Free Fiction Feature November 2020 | Legends of Lasniniar: Legacy Hunter

Legends of Lasniniar Legacy Hunter cover

Barlo stares at the limp, elven form on his couch. A poisoned goblin arrow protrudes from the creature’s shoulder. A long knife hangs from its belt.

How could his wife think to tend the elf stranger and leave her patient armed? Elves do not belong in Dwarvenhome. Especially not ones with weapons.

But the elf’s presence presents another problem to the dwarven clan chief.

…What brings goblins so close to Dwarvenhome?

A stand-alone story from the World of Lasniniar epic fantasy series by award-winning author Jacquelyn Smith, “Legacy Hunter” tells the tale of Barlo and Iarion’s first meeting. If you love a fun, action-filled adventure, grab this book.

Now, you can read it for free on this site for one month only. This short story also comes in ebook and paperback format.

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This title is also available as part of the Legends of Lasniniar Legacy Hunter Collection.


 

Legends of Lasniniar: Legacy Hunter

Jacquelyn Smith

Barlo considered the limp elven form on his couch. Despite its fine features and lack of facial hair, there was no doubt it was male. The shaft of a crude, headless arrow protruded from the creature’s left shoulder. Narilga had stripped the elf of his tunic and positioned him on his stomach to tend his wound, his long legs dangling over the end of the dwarven sofa. His skin was a dusky hue, stained with the dust of travel. Long, silver hair draped over his good shoulder, matted with blood. His boots and clothing showed signs of heavy wear. A long knife hung from his belt, and the calluses on his nimble fingers told Barlo he knew how to use it.

Why hadn’t Narilga removed the weapon? The elf’s longbow and quiver already sat in the far corner of the room, well out of reach. Barlo didn’t like the idea of an armed elf in his home, especially with his pregnant wife in attendance. He gave the creature a scowl and stepped forward to retrieve the blade, but Narilga positioned herself between them, arms crossed above her swollen belly. She was tall for a dwarven woman, and for a moment, they stood eye to eye.

“I think you can watch him just fine from where you were standing,” she said, her deep blue gaze narrowing.

“But—”

“I saw the look on your face. He’s wounded and unconscious. I can’t work with you hovering. Now go back to where you were standing.”

“Narilga, he has a knife!”

“I can see that. Just leave it alone. He’s not a prisoner, Barlo.”

Barlo gave his beard a frustrated tug before stepping back. “Why did you take him in, anyway?”

“Who else would? It’s clear from his coloring, he’s not an Earth Elf. I couldn’t just leave him to die on Dwarvenhome’s doorstep.” She pushed her long, dark tresses over her shoulder and turned to face her patient.

Barlo tried his most reasonable tone. “If he’s not an Earth Elf, how do we know he can be trusted? We have to consider the city’s safety. He should be kept in the dungeon.”

“If you put him in the dungeon, he’ll die.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic? It’s just a shoulder wound.” As soon as his wife turned to face him, Barlo regretted his choice of words.

“You think I’m being dramatic?” Narilga cocked her head, giving him a dangerous look. “Here.” She touched her fingers to the tip of the arrow, where it protruded from the font of the elf’s shoulder, and held them up for Barlo to see. Her fingertips were smeared with a sticky looking, black substance that wasn’t blood.

“Poison.” Barlo blew out a sigh.

“Yes. And what you seem to be overlooking is our guest has obviously been shot by a goblin arrow, which means he’s a goblin enemy. Which means regardless of our strained relations with the rest of the elves, this one is no enemy of ours.”

“With that kind of wound, he couldn’t have traveled far before coming here.” Barlo’s thoughts seemed to come slowly as they reached their unthinkable conclusion. “That means there must be dark creatures here in the midlands!”

Narilga gave him a satisfied nod. “Now you’re thinking like the clan chief you are.”

Barlo flushed. “How many people know the elf is here?”

“I encouraged the sentries to keep it quiet. As far as the rest of the city’s concerned, we’ve taken in an old, Earth Elf friend.”

She turned back toward the elf. Holding his shoulder down with one hand, she used the other to yank the arrow free. Even unconscious, the elf’s face twisted in pain, his lean muscles clenching. Narilga began cleaning and bandaging the wound, flushing out as much of the poison as possible, while Barlo watched, thinking.

“If I can eliminate such a large threat to Dwarvenhome, it’ll be sure to add to our influence with the Clan Council,” he said. “And if the dark creatures also happen to have the relic I’m looking for…”

“Exactly. You’ll finally be able to end the petty bickering and take your place as Chief of Clans.”

“I should set out at once.” Barlo turned to leave the room and found Narilga standing before him once more. How did she move so quickly?

“You can’t do this on your own,” she said.

“Who else can I bring with me? I can’t trust anyone from Dwarvenhome with this if I want to claim the victory and the spoils.”

