and the South Road. The village was quiet, aside from some chirping birds. Still, Barlo moved with caution, his head swiveling from side to side as he looked for signs of any of Lady Justice’s followers.

He was so busy looking for trouble, he ran smack into someone running from the other direction. A young man carrying a bulky bundle over his shoulder dropped his burden in surprise. Bread and fruit spilled out onto the ground. The man scrambled after them, stuffing them back into the bundle before looking at Barlo in recognition.

“You’re that dwarf, aren’t you?” he asked in a low voice. “The one Lady Justice wants taken care of.”

“And you’re stealing, unless I miss my guess,” Barlo said, gripping his ax. “Lady Justice will want you taken care of as well.”

“She wants you more.” The man’s eyes narrowed as he considered.

“Look,” Barlo said, “we both have something to lose. So why don’t we just go quietly about our business, and pretend we never saw each other?”

“She’ll definitely want you when I call the guards, and they find out you’ve been stealing too.” He eyed his bundle and gave Barlo a sly smile.

Barlo realized his intent. “Don’t—”

“Guards! Guards! The dwarf is here!” the man yelled, sounding panicked. He threw his bundle toward Barlo. “He’s attacking me, and it looks like he’s been stealing!”

Barlo groaned. He was not having the best luck lately.

He heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and shoved the man aside. He knew if the guards caught him, he would be shown no mercy. He pumped his short legs, fleeing for the South Road. He heard the clanging of a bell somewhere behind him. Someone was raising the alarm. People started pouring out of their homes to see what was going on. Many of them were Lady Justice’s followers, already strapping on their sword belts and running in pursuit. Barlo staggered as a rock hit him hard on the shoulder from behind. He looked back to see a woman, hovering over her cheering children giving him a fierce look.

What is it with these people and throwing rocks?

“He’s getting away!” Someone shouted. “Don’t let him escape.”

“Death to the wicked dwarf!”

“To arms! For the glory of Lady Justice!”

Barlo heard a buzzing sound as an arrow skimmed past his ear. He ignored his burning legs and kept running.

Maybe rocks aren’t so bad after all.

“Stop!” a voice commanded. Barlo almost found himself obeying. “The dwarf is mine.” It was Lady Justice.

“Wait!” Iarion’s voice cried out. “He’s my friend.”

“I warned you before,” Lady Justice said in a gloating voice. “I told you there was wickedness in him. Now he’s been caught stealing. I will do what I should have done in the first place. When I am finished, we can set out on our journey to the Quenya. I will finish him quickly, so we will not be delayed. You’ll soon see I’m doing you a favor. You will be rid of his wicked presence once and for all.”

Barlo wanted to turn back, to stand his ground against her accusations, but he knew it was useless. She didn’t care whether or not he had stolen anything. She was completely mad, and convinced he had to die. He would never convince her otherwise. But he could hardly slip out of the village without being noticed now.

So much for our plan…

At least people had stopped shooting arrows and throwing things at him. But Barlo knew he was running out of time. He could hear Lady Justice behind him, her footsteps getting closer. He would never be able to outrun her. He risked another glance over his shoulder and saw Iarion trying to shoulder his way through the crowd. His bow and quiver were in their usual position on his shoulder, but even if he managed to get a clean shot, the villagers would probably lynch him for it.

We need to get away from them. If we could get her alone…

Barlo’s desperate gaze fell upon the village watchtower. It had been abandoned in all the commotion. He swerved toward it, pounding up the wooden stairs. Lady Justice was only a few steps behind him now. He put on a burst of speed and made his way to the top just ahead of her.

The top was a square only ten feet wide. A post at each corner supported a flat, wooden roof. A short guardrail ran around the edge. It came almost to Barlo’s waist, but it only would have been knee-high on a human. The tower was perhaps three stories tall, and Barlo was panting by the time he reached the top. He battled a wave of dizziness as he looked down at the crowded villagers below. He backed into the far corner, his ax held ready.

Lady Justice arrived a moment later in a crouch, her sword drawn. She was barely winded, and wore a crooked smile. There was a mad glimmer in her eyes as she advanced toward him. Barlo heard another buzz, and an arrow flew past him to land in one of the wooden posts with a solid thunk.

