Free Fiction Feature | Legends of Lasniniar: The Bearded Ones

Before diving into this short story, there’s a bit of housekeeping to get out of the way…

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be working on building two sub-sites that branch off of this main site: one focusing on my fantasy work, and the other on my crime fiction. (I want to keep things relevant for visitors, so I’m not talking about fantasy to readers who are interested in crime fiction, and vice versa.)

I’ll be holding off on blogging for the most part, but these free fiction posts will still continue as planned. I’ll keep putting them up on this main site, since they are a mix of my fantasy and crime fiction works. Hope this makes sense! (And that all the restructuring goes smoothly…)

Legends of Lasniniar The Bearded Ones cover
The sky to the north of the Light Elves’ wood remains empty. Only a chain of mountains marks the horizon.

Iadrawyn keeps watch from the cover of the ancient trees and waits. The forest hums with life around her.

The world beyond remains a mystery to the elves. What kind of dangers and potential allies roam outside their borders?

Iadrawyn looks to the sky and waits for answers.

Visit the sprawling past of the World of Lasniniar series in this stand-alone fantasy story by award-winning author, Jacquelyn Smith.

Now, you can read it for free on this site for one month only. This short story also comes in ebook and paperback formatboth on its own, and as part of the Light Chasers Lasniniar Collection.

You can find “The Bearded Ones” at your preferred online retailer here, or buy it direct from the author. You can find retailer links to the Light Chasers Lasniniar Collection here, or buy it direct from the author.

Legends of Lasniniar: The Bearded Ones

Jacquelyn Smith

Iadrawyn leaned against a smooth, golden flecked tree trunk on the northern border of Melaquenya, her arms resting on her knees. Although the tree was large and ancient, she could sense the hum of life coursing through it. The lands of Middle Lasniniar lay before her, a sprawling plain of tall, undulating grassland, broken by a chain of mountains to the north, whose distant peaks rose high into the clouds. An errant breeze lifted the golden strands of her long hair, setting them dancing about her face. Her green gaze swept across the sky, searching. She stifled a twinge of disappointment when she didn’t see what she had been looking for.

Iadrawyn sighed. She knew she should be enjoying some time to herself. She had certainly had little enough of it since the elves had made the crossing from Ralvaniar after its destruction. In addition to her usual duties as Lady of the Light Elves, she had also given birth to Curuadil a few months ago. She delighted in her newborn son, but she had been grateful when his much elder sister, Andirlynia, had offered to watch him for the afternoon. So much time had passed since her daughter’s birth, she had forgotten how tiring a baby could be. She slept when Curuadil slept, and when he was awake, it seemed he always needed feeding, burping, changing, or bathing.

“Here you are,” Valanandir said, as he appeared through the trees, his long, white hair still damp from bathing. She smiled up at her mate. “You should be relaxing.” He settled beside her, and she nestled against him.

“I know,” she said. “I am waiting for Malarin to return.”

“She’s gone to try to make contact with those strange bearded people again, hasn’t she?” Valanandir asked, sounding amused.

“I know they sound funny, but I think they are important. We are new to this continent. We cannot afford to remain isolated.”

“There are no drakhalu here,” Valanandir said as he stroked her golden-skinned arm. “We left them behind on Ralvaniar.”

She shuddered at the memory of the blood-drinking demons. “I know that. But we are still strangers here. We do not know what dangerous creatures live in these lands. For all we know, there might be something worse than drakhalu out there. We need to learn more about our neighbors and forge alliances where we can… I thought you would understand that.”

“Of course, I do. What you say makes complete strategic sense. I think I’ve just fallen into the same state of complacency as everyone else. We are all so happy to be here and alive after everything we have gone through. I had considered sending out emissary explorers at some point, but I thought to wait until we are more established here. Have you sensed something?”

Iadrawyn’s brow furrowed. “Nothing definitive—just a restless intuition. I only know that these short, bearded people Malarin has found intrigue me. When I commune with the Quenya, I get the feeling the fate of the elves is tied to them somehow.”

“Well, Malarin should be back soon,” Valanandir said. “She has been gone for a few days now. I’m sure she is doing her best to make a connection with them.”

Iadrawyn spotted an approaching form on the northern horizon as he spoke, moving against the wind. It grew larger as it drew nearer, revealing the familiar outline of their dragon friend, her silver, gold, and blue scales gleaming in the sun. Iadrawyn and Valanandir scrambled to their feet. The dragon circled before descending, her enormous wings stirring up a small hurricane of grass and leaves before she touched the ground.

“Hello there!” Malarin’s powerful voice boomed as she looked down at them with her pale blue eyes. “Decided to wait for me, did you?”

“How did it go?” Iadrawyn asked.

“Well, those bearded ones aren’t exactly friendly,” Malarin said, folding her forelegs neatly before her, like an enormous cat. “They seem to like staying underground, like Earth Elves. They come out from time to time to look for food though. I don’t imagine they find much under the mountains, other than bugs and fungus.” She gave a sniff of disdain.

“And?” Iadrawyn tried unsuccessfully to suppress her impatience. “Did you manage to talk to them?”

