Free Fantasy Feature June 2021 | Legends of Lasniniar: The Wild Side

Legends of Lasniniar The Wild Side coverThe Fey Wood. Iarion stares at the looming forest of ancient oaks and pines and tries not to feel nervous.

A few trees should not intimidate him. But the Wild Elves do not welcome strangers.

Even attractive ones, who search for answers to a thousand year-old problem.

…Unless Iarion can somehow convince them otherwise.

A stand-alone story from the World of Lasniniar series of Iarion’s past, “Legends of Lasniniar: The Wild Side” by award-winning author Jacquelyn Smith adds to the elf’s growing legend.

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 Soul Seeker Lasniniar Collection.

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Legends of Lasniniar: The Wild Side

Jacquelyn Smith

Iarion stared at the looming forest of ancient oaks and pines, trying not to feel nervous.

This is ridiculous. I’m a Wood Elf! A few trees shouldn’t scare me.

Despite his brave thoughts, he couldn’t help feeling unsettled. He could sense the pulse of life coming from the Fey Wood. It felt wild and unfettered—completely unlike any forest he had ever entered. His stomach performed an anxious backflip. He had heard about the Wild Elves that dwelled within, but he had never met one. He wasn’t sure what to expect, especially after his prolonged stay among the conservative Sea Elves. Part of him wanted to dismiss the forest altogether and move on.

But what if they have the answers I need?

It was a possibility he couldn’t ignore. He had spent countless years wandering Lasniniar in the hopes of finding someone who might be able to help him. If there was any chance he might find the answers he desperately sought in the Fey Wood, he had no choice but to enter. He straightened his shoulders and brushed his long, silver braids back behind his pointed ears.

Enough stalling.

Iarion walked toward the trees, keeping his hands well away from the knife at his belt and the bow resting on his shoulder. The last thing he wanted was to be perceived as a threat. His silver-flecked sapphire eyes darted from shadow to shadow as he approached. Even though he couldn’t see anyone standing watch, he knew the sentries were there. No elves would leave their forest unprotected.

Iarion blinked. An arrow buzzed past his ear, grazing his cheek. He put a startled hand to his face and saw blood on his fingers. He glared at the trees in disbelief.

“Consider yourself lucky,” a female voice called from the shadows in Elvish. “My sister wanted to aim lower.”

“Why did you shoot me?” Iarion spluttered. It had been the last thing he had expected. “I approached peacefully!”

“This is Wild Elf territory,” the voice said. “We do not welcome intruders.”

Iarion sighed in exasperation. “And what about visitors? It’s not as if I’m a goblin spy.”

“He is too good looking to be a goblin,” a second female voice said.

“Yes, but look at what he’s wearing,” the first voice replied. “He doesn’t look like he’d be any fun.”

Iarion looked down at his clothing with a frown. His buckskin breeches were worn, but clean. His boots were laced, and his tunic was tucked in beneath his cloak. It was hardly fancy garb, but it was practical and well cared for. He looked up.

“Can we at least have this conversation face to face?” he asked, trying to regain his composure.

“I suppose,” the first voice said. “But we will be keeping our arrows ready, so don’t move.”

Two figures stepped out from the trees. Iarion found himself blinking again. For a moment, he thought he might be seeing double. Both elven women had the same long, auburn hair and deep green eyes. As they came closer, he saw that one was perhaps a year or two older than the other, and stood a few inches taller. They had the same dusky skin as Iarion, but their faces were marked with whorls of green and brown paint. Their clothing was a mismatched combination of animal skins, and their braided hair was decorated with beads and feathers. Iarion suddenly felt plain by comparison. Both women held an arrow nocked and ready as they approached.

Much too good looking to be a goblin,” the shorter one said as she looked Iarion up and down. He realized she was the second voice he had heard. He flushed under her open scrutiny.

“Look at how red he is!” the other said. “He’s blushing like a Sea Elf virgin.”

Iarion ignored his discomfort and plowed forward. “I am a Wood Elf, but I have just come from an extended visit among the Sea Elves.”

“That explains much,” the taller one said with a sound of disgust. “Those prudes don’t know how to enjoy themselves. I am Beliriel and this is my sister, Luniwyn. Who are you, and what do you want?”

“My name is Iarion,” he said, his mind racing to figure out a way to explain his mission to these erratic elf women. “I am hoping your people might be able to help me. Could I meet your lord and lady? I’m afraid my problem is… complicated.”

Beliriel raised an eyebrow at him. “Complicated, eh? Perhaps you are more interesting than you appear…”

“Shall we take him prisoner?” Luniwyn asked with an eager expression.

Beliriel gave Iarion another appraising look. He got the distinct impression he did not measure up to her standards, despite his looks. He ignored his burning cheeks and held her gaze. These women had likely never traveled more than a day beyond their own borders. What right did they have to make him feel as if he were some conservative, backwater fool?

“I think perhaps we should,” Beliriel said with a smile of amusement at Iarion’s defiance. “If he is as stubborn as he looks, it is the only way we will ever hear his tale. Come.”

She lowered her bow and walked ahead of him and her sister, gesturing for them to follow. Luniwyn kept her weapon raised, jerking it with a calculating grin to indicate Iarion should walk in front of her. Iarion had no choice but to obey.

