Free Fantasy Feature May 2021 | Legends of Lasniniar: Trial by Fire

Legends of Lasniniar Trial by Fire coverFire sorcerer. Abduction victim.

Traitor.

The Learnéd One Lysandir bears many titles, given to him by the people of Lasniniar. But only a unique and resourceful elf named Iarion dares to call him by the most powerful title of all…

Friend.

Lysandir can only hope it proves enough to save him.

A stand-alone story of mystery and adventure from Iarion’s past in the World of Lasniniar epic fantasy series by award-winning author, 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 Soul Seeker Lasniniar Colleciton.

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Legends of Lasniniar: Trial by Fire

Jacquelyn Smith

Lysandir’s raw fingers probed the brick wall of his prison, desperately seeking the hidden latch he had created. Why couldn’t he find it? After countless years of living as a captive, he finally had his chance to escape… His heart hammered in his chest and blood seeped from beneath his fingernails as they continued their scrabbling search.

I don’t have much time! Saviadro will return soon.

As far as the Fallen One knew, Lysandir had become his willing guest and ally. His Forsworn Ones had kidnapped Lysandir from his home among the Light Elves when he was only a child, and Saviadro had raised him as his son. Lysandir had rebelled at first, hoping to hold out until the Light Elves sent a rescue party, but no one came—or at least no one survived to reach him. He eventually realized if he was going to escape, he would have to do it on his own.

Direct confrontation was out of the question. He and his brothers had been created to stand against Saviadro’s Forsworn, not Saviadro himself. Not for the first time, he berated himself for being fooled into entering the Forsworn Ones’ clutches, and for not being strong enough to stand against them. He was older now, and far more powerful, but he was in the heart of the enemy’s stronghold, where Saviadro’s power was strongest. Making an overt move against Saviadro or his minions here would be tantamount to a death wish.

And so he had waited—biding his time by appearing to be won over by Saviadro while plotting his escape. It had taken decades to create the secret tunnel that led outside Mar Valion. Opportunities to work on his escape project unobserved had been few and far between. Even when the tunnel was finally complete, he had to wait for a suitable distraction that would draw Saviadro and his Forsworn from their lair. Now the critical moment had arrived, and he couldn’t even find the trigger mechanism he had created! His stomach performed a nervous backflip.

Does Saviadro know? What if he found out about the tunnel and blocked it somehow? I’ve been so careful…

Lysandir continued to probe the wall with a growing sense of urgency. A bead of sweat slithered down his back beneath his robes. He tried to ignore his rising panic, but he heard a malicious chuckle approaching behind him, echoing off the tower walls as it drew near. He tore at the bricks now, ripping off a fingernail in the process. The latch continued to elude him.

“Looking for something?” an amused voice asked from behind him.

Lysandir whirled. Saviadro stood before him, orange eyes gleaming from beneath the shadows of his hooded robe. Lysandir’s mind raced, fumbling for a plausible excuse for his behavior and coming up short.

“You didn’t really think you could escape, did you?” Saviadro asked, shaking his head. “Lysandir, I know you better than you know yourself. I raised you. I did you a favor, you know. Your brothers are still stuck under Iadrawyn’s thumb. Is this how you repay me?”

Lysandir’s only memories of Iadrawyn were from his childhood, but none of them portrayed the Lady of the Light Elves as a tyrant. Still, Saviadro’s opinions of elves in general were hardly based on logic. His hatred had been forged long ago, before the elves had even made the journey from Ralvaniar to the shores of Lasniniar. Lysandir knew there was no reasoning with him, so he remained mute.

“You have nothing to say?” Saviadro’s eyes narrowed.

The air wavered, and a heavy despair descended, numbing Lysandir’s thoughts. He struggled against the outside force, even though he knew it was no use. After all these years together, Saviadro knew exactly how to subdue him.

“I’m sorry, Father-Khashad,” Lysandir gasped, folding under the pressure of Saviadro’s dark power while hating himself for being so weak. He hoped Saviadro’s favorite term of endearment would placate him.

“There will be no other attempts at escape,” Saviadro said in a stern voice. “From now on, you will be kept under guard at all times. I can only hope you will eventually come to see the opportunity I have granted you by keeping you at my side, and learn to be grateful for my generosity. Come. We have much to discuss.”

He turned and began to walk away, fully expecting Lysandir to follow. Lysandir considered attacking him, but another wave of despair hit him like a physical blow. He bowed his head in bitter defeat.

“Yes, Father-Khashad.”

* * *

Lysandir sat bolt upright, his mouth open in a silent scream. The air around him wavered with heat and dancing flames. He clamped down on his panic, forcing it to subside. After a few moments, the flames disappeared and the air began to cool as his magic dissipated.

He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands, breathing heavily. His entire body was bathed in sweat.

Just a dream… It was only a dream.

Once he felt he had himself under control, he looked up to take in his surroundings. He was in a small cave, wrapped in a tangle of blankets. A pack lay in the shadows nearby. Pale sunlight outlined the cave entrance. He was alone.

The distant memories of his escape came back to him slowly. Unlike in his dream, he had managed to use his secret tunnel without being detected. He had fled Mar Valion while Saviadro was still away, and then…

He had drunk from the Forbidden Pool.

He hadn’t wanted to, but he had no choice. He had needed to find a way out of the dark lands. The Forbidden Pool had shown him many things, mostly dark and terrible, but it had also revealed a hidden pass to the west. After that, his memories were hazy. He had blacked out several times after drinking the magic water as he worked his way toward freedom. He knew Saviadro and his Forsworn must have searched for him. It was a miracle they hadn’t recaptured him.

All this had happened long ago, but Lysandir’s nightmares still haunted him. Sometimes he wondered whether Saviadro had found a way to invade his dreams to torture him, but Iadrawyn had insisted he was free of his former master’s taint. Despite her vocal support, and the acceptance of the rest of the Light Elves, few of the other people of Lasniniar believed him an innocent victim. Everywhere he went, he was faced with suspicion. Was he still Saviadro’s ally? Had Saviadro only allowed him to escape as part of a larger plan?

Sometimes, Lysandir couldn’t help but wonder these same things himself.

Even though the Light Elves accepted him, he mostly avoided their woods, forcing himself to wander the lands. He had missed much during his confinement in Mar Valion. He needed to make up for lost time, and try to build some measure of trust among the rest of the Free Peoples of Lasniniar. He knew a time would come when the threat of Saviadro and his Forsworn could no longer be ignored, and Lysandir and his brothers would all be needed.

Of course, he also didn’t want to risk hurting anyone during one of his nightmares.

They were becoming less frequent, and he hoped eventually they would stop altogether. In the meantime, he didn’t dare linger in any populated areas for long. He suspected Iadrawyn knew of his predicament, but she remained silent, allowing him to deal with his inner demons in his own fashion, much to his relief.

Lysandir rose and stretched, running his fingers through the sweat dampened tangles of his shoulder-length salt and pepper hair. He shucked off his wet robe and put on his only spare, smoothing the wrinkles from the crimson fabric before donning a charcoal cloak. He packed his meager belongings quickly. He couldn’t remember arriving in the cave, but he suspected he had already lingered there too long. He went to the entrance to look outside.

Unfriendly looking mountains loomed all around like hulking giants. A heavy shroud of darkness hovered to the northeast over Mar Valion. He shivered, hoping this would be the closest he would have to see that wretched place ever again. He turned to look west instead, searching the overcast skies for signs of the Forsworn on their drakes, but gray clouds obscured his view. He saw nothing.

His eyes lowered to the ground below. He scratched his jaw as he considered. His close-cropped beard had grown scruffy over the past few days. He would have to trim it again soon.

Assuming I find a civilized place for such a leisurely activity, that is…

Movement on the mountain trail caught his attention. His silver eyes narrowed. He could make out short, stocky figures entangled with creatures of similar stature that appeared to have tusks—some local dwarves battling Saviadro’s ogres, no doubt. The dwarves were outnumbered. In a few moments, the ogres would overwhelm them. Lysandir snatched up his pack and ran toward the melee.

The mountain trail was rocky and uneven. It took longer for him to close the distance than he would have liked. The dwarves fought valiantly, huddled back to back as they defended themselves with axes and warhammers, but the ogres had them surrounded. Realizing he would not arrive to help the dwarves in time, Lysandir stopped to concentrate. An unnatural breeze ruffled his robes. The dwarves and ogres continued to fight, oblivious of his presence.

A moment later, one of the ogres burst into a pillar of flame. It screamed, running in a terrified panic and dropping to the ground to roll around, but the fire would not go out. The other ogres watched in horror, and soon three more were suffering the same fate. The morning breeze carried the acrid stench of burning hair and flesh. The dwarves used the unexpected attack to their advantage, fighting with renewed vigor. The ogres were already rattled. The dwarves finished off the rest of them in moments.

Lysandir’s victims had finally stopped shrieking. Their blackened forms lay smoking on the ground, still twitching. The dwarves looked from them to Lysandir, murmuring to one another in voices too low for him to hear. A few moments later, they advanced toward him.

At first, he thought they wished to thank him for his assistance, but their expressions were grim and they still held their weapons ready. Lysandir watched them in bafflement. He knew he wasn’t the most popular person in Lasniniar, but these dwarves seemed to have more in mind than giving him the usual glares of suspicion. He stayed completely still, allowing them to surround him. The last thing he wanted was to use his powers against them.

The dwarves didn’t seem friendly, but they made no move to attack. One of them stepped forward with a length of rope in his hands.

“Put your hands behind your back,” he growled in the Common Tongue.

Lysandir shook his head. “Excuse me?”

“Give me your wrists, traitor. We’re taking you prisoner.”

Lysandir hesitated before complying. The other dwarves glared at him, gripping their weapons. He had no desire to be bound, but he saw no alternative. If he refused to cooperate, the dwarves would attack, and he would be forced to defend himself against them. He held his arms behind his back with a sigh and allowed the leader to tie them. Any hopes Lysandir had of slipping free were quickly dashed. He felt the leader wrap the rope around his wrists several times, binding him fast. Perhaps he could burn through it later, when the dwarves weren’t paying attention…

Or will fleeing only make matters worse?

If he was ever going to do anything significant in the ongoing struggle against Saviadro, Lysandir knew he would have to get the Free Races to trust him. These dwarves already considered him an enemy. Perhaps if he could ride this out, he could find a way to win them over, but first, he needed some answers.

“What is it I am been accused of exactly?” he asked as his knots were tightened.

The leader gave him a hard look. “Don’t try to fool me, traitor. You know what you did.”

He grabbed the front of Lysandir’s robe, forcing the Learnéd One to bend over. He pulled a tartan handkerchief from his pocket, binding it across Lysandir’s eyes.

So much for using magic to escape.

“Is this about my supposed defection to the Fallen One?” Lysandir asked, trying to keep his voice calm. “If it is, I have already proven my innocence to the satisfaction of the Lord and Lady of the Light Elves.”

The leader snorted. “Then I’m sure they’ll be sorry to learn they made a mistake.”

“So, just to be clear, this isn’t about my time in Mar Valion,” Lysandir said.

“Enough talk.” The leader dragged him forward. “Our Chief of Clans will want to see you.”

Lysandir stumbled behind him, his thoughts running in circles. He heard the rest of the dwarves fanning out to form a rearguard, keeping him hemmed in as they walked. Every so often, one would prod him with an ax. Lysandir did his best to ignore them as his mind churned.

What is it they think I’ve done?

* * *

Iarion cursed to himself in Elvish as he wound between the mountains on a track that was barely fit for a goat.

Why did I even come this way? Foolish elf. You could be back on Rasdaria, lounging in a tower suite right now.

He shook his head. He knew that wasn’t really true. Although he had spent years among the Sea Elves, and they had made him feel welcome, he knew it had been time to leave. They had not been able to give him the answers he sought, and a voyage to the former location of the sunken continent of Ralvaniar had shed no light on his hidden destiny either. His restlessness would not allow him to stay.

Of course, there was also the matter of the three Sea Elf princesses, who tirelessly dogged his steps, each hoping to snare him as a husband. While a fling with any of them would have been entertaining, the Sea Elves frowned on that sort of thing, strongly encouraging chastity before marriage. Iarion knew those who lived on the mainland tended to be more liberal, but he had remained on the island capital, embracing his enforced celibacy in the hopes it might bring him a new focus that would help him to find the enlightenment he craved.

No wonder I’m feeling restless.

His next stop was going to be the Fey Wood. If chastity didn’t do the trick, perhaps some debauchery might. He had heard rumors about the Wild Elves who lived there, and had to admit he was curious—especially after his stay on Rasdaria. The Wild Elves were also the most in tune with the pulse of life around them, communing with both animals and nature. He knew they would have much to teach him.

The most direct route from the Sea Elves’ lands to the Fey Wood was either through the Hills of Mist, or the Pass of Stars, but the northern lands were in such a state of turmoil, Iarion had been driven from both routes until he was forced to pick his way through the Mountains of Shadow where they intersected with the Mountains of Fire on the edge of the Fallen One’s domain. It was hardly the way he had planned this journey, but he couldn’t afford to engage with every horde of goblins or tribe of Darkling Men he stumbled across. Instead, he had chosen his battles wisely, often using his natural stealth to avoid detection. His dusky skin and silver hair helped him to blend in with any shadow.

Now, after more than two weeks of grueling travel, he looked down upon the open grassland of the Daran Nunadan. Heavy cloud banks hovered overhead, and the mountain wind tossed his long braids. He flicked one of them from his silver-flecked, sapphire eyes to survey the area below.

A group of figures in the distance caught his attention. He narrowed his gaze to look.

They were dwarves. They escorted a taller figure in a charcoal cloak. The wind blew it open for a moment, revealing a familiar set of crimson robes.

Lysandir?

Iarion had made friends with the Learnéd One of Fire some time ago, but he hadn’t seen him for a few years. He noticed Lysandir was walking strangely. His hands were clasped behind his back instead of swinging at his sides. Iarion uttered a startled oath as he realized his friend was bound. He shaded his eyes and saw that Lysandir had been blindfolded as well. He couldn’t imagine how the dwarves had managed to take him prisoner. With no thought as to how he would proceed, Iarion hoisted his pack and jogged down the mountainside toward them.

The dwarves didn’t notice him until he was already within speaking distance. They whirled to face him with stony expressions. Lysandir stood in their midst, his head cocked and his muscles tensed—no doubt trying to discern what was going on around him. Iarion approached with his empty hands outstretched in a gesture of peace.

“What do you want, elf?” one of the dwarves grunted in Common.

“I was passing through the area, and I couldn’t help noticing your prisoner,” Iarion said. “What is his crime?”

The dwarves muttered among themselves. Iarion knew only a smattering of Dwarvish, but he was fairly certain they were expressing disgust over his nosy interference.

“Iarion?” Lysandir said in a relieved voice. “Is that you?”

The dwarf leader scowled. “Are you friends with this traitor?” he demanded.

Iarion chose his next words carefully. “I have known Lysandir for some time, yes.”

“Well, he is no innocent, no matter what you elves might think.”

“What has he been accused of?” Iarion pressed. He didn’t want to antagonize a group of hostile dwarves, but he had to find out.

“That’s none of your business,” the leader said. “He’s going to face judgment for his crimes at Dwarfwatch.”

“Can I at least come with you?” Iarion asked in a reasonable voice. “I would like to speak on the Learnéd One’s behalf.”

The dwarf leader gave Iarion a flat look. “Even if elves were welcome in Dwarfwatch, I doubt there is anything you could say that might alter your friend’s fate.”

“There was a time when elves entered your halls freely,” Iarion said. “Perhaps those times have come again.”

The dwarf leader shook his head. “That was long ago. Besides—”

Iarion cut him short with an abrupt gesture. The dwarves were startled into silence. Iarion pulled his bow from his shoulder and nocked an arrow, keeping his eyes on the mountains behind them. The dwarves followed the line of his gaze. Moments later, a horde of goblins rushed toward them from the shadows. The green-skinned creatures didn’t care for daylight, but the sky was overcast enough to keep the sun at bay. They skittered forward with their spider-like gait, weapons ready.

Iarion loosed his arrow and sent another two missiles in flight in the span of a single breath. The crude arrows the goblins used were usually poisoned. The fewer who lived to take aim at them the better. Iarion’s first arrow caught one of the creatures in the throat. It pitched backward in midstride. The second crumpled after taking an arrow to its slitted, red eye, and the third fell back, clutching its chest.

The dwarves seemed to come to themselves all at once, charging forward with weapons drawn. Lysandir stood perfectly still, his head swiveling back and forth as he tried to figure out what was happening.

“Who is attacking us?” he asked in a voice calmer than Iarion would have expected.

“Goblins,” Iarion said shortly, focusing on his targets.

He managed to save the dwarves several times with well-placed arrows. When the fighting got too close to risk a shot, he drew his knife and waded into the fray. The dwarves fought with grim determination, but they were slower than their opponents. Iarion moved among them like a shadow, flowing from one goblin to the next without pause, usually before his previous victim even realized it was dead. His blade was soon dark with blood and gore. It flowed between his fingers, gluing them together. When the last goblin lay dead, the dwarves stood wounded and panting, but Iarion wasn’t even winded. There wasn’t a scratch on him. The dwarves looked at him with respect bordering on awe. Thanks to Iarion’s early warning and deadly aim, none of them had been hit by a goblin arrow.

The leader frowned. “You could have used the distraction to help your friend escape, but you came to our aid instead.”

Iarion shrugged. “I never considered it.”

The dwarf leader held his gaze for a moment before speaking. “You may accompany us to Dwarfwatch.”

* * *

Upon their arrival in the underground dwarven city, Lysandir was taken to a cell in the dungeon while Iarion was appointed a set of guest quarters. It had seemed unwise to discuss the Learnéd One’s predicament in front of his dwarven captors, so the journey had been mostly a silent one. The rest of the dwarves gawked at the sight of two strangers walking the city streets. Dark mutters followed in their wake. Iarion listened carefully, picking up whatever Dwarvish he could to add to his meager repertoire.

Although the rooms Iarion had been appointed were spacious, they also came with a pair of dwarven guards who stood outside. He had earned his entrance to the underground city, but he clearly was not to be trusted. He spent a little over an hour cooling his heels before being summoned for an audience with the Chief of Clans.

His guards escorted him to a large hall where Lysandir already stood waiting. He was still bound and blindfolded. An older dwarf with a long, silver beard sat on a throne hewn of stone. Despite his apparent age, he sat with a straight back, and watched in regal silence as the dwarves scurried about. Once everyone was in place, he spoke.

“Greetings, elf visitor,” he said in Common, giving Iarion a nod. “I am Galkir, Chief of Clans here in Dwarfwatch. It has been some time since one of your kind last entered here.”

Iarion bowed. “I am honored, Chief.”

“What is your name?” Galkir asked. “My border patrol neglected to tell me.”

Iarion resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

Probably because they never asked.

He kept his thoughts to himself. “I am Iarion. I’m originally from Melaralva.”

“A Wood Elf,” Galkir mused. “You are far from home. What brings you to these lands?”

“I am a wanderer by nature,” Iarion said in an offhand manner. He knew the dwarves would not understand his drive to discover his life’s purpose. “I spent some time among the Sea Elves on Rasdaria, and was traveling toward the Fey Wood to visit the Wild Elves when I saw Lysandir accompanied by an armed escort.”

Galkir’s expression soured at the mention of the Learnéd One. “You are friends with him?” he asked.

“Yes,” Iarion said. “I know there are many who still doubt his allegiance, but I have known Lysandir for quite some time, and I trust him, just as the Light Elves do.”

Galkir grunted. “The Light Elves are renowned for their wisdom, but is it not possible they have made a mistake? They do not live on the Fallen One’s doorstep like we do. Perhaps they are not as well versed in his potential for deception and treachery.”

Iarion fought to keep his temper in check. “I do not believe that to be the case. If that were true, why didn’t Lysandir use his fire magic against the dwarves who took him prisoner? I don’t know the circumstances of his capture, but he appears to have been taken willingly.”

“That is true,” Galkir said, his eyes narrowing. “But how do we know his capture isn’t part of a more elaborate plan?”

Iarion shook his head in frustration. “There is no way to prove that one way or the other.”

“That may be, but his recent actions speak against him.” Galkir sighed. “I have heard of how you gave my border patrol warning of a goblin attack, and fought at their side against them. For that, I will grant you a boon, but I cannot release your friend.”

“Can you at least give me a chance to prove his innocence?” Iarion asked.

Galkir hesitated a moment before speaking. “Very well, although I think it a fool’s errand. I will give you two days. You may have one visit with your friend to hear his side of the story. If you cannot find sufficient evidence by dawn on the third day, your friend will be executed.”

Iarion bowed his head in acceptance before being dismissed. He realized as he left the hall that he still had no idea what it was the dwarves thought Lysandir had done.

* * *

Iarion made arrangements to visit Lysandir as soon as the audience was over. Naturally, the visit took place in the dungeon, deep in the bowels of the mountain. The dwarves would not allow Iarion to enter Lysandir’s cell to talk to him. It was as if they were afraid Iarion might help him escape. He was forced to speak with Lysandir through a small, barred window in the stone door with the guards standing within earshot. Iarion did his best to ignore them.

“Lysandir, what to they think you did?” he asked in Elvish, knowing the guards wouldn’t understand. They glared at him.

“I don’t know,” Lysandir said, choosing to answer in Common. He sat on an unpadded bench with his blindfold still in place. “The dwarves who took me prisoner never told me. They seemed to feel I should be familiar with atrocities I had supposedly committed.”

“Tell me exactly what happened,” Iarion said.

Lysandir paused. “I woke in a cave in the mountains. I had just had a nightmare, so it took me a few moments to remember where I was. When I left the cave, I noticed a group of dwarves battling some ogres. They were overmatched, so I helped them. I used my magic against the ogres. Then the dwarves took me prisoner.”

Iarion tried to figure out how to phrase his next question. “You say it took you some time to remember where you were. I know you’ve had some gaps in your memory since you drank from the Forbidden Pool. Is it possible you did something… unpleasant that you can’t remember?”

Lysandir shook his head. “I—I don’t think so, no.”

Iarion frowned. “Why didn’t you try to escape? You could have done it. You could probably even do it now, if you had to.”

“I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone,” Lysandir said with a shrug. “Besides, I see this as an opportunity to possibly win these dwarves over. Few people trust me as you do.”

Behind Iarion, one of the guards snorted.

“I never thought the dwarves might execute me,” Lysandir continued. “Whatever it is they believe I have done… Well, it must mean they think I have killed someone. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“I’ll figure it out,” Iarion said. “I’ll do everything I can to get you out of here, and prove that you’re not the traitor these people think you are.”

Lysandir bowed his head. “Thank you, Iarion. You give me hope.”

One of the guards cleared his throat, signaling the end of the visit. Iarion bid Lysandir farewell, hoping he could make good on his words. He exited the dungeon, only to be rejoined by his armed escort. They flanked him in silence as they traveled back to Iarion’s guest chambers. When they reached his door, one of the guards spoke to him.

“He’s not innocent, you know,” the guard said. “I know you believe he is, but he’s tricked you somehow.”

“I cannot believe that,” Iarion said, shaking his head. “Lysandir is a good person. It’s hardly his fault he was kidnapped by the Fallen One as a child.”

“You think he’s a good person?” the guard said in a heated voice. “He slaughtered an entire scouting party. All that was left after he was done was scorch marks and ash. Only one dwarf survived, and but he’s so badly wounded, no one can wake him. The other members of the border patrol saw the smoke and went to investigate. Guess who just happened to show up afterward? Your friend, the traitorous Learnéd One of Fire.”

Iarion’s mind reeled. The scene the guard had just described was exactly the kind of carnage Lysandir was capable of. He couldn’t believe Lysandir might be responsible. And yet, he had confessed to having gaps in his memory…

“Wait,” Iarion said, seizing on an inconsistency. “None of the dwarves were wounded when I found them with Lysandir. What happened to the scout who survived?”

“Two of our men traveled ahead with him to the Lone Cave so he could be treated as soon as possible before bringing him home,” the guard said with a scowl. “If none of this had happened, the scouts wouldn’t have been undermanned, and they wouldn’t have needed your help against those goblins.”

“Lysandir helped them too,” Iarion said, feeling compelled to remind him. “He came to their aid against a group of ogres.”

The guard waved off his words in disgust. “Here are your rooms. You should take the opportunity to rest. There will always be two of us standing watch outside if you might need anything.”

Iarion suppressed a grimace.

In other words, don’t get any ideas about wandering the city.

“One last question,” Iarion said before entering his comfortable prison. “Where exactly were your fallen men found?”

The guard stiffened. “The location of our fallen scouts’ final remains is sensitive information. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll bid you good evening.” He ushered Iarion into his quarters, closing the door behind him.

Iarion collapsed onto a couch with an exasperated sigh. How was he supposed to prove Lysandir’s innocence if no one would tell him anything? Assuming his friend really was innocent… He punched a cushion in frustration and forced himself to think.

* * *

Iarion paced, feeling the moments trickle by. He had spent close to an hour meditating on the problem, allowing part of his mind to work, while the other part rested. If he was going to save Lysandir, he had no time for sleep.

The first part of his plan—now that he had one—would require a bit of luck. Even though he had been told his door would be watched by two guards at all times, he had done nothing to make the dwarves think he was going to be a problem. Instead, he had spent some time lying on his stomach just behind the door, watching and listening through the sliver of space between the bottom of the door and the frame. As he had hoped, one of the guards had left to get some ale to make their uneventful shift go by a little easier. The guard had returned a little while ago with a keg in tow, which both guards were now enjoying. Unfortunately, dwarves have a high tolerance for alcohol, and their ale wasn’t particularly potent. Iarion was going to have to do something to help them along. At least after a few drinks they probably wouldn’t be alert enough to notice his tampering.

He rummaged around in his pack and found the combination of herbs he needed. They were used by the elves to put wounded patients to sleep so they could be tended properly without suffering. He mixed them in a metal bowl, grinding them with a pestle. He wore a handkerchief tied around his nose and mouth to prevent himself from inhaling his concoction. Once the herbs were ground fine enough, he set them to smoking, placing them on the floor in front of the door. He lowered himself beside it, watching the draft draw the smoke outside to the dwarves. He waited.

The guards were already loosened up, and seemed oblivious to Iarion’s efforts. He knew he was getting better at understanding Dwarvish, but after several teary-sounding toasts to their departed comrades, the guards’ speech devolved into drunken-sounding babble. It wouldn’t be long now.

Iarion rose to his feet and picked up an oil lantern from one of the sitting room end tables. He poured some of the fuel into a shallow bowl he had found in the kitchen and used his fingers to apply it to the hinges of the front door. He hadn’t noticed any squeaks when the guards had brought him here, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Once he had finished, he blew out the lantern and returned to his previous position on the floor with his pack within reach, dowsing the guest quarters in complete darkness.

“Light’s gone out,” Iarion heard one of the guards slur. “Maybe he’s gone to sleep.”

“Hope so,” the other said. “Less trouble for us.”

“I can’t believe we’re stuck on this stupid watch!” The first guard seemed to have some problems enunciating the word ‘stupid.’ “We should be at home, in bed. S’not decent to keep us standing here all night.”

The second guard grunted in agreement. “No one around… I feel like I could sleep right here. No one would notice.” His words were punctured by yawns.

“Must be some good brew,” the first said, his speech getting slower by the moment. “Can barely keep my eyes… open.” Iarion heard him slump to the ground and start to snore.

“You awake?” the second guard asked. Iarion heard a rustle as if he were probing his companion. He got no response. “Lazy lout. Well, maybe I’ll rest my eyes too, just for a moment…”

Iarion heard the second guard slide to the ground, his snores competing with his partner’s. The elf scrambled to his feet and got rid of the evidence, pouring the ashes of the remaining herbs down the privy. He shouldered his pack, and cracked the door open to peer outside. It swung inward on soundless hinges, allowing him a view of the hallway. Aside from the two unconscious guards, it was deserted. The only sound was the guttering of the torches that lined the stone walls. Most of the city must have already sought their beds.

He crept forward in silence, as only an elf could, working his way toward the entrance to the underground city. The streets were empty. Although he hated to betray the dwarves’ trust by creeping off like a thief, Iarion knew it was his only chance to save Lysandir.

He stopped just short of the city entrance, lurking in the shadows, just beyond the range of the gate wardens’ vision. Dwarves were suspicious creatures, but the city gates were open, as it wasn’t a time of war. A patch of starry sky beckoned. Even though he was eager to leave the subterranean streets of Dwarfwatch, Iarion remained patient. When both wardens’ backs were turned, he rushed past them without a whisper of sound. The dwarves were far more concerned about a threat entering from outside than someone trying to flee the city. Iarion passed them unnoticed, disappearing into the night.

He ran across the grass, reveling in the feel of the wind on his face. His braids and cloak streamed through the air behind him. He ran like that for hours, delegating part of his mind to stay alert for signs of danger. When his body slowed to a stop, he blinked, fully taking in his surroundings.

The sun had risen at least an hour before. His skin was covered with a light sheen of sweat, but he caught his breath easily. He had reached the place where he had found Lysandir and the dwarves the day before. He took a long pull from his waterskin before surveying the area.

The battle with the goblins made discerning the dwarves’ tracks difficult, but not impossible. He found a heavy, booted print beyond the confusion of the trampled ground, which quickly led to others, all belonging to dwarves, judging by the size and weight. The trail led northeast. Even though Iarion knew Lysandir had been with the dwarves when they had encountered the goblins, he found only the faintest of prints to indicate his passing. Iarion frowned, suddenly remembering that Lysandir was part elf. Tracking his movements would be more difficult than he had anticipated.

Iarion decided to stick with the dwarves’ prints, since they were the easiest to follow, and they should lead him to where the other scouts had been found dead. Following their trail across the grassland was a simple matter, but the task became more difficult when they entered the mountains. Iarion was forced to slow his pace to ensure he didn’t miss anything.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he found the location where Lysandir had helped the dwarves battle a pack of ogres. Black scorch marks marred the rocky ground, leaving no mistake as to the location. Iarion suppressed a shudder as he imagined the creatures burning to death. He straightened and turned in a slow circle.

The dwarves’ tracks led north, but a faint print from Lysandir’s boot indicated he had approached from the east. Iarion narrowed his eyes. He could just make out the mouth of a small cave among the mountains. He decided he would investigate it later.

The dwarves’ tracks continued steadily north, leading him in the direction Lysandir’s captives had come from. Iarion followed them, keeping his eyes on the ground. Now they cut eastward. Iarion looked up, suddenly realizing he had reached the mouth of a pass, hidden among the towering mountains. He stopped.

There was only one place such a pass might lead: Saviadro’s domain. A chill went through him. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to continue.

Fortunately, he didn’t have to travel far. More scorch marks stained the rocks a short distance from the pass entrance. Several cairns had been built, the prints around them lined with ash. Bile rose in Iarion’s throat. He forced himself to search for any sign of Lysandir’s presence, but he found nothing.

Is that because he was never here, or because any signs of him were destroyed?

Iarion hated himself for asking that question, but if Lysandir had committed this atrocity without remembering it, it was unlikely any evidence would have survived the fire or the contamination of the group of dwarves who had discovered the grisly scene.

Iarion wandered back to the mouth of the pass in a daze. He still had found no evidence one way or the other. He had nothing that would convince the Chief of Clans that Lysandir was innocent. He noticed another trail of dwarf prints heading toward the pass from the north. For lack of a better plan, he followed them.

The tracks were confused. It looked like two groups of dwarves had passed the same way: the first group of scouts, who had been killed, followed by the second group, who had found their remains and captured Lysandir. They led Iarion to a cave a short distance away.

Within, Iarion found evidence of the border patrol’s camp. Ashes from a cookfire and a scrap of tartan fabric confirmed his suspicions. He stood at the cave entrance, looking outward and trying to recreate the scene in his mind.

First, some of the dwarves had left to scout ahead. They had gone to the pass. But someone who had stayed behind had noticed smoke coming from that direction. Iarion pictured it. Yes, even with the overcast skies, smoke from the pass would have been easily visible from the cave. But by the time the second group of dwarves had reached the pass, their companions were dead, and whoever had killed them was already gone. They had never seen Lysandir kill anyone.

But who else could have done such a thing?

Iarion stared off into the distance, lost in thought. Time was slipping through his fingers. Noon had already come and gone, and the sun was lowering in the sky. A lone hawk soared overhead, searching the mountains for prey. At first, Iarion paid it no heed, but something clicked in his mind. Relief washed over him.

Of course! How did I not think of it before?

He was almost positive he knew how those dwarves had been killed, but he still had to prove it. The Chief of Clans would never accept his word alone. Iarion left the cave at a run, heading back the way he had come. He ignored the pass entrance, continuing to where Lysandir had met the dwarves. By the time he reached the cave he had noticed earlier, the sky was growing dark. Iarion wanted to curse in frustration. If he was going to find Lysandir’s trail, he would have to wait for daylight. At least now he felt more confident of his friend’s innocence. If he could just find Lysandir’s tracks, and plot his movements before he had run into the dwarves, it might be the evidence he needed. He spread out his bedroll on the floor of the cave and tried to get some sleep.

* * *

Iarion was awake before the sun was in the sky. He had packed his things, eaten some dried fruit and nut rations, and was ready to go. As soon as the first fingers of light stretched across the land, he left the cave that had served as Lysandir’s shelter.

He found a few faint prints just outside the entrance, confirming his suspicions. Most were leading away from the cave toward the meeting with the dwarves, but one seemed to indicate he had approached the cave from the east. Iarion crouched over the ground, searching for another marker, but the ground was too rocky and Lysandir was too lightfooted. Iarion spent hours searching, but the markers were few and far between.

He was finally forced to admit trying to follow Lysandir’s trail was a fool’s errand. He didn’t have enough time to keep searching. Every step he took was drawing him farther from Dwarfwatch where Lysandir would be executed the next morning. Even if he had more time, there was no guarantee Lysandir’s trail would still be intact when Iarion brought the dwarves to show them. Iarion’s shoulders slumped.

What do I do now? Even though none of the dwarves saw Lysandir kill anyone, I can’t prove he didn’t. If only someone had actually seen what happened…

Iarion’s eyes widened. Someone had seen what had happened. He cursed himself for a fool. He had wasted all this time running around looking for clues, when there was an eyewitness back at Dwarfwatch! He hoisted his pack and headed back toward the city at a run.

* * *

Iarion waited for darkness to slip back into the dwarven city. The dwarves were abuzz with the news of his sudden disappearance. He had even heard the wardens gossiping about him at the front gate, crediting it to elven magic. Getting back into Dwarfwatch was more challenging than getting out, but with everyone so full of speculation, the wardens were much more distracted than usual.

Iarion ghosted through the streets, searching for the infirmary. He had several close calls. Night patrols had been added since he had left. He doubted it was a coincidence.

After the fifth wrong door, he knew his luck was running out on him. The infirmary had to be somewhere on the main street, but all he had found so far were shops that had been closed for the evening. All the doors were marked by Dwarvish runes, which he could not read.

Iarion heard heavy footsteps approaching from around the corner, accompanied by the jangle of chain mail. Yet another patrol was on its way. He hustled toward the next door, easing it open to slip inside. He closed it softly behind him and waited, listening. The heavy footfalls continued past the door without pause, fading into the distance as they continued down the street. Iarion let out a sigh and turned to investigate his sanctuary.

The entryway was well-lit, revealing a low counter. A brazier, mortar and pestle, and several jars of herbs lined its surface. Finally, he had found the right place. The area was empty, but Iarion heard some rustling and a soft voice coming from one of the many rooms branching off from the main hallway. He crept past the row of doors. At this time of night, all the rooms were either dark, or dimly lit—except for one. Light flooded under the door of the room at the end of the hall. On a hunch, Iarion opened it.

A younger dwarf lay on the bed within. His eyes were closed, and he showed no sign of awareness of Iarion’s presence, or the many lanterns blazing about the room. His face was wrapped with bandages, the singed remains of a brown beard poking out. Iarion closed the door behind him and pulled a stool toward the unconscious dwarf’s bedside. The stool was too low for him, but it was better than nothing. He ignored the discomfort of sitting with his knees just below his ears and began rummaging through his pack.

When he found the herbs he wanted, he mixed them in a battered metal cup, adding water from his waterskin. Once he was satisfied, he parted the dwarf’s lips with his fingers and poured the concoction down his throat. The dwarf swallowed, but did not wake.

Iarion unfolded a length of fabric from his belongings, handling it carefully. He pulled out three unbroken leaves and placed them on the glowing embers of a brazier that stood on the other side of the bed. A fresh, vibrant scent filled the room, briefly reminding him of his home among the trees of Melaralva. He returned to the dwarf’s bedside and waited. He knew he had done all he could, but he had no way of knowing whether elven medicine would be of any use for a dwarven patient. Still, getting this dwarf to wake was his only hope. He took the young scout’s hand and began speaking to him.

“Please wake up,” he said in Common. “I know you’ve been hurt badly, but I need your help. If you don’t wake up, my friend will die.”

When his patient showed so signs of change, Iarion switched to halting Dwarvish, exhausting all the vocabulary he had acquired. As his eyes grew heavy with exhaustion, he found himself lapsing into Elvish. No matter what language he spoke, the dwarf remained silent.

* * *

Iarion awoke sometime later, groggy and disoriented. Memories of the past few days overwhelmed him and he uttered a low moan. Lysandir’s execution was only a few hours away and he had been sleeping!

He sensed someone watching him and lifted his head. The dwarf’s eyes were open. He stared at Iarion, his brown eyes full of confusion.

“Where am I?” he asked in Common.

Iarion’s heart leaped, but he forced himself to go slowly. “You are in the infirmary in Dwarfwatch.”

The dwarf frowned. “Then what are you doing here? Who are you?”

“My name is Iarion. You were attacked in a pass a few days ago. Your people think my friend is responsible.”

“A few days ago?” the dwarf shook his head in denial and moaned as he felt the extent of his injuries. “I’ve been asleep for that long?”

“Yes,” Iarion said. “I used some herbs to help wake you up. I was hoping you could help prove my friend’s innocence. Can you tell me what happened at the pass? Do you remember?” Iarion waited in anticipation.

“We were scouting ahead,” the dwarf said, his eyes unfocusing. “Yes. I remember. We entered the pass to search it for any of the Fallen One’s creatures. We stayed close to the entrance. And then… something terrible happened.” He shuddered. “Fire from the sky…” He went on to describe the attack in halting detail. Iarion felt his muscles go limp with relief. The scout’s story confirmed his suspicions.

“Will you tell your Chief of Clans what happened?” Iarion asked once he had finished the horrific tale.

“Of course. It is my duty to report what happened. Especially since…” The young dwarf’s eyes filled with anguish. “Well, I’m the only one who survived.”

Iarion squeezed his hand. “Thank you.”

“Dogalrin!” a female voice cried. Iarion turned to see a dwarven nurse enter the room. “You’re finally awake.” She leveled Iarion with a suspicious stare. “What are you doing in here?”

Iarion opened his mouth to defend himself. “I—”

“What have you been burning?” the nurse demanded, rushing over to the brazier and inhaling deeply. “This is not one of our herbs.”

“It’s elven medicine,” Iarion said. “I also gave your patient a mixture to drink.”

“Interesting…” the nurse said, her eyes lighting with curiosity. “You must tell me exactly what you used. We had already tried everything, and we couldn’t get him to wake.”

Iarion smiled. “I will tell you, but only after you send for your Chief of Clans. Tell him we now have a witness in the case against the Learnéd One.”

* * *

Galkir and several other dwarves Iarion assumed were clan chiefs crowded into Dogalrin’s room less than an hour later. Lysandir was also brought, still bound and blindfolded. Dogalrin’s eyes widened at the sight of him. Iarion had deliberately avoided mentioning the Learnéd One’s name to him when asking him for his story earlier to ensure his answer was an honest one.

“Iarion,” Chief of Clans Galkir greeted the elf with a nod. “You have done much to turn Dwarfwatch on its ear in the last few days. First, you aid my scouts in combat and insist on proving the traitor Lysandir’s innocence, and then you vanish from under our very noses only to return and nurse our fallen survivor back to health. Would you care to explain yourself?” He gave Iarion a level gaze.

“Ah, I’m sorry for any discomfort or confusion I have caused you,” Iarion said, doing his best to appear contrite. “At first, I thought to find answers at the site of the fire attack, but any tracks the attacker might have left were destroyed by the chaos that followed.”

The assembled dwarves nodded in agreement, many of them scowling at Lysandir.

“It wasn’t until I found your scouts’ camp where they first spotted the smoke that I realized Lysandir is not the only one capable of incinerating his enemies,” Iarion continued. The dwarves muttered among themselves at this news. “I then thought I might prove Lysandir was elsewhere at the time of the attack, but his trail was already difficult to follow. I gave it up as a dead end.”

“Lysandir is the Learnéd One of Fire,” Galkir said in an impatient tone. “There is no other. Who else could have committed such an atrocity?”

“I’m getting to that,” Iarion said before continuing. “I remembered hearing there was a survivor, and returned to see if I could get him to confirm my suspicions. After I managed to rouse him, he did.”

“And?” Galkir leaned forward and gave Iarion a ‘let’s move this along’ gesture.

Iarion gave Dogalrin a nod. The younger dwarf cleared his throat.

“Some of us went ahead to scout the pass that lies to the east,” he said. “It was a cloudy day, so we didn’t notice the shadow overhead until it was too late. A fire drake swept down from the sky, blasting the pass with a jet of flame. Most of the others died instantly. They were the lucky ones. Those of us at the edge of the blast began running about, trying to smother the flames that burned our clothes. I can still hear the screams…” Dogalrin’s voice tightened, and for a moment he fell silent. “I remember rolling around in the dirt, hoping the pain would end. It’s the last thing I remember before waking up here.”

No one spoke for several moments. Iarion decided to seize control of the situation.

“You see?” he said. “The fire drake killed your scouts, not Lysandir. He only had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Iarion’s words were met with grumbles.

“Lysandir may be innocent of this crime,” Galkir said, “but he is still a traitor. He spent years living with the Fallen One, and he is likely a spy for him now. Who is to say he didn’t arrange for the drake to attack our scouts?”

Iarion stifled a sigh. “You cannot prove that one way or the other. Will you kill someone based on wild conjecture?” Some of the dwarves looked less sure of themselves. “Besides, if not for the actions of Hilgur Falmar, Lysandir would have never gone to Mar Valion in the first place.”

The name was met with blank stares by most of the clan chiefs, but Galkir’s expression was bleak.

“We do not speak that name here,” he said.

Now it was Iarion’s turn to give the Chief of Clans a level stare. His threat hung unspoken between them.

If you don’t pardon Lysandir, I’ll tell them all about the dwarven traitor who handed Lysandir over to Saviadro when he was only a child.

Galkir was the first to look away. “Perhaps you have a point. Lysandir’s past is… uncomfortable for those of us who are fully aware of what happened. I suppose vilifying him helps to shift the focus from actions we would prefer to forget. If you are right, and he is only an innocent victim, then we have done him a great disservice. In the meantime, all we can say for certain is that he helped some of our people stand against a pack of ogres, and there is no evidence he was responsible for the fiery massacre of our scouts. He is free to go.” He nodded to the guards standing watch over Lysandir. They removed his bonds and blindfold.

Iarion let out the breath he had been holding. He had hoped for more of a positive response, but he also knew what Galkir’s admission had cost him.

“Thank you for your mercy,” Lysandir said with a bow. “I would like to return here some day under more auspicious circumstances so you and your people can have the opportunity to know me better. A time will likely come when we will have to stand together before the might of the Fallen One.”

Galkir’s expression was unreadable. “You are free to return, if you wish. Perhaps it would be wise to bring Iarion with you.”

Lysandir’s silver eyes twinkled with mirth. “Yes, he is a very useful person to have around.”

“You’re welcome,” Iarion muttered loud enough for him to hear.

Lysandir continued as if Iarion hadn’t said anything. “In the meantime, perhaps we should take our leave.”

“I’ll meet you at the gate,” Iarion said. He was eager to be off, but he still had one loose end to take care of. “I have promised the nurse here I would tell her what herbs I used to rouse Dogalrin.”

Galkir shook his head. “You’re a very strange elf, Iarion. We haven’t had many of your kind here in Dwarfwatch over the years, but I doubt any of them have been quite like you.”

Lysandir barked a laugh, clapping Iarion on the shoulder. “Trust me, you don’t know the half of it.”

* * *

Saviadro sat on his throne in the heart of Mar Valion, listening to his scout’s report. He leaned forward with interest, his orange eyes glowing from beneath the shadows of his hood.

So, Lysandir left Dwarfwatch freely in the company of an elf… Very interesting.

The Fallen One had been certain the dwarves would execute Lysandir for the death of their scouts. How had they discovered Lysandir was not to blame?

It didn’t matter. Lysandir’s escape only reaffirmed Saviadro’s belief that the former captive he had raised as a son would return to him someday.

He drank from the Forbidden Pool, after all. No one understands better than I do how it can change you.

Yes, Lysandir would definitely be back. Saviadro knew he might have to wait, but their reunion was inevitable. He leaned back with a smile.

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: Trial by Fire

Copyright © 2021 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art copyright © Akv2006, Valentyna Chukhlyebova, Vi73777, Wimstime/Dreamstime

 

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Posted by Jacquelyn