Malarin uttered a gusty sigh. “I’m afraid not. I kept careful watch, flying overhead whenever any of them came above ground. I tried to give them your message of friendship, but they didn’t seem to want to talk. I suppose they haven’t seen a dragon before. They must have thought I was some kind of monster, even though I was speaking quite clearly. I made certain my voice could be heard, and I could see they had ears poking out from under all that hair. But perhaps they aren’t proper ones, since they seem to be rounded.”

Iadrawyn tried not to wince. She suspected Malarin’s voice had been audible for several leagues in every direction.

“What happened?” Valanandir asked, his lips twitching. “After you shouted at them, I mean.”

“They got rather fierce,” Malarin said, sounding offended. “I was perfectly polite, but they brandished weapons at me whenever I approached, and wouldn’t let me land—the same as the first time I saw them. They seem brutish to me. I don’t know what you see in them.”

“Iadrawyn believes we are meant to build a relationship with them,” Valanandir said.

Malarin gave both elves a level look. “If it were anyone other than Iadrawyn, I would laugh at such a suggestion. But as things stand, I hardly think a return trip on my part will make much difference, based on my two attempts so far.”

Iadrawyn felt a sudden surge of inspiration. “Take me to see them,” she said.

“You mean, take us to see them,” Valanandir corrected. “I’m not going to watch you fly off alone to meet these strange people. But what about Curuadil? Shouldn’t you stay here with him?”

“Andirlynia can take care of him,” Iadrawyn said with a wave. “We wouldn’t be gone that long. Or did you think I would stay here while you went off with Malarin on your own?”

Valanandir gave her a sheepish look. “The thought might have crossed my mind…”

“Are you sure of this?” Malarin asked Iadrawyn. “Are you certain you should meet them?”

“Yes,” Iadrawyn said frowning. “I don’t know what difference it will make, but I believe I am meant to meet them.”

Malarin let out another sigh. “Very well. Valanandir, you know there is no arguing with her. You had better go tell Andirlynia. I just hope those hairy beasts don’t try to throw anything at me when I show my face a third time.”

* * *

Iadrawyn clung to Malarin’s back with her legs, her arms wrapped around Valanandir’s waist as they soared above the clouds. She caught glimpses of the ground far below them. She was glad she had chosen to wear a heavy cloak. The air was much cooler at the level they were flying, and the wind whistled in her ears while tearing at her hair. It was a constant battle to keep Valanandir’s white locks from finding their way into her mouth.

Malarin glided across the sky with ease, using her vast wings to ride currents of air. Despite her reluctance to return to the bearded ones, Iadrawyn could tell their dragon friend was enjoying herself. She uttered a booming laugh from time to time, and even performed a few stomach-lurching aerial maneuvers, seeming to forget her passengers.

“A fine day for flying, isn’t it?” she called back to them, swiveling her long neck to reveal a gaping grin.

Iadrawyn couldn’t begrudge her happiness. After the devastating escape from Ralvaniar, Malarin was the last of her kind. No matter how many friends she had made among the elves, Iadrawyn knew Malarin’s was a lonely existence. She forced a smile and nodded in agreement, nudging Valanandir to do the same.

“We’re getting close,” Malarin said. “Hang on!”

She banked to the side, beginning her descent. They dropped through a cloud bank, and the peaks of the mountains appeared before them in a long chain of jagged, brown stone that ran from east to west. Malarin circled, lowering herself toward the ground. Iadrawyn glimpsed a large opening in the rock. Two of the short, bearded creatures stood guard. One ran inside the opening, while the other remained in place, brandishing his ax with a fierce expression. Moments later, a small army of the strange folk poured out of the mountain with weapons in hand. They flinched against the air stirred up by Malarin’s landing.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she muttered as they touched the ground.

Iadrawyn slipped from Malarin’s back and turned to face the strangers with her empty hands raised in a peaceful gesture. They gawked at her, seeming to forget their hostility for a moment.

“We mean you no harm,” she called out to them. “My name is Iadrawyn, and this is Valanandir and our friend, Malarin.” She gestured to her mate and the dragon in turn. “We are new to these lands. We only wish to speak with you.”

Several of the hairy creatures cocked their heads at her speech. All of them wore blank looks. One with a bushy, auburn beard stepped forward. He rattled off a series of hard syllables that meant nothing to Iadrawyn. His speech was completely unlike the familiar lilt of Elvish, or the harsh guttural of the Black Tongue. She exchanged a look of confusion with Valanandir and Malarin. Valanandir shrugged. Iadrawyn uttered a frustrated sigh. It had never occurred to her that these people might speak a different language. On Ralvaniar, all sentient creatures had some understanding of Elvish, even if they chose not to speak it.

Valanandir stepped forward, placing himself between Iadrawyn and the bearded strangers. “Here, let me try.” He pointed to himself, speaking slowly. “Valanandir.” He did the same for Iadrawyn and Malarin and waited.

The creature remained silent for several moments, as if he were deciding whether to continue the conversation. Then he banged a hand against his metal breastplate.

“Khamudlo.”

“Khamudlo,” Valanandir repeated with a bob of his head, testing out the name. He made a sweeping gesture toward the rest of his kind. “What are you called?”