If I try to fight them, they will never take me to their lord and lady.

Even though it was a logical assumption, he couldn’t help but feel the sisters were somehow disappointed by his docility. They escorted him in silence through the trees, steering him deep into the heart of the wood. The birds and squirrels seemed to monitor their passage, following with chirps and chattering from the branches above. He caught glimpses of other elves running between the trees as they passed, blurs of flying hair and animal furs. A few wore nothing more than smears of body paint. Sometimes, a wildcat or deer ran alongside them. Iarion watched them pass with a wondering expression.

What have I gotten myself into?

They passed scatterings of mud huts that blended with their surroundings and eventually reached a clearing where two elves held court from a pair of matching carved thrones, entwined with vines. Both wore face paint even more intricate than that of Iarion’s escorts, and a crown of leaves and berries. The woman had red hair that made Iarion think of a river of flame. Her consort’s beaded braids were a rich brown. They watched Iarion approach with matching, deep green eyes that held a wild spark. Iarion suppressed a shiver.

“Beliriel, Luniwyn,” the woman said in a rich voice. “What have you brought us?”

Beliriel sketched a bow. “He calls himself Iarion. We found him trying to enter our wood. He says he is a Wood Elf who has spent time among the Sea Elves.” She did not quite manage to keep the derision from her voice. “He has come seeking the aid of the Wild Elves for a problem he only wanted to explain to our lord and lady. Iarion, allow me to introduce you to our parents, Lady Salimarawyn and Lord Numadil.” She gestured for him to step forward.

Iarion swallowed a curse and bowed. His hope flickered. If the lord and lady were Beliriel and Luniwyn’s parents, it seemed unlikely they would help him, but he had to try. He noticed Beliriel smiling at his discomfort and forced himself to at least try to appear more confident than he felt. He had not endured thousands of years of searching to be cowed by some young Wild Elf upstart, no matter how uncomfortable she and her people made him. He met the eyes of both rulers before speaking.

“Please, forgive my intrusion,” he began. “I mean you and your people no harm. I came here in peace seeking answers.” He gave Luniwyn a pointed look. The younger elf was still keeping her arrow trained on him. She grinned back at him, but her weapon did not waver. Iarion suppressed a sigh and pressed on.

“I was born in Melaralva during the Age of Shadow.”

He paused for a moment, allowing the full meaning of his words to sink in. The lord and lady shared a surprised look and Beliriel’s eyes widened.

Iarion continued. “Unlike other elves, I was born without a connection to the Quenya. I have no sense of my life’s purpose, and nothing to guide me. I have spent thousands of years wandering Lasniniar, searching for anyone who might know something of how I came to be this way, or someone who might share my… affliction. When my own tribe could tell me nothing, I hoped I might find answers among the other elf tribes. That is why I spent time among the Sea Elves. While I did gain valuable knowledge and experience among them, I did not gain the answers I sought. So I have come to you, hoping you might know something that might help me.”

“You have no connection to the Quenya at all?” Beliriel asked with a horrified expression. Although Iarion had never known any different, he also knew the thought of living separate from the magic that guided all elves was inconceivable to others of his kind.

And how I envy them!

Iarion shook his head, unable to form an answer past the lump in his throat.

“Wait,” Beliriel said, her eyes widening in understanding. “If you cannot fulfill your life’s purpose, you will never die. You will spend the rest of eternity wandering Lasniniar while everyone you have ever known passes on!”

He bowed his head in acknowledgment, grateful she had grasped the situation so quickly. He wasn’t certain he had the composure to explain it. Behind him, Luniwyn had lowered her bow in surprise.

The lord and lady pinned him beneath their gaze for several moments before exchanging an unreadable look.

“Your tale is a sad one,” Lady Salimarawyn said, her eyes full of sympathy. “I cannot imagine living without a connection to the Quenya, never mind the consequences. But your problem is unknown to us. We have never heard of such a thing, and have no idea how to help you.”

Iarion’s heart sank. He had been afraid this would be the answer he was given. Still, he had to keep trying.

He had no choice.

“Thank you for granting me this audience,” he said, bowing again. “Could I perhaps stay among your people for a while, like I did with the Sea Elves? You may not have the answers I seek, but perhaps I can learn something useful by staying here.”

Lord Numadil sighed. “You are not one of us. I doubt you will fit in here. Our people are not… tolerant of outsiders, and outsiders are not comfortable with our ways. Still, if you are determined to stay, we will allow it, in light of your circumstances.”

Iarion knew it wasn’t much, but it was something. As little as the thought of staying with a group of potentially hostile elves appealed to him, he couldn’t risk the chance there might be something he could learn from their ways that might help him.

“Thank you,” he said. “I accept.”

Lord Numadil gave him a long look. “I only hope you do not come to regret your decision.”

* * *

Iarion found himself remembering Lord Numadil’s parting words often over the course of the next several days. As much as he tried to fit in with the Wild Elves, he was constantly mocked or shunned. Some had heard his tale from Beliriel and Luniwyn, but their pity for his plight did not prevent them from scorning of his ‘conservative’ ways.

I’m doing what I can to win them over, but somehow it’s never enough…

Iarion had slain a bear all by himself, and had used its fur to accentuate his clothing, but it only made the Wild Elves smirk at him. He had considered trying face paint, but the idea of it made him feel silly. He had tried joining their competitions in both archery and wrestling, only to be treated with contempt, even when he performed well. It was maddening.

