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Homeland (part 1 chapter 6)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 6

  “Two-Hands”

  Drizzt promptly answered the call to his matron mother's side, not needing the whip Briza used to hurry him along. How often he had felt the sting of that dreaded weapon! Drizzt held no thoughts of revenge against his vicious oldest sister. With all of the conditioning he had received, he feared the consequences of striking her-or any female-far too much to entertain such notions.

  “Do you know what this day marks?” Malice asked him as he arrived at the side of her great throne in the chapel's darkened anteroom.

  “No, Matron Mother” Drizzt answered, unconsciously keeping his gaze on his toes. A resigned sigh rose in his throat as he noticed the unending view of his own feet. There had to be more to life than blank stone and ten wig. gling toes, he thought.

  He slipped one foot out of his low boot and began doodling on the stone floor. Body heat left discernable tracings in the infrared spectrum, and Drizzt was quick and agile enough to complete simple drawings before the initial lines had cooled.

  “Sixteen years” Matron Malice said to him. “You have breathed the air of Menzoberranzan for sixteen years. An important period of your life has passed”

  Drizzt did not react, did not see any importance or signifi-cance to the declaration. His life was an unending and un-changing routine. One day, sixteen years, what difference did it make? If his mother considered important the things he had been put through since his earliest recollections,

  Drizzt shuddered to think of what the next decades might hold.

  He had nearly completed his picture of a round-shouldered drow-Briza-being bitten on the behind by an enormous viper.

  “Look at me” Matron Malice commanded.

  Drizzt felt at a loss. His natural tendency once had been to look upon a person with whom he was talking, but Briza had wasted no time in beating that instinct out of him. The place of a page prince was servitude, and the only eyes a page prince's were worthy of meeting were those of the creatures that scurried across the stone floor-except the eyes of a spider, of course; Drizzt had to avert his gaze whenever one of the eight-legged things crawled into his vi-sion. Spiders were too good for the likes of a page prince.

  “Look at me” Malice said again, her tone hinting at volatile impatience. Drizzt had witnessed the explosions before, a wrath so incredibly vile that it swept aside anything and everything in its path. Even Briza, so pompous and cruel, ran for hiding when the matron mother grew angry.

  Drizzt forced his gaze up tentatively, scanning his moth-er's black robes, using the familiar spider pattern along the garment's back and sides to judge the angle of his gaze. He fully expected, as every inch passed, a smack on his head, or a lashing on his back-Briza was behind him, always with her snake-headed whip near her anxious hand.

  Then he saw her, the mighty Matron Malice Do'Urden, her heat-sensing eyes flashing red and her face cool, not flushed with angry heat. Drizzt kept tense, still expecting a punishing blow.

  “Your tenure as page prince is ended” Malice explained. “You are secondboy of House Do'Urden now and are ac-

  corded all the. . “

  Drizzt's gaze unconsciously slipped back to the floor.

  “Look at me!” his mother screamed in sudden rage.

  Terrified, Drizzt snapped his gaze back to her face, which now was glowing a hot red. On the edge of his vision he saw the wavering heat of Malice's swinging hand, though he was not foolish enough to try to dodge the blow. He was on the floor then, the side of his face bruised.

  Even in the fall, though, Drizzt was alert and wise enough to keep his gaze locked on to that of Matron Malice.

  “No more a servant!” the matron mother roared. “To con-tinue acting like one would bring disgrace to our family” She grabbed Drizzt by the throat and dragged him roughly to his feet.

  “If you dishonor House Do'Urden” she promised, her face an inch from his, “I will put needles into your purple eyes.”

  Drizzt didn't blink. In the six years since Vierna had relin-quished care of him, putting him into general servitude to all the family, he had come to know Matron Malice well enough to understand all of the subtle connotations of her threats. She was his mother-for whatever that was worth-but Drizzt did not doubt that she would enjoy stick. ing needles in his eyes.

  “This one is different” Vierna said, “in more than the shade of his eyes”

  “In what way, then?” Zaknafein asked, trying to keep his curiosity at a professional level. Zak had always liked Vierna better than the others, but she recently had been ordained a high priestess, and had since become too eager for her own good.

  Vierna slowed the pace of her gait-the door to the chapel's antechamber was in sight now. “It is hard to say” she admitted. “Drizzt is as intelligent as any male child I have ever known; he could levitate by the age of five. Yet, af-ter he became the page prince, it took weeks of punishment to teach him the duty of keeping his gaze to the floor, as if

  such a simple act ran unnaturally counter to his constitu-tion“

  Zaknafein paused and let Vierna move ahead of him. “Un-natural?” he whispered under his breath, considering the implications of Vierna's observations. Unusual, perhaps, for a drow, but exactly what Zaknafein would expect-and hope for-from a child of his loins.