Khamudlo gave him a measuring look before replying. “Moludu.”

He continued speaking at length in his own language, gesturing toward the opening behind them and the mountains. Iadrawyn only caught a few words, which meant little to her. One seemed to be a variation of the creatures’ name for themselves, Nalmolud. She suspected it was what they called their underground home.

Valanandir shook his head. “All right, I’m lost again.”

“I think he wants to know why we are intruding on their territory,” Iadrawyn said.

“You understand them?” Malarin asked with mild interest.

Iadrawyn frowned. “No, I just feel as if I have a sense of what he means.”

“Do you think you might be able to carry a conversation with them?” Valanandir asked.

“I doubt it,” Iadrawyn said. “I only seem to have a vague sense of things, and they don’t seem to understand us.”

“Doesn’t sound like a solid foundation to work with,” Malarin said. “The last thing we want is a misunderstanding with all those weapons pointed at us. I could deal with them, of course, but it seems a horrible waste.”

She drew herself up to her full height, holding out one of her forelegs to inspect her sharp claws with a bored look. The moludu reacted immediately, shaking their weapons at her with scowling faces while muttering to one another in an angry buzz of voices.

“I’m no linguist,” Valanandir said, “but they don’t seem to care for you. What’s with the posturing?”

Malarin rolled her eyes. “I’m trying to intimidate them, of course. Let them see what they will have to deal with if they decide to mess with us.”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to be working,” Valanandir muttered.

Iadrawyn saw him casually reach for the knife on his belt, but seized his arm before he could grasp it. She gave him a pleading look, holding his gaze. She knew it was only Valanandir’s trust in her that made him lower his hand.

“I should have known,” Malarin said. “These creatures are stubborn as well as dense if they don’t realize I could destroy them with a single blast.”

Malarin inhaled, preparing for a demonstration, but Iadrawyn ran in front of her, frantically waving her arms.

“Malarin, no!” She glared at the dragon, willing her to listen.

Malarin stopped mid-breath, surprised into a fit of coughing. She kept her mouth clamped shut, but jets of steam burst from her nostrils with each cough. Her reptilian eyes watered. Iadrawyn breathed a sigh. She hadn’t been sure whether the brash dragon would obey. They had enough problems trying to communicate with these people without terrifying them with dragon fire.

“Um, Iadrawyn, I think we should leave,” Valanandir said, tugging on her arm.

She turned around to see the moludu staring at the clouds of steam coming from Malarin with anger and dismay. Some had begun advancing toward them. They didn’t seem friendly.

Khamudlo barked something that made them come to a halt. He gave Iadrawyn, Valanandir, and Malarin a look of askance and made a banishing gesture with his hand as he spoke. His meaning was clear.

Go away.

Valanandir pulled Iadrawyn onto Malarin’s back and the dragon took off, leaving the moludu behind in a cloud of dust. Iadrawyn was too absorbed in her own thoughts to protest. Nothing had gone the way she had planned, but she still felt as if making an alliance with the moludu was important. She racked her brain for answers as the bearded warriors shrunk to the size of ants below them.

* * *

Saviadro watched from behind a boulder as Malarin left with Iadrawyn and Valanandir on her back. He huddled in shadow to prevent the sunlight from catching on his golden skin and hair. His eyes narrowed as he watched them disappear into the clouds. He knew he shouldn’t have been surprised to find the elf witch and her foolish mate trying to make nice with their new neighbors. She had always been too soft to use the Quenya to bend others to her will.

If the Quenya were mine, I wouldn’t be wasting my time trying to win them over, especially not with that lumbering oaf of a dragon.

The thought rankled. He had been so close back on Ralvaniar… But Iadrawyn and Valanandir had devised a suicidal plan to destroy the continent instead of letting the Quenya fall into enemy hands. Little did they know that those hands would have been his.

He had been the one to betray their hidden forest to the dark creatures, hoping to seize the Quenya for himself in the ensuing chaos. The dark creatures had already learned the hard way that only an elf could wield it and survive. They had agreed that he would be that elf. Now, they were all gone—destroyed by the fall of Ralvaniar. He had barely managed to escape with those elves who had chosen to flee to the new continent.

He was forced to start all over, living among the elves, and pretending to still be one of Iadrawyn and Valanandir’s loyal subjects. He left Melaquenya as much as he could, searching this new land for possible allies in his ongoing quest to seize the Quenya, which was now firmly ensconced within a tree in the heart of Melaquenya. He had been watching these bearded people for days now, deciding whether to approach them. They seemed a warlike people, which appealed to him. They also seemed to distrust Malarin, which pleased him even more.

Iadrawyn and Valanandir’s meeting with them had not gone well. Still, if Iadrawyn was determined to align the elves with these creatures, Saviadro knew she wouldn’t give up. As much as he wanted to beat her to the punch by sealing a pact with them first, and turning them against her, he knew it would be foolish to try without more information. It wasn’t as if he knew how to speak their strange language either.

I will let Iadrawyn do all the work for me. She and Valanandir are bound to make another mistake at some point. Then I’ll swoop in and win the creatures over.