“Then take someone who isn’t from Dwarvenhome.” Narilga indicated the unconscious elf with a jerk of her chin.

“You want me to take him? Are you mad, woman?”

Their strange guest stirred at Barlo’s raised voice, his closed eyelids flickering. Barlo ignored him. He and Narilga were speaking in the Dwarven Tongue. Even if the elf was listening, he couldn’t understand.

“He’s no ordinary elf, Barlo. You know I’ve spent time with the Earth Elves. They tell tales of this one, even though he’s not one of their own. They call him the Lost Wanderer.”

Barlo frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? And how do you even know this is the same elf?”

“They wouldn’t say how he got the name, but from what I could glean, he’s more widely traveled than any other elf, and renowned for his fighting prowess. As for how I know it’s him, I checked his eyes after I had him brought here.”

“His eyes.”

“Yes. The Earth Elves mentioned his eyes. They’re unlike any other elf’s.”

“Well, that sounds like complete—”

Barlo’s words were cut short by a groan. Over on the couch, the elf was raising his head. Narilga silenced her husband with a look and rushed to her patient’s side. Curious, Barlo followed. Narilga crouched beside the elf, trying to calm him without success. Straining his neck, the elf looked up at Barlo.

Barlo froze.

The elf’s eyes… They were a deep sapphire, flecked with silver. He had never seen anything like it. For a moment, they stared at each other in silence. The exotic creature seemed to be taking in every aspect of Barlo’s appearance. Barlo suddenly felt self-conscious of his brown beard and ruddy, blunt features.

He didn’t like the feeling.

“Please…” the elf’s voice rasped in the Common Tongue. “I know I have been poisoned. If you help me, I will repay my debt whatever way I can.” Narilga tried to soothe him, but his eyes remained fixed on Barlo.

Barlo held the elf’s gaze in silence until the so-called Lost Wanderer lost consciousness once more, his strange eyes rolling back as he slumped on the couch. Barlo shivered. He had been wrong to mock Narilga. The creature’s eyes were uncanny.

After Narilga had settled the elf and covered him with a blanket, she turned to face Barlo.

“So you’ll take him with you?” she asked.

“I still don’t see why I should. He’s an elf! If he were an Earth Elf, it might be different. And those eyes…” Barlo shivered once more. “I think I’m better off on my own.”

“I have no doubt of your abilities in battle, my love, but you have no idea where these dark creatures are or how large their force is. This elf can help you. Are you really so stubborn that you’ll go on this quest alone and possibly leave me to raise our son as a widow?” Narilga placed one hand over her belly and the other against Barlo’s cheek, her blue eyes pleading.

Barlo melted beneath her touch, wrapping her in his arms. “How can you be so sure it will be a boy?”

Narilga shrugged. “I just know. So will you take the elf with you?”

Barlo pulled away. “Persistent woman! Oh, very well. I’ll take the blasted elf with me, if he lives.”

* * *

Barlo gripped the hammer in his callused fist and tried to lose himself in the ringing sound of metal striking metal. Despite the familiar comfort of his forge work, Barlo’s thoughts remained fixed on the wretched elf resting under Narilga’s care, as they had since he had first seen the creature lying on his couch. Barlo cursed under his breath, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

It was no use. He couldn’t do decent work when he was distracted. He tossed the half-formed ax blade into a nearby bucket of water with a grunt of disgust. It landed with a hissing splash.

The creak of the forge door opening made him turn in surprise, his own war ax in hand. No one should be disturbing him at this hour in his private sanctuary. He breathed a relieved sigh at the sight of Narilga entering.

“You startled me!” he said, laying his ax aside. “Is everything all right?”

“It will be when you come home,” his wife said. “You’ve been cooping yourself up in here every day for the past week. You can’t hide from him forever, Barlo.”

“And where is our elf guest, anyway? Surely you didn’t leave him in our home alone.”

“Of course, I did. I’m not going to drag him all over the city to bring him here when we’ve managed to keep his existence quiet.”

“But how could you leave him unattended? He could rob us blind!” Barlo gave his face and neck a cursory wipe down before putting out the fire. There would be no peace for him here now that he knew the elf was on the loose in his quarters.

“You’ve ignored all my messages,” Narilga said. “I had no choice but to come here myself. Besides, where would he go? If anyone in the city caught sight of him, they would take him prisoner.”

“Don’t let your tender heart fool you. That creature can’t be trusted.”

“Iarion,” Narilga said, crossing her arms.

“What?” Barlo frowned in confusion.

“Our guest’s name is Iarion, which you would know, if you spent any time with him.”

“And what else has he told you of himself?”

Narilga shrugged. “Nothing, really. Still, he seems friendly.”

“But not friendly enough to tell you his tale,” Barlo said, feeling as though he had just scored a point.