It wasn’t anywhere near this difficult to fit in with the Sea Elves.

Still, it had been a challenge. Iarion had shocked them at first with his worldly ways. It wasn’t until a young sailor named Alfiabalas had taken him under his wing that Iarion had understood the code behind the Sea Elves’ conduct. He had learned to adapt, but after so many years among them, perhaps some of their conservative bearing had rubbed off on him, just as he had helped to make them a little more open to new ideas. Now he found himself in the opposite situation. He had never thought of himself as a coward or a prude, but somehow, the Wild Elves made him feel like both.

They seemed to have no inhibitions or filters, and only respected those who were as wild as they were—the wilder the better. They even seemed to have their own internal hierarchy, where those who were the most unpredictable and daring gained the most admiration from their peers, and were the most sought after as mating partners. And the mating situation in the Fey Wood was a whole other tangle altogether…

Unlike the other elf tribes, the Wild Elves did not take formal mates. Instead, they frolicked with whomever caught their fancy, regardless of gender. Some relationships lasted longer than others, but nothing was etched in stone. There were even groups that lived together, sharing as they pleased. The resulting children were raised communally by the village.

This… carefree behavior was enough to unbalance Iarion, even though he had heard the Wild Elves were shameless. But what really shocked him was how open they were. Nudity was common in the village, and the riotous feasts they gathered for several times a week were celebrations of debauchery and a torment for Iarion. He found them both disturbing and fascinating at the same time. Having just spent several painfully chaste years among the Sea Elves did not help matters.

The Wild Elves allowed him to attend the feasts, but he was never invited to participate in the after dinner entertainment. Although they seemed to admire his looks, his appearance was not enough to overcome the stigma of being an outsider. Inevitably, Iarion spent the rest of those evenings alone, which was hardly satisfying, and only added to his pent-up frustration. He found himself both dismissing and envying the Wild Elves’ ways.

As easy as it would be to just walk away from here, I know I could learn something from them. While others try to shape the world to their will, they live completely in tune with the world around them.

It felt as if he were watching an intricate dance, where everyone managed to move in complete harmony, regardless of what steps they took. No matter how chaotic their lives seemed, everyone was certain of their place. Everyone except Iarion.

He kicked a stone across the forest floor as he walked beneath the trees. He had taken to spending more time alone lately. As much as he pushed himself to make friends with the Wild Elves, their constant mocking and scorn wore at him. He found himself withdrawing more and more frequently. He was startled from his frustrated thoughts by the sound of light footsteps behind him.

“Look, it’s Iarion Carivanyar,” he heard Beliriel say and suppressed a groan. The title had been given to him in jest and had stuck. It meant ‘Lost Wanderer’ in Elvish.

“I’m surprised he is still here,” Luniwyn said to her sister. “I thought he would have run off by now. It can’t be fun sitting in on our feasts from the sidelines!”

Iarion whirled to face them, his patience completely lost. “Why?” he demanded. “Why will none of your people accept me? I have been doing my best to belong here, and all I get is pity and contempt.”

Luniwyn snorted. “If you think it’s bad now, just wait until Falan comes back from his wanderings. Our brother is completely intolerant of outsiders. At least we have been kind to you.”

“Kind?” Iarion spluttered.

Beliriel held his gaze. “Yes, kind. You are not one of us. You were warned. You say you have been trying to belong, but you are just like any other outsider. You cling to your fears and hold yourself back. A Wild Elf never holds back on anything. We fully commit ourselves to every action, no matter the outcome. To do anything less is to be a coward. That is why we shun outsiders.”

Her words hit him like blows. “So you think I am a coward.”

Beliriel’s eyes narrowed. “You are afraid, aren’t you? You are holding back.” She paused to allow Iarion to refute her words. His silence was damning. “You see? Even now, you are afraid I am right. Yes, I think you are a coward. We all do. We feel sorry for your situation, but that is all that is keeping you here.”

Iarion had never been called a coward before in his life, but her words shook him. He knew she was right. He was holding back. But he couldn’t imagine becoming the kind of person the Wild Elves might accept. He envied their certainty, but he did not want to lose himself by giving himself over to chaos.

It was a mistake for me to come here.

“I see,” he said after a long moment of silence. “Perhaps you are right. I do not belong here. I think the time has come for me to leave.”

“I’m surprised you had the courage to stay with us this long,” Beliriel said, her lips twisting. Luniwyn said nothing, a look of disappointment in her eyes.

Iarion gave in to his hurt and confusion. He turned his back on both women so he wouldn’t have to look at them. “I won’t trouble you any further then. Farewell.”

He began walking toward the northern edge of the forest without any real destination in mind. He was already carrying his pack and weapons. It was as if part of him had known he would be leaving. Beliriel and Luniwyn said nothing, but he could feel their eyes on his back until he fell out of sight. He moved quickly, and was soon out from under the trees. He left the Fey Wood without a backward glance, wishing he had never gone there in the first place.

* * *

Iarion wandered the Wild Lands, lost in his own thoughts.

What am I supposed to do now? Where should I go?