The main reason he was so interested in these people was their variety of well-crafted tools and weapons. They were obviously master metalsmiths, and he was an elf who had spent many long hours studying the Quenya. If he could combine his knowledge with their skill, he would have the perfect vessel for containing it. The Levniquenya was the only existing container that could house the source of the elves’ magic and move it from one place to another, and it was carefully hidden and guarded. It had also been created by Iadrawyn and Daroandir—her Earth Elf friend, and the one person Saviadro had ever looked up to. He had no idea whether the Levniquenya would work for him, even if he managed to get his hands on it. He turned his mind back to the task at hand.

Maybe if I gave them one of the eggs, they would trust me.

The creatures must have forges for creating all their tools and weapons. Such a place would be ideal for keeping the clutch of dark dragon eggs he had smuggled in secret from Ralvaniar warm until they finally hatched. He did what he could to insulate them in the place where he had hidden them on the outskirts of Melaquenya, but he often worried for their well-being. They were only lukewarm to the touch, and he suspected they should have hatched by now. Still, their faint heat gave him hope. But he could hardly build a fire to warm them without attracting unwanted attention. He suspected he would just have to be patient. Once they hatched, he would have an entire wing of dark dragons at his command. He smiled at the thought, his fair features taking on a cruel look.

It’s too risky to hand one of the eggs over. If Malarin somehow gets wind of them… Even if she is the last of her kind, I doubt she would show a maternal streak and raise them as her own.

The dark dragons had been the mortal enemies of Malarin and her Quenya-loving brethren. Saviadro’s eggs would make easy prey. No, he needed to keep them absolutely secret. It was the only way to keep them safe.

He withdrew from his hiding place, returning to his nearby camp. He vowed to keep a close eye on the bearded creatures. He knew it was only a matter of time before Iadrawyn returned.

* * *

Iadrawyn could not stop pondering the problem of the moludu, or the nundaran, as Valanandir had taken to calling them in Elvish so he wouldn’t have to use their strange language.

If only Daroandir were here…

She knew it was only wishful thinking on her part, but she couldn’t help but believe that their fallen friend might have been able to make some headway with the bearded folk. He had been the best smith among the Earth Elves, which might have impressed them, and he had a kind patience that had always seemed capable of wearing anyone down. But he had chosen to remain on Ralvaniar to ensure the dark creatures’ destruction. He had yet to be reborn among the elves in Melaquenya. She had considered bringing the moludu some of the fine work created by the Earth Elves and present it as a gift, but she sensed an overt attempt to buy their trust would only increase their suspicion.

Valanandir tried to console her about their failure to win the bearded ones over, but she would not be dissuaded. She remained convinced the strangers were important to the elves somehow, although the Quenya had given her no vision to accompany her growing certainty. Valanandir was well-used to her strange insights by now. He and Andirlynia took care of Curuadil, freeing her to focus on the problem.

After blustering that the bearded creatures hardly seemed worth the trouble, Malarin had left Melaquenya to hunt. She had not been seen since, even though several days had passed since their trip to the mountains. Iadrawyn suspected the proud dragon felt guilty that her behavior had quite possibly cost them an alliance.

Iadrawyn banished all these distracting thoughts from her mind. She had been pacing in front of the enormous tree that housed the Quenya. The glade was empty of other elves, and guards stood watch over the entrance to ensure she was not disturbed. A shimmer of rainbow-colored light shone from within the hollow of the tree, making the thick grass seem to ripple beneath her feet. The familiar tingle of the Quenya’s power danced across her skin.

How are we supposed to win these people over?

It was the question she had been asking herself for days. She had tried communing with the Quenya, but it gave her no answers, which was maddening. Why did it want her to make friends with the moludu if it wasn’t going to show her how? She knew this was the Quenya’s way, but that didn’t stop her from feeling frustrated.

The Quenya only provided glimpses into what was to be, forcing the elves to figure out the rest. Iadrawyn had long suspected this was to avoid making her people too dependent on its insights. She pummeled her brain, searching for answers. Of all the elves, her connection with the Quenya was the strongest. Surely she could come up with something…

She stopped pacing.

What if I have been asking the wrong question?

She had been so focused on winning the creatures’ trust that she had forgotten the most important aspect of any alliance: communication. Getting the bearded people to like them was hardly any use if they still didn’t understand one another. She knelt before the tree and placed her hands on its smooth bark.

How can we communicate with them?

The raw power of the Quenya rushed through her. She felt it move past her, radiating outward in an invisible wave that encompassed Melaquenya, and perhaps even beyond. She struggled to remain upright. Then, as suddenly as the power had come, it was gone again, retreating into the hollow of the tree.

Iadrawyn opened her eyes with a gasp, feeling lightheaded. She had no idea what had just happened. She remained on her knees, uncertain whether her legs would hold her.

Valanandir came running into the glade, a look of concern on his face.

“What happened?” he asked, helping her to her feet. “Are you all right?”

“I—I think so,” Iadrawyn said. She leaned against him for a moment, waiting for her strength to return. “I’m not sure what happened… You felt it too?”

