“Your Path is muddy, Kelnaht, but don’t think avoiding the puddles will make it easier to travel.”
Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is a truth seeker caught between love and faith when a murder committed ten days before Solstice reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit. Kelnaht’s former lover Ianys once betrayed him, and the shunned forester Taruif is not allowed to talk to anyone but the guide, their spiritual pathfinder.
When Taruif turns out to be the only witness to the crime, Kelnaht must suppress his forbidden feelings or face the ire of the elders. Ianys is terrified the tribe will blame Taruif for the crime, and despite their painful history, Kelnaht tries to keep his impulsive ex-lover from sacrificing his freedom for an impossible love. If Taruif and Ianys’ affair becomes known, Ianys will lose his daughter.
Kelnaht finds himself yearning to claim both Taruif and Ianys at the coming Solstice and turns to the guide, who gives him only cryptic advice. It is up to Kelnaht to prove Taruif’s innocence and find a path free of puddles and mud for all three of them.
Tired as I was after spending all day scouring the clearing for evidence and examining Cyine’s body, I wasn’t to be granted any rest yet. Someone knocked on my door just as I finished washing up and changing my clothes. I regretted opening the door as soon as I saw Ianys standing outside, but managed not to slam it closed.
“What do you want?” I asked, not caring how hostile I sounded.
After all this time, Ianys couldn’t even look at me as he stood there, fidgeting with his tunic, eyes lowered to the ground.
Ianys was as gorgeous as ever. Cropped brown hair, sticking up at all sides as if he had just risen from sleep, that made me want to run my hands… I swallowed and lowered my gaze to his chest. His muscles were visible through his tight tunic. He was a broad tree elf, more muscular than when we had been together, but as a smith that was to be expected; working the bellows was hefty exercise in itself. I pushed down the memory of watching him work when we had been together.
In all the turns since he had left me, betrayed me, he had barely spoken two words to me. Instead, I had to watch from afar as he vowed himself to another, only to lose her to illness after their daughter was born. I could only stand by and watch how hard he worked at being a good father, how he finally became a full-fledged smith. He’d never once approached me, but the hope lingering inside me could never be buried deep enough. How could I still want him? After eight turns, I should know better.
“I don’t have time for this, Ianys. I am tired and I—”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Can’t it wait till morning?”
I had to bite my lip to keep from reacting when he finally looked up. His eyes, green as fresh grass and filled with turmoil, drew me in the way they had always done. I’d loved him once. I shook my head. Who was I fooling? I had never stopped.
Holding the door open, I stepped aside to let him in, staying in the small hallway until I managed to compose myself.
“He didn’t do it, Kel.”
Whatever anyone had or hadn’t done was the furthest thing from my mind when Ianys called me by that name. I clenched my fists and turned my back to him, hoping he couldn’t see how it affected me. “You have no right to call me that.”
A long silence followed. I tried to school my features, but I was too drained. Instead, I kept my back to him and waited for him to break the silence. I heard him sigh.
“I heard they accuse him of killing Cyine, but he didn’t do it,” Ianys finally said.
“Who?” What could Ianys know about the murder?
I froze. My first instinct was to tell Ianys he shouldn’t be saying that name, shouldn’t even think it, but there was something in Ianys’ voice that made me stop. Something of a memory from long ago, when I didn’t know how Ianys had betrayed me, and we lay together in the dark, and he would whisper my name in that same way.
It could not be true. But when I finally turned around and looked at him, it was all too clear in Ianys’ face. The one I loved—had loved—and the one I desired, joined in illicit relations.
I should arrest Ianys, should send him to face the elders and have him punished, shunned, shut out for his transgression. But then I pictured Atèn, his daughter, looking at me with those same green eyes, and I knew I could not rob her of a father as well.
“He didn’t do it, Kelnaht. He couldn’t have done it, for I—”
I shook my head and held my hand up to stop him. “Don’t tell me, Ianys. I beg of you, do not confess to this…this abomination.”
It hurt me to say it, having the same feelings myself, but if he told me, I could not help him. Being caught talking to the forester was bad enough, though I had the right to pardon him for that, a first offence. But confessing to lying with a shunned, that would have to be reported to the elders; it was my duty. I would not be able to save him then.
“He saw someone outside, Kelnaht. He didn’t see Cyine, but he noticed someone out in the dark, in that clearing.” His eyes begged me to understand, begged me to help him, but I was rooted to the floor.
I knew that the forester—I could not allow myself to think of him by name—hadn’t killed Cyine, even if the evidence was still inconclusive. I had no doubt in my mind, no matter how loud Olden proclaimed him guilty. And here Ianys was, confirming my belief in his innocence and giving me the best and worst witness I could ever have. No matter whether I believed Ianys or not, I could never use this information. The forester was out of bounds.
“Kel, please, help us. Help him. I could have been out walking when I stumbled across the clearing. You know I don’t always sleep well.”
I didn’t want him to bring our history up. I didn’t want him to tell me about the forester. I wanted him gone, wanted him to go back to his daughter and go back to not being part of my life. But I found myself unable to turn him out. “You would perjure yourself, would risk losing your daughter?”
“No! No one but you knows the truth.”
I laughed at that, flinching at how harsh it sounded. “I am the truth seeker, Ianys. I seek the truth; I do not bury lies.”
“I was in the forest.”
“But you didn’t see what he saw. One mistake and you will be shunned, just like him.”
Ianys flinched then. He shook his head. “There has to be a way.”
“Get him to talk to the guide.”
“Anything the guide hears during those conversations is confidential. He can’t reveal anything Taruif tells him.”
