“Are we forgetting anything?” Jaranin asked, looking up from trying to tame his tousled brown hair. His eyes skirted their surroundings. Other than the pond he’d been using as a mirror and the trees all around, there wasn’t much to see. Well, besides his partner-in-crime, Elun, who was standing there bedecked with what must have looked like the oddest set of gear in the world.
“Master Jaranin Riel,” his red-headed elf companion began with a sniff, “don’t tell me you doubt the impeccable planning skills of Elun the Elaborate Entrance-Inventor!” The elf tossed his head and somehow managed to make a dramatic gesture despite carrying a heavy sword in one hand and a giant glass jar in the other. As if that wasn’t enough to keep track of, there was also the full burlap sack propped against Elun’s legs and the aloo, too. How Elun had managed to convince his father to let them borrow the valuable (and large) funnel-shaped elf instrument, Jaranin didn’t know.
“Oh, doubt you? Never.” Jaranin chuckled as he straightened his borrowed midnight-blue robe. He felt honored to wear it for the third year in a row now—but he just wished the traditional storyteller robe were a bit smaller. He was swimming in it. “No, I only doubt you when your plans involve something that might sting us. Or bite us. Or fall on our heads. Or…”
“Jaranin, I keep tellin’ ya,” Elun began with a characteristically dramatic roll of his eyes, “if y’keep worrying about every little thing, yer gonna go gray. Or get wrinkles.” Elun stretched himself to his full height—which still left him an inch shorter than Jaranin. “That’s why ya gotta learn to be more upbeat. Like me!”
“‘Upbeat?’” Jaranin ruffled his friend’s hair. “Do you make these words up as you go, or do you lie awake each night planning them?”
Elun grinned over the lid of his firefly prison. “Bit o’ both!” He tossed the short sword and glass jar up in the air, catching them deftly.
Jaranin jumped forward and rested his hand on the glass jar. As if that reminder would be enough to keep it still in Elun’s hands. “If that glass jar breaks, you’re going to have to nab those fireflies in a tenth the time it took us to capture them all,” he warned.
But he’d never been good at keeping a straight face, so he felt his grin peeking out despite his best efforts to look grim.
Elun made a noise in the back of his throat, something between a gag and a gasp. “Worrying!”
“Right! Right.” Jaranin stepped back, nervously smoothing his robe one last time. “Sorry.”
Elun just winked. “Aw, I’m not the one y’need to be sorry to, Jar. Really, you should be apologizin’ to the lady. I mean, I doubt Isalaina likes her men wrinkly.” Elun batted his eyelashes.
With a grin, Jaranin snatched his friend, locking Elun’s chin in the crook of his arm. “Oh she doesn’t, does she?” With his free hand, Jaranin rubbed his knuckles onto Elun’s head.
“Hoi! Stoppit! Leggo!” Elun cawed. “The plan! Remember the plan!” The jar of fireflies danced precariously in his hand.
Jaranin released him, but not without a parting jab to his friend’s arm. “Right. For the plan.”
Elun rubbed his arm wound with a grin. “…And may I remind you, all my plans work out, in the end.”
“So they do.” Jaranin sighed with a rueful smile. Both lads fell silent as they gazed at the line of trees before them. Orange firelight glowed between the dark trunks. They could still easily make out the hushed laughter and murmuring of a crowd.
“Ready?” Elun inquired.
Jaranin straightened his robe and tried one last pass at his hair. Another glance in the pond told him it was still in vain. But at last, he nodded. “Ready.” He gulped, staring at the trees ahead.
“Excellent.” Elun offered a parting grin to the scampering insects within his jar. “This is going to be the best festival entrance yet!”
Jaranin nodded briskly. Here we go… He raised his hand like they’d planned, the signal for Elun to begin.
Here we go.
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Excerpt from The Victor’s Blade; all content subject to change.
For Him, to Him