Valanandir gave her a wry smile. “I think everyone in Melaquenya felt it. I feel different somehow, but I couldn’t tell you what has changed.”

Iadrawyn gave him a sharp look. “Can you speak the bearded people’s language?”

Valanandir frowned in concentration for a moment before uttering a sigh. “I don’t think so. The only thing that comes to mind when I try is ‘moludu,’ the one word we already knew. Is that what you were trying to do?”

“I only asked to help us communicate,” Iadrawyn said, feeling a bit dejected.

“Maybe the moludu will understand Elvish now,” Valanandir said in an effort to cheer her. “We should try summoning Malarin and go see. Something happened just now.”

Iadrawyn allowed him to guide her away from the Quenya and through the trees. She doubted Malarin would want to see them so soon after what had happened with the moludu. Elves called out confused questions as they passed, which Valanandir waved off. It seemed all of them had experienced whatever mysterious magic the Quenya had performed. To Iadrawyn’s surprise, she and Valanandir arrived at the northern border of the forest to find Malarin already waiting for them.

“What did you do?” she rumbled in accusation. “I was flying when you decided to perform your fancy elf magic. I almost fell from the sky!”

Iadrawyn blanched. She knew Malarin was probably exaggerating, but she hated to think whatever she had done might have hurt someone.

“She found a way to help us communicate with the moludu,” Valanandir said, as if he knew exactly what was going on. Iadrawyn gaped at him. “We were just going to look for you. We need to go back to the mountains.”

Iadrawyn grabbed his arm and spoke to him in a strangled whisper. “But I don’t even know what I did!”

Valanandir ignored her. “You do want a chance to make things right, don’t you?” he said to Malarin with a pointed look.

Malarin sniffed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Valanandir held her gaze until she abandoned her aloof pose. “Oh, all right. I suppose it’s remotely possibly I let things get a tad out of hand. You might as well get on.”

“Thank you,” Valanandir said. It was the closest to an apology they were going to get.

He dragged a stunned Iadrawyn onto Malarin’s back, and they took off, heading back toward the mountains. This time, Malarin didn’t perform any of her usual flying stunts, although Iadrawyn probably wouldn’t have noticed. She was too busy worrying about what would happen when they faced the moludu this time. What if Valanandir was wrong about them being able to speak Elvish? She had the nagging feeling the Quenya wouldn’t force their language on another race that way. It hardly seemed fair.

They landed in the same spot as before, and like their previous visit, a swarm of the bearded folk soon came pouring out from their mountain home, led by an angry looking Khamudlo. He raised his ax, and spoke to them in his own language. Iadrawyn focused on his words, but she understood them as little as she had before, aside from the general emotion behind them.

Valanandir stepped forward. “Can you understand us now?” he asked in Elvish.

The moludu scowled at him without responding.

Malarin gave a frustrated sigh. “What now?”

A strange sensation had fallen over Iadrawyn. She felt something in her mind shift. She opened her mouth, and her lips and tongue began moving in an unfamiliar way.

“Greetings, Khamudlo. Can you understand me?”

Everyone gaped at her. The words she spoke were not Elvish, but they were not the language of the moludu either.

“Y—yes,” Khamudlo said slowly, in the same tongue. “How is this possible?”

Iadrawyn suddenly realized what the Quenya had done. “It is our magic. It has created a Common Tongue for us to communicate.”

Khamudlo accepted her explanation with a deepening frown. “What are you people? Did you send your magic to attack us not long ago?”

“We are elves,” Iadrawyn said. “We live in a forest to the south, but we are new to this continent. We did not send our magic to attack you. I only wanted to find a way for us to speak with one another. Our magic seems to have put this new language in our minds. That is what you felt before we arrived.”

“Our people did not like it,” Khamudlo said in a flat voice. “Some fell over or passed out. It is fortunate no one was hurt.”

“I am sorry our magic inconvenienced you,” Iadrawyn said, flushing. “We did not know it would work that way. It did the same to our people.”

“We dwarves have no use for magic,” Khamudlo said. “Why did you do such a thing if you did not know what would happen?”

“We did it only because we wanted to try to build an alliance with you,” Iadrawyn said, trying to keep the desperation from her voice.

This was not going the way she had hoped. She was tempted to say more, but she knew the dwarves would not understand the elves’ connection with the Quenya, or the insights it provided.

Khamudlo gave her an incredulous look. “First, you send your beast to spy on us,” he gestured toward Malarin, who recoiled with an offended expression. “You intrude on our lands. Then you use magic on us without our knowledge or consent. And you expect us to form an alliance with you?”

“It does sound a bit bad when you put it that way,” Valanandir said, stepping forward. “But it was never our intent to intrude or offend you. We were only eager to get to know you. We have encountered no other races since our arrival here.”

The dwarves behind Khamudlo muttered in angry voices.

“Well, now you have met us,” the dwarf leader said. “And I suppose now we can make ourselves clear, since we didn’t seem to manage it the first time. Leave. Quit these lands, and never return. If our guards see you, or any others of your kind in these mountains, they will attack. I have held my people in check, but our tolerance ends now.”

Iadrawyn opened her mouth to protest, but Valanandir pulled her away.