He had already learned what he could from the Sea Elves, and the Earth Elves made their home in the same forest he had grown up in, so he had already spent time with them as well. The only tribe he had not bonded with was the Wild Elves. He briefly considered visiting Melaquenya, but he dismissed the idea. The Light Elves were held in high regard by the sundered elf tribes. He did not relish the thought of disturbing them without first exhausting every other option.

For the first time in what he suddenly realized was more than an hour, he looked up and took in his surroundings. The Mountains of Wind lay to the north. The settlements of men lay to the east. Otherwise, he was surrounded by untamed wilderness. He spotted a herd of horses in the distance, beasts that fell under the Wild Elves’ protection. He looked past them into the distance, considering.

Perhaps I should explore the western lands…

A rustle in the undergrowth caught his attention. He scanned the ground and spotted a covey of quail and let out a long sigh. He was still far too tense from his confrontation with Beliriel. His roving gaze caught a faint set of prints in the grass. Judging by the size and depth of them, they belonged to an elf, but they were clearly moving away from the Fey Wood. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he began following them.

The tracks led steadily north, weaving around rocks and other obstacles. The prints were so faint, they often became difficult to follow, forcing Iarion to cast about for signs of passage. Only an elf with expert tracking skills would have spotted them. He stumbled to a stop when they led to a trampled area that revealed several overlapping sets of tracks. The grass was churned up in places—sure signs of a struggle. The ground was spattered with blood.

Iarion crouched for a closer look, stroking the grass with his fingers. The blood was dry, and wasn’t dark enough to belong to an ogre, goblin, or troll. Did it belong to the elf he had been following? The thought chilled him.

He circled the area, trying to read the scene. No bodies had been left behind, and the overlapping prints had ruined most of the evidence. As far as he could tell, there had been some kind of battle between the elf and perhaps three men wearing crude boots before the others had arrived. The elf had been vastly outnumbered, but Iarion could see no tracks leading away from the area, other than those belonging to the elf’s attackers, which formed an obvious trail heading north. Either the elf had been killed and his body taken, or his attackers had taken him prisoner. Iarion looked up, his gaze following the line of the trail. He saw a cluster of tents in the distance. Curls of smoke drifted into the cloudless sky.

His feet were already moving. He didn’t know whether the elf was still alive, but he had to find out.

He crept toward the camp, the late afternoon sun warming his back and warning him of nightfall’s approach. Only agents of the Fallen One would attack an elf, and they favored the hours of darkness. As Iarion drew closer, he caught a glimpse of a sentry leaning against a spear as he watched the horizon with a bored expression. His dark armor accentuated his pale skin and blond hair.

Darkling Men. I thought as much.

Even though Iarion had no idea why such a large group of Darkling Men was this close to the Fey Wood, he felt a faint surge of hope. The subverted humans served the Fallen One out of fear, unlike the goblins and ogres, who were his twisted creations, or the trolls who enjoyed feasting on the flesh of their enemies. Unlike the rest of the Marred Races, a group of Darkling Men might take an elf prisoner instead of killing him outright.

Iarion avoided the sentry’s notice easily, slipping past him to hide in the shadow of a tent to get a closer look at the camp. A haunch was roasting over a fire pit, but only a single man sat nearby to turn the spit. The camp was quiet. Darkling Men were the only minions of the Fallen One who could bear the sight of the sun, but even they were mostly nocturnal by association.

He spotted a tent near the center of the camp. Two men stood watch outside, speaking to each other in low voices. Iarion darted forward to investigate, weaving a cautious path from one shadow to the next. No one noticed his approach.

He gave the guards and the fire pit a wide berth, approaching the tent from behind. No fire was lit within, so he could see no shadows. He pressed his ear against the rough fabric, but heard nothing.

What now?

There was no outward sign that anyone was inside the tent, but the presence of the guards said otherwise. Iarion considered using his knife to cut through the fabric, but he feared how loud the sound of tearing cloth might be in the quiet camp, especially with a pair of guards so close at hand. Instead, he used the tip of his weapon to pry at the earth surrounding one of the tent pegs, working it loose while keeping an ear out for any sounds of approach. He got the first peg free and lifted the edge of the tent to peer inside.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness within. He eventually made out the shadowed form of a limp body. No blankets or furs separated it from the hard ground, and the rest of the tent was empty. The tent’s occupant remained motionless, showing no sign he was aware of Iarion’s presence.

Iarion started working on a second peg. Moments later, it was free, which gave him just enough room to slide his entire body under the edge of the tent. As soon as he was inside, he rolled to his feet, his knife held ready.

Nothing happened. The guards continued their conversation out front, and the body on the ground did not move. Iarion crouched beside it for a closer look.

The prisoner was unmistakeably a Wild Elf. He wore blood and dust covered furs. His long, auburn braids lay in tangles around his painted face, revealing dusky skin, pointed ears, and a stubborn chin. A nasty cut marked his temple, the wound extending beyond his hairline. Unwashed blood and dirt crusted around the edges. His face was bathed in sweat and his breathing was shallow. Iarion pulled his waterskin from his pack and used a cloth to dab the wound clean. The elf shuddered beneath his ministrations, his green eyes snapping open. Iarion slapped a hand over the other elf’s mouth.

“Be still,” he whispered in Elvish. “There are two guards outside the tent. I’m trying to clean you up.”