“Please.” The word left my mouth before I could stop it. I couldn’t handle him speaking that name with such devotion. Not when I ached to be able to myself. “Remember who you are talking to, Ianys. Do not incriminate yourself any further.” I leaned back against the wall, trying to stay upright, and closed my eyes. “Go home, Ianys. I need to… I need to think.”
I swatted away the hand touching my cheek and waited for the door to close. Gasping and fighting back tears, I slid to the floor.
Shayla at Read The Rainbow
"This booked sucked me in from the very first page. In a few hours I was already reaching the end without a break in-between. Blaine Arden has definitely become one of my favorite authors, even though I’m mainly a contemporary M/M fan. In fact, after I was done with The Forester I immediately picked up Oren’s Right, which I had won in a blog hop and kept postponing reading. Hope you guys will enjoy The Forester as much as I did."
Tam at Brief Encounters
"This is first-time author Blaine D. Arden’s debut story and I have to say I was very impressed. CSI meets elves meets menage-y goodness. … The romantic substory of Kel, Ianys and Taruif was sweet and bittersweet at the same time … I have to say I was as interested in the whole murder investigation and how they went about it as I was in the romance … So if you are in the mood for some elfin police drama, coupled with sweet but challenging romance, an excellent choice that I very much enjoyed."
Lisa at Top 2 Bottom Reviews
"Blaine D. Arden knocks this one right out of the ballpark on her first swing, in a CSI meets Law & Order meets J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy/mystery; then, to top it all off, she throws in a little tickle-your-fancy with a sweet ménage à trois, which comes together in a world where elves and magic rule. It all adds up to one wonderful read, as far as I’m concerned, evidenced by the fact that I was cursing myself the whole way through for not being able to read faster so I could see what would happen next."
Darien at Pants Off Reviews
"I am in love with this little novella; I never expected the amount of awesmazingness that was packed into such a short story. … The murder mystery is solved in a form that I thoroughly enjoyed; it even pulled at my heartstrings. Again its the elves that steal the show. Kelnaht, Taruif and Ianys will have you spellbound. Its more than a ménage, these three men belong together. … Blaine D. Arden has stolen a piece of my heart with this story."
Madison Reese at More Than This: Menage and Polyamory Reviews
"Blaine D. Arden has managed to keep the story self-contained, as well as offer the reader thorough world building and a rich cast of characters. … where the writing really shines is in the introduction and description of the cast. The characters have varying backgrounds, and each is comfortable with their place in this society. … the sex is used as a barometer for the mood of the story. There is angry sex, hurt sex, tender sex, loving sex, and all very well written. "
Kassa at Three am
"The Forester is an impressive mix of fantasy and murder/mystery. The writing is superior and the romance is a nice touch without being too easy and ignoring the many potential problems. … I found this short story/novella very entertaining, interesting, and satisfying. I didn’t want it to end and quite literally didn’t put it down from beginning to end. "
JayHJay at Joyfully Jay
"I enjoyed this short story and the glimpse into the elfin world. There was just enough detail to create an interesting and rich world, without getting bogged down in too much minutia for a short story. … I think Arden does a nice job giving us a feel for the threesome and what the future might bring. It was a nice intertwining of a darker mystery with a nice, sweet romance. … This was my first story by Arden and I really liked her voice and the way she made this new world approachable and interesting."
Wendy at Hearts On Fire
"The Forester was a little bit magical and a whole lot enchanting! I fell in love with the world the author created in this novella and kept discovering new surprises to make me pause and admire what I was reading. Overall, I loved this story and would have gladly kept reading. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the possibility of a sequel some day!"
Lis from Rarely Dusty Books
"All three [characters] are intricately drawn… and bring their own peculiarities into the mix. … [T]he plot is well done. The mystery is believable and nicely handled. I loved how the investigative techniques involve magic, but also CSI-techniques. The romance itself is sweet."
Jenre at Well Read
"The fun of this story for me was in the details of the fantasy world created by the author. … It was the little things – such as how Kelnaht has to fit his wings with his clothes, or the different roles that the elves adopt and their purposes in elf society which delighted me just as much as the larger story arc or the mystery. … This is the first story by this author but the richness of the prose and vivid setting in this story makes her one to watch out for in the future. Excellent."
Thommie at MM Good Book Reviews
"For such a short read, it was really good. The lows and highs were nicely balanced and made for a fun murder case to read. The romance was even better … the intimate parts tend more toward romance and sensuality, leading you to thoughts that burn, but not blatantly saying it on the text … it is invigorating seeing authors take risks and make their fae unique.;
Cryselle at Cryselle’s Bookshelf
"This short piece (novella?) packed quite a lot into the slender word count. We are introduced to the society of elves, who have a hierarchy and rules that cannot be bucked, and members of their society who cannot stay within the strictures. I applaud the author for giving us a lot of worldbuilding in a tight space, and for showing us three lovers-to-be without pulling an HEA out of thin air. I’m looking forward to the next book."
Sally at Bibrary Book Lust
"The story itself is wonderfully well-written, creating a very visual fantasy world within the reader’s head. The most extravagant details (like wings) are woven in so subtly, nothing feels drastically different or completely out of place. The dialogue is a bit more modern than you might expect, but entirely fitting in the CSI police procedural mode, but the use of magic to accomplish the investigation is what really makes the story shine."
Alex from Between the Covers
"Arden does a commendable job of building the world in a short amount of time and has a strong writing style. … Arden is a strong story teller capable of painting a very nice picture of the world, the characters, and the scenes. The Kelnaht’s conflicts involving his heart, go a long way to developing his character, as do his interactions with the Guide, who I find to be the most intriguing character of the story. The writing is such that I would definitely check out other works by this author."
The Forester (Forester Triad Act One) © 2011 Blaine D. Arden. All rights reserved