“We tried,” he said in Elvish. “It’s time to pull back and regroup. The last thing we want is to spill blood here.”

Iadrawyn nodded, her shoulders slumped in defeat. She looked back at the scowling dwarves as Malarin took off. The Quenya had made a way for them to understand one another, but in the end, it hadn’t mattered. She doubted she and Valanandir could say anything at this point that would convince the dwarves to trust them, yet her certainty that they must find a way to do so persisted.

What do we do now?

* * *

Despite Khamudlo’s warning, Valanandir asked Malarin to land just out of sight of the dwarves’ home. Night was falling, so they made camp in the grassland to the southeast, near the mouth of a river. Iadrawyn could see the shadow of a large forest to the east.

“Are you sure you want to stay here?” Malarin asked. “We’re still fairly close to their territory. I should take you both back to Melaquenya.”

Valanandir shrugged. “They are not happy with us, but I doubt they will hunt us out here in the dark.”

“I just don’t feel right leaving you here alone,” Malarin said. “Maybe I should stay. I can always go looking for food in the morning.” A loud rumbling came from the vicinity of her stomach, belying her words.

“We will be fine,” Valanandir said. “It’s not as if we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. Now go hunt.”

Malarin sighed. “Very well. But you had better be in one piece when I get back.”

She launched into the air and flew west in search of game. Although dragons did not eat that frequently, they had large appetites. Iadrawyn knew Malarin would be gone for several hours at least, searching for enough food to fill her up for the next day or so. Valanandir busied himself with making a small campfire and preparing some food from his pack while Iadrawyn sat huddled in misery.

Why hadn’t the Quenya’s magic helped? Yes, she and Khamudlo could now understand each other, but their second meeting had gone no better than the first.

In her mind, she heard the dwarf’s accusations over and over again, filling her with guilt. She had never stopped to think about how everything must seem from his perspective. And she had never expected the Quenya’s magic to affect his people the way it had. She didn’t blame them for not trusting her…

“Here,” Valanandir said, thrusting some fruit and a journey cake into her hands. “Stop blaming yourself, and have something to eat.”

His words startled her from her thoughts. She accepted his offerings with a sheepish look.

“Am I that obvious?”

Valanandir reached out to brush her hair back from her face. “To me, you are. If you had known what the Quenya was going to do, you would have warned them. But you didn’t. Everything you have done has been with the best of intentions.”

Iadrawyn twisted her lips. “They don’t see it that way.”

“Not yet. But we will figure out a way to change their minds. Stop focusing on the problem and start concentrating on the solution.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his determination. “You are right. I—Valanandir, what is that?” Her voice dropped to a startled whisper and she pointed to large shadows that were lumbering through the darkness toward their camp.

Valanandir frowned. “I don’t know. They look too large to be dwarves, unless they have giant cousins that only come out of the mountains at night.”

Three figures shambled into the light of their fire, revealing hulking forms with hairless, gray skin that resembled rock. They cocked their heads in curiosity at the two elves, staring at them with wide-set eyes. Each one carried a crude looking club in its large fist. They looked at one another and back at the elves again with a series of grunts.

Valanandir stood. “Greetings,” he said in the Common Tongue. “We are elves. What manner of creatures are you?”

“You… elves?” one of the visitors said in a deep, guttural voice. “We trolls.”

A moment of shocked silence followed. It seemed the Quenya’s spell had reached even farther than they had thought.

“Are you friends of the dwarves?” Valanandir asked.

The troll uttered a harsh laugh. “No.”

Valanandir surged ahead. “Then perhaps you would be willing to make an alliance with us?”

Iadrawyn watched, a knot of fear forming in her stomach.

I have a bad feeling about this…

“Valanandir, I don’t think—”

“You want be friends with trolls?” The creature stared for a moment, its jaw slack. It shook itself and continued. “Trolls have no friends. We go now to dwarves’ place to eat, but find you first. Now you snack until we eat dwarves. Trolls very hungry tonight.” It smiled, as if proud of its lengthy speech.

Valanandir’s expression changed to one of disgust as the troll’s words sunk in. “You want to eat us? But we have done nothing to any of you!”

The troll shrugged. “No matter. Trolls very hungry. No meat for days. Elves look soft and tasty.”

It advanced toward Valanandir, smacking its lips, the other two following behind it. Iadrawyn saw the outline of even more of the creatures in the distance, heading toward the dwarves’ home. She scrambled to her feet, reaching for her bow. Valanandir already had his knife drawn.

Iadrawyn fired an arrow past his shoulder, but it bounced off the lead troll’s gray skin. It uttered another booming laugh, but she had already nocked a second arrow. This one landed in its left eye, quivering in place. The creature wailed, slapping its hand over the wound. The two trolls behind it paused, suddenly less certain. Then the wounded troll uttered a shout of fury, slamming its club in a downward arc at Valanandir.

He jumped out of the way at the last moment, which only seemed to infuriate the troll even more. It swung its club wildly, forcing Valanandir to duck and dodge to avoid being flattened.

Iadrawyn tried to calm her frazzled nerves, forcing her fingers steady as she aimed another arrow. This one landed in the troll’s right eye. It uttered a horrible scream, but remained swaying on its feet.