Iarion didn’t remove his hand until the other elf nodded in understanding.

“Who are you?” the other elf breathed, frowning in confusion. “You are no Wild Elf.” He gave Iarion an appraising look and cocked an eyebrow.

Iarion suppressed a sigh at the unwitting reminder of his failure to win the Wild Elves over and decided to stick to the basics. “My name is Iarion. I found your trail and followed it here when I saw you had been attacked. What happened?”

The elf shook his head. “I wanted some time to myself, so I left the wood to wander for a bit. I ran into a Darkling scout. I knew he was up to no good, so I fought him, but there were others nearby. I kept fighting, but I was soon outnumbered. One of them got a lucky hit on me with his spear and knocked me out. I woke up in this tent. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I’ve tried to escape, but whenever I try to stand, I black out.”

“It’s your head wound,” Iarion said. “I’m going to help you get out of here, but I need you to do exactly as I say.” Wild Elves were nothing if not unpredictable. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to notice them leaving. “What is your name?”

“Falan.”

Iarion froze in recognition.

Great. Beliriel and Luniwyn’s infamous brother.

Iarion smoothed past the moment by asking another question. “Do you know why the Darkling Men took you prisoner?”

“I think they thought to use me against my own people as either bait or leverage,” Falan said.

It made sense. If the Darkling Men wanted to set a trap for the Wild Elves, they could use Falan to lure them. If they were on a mission from the Fallen One to retrieve elf prisoners to be used as slaves, perhaps the Wild Elves would be willing to trade others in exchange for Falan’s release.

“We’d better leave now,” Iarion said. “The sun will be setting soon and the whole camp will be awake.”

He reached down to help Falan to his feet. The Wild Elf rose with a stifled groan and swayed for a moment before nodding. Iarion slipped out of the back of the tent first, ready for an attack. When none came, he beckoned Falan to join him. The Wild Elf needed help to drag himself out of the tent. As soon as he was free, Iarion put the pegs back in place, using the pommel of his knife to press them back into the ground. He wanted to leave no sign of Falan’s escape. If they were lucky, the Darkling Men wouldn’t notice he was gone until he and Iarion were far from the camp.

Iarion looked up from his work to find Falan gone. He gripped his knife, his heart in his throat. He strained his ears to listen for signs of the Wild Elf. Falan couldn’t get far in his current condition.

A gurgling moan from the front of the tent alerted Iarion. He skimmed around the circumference on silent feet, fearing the worst. Falan stood behind one of the guards, a dagger buried in the man’s kidney. From the look of surprise on the guard’s face and the empty sheath on his belt, Iarion guessed it was his own weapon. Falan twisted the blade, a wild grin on his face. Iarion groaned.

So much for agreeing to do exactly as I say… To be fair, I never told him not to attack his guards and draw attention to our presence, but I thought that went without saying.

The second guard uttered a cry of alarm, swinging his spear toward Falan. The Wild Elf used his dying victim as a shield, keeping his attacker at bay. Men poured from the surrounding tents wearing confused expressions. One noticed Falan and pointed at him with a shout. The others followed in a rush, their weapons drawn. Falan showed no sign of fear, but he stumbled a bit under the dying man’s weight, a fey gleam in his eyes.

Muttering curses, Iarion slipped his bow from his shoulder and began shooting. He moved from shadow to shadow, so his arrows seemed to come from several directions at once. Every one of his missiles found a target. Several of the men charging toward Falan dropped to the ground in midstride. The Wild Elf shoved his victim at the first cluster of men to reach him, knocking them over as he snatched up the corpse’s spear. His movements were quick, but Iarion could see what the effort cost him. Under his face paint, Falan’s skin had gone pale. Iarion knew he had to do something, and quickly.

He ducked behind the group of advancing men, who had yet to spot him, and ran toward the fire pit. He pulled several of the burning branches from the fire and tossed each one at a different tent before returning to the shadows. Within moments, the tents were ablaze. The first few men to notice cried out to their camp mates in panic. Most of the men attacking Falan began running, either to search for water, or get away from the approaching flames. Iarion used the resulting smoke and confusion as cover to get closer to the Wild Elf. He threw himself at the remaining men surrounding Falan, heedless of his own safety. The fire was spreading quickly. He and Falan needed to take advantage of the distraction before the entire camp burned down.

Iarion slit a man’s throat from behind and kicked him aside to advance on the next. He moved without thought, flowing from one opponent to the next. The Darkling Men were no match for his speed. As soon as he reached Falan, he grabbed the Wild Elf’s arm and began dragging him away from the camp. Only one of his attackers was left, and he was fleeing to join the rest of the Darkling Men in an effort to put out the fire. Falan dug in his heels and watched the retreating man with narrowed eyes.

“Come on!” Iarion tugged at his arm. “We have to get out of here.”

Falan cocked his arm and launched his stolen spear into the air. It landed in the man’s back, quivering. He pitched forward to land on the ground in a sprawling heap. Falan reached down to snatch another spear from one of the many corpses scattered around the prison tent and flashed Iarion a grin.

“We can go now.” He began to run, but stumbled. Iarion reached out to steady him.

Iarion cursed. “Are you mad?