“Well, you can hardly blame him. We’re keeping him huddled in our home in secret without telling him why. He’s not stupid. I haven’t told him anything because I didn’t want to interfere with your quest, and you haven’t said two words to him.”

“Well, I—”

“Talk to him, Barlo. You’re going to take him with you, aren’t you? You promised.” Narilga held Barlo’s gaze until he was forced to look away.

“I’ll talk to him. Later, when he’s recovered.”

“He’s recovered already,” Narilga pressed. “He’s just been getting his strength back since those first few nights of fever. The poison’s been flushed from his system and his shoulder is almost as good as new. Those elves heal quickly.”

Barlo’s eyes widened. “Already? How soon before he’ll be able to leave?”

“A few more days. But you need to talk to him now. You’ve put it off long enough. You can’t just spring it on him at the last minute.”

Barlo sighed. “You’re a hard woman.”

“And you have a hard head. But you also have a loyal heart.” Narilga smiled. “Give Iarion a chance. I think you might actually like each other if you spent some time together.”

Barlo pulled a face. “Now?”

“Do you have anything better to do?”

“I suppose not.”

* * *

The elf—Iarion—Barlo corrected himself, sat in his usual place on the couch, stretching his recovering shoulder. Barlo had been careful to come and go when the elf was asleep until now, so he hadn’t seen him since his arrival.

The elf’s silver hair was clean and combed. Some of his locks were confined in neat braids and tied off with leather thongs, revealing his delicately pointed ears. His travel-stained clothing had been washed and his sickly pallor was gone. His strange eyes watched as Barlo entered the room. Narilga gave her husband a pointed look before walking past both of them to the kitchen.

Barlo felt a small surge of panic. What should he do now? Where should he begin? The elf seemed so different, so foreign; Barlo felt completely lost without Narilga there to anchor him.

“Thank you for saving me,” the elf said with a humble nod. His voice was low and even. “I would be dead if not for you and your wife. I am in your debt.”

Barlo managed a grunt of acknowledgment before dropping into the chair across from him. The elf waited for a moment before continuing.

“Few dwarves would help a wounded elf. I know you have kept me here in secret. You must have a reason. What is it you want of me?” The elf frowned.

Barlo’s wits remained frozen. The elf cocked his head, considering him.

“I may not have had the pleasure of conversing with many dwarves,” he said, “but this is the first time one has been struck dumb in my presence.” He gave Barlo a wry smile. “Your wife speaks Common. Surely you have the wit to speak it as well.”

“Of course, I speak Common!” Barlo spluttered, his cheeks burning. Who was this elf to insult him in his own home?

“Very good.” The elf seemed unperturbed. “Then perhaps we can begin. I am Iarion, and your wife tells me your name is Barlo. Now what do you want of me? I am willing to repay my debt, but I have no interest in becoming a long-term prisoner.”

Barlo scowled, gathering his thoughts. The elf waited with no sign of impatience. Barlo chose his words carefully.

“The creatures that attacked you,” he said. “How large was their force?”

“They attacked me at night, of course, so I couldn’t give you a solid number. I would have to guess between fifty and a hundred, although probably closer to fifty now. I killed quite a few of them before I was shot.” The elf’s tone was matter of fact.

“You killed fifty of them.” Barlo was skeptical.

“Well, I didn’t exactly stop to count.” The elf gave him another wry smile. “I may not look like much to a sturdy dwarf such as yourself, but I assure you, I’m a competent warrior.”

Barlo remembered what Narilga had told him of Iarion’s reputation among the Earth Elves. They weren’t given to exaggeration. Perhaps the elf would be useful after all.

“Could you find their lair?” Barlo asked, leaning forward.

Iarion nodded. “Easily. I am a Wood Elf. We’re born trackers.”

“Will you lead me to the dark creatures and help me destroy them?”

“I would like nothing better. Such creatures shouldn’t be roaming the midlands.”

“And of course, it would give you a chance for vengeance,” Barlo said.

“Yes, that had crossed my mind.” Iarion grinned before turning serious. “But why should a group of dark creatures concern you so personally? If they are a threat to your city, surely this is a matter for your council.”

The elf’s words were too shrewd for Barlo’s comfort. He seemed friendly enough, but he was too clever by half. Barlo would have to guard his words carefully. Who knew what the elf would do if he discovered the entirety of his plan?

“I’m seeking a dwarven relic,” Barlo said. “It was stolen by dark creatures long ago, when they last roamed the midlands. I’m hoping the creatures that attacked you will either have it in their possession or know where it can be found.”

Much to Barlo’s relief, the elf didn’t question his vague story. Instead, he considered for a moment before speaking.

“What is this relic?” Iarion held up his hands, forestalling Barlo’s protests. “If I at least know what it is, I can help you find it. I have no personal interest in dwarven heirlooms. I only want to repay my debt.”

Barlo frowned. He didn’t want to reveal anything more to the elf, but his words made sense.