“Where they go?” it demanded. “Kill elves! Kill elves and grind their bones!”

“Come on!” Valanandir shouted, grabbing Iadrawyn’s hand and pulling her away from their camp at a run. She snatched up her pack just in time. The three trolls lumbered behind them, the one Iadrawyn had blinded following the heavy tread of its two companions.

“We have to warn the dwarves!” Iadrawyn said in a breathless voice, steering them toward the mountains. She would not leave the dwarves to be attacked in their sleep by these creatures. She didn’t care whether Khamudlo and his people tried to kill them for returning. She would not have their deaths on her conscience.

“There are more of them out there,” Valanandir said. “But they are not fast runners. Do you think we can pass them?”

Iadrawyn gave him a grim look. “We have to.”

* * *

Iadrawyn and Valanandir ran through the darkness. A large hand reached for Iadrawyn’s shoulder and she forced her legs to move faster. The troll’s outstretched fingers snatched at the empty air behind her.

They had left the three that had visited their camp behind, but had now caught up with the other creatures that were advancing toward the dwarves’ territory. It was like being trapped inside a bad dream. Iadrawyn was so busy looking over her shoulder, she tripped on a rock and stumbled. She could feel the hot breath of a troll close behind her. Its fetid stench assaulted her nostrils. A fat drop of saliva fell on her back with a warm splat.

Valanandir must have heard her cry out when she tripped. He ran back to grab her arm and pull her forward. They had to keep running. If they stopped to fight the trolls now, they would soon be overwhelmed, and neither of them would be able to warn the dwarves. Iadrawyn clenched her jaw and ignored her throbbing ankle.

Eventually she and Valanandir managed to put some distance between themselves and the trolls, whose large bodies were not made for running. Iadrawyn recognized the formation of rock up ahead. She lowered her head and pumped her legs even harder, putting on a final burst of speed. The dwarves standing guard over the entrance to their underground domain didn’t seem to see her approaching through the darkness until the last moment. They raised their weapons with surprised expressions.

Iadrawyn stumbled to a stop a safe distance away. “Trolls are coming,” she panted. “They plan to attack.” She sucked in several deep breaths.

The guards’ eyes narrowed. “This is some kind of trick,” one of them said. “The trolls know this is our territory. They would never dare attack us here.”

“They have gone without meat for days,” Valanandir said. “They seem beyond reason.”

“Why would you bother to warn us?” the guard demanded. “Our Chief of Clans already warned you we would attack on sight if you returned.”

“You must believe us!” Iadrawyn said, letting some of her desperation slip into her voice.

“Dogal, look!” The other guard tugged at his partner’s sleeve, pointing at something behind the elves before lapsing into his own tongue. “Barag!

The first guard’s jaw dropped. The second guard kept his wits, fumbling for a horn at his belt and giving it a mighty blast. Iadrawyn turned to see a group of trolls surging toward the underground entrance. She and Valanandir sprang into action before either of the dwarves moved. She sent arrows into the eyes of any troll that came within range, eliciting a series of howls. Valanandir charged at the closest creature while it was distracted by the shaft sticking out of its eye. He scrambled up the troll’s back, as if he were climbing a large hill. It was too distressed to notice.

Khamudlo and the rest of his dwarven warriors arrived as Valanandir reached the troll’s shoulders. He stuck his knife inside its ear, burying his arm right up to his shoulder. The troll’s mouth dropped open in surprise. It swayed on its feet, flailing its arms, but Valanandir remained firmly in place. Iadrawyn could see him twisting his knife arm, leaning his entire body forward. The troll howled and its knees buckled. It toppled to the ground with a solid thump as Valanandir jumped free. His entire arm was covered with a waxy, orange substance. Iadrawyn felt the rock tremble beneath her feet and dodged as a large stone fell from overhead, narrowly missing her.

Khamudlo gave a Dwarvish war cry and charged, followed by the rest of his warriors. Axes seemed to do little damage to the trolls, unless the dwarves managed to topple one so their weapons could reach the creatures’ more vulnerable areas around their face and throat. The dwarves swarmed their large opponents, but the trolls swung at them with their clubs and fists, sending several of them flying.

Those dwarves with warhammers and maces fared little better. They were forced to focus on the trolls’ smaller bones, such as those in their fingers and toes. Even then, it took multiple blows to create any damage. Iadrawyn added to the general confusion as best she could with her arrows as Valanandir fought with his knife. Many of the trolls had fallen, but they took the dwarves down with them. Iadrawyn soon lost count of the wounded. The dwarves were heavy, but she made an effort to drag each one close to the underground entrance, away from the remaining trolls, hoping to tend to them later.

Khamudlo was the best warrior of the dwarves. He swung his ax with cold efficiency, using it to target vulnerable ligaments to bring the trolls down. He and Valanandir soon fell into a rhythm. Valanandir would catch the attention of the closest troll, using his speed and agility to dodge its blows. While it was distracted, Khamudlo attacked from behind, focusing on the area behind the troll’s knees. When the troll eventually fell over, the rest of the dwarves rushed it, doing everything they could to kill it while Valanandir and Khamudlo worked on the next one. The creatures seemed too dimwitted to learn from the deaths of their fallen. It was an effective tactic, but not without casualties.