Falan gave a weak shrug. “Who knows? I don’t think so, but crazy people don’t usually realize they’re crazy, do they? Why do you ask?”

“I came here to rescue you,” Iarion said from between gritted teeth as he slipped his arm under Falan’s shoulder to help keep him on his feet as they fled. The Wild Elf was hot to the touch. “You agreed to do exactly as I say. Instead, I find you attacking the guards and drawing attention to yourself while we were supposed to be escaping! You’re lucky you weren’t killed!”

“You didn’t expect me to leave without settling the score first, did you?” Falan asked, seeming completely unruffled. “They want to attack my people! Besides, it all turned out all right in the end, didn’t it? We’re getting away now, and no one is following us. That was some nice fighting back there, by the way. The fire was a good idea too. It really livened things up.”

Iarion kept a firm grip on his temper, resisting the temptation to throttle him. “I’m glad you found it entertaining.”

His sarcasm was lost on the Wild Elf, who continued raving about the battle in an animated voice. His blow-by-blow account was accompanied by gestures from his spear arm, which Iarion had to avoid while dragging him further from the camp. Iarion mostly ignored him, keeping watch over his shoulder for signs of pursuit. The darkening sky behind them was filled with smoke, but the flames seemed to be dying down. Soon, the Darkling Men would have the fire under control.

Falan stopped his stream of chatter to whistle at a sparrow flying overhead. It swooped down to land on his shoulder, its head cocked to the side. The Wild Elf made a series of piping whistles. The sparrow chirped at him before flying off. Falan returned to his account of the battle in mid-sentence, as if he had not been interrupted. Iarion suppressed a sigh.

What is it about Wild Elves that makes me want to drink heavily? I certainly feel like I could use a strong dose of wine after the scare Falan gave me back there…

“An’ did you see how I hit ‘im with one of their own spears?” Falan was saying, sounding a bit drunk himself. “Bam! Hit ‘im right in the back…” He stumbled, his eyes rolling back into his head as he went limp.

Iarion held Falan’s slumping body upright, looking back toward the camp. They were still too close. The Darkling Men would not be happy after the chaos they had caused. Once things settled down, they would probably send out a patrol to look for them. The sun was slipping beneath the western horizon, adding to Iarion’s concerns.

“Great,” he muttered to himself. “Just great. If we had done things my way, we would be long gone by now, and they would have no idea their prisoner was even missing. But you had to be a crazed idiot and ruin everything. Daft, cocky, debauched Wild Elves…” He uttered the last words as if they were a curse. “What is it with you people?”

Falan remained silent. Iarion shook his shoulders, but Falan’s head lolled and his eyes remained closed. Iarion uttered a stream of curses. Only when he ran out of words did he pry the spear from Falan’s fingers and hoist the other elf over his shoulder. Iarion grunted under the Wild Elf’s weight and began walking.

* * *

Almost an hour later, Iarion finally lowered his burden to the ground. Falan’s condition had worsened. Now that night had fallen, he was shivering, despite the sheen of sweat that coated his body. Iarion wrapped him in both the blankets from his pack and tried to get as much water in him as possible. He took only a small mouthful for himself and used what little he could spare to moisten a cloth for Falan’s forehead. The Wild Elf muttered and fidgeted, but Iarion swaddled him tightly to keep him covered. Iarion kept watch, sending his mind to wander in a meditative trance while his senses remained alert, eyeing the smoldering camp from what he judged to be a safe distance.

The Darkling Men packed the remains of their tents shortly after dark and began moving south, toward the Fey Wood. The large group did not move quickly. Iarion knew they would not reach the forest before sunrise, but they would likely set up camp just out of sight to be in position to strike the following evening.

The conscious part of Iarion’s mind pondered the problem. He could not leave Falan behind in his current condition. Even if the Wild Elf’s condition improved, Iarion didn’t dare leave him on his own. He would be weak. Combined with his suicidal tendency of rushing heedless into danger, it was a recipe for disaster. But considering the distance to the wood, and the army standing between them and their goal, they would never be able to warn the Wild Elves in time, even if Iarion left Falan behind. Iarion came back to himself from his trance as the first rays of light brightened the sky, his thoughts already in motion.

We’ll have to take care of the army ourselves.

It seemed like a daunting task, but they would have the element of surprise on their side, and Falan was nothing if not unpredictable. If Iarion could get him up and about, perhaps they could use that to their advantage. Even though Beliriel had made it clear Iarion would never be welcome among the Wild Elves, he couldn’t walk away knowing he might be able to do something to stop the attack of the Darkling Men.

He leaned over Falan and the Wild Elf opened his eyes with a groan.

“Ugh, how much did I have to drink last night? I had the strangest dream about a handsome stranger with the most interesting eyes…” He squinted up at Iarion. “Oh. It’s you. I suppose it was no dream then—not that I’m complaining.” His lips twisted in a wry smile.

Iarion sat back on his heels, trying to ignore the heat rising to his cheeks. He gave Falan a critical look as the Wild Elf squirmed out of his cocoon of blankets to prop himself up on one elbow. He looked grimy and tired, but his green eyes were clear.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Well I have a beastly headache, and I’m itchy with sweat and dirt, but not bad, other than that. Could I have some water? I’m parched.”

Iarion handed over his waterskin. “That’s the last of it, I’m afraid.”