“It’s an ancient ax,” he said, hoping he wasn’t making a mistake.

Iarion closed his strange eyes for a moment, his brow furrowed. When they popped back open, Barlo nearly jumped in his seat.

“One of the creatures that attacked me bore an ax in its belt. It was an ogre.”

Barlo rocked to his feet, a thrill of excitement going through him. “You’re certain?”

Iarion nodded. “I noticed it because it was so strange. I have never seen an ogre fight with anything other than its cudgel and tusks.”

“Did the ogre survive the battle?” Barlo’s heart was hammering in his chest.

“Yes.” Iarion made a sour face. “I would have remembered killing that one. It was particularly large and vicious. It’s probably holed up with the rest of the wretched creatures somewhere in the mountains. They attacked as a pack.”

“Another good reason to wipe them out then.” Barlo realized he was grinning and schooled his expression. If the elf noticed, he gave no sign.

“When do we leave?” Iarion asked.

Barlo considered all the tasks that needed to be done. First, they would have to prepare for the journey. Then, he would need to come up with a convincing excuse for his absence. And then there was the matter of getting Iarion out of Dwarvenhome unnoticed…

“Three days,” Barlo said.

Iarion nodded. “I’ll be ready.”

* * *

Three days later, Barlo and Iarion were traveling west on Traitor’s Road. Narilga had helped to spirit them from Dwarvenhome without attracting notice. She spread word that Barlo was ill and not accepting visitors. Meanwhile, she would take his place for any clan meetings in his absence. Barlo suspected she would enjoy playing at being Clan Chief while he was away. He smiled to think of it.

The elf led the way and Barlo followed without question. Although he still didn’t trust his elven guide, his desire for the ax was strong. Iarion seemed at ease with his surroundings, moving with a quiet competence. His shoulder didn’t seem to be bothering him at all. At least an hour passed before Barlo broke the silence between them.

“Where are we going?” He felt like a fool for not thinking to ask earlier.

“The Narrow Pass,” Iarion said over his shoulder. “That’s where they attacked me. I think they must have settled in a cave nearby to avoid the daylight.”

Barlo gave a thoughtful grunt. “There are plenty of places in that area large enough for a group to hole up in. I hope you’re as good a tracker as you say.”

“We’ll find them. Trust me.”

“Not likely,” Barlo said under his breath in Dwarvish.

“You may not trust me, but I don’t have much reason to trust you either. I know there is more to this precious ax than you’ve told me.”

For a moment, Barlo was chagrined that the elf had overheard him. He should have remembered how sensitive elven ears were. Then the full meaning behind Iarion’s words hit him and he stopped in his tracks.

“You understand Dwarvish?”

“What?” Iarion turned to face him. “Oh. Well, you’re hardly the first dwarf I’ve met.” He gave an innocuous smile.

“The Dwarven Tongue is a secret language! We never teach it to outsiders.”

“Yes, you’re very secretive about it.”

“Who taught you?” Barlo found his fingers clenching around the haft of his ax.

“No one.” Iarion took in Barlo’s fierce expression and sighed. “You know elves can live for thousands of years, right?” Barlo frowned and nodded. “Well, I’ve lived for a long time—a very long time. Long enough to pick up other languages, like Dwarvish and the Black Tongue.”

“You know the Black Tongue?” Barlo’s suspicions were shoved aside by this revelation. No one spoke the Black Tongue, except the dark creatures.

“I do. I’ve spent a fair amount of time wandering in the north, where those who speak it make their home.” Iarion looked away.

“If you’re a Wood Elf, you must be from Melaralva. Your wood isn’t far from here. Why would you need to wander the northlands?”

“I was looking for something.” Iarion’s gaze was distant, as though he were looking at something Barlo couldn’t see.

“Well, did you find it?”

Iarion’s uncanny gaze refocused and met Barlo’s. “No.” His expression was unreadable, but his eyes looked haunted.

Barlo shivered and looked away. The Lost Wanderer, indeed. There was certainly more to the elf’s story, but Barlo wasn’t about to ask him now. Iarion began walking once more. Barlo shook himself and trotted to catch up with the elf’s long strides.

After a few moments had passed, Iarion broke the silence. “So, are you going to tell me more about this ax, or is it supposed to be a dwarven secret as well?”

Barlo frowned. How much should he tell him? His stubborn pride wanted to keep the information secret, but the elf was risking his life for it. It hardly seemed fair not to tell him. Besides, if Iarion was as widely traveled as he claimed, he might be piecing the information together on his own already. Barlo decided to take the plunge.

“It’s the ax of Galrin, First Father of the dwarves.”

Iarion let out a low whistle.

“You’ve heard of it?” Barlo asked.

“I have,” Iarion said. “How did dark creatures get their hands on it?”