Iadrawyn did what she could to hold the other trolls back while Valanandir and the dwarves worked, but there were too many. One charged past the others, a pair of broken arrow shafts protruding from its eyes. Iadrawyn recognized it as the one she and Valanandir had escaped from earlier. It tilted its head back and flared its large nostrils, inhaling deeply.

“Where elves?” it demanded. “Can smell their soft flesh… Elves must pay!”

It inhaled again, its head swiveling toward Valanandir, who was already focusing on evading another troll. It charged toward him. Iadrawyn watched, feeling helpless. She had already put out both the creature’s eyes… She could only cry out in warning.

“Valanandir, look out!”

He saw the creature coming, but Iadrawyn knew he wouldn’t be able to move out of the way in time. Its club whistled through the air toward him.

The enraged troll suddenly burst into flame.

Iadrawyn watched as the creature was incinerated before her eyes, its skin blackening and turning to ash as it screamed. She coughed and struggled to clear the smoke from her watering eyes. The air stank of burning hair and flesh.

“I can’t believe you decided to have a battle without me!” Malarin called in Common from where she was flying overhead.

“It wasn’t exactly our idea,” Valanandir called back.

“Why am I not surprised? Honestly, I can’t leave you two alone for a moment without something happening. At least you saved a few of them for me. I would never have forgiven you otherwise.”

Now that Malarin had arrived, the tide of the battle turned. The dwarves were wary of her presence at first, but they soon realized she only used her dragon fire against the trolls. When the last of the enormous creatures fell, Iadrawyn began focusing on the wounded she had dragged to safety. She had not brought an extensive healing kit, but she used all the herbs in her pack, along with torn strips of clothing as makeshift bandages. The dwarves that were still conscious watched her work with wondering expressions and muttered thanks. Iadrawyn was too tired to do more than nod in response. Mercifully, Valanandir was mostly unharmed, aside from a few scrapes and some bruised ribs.

Once all the dwarves had been tended, and Valanandir’s ribs were bound, she leaned against him to rest. Khamudlo stepped forward, looking from the two elves to Malarin and back again.

“You all fought well today,” he said. “When you found the trolls, you could have fled to the safety of your home. I would not have blamed you, after the way we parted. But if you had not come to warn us, my people might not have survived.”

Iadrawyn sensed the confusion behind his words. “Even though you turned us away, we couldn’t let you and your people be attacked without warning, just because of a misunderstanding, especially when it was mostly our fault.”

Khamudlo shook his head. “You elves are a strange people. Until you came to us, we had never met any other race in these lands, aside from the trolls, who try to attack us from time to time when we come across them in the mountains. We never thought we would find anyone we could trust. But after all that has happened… I would like to thank you on behalf of the dwarves. We were suspicious when your flying friend first came here, and frightened when your magic affected us, but perhaps these things were not so bad after all.”

Iadrawyn felt a surge of hope flutter in her chest. Valanandir gave her hand a squeeze.

“Does this mean we might be able to discuss a possible alliance?” she asked.

The dwarf leader gave her an odd look. “I don’t know why you are so determined about it, and we have much to learn about one another first, but yes. I believe an alliance between the dwarves and elves might be a good thing.”

“Don’t forget me!” Malarin said, prompting an uneasy look from Khamudlo. “I’m no elf, but I certainly want to participate. I helped with the trolls, after all, and I’ve been acting as emissary.” The dragon preened.

“Ah, yes,” Khamudlo said. “Of course.”

Valanandir rolled his eyes. “As if anyone could forget about you, Malarin.”

Iadrawyn listened to the banter between her mate and the dragon, watching as the dwarves struggled to help one another back under the mountain. She smiled in satisfaction. Finally, she had completed the task the Quenya had set for her. She wondered how the new alliance would affect both their peoples in the years to come…

* * *

Saviadro watched the scene below him, his perfect, golden features marred by a look of disgust. He had climbed to his perch to wait for Iadrawyn and Valanandir to return, and had been more than happy to see them being pursued.

I suppose watching those two die in battle was too much to hope for.

He had even tried to help things along by pushing a large rock down where Iadrawyn had been standing. Unfortunately, it had been the only missile available, and she had somehow managed to dodge it. He would have used arrows if he had dared, but they were an elven weapon. If he didn’t succeed in killing them, they would know there was a traitor in their midst.

The dwarves. The dwarves are the key. If I can befriend them, I will finally be back on track to seizing the Quenya.

Iadrawyn and Valanandir had set the groundwork. All he had to do was win the dwarves over and convince them to make a vessel for him in secret. He knew they were suspicious creatures. His plan would likely take years of careful planning to pull off…

He was willing to wait.

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: The Bearded Ones

Copyright © 2020 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art © Akv2006 | Algol | Vi73777 | Wimstime | Dreamstime.com

 

Want to stay in touch?

Join my newsletter group to receive sneak peeks and book release news, plus exclusive access to special offers.

Your information will remain private, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Posted by Jacquelyn

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.