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Homeland (part 1 chapter 5)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 5

  Weaning

  For five long years Vierna devoted almost every waking moment to the care of baby Drizzt. In drow society, this was not so much a nurturing time as an indoctrinating time. The child had to learn basic motor and language skills, as did children of all the intelligent races, but a drow elf also had to be grilled on the precepts that bound the chaotic society together.

  In the case of a male child such as Drizzt, Vierna spent hour after endless hour reminding him that he was inferior to the drow females. Since almost all of this portion of Drizzt's life was spent in the family chapel, he encountered no males except during times of communal worship. Even when all in the house gathered for the unholy ceremonies, Drizzt remained silent at Vierna's side, with his gaze obedi-ently on the floor.

  When Drizzt was old enough to follow commands, Vierna's workload lessened. Still, she spent many hours teaching her younger brother-presently they were work-ing on the intricate facial, hand, and body movements of the silent code. Often, though, she just set Drizzt about the endless task of cleaning the domed chapel. The room was barely a fifth the size of the great hall in House Baenre, but it could hold all the dark elves of House Do'Urden with a hundred seats to spare.

  Being a wean-mother was not so bad now, Vierna thought, but still she wished that she could devote more of

  her time to her studies. If Matron Malice had appointed Maya to the task of rearing the child, Vierna might already have been ordained as a high priestess. Vierna still had an- other five years in her duties with Drizzt; Maya might attain high priestesshood before her!

  Vierna dismissed that possibility. She could not afford to worry about such problems.She would finish her tenure as wean-mother in just a few short years. On or around his tenth birthday, Drizzt would be appointed page prince of the family and would serve all the household equally. If her work with Drizzt did not disappoint Matron Malice, Vierna knew that she would get her due.

  “Go up the wall.” Vierna instructed. “Tend to that statue.” She pointed to a sculpture of a naked drow female about twenty feet from the floor. Young Drizzt looked up at it, con- fused. He couldn't possibly climb up to the sculpture and wipe it clean while holding any secure perch. Drizzt knew the high price of disobedience, though-even of hesitation-and he reached up, searching for his first hand-hold.

  “Not like that!” Vierna scolded.

  “How?” Drizzt dared to ask, for he had no idea of what his sister was hinting at.

  “Will yourself up to the gargoyle” Vierna explained. Drizzt's small face crinkled in confusion.

  “You are a noble of House Do'Urden!” Vierna shouted at him. “Or at least you will one day earn that distinction. In your neck-purse you possess the emblem of the house, an item of considerable magic” Vierna still wasn't certain if Drizzt was ready for such a task; levitation was a high mani-festation of innate drow magic, certainly more difficult that limning objects in faerie fire or summoning globes of dark- ness. The Do'Urden emblem heightened these innate powers of drow elves, magic that usually emerged as a drow matured. Whereas most drow nobles could summon the magical energy to levitate once every day or so, the no-bles of House Do'Urden, with their insignia tool, could do so repeatedly.

  Normally, Vierna would never have tried this on a male

  child younger than ten, but Drizzt had shown her so much potential in the last couple of years that she saw no harm in the attempt. “Just put yourself in line with the statue” she explained, “and will yourself to rise”

  Drizzt looked up at the female carving, then lined his feet just out in front of the thing's angled and delicate face. He put a hand to his collar, trying to attune himself to the em-blem. He had sensed before that the magic coin possessed some type of power, but it was only a raw sensation, a child's intuition. Now that Drizzt had some focus and confir-mation to his suspicions, he clearly felt the vibrations of magical energy.

  A series of deep breaths cleared distracting thoughts from the young drow's mind. He blocked out the other sights of the room; all he saw was the statue, the destina- tion. He felt himself grow lighter, his heels went up, and then he was on one toe, though he felt no weight upon it. Drizzt looked over at Vierna, his smile wide in amazement . . . then he tumbled to a heap.

  “Foolish male!” Vierna scolded. “Try again! Try a thousand times if you must!” She reached for the snake-headed whip on her belt. “If you fail, . . ”

  Drizzt looked away from her, cursing himself. His own elation had caused the spell to falter. He knew that he could do it now, though, and he was not afraid of being beaten. He concentrated again on the sculpture and let the magical en-ergy gather within his body.

  Vierna, too, knew that Drizzt would eventually succeed. His mind was keen, as sharp as any Vierna had ever known, including those of the other females of House Do'Urden. The child was stubborn, too; Drizzt would not let the magic defeat him. She knew he would stand under the sculpture until he fainted from hunger if need be.

  Vierna watched him go through a series of small suc-cesses and failures, the last one dropping Drizzt from a height of nearly ten feet. Vierna flinched, wondering if he was seriously hurt. Drizzt, whatever his wounds, did not even cry out but moved back into position and started con- centrating all over again.

  “He is young for that” came a comment from behind

  Vierna. She turned in her seat to see Briza standing over her, a customary scowl on the older sister's face.

  “Perhaps” Vierna replied, “but I'll not know until I let him try”

  “Whip him when he fails” Briza suggested, pulling her cruel six-headed instrument from her belt. She gave the whip a loving look-as if it were some sort of pet-and let a snake's head writhe about her neck and face. “Inspiration”

  “Put it away” Vierna retorted. “Drizzt is mine to rear, and I need no help from you!”