Falan swiveled his head, gazing at his surroundings. “There’s a small spring over that way,” he said, pointing southeast. “Enough to drink our fill, and wash up a bit. I’ll show you.”

He climbed to his feet, swaying for a moment. Iarion stood ready to steady him, but he regained his balance. He took a few steps and beckoned for Iarion to follow.

Sure enough, a small spring bubbled up from the ground a short distance from where Iarion had made camp. Falan began stripping off his tunic and trews right away, splashing vigorously in the cold water. After a moment’s hesitation, Iarion followed suit. His face was still covered in soot from the fire, and his hair stank of smoke. He caught Falan looking him over as they washed.

“You should visit my village. My sisters would like you,” he said with a coy smile. “They wouldn’t be the only ones, either.”

Iarion nearly choked on a mouthful of water and broke into a fit of coughing. “We have to deal with those Darkling Men first,” he said as soon as he had regained control of himself. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Falan about his encounter with his sisters.

“You have a plan?” Falan asked. Iarion nodded. “You are a brave and determined fellow. Not every outsider would risk himself to help me and my people. Thank you for rescuing me, by the way. I’m in your debt.” Falan gave him a hearty slap on the back.

“Don’t mention it,” Iarion said.

“I hope those Darkling Men enjoyed their last meal. They’re no match for a pair of virile and daring elves like us!” He puffed his chest and struck a pose.

The bold statement drew a surprised chuckle from Iarion. He doubted the appearance of two dripping, naked elves would strike fear into anyone’s heart, but he couldn’t help but admire Falan’s absurd enthusiasm. He also couldn’t help but notice the Wild Elf’s overt excitement.

“Uh, Falan?” Iarion said, averting his gaze. “I thought you left your, ah, spear back at camp.”

“What?” Falan asked with a frown of confusion before looking down. “Oh, that. It always happens before a battle. All the excitement gets my juices flowing. Now let’s go give those Darkling Men what for!”

He ran from the water with a whooping cry, charging toward their camp without a stitch of clothing. Iarion cursed and trotted after him, struggling to dress as he ran while juggling Falan’s furs.

I hope I can convince him to put something on before we reach the Darkling Men…

* * *

Iarion and Falan crouched—fully dressed—in the grass near the enemy camp. Iarion had done his best to explain that the Darkling Men might misconstrue an attack from a naked elf, especially when that elf was as… inflamed as Falan.

Iarion kept the Wild Elf on a short leash, ordering him to stay at his side until he put his plan into action. Even if the Darkling Men were the enemy, Iarion had no desire to creep among them to murder them in their sleep, even if he could accomplish such a feat with Falan at his side. But he and Falan would never defeat them in a fair fight. The men had not reacted well to the chaos the two elves had created before, so it seemed like a good tactic to try again—only this time, Iarion knew what to expect from the Wild Elf.

Falan paced with his stolen spear in hand as Iarion fed the flames of a tiny fire he had built in a hole he had cut from the undergrowth.

“Can I go yet?” Falan asked for the umpteenth time. His eyes were bright with excitement. Now that the fever from his head wound had broken, he seemed a completely different elf from the one Iarion had rescued the day before.

“Not yet,” Iarion said as he focused on attaching oil-soaked rags to several of his arrows. He had to be careful. If he got any of the oil on his hands or clothes, the Darkling Men would be the least of his worries.

It’s funny. I always carry some oil to keep my knife clean, but I’ve never thought of using it this way before.

Falan’s unorthodox methods were already rubbing off on him. The Wild Elf drove him a bit crazy at times, but Iarion found himself liking him in spite of himself. It was as if Falan somehow gave him license to tap into an unfettered side of himself he never knew existed. Iarion had been among the Sea Elves for so long, the thought of letting any of his control slip still made him uneasy, but it also appealed to him.

Iarion dipped the first arrow into the fire. The flames licked at the fabric, bursting to life. He took sight and let the arrow fly. It arced through the air and landed on the roof of one of the tents near the center of the enemy camp. Iarion sent five more arrows flying in the span of a few breaths, selecting a different target for each one. The sentries were already shouting. They ran toward the first tent before they realized several others were now ablaze. They scattered through the camp in panic.

Iarion smothered the fire and shouldered his bow. “Now we can go.”

Falan nodded and leaped like a deer, sprinting toward the camp. Iarion ran behind him, trying to keep up. He nocked an arrow as he ran, taking out the first Darkling Man he saw. Falan pelted toward a knot of men with a berserker’s laugh. He swept through them, impaling one before swinging his spear to smash another man in the face with the butt of the weapon. Iarion was usually calm during battle, but with the odds he and Falan were facing, he let his inhibitions slip away.

He shouted taunts at the men, spurring them to attack in numbers. He led several of them in a chase around the camp before diving through a wall of flames. He emerged from the other side in a smoking tumble, throwing his knife as he rolled to his feet. He pulled it from a dead man’s skull and whirled to face his next opponents. A part of him noticed the men were staring at him with fearful expressions. He laughed, dodging a blow to stab an opponent he sensed was creeping up behind him. He ran up the side of one of the remaining tents and used the vantage point to send a hail of arrows from above. When the tent caught fire, he leaped through the air, twisting his body so he could loose three more shots before landing on his feet.