“Stop shooting, you fool!” he heard a voice yell from below. “You might hit our lady.”

“We should follow her up there,” someone else said. “She might need our help.”

Barlo stifled a groan. The last thing he wanted was a pack of Lady Justice’s followers up there with them.

“No one else is climbing the tower,” Iarion called in a clear voice from somewhere below. Barlo realized he must have made it past the villagers to the base of the stairs and almost went limp with relief.

Angry shouts erupted in response.

“Who are you to stop us?”

Barlo heard a cry of pain.

“He shot me! He shot me in the arm!”

“That was a warning,” Iarion said. “The next one will be through your chest.”

Barlo drew his attention from the ruckus below to Lady Justice. He had stepped out of the corner, and they were circling each other warily.

“Oh, you are treacherous,” she said, still smiling. “You’ve even managed to corrupt your friend. He’ll be so grateful when I’m done with you. He’ll be free to hear the voice of the Quenya, just as I do.”

“About that,” Barlo said, deflecting a blow from her sword. “I don’t think your Quenya and Iarion’s Quenya are the same. I think yours is broken.”

“Nonsense,” she scoffed. “There is only one Quenya. What would a dwarf know of such things?”

“More than you think,” Barlo said, his mind racing. “I’ve been in it’s presence, which is more than you can say.”

“I’m surprised it didn’t obliterate you on the spot,” Lady Justice snarled as she slashed toward him. She muttered to herself under her breath.

Barlo deflected the blow once more. He knew he should go on the offensive, but he also knew that deep down, Lady Justice was just a warped soul, brought into the world under circumstances that were not of her making.

Maybe if I can get her riled up enough, I can catch her off guard and knock her unconscious. Iarion and I can still take her to Melaquenya.

It wasn’t much of a plan, considering the mob of villagers waiting below, but he liked it better than killing her outright, no matter what she had planned for him. He chose his next few words carefully.

“The Quenya is quite fond of me, actually,” he said. “This isn’t the first life that Iarion and I have been friends.”

The First Father had forbidden him from telling anyone of his rebirth, so Barlo kept his phrasing open to interpretation, allowing Lady Justice to form her own conclusions while giving her a significant look.

She barked a laugh. “You lie! Do you really expect me to believe a dwarf would ever be reborn?”

Barlo shrugged. “You’re the one who’s supposed to be so close to the Quenya. You tell me.”

“It’s not possible,” she snarled, snaking her arm around to jab at his side, catching Barlo with a glancing blow. Fortunately, his chain mail took most of the impact. He twisted away. She began muttering once more.

“You don’t remember your previous lives, do you?” Barlo said, his voice full of mocking sympathy. “I can’t imagine how that must feel, what, with you having such a close connection to the Quenya and all.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” There was a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes. “The Quenya will reveal everything to me when it’s time.”

She turned her head, and began speaking in a low voice, as if to someone standing at her shoulder. Barlo watched in fascination until her one-sided conversation was over and she was glaring at him once more.

She advanced toward him, until the guardrail bumped against his back. He swept his ax in a wide arc toward her legs, forcing her to jump backward, but she only allowed him a few more inches of space.

“The Quenya hasn’t revealed anything to you because your connection has been distorted,” Barlo said. “Whatever it is you think it’s telling you cannot be trusted.”

Her uncertainty vanished, to be replaced by a glimmer of fanaticism. Her eyes widened and she smiled. “You have been sent to test my resolve! It’s so clear to me now. How did I not see it before?”

Barlo realized he was losing her. “I came here to find the woman who has been murdering people all over the countryside. Did no one ever warn you against your father’s evil ways?”

Lady Justice’s eyes turned dangerous. “My father is the reason I do the work I do! My mother cut him down like the scum he was, moments after I was conceived. She knew he didn’t deserve to live. By killing him, she saved herself, and other, innocent lives.

“The goal of the Quenya is always peace, but to end the cycle of violence and wickedness, there must be a cleansing. The wicked are like a disease that must be eradicated.” She was shouting now, her eyes alight, and her voice carrying to the people below. “The Quenya is always whispering to me, telling me which ones to watch. I cannot allow a single one to survive. My closest followers know this. I have had them bring me their friends, their family, to be eliminated at my command. Sometimes, they are too weak to follow through because they have been infected. Sometimes, I have to kill them too, even though it pains me to do so. I have even had to eliminate children! Do you have any idea how difficult that is?”