  He moved behind Vierna into the lightless anteroom. Mal-ice, as always, sat in her throne at the head of the spider idol, but all the other chairs in the room had been moved to the walls, even though the entire family was present. This was to be a formal meeting, Zak realized, for only the ma-tronmother was accorded the comfort of a seat.

  “Matron Malice” Vierna began in her most reverent voice, “I present to you Zaknafein, as you requested”

  Zak moved up beside Vierna and exchanged nods with Malice, but he was more intent on the youngest Do'Urden, standing naked to the waist at the matron mother's side.

  Malice held up one hand to silence the others, then mo-tioned for Briza, holding a house piwafwi, to continue.

  An expression of elation brightened Drizzt's childish face as Briza, chanting through the appropriate incantations, placed the magical cloak, black and shot with streaks of pur-ple and red, over his shoulders.

  “Greetings, Zaknafein Do'Urden” Drizzt said heartily, drawing stunned looks from all in the room. Matron Malice had not granted him privilege to speak; he hadn't even asked her permission!

  “I am Drizzt, secondboy of House Do'Urden, no more the page prince. I can look at you now-I mean at your eyes and not your boots. Mother told me so” Drizzt's smile disap-peared when he looked up at the burning scowl of Matron Malice.

  Vierna stood as if turned to stone, her jaw hanging open and her eyes wide in disbelief.

  Zak, too, was amazed, but in a different manner. He

  brought a hand up to pinch his lips together, to prevent them from spreading into a smile that would have inevita- bly erupted into belly-shaking laughter. Zak couldn't re-member the last time he had seen the matron mother's face so very bright!

  Briza, in her customary position behind Malice, fumbled with her whip, too confounded by her young brother's actions to even know what in the Nine Hells she should do.

  That was a first, Zak knew, for Malice's eldest daughter rarely hesitated when punishment was in order.

  At the matron's side, but now prudently a step farther away, Drizzt quieted and stood perfectly still, biting down on his bottom lip. Zak could see, though, that the smile re-mained in the young drow's eyes. Drizzt's informality and disrespect of station had been more than an unconscious slip of the tongue and more than the innocence of inexperi- ence.

  The weapon master took a long step forward to deflect the matron mother's attention from Drizzt. “Secondboy?” he asked, sounding impressed, both for the sake of Drizzt's swelling pride and to placate and distract Malice. “Then it is time for you to train”

  Malice let her anger slip away, a rare event. “Only the ba-sics at your hand, Zaknafein. If Drizzt is to replace Nalfein, his place at the Academy will be in Sorcere. Thus the bulk of his preparation will fall upon Rizzen and his knowledge, limited though it may be, of the magical arts”

  “Are you so certain that wizardry is his lot, Matron?” Zak was quick to ask.

  “He appears intelligent” Malice replied. She shot an angry glare at Drizzt. “At least, some of the time. Vierna reported great progress with his command of the innate powers. Our house needs a new wizard” Malice snarled reflexively, re-minded of Matron Baenre's pride in her wizard son, the Archmage of the city. It had been sixteen years since Mal-ice's meeting with the First Matron Mother of Menzober-ranzan, but she had never forgotten even the tiniest detail of that encounter. “Sorcere seems the natural course”

  Zak took a flat coin from his neck-purse, flipped it into a

  spin, and snatched it out of the air. “Might we see?” he asked.

  “As you will” Malice agreed, not surprised at Zak's desire to prove her wrong. Zak placed little value in wizardry, pre- ferring the hilt of a blade to the crystal rod component of a lightning bolt.

  Zak moved to stand before Drizzt and handed him the coin. “Flip it”

  Drizzt shrugged, wondering what this vague conversa-tion between his mother and the weapon master was all about. Until now, he had heard nothing of any future pro-fession being planned for him, or of this place called Sor-cere. With a consenting shrug of his shoulders, he slid the coin onto his curled index finger and snapped it into the air with his thumb, easily catching it. He then held it back out to Zak and gave the weapon master a confused look, as if to ask what was so important about such an easy task.

  Instead of taking the coin, the weapon master pulled an-other from his neck-purse. “Try both hands” he said to Drizzt, handing it to him.

  Drizzt shrugged again, and in one easy motion, put the coins up and caught them.

  Zak turned an eye on Matron Malice. Any drow could have performed that feat, but the ease with which this one executed the catch was a pleasure to observe. Keeping a sly eye on the matron, Zak produced two more coins. “Stack two on each hand and send all four up together” he in-structed Drizzt.

  Four coins went up. Four coins were caught. The only parts of Drizzt's body that had even flinched were his arms.