  “You should watch how you speak to a high priestess,” Briza warned, and all of the snake heads, extensions of her thoughts, turned menacingly toward Vierna.

  “ As Matron Malice will watch how you interfere with my tasks” Vierna was quick to reply. Briza put her whip away at the mention of Matron Malice.

  “Your tasks” she echoed scornfully. “You are too yielding for such a chore. Male children must be disciplined; they must ? be taught their place” Realizing that Vierna's threat held dire consequences, the older sister turned and left. Vierna let Briza have the last word. The wean-mother looked back to Drizzt, still trying to get up to the statue. “Enough!” she ordered, recognizing that the child was tir-ing; he could barely get his feet off the ground.

  “I will do it!” Drizzt snapped back at her.

  Vierna liked his determination, but not the tone of his re- ply. Perhaps there was some truth to Briza's words. Vierna snapped the snake-headed whip from her belt. A little inspi-ration might go a long way.

  Vierna sat in the chapel the next day, watching Drizzt hard at work polishing the s1atue of the naked female. He had levitated the full twenty feet in his first attempt this day.

  Vierna could not help but be disappointed when Drizzt did not look back to her and smile at the success. She saw him now, hovering up in the air, his hands a blur as they worked the brushes. Most vividly of all, though, Vierna saw

  the scars on her brother's naked back, the legacy of their “inspirational” discussion. In the infrared spectrum, the whip lines showed clearly, trails of warmth where the insu-lating layers of skin had been stripped away.

  Vierna understood the gain in beating a child, particularly a male child. Few drow males ever raised a weapon against a female, unless under the order of some other female. “How much do we lose?” Vierna wondered aloud. “What more could one such as Drizzt become?”

  When she heard the words spoken aloud, Vierna quickly brushed the blasphemous thoughts from her mind. She as- pired to become a high priestess of the Spider Queen, Lloth the Merciless. Such thoughts were not in accord with the rules of her station. She cast an angry glare on her little brother, transferring her guilt, and again took out her in-strument of punishment.

  She would have to whip Drizzt again this day, for the sac-rilegious thoughts he had inspired within her.

  So the relationship continued for another five years, with Drizzt learning the basic lessons of life in drow society while endlessly cleaning the chapel of House Do'Urden. Be-yond the supremacy of female drow (a lesson always accen-tuated by the wicked snake-headed whip), the most compelling lessons were those concerning the surface elves, the faeries. Evil empires often bound themselves in webs of hate toward fabricated enemies, and none in the history of the world were better at it than the drow. From the first day they were able to understand the spoken word, drow children were taught that whatever was wrong in their lives could be blamed on the surface elves.

  Whenever the fangs of Vierna's whip sliced into Drizzt's back, he cried out for the death of a faerie. Conditioned ha- tred was rarely a rational emotion.

  Part 2 The Weapon Master

  Empty hours, empty days.

  I find that I have few memories of that first period of my -

  life, those first sixteen years when I labored as a servant. Minutes blended into hours, hours into days, and so on, un-til the whole of it seemed one long and barren moment. Sev- eral times I managed to sneak out onto the balcony of House Do'Urden and look out over the magical lights of Menzober- ranzan. On all of those secret journeys, I found myself en- tranced by the growing, and then dissipating, heat-light of Narbondel, the time-clock pillar Looking back on that now, on those long hours watching the glow of the wizard's fire slowly walk its way up and then down the pillar; I am amazed at the emptiness of my early days.

  I clearly remember my excitement, tingling excitement, each time I got out of the house and set myself into position to observe the pillar Such a simple thing it was, yet so fulfill. ing compared to the rest of my existence.

  Whenever I hear the crack of a whip, another memory-more a sensation than a memory actually-sends a shiver through my spine. The shocking jolt and the ensuing numb-ness from those snake-headed weapons is not something that any person would soon forget. They bite under your skin, sending waves of magical energy through your body, waves that make your muscles snap and pull beyond their limits.

  Yet I was luckier than most. My sister Vierna was near to becoming a high priestess when she was assigned the task of rearing me and was at a period of her life where she pos- sessed far more energy than such a job required. Perhaps, then, there was more to those first ten years under her care than I now recall. Vierna never showed the intense wicked- ness of our mother-or, more particularly; of our oldest sis- ter Briza. Perhaps there were good times in the solitude of the house chapel, it is possible that Vierna allowed a more gentle side of herself to show through to her baby brother.

  Maybe not. Even though I count Vierna as the kindest of my sisters, her words drip in the venom of Lloth as surely as those of any cleric in Menzoberranzan. It seems unlikely that she would risk her aspirations toward high priestes-shood for the sake of a mere child, a mere male child.

  Whether there were indeed joys in those years, obscured in the unrelenting assault of Menzoberranzan's wicked-ness, or whether that earliest period of my life was even

  more painful than the years that followed-so painful that my mind hides the memories-I cannot be certain. For all my efforts, I cannot remember them.

  I have more insight into the next six years, but the most prominent recollection of the days I spent serving the court of Matron Malice-aside from the secret trips outside the house-is the image of my own feet. A page prince is never allowed to raise his gaze.

  -Drizzt Do'Urden

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