“It’s been passed down for generations to each Chief of Clans at Dwarvenhome. About two thousand years ago, the Chief of Clans’ son was captured by dark creatures. He was carrying the ax, and they took it. The Dwarven Wars started shortly after. It’s been lost ever since. We’ve never been able to reclaim it. It’s all but fallen into legend now.”

“Who is the current Chief of Clans?”

“That’s just it. After the ax was lost and the wars ended, the clans were in disarray. The entire line was wiped out, and no one will accept a new leader without the ax. All of us clan chiefs have resorted to bickering and jockeying for position.”

“So you want the ax so you can become Dwarvenhome’s new Chief of Clans.”

Barlo winced at the elf’s blunt words. Why was he even telling him this? “Somewhere out there, Galrin’s legacy is in the hands of an ogre. I’m already regarded as one of the most powerful clan chiefs, but without the ax, I can never rule. Dwarvenhome needs a leader. It takes forever for the clan chiefs to agree on anything, and these are peaceful times. If we can’t unite, what will happen when important decisions need to be made?”

“With dark creatures abroad in the midlands, dark times may not be far off,” Iarion said.

Barlo had already taken a deep breath to form a retort when he realized Iarion wasn’t disagreeing with him. It was the last thing he was expecting. He let it out in a puff. Then he uttered three words he never thought he would say to an elf.

“You’re probably right.”

* * *

“Here,” Iarion pointed to the rocky ground. A scatter of dirt and a few bent blades of grass were all Barlo could make out. “They left the battle and headed west. There’s a cave in that direction. Can you see it?” He shaded his eyes against the setting sun.

Barlo squinted. “No. But then again, I don’t have elf vision. I know the cave you mean, though. I explored it once, when I was a lad.”

“We should find a safe place to make camp and move in during the day, when the creatures will be sleeping.” Iarion turned south toward the grasslands of the Adar Daran.

Some of the rocks where the ambush had taken place were still stained with blood. There were drag marks where predators, or perhaps other dark creatures had pulled the corpses away for feeding. Barlo could easily imagine the battle taking place. The fact that Iarion had managed to kill so many of the enemy and escape all the way to Dwarvenhome with a poisoned arrow wound seemed even more impressive now.

Barlo and Iarion had been on the road for three days. They had to be cautious with dark creatures roaming the area, so it was slow going. Iarion’s tracking skills had proved invaluable. Barlo was forced to admit he would never have been able to follow the trail alone.

Even though he hadn’t managed to learn more about the strange elf, he had come to respect him. He had begun to feel a growing guilt over manipulating him into accompanying him on this quest. If Iarion were a wounded dwarf and Narilga had taken him in, Barlo would never have considered there to be a debt between them. Besides, what had Barlo done to earn that debt? Narilga had done all the work, and against his judgment.

Barlo decided to broach the subject after they had made camp for the night. He settled on his bedroll across from Iarion, peering at the elf in the growing darkness. They didn’t dare light a fire with dark creatures so close by.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“About what?” Iarion’s eyes glittered as he looked over at Barlo.

“About tomorrow.” Barlo took a deep breath and forged ahead. “Look, I appreciate the help you’ve been tracking these creatures for me. I know I would’ve been wandering around for days without it. The debt between us is settled. I’m going to go after the ax tomorrow on my own and you can go back to your people in Melaralva.”

Iarion frowned. “I hardly think some scouting is a fair exchange for saving my life.”

“My wife saved you, not me. It was unfair of me to hold you accountable in the first place. I may be a stubborn dwarf, but I’m willing to admit when I’ve made a mistake. This is my quest. There’s no point in you risking your neck over a dwarven matter.”

“That may be,” Iarion said, “but I also think your wife persuaded you to take me along for a reason. Attacking a host of dark creatures in their lair on your own would be suicide. They caught me out in the open, and I barely escaped with my life. Besides, this is more than repaying a debt to me. Will you rob me of my vengeance?”

Barlo sighed. “I suppose not.”

He admired that Iarion didn’t take the opportunity to abandon him now that it had been freely given. Barlo would have expected no less from a fellow dwarf, but never thought to get such an answer from an elf. Perhaps the creatures weren’t so bad after all, or at least this one didn’t seem to be. It made sense, given the friendly nature of their Earth Elf cousins, but Iarion was the first non-Earth Elf Barlo had ever met. Were all elves like Iarion? If so, Barlo had to admit he had spent his life being a suspicious fool, allowing his race’s mistrust of outsiders get the best of him. What had happened to put the rest of the elves at odds with the dwarves, anyway? For the first time, Barlo realized he didn’t know.

Barlo pushed such uncomfortable thoughts aside. “Do you mind if I take the second watch?” he asked with a jaw-cracking yawn. “I’m worn out.”

“Works for me,” Iarion said. “I’m still awake anyway.”

Barlo wrapped himself in his blanket. “Wake me when it’s time.”