  “Two-hands” Zak said to Malice. “This one is a fighter. He belongs in Melee-Magthere”

  “I have seen wizards perform such feats” Malice retorted, not pleased by the look of satisfaction on the troublesome weapon master's face. Zak once had been Malice's pro-claimed husband, and quite often since that distant time she took him as her lover. His skills and agility were not con-

  fined to the use of weapons. But along with the pleasures that Zaknafein gave to Malice, sensual skills that had prompted Malice to spare Zak's life on more than a dozen occasions, came a multitude of headaches. He was the finest weapon master in Menzoberranzan, another fact that Mal- ice could not ignore, but his disdain, even contempt, for the Spider Queen had often landed House Do'Urden into trou-ble.

  Zak handed two more coins to Drizzt. Now enjoying the game, Drizzt put them into motion. Six went up. Six came down, the correct three landing in each hand. “Two-hands” Zak said more emphatically. Matron Malice motioned for him to continue, unable to deny the grace of her youngest son's display.

  “Could you do it again?” Zak asked Drizzt.

  With each hand working independently, Drizzt soon had the coins stacked atop his index fingers, ready to flip. Zak stopped him there and pulled out four more coins, building each of the piles five high. Zak paused a moment to study the concentration of the young drow (and also to keep his hands over the coins and ensure that they were brightened enough by the warmth of his body heat for Drizzt to prop-erly see them in their flight)。

  “Catch them all, Secondboy” he said in all seriousness. “Catch them all, or you will land in Sorcere, the school of magic. That is not where you belong!”

  Drizzt still had only a vague idea of what Zak was talking about, but he could tell from the weapon master's intensity that it must be important. He took a deep breath to steady himself, then snapped the coins up. He sorted their glow quickly, discerning each individual item. The first two fell easily into his hands, but Drizzt saw that the scattering pat-tern of the rest would not drop them so readily in line.

  Drizzt exploded into action, spinning a complete circle, his hands an undecipherable blur of motion. Then he straightened suddenly and stood before Zak. His hands were in fists at his sides and a grim look lay on his face.

  Zak and Matron Malice exchanged glances, neither quite sure of what had happened.

  Drizzt held his fists out to Zak and slowly opened them, a confident smile widening across his childish face. Five coins in each hand.

  Zak blew a silent whistle. It had taken him, the weapon master of the house, a dozen tries to complete that maneu- ver with ten coins. He walked over to Matron Malice.

  “Two-hands” he said a third time. “He is a fighter, and I am out of coins”

  “How many could he do?” Malice breathed, obviously im-pressed in spite of herself.

  “How many could we stack?” Zaknafein shot back with a triumphant smile.

  Matron Malice chuckled out loud and shook her head. She had wanted Drizzt to replace Nalfein as the house wizard, but her stubborn weapon master had, as always, deflected her course. “Very well, Zaknafein” she said, admitting her defeat. “The secondboy is a fighter”

  Zak nodded and started back to Drizzt.

  “Perhaps one day soon to be the weapon master of House Do'Urden” Matron Malice added to Zak's back. Her sarcasm stopped Zak short, and he eyed her over his shoulder.

  “With this one” Matron Malice continued wryly, wrench-ing back the upper hand with her usual lack of shame, “could we expect anything less?”

  Rizzen, the present patron of the family shifted uncom- fortably. He knew, and so did everyone-even the slaves of House Do'Urden-that Drizzt was not his child.

  “Three rooms?” Drizzt asked when he and Zak entered the large training hall at the southernmost end of the Do'Ur- den complex. Balls of multicolored magical light had been spaced along the length of the high-ceilinged stone room, basking the entirety in a comfortably dim glow. The hall had only three doors: one to the east, which led to an outer chamber that opened onto the balcony of the house; one di- rectly across from Drizzt, on the south wall, leading into the

  last room in the house; and the one from the main hallway that they had just passed through. Drizzt knew from the many locks Zak was now fastening behind them that he wouldn't often be going back that way.

  “One room” Zak corrected.

  “But two more doors” Drizzt reasoned, looking out across the room. “With no locks”

  “Ah” Zak corrected, “their locks are made of common sense” Drizzt was beginning to get the picture. “That door” Zak continued, pointing to the south, “opens into my private chambers. You do not ever want me to find you in there. The other one leads to the tactics room, reserved for times of war. When-if-you ever prove yourself to my satisfac-tion, I might invite you to join me there. That day is years away, so consider this single magnificent hall-” he swept his arm out in a wide arc-“your home”

  Drizzt looked around, not overly thrilled. He had dared to hope that he had left this kind of treatment behind him with his page prince days. This setup, though, brought him back even to before his six years of servitude in the house, back to that decade when he had been locked away in the family chapel with Vierna. This room wasn't even as large as the chapel, and was too tight for the likings of the spirited young drow. His next question came out as a growl.

  “Where do I sleep?”

  “Your home” Zak answered matter-of-factly.

