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A Close Shave: A Legends of Lasniniar Short

A Close Shave: A Legends of Lasniniar Short

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A cold welcome in Dwarvenhome. Even after a few years as Barlo’s friend, Iarion still feels like an intruder in the underground city.

The dwarves’ usual wariness toward elves does not bother him. But Iarion senses something more at work. All of the dwarves seem on edge. Barlo included.

And when Iarion learns the real reason behind the rising tensions, he knows he has his work cut out for him.

A stand-alone story of friendship, beards, and magic from the Legends of Lasniniar fantasy series. (Previously published as “Legends of Lasniniar: A Close Shave.” This adventure takes place between the World of Lasniniar novels Kinslayer and Soul Seeker.)

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Iarion walked briskly along the underground streets of Dwarvenhome, eager to reach Barlo’s front door. He did his best to ignore looks of askance as he passed. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of welcome—he was an elf, after all—but this was hardly his first visit to the dwarven city. He had thought most of the dwarves had come to tolerate him. He felt painfully conspicuous among the short, bulky figures and bearded faces with his tall, lean frame. His complete lack of facial hair did nothing to disguise his angular features, and the tips of his pointed ears poked out from under his long, silver braids. The streets were well lit by rows of torches, so even his silent tread and dusky skin could not help him blend in.

He found his fingers drifting toward the knife at his belt and forced them away. The guards at the mountain gate had argued about allowing him to enter the city with his blade and bow, but in the end, they had grudgingly permitted him to remain armed. In all the years since his first visit to Dwarvenhome, he had never encountered such a dubious welcome.

What’s going on here? Everyone seems to be on edge.

In fact, the suspicious glares the dwarves were throwing about weren’t limited to Iarion. He passed several knots of dwarven men, women, and children on the streets who spoke to one another with tense expressions in their own hash tongue, their fists clenching as if spoiling for a fight. Iarion walked past them as quickly as he dared, not wanting to draw any more attention to himself.

A flood of relief washed over him as he reached Barlo’s familiar front door, marked by his clan’s tartan flag. Iarion’s nervous knock was a bit more frantic than he had intended. He heard shuffling feet approaching from the other side of the door, accompanied by muffled grumbling, punctuated by curses. Iarion stepped back, preparing himself to greet Barlo. The door jerked inward to reveal a flush-faced Narilga instead. Barlo’s wife wore a waspish expression Iarion had never seen on her before, her long, dark hair in tangles.

“Thank the First Father you’re here,” she said without preamble. “I can’t deal with him anymore.”

A child’s voice rose into a wail from inside the home. Moments later, a second one rose to join it.

Narilga heaved an exasperated sigh. “And now the children are fussing. Honestly, do I have to do everything myself around here?” She disappeared inside, leaving Iarion to gape after her from the doorstep.

Iarion frowned in confusion, wondering how to proceed when he heard heavy, tromping footsteps approaching the open door. Barlo’s familiar figure appeared, his bushy brows knitted together in a scowl. Iarion’s gaze lowered and he found himself recoiling. Barlo’s entire beard was covered with a white, foamy substance. Barlo’s scowl turned into a grin, filling the air with small bubbles.

“You’re finally here!” he said. “Thank the First Father. Narilga is practically useless. Now get in here. We have a lot of work to do. There’s only an hour before Bristle Brawl starts.”

Iarion shook his head, starting to wonder if he had somehow consumed a large quantity of strong wine and was now suffering the consequences.

“Bristle Brawl?”

“It’s a facial hair competition,” Barlo said, flushing above his frothing beard. “We have it once a year.”

“Why haven’t I heard about it before?” Iarion asked.

“Well, it’s a Dwarvenhome tradition. I never invited you to visit me while it was running before. This was the first year I could convince everyone to allow an elven spectator. It took a while for all the judges and entrants in each category to agree.”

“There are categories?” Iarion uttered a surprised chuckle before he could stop himself.

“Of course there are categories!” Barlo scowled at him. “We aren’t a pack of frolicking, smooth-cheeked elves, who can’t even grow a mustache to save their lives. Every male dwarf over the age of ten already has their whiskers starting to come in. We can hardly have half the population of the city compete against one another head-to-head. It would be impossible to judge!” He threw up his arms in agitation, sending another spray of bubbles into the air.

“I see,” Iarion said, schooling his expression. Normally, he enjoyed teasing Barlo, and an opening like this was priceless, but his friend seemed far too tense to make it a good idea. “What category are you competing in?”

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