Barlo heard shocked gasps from below.

“But I always follow the will of the Quenya,” she continued, oblivious of her audience. “I do what must be done, even thought I know few will thank me for it.” Her green irises had become thin rings of color around her dilated pupils. She stood in a defiant pose, wither her shoulders thrown back and her arms wide.

“You’re wrong, Cariwyn,” Barlo said in a sad voice. “The Quenya would never tell you to kill a child.”

“My name,” she said from between clenched teeth, “is Lady Justice.”

Barlo shook his head. “Lady Justice is a fraud. I don’t care what kind of crazy voices you hear. No one person should get to decide who lives and who dies. Now, if you come quietly, Iarion and I will take you to Melaquenya. Maybe Lady Iadrawyn can use the real Quenya to help you.”

“I’m not a fraud!” Her knuckles went white around the hilt of her sword. “I have given everything to the Quenya.”

She lashed her sword toward him with lightning speed, placing the tip against his throat. Barlo backed away until he was leaning against the guardrail.

“So you’re offended by the fraud part, but not by being called crazy?” He said with a weak smile. “You’re a strange woman, Cariwyn. I don’t know what your mother would make of you if she could see you now.”

“My mother would be proud. And you will call me Lady Justice.” She pressed the cool blade against his skin, drawing a trickle of blood.

“Actually, I think she would be glad that she didn’t live to see you grow up to be such a monster,” Barlo said, desperate to distract her to gain an opening. “She probably even got a glimmer of what you would become from the Quenya when you were born. My Elvish is a bit rudimentary, but Cariwyn means ‘lost maid,’ doesn’t it?”

“My name is Lady Justice!” she shrieked, her expression contorted in a mask of fury.

She pulled her sword back and lunged to run him through, but Barlo ducked at the last moment.

She tripped over him, her hands flailing against the open air behind him as her one ankle hooked around the guardrail. Barlo rose, thinking to grab her and pull her back. Instead, his movement unbalanced her further. She flipped over the side of the tower, plummeting face-first with her sword still in hand. Barlo gripped the rail and looked over in horrified fascination. She hit the ground hard, her neck on an unnatural angle. Her limbs twitched for a moment before going still. The villagers stared in silent shock.

Barlo’s mind reeled. He would never have imagined one man’s act of violence would have triggered the death of so many innocent people, and ended like this, with his orphaned daughter disgraced and beyond saving. He kept seeing her fall, wondering how he might have prevented it.

Iarion’s head appeared from the stairwell. “It’s not exactly what I would have done, but I think it’s over now.”

“I—I didn’t mean…” Barlo couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. “I wasn’t trying to…”

Iarion patted his shoulder. “I know. Perhaps it’s better this way. They could hear everything down there. No one will try to stop us from leaving now.”

“But what about our plan to take her to Melaquenya?”

Iarion shrugged. “Who knows if it would have done any good? I thought there might still be hope, but she was completely mad. Either way, she’s with the Quenya now, and people should stop disappearing, so that’s something.”

Barlo knew his friend was trying to make him feel better, but he had a feeling it would be a long time before either of them forgot what had happened.

“Thanks,” he said, giving Iarion a weak smile.

“We’d better get back to Dwarvenhome. We’ll need to coordinate our cover story for your parents. If they find out about any of this, they’ll probably kill me.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Barlo said, forcing a cheerful tone. “Besides, I want to beat you at Mines and Caverns some more.”

Iarion gave him a mocking smile. “You know I’ve only been letting you win, right? I didn’t want to damage your dwarven pride.”

Barlo uttered a surprised laugh at Iarion’s absurd statement, which was probably what the elf had intended. “You have not! I’ve been playing that game for two lifetimes now.”

Iarion said nothing, giving him an innocent look.

“You haven’t,” Barlo said before allowing some of his growing uncertainty creep into his voice. “Have you?”

Iarion smiled. “Let’s get you home.”

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: Lady Justice

Copyright © 2022 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art copyright © Akv2006, Algol, Vi73777,  Wimstime/Dreamstime

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Posted by Jacquelyn

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