* * *

Elven hearing or no, Iarion slept soundly as Barlo left him in the hours before dawn. Barlo crept away from their camp, casting a guilty look over his shoulder at the elf’s sleeping form. He told himself Iarion was more than capable of fending for himself. Besides, the only enemies in the area were the ones Barlo was after. Although Iarion would miss his chance at vengeance, he should remain safe without Barlo there to keep watch.

Barlo shook his head. What did it matter anyway? He was just an elf.

He squared his shoulders and began walking toward the cave where the dark creatures and Galrin’s Ax awaited him. This was something he had to do on his own. After all, what would the other clan chiefs think if they found out an elf had helped him recover the dwarven relic? He would be a laughingstock. Iarion had helped him locate the ax, and that was fine. But relying on an elf in battle, rather than regaining the ax on his own, was more than his pride could bear.

The journey to the cave was far shorter than Barlo would have liked. The dark entrance rose before him all too soon. The sun was just starting to peek over the eastern horizon, staining it a pale pink. A bird sang in the distance.

Barlo felt at home with solid rock beneath his feet, but his heart was pounding in his chest. He gripped the haft of his war ax in both hands, straining his ears for any sound from within the cave. Other than the odd shuffle of heavy feet, it was silent.

Barlo silently cursed. The dark creatures were at home here, but still too clever to leave their lair unguarded. The footsteps of the sentry sounded like those of an ogre. A goblin would have been harder to hear, with its strange, webbed feet. He waited for the footsteps to stop before creeping forward, his back pressed against the mountainside. He held his breath and narrowed his eyes, trying to pierce the darkness of the cave entrance.

There were two of them. Both were ogres. Their hairy skin made them difficult to spot, but Barlo caught a gleam of their tusks in the shadows. Neither one carried the artifact Barlo sought. He would have to get past them to search inside.

Barlo leaned his war ax against a boulder and pulled his throwing ax from his belt. He would only have one chance to take out both sentries before they could raise the alarm. He held the weapon in one hand and took aim at the far sentry.

As the throwing ax left his hand, he was already in motion, snatching up his war ax and charging the nearest sentry. The throwing ax hit the far sentry in the side of the head, landing with a solid thump. The creature dropped like a stone. It crumpled to the ground, twitching.

The second sentry whirled around to identify the source of the threat as Barlo rushed forward. It fumbled for its cudgel, but Barlo’s war ax was already swinging. It landed deep in the second creature’s throat. Barlo pulled the weapon free, creating a dark shower of arterial spray. The ogre’s legs gave way and it fell back with a wet gurgle.

Barlo wiped the blood from his face with his sleeve and tried to quiet the sound of his own breathing. Neither sentry had cried out, but had any of the other creatures heard the scuffle? Barlo’s knuckles were white as he gripped the haft of his ax and waited.

No one came. The only sound was the rattling snores of the sleeping creatures within.

Barlo retrieved his throwing ax and forced himself to step beyond the cave entrance into the gaping darkness. The cave wasn’t wide, but it was deep. As he walked around a bend, the entrance fell out of sight and the darkness was complete.

The first thing Barlo noticed was the stench. He held his forearm over his nose to stop himself from gagging. It was the sour reek of unwashed flesh, combined with the sickly scent of rotten meat and the salty tang of blood. It was so strong, he could taste it.

As his eyes adjusted, he could make out the sprawled forms of sleeping goblins and ogres. The gangly, spiderlike goblins lay to the northwest side of the cave, while the ogres lay to the southeast. Even in sleep, the creatures didn’t mingle, which made Barlo wonder why the two races were working together at all. Perhaps it was only the convenience of combining forces when they were so far from their territory in the north. With chaotic creatures like these, one never knew.

Barlo focused on the ogres. If Iarion was right, one of them bore the item he sought. He tiptoed around the slumbering forms, searching for any sign of the ax. All the ogres slept with their crude, wooden cudgels close at hand. It wasn’t until Barlo was deep within their ranks that he saw the cold glint of metal.

It was the ax!

Barlo had to hold back a whoop of triumph. He stepped carefully over ogre limbs in an effort to get closer. The dark form lying beside it was the largest ogre he had ever seen. Its tusks were nearly as long as his arm. The ax lay beneath one hairy, outstretched hand.

Barlo’s eyes were glued on his goal as he continued forward. Soon, Galrin’s Ax would be his! He would return to Dwarvenhome triumphant as the new Chief of Clans. He would unite his people and lead them into a new era of prosperity.

One of the sleeping ogres twitched as Barlo stepped over it. Barlo’s stomach dropped as he stumbled, falling over it, his ax hitting the stone floor with a clang. The ogre pinned beneath him came awake with a bellow. Barlo rolled away, snatching up his weapon.