  “Where do I take meals?”

  “Your home”

  Drizzt's eyes narrowed to slits and his face flushed in glowing heat. “Where do I . . ” he began stubbornly, deter-mined to foil the weapon master's logic.

  “Your home” Zak replied in the same measured and weighted timbre before Drizzt could finish the thought. Drizzt planted his feet firmly and crossed his arms over his chest. “It sounds messy” he growled.

  “It had better not be” Zak growled back.

  “Then what is the purpose?” Drizzt began. “You pull me away from my mother-”

  “You will address her as Matron Malice” Zak warned. “You

  will always address her as Matron Malice“

  “From my mother-”

  Zak's next interruption came not with words but with the

  swing of a curled fist.

  Drizzt awoke about twenty minutes later.

  “First lesson” Zak explained, casually leaning against the wall a few feet away. “For your own good. You will always address her as Matron Malice”

  Drizzt rolled to his side and tried to prop himself up on his elbow but found his head reeling as soon as it left the black-rugged floor. Zak grabbed him and hoisted him up.

  “Not as easy as catching coins” the weapon master re-marked.

  “What?”

  “Parrying a blow”

  “What blow?”

  “Just agree, you stubborn child”

  “Secondboy!” Drizzt corrected, his voice again a growl, and his arms defiantly back over his chest.

  Zak's fist curled at his side, a not-tao-subtle point that Drizzt did not miss. “Do you need another nap?” the weapon master asked calmly.

  “Secondboys can be children” Drizzt wisely conceded.

  Zak shook his head in disbelief. This was going to be inter-esting. “You may find your time here enjoyable” he said, leading Drizzt over to a long, thick, and colorfully (though

  most of the colors were somber) decorated curtain. “But only if you can learn some control over that wagging tongue of yours” A sharp tug sent the curtain floating down, re- vealing the most magnificent weapons rack the young drow (and many older drow as well) had ever seen. Polearms of many sorts, swords, axes, hammers, and every other kind of weapon Drizzt could imagine-and a whole bunch he'd never imagine-sat in an elaborate array.

  “Examine them” Zak told him. “lake your time and your pleasure. Learn which ones sit best in your hands, follow most obediently the commands of your will. By the time we have finished, you will know every one of them as a trusted companion”

  Wide-eyed, Drizzt wandered along the rack, viewing the whole place and the potential of the whole experience in a completely different light. For his entire young life, sixteen years, his greatest enemy had been boredom. Now, it ap- peared, Drizzt had found weapons to fight that enemy.

  Zak headed for the door to his private chamber, thinking it better that Drizzt be alone in those first awkward mo-ments of handling new weapons.

  The weapon master stopped, though, when he reached his door and looked back to the young Do'Urden. Drizzt swung a long and heavy halberd, a polearm more than twice his height, in a slow arc. For all of Drizzt's attempts to keep the weapon under control, its momentum spun his tiny frame right to the ground.

  Zak heard himself chuckle, but his laughter only re-minded him of the grim reality of his duty. He would train Drizzt, as he had trained a thousand young dark elves be-fore him, to be a warrior, preparing him for the trials of the Academy and life in dangerous Menzoberranzan. He would train Drizzt to be a killer.

  How against this one's nature that mantle seemed! thought Zak. Smiles came too easily to Drizzt; the thought of him running a sword through the heart of another living be- ing revolted Zaknafein. That was the way of the drow, though, a way that Zak had been unable to resist for all of his four centuries of life. Pulling his stare from the spectacle of Drizzt at play, Zak moved into his chamber and shut the

  door.

  “Are they all like that?” he asked into his nearly empty room. “Do all drow children possess such innocence, such simple, untainted smiles that cannot survive the ugliness of our world?” Zak started for the small desk to the side of the room, meaning to lift the darkening shade off the contin-ually glowing ceramic globe that served as the chamber's light source. He changed his mind as that image of Drizzt's delight with the weapons refused to diminish, and he headed instead for the large bed across from the door.

  “Or are you unique, Drizzt Do'Urden?” he continued ashe fell onto the cushioned bed. “And if you are so different, what, then, is the cause? The blood, my blood, that courses through your veins? Or the years you spent with your wean-mother?”

  Zak threw an arm across his eyes and considered the many questions. Drizzt was different from the norm, he de-cided at length, but he didn't know whether he should thank Vierna-or himself.

  After a while, sleep took him. But it brought the weapon master little comfort. A familiar dream visited him, a vivid memory that would never fade.

  Zaknafein heard again the screams of the children of House DeVir as the Do'Urden soldiers-soldiers he himself had trained-slashed at them.

  “This one is different!” Zak cried, leaping up from his bed. He wiped the cold sweat from his face.

  “This one is different” He had to believe that.

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