Falan watched his acrobatics as he fended off three opponents. He had a grin plastered on his face. He raised his spear and shouted a wordless war cry in Iarion’s direction, which Iarion found himself returning. He ran toward the Wild Elf and they finished off the three Darkling Men together. They turned to face the rest of the army, but they were already fleeing. Falan and Iarion gave chase, but the men were fleeing for their lives. The two elves soon gave it up as a lost cause. They stood covered in gore, panting and laughing.

“Now that was a good fight!” Falan said, leaning against Iarion. “You were incredible!”

“You weren’t so bad yourself,” Iarion said, smiling.

Suddenly, he sensed someone approaching from behind. He whirled, an arrow already leaving his bowstring.

Falan’s eyes widened in horror. “Iarion, no!”

Iarion realized the person approaching was Falan’s sister, Beliriel. Luniwyn was only a few steps behind. His arrow plummeted toward Beliriel in a deadly arc.

Without thinking, Iarion nocked and released a second arrow. It hit the first missile, knocking it aside. The second arrow streaked past Beliriel’s head and she uttered a startled yelp, clutching her hand to her scalp. The arrow pinned one of Beliriel’s braids against an unsinged tent. It hung there, swinging.

Iarion froze, his eyes wide. Aside from her missing braid, Beliriel seemed unharmed, but he wasn’t looking forward to her reaction.

“Iarion?” she said, a shocked look on her face. Luniwyn trotted forward to join her.

Falan pinned Iarion with his gaze. “You never mentioned you had met my sisters.”

“I—I didn’t want to tell you,” Iarion said. “I visited your village before I found you. I wanted to try living among your people for a while, but I didn’t fit in, so I left.” Iarion’s face felt as if it were burning.

Falan frowned in confusion. “Didn’t fit in? How is that even possible? With everything you’ve done since I met you—the daring rescue, the fearless fighting style… I can’t believe you weren’t born a Wild Elf!”

Beliriel’s eyes widened at her brother’s words before narrowing in a speculative look. “Maybe he just needed the right mentor to inspire him.”

“We got your message,” Luniwyn said. “We saw some of the fighting on the way here. Iarion, you were amazing!”

“Message?” Iarion asked in a faint voice, feeling as if he had been poleaxed. “What message?”

“You remember that sparrow, don’t you?” Falan said with a shrug. “I used him to send a message back to the forest, so they wouldn’t be caught off guard.”

“We were just preparing to attack when you two burst onto the scene,” Beliriel said, raising an eyebrow. “Falan, you must tell us all about Iarion’s heroic exploits.”

Falan was only too happy to oblige. He launched into a lively retelling of the past two days as the rest of the Wild Elves worked their way through the camp to put out the flames. Iarion was doing his best to remain standing. The news that the Wild Elves were already prepared for the attack on their wood had completely unnerved him.

If I had known… I would have done things differently.

Falan had known, and he had led the way into battle just for sport. Iarion resisted the urge to lash out at him for keeping his warning a secret. He probably hadn’t even done it intentionally. He had passed out shortly after communicating with the sparrow.

And if I had done things differently, I wouldn’t have learned that sometimes it’s a good thing to let go. I certainly wouldn’t have gained so much of Falan’s admiration…

Beliriel and Luniwyn had moved closer as Falan had told their tale. The two elf women were smiling at Iarion. Beliriel reached out to stroke his arm, watching him from beneath lowered lashes. Several of the other Wild Elves had gathered around them to listen to Falan’s words with admiring looks.

“There will be a feast tonight,” Beliriel said. “You must come back with us, Iarion.” Luniwyn nodded in agreement, licking her lips.

“You’re not mad?” Iarion stammered in surprise. “About your braid, I mean.”

Beliriel gave a careless shrug. “It will grow back.”

“That was a neat trick, Iarion,” Falan said. “I think it would make a good game of daring. To stand still like that with an arrow flying toward you…”

“Are you sure you want me to come back with you?” Iarion asked.

“Of course!” Falan said, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “You’re one of us, now. I’ll even give you one of the wildcats from my new litter as a thank-you for saving my life.”

“Is that the way it’s going to be?” Luniwyn demanded, her hands on her hips. “We’re going to compete for Iarion’s favor with gifts?”

Falan blushed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, I’m sure Iarion is far more comfortable with me anyway. We’ve already seen each other naked, after all.”

“What?” Beliriel shot her brother an accusing glare. “You know we share everything. Now it’s definitely Luniwyn’s and my turn to spend time with him.”

Iarion listened to the exchange, unsure what to think. Part of him thought he might be reading the conversation wrong, but somehow, he suspected otherwise. They were Wild Elves, after all. He had seen what kinds of things went on at those feasts of theirs. And his celibacy from his stay with the Sea Elves had certainly become tiresome…

“Well, Iarion?” Beliriel asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Are you coming? You and Falan will be the guests of honor.”

Iarion held her gaze. Her words were both an invitation and a challenge. He had wanted to learn from the Wild Elves. He didn’t know if it would end up helping him in his quest to find his connection to the Quenya, but this was likely the best chance he would ever get. All he had to do was let go…

He graced the three siblings with a smile.

“How could I refuse?”

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: The Wild Side

Copyright © 2021 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

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

 

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