The rest of the cave surged to life as the creatures woke in confusion. None of them had spotted the intruder yet. Barlo knew he needed to act fast if he wanted a chance at survival.

He swung his ax upward, catching the ogre that had tripped him under the chin. The ogre let out a squeal, flailing its arms in a desperate reach for its cudgel. Barlo pulled the ax free and swung it once more, lopping the creature’s head from its shoulders.

There was a moment of terrifying silence as the ogre’s head hit the floor and rolled to land at the feet of the behemoth bearing Galrin’s Ax

Before the stunned creatures could react, Barlo threw himself at the next creature with a savage yell. The ogre leader hooked the ill-gotten ax in its belt and pointed its cudgel at Barlo with a roar.

“Prochamdun!”

Unlike Iarion, Barlo didn’t speak the Black Tongue, but this was a word he did recognize: dwarf.

The goblins on the other side of the cave screeched upon hearing their intruder identified. They rushed to join the fray. The ogres pressed in, but Barlo managed to keep them at a distance with his ax. Those who stepped within range soon joined their decapitated tribemate. The ogre leader watched from a safe distance behind the others, it’s squinty eyes glittering.

Barlo gave a mad chuckle of despair. So this was how it would end. He would die here alone because of his foolish pride, and Narilga would raise their son a widow. The clans would remain fractured and the dark creatures more bold. The most precious relic of the dwarves would remain in the grubby hands of an oversized ogre, its legacy forever lost. He cursed his stupidity.

One of the creatures’ cudgels slammed into his back, knocking the wind from him. He spun to strike his attacker, slamming the blade of his ax into the creature’s face. He knew he couldn’t keep this up forever. At least the quarters were too tight for the goblins to use their poisoned arrows. If he was going to die, he wanted to go down fighting. If nothing else, he would teach these creatures respect.

Barlo turned to face the next attacker, sweat trickling down his brow. Where would the next blow come from? There was no way to know in the darkness, surrounded by ogres. The creatures grunted to one another in their own tongue, while the goblins continued to shriek in the background. It was like something out of a nightmare. Barlo listened and watched with his ax ready, his arms trembling from the strain.

The screeching of the goblins erupted into a startled squawk. Some of the ogres turned away, distracted by the sound. Barlo used this to his advantage, striking the creatures from behind. The lead ogre shifted from one foot to the other, trying to see beyond the chaos. The squawking became punctuated by death screams.

What was happening? Were the creatures turning on one another?

Barlo ignored the racket and continued to whittle down his opponents. His arms felt like lead and his breathing came in gasps, but he didn’t dare stop now.

“Barlo!” a voice cried out over the din, nearly causing the dwarf to drop his ax in surprise. “Where are you?”

“Iarion?”

A few moments later, one of the ogres behind Barlo squealed and fell to the floor. The elf’s familiar features appeared from the darkness, his face spattered with blood and his strange eyes filled with the wild joy of battle. He leaped over the ogre’s corpse to stand at Barlo’s back with his long knife drawn.

“Did you forget to wake me?” he asked, as he parried an incoming blow.

Barlo shook his head, forgetting Iarion couldn’t see him. “What? No! I told you already. I wanted to handle this on my own.”

“So should I leave you to it, then?” There was a hint of laughter in Iarion’s voice. “I wouldn’t want to interfere. You seemed like you were in trouble, so I thought I would help. Then again, maybe I don’t understand dwarven tactics. Were you trying to lull them into a false sense of security?”

“Insolent elf!” Barlo growled. “Shut up and guard my back. The big one’s mine.”

Iarion laughed as he cut down another attacker. Slowly, the ranks of the dark creatures thinned. None thought to escape by fleeing. It was full daylight outside by now. Death in the dark was a preferable alternative.

As soon as Barlo got an opening, he lunged forward to meet the ogre leader. The creature met him with a roar. Barlo was exhausted, but the sight of Galrin’s Ax so close at hand gave him a second wind. He charged into the creature’s guard.

The ogre moved faster than Barlo would have thought possible for its bulk. Its long arm snapped forward, slamming its cudgel against the side of Barlo’s head. The blow reverberated through Barlo’s skull and down his body, rattling his teeth and turning his muscles to jelly. If not for his helm, he would be dead.

He clutched the haft of his ax with numb fingers, keeping his grip through sheer stubbornness. The creature uttered an evil chuckle at Barlo’s dazed expression. It lifted its arm to swing again, but Barlo stepped aside at the last moment, landing a blow on its exposed armpit. The ogre howled in pain.

Barlo skittered backward on unsteady feet as the creature came at him. Again, Barlo dodged and attacked the ogre’s hamstring. Its leg buckled and it swung its cudgel wildly as it sank to one knee, the weapon cutting the air mere inches from Barlo’s face.

Before it could recover, Barlo swung his ax, landing it deep in the giant ogre’s neck, but not cleanly through. It howled once more and dropped its cudgel, reaching toward Barlo with grasping hands. Barlo struggled to free his ax while the creature squeezed his throat. Barlo gasped for air, black spots dancing in his vision.

The ax finally slipped free. With every bit of strength he had left, Barlo swung. This time, his ax went through the ogre’s neck. Even after its head fell to the floor, Barlo had to drop his weapon to pry the creature’s fingers from his throat. He gasped in relief as soon as he was free. The ogre’s body tumbled to the ground.

For a moment, Barlo stood doubled over, his hands on his knees, trying to get his breath back. As his vision cleared, he realized how quiet the cave had become. Warily, he retrieved his ax and turned around.

The cave was littered with bodies. None of the creatures were left standing. Where was Iarion? Barlo’s eyes peered through the darkness as he searched for any sign of his companion, his heart in his throat.

If the elf had died because of his recklessness…

A flicker of movement a few feet away revealed Iarion’s location. The elf was crouched over a wounded goblin, slitting its throat. He wiped his blade on the creature’s tunic and stood.

“Good fight,” Iarion said with a smile. Barlo found himself grinning in response. “You’d best get what you came for.” Iarion gestured toward Galrin’s Ax.

Barlo bent over the ogre leader’s headless body. The ax still hung from its belt. Barlo pulled it free.

It gleamed in the darkness with the cold glimmer of steel. The haft was wrapped with ancient-looking leather. Barlo gripped it in awe. The balance was perfect. The head was engraved with Dwarvish runes, spelling out Galrin’s name. Barlo tested the edge of the blade, pulling his bleeding thumb away in wonder. Even though the weapon was thousands of years old, it was still sharp. He rose and turned to show Iarion.

The elf was facing him, an intrigued look on his face. Barlo noticed a shadow of movement behind him.

“Iarion!” he shouted in warning.

In one fluid movement, Iarion drew his knife, flipped it to hold it by the tip, turned and threw. It landed square in the chest of a wounded goblin that had nocked and aimed one of its poisoned arrows at Iarion’s back.

Barlo let out a sigh of relief. “Good. You saved my life and now I’ve saved yours. We’re even.”

Iarion went to retrieve his knife. “I knew it was there, you know. I was just about to kill it when you shouted.”

“You did not!”

“We elves have highly trained senses. Sorry, but your warning doesn’t count.” Iarion gave Barlo a wry smile.

“Well, seeing as I saved your life once already, I’d say we’re still even,” Barlo said.

“So you want to take credit for that now? I thought it was all your wife’s doing.” Iarion arched one of his fine brows.

“But if that doesn’t count either, it means I’d be in your debt and would have to thank you.”

“We wouldn’t want that now, would we?” Iarion gave a dramatic sigh. “Very well. I suppose we’re even. Even if I did know that goblin was there all along.”

Barlo snorted. “Let’s get out of here.”

Together, they left the cave to step into the warm sunlight. It felt as though days had passed since Barlo had entered. He looked down at Galrin’s Ax

“What will you do with it?” Iarion asked. “Will you wield it in battle?”

Barlo gave a reluctant sigh. “No. I’ll keep it at Dwarvenhome in the honor it deserves. I don’t want to risk it getting taken from us ever again.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“So, are you still headed back to Melaralva?” Barlo asked.

Iarion shrugged. “I suppose. It’s as good a place as any. Do you want to travel together until our paths separate?”

“Well, I was thinking…” Barlo frowned, trying to choose his words before giving up in frustration. “Bah. Will you come back to Dwarvenhome with me? I think Narilga would like to see you in one piece, and I wasn’t exactly the perfect host before.”

Iarion’s eyes widened. “You’re serious? Will I be welcome there?”

“I’ll make certain of it.” Barlo gave a grim smile. “I’m Chief of Clans now. It’s time we started making friends with our neighbors, regardless of what’s happened in the past. We can’t do that without getting to know them. I was a fool to leave you behind, and I know it. If I let word get out you saved my life, the city should welcome you.”

Iarion smiled. “Then I would be honored.”

They walked side by side toward Traitor’s Road and spent the next few moments in companionable silence.

“Iarion,” Barlo said, “There’s something I’ve been wondering. Why do they call you the Lost Wanderer?”

Iarion stopped for a moment, his silver-flecked, sapphire eyes startled. Then he shook his head and laughed. “That, my friend, is a long story. I’m not sure I know where to start.”

“Try at the beginning. It’s how we dwarves usually do it.” Barlo smirked.

Iarion rolled his eyes. “Very well. It all started in the Age of Shadow, when I was born…”

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: Legacy Hunter

Copyright © 2020 by Jacquelyn Smith

Original cover design concept by Robin Ludwig Designs Inc.

Updated cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art copyright © Akv2006 | Ralf Kraft | Vi73777 | Wimstime | Dreamstime

 

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