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Homeland (part 1 chapter 8)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 8 Kindred

  Zak pressed in with a series of low thrusts. Drizzt tried to back away quickly and return to even footing, but the re-lentless assault followed his every step, and he was forced to keep his movements solely on the defensive. More often than not, Drizzt found the hilts of his weapons closer to Zak than the blades.

  Zak then dropped into a low crouch and came up under Drizzt's defense.

  Drizzt twirled his scimitars in a masterful cross, but he had to straighten stiffly to dodge the weapon master's equally deft assault. Drizzt knew that he had been set up, and he fully expected the next attack as Zak shifted his weight to his back leg and dove in, both sword tips aimed for Drizzt's loins.

  Drizzt spat a silent curse and spun his scimitars into a downward cross, meaning to use the “V” of his blades to catch his teacher's swords. On a sudden impulse, Drizzt hesitated as he intercepted Zak's weapons, and he jumped away instead, taking a painful slap on the inside of one thigh. Disgusted, he threw both of his scimitars to the floor.

  Zak, too, leaped back. He held his swords out to his sides, a look of sincere confusion on his face. “You should not have missed that move” he said bluntly.

  “The parry is wrong” Drizzt replied.

  Awaiting further explanation, Zak lowered one sword tip to the floor and leaned on the weapon. In past years, Zak had wounded, even killed, students for such blatant defi- ance.

  “The cross-down defeats the attack, but to what gain?” Drizzt continued. “When the move is completed, my sword tips remain down too low for any effective attack routine, and you are able to slip back and free”

  “But you have defeated my attack”

  “Only to face another; Drizzt argued. ”The best position I can hope to obtain from the cross-down is an even stance“

  “Yes. . ” Zak prompted, not understanding his student's problem with that scenario.

  “Remember your own lesson!” Drizzt shouted. “'Every move should bring an advantage: you preach to me, but I see no advantage in using the cross-down”

  “You recite only one part of that lesson for your own pur-pose” Zak scolded, now growing equally angry. “Complete the phrase, or use it not at all! 'Every move should bring an advantage or take away a disadvantage: The cross-down de-feats the double thrust low, and your opponent obviously has gained the advantage if he even attempts such a daring offensive maneuver! Returning to an even stance is far pref-erable at that moment”

  “The parry is wrong!” Drizzt said stubbornly.

  “Pick up your blades” Zak growled at him, taking a threat-ening step forward. Drizzt hesitated and Zak charged, his swords leading.

  Drizzt dropped to a crouch, snatched up the scimitars, and rose to meet the assault while wondering if it was an-other lesson or a true attack.

  The weapon master pressed furiously, snapping off cut after cut and backing Drizzt around in circles. Drizzt de. fended well enough and began to notice an all-too-familiar pattern as Zak's attacks came consistently lower, again forc-ing the hilts of Drizzt's weapons up and out over the scimi- tars' blades.

  Drizzt understood that Zak meant to prove his point with actions, not words. Seeing the fury on Zak's face, though, Drizzt wasn't certain how far the weapon master would carry his point. If Zak proved correct in his observations, would he strike again to Drizzt's thigh? Or to his heart? Zak came up and under and Drizzt stiffened and straightened.

  “Double thrust low” the weapon master growled, and his swords dove in.

  Drizzt was ready for him. He executed the cross-down, smiling smugly at the ring of metal as his scimitars crossed over the thrusting swords. Drizzt then followed through with only one of his blades, thinking he could deflect both of Zak's swords well enough in that manner. Now with one blade free of the parry, Drizzt spun it over in a devious counter.

  As soon as Drizzt reversed the one hand, Zak saw the ploy-a ruse he had suspected Drizzt would try. Zak

  dropped one of his own sword tips-the one nearest to the hilt of Drizzt's single parrying blade-to the ground, and Drizzt, trying to maintain an even resistance and balance along the length of the blocking scimitar, lost his balance. Drizzt was quick enough to catch himself before he had stumbled too far, though his knuckles pinched into the stone of the floor. He still believed that he had Zak caught in his trap, and that he could finish his brilliant counter. He took a short step forward to regain his full balance.

  The weapon master dropped straight down to the floor, under the arc of Drizzt's swinging scimitar, and spun a sin- gle circuit, driving his booted heel into the back of Drizzt's exposed knee. Before Drizzt had even realized the attack, he found himself lying flat on his back.

  Zak abruptly broke his own momentum and threw his feet back under him. Before Drizzt could begin to under. stand the dizzying counter-counter, he found the weapon master standing over him with the tip of Zak's sword pain. fully and pointedly drawing a tiny drop of blood from his throat.

  “Have you anything more to say?” Zak growled.

  “The parry is wrong” Drizzt answered.

  Zak's laughter erupted from his belly. He threw his sword jto the ground, reached down, and pulled the stubborn young student to his feet. He calmed quickly, his gaze find. ing that of Drizzt's lavender orbs as he pushed the student out to arm's length. Zak marveled at the ease of Drizzt's stance, the way he held the twin scimitars almost as if they were a natural extension of his arms. Drizzt had been in training only a few months, but already he had mastered the use of nearly every weapon in the vast armory of House Do'Urden.

  Those scimitars! Drizzt's chosen weapons, with curving blades that enhanced the dizzying flow of the young fight-er's sweeping battle style. With those scimitars in hand, this young drow, barely more than a child, could outfight half the members of the Academy, and a shiver tingled through Zak's spine when he pondered just how magnificent Drizzt would become after years of training.

  It was not just the physical abilities and potential of Drizzt Do'Urden that made Zaknafein pause and take note, how-ever. Zak had come to realize that Drizzt's temperament was indeed different from that of the average drow; Drizzt possessed a spirit of innocence and lacked any malicious-ness. Zak couldn't help but feel proud when he looked upon Drizzt. In all manners, the young drow held to the same principles-morals so unusual in Menzoberranzan-as Zak.

  Drizzt had recognized the connection as well, though he had no idea of how unique his and Zak's shared perceptions were in the evil drow world. He realized that “Uncle Zak” was different from any of the other dark elves he had come to know, though that included only his own family and a few dozen of the house soldiers. Certainly Zak was much different from Briza, Drizzt's oldest sister, with her zealous, almost blind, ambitions in the mysterious religion of Lloth. Certainly Zak was different from Matron Malice, Drizzt's mother, who seemed never to say anything at all to Drizzt unless it was a command for service.

  Zak was able to smile at situations that didn't necessarily bring pain to anyone. He was the firstdrow Drizzt had met who was apparently content with his station in life. Zak was the first drow Drizzt had ever heard laugh.

  “A good try” the weapon master conceded of Drizzt's failed counter.

  “In a real battle, I would have been dead” