Free Fiction Feature April 2021 | Legends of Lasniniar: Making Waves

What is the Free Fiction Feature?

About a year ago, when the world became all topsy-turvy, I started posting one of my stories for free each month over on my multi-genre website. At the beginning of each month, the previous month’s story got taken down and another one went up. (Inspired by insanely prolific author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Free Fiction Mondays feature.)

Most of the stories I posted were fantasy (since I have a lot more of them), but every so often, I would rotate in one of my mystery adventures for a month. After some thought, I’ve decided it makes more sense to break this feature out onto my genre-specific websites instead.

What does this mean? Well, first off, this website now has a blog feature, which it didn’t have before, so I’ll likely start posting updates on my fantasy projects here as well, and use my multi-genre site as more of a roundup that points back to here and my mystery site. But in much more exciting news, this means I’ll be posting a fantasy story here every month, with no mystery stories taking up slots in the rotation.

(Site Note: If you’re also a fan of mystery, feel free to check out my mystery Free Fiction Feature, which will run at a slower pace of one story for a month of each quarter. So during the months of April, July, October, and January, I’ll have two free stories available–one fantasy, and one mystery.)

Sound good? Let’s get started with an Iarion misadventure…


Legends of Lasniniar Making Waves coverDeep sapphire, flecked with silver. Iarion’s eyes mark him from any elf ever born.

A strange, physical anomaly? Or a sign of his unique condition? Even after thousands of years spent wandering the lands of Lasniniar, the answer continues to elude him.

…Now Iarion’s eyes sweep the harbor of the Sea Elves in the hopes that his ship might finally come in.

In the epic fantasy World of Lasniniar series by award-winning author Jacquelyn Smith, this stand-alone story explores an adventure from Iarion’s deep past, before he becomes a hero of 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 Kinslayer Lasniniar Collection.

Get the ebook at:


Buy ebook direct from the author

Paperback available at:


Legends of Lasniniar: Making Waves

Jacquelyn Smith

Iarion stood on the pier as he had every morning for the past few weeks, his face turned toward the rolling waves of the ocean. A salt-scented breeze caught at his long, silver braids, setting them dancing around his shoulders. The breeze carried a dampness with it that misted his dusky skin. He ignored all this to strain his eyes toward the north-eastern horizon—the direction of Rasdaria.

He wasn’t alone, of course. Just like every other morning since the beginning of his vigil, it seemed that every elf living in the Forest of the Sea had turned up to crowd around him, each jockeying for their own position until the tension was palpable. A few spoke to one another in Elvish in hushed voices. The only other sound was the pounding of the surf against the beach. The Sea Elves’ forest loomed behind them—a host of ancient trees that seemed to stand a vigil of their own.

Is there any point in watching today?

Iarion asked himself this question every morning he had come to stand on the pier. Part of him was afraid that if he didn’t show up, this would be the one morning when his patience might be rewarded. And so, he found himself staring out at the ocean, seemingly like every other elf around him, even though he was nothing of the kind.

Yes, he had the same dark skin and pointed ears, and many of the Sea Elves had silver hair instead of white. Even the bow slung over his shoulder and the long hunting knife at his waist didn’t mark him as unusual.

It was his eyes that gave him away.

True, blue eyes were common among the Rasadar—the Sea Elves. Often they were a blue-green mix that hearkened to the colors of the sea.

Iarion’s eyes were a deep sapphire, flecked with silver.

In all the thousands of years that he had spent wandering the lands of Lasniniar, he had yet to find another elf of any tribe who had eyes like his. Whether they were simply an anomaly, or a mark of his unique condition, he had no idea.

He shaded them now against the shimmer of the morning sun on the dancing waves. His brow furrowed. Was there something on the horizon?

“It’s been weeks now, and not so much as a response to one of our gull messengers,” an elf woman standing nearby was grumbling. “What can possibly be happening on Rasdaria?”

“If only we had a ship to send, but the one in the shipyard isn’t anywhere near finished,” another woman said in response. “They’ve been working from sunrise to sunset every day, but it’s going to be weeks before it’s seaworthy.”

“How can they not have sent someone by now?” a male voice demanded. “They must need supplies… I’ve had my shipment of fabrics ready for almost a week! Commissioned by the lord and lady themselves, and no sign of payment.”

Iarion ignored the inane chatter. It was the same as it had been every morning. Weeks had gone by, and no word or ship had been sent from the isolated island where the Lord and Lady of the Rasadar made their home, along with the Learnéd One of Water, Feoras. A hot surge of disappointment filled the pit of his stomach.

He had hoped when he had sought out the Sea Elves that they might be able to help him with his problem. His own people—the Wood Elves—had no knowledge that was useful, and neither did the Earth Elves, who made their home in the caves adjoining the same forest. Iarion hadn’t found answers anywhere else in Middle Lasniniar either, so he had made the journey north to the Rasadar to discover whether there might be anything to be learned there.

Despite being a single tribe, the Sea Elves were divided into two groups—those who made their homes in the treetops of the Forest of the Sea, and the few who lived on the isle of Rasdaria.

Iarion didn’t know what those on the island were like, but the mainland elves were fiercely private, and wanted little to do with the Wood Elf that had shown up at the border of their forest. Since he was still a fellow elf, they had no grounds to turn him away as they would a human or a dwarf, but they hadn’t exactly made him feel welcome. It had taken him ages to winnow his way through the eldest and most knowledgeable living in the forest to determine they had no information that might help him.

But Feoras might.

Or perhaps even the lord and lady… But all three of them were on Rasdaria and beyond his reach, for reasons no one was able to explain.

And so he waited every morning on the pier, hoping like everyone else to see sails on the horizon.

Sails…

He blinked. Yes, there was something out on the waves! He held his breath, half-afraid it might disappear.

“Is that…?” The fabric merchant craned his neck beside him. He fumbled for something at his waist. A glint of metal caught Iarion’s eye.

The fabric merchant extended a segmented, bronze tube with a glass lens—a rare distance viewer imported from the Earth Elves. He pressed the narrow end to his eye, his long, white hair blowing around his face as the wind billowed his brightly-colored silk tunic and breeches.

“It is!” the fabric merchant crowed. “It’s not Eranbalas’s ship, but it’s flying the standard of Mar Ras.”

“How do you know it’s not Eranbalas?” Iarion asked before he could think better of it. He had heard the name of the captain of the Sea Elf fleet enough times since his arrival to recognize it.

The fabric merchant snorted. “The captain’s sails have gold-edged borders. Everyone knows that.”

He lowered the distance viewer to look at Iarion in askance. His eyes widened as they met Iarion’s before narrowing. “You are no Rasadain.”

Iarion bobbed his head in acknowledgment, as if the other elf had not meant the words as an insult. “I am Iarion of Melaralva. I have come here seeking the wisdom of the Rasadar. I hope to gain passage to see Feoras and your lord and lady.”

The fabric merchant shook his head. “Assuming they have room in the hold with all the supplies they’ll be bringing back… You speak fair enough for a land elf, but only Rasadar have ever set foot on the island. I doubt they’ll make an exception for you.” His nose twitched, as if he was trying not to wrinkle it.

Iarion’s lips twitched. “What about Feoras?” His voice was mild.

The fabric merchant waved him off. “Feoras is different. He is practically one of us. He even comes from Rasadar stock.” He puffed out his chest, as if this were some kind of personal accomplishment.

“And the Daranadar who helped to build Mar Ras?” Iarion cocked an eyebrow. He had never seen the Sea Elves’ famed island tower, but it was common knowledge that the Earth Elves had helped with the construction.

The fabric merchant frowned. “Yes, well. That was a long time ago. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a shipment to prepare.” He shouldered his way past with a sniff of disdain.

Iarion suppressed a chuckle. “But we were getting along so well…” he called after him in a mocking voice. The other elf ignored him, but he earned some odd looks from the rest of the crowd around him.

Iarion didn’t care. Finally, a ship was on its way.

All he had to do was convince the captain to take him to Rasdaria.

* * *

“Tighten that sail!” Alfiabalas called out to one of his crewmates as he noticed the plain, white fabric going slack. The other elf scrambled to obey.

Alfiabalas stood at the ship’s wheel, the smooth, wooden grain warm and familiar in his hands. The wind whipped against his dusky, weather-beaten face. He had the same unlined features of any other elf, but there was no mistaking the ruddy look of someone who spent most of his time in the wind and sun. His white braids were a tangle around the shoulders of his gleaming fish mail—their usual state when he was out on the water.

His blue-green eyes swept the lines of the ship for anything else that might be amiss. He trusted his crew implicitly, but this was an unusual run. For weeks, he and his crew had been forced to dock on Rasdaria on the explicit orders of Lady Raslynia and Lord Telariras, with no explanation as to why. Eranbalas had sailed off some time before—first with Feoras in tow, and later on his own.

Alfiabalas hadn’t heard so much as a whisper about Eranbalas’s destination, and nothing remained a secret among sailors for long. Gulls had been seen traveling back and forth from Mar Ras toward the northwest, but Alfiabalas had no idea who they might be flying to, unless it was Eranbalas himself. Beyond the northwestern coast of the island, the mainland belonged to primitive human tribes, who had no contact with the elves. And beyond that, lay the Fallen One’s domain—a place no Rasadain would ever send a message.

So what is Eranbalas doing on the northwest coast?

There was nothing of note on that side of the island. It was barely even inhabited. For the most part, it was a large, empty cove. It was considered ill luck to live on the side of the island that lay in the shadow of the Fallen One’s domain, no matter how far away it might be.

Alfiabalas had almost considered disobeying orders to sail out and investigate the northwest coast himself, but then he had received a missive from the lord and lady to sail to the mainland—the first trip any ship had been allowed to make in weeks.

He understood the urgency of the trip. The islanders were isolated from the rest of their mainland kin, as well as the food and goods they supplied. They could only go for so long without renewing contact.

But why now?

The question nagged at Alfiabalas, even though he was thrilled to be back out on the ocean once more, after weeks of being forced to remain anchored. It was a glorious day. The deck rolled beneath the soles of his boots and the waves slapped against the sides of the ship—everything was as it should be. He knew he should count himself lucky to be the elf chosen to sail to the mainland when everyone else was forced to remain docked.

But he couldn’t help but wonder…

He didn’t even know what he was going to tell the mainland elves when they arrived—and he knew they would have questions. But he had been given no message to pass on to calm their concerns, and no reason for the sudden insistence of a trip after such a long delay.

He knew some of his crew must also be wondering, but they were too well-disciplined to question orders. Most of them were simply happy to be on the water again. And what would happen once they returned to the island? Would they be confined to the harbor once more?

He closed his eyes and raised his chin, savoring the feel of the sun, wind, and salt spray against his face. This was how life should be. Out here on the open water, he was free, the waves of Lasniniar surrounding him in a lover’s embrace.

Part of him was tempted not to go back to Rasdaria. He and his crew could turn aside and sail wherever they pleased.

But he was a Sea Elf captain—loyal to both his crew, and his lord and lady.

He uttered a regretful sigh.

He was not looking forward to making landfall.

* * *

Alfiabalas called out for the anchor and sails to be lowered as the ship bumped up against the end of the pier. Now that they had arrived at their destination, time seemed to be moving too fast. He longed to slow things down. Too bad there was a pier. Otherwise, they would have had to row to shore, which at least would have bought a little more time…

He busied himself as long as he could, supervising every detail of his crew’s movements, even though it wasn’t strictly necessary. The sun was high in the sky now. It beat down on the lightweight metal of his fish mail, adding to his nervous sweat.

He could hear the murmur of the crowd on the pier below competing with the roar of the surf. Some elves were even calling out to the sailors.

“Where have you been?”

“What news from Rasdaria?”

“Are the lord and lady all right?”

“Do you have the payment for my fabrics?”

Alfiabalas shook his head to himself. He knew he couldn’t put it off any longer…

He gave his crew once last nod of thanks and threw a rope ladder over the side. He scrambled down it easily, the worn hemp familiar in his hands. He landed with a dull thump against the sanded wooden boards of the pier.

A babble of voices surrounded him as the crowd of elves surged forward, each one jostling for position on the narrow pier. Few of their words were decipherable, but the overwhelming sense of anxiety was palpable. He took a deep, steadying breath before turning around to face them.

He raised is hand in the air before speaking. There was no point in trying to shout over a hundred some-odd voices. It took several moments before the crowd began to fall silent. The elves toward the back couldn’t see his raised arm, and had to be shushed by those in front of them.

Alfiabalas lowered his arm.

“I know you must all have questions,” he said in what he called his ‘captain voice,’ which had been known to carry over even the strongest gale out on the open water. “I’m afraid we have no answers. The lord and lady have told us nothing, other than to return with supplies as usual. We are to sail back to the island as soon as possible.”

He stifled a sigh as a fresh wave of cacophony greeted his announcement.

“Do you mean to tell me the lord and lady have not sent any payment?” a male elf in bright silks bellowed above the rest. “This is an outrage! I refuse to send another shipment until I am compensated.” He stomped his foot on the pier from his position at the front of the crowd.

Alfiabalas resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Whatever was going on back on Rasdaria was clearly a serious matter—one he suspected the lord and lady feared to speak of to avoid alarming their people. It was the only explanation that made sense. Lord Telariras and Lady Raslynia were both fair and well-loved leaders.

Meanwhile, all this fool can think about are his precious fabrics.

The lord and lady had sent funds, of course. Nothing about the voyage was any different from usual, aside from an underlying sense of unexplained urgency. But Alfiabalas was in no rush to let the whining fabric merchant know that.

“Excuse me.” A male elf with long, silver braids managed to shoulder the disgruntled merchant aside.

Alfiabalas barely managed to maintain his composure.

What now?

The merchant flushed and opened his mouth to object, but the other elf ‘accidentally’ stepped on his foot with the heel of his boot and leaned down hard. The merchant’s mouth opened in a silent yelp of pain.

“I am Iarion of Melaralva,” the new elf continued, as if unaware of the discomfort he was causing the merchant.

Alfiabalas blinked as he noticed his strange eyes. They were bluer than the depths of the ocean, flecked with silver—like the crests of the surf on a moonlit night.

Melaralva? What is a Wood Elf doing here?

Alfiabalas covered his confusion with a brief nod. “I am Captain Alfiabalas.” His crew were already swarming the pier behind him in the small space that was available between the crowd and the ship.

Iarion gave a nod of respect in return. “I understand that the timing of my visit to your tribe is… awkward.” Iarion hesitated before continuing. For a moment, it seemed as if the merchant might shout in protest, but Iarion leaned his boot down even harder.

“I have come here to seek the counsel of Feoras and your lord and lady,” Iarion continued without so much as a glance at the disgruntled merchant. “I was hoping you might take me back to Rasdaria when you set sail.”

“Get off my foot, you oaf of a Wood Elf!” the merchant finally demanded in a voice that was breathless with pain.

Iarion complied with an innocent look. “Have I been standing on it this whole time?” He shook his head, his long silver braids rustling around his shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m only a simple Wood Elf. We don’t have any of these… bridge contraptions in Melaralva.” He gestured to the pier. “I’m afraid I mistook your foot for part of its surface.”

Alfiabalas found himself biting the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from smiling at the way Iarion had turned the merchant’s own superior manner against him.

The merchant glared at Iarion. “I already told you, no one but Sea Elves have ever set foot on Rasdaria—aside from the Earth Elves who built Mar Ras,” he hastened to add as Iarion opened his mouth to protest.

Iarion turned to face Alfiabalas, who gave a helpless shrug. “What he says is true. No outsiders have ever traveled to the island.”

Iarion met his gaze and quirked a slender brow. “There is a first time for everything. Surely there is room for one more elf on your boat?”

“Ship,” Alfiabalas and the merchant corrected him at the same time, along with several nearby members of the crowd.

Iarion’s eyes widened and a flush rose to his dusky cheeks. “My apologies. Are the words not interchangeable?”

“A ship crosses the ocean, and has a captain,” the merchant huffed in a lofty tone. “A boat sails either on smaller waters, or under common consent. Everyone knows that.” He rolled his eyes at Alfiabalas. “Surely you’re not considering this ridiculous request… The Wood Elf doesn’t even know proper nautical terminology. Besides, it seems I must make the journey myself to see to my missing payment.”

Alfiabalas sighed. “Your payment is here.” He untied a leather purse from his belt and tossed it to the merchant. He had no interest in having the insufferable elf join him on his ship. The merchant’s eyes glinted and he caught the jingling pouch in midair with a deft hand.

His eyes narrowed as he appeared to test its weight. “You said no payment had been sent.”

Alfiabalas held his gaze. “I said no such thing. You assumed it. Now is your shipment of fabrics prepared for transport? I don’t have time for delay. If no shipment is sent, there will be no more payments.”

The merchant yelped as if he had been stung and began elbowing his way through the crowd—presumably to retrieve his precious cargo. Alfiabalas gestured for his crew to go ahead with clearing the pier so they could get on with loading the supplies they had come for. The crowd backed up with grumbles of protest. Only Iarion remained, deftly stepping aside to allow Alfiabalas’s crew room to pass. Alfiabalas could feel his strange gaze boring into him.

“Why do you need to see our lord and lady?” Alfiabalas finally asked as he stepped aside to join the other elf while his crew saw to the loading of the ship.

Iarion bit his lip. “I have a problem. I believe it is a… unique condition. I have searched Middle Lasniniar for answers and found nothing. I was hoping Feoras or your lord and lady might be of help.” His expression did not change, but Alfiabalas caught a flicker of torment in his strange eyes.

Alfiabalas frowned. “Surely the Light Elves—”

Iarion shook his head. “Would you dare to approach Iadrawyn and Valanandir about a personal matter without exhausting all other options first?”

Now it was Alfiabalas’s turn to bite his lip. He could see what Iarion meant. The Lord and Lady of the Light Elves were the stuff of legend. Shadow Elves seldom visited their wood. Even though Iadrawyn and Valanandir were said to be both wise and gracious, they were also the most venerated elves of all time. No Shadow Elf would dare to approach them with a problem that he might be able to solve himself.

Iarion nodded as he read Alfiabalas’s expression. “You do see. So you understand why I must do everything I can to find my own answers first.”

“But why the Sea Elves?” Alfiabalas pressed. Iarion had given no details on his ‘condition’ and even though he was curious, Alfiabalas thought it rude to question him about it further without an invitation to do so. Besides, he had other problems to deal with…

Iarion shrugged. “Your forest was closest. If I don’t find the answers I’m looking for, I will try the Wild Elves next.”

“And if the Wild Elves cannot help?”

Iarion’s expression darkened for a moment before he visibly regained control of himself. “Then I will search Western Lasniniar.” He raised his chin. “I will go wherever is needed to find my answers.” Despite the determination in his voice, his eyes were haunted.

Alfiabalas sighed. “This isn’t exactly a good time to visit Rasdaria. What I said earlier was true. I have no information about what is going on with Feoras or our lord and lady, but clearly something is amiss. And the wretched merchant was right. No outsider has ever set foot on the island—aside from the Earth Elves who built Mar Ras.”

Iarion’s lips twisted. “What you say will be true no matter when I decide to visit Rasdaria.” His lips stretched into a smile. “Unless you decide to let me break tradition. Besides, I might be able to offer my services to help with whatever problem is troubling your lord and lady.”

Alfiabalas shook his head with a smile of his own. The Wood Elf was persistent, he would grant him that much.

“I cannot say whether they would be willing to accept the help of an outsider—assuming they even grant you an audience.”

He said nothing to belittle Iarion’s offer of assistance. At face value, it seemed absurd that a lone Wood Elf might be able to fix whatever problem had stumped both Feoras and his ruling lord and lady. But something about Iarion’s countenance warned him against laughing the matter off.

There’s something about him…

Alfiabalas was only a simple ship captain, who loved the open water. Unlike Feoras, he could claim no special connection with the Quenya—the elves’ source of magic that was housed in the Light Elves’ wood to the southwest. But his intuition had always been stronger than most. Whether it was some inner prompting of the Quenya or merely a gut hunch, he found himself intrigued by the Wood Elf stranger who was starting to grin at him.

“So you’ll take me then?” Iarion asked. “It would be difficult for me to even attempt to gain the audience you mentioned without some way to reach the island.”

Alfiabalas stifled a curse. He had been speaking hypothetically, of course. His words had merely been running ahead of his thoughts.

Or had they?

He took a moment to consult with his gut. He liked the Wood Elf well enough so far, but what kind of trouble might he stir up with his arrival on Rasdaria?

Can it possibly be any worse than whatever is going on already?

He had no way of knowing. And if Iarion’s visit to Mar Ras didn’t go well, it would be on Alfiabalas’s head. Still, someone would have to escort Iarion to see the lord and lady… Perhaps this was an opportunity to find out what was going on?

“Well?” Iarion prompted. “Shall I board your fine ship?” He seemed to make a special point of avoiding his earlier ‘boat’ mishap.

Alfiabalas gave a rueful shake of his head. “Just don’t let that fool of a merchant see you.”

* * *

Iarion gripped the wooden side of the ship. His knuckles whitened as his stomach churned. At first, the salt spray and crisp, afternoon breeze had seemed refreshing—until the boat (or ‘ship,’ as he firmly reminded himself, since the Sea Elves seemed to be quite sensitive about the term) began to move across the waves.

From his view on the shore, the ship’s movements had appeared smooth and graceful, as if it were gliding across the water. In reality, it seemed to lurch forward with an endless rise and fall with each surge of the ocean beneath them, to which his stomach was responding in kind. He clenched his teeth as his gut twisted and a sweat broke out on his brow, prickling his scalp.

He did his best to focus on his surroundings instead. The waves slapped against the sides of the ship, punctuated by the odd call from one of the crewmates as they performed the many, mysterious tasks involved in sailing the ship, or the mournful cry of a gull as it flew overhead.

Iarion hadn’t gone to the trouble of convincing the captain to let him aboard just to lose his Wood Elf dignity within the first few moments of the voyage.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Alfiabalas called out with a wild laugh from where he stood behind Iarion at a large wheel of polished wood that presumably steered the ship. “Ah, there’s nothing like sailing the open seas!”

For a moment, Iarion suspected the Sea Elf captain was mocking him. But when he turned his head to look, the expression of fierce joy on Alfiabalas’s weather-beaten features told him otherwise. He stood at ease behind the wheel, his weight shifting instinctively with each swell of the ocean beneath him. His long, silver braids streamed around his smiling face.

Iarion gave what he hoped was a convincing smile in response. He was afraid if he opened his mouth to answer, more that just words would come out.

Alfiabalas’s blue-green eyes narrowed. “You look a bit green around the gills. You’re not seasick, are you?”

Iarion stubbornly shook his head as his stomach protested otherwise.

Alfiabalas gave him a penetrating look. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were, with this being your first sea voyage.” He shrugged. “Hopefully it will pass.”

Iarion nodded in acknowledgment of Alfiabalas’s dubious words of comfort. Iarion doubted the Sea Elves ever got seasick, and he was the first outsider to set foot on one of their ships in well over two thousand years. There was no reason for Alfiabalas to know of some sort of cure that might help him. It was a minor miracle that the Sea Elf captain had allowed him to come along in the first place.

Why did he agree to take me to Rasdaria?

Iarion had to admit he had been surprised when Alfiabalas had told him to get aboard the ship. He had expected to have to do much more convincing—or perhaps even find a way to sneak onboard without anyone noticing. Had Alfiabalas taken his offer of assistance at face value?

Not that Iarion hadn’t meant it. If the Sea Elves could help him, he would be more than happy to return the favor with whatever problem was troubling them.

No, he saw no reason for his offer to sway Alfiabalas. To the Sea Elves, Iarion appeared like any other Wood Elf—aside from his strange eyes. They had no way of knowing his past or what he was capable of.

Whatever Alfiabalas’s reasons were for bringing Iarion along, they were clearly his own.

Am I doing the right thing?

This was hardly the first time Iarion had asked himself such a question. He had no way of knowing the answer, of course. That was the problem. But his plan to visit the other elven tribes in search of guidance seemed like a sound one. He had expected a cold welcome. Relations between the tribes that made up the Shadow Elves had become few and far between since the aftermath of the Northern Wars. With the Fallen One’s physical form destroyed, the tribes had little reason to continue to work together, and had returned to their insular ways.

Iarion shook his head and returned his thoughts to the present. Once he reached Rasdaria—assuming he managed to arrive without disgracing himself in front of Alfiabalas and his crew—how was he going to gain an audience with the Lord and Lady of the Rasadar? Clearly, the rulers of the Sea Elves had other matters on their mind. Would they even bother with an upstart Wood Elf?

For a moment, he imagined himself stranded on the island, living out the next several thousand years off of whatever fish he managed to catch as the Sea Elves ignored him.

He shook off the self-pitying image.

Alfiabalas had agreed to bring him. The Sea Elf captain must have a reason. He did not strike Iarion as a cruel elf. He doubted Alfiabalas had brought him along, only to drop him off with the cargo and set sail again. Iarion didn’t have anything in the way of intuition to guide him, but he was an expert on the nature of his fellow elves.

He would just have to trust in that instead, and hope for the best.

A wet splat sounded on the wooden deck at his feet as a shadow passed overhead. He looked down to discover a dirty, white splatter that had just missed his boots. The gull responsible called out before wheeling away from the ship. Iarion glared at it as it went until his stomach gave another lurch.

It was going to be a long voyage.

* * *

The journey back to Rasdaria passed without incident and far too quickly for Alfiabalas’s taste. He called out orders to his crew as they neared the island’s wide harbor, where the rest of the Sea Elf fleet was still anchored. He shaded his eyes against the rosy glare of the setting sun.

There was still no sign of Eranbalas’s ship.

Where is he?

Alfiabalas shivered as an errant night breeze blew in across the water behind him, carrying a strange sense of foreboding beneath its familiar, salty tang. Time to either go ashore, or belowdecks to his cabin.

He knew which one he would prefer. Despite the easy passage, it had been a long day of sailing, and his bunk was calling to him. He clenched his jaw to hold back a yawn.

Sleep was tempting, but it wouldn’t provide any answers to the questions that plagued him.

He cast a surreptitious look at Iarion as his crew unloaded the goods that had been stored in the hold. Despite the dinner hour, a small crowd of elves lingered on the docks to watch their progress. Supplies had been running low, and many of them had had no word from their mainland cousins in some time.

Iarion stood at the rail in silence. No one on the shore gave him as much as a second glance. From a distance, he looked like a Sea Elf with his silver braids.

Despite Alfiabalas’s expectations otherwise, Iarion had managed to keep his breakfast down during the voyage. After the first hour, he had even seemed to become used to the constant swaying of the ship—an impressive feat for a land elf. He didn’t have the rolling gait that all seafaring elves seemed to acquire, but he had maintained his balance and stayed out of the crew’s way, earning him a wary respect.

Alfiabalas had considered talking to him during the journey, but at first Iarion had seemed too focused on maintaining control of his stomach contents. Once the Wood Elf became more comfortable, Alfiabalas found himself at a loss of what to say. He was certain Iarion must have questions—questions Alfiabalas might not be eager to answer. But if he did, he left them unvoiced.

If not for Alfiabalas’s gut feeling about the elf, he would have started to wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake…

I brought him this far. I can hardly turn back now.

All of his crew were witnesses to his break in tradition of keeping outsiders away from the island. As soon as the cargo was unloaded, they would return to their families on shore and tongues would start wagging. Alfiabalas knew he had his crew’s respect. It was the only reason they had tolerated Iarion’s presence aboard the ship without complaint. But all sailors were terrible gossips, especially once they reached dry land and got a few glasses of wine in them.

Soon, word of Iarion’s arrival on Rasdaria would spread across the island. My morning, there would be few elves who would not have heard the news.

Right. Might as well get this over with.

While many elven families were just sitting down to dinner, the lord and lady would still be finishing giving audience for the day at Mar Ras. The audiences always went late into the afternoon and early into the evening ever since Eranbalas had disappeared. Tonight would be no exception.

Alfiabalas approached Iarion. The Wood Elf’s strange eyes were glued to the seashell-lined streets beyond the harbor, which led to the tower of Mar Ras. The opalescent spike glimmered in the light of the setting sun.

“Are you ready?” Alfiabalas asked him in a low voice.

Iarion turned to face him, his eyes widening. “We’re going to the tower now?

Alfiabalas gave what he hoped was a casual shrug. “It seems as good a time as any. If we wait for word of your arrival to spread, it might give people reason to try to prevent it. We have no quarrel with the Wood Elves, but most of the people of this island have never even seen an outsider before. It’s bound to make some of them uneasy.”

Iarion ran his slender fingers down the front of his green tunic to smooth it and gave Alfiabalas a nod. “I am ready.”

“Raise the hood of your cloak,” Alfiabalas said. “We don’t want to be stopped along the way.”

Iarion complied, shadowing his features beneath the hood of his gray cloak. Alfiabalas knew he was probably being paranoid. After all, Iarion could easily pass as a Sea Elf at first glance. But his eyes…

No need to take any risks.

Alfiabalas escorted Iarion down the gangplank and onto solid ground. His well-trained eye noticed how the Wood Elf’s knees buckled at the change of surface, but Iarion did not stumble.

Various sailors and villagers called out greetings to Alfiabalas as he passed. Many of them asked for news from the mainland. Alfiabalas waved back at them with a smiling shake of his head. No one seemed to take notice of the hooded elf that walked beside him, other than to give him a curious glance in passing. It was a cool evening, so there was nothing odd about Iarion’s hooded attire.

The journey to Mar Ras seemed both too long and too short to Alfiabalas. Every time someone called out to him as he passed, he resisted the urge to flinch. Had any of them heard of Iarion’s arrival yet? Would anyone try to stop them?

At the same time, his mind was racing. What would the lord and lady say when Alfiabalas presented Iarion at court? How would he explain his reasoning for breaking tradition and bringing the Wood Elf to their shores? His mind conjured up endless potential scenarios as Iarion glided beside him in silence. Being forced to stay at anchor had been bad… What if the lord and lady did something much worse to punish him for his willful flouting of tradition?

What if they take my ship?

Alfiabalas went cold all over at the thought.

Without his ship, he would no longer be a captain—a role that had become synonymous with his very identity. He would be forced to either beg for a position on someone else’s ship as a common sailor, or work on dry land at the shipyards.

Assuming anyone would hire him.

The realization hit him hard, and he staggered, one of his booted feet scraping across the worn surface of the seashell-lined road. Iarion’s hooded head turned toward him. He couldn’t see the other elf’s strange eyes, but he felt his questioning gaze.

“I’m all right,” Alfiabalas mumbled as a flush rose to his face. “Just lost in my own thoughts.”

Iarion’s head turned away.

Alfiabalas took a steadying breath and tried to get a hold of himself. Yes, he was betraying Sea Elf tradition by bringing Iarion to the island, but it wasn’t as if the Wood Elf were a dangerous assassin. No elf had ever turned on another since the Kinslaying when Saviadro had become the Fallen One. The very idea was unthinkable.

Besides, Lady Raslynia and Lord Telariras were fair rulers. And if they did decide to take Alfiabalas’s ship away from him as punishment, they would be losing a capable captain as well, which seemed like a foolish move given that something strange was going on…

It didn’t stop them from keeping you at anchor in the harbor though.

Alfiabalas shrugged the traitorous thought aside. They were almost at the tower now. Besides, this might be his only chance to learn what was going on.

He straightened his shoulders and kept walking.

* * *

Iarion did his best not to gape as he and Alfiabalas passed beneath the shimmering arch of the Sea Elves’ tower. A pair of guards in the same strange mail Alfiabalas wore stood at the entrance, but Iarion suspected they were mostly ceremonial. They gave the Sea Elf captain a nod of greeting as he passed. Despite their curious looks in Iarion’s direction, neither of them asked any questions.

The high-ceilinged interior of the tower was lined with the same seashell tile as the outside. The light of the crackling torches reflected a shifting, rainbow hue against their surface, giving the feel of being underwater. Rugs and tapestries in blue, green, silver, and white added to the effect, replicating the colors of the sea.

Two elves sat on a pair of thrones that stood beneath a large window, revealing the deepening twilight behind them—Lord Telariras and Lady Raslynia. Only a few petitioners remained in the line in front of them.

Iarion observed them from beneath the brim of his hood as he waited with Alfiabalas. The lord had a stern expression, but his silver eyes were kind. He nodded as he listened to the speaker in front of him, his long silver hair draped over the shoulders of his matching robes in a shining curtain.

Lady Raslynia was leaning forward in a matching pose of polite interest, her expression solemn. She wore a slender diadem of pearls atop on her brow. Her long, white hair rippled like the crest of a foaming wave down her back. Even though the lord and lady had ruled the Sea Elves for hundreds of years, both their dusky faces were unlined.

Iarion searched the dais for any sign of Feoras, but the Learnéd One of Water was nowhere to be seen. Even though Iarion had not met him, Feoras was no elf, and would have easily stood out in the small crowd. The only other elves on the dais were three silver-haired, young women who stood off to one side. They each bore a strong resemblance to Lady Raslynia.

“The lord and lady’s daughters,” Alfiabalas murmured to him as if sensing his curiosity. “Rilriel, Nimrilriel, and Rasniwyn.” He hesitated. “I—ah, have no way of knowing how they might react to a Wood Elf, but I feel there is something you must know about Sea Elf women.”

Iarion quirked an eyebrow from beneath his hood. “I met several of them on the mainland.” They had been friendly enough, but wary.

“Ah, yes. Well.” Alfiabalas gave an awkward cough. “I’m assuming you only met the mated ones. Unmated Sea Elves are a bit different.”

Iarion tilted his head in interest. “How so?”

“We Sea Elves take our courtship and mating very seriously.” Alfiabalas wrinkled his nose. “Unlike the Wild Elves, we only take one mate, and remain fiercely loyal to them.”

“I see.” It hardly seemed like a matter worthy of a warning. Wood Elves tended in that direction as well, but weren’t always set in stone about it.

“I, ah, don’t think you do.” Alfiabalas flushed as he continued. “One of our women’s courting rituals involves a prolonged period of outrageous flirting. Even though it might seem innocent enough, it is in fact, quite serious, and might go a considerable distance, if you take my meaning. However, no Sea Elf woman would ever consider consummating a relationship without a mating ceremony first.”

Iarion’s eyes widened as he digested the information. While Wood Elves were mostly monogamous after taking a mate, they didn’t consider casual flings without a mating ceremony to be a problem. And flirting could definitely go much further if both parties were interested…

He shook his head. “Even the lord and lady’s daughters play by these rules?”

Alfiabalas gave him a rueful smile. “Especially so. And a marriage to any of them would be no small matter, should someone, ah, get their signals crossed.”

Iarion nodded. “Thank you for the warning. But I doubt they will take any interest in a Wood Elf stranger.”

Besides, he had far more important matters to deal with. 

“Alfiabalas,” Lord Telariras called out as the remaining petitioners in front of them filed past to exit the tower. Only those on the dais, Iarion, and Alfiabalas remained, aside from another pair of ceremonial looking guards who stood at the entrance and out of earshot.

The lord tilted his head. “Your voyage to the mainland went smoothly, I trust?”

Alfiabalas sketched a bow as he approached the dais. Iarion trailed in his wake.

“Very smoothly, my lord. We have returned with all the supplies you requested.”

Iarion caught a flicker of relief in Lady Raslynia’s eyes, which were currently a murky green.

“Thank you, Alfiabalas,” she said in a vibrant voice. “You have done well.”

“What brings you to Mar Ras?” Lord Telariras asked as his gaze darted from Alfiabalas to Iarion and back again. “I’m afraid we have no other assignments for you and your crew for the time being.”

Iarion felt a nervous sweat start to prickle his scalp from beneath the hood of his cloak. He resisted the ridiculous urge to fling it aside and reveal himself in a dramatic gesture.

Alfiabalas swallowed. “I have brought someone back with me from the mainland.”

Lord Telariras’s lips twitched at the obvious statement. “So I see.” The three elf ladies standing on the dais leaned forward with obvious interest.

“I hope you will forgive my impertinence,” Alfiabalas floundered. “I did not mean to disrespect tradition. It is only that I had a gut feeling when I met him—one I think might have been prompted by the Quenya.” A flush darkened his weather-beaten features.

Iarion sucked in a breath from beneath his hood. That would certainly explain why Alfiabalas had brought him, but he still suspected there was something more…

“Not that I am an expert in such matters, of course,” Alfiabalas mumbled as Lady Raslynia’s eyes turned a pale blue. Some kind of hushed consultation seemed to be taking place between her three daughters, who had their silver heads clustered together.

Lord Telariras shook his own silver head. “Well, are you going to introduce this mysterious stranger?” He raised an eyebrow at Alfiabalas.

“Yes, of course. This is Iarion of Melaralva.” He gestured for Iarion to lower his hood.

Iarion did so with a feeling of relief as the open air of the audience chamber cooled his face, carrying a faint hint of waterlily perfume from the dais. He blinked in the flickering torchlight at the five pairs of eyes staring at him.

“Melaralva?” the tallest of the elf ladies said, her blue eyes widening.

“He is a Wood Elf!” the elf woman standing next to her said with a look of astonishment.

“Yes, of course, he’s a Wood Elf,” the taller one said with a roll of her eyes. “I know where Melaralva is.”

“What unusual eyes he has.” The shortest of the three women leaned forward to give Iarion a penetrating look. “Are they common among your kind?” she asked him.

Despite Alfiabalas’s warning, Iarion found himself flushing under her open appraisal. “No, they are not.”

“Well I think they’re quite dashing,” the middle one said with a glimmer of her green eyes.

The taller one gave a nudge of her elbow. “They’re not the only thing about him that’s dashing…”

Lord Telariras rolled his eyes heavenward with a sigh. “These are our daughters, Rilriel, Nimrilriel, and Rasniwyn.” The tall lady with the blue eyes, the middle one with the green eyes, and the shortest one each performed a smiling curtsy in turn. “Did the Quenya send you here to seek us out?”

Iarion bit his lip. “Ah, not exactly.”

“Then why are you here?” Lord Telariras’s expression became stern. “I’m assuming you did not convince Captain Alfiabalas to break tradition and bring you here out of idle curiosity.”

Iarion forced himself to meet the lord’s gaze. “Is Feoras in the tower? I had hoped to gain an audience with him as well.”

He sensed the conversation to follow would be difficult enough without having to repeat it. Besides, there was always a chance the lord and lady might throw him out afterward, and he might miss his chance to meet Feoras altogether.

He sensed Alfiabalas tensing beside him as he asked the question. A piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

Ah, so he hopes to use my presence as an excuse to find out what is going on.

Lady Raslynia’s eyes flickered. “Feoras is not available at the moment.”

“Is he with Captain Eranbalas?” Alfiabalas asked in a bland voice. “I noticed his ship is still missing from the harbor.”

Lady Raslynia lowered her eyes to stare at her hands folded delicately in her lap. “I’m afraid not.”

Iarion exchanged a puzzled look with Alfiabalas before he could stop himself, but the Sea Elf captain looked just as lost as he was.

Where was the missing captain of the Sea Elf fleet? And why was Feoras unavailable?

Iarion shook himself. This was not why he had come.

“The whereabouts of Feoras and Captain Eranbalas are none of your concern,” Lord Telariras chided with only a hint of awkwardness. He leaned forward in his seat and pinned Iarion with his silver gaze.

“Now tell me, Iarion. Why are you here?”

* * *

Alfiabalas did his best not to flinch at his lord’s reprimand. He held his breath, waiting for Iarion to respond. Why had the Wood Elf wanted to come here? He suddenly wished he had made more of an effort to speak with Iarion during the journey from the mainland. What if he only wanted to beg the lord and lady for the hand of one of their daughters, or some such nonsense?

But no, Iarion had seemed uninterested when Alfiabalas had warned him about the flirtatious nature of Sea Elf women.

Iarion squared his shoulders. “I was hoping you might be able to help me—you or Feoras.”

Lord Telariras’s slender brows rose in surprise. “And what do you expect us to do that your own lord and lady cannot?” Everyone else in the audience hall remained silent.

Iarion took a deep breath before continuing. “I am not like other Wood Elves. In fact, I suspect I am not like any Shadow Elf from any of the tribes.”

“Is it because of your eyes?” Nimrilriel blurted from where she stood on the dais with her sisters, until her parents silenced her with a look.

“No. I believe they are a marking though…” Iarion shook his head to himself and met Lord Telariras’s gaze. “I have no connection to the Quenya.”

A long moment of silence followed his words as everyone within earshot digested them. It was as if Iarion had thrown a large stone into a still pond. The surface of the water ruffled as the stone sank to the bottom.

“Of course, the Light Elves have a much stronger connection than we do,” Lady Raslynia said in a reasonable tone. “Some Shadow Elves just have a stronger connection than others—”

Iarion cut her off. “I do not have one at all.”

“But that is not possible.” Lord Telariras’s voice was gentle, but firm. “You must be mistaken.”

Iarion raised his chin. “I was born during the Age of Shadow.”

Alfiabalas took an involuntary step backward. The Age of Shadow! “You have walked Lasniniar for over three thousand years?” he asked in a choked voice.

At most, a Shadow Elf might expect to live up to two thousand years, perhaps a bit longer if their life’s purpose had not been fulfilled. Only the Quenya could communicate that purpose. And if Iarion had no connection to it…

Iarion nodded as he read Alfiabalas’s shocked expression.

“Then you cannot die!” Alfiabalas blurted before he could stop himself.

Iarion could be killed, of course. But with no way to know what his purpose was, he could never fulfill it. The very idea was beyond anything Alfiabalas could imagine. Even he had always had his gut hunches and intuition. He knew he was meant to sail the seas of Lasniniar—a captain of his own ship. No wonder Iarion’s strange eyes were haunted…

Iarion nodded. “I have always suspected I was different, but it took some time for me to realize what that difference was. I had no way of knowing what I was missing—only that something was missing. I thought perhaps as I reached my two thousandth year…”

He shook himself. “I have spent time with those among the Wood Elves and Earth Elves who have the strongest connection to the Quenya,” he continued in a numb voice. “A long time. But there was nothing they could teach me that helped. I am as cut off from the Quenya as I was on the day I was born.”

Alfiabalas wondered how many friends and family members Iarion had watched grow old and die during his prolonged lifetime. On the surface, immortality seemed like a gift. But immortality without purpose was a recipe for madness.

Lady Raslynia leaned back in her seat with a blank look of shock. “I am sorry, Iarion. I cannot imagine…” She shook her head, her long, white hair rustling around her shoulders. “I have never heard of such a thing. My own connection to the Quenya is stronger than most Sea Elves—aside from our youngest, Rasniwyn. But I can sense nothing that might help you.”

Rasniwyn’s sisters nudged her, and she opened her mouth to speak, but fell silent as her father took charge.

“It is unfortunate Feoras is not with us,” Lord Telariras said with a rueful look. “The Learnéd One might know something of this.”

Iarion remained silent for a moment. Alfiabalas watched him from the corner of his eye. If the lord and lady’s words were a blow to him, he seemed to be taking it well.

“May I impose on your hospitality further then?” Iarion gave the rulers of the Sea Elves a pleading look. “I would like to stay on your island until Feoras returns.”

Lord Telariras and Lady Raslynia exchanged an unreadable look that made Alfiabalas uneasy. What reason could they possibly have to deny Iarion’s heartfelt request?

Lord Telariras cleared his throat. “I’m afraid we have no way of knowing when Feoras will be available.”

“I have no intention of inconveniencing anyone,” Iarion said as his face flushed with a trace of indignation. “I have already offered Alfiabalas my services to help with whatever situation has cut you off from your mainland people. I know I am only one elf, but I have fought in the Northern Wars. And I am more than capable of providing my own food and shelter, if needed.” He spoke the words with quiet dignity.

“You are welcome to stay, of course,” Lady Raslynia said in a hasty voice with a flickering gaze toward her mate. “That is not the issue. We simply do not want you to waste your time.”

Iarion’s lips twisted. “Time is something I have in abundance. Feoras still makes his home here, does he not?” His expression turned puzzled. “Surely he will return here eventually from wherever he has gone—unless his absence is part of your deliberate isolation from the mainland, in which case, I have already offered my assistance.” He gave the lord and lady a pointed look.

Lord Telariras cleared his throat. “Yes. And we are very appreciative of your offer, however—”

“He is the one, Father,” Rasniwyn announced. Alfiabalas blinked in confusion. Her silver eyes were pinned on Iarion.

Lord Telariras shifted in his seat to face his youngest daughter. “You are certain?”

Rasniwyn gave him a solemn nod.

Alfiabalas’s gaze flickered to Iarion, but the Wood Elf looked just as confused as he was.

‘The one’?

Lord Telariras bowed his head for a moment. Lady Raslynia reached out to touch his arm. He looked up at Iarion.

“Very well. I will take you to Feoras.”

* * *

Iarion frowned in confusion as Lord Telariras rose from his seat. “But you said—”

The Lord of the Sea Elves shook his silver head. “I told you Feoras was not available. I never said he was not at Mar Ras.”

Iarion felt a strange chill go through him at his words. What did that mean? His stomach clenched. Surely Feoras wasn’t dead? The Sea Elves would not dare to cover something like that up…

“He lives,” Lady Raslynia said to him in a low voice as she stepped off the dais to join her husband at Iarion’s side. Her eyes had shifted to murky green again, but her expression was sorrowful.

She took her mate’s arm and they swept ahead of Iarion and Alfiabalas to lead the way. Even though Iarion was fairly certain he was the only one meant to follow, Alfiabalas trailed behind him, followed by the lord and lady’s three daughters, who whispered amongst themselves as they went.

They fell silent as their father shot them a glare over his shoulder.

“You three do not need to come with us,” he said in a firm voice. His gaze drifted to Alfiabalas, who gave him an anxious look. “Alfiabalas may come. His services may be needed.”

Iarion blinked. What services might Alfiabalas offer if Feoras was already inside the tower?

The lord’s words had little affect on his daughters. All three began protesting at once.

“I don’t see why we cannot come, Father,” Rasniwyn said above her sister’s voices. Her expression was stern. “We are all aware of Feoras’s condition. And if not for me, you would not have known about Iarion.”

Iarion resisted the urge to ask several questions at once. Feoras’s condition? And how exactly did the lord and lady think Iarion fit into all this?

Lord Telariras shared another unreadable look with his mate.

“They are bound to find out eventually,” Lady Raslynia said to him in a low voice that Iarion barely managed to hear.

Lord Telariras uttered a sigh. “Very well.”

He turned away and continued to pace across the overlapping carpets of the audience chamber to a set of winding stairs that led upward into the spire of the tower. His silver robes rustled as he went.

Lady Raslynia went after him, followed by Iarion, Alfiabalas, and the three sisters, who continued to confer in hushed tones. Every time Iarion sneaked a glance over his shoulder at them, they looked up with fluttering eyelashes, forcing him to blush and look away. He was by no means an untried virgin, but he remembered Alfiabalas’s words of warning well.

All three of the lord and lady’s daughters were lithe and lovely. And if circumstances were different… Well.

He just hoped he wasn’t going to end up spending too long on Rasdaria.

He shook his head to himself and focused on the matter at hand as they ascended the narrow stairs. The briny scent of his own travel-stained clothes mingled with Alfiabalas’s in the close confines, overlaid by the waterlily perfume of the ladies following on their heels. It made for a strange mixture.

They continued traveling up the spiraling staircase, past several closed doors. Lord Telariras finally stopped at one door in particular. Iarion could see little to distinguish it from the others, aside from the outline of a wave carved into its polished, wooden surface.

Lord Telariras opened the door without knocking.

Iarion’s stomach fluttered in anticipation. Soon, he would meet Feoras. Even the three daughters fell silent behind him.

Lord Telariras entered the chamber, followed by his mate. Iarion hesitated before joining them.

The interior was spacious and airy, with a large balcony overlooking the sea. His booted footsteps were muffled by more plush carpeting in blues, greens, and silvers. The balcony was open, allowing the evening breeze to carry in the scent of the ocean. A glass lantern stood on a wooden bedside table beside a water clock. Its flickering light revealed a figure propped up by pillows and covered by blankets.

His bronze face was waxy in appearance beneath the graying brown of his beard. His matching, shoulder-length hair had been combed out, but was dull and had no luster. Despite the fabric merchant’s assertions of his Sea Elf heritage, the tips of his ears were rounded. His eyes were closed.

For a moment, Iarion feared the figure in the bed really was dead, but then he noticed the faint rise and fall of his chest beneath the covers. Still, Iarion could feel his heart sinking.

Lord Telariras broke the silence, confirming Iarion’s fears.

“This is Feoras.”

* * *

For a moment, Alfiabalas felt as if he were falling. He tried to reconcile the man in the bed with the vital Learnéd One of Water all the Sea Elves revered. The frail figure couldn’t be Feoras…

“What happened to him?” he blurted. Iarion remained silent beside him, a stunned expression on his face.

“He was attacked,” Lord Telariras said before Alfiabalas could apologize for speaking out of turn.

Alfiabalas gaped. Attacked? By what? His mind groped for an answer.

“The Fallen One?” he asked in a disbelieving voice. The Sea Elves had no other enemy that had the capability of harming someone like Feoras. But Saviadro had been quiet for some time…

Lord Telariras shook his head. “A creature of the deeps.”

Alfiabalas was too shocked to reply. Feoras was the Learnéd One of Water. His Quenya-given magic gave him power over that element, as well as the ability to communicate with the denizens of the sea. Alfiabalas couldn’t even imagine one of them harming him.

“Perhaps it would be better to start at the beginning,” Lady Raslynia said as she took her mate’s arm.

“Indeed.” Lord Telariras sighed. “We had begun to hear rumors of something strange on the northwestern coast—a creature in the water. We ignored them at first. The few elves who live on that side of the island lead fairly isolated lives and are sometimes prone to exaggeration. But then some of them started going missing.”

Alfiabalas’s blue-green eyes widened. He caught Iarion giving him a questioning sidelong glance and gave a brief shake of his head. This was the first he had heard of any of this.

“Feoras went with Eranbalas to investigate,” Lord Telariras continued. “What they discovered…” He trailed off with a hesitant look in his daughters’ direction.

“It was a creature like none we have seen before,” Rasniwyn spoke up with a flicker of a frown in her eyes as her father fell silent. “According to Eranbalas, it is a male elf from the waist up with long, green hair. His lower body is that of a giant squid.”

“What?” Alfiabalas blinked as his mind tried to form a picture of the strange creature. “But what is it? Where did it come from? How did it manage to harm Feoras?”

“The creature attacked Eranbalas’s ship,” Lady Raslynia said in a low voice. “It marshaled the other sea creatures to help it. Feoras tried to use his powers to reach out to them, but the creature’s hold over them was too strong. When Feoras made contact with their minds, he collapsed. Eranbalas was forced to retreat. He lost several good elves before the creature allowed his ship to flee. Feoras has been like this ever since.” She raised a hand to make a helpless gesture toward the motionless figure in the bed.

Alfiabalas opened his mouth to ask more. “But what—”

Lord Telariras raised his own hand to forestall him. “We believe the creature was once one of the Sea Folk.”

“The Sea Folk?” Iarion blurted, his strange eyes goggling.

Alfiabalas could understand his surprise. The Sea Folk had become the stuff of legend. Half-elf, half-fish creatures, they had vanished long ago during the destruction of Ralvaniar—the elves’ original home island to the east. Even though the Sea Elves had never truly given up the search for them during the millennia that followed, no sign of them had ever been found.

Lord Telariras nodded. “It would explain the creature’s coloring. Raslynia believes it was separated from the rest of its kind during the cataclysm and got caught up in the maelstrom.”

Alfiabalas bit his lip as he considered. What Lord Telariras said made sense. According to elven history, the wild magic that had been unleashed during Ralvaniar’s downfall had ripped at the very fabric of the world. If a creature had been caught unaware in the heart of it beneath the waves…

Alfiabalas shook his head. “Where is Eranbalas now?”

“He returned to the northwestern coast after dropping off Feoras,” Lord Telariras said. His expression darkened. “We have not heard word from him since.”

“We have sent gulls, but none of them have returned,” Lady Raslynia said with a faint look of consternation. “We feared to send anyone else after him, in case they became lost to us as well.”

And they had kept the entire matter secret to avoid alarming the populace. If it became general knowledge that Feoras had fallen to a strange sea creature, chaos would likely follow. There would be those who would want to flee the island, and others, who would rush off to face the monster, just as Eranbalas had done. One look at Lord Telariras’s expression told Alfiabalas that the captain of the Sea Elf fleet had not sailed with the lord and lady’s permission.

Then again, Eranbalas had always been a bit rash. Worse, he probably blamed himself for what had happened to Feoras…

Iarion cleared his throat. Everyone in the room turned to look at him. “Forgive me, but how do I fit into all this? I believe you said something about me being ‘the one’?” He quirked an eyebrow in Rasniwyn’s direction.

Rasniwyn flashed him a dimpled smile before turning serious. “When my sisters and I heard about what had happened—”

“Overheard,” Lord Telariras corrected in a stern voice.

All three sisters flushed. Rasniwyn made a dismissive gesture and continued. “Yes. Well. This was some time after Feoras had returned. Supplies on the island were running low. My sisters and I knew something was wrong, but no one would tell us what it was.” She shot her parents an accusatory look.

“Rasniwyn knew if Alfiabalas was sent to the mainland, he would find someone who could help us,” Rilriel interrupted, fluttering her lashes in Iarion’s direction. “She has always had a strong connection to the Quenya.”

“But what can I do?” Iarion blurted. “I have no powers over sea creatures. The only reason I came here at all is because I have no connection to the Quenya.” His lips twisted at the bitter irony.

Rasniwyn shrugged. “I don’t know.” She gave him a trusting look, her silver eyes shining. “But I knew you were the one we needed as soon as I saw you.”

* * *

Iarion did his best to stifle a groan. What had he gotten himself into? He had offered to help, but what good would a Wood Elf be against some kind of magical sea monster?

“Something must be done about the creature,” Lord Telariras said with a sigh. “We can only hope that if it is defeated, Feoras will waken.”

And then he might be able to help me.

Lord Telariras didn’t say as much, but Iarion sensed the meaning behind his words. He shifted his weight as he considered. A breeze from the balcony stirred his long, silver braids around his shoulders.

Lady Raslynia gave her mate a stern look before turning to face Iarion. “You must know before you agree to help us that there is a good chance Feoras will know nothing about the solution to your problem. He has spent most of his adult years here with us on Rasdaria. It seems doubtful he will know anything that might help you.”

Iarion’s heart sank as she spoke, but he was inclined to agree. Still, some chance was better than none…

And he could hardly walk away now. Even if he was only a single Wood Elf, he would never forgive himself if he left Feoras to his fate without at least trying to help him. Besides, even if he had no connection to the Quenya of his own to prompt him, Rasniwyn seemed certain he was meant to do something.

Lady Raslynia’s eyes shifted to pale blue as she read his expression. “There is something else you must know.” Her gaze slid to her mate, who seemed to flinch at her words.

Iarion looked to their three daughters. All three Sea Elf ladies were watching their parents with open curiosity. Suddenly, Iarion knew. This was what Lord Telariras did not want them to hear.

Lady Raslynia took a deep breath before continuing. “The creature calls himself Rashura.” She ignored her mate’s snort of derision. “He gave Eranbalas a message to pass on to us before letting him escape with Feoras and his remaining crew.”

Rasniwyn leaned forward, her silver eyes narrowing. “What message?”

Lady Raslynia closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, they were a bright blue-green. “He had heard from his other victims about the daughters of the Ruling Lord and Lady.” Her eyes met Iarion’s. “He said he will stop molesting our people—if we gave him one of them in exchange.”

Iarion’s breath hissed between his teeth. He heard Alfiabalas make a choking sound beside him. The three elven sisters went pale.

“This is ridiculous!” Lord Telariras thundered as he began pacing the carpeted floor. His mate gave Feoras a wincing look, but the Learnéd One showed no sign of hearing him.

“I cannot have this… this creature threatening our people,” Lord Telariras continued. His face was flushed with anger. “And I will not give it one of our daughters!”

Rasniwyn seemed to recover first. “But if it will stop him from harming anyone else—”

Lord Telariras whirled toward her. “Don’t you dare even think about it. How can we possibly even trust such a creature to keep its word? If it survived in the heart of the maelstrom, it can’t possibly be sane.”

Iarion nodded in agreement. It was never wise to negotiate with an outside attacker. Hadn’t the Fallen One proven as much in the past? If the lord and lady did hand over one of their daughters in good faith, what was to stop this Rashura from demanding something more?

“He must be dealt with,” Iarion said. His voice was quiet, but everyone stopped to listen. He did his best not to flush under the weight of their combined gazes. “I don’t know what help I can possibly be, but I will go with Alfiabalas and see what can be done.”

It wasn’t as if he had any other pressing engagements…

“Me?” Alfiabalas said from beside him. He swallowed.

Iarion shrugged. “Of course. That’s why Lord Telariras agreed for you to hear what had happened.” He shot the Lord of the Sea Elves a questioning look and was rewarded with a nod.

Iarion nudged the captain in the ribs, which proved to be an ineffectual maneuver with Alfiabalas’s fish mail. Iarion suppressed a wince.

“Besides, didn’t you bring me here so you could find out what was going on?”

Alfiabalas’s eyes were a bit wild. “Well, yes, but—”

Iarion nodded. “It’s settled then. We’ll sail over to the northwestern coast in that boat of yours and try to figure out how to deal with that mutant squid.”

“Ship,” Alfiabalas corrected in an absent tone.

“Ship, yes,” Iarion nodded. “So we’re agreed then?”

Alfiabalas gave him a bewildered look. “Um, yes?”

Iarion gave him a hearty slap on the back with an air of confidence he did not feel, forgetting once more about the fish mail. “Good.”

He did his best to ignore the admiring looks of the lord and lady’s three daughters and the stinging of his hand.

* * *

“Are you mad?” Alfiabalas hissed to Iarion under his breath as they were led back down the winding stairs by the Lord and Lady of the Sea Elves.

Both he and Iarion had been offered an invitation to dinner with the ruling family, but Iarion had declined, citing the driving need for him and Alfiabalas to prepare for their upcoming confrontation instead. Alfiabalas suspected Iarion’s polite refusal had more to do with avoiding Rilriel, Nimrilriel, and Rasniwyn, who were now even more intrigued by him than ever, thanks to his bold offer to deal with the sea creature Rashura.

“I don’t think so,” Iarion responded to Alfiabalas’s sarcastic inquiry in a low voice. “Then again, mad people never really know they’re mad, do they?”

Alfiabalas resisted the urge to shake him. He couldn’t believe Iarion was being so blasé about a creature that had taken out Feoras. Were all Wood Elves so reckless?

He risked a glance over his shoulder to see whether the three sisters had heard the exchange, but there was no sign of them on the narrow stairwell behind him.

Huh. I wonder where they got off to?

He wouldn’t have expected any of them to want Iarion out of their collective sight now that they clearly considered him fair game. For a moment, he almost felt sorry for his Wood Elf companion. The only thing guaranteed to make the three sisters even more interested in a handsome, male elf, suffering from a tragic and mysterious affliction was a display of bravery. Alfiabalas could only imagine how they would fawn on Iarion once all this was over.

Assuming they survived, of course.

I did try to warn him about them.

“How can you be so calm about this?” Alfiabalas demanded.

Iarion’s shoulders raised in a shrug. “I’m not. Not really. But let’s just say that one thing I’ve learned during my many long years is that getting worked up about the situation isn’t going to help.”

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Alfiabalas pressed as he followed at Iarion’s heels, their booted feet making a dull, echoing scuffle against the stairs. “It isn’t your problem. No one would blame you for asking me to sail you back to the mainland. You heard Lady Raslynia. Even if we succeed, Feoras might not be able to help you.”

Iarion’s brow furrowed. “But I’m here, and Rasniwyn’s connection to the Quenya says I’m meant to be.”

Alfiabalas’s lips twisted as he debated how to approach the matter. “I cannot dispute her connection to the Quenya. But she is young, and dazzled by a romantic stranger. Perhaps she only saw what she wished to see.”

Iarion shot him a level look over his shoulder. “What does your connection to the Quenya tell you?”

Alfiabalas scoffed. “My connection is nowhere near as strong—”

Iarion rolled his silver-flecked sapphire eyes. “What does your intuition tell you then? The one that told you to bring me here in the first place?”

Alfiabalas bit his lip and almost stumbled at Iarion’s words. He hadn’t even thought about it. He leaned against the smooth, shell-lined wall for a moment to consider it, his eyes closing.

Iarion was right.

It wasn’t a strong sensation, but it was there. The pull of an upcoming journey—along with a sense of unease.

He rushed down the steps to catch up with the others. Iarion spared him another backward glance and nodded when he saw Alfiabalas’s expression.

“If Rasniwyn says I am meant to go, and you sense it too, how am I to refuse?” His strange eyes took on that haunted look again. “I have no connection to the Quenya of my own.” He turned away and continued down the steps.

Alfiabalas stared after him. Now that he could sense that he was meant to take on this quest, it was twisting his stomach in knots. But he also knew it was part of what had been planned for him…

He shook his head. How could Iarion accept the challenge without even having that same comfort?

Maybe he really is mad…

And Alfiabalas had just agreed to sail with him into a life-or-death situation. He started to question his own sanity.

They finally reached the bottom of the winding stairs. The lord and lady escorted them to the entrance of the tower with solemn expressions.

“I wish there was something we could do to help you,” Lord Telariras said. “I would send the entire Sea Elf fleet to escort you, if I thought it would help. It was what I wanted to do, when Eranbalas brought the message back with Feoras.” He shot his mate a reproachful look.

“Rasniwyn only saw one ship going to face Rashura,” Lady Raslynia said with a rueful look. “I saw the same.” She clasped her mate’s arm. “I want to deal with the creature as much as you do, but I do not want to throw lives away needlessly in the process. How many has he taken already?”

Iarion nodded. “I understand. Alfiabalas and I will find a way.” He spoke the words with a confidence Alfiabalas did not share.

“Wait!”

Everyone turned with startled expressions at the sound of Rasniwyn’s voice echoing in the stairwell. It was immediately followed by a chorus of light slapping sounds from the feet of thin soled slippers as all three sisters hustled down the winding staircase and across the audience hall toward them.

“You must take this with you.” Rasniwyn’s voice was breathless as she handed Iarion a medium-sized oilskin pouch.

Alfiabalas looked to her and her sisters in confusion. Rasniwyn’s expression was firm, but her sisters appeared more bewildered. In fact, when their eyes met while Rasniwyn wasn’t looking, Alfiabalas could have sworn he saw their lips twitch.

Iarion hesitated, but Rasniwyn thrust the pouch toward him. He accepted it with a bewildered look of his own.

“Thank you,” he said with a small bow, which Alfiabalas suspected was meant to cover his confusion.

Whatever was inside the pouch, it was light. Iarion easily held it with one hand. The fingers of his free hand wandered toward the drawstring. Rasniwyn’s hand snapped out to forestall him.

“Not now.” She flushed. “It is for when you face Rashura. You will know when it is time to open it.”

Rilriel and Nimrilriel seemed to smother a set of giggles, but quickly recovered themselves. Their parents shot them a questioning look.

I have brought you a gift as well,” Rilriel said with a flirtatious smile in Iarion’s direction. She shook out a length of silvery, lightweight fabric from her arm. “My very own sea cloak. It is completely waterproof.”

“And here is my cloak brooch,” Nimrilriel said, not to be outdone. It was a lovely piece of pearls worked with starsilver.

“My thanks,” Iarion mumbled as he accepted both gifts. All three sisters fluttered their lashes at him.

“You must think of us when you wear them,” Rilriel said with a mysterious smirk in Rasniwyn’s direction. Rasniwyn raised her chin, but said nothing.

“And when you have defeated Rashura, you must return to tell us all about it,” Nimrilriel said, her green eyes sparkling with mischief. Iarion gave a dumb nod of agreement.

Alfiabalas bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.

At the moment, it was difficult to say what was the greater danger—Rashura, or the lord and lady’s daughters.

* * *

Iarion stood on the deck of the ship, the folds of Rilriel’s cloak surrounding him. Nimrilriel’s brooch winked from his throat in the afternoon sun. Even after two days, both seemed to bear the faint scent of water lilies.

At first, he had felt foolish at the idea of wearing the gifts, but Alfiabalas had assured him that a Sea Elf-made cloak would serve him better on the open water.

Iarion hated to admit it, but Alfiabalas was right. His own cloak was well made, but it had not been fashioned for the wind and rigors of the sea.

Despite Rasniwyn’s request, he had considered opening her package during the journey to the northwestern side of the island, but he managed to keep his curiosity at bay. Instead, he and Alfiabalas took turns guessing what might be inside it—each guess more outrageous than the next. It served as a way to pass the time and distract themselves from the danger they were sailing toward.

Whatever was inside the package, it was something soft. A blanket or cushion perhaps? But how something like that might help against a creature like Rashura, Iarion had no idea.

Only the most loyal of Alfiabalas’s crew had been brought with them. The Sea Elf captain had sworn them all to secrecy before telling them about their quest. None of them had asked to remain behind. Iarion wasn’t certain exactly what Alfiabalas had said to them, but he suspected it was something along the lines of, ‘Are we going to let a Wood Elf make us look like a bunch of cowards?’

Not that Alfiabalas would ever admit it, of course.

Now that Iarion and the Sea Elf captain had become united in purpose, they were developing a fast friendship based on mutual respect. Alfiabalas was always eager to hear more of Iarion’s adventures, especially from his time during the Northern Wars. And while Iarion was no expert, it was clear Alfiabalas was passionate about his craft, and more than happy to share his wealth of knowledge of the sea.

The easy banter that quickly developed between them made the time seem to pass all too quickly. Now the northwestern coast was in sight. The weather was sunny and clear. Iarion easily shifted his weight against the rise and fall of the waves beneath the ship, reveling in the feel of the salt spray against his face and the wind in his braided hair. His stomach was calm, but it seemed to tighten as they drew closer to their destination.

“Captain!” one of the crew shouted from his perch in the crow’s nest.

Alfiabalas looked up from the ship’s wheel. “What is it?” he called back.

The lookout pointed. “Another ship!”

Alfiabalas pulled a distance viewer from his belt and extended the metal tube to have a look. He handed it to Iarion with a grunt.

Iarion held the narrow end to his eye and squinted. He had never used a distance viewer before. He stifled an exclamation at how clear everything looked, even though he knew it was leagues distant. The glass lens winked in the sun as he swept the area for signs of the other ship.

His heart sank.

The wreckage of a large vessel was strewn across the rocky shore of the island. The ragged sails were trimmed in crimson.

“I don’t think we can hold out much hope for Eranbalas,” Alfiabalas said in a low voice as Iarion lowered the distance viewer. “He would never abandon his ship or crew.”

“Has there been any storm in this area?” Iarion asked with a faint trace of hope.

Alfiabalas shook his head. “Rashura must have marshaled the creatures of the sea to destroy it.”

Iarion swallowed. “What’s to stop him from doing it again?”

He had no problem with the general idea of grappling face-to-face with an overwhelming opponent, but the thought of being taken down by unseen attacks from below, without even getting a chance to strike a blow in return unnerved him.

“I’ve thought about that.” Alfiabalas scratched at his jaw. “I have no desire to risk my crew either. If we fai—” He shook his head. “If things don’t go our way, we will want someone to be able to return to Mar Ras with an update.”

“So what do we do?” Iarion resisted the urge to look over the side for any sign of Rashura. Just because they hadn’t reached the cove where he seemed to make his home yet didn’t mean the creature wouldn’t come to them

“We will go in a rowboat—just the two of us. The rest of the crew will wait here.”

“A rowboat?” Iarion demanded in disbelief. “You want to go up against a magical squid monster in a rowboat?

Alfiabalas shot him a dark look. “Do you have any better ideas? What were you planning on doing once we got here?” He planted his hands on his hips.

Iarion gave a helpless shrug. “I figured you would sail this big boat of yours close enough—”

“Ship,” Alfiabalas corrected in a weary tone.

“…and I thought once the creature showed himself, I would throw myself over the side at him.”

Alfiabalas gave him a flat look. “That was your plan.”

Iarion shrugged again. “I usually play this sort of thing by ear.”

“Oh, you mean all the other times you’ve fought a magic squid monster?” Alfiabalas raised a silver eyebrow at him.

“Look, you’re the ocean expert,” Iarion snapped. “You’re the one who has some kind of connection to the Quenya. I thought you would have some kind of reasonable idea about how to approach the creature.”

“I’m assuming you mean something other than a rowboat?”

Iarion threw his arms up in the air. “Yes, something other than a rowboat!” He lowered his arms as he realized the rest of the crew was staring. He took a steadying breath as another thought occurred to him. “Look. Maybe it’s time to see what Rasniwyn gave me. She said it would help us to face Rashura.”

Alfiabalas’s face lit up. “Yes. She has a strong connection to the Quenya. Whatever she gave you, it must be useful.”

Iarion rushed across the deck to retrieve the oilskin pouch from his cabin as Alfiabalas called out the order to drop anchor. For what must have been the hundredth time, Iarion weighed the package in his hands and tried to guess its contents.

“Well?” Alfiabalas demanded as he brought it out on deck.

Iarion fumbled with the drawstring with the faint stirrings of hope as he silently berated himself for not thinking of Rasniwyn’s package sooner. Surely this would be the answer to all their problems…

As he got the drawstrings undone, he tugged at the opening to widen it and reached inside. His fingers met a bundle of soft fabric. It almost seemed to slither in his hand. He frowned in confusion.

“What is it?” Alfiabalas demanded as he watched in breathless anticipation.

Iarion pulled the length of fabric out of the opening of the bag. It was all a single piece. It gave a faint, silver shimmer in the sunlight. His eyes widened in disbelief as it took shape in his arms.

It was a long, silk dress.

* * *

Alfiabalas’s mind struggled to make sense of the item dangling from Iarion’s arm.

“A dress?” Iarion said, sounding every bit as bewildered as Alfiabalas felt. “What the…” Iarion shook his head. “Why in the name of the Quenya did she give me a dress?

Alfiabalas frowned. “Rasniwyn must have had a reason—”

Iarion shook the offending garment at him. “What does she expect me to do? Lull Rashura into a trance with some kind of provocative dance while I wear this thing?”

Alfiabalas felt his lips twitch at the mental image, but he forced himself to maintain his composure. Suddenly, the reactions of Rasniwyn’s sisters made sense.

“Her connection to the Quenya is strong,” he said. “She must have sensed it would be useful to us somehow.”

“All right, then you wear it.” Iarion shoved the dress at him.

Alfiabalas pushed it away. “I believe she gave it to you.” He gave Iarion a pointed look. “You’re the whole reason I was sent to the mainland in the first place, remember?”

Iarion lowered the dress with a scowl.

“Maybe it’s a mistake,” Alfiabalas consoled him. “Maybe she meant to grab something else instead.”

Iarion gave him a black look. “You saw the way her sisters were giggling and how she blushed. No, she meant to give this to me. She probably didn’t even know why.”

He began pacing the deck with the dress clutched in his hand.

“Careful,” Alfiabalas couldn’t resist saying. “Silk has a tendency to crumple.”

Iarion looked up from his pacing to give him a flat look. “Thanks.” He flung the dress over his shoulder instead as he muttered a few choice words under his breath.

“I’m just saying, if you’re going to wear Rasniwyn’s dress, you might as well try to look the part,” Alfiabalas found himself continuing before he could stop himself. His voice was thick with laughter. “She would never wear something like that if it had wrinkles in it, and I’m sure she’s hoping to get it back in decent condition.”

Iarion stopped pacing.

Alfiabalas took a wary step back, wondering whether he had gone too far.

But Iarion wasn’t looking at him at all. Instead, the Wood Elf looked down at the dress draped over his shoulder and then over at the area where Eranbalas’s ruined ship lay. His strange eyes met Alfiabalas’s.

“Help me get this thing on.”

* * *

Iarion sat in the rowboat with Alfiabalas, doing his best not to feel ridiculous. The silver, silken fabric of Rasniwyn’s dress pooled around his legs and bare feet. His sturdy boots were hardly a match for it.

He and Alfiabalas had been forced to get creative about filling out certain areas. Several handkerchiefs and other odds and ends had been stuffed down the front to give him the illusion of a bust. Thankfully, few elven women were excessively endowed in that department, and Rasniwyn was no exception. Iarion’s long, silver braids had been arranged artfully around his shoulders. He sat with his hands folded demurely in his lap as Alfiabalas rowed. The ship had fallen into the distance behind them as the sun continued its inexorable journey toward the western horizon.

“Are you sure about this?” Alfiabalas asked for the umpteenth time.

Iarion’s shoulders lifted in a shrug that made the dress give a faint rustle. “As sure as I can be.” The faint smell of water lilies tickled his nostrils.

Rashura had demanded one of the lord and lady’s daughters in exchange for peace. If he saw a lone sailor bringing what appeared to be an elven woman to the place where he was known to make his home, surely he would let them get close enough to have his hostage delivered…

He might also let his guard down if he thought the Sea Elves had simply given in to his request.

“So what’s the plan?” Alfiabalas asked in a low voice as he worked the oars in an easy rhythm that cut both air and water to propel them forward at a steady pace—swish, dip, pull.

“Same as before.” Iarion spoke without moving his lips. Had he noticed a shadow moving beneath the water? “Try to jump him as soon as we get close enough.”

Alfiabalas looked like he wanted to argue, but seemed to think the better of it. It was too late to come up with anything else. “Should I try to distract him?”

Iarion’s lips tightened in a thin smile. “It probably wouldn’t hurt. But try not to antagonize him. I would hate to have to row all the way back to that big boat of yours on my own.”

Alfiabalas sighed. “Ship.” His blue-green eyes turned mischievous. “You look lovely, by the way. The dress really brings out the silver in your eyes.”

Iarion made a show of stroking his hair and batting his lashes as he had seen the three elven sisters do. “Why thank you.”

He had to admit, the silk felt pleasant against his skin, but all the excess fabric bunched down his front was a bit stifling. He could feel a prickle of sweat forming in his ‘bosom’ area. He brushed his fingers against the skirt of the dress to reassure himself that his long hunting knife was still secure against his thigh beneath it.

His mouth was dry and sour. Despite his casual banter, he was nervous. His plan was thin at best, and he couldn’t stop his eyes from darting to the water to look for signs of movement from below.

Worse, there was something he hadn’t told Alfiabalas, but now hardly seemed like the right time…

The water beneath them surged. A geyser sprang up from the depths, whipping saltwater against Iarion’s face and bare arms. He clutched at the side of the pitching rowboat with white knuckles and stared. Alfiabalas’s fingers slipped from the oars as his silver eyes rolled upward.

A large figure rose from the deeps, only a few feet away from their boat. It loomed over them, casting them in shadow.

Its dusky skinned upper body resembled that of a Shadow Elf, except it was much more heavily muscled—almost unnaturally so, especially in comparison with Iarion’s and Alfiabalas’s lean frames. Long, green hair tumbled over the creatures broad, bare shoulders, tangled with bits of shell and seaweed. A makeshift crown of coral sat atop its head and he carried a crude trident in one hand. Green tentacles writhed in the water around him, suction cups gleaming wetly in the late afternoon sun. Despite his horrified fascination of those appendages, Iarion’s gaze was drawn inexorably to the creature’s piercing, green eyes.

They were completely mad.

* * *

“So,” the creature rumbled in stilted Elvish in a voice that echoed across the waves. Alfiabalas did his best not to wince. “Your coward leaders have fulfilled their end of the bargain.”

The water around them churned with sea creatures as he spoke. Alfiabalas saw Iarion swallow as the sharp dorsal fins of a pair of sharks appeared to circle the rowboat.

This was it. This was the moment they had been waiting for. Despite the sharks and surge of the ocean, Rashura was well within jumping distance.

Iarion remained motionless, his knuckles white around the wooden edge of the rowboat.

This was the elf who had fought in the Northern Wars against Saviadro’s creatures of darkness. What was wrong with him?

After a moment of startled silence and a questioning look in the Wood Elf’s direction, Alfiabalas gave a humble nod. “Hail, Lord Rashura,” he intoned in an effort to buy some time. “I am Captain Alfiabalas. I have brought the lord and lady’s most prized daughter, Raslynia.” He gestured toward Iarion.

The creature’s green eyes narrowed. “Lord Rashura?” He drew himself up to display his muscular torso above the water. “Hm. I like the sound of that.”

Iarion still appeared frozen. Alfiabalas resisted the urge to smack him with the flat of one of the oars. Instead, he sketched a bow from where he sat.

“A title befitting your station, as far as I’m concerned. You have brought our Learnéd One of Water low and humbled our lord and lady.”

Rashura scoffed. “It is no more than they deserve. After what you land walkers did to my people, I will see all of you brought low.” His expression darkened for a moment before changing swiftly once more to a more speculative look.

“Others of your kind tried to harm me,” he said in a silken tone. “Tried and failed. But you come with words of honor and the woman I requested.”

“It is an honor to serve a mighty and powerful lord such as yourself,” Alfiabalas said with only a flicker of wariness in his eyes.

Rashura uttered a gusty sigh. “It has been a long time since I had anyone but fish to talk to. And I might need a regular messenger to take my orders to your so-called lord and lady. They have other daughters, do they not?”

Alfiabalas swallowed as he felt himself go cold all over. “Yes. Two.” He had a feeling Rashura knew this already, and was afraid to be caught in a lie. “Rilriel and Nimrilriel.”

Rashura nodded. “Good. My own people are long gone—destroyed by the magic storm created by the land walkers. I have been alone ever since. But not for much longer.”

Alfiabalas’s stomach clenched. “My lord?” he asked in an unsteady voice, even though he suspected he had already guessed Rashura’s intention.

“The Sea Folk must start over,” Rashura said with a growing smile. “I am much stronger now than any of my people were anyway.” His green gaze fell upon Iarion.

“And I will start with the one you call Raslynia.”

* * *

A tentacle darted out from the water to wrap around Iarion’s torso before he could react. Its wet weight tightened around him, pressing his arms to his sides and driving some of the air from his lungs. His bare feet dangled helplessly in the air as Rashura lifted him out of the rowboat to bring him closer for inspection.

The waves churned several feet below as Iarion hovered in midair. The dripping, rubbery surface of Rashura’s tentacle had plastered the upper part of Iarion’s skirts against his legs, but the hem of the silken fabric was still dry. It flapped around his ankles in the wind. Iarion’s eyes widened in a surge of panic as he was brought face to face with the sea monster.

“Hmm,” Rashura rumbled as his mad gaze roved across Iarion’s face and form. His green eyes were almost all pupil. “Not as soft as I might have expected. But her eyes are quite fetching…”

He held Iarion’s gaze. A numbness was creeping down Iarion’s arm from Rashura’s grip. He mentally shouldered his panic aside and struggled to inch his tingling fingers toward the slit he had cut in the side of the dress near the hilt of his hidden knife. He hadn’t come this far to fall apart now.

This was the closest he was ever going to get to Rashura, as far as he was concerned. Iarion had no interest in letting things progress far enough for him to get any closer… His fingertips brushed the pommel of his knife.

“They are unusual among our kind,” Alfiabalas called out in a helpful voice from the boat below as Rashura continued to admire Iarion’s eyes. “They are a mark of her connection to the Quenya.”

Iarion ignored the irony of his words and did his best to slide his arm further down without attracting Rashura’s attention to what he was doing.

His arm didn’t budge.

Iarion suppressed a curse. “You are very strong, my lord,” he said in a high-pitched, breathless voice that wasn’t entirely feigned.

“Yes, I know,” Rashura preened, looking pleased with himself.

“Your grip is a little tight,” Iarion forced himself to continue. “My arms are starting to go numb. If I am going to please you, my lord…” Iarion left the implication dangling.

Rashura’s green eyes widened as he caught Iarion’s meaning. “Yes, of course! How thoughtless of me.”

Iarion’s heart rose to his throat as Rashura transferred him into the crook of his free arm instead, as if he weighed no more than a sack of flour. Rashura pressed Iarion against him in an awkward, side-embrace. Iarion uttered a breathless hiss as cool water rushed around his bare legs beneath the swirling skirt of Rasniwyn’s dress beneath the waves. Alfiabalas watched the transfer from the boat with a wild-eyed expression. Iarion made himself look away.

Iarion’s new position was somewhat better. His right arm was free while he used his left arm to cling to Rashura’s muscled back in a tight grip borne out of necessity.

“There,” Rashura said with a note of satisfaction. “That is better.”

His hand slipped down to cup Iarion’s bottom beneath the water. Iarion forced a frozen smile as the fingers of his right hand continued to creep toward the hidden knife strapped to his thigh. He suppressed a shudder as he felt one of the circling sharks brush against his foot.

“Are you eager to please me, Unusual One?” Rashura asked him, his green eyes becoming speculative.

Iarion nodded. “Oh, yes. You are so much stronger than any of the Sea Elves.” He was so close…

Rashura gave him a sleek-looking smile. “And what about your sisters? Do you think they would like to please me as well? If we are going to bring forth a new generation of the Sea Folk, we will need more than just the two of us.”

Iarion fluttered his eyelashes and let out a girlish giggle as his fingers tightened around the hilt of his knife. “Of course, my lord. My sisters and I share everything.” He ignored the sudden coughing fit that seemed to overtake Alfiabalas at the very suggestion.

“Very good,” Rashura purred. “That is the way of the Folk, you know. Everyone must serve the greater purpose.”

As Rashura spoke, one of his tentacles wormed its way up Iarion’s bare leg beneath the water, its rubbery tip probing its way up the length of him from beneath the floating skirt of Rasniwyn’s dress. Iarion suppressed a shudder of revulsion and eased his knife free as his gaze darted from the other waving tentacles to the fins of the sharks in the water surrounding him. He took a steadying breath…

Rashura’s questing tentacle found a bit more than it had been expecting.

“You are no maiden!” Rashura shouted in outrage, his voice carrying for leagues in every direction.

The waves surrounding them began to churn even faster. Iarion crumpled against Rashura with a breathless moan as the tentacle clenched around his privates in a vise-like grip.

“Let him go!” Alfiabalas shouted.

Iarion watched with watering eyes as the Sea Elf captain rose to his feet in the pitching rowboat and threw the knife at his belt—the only weapon he had dared to bring—straight at Rashura.

Rashura knocked it aside easily with one of his writhing tentacles. Another reached out to capsize the boat with a heaving splash. Iarion watched helplessly as Alfiabalas knocked his head against the wooden side with a sickening thump before falling into the churning water.

“He thought he could harm me?” Rashura demanded of no one in particular as Alfiabalas sank out of sight.

Iarion tore his gaze away. Alfiabalas had given him the moment of distraction he needed. Rashura’s tentacle had slipped free from his groin.

Until Rashura remembered him.

His green eyes darkened as he looked down at the male Wood Elf in a dress who had taken him in. “And as for you…”

But Iarion was already moving. He slammed his knife into Rashura’s chest, burying the blade.

A screeching cry of disbelief burst forth from Rashura’s lips as he tossed aside his trident and used both his muscled arms and tentacles to try to wrench Iarion and his weapon free.

Iarion held fast to the hilt of his knife, dodging and kicking anything that got near him as he grimly twisted the blade. One of Rashura’s tentacles caught him in a glancing blow off the side of his head. Stars and saltwater spangled his vision. Still he did not let go.

It seemed to take an eternity for Rashura’s writhing to stop. Blood trickled from his mouth as the light in his eyes went out and the sea went calm once more. Iarion scrambled on top of his bulk and pulled his knife free as the wretched creature began to sink.

His roving eyes searched the wrecked remains of the rowboat. The sharks had left. Iarion saw a figure with familiar, silver hair bobbing facedown in the water.

His stomach tightened. Rashura was sinking beneath him. Soon, the strange sea creature would be completely invisible from the surface as Rashura continued his inexorable journey to the bottom of the ocean. Iarion had no desire to go with him. He steeled himself and jumped into the water toward Alfiabalas with his knife in hand.

* * *

Alfiabalas uttered a string of wet coughs as fresh air filled his lungs. His eyes stung, and his nose and mouth were filled with the tang of saltwater. His clothes were soaked through beneath the familiar, light weight of his fish mail. The bunched fabric clung unpleasantly to his skin. His waterlogged boots felt like lead weights.

He pushed a stray lock of silver hair from his eyes shook his head to clear it. He regretted it instantly. His skull was throbbing from where he had hit it against the side of the boat, before…

His mind shied away from the memory. He focused on his surroundings instead.

The sky was a rosy hue above him. He could feel something solid beneath his upper back, holding him up above the bobbing of the water. His fingers moved to probe its surface. Splintered planks of wood. A part of the rowboat, maybe?

Despite the calmness of the ocean, a near constant splashing sound filled his ears. He raised his head from his flotation device to look.

An elf was in the water beside him. His long, silver braids were a sodden mess around his face and Alfiabalas could make out the tattered remains of the silken dress he wore as it trailed in the water around him. One of his arms and both legs splashed about in an ineffective fashion as he did his best to propel Alfiabalas forward with his other hand. His silver-flecked sapphire eyes were narrowed against all the splashing. His face was a study of grim determination.

Iarion.

“What in the name of the Quenya are you doing flailing around like that?” Alfiabalas demanded in a hoarse voice.

Iarion stopped splashing about to cling to the side of the wreckage of the rowboat. He looked up at Alfiabalas. “I’m swimming.”

Alfiabalas snorted. “You call that swimming?”

Iarion bit his lip. “Actually, I meant to mention it earlier, but somehow it never came up. I’ve never really gone swimming before—not in the ocean, anyway.”

Alfiabalas struggled up onto his elbows in disbelief. “And you volunteered to jump out of a boat to attack a sea monster?” Now he understood Iarion’s hesitation once Rashura had arrived…

Iarion shrugged as he continued to grip at the side of the floating wood. “I’ve done plenty of wading in rivers and lakes. I figured it would translate. I hadn’t counted on the sharks though.”

For a moment, Alfiabalas was speechless. He had risked everything by putting his faith in Iarion, and the Wood Elf didn’t even know how to swim?

“You are without a doubt either the most brave or the most reckless elf I have ever met.”

Iarion smirked. “Speak for yourself. Whose idea was it for us to attack Rashura in a rowboat?”

“Well, it worked, didn’t it?” Alfiabalas huffed.

“Yes, and so did wearing a dress and trying to get friendly.” Iarion’s lips twitched. “A little too friendly, really. You know, maybe we should work out our story before we tell anyone exactly what happened.”

“Agreed,” Alfiabalas said as he noticed the telltale winking light of a distance viewer from the direction of his ship.

He rose up to a seated position so he could wave to the crew to come fetch them. He certainly wasn’t willing to wait for Iarion’s so-called swimming to get them where they needed to go…

What in the Quenya’s name am I going to tell my crew?

They had seen Iarion leave in Rasniwyn’s dress, and he was still wearing it now…

Alfiabalas shook his head to himself as he tried to come up with an appropriate cover story. No matter how reckless Iarion might be, Alfiabalas’s life had certainly become more interesting since meeting the Wood Elf. He reached out to help Iarion to clamber up onto the floating wreckage beside him. Iarion collapsed onto it with obvious relief—which wasn’t surprising considering all his thrashing about. Alfiabalas gave him a tentative look from where he lay beside him.

“I know Feoras might not have the answers you are looking for,” he began in a hesitant voice.

Iarion gave a grave nod in return. “I only hope he is awake now that Rashura is gone.”

Alfiabalas gave him a weak smile. “I think the immediate dispersal of the sharks and other sea creatures was a good sign. Anyway, no matter what Feoras might have to tell you, perhaps you shouldn’t rush back to the mainland.”

“You think I should make better friends with the lord and lady’s daughters?” Iarion gave a playful shake of his head. “I am not used to your chaste ways. That is not a game I’m willing to play long term, especially when my most recent intimate exchange involved getting aggressively groped by a tentacle.” He shuddered.

“Actually, I had something quite different in mind,” Alfiabalas said with a snort. “You adjusted to sea life quickly. Perhaps the skills of a Sea Elf might be useful to you in your… quest. You would be welcome on my ship anytime. We could even hunt larae together…”

Iarion frowned. “Larae?”

Alfiabalas gave a negligent wave. “Another type of sea monster. Nowhere near as amorous, I assure you, but very challenging.”

“Huh. Sounds interesting.”

Alfiabalas gave him a pointed look. “But you would definitely need to learn how to swim first.”

Iarion gave a frown of consideration. “Would I have to wear a dress?”

Alfiabalas barked a laugh of surprise. “No.” His lips twitched at thought. “I mean, you could, if you wanted to…”

Iarion’s lips stretched into an answering smile of his own.

“Then I say let’s get back to that big boat of yours, and you can tell me all about these larae.”

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: Making Waves

Copyright © 2021 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art copyright © Akv2006, Elena Kozyreva, Olha Bocharova,  Wimstime/Dreamstime

 

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Posted by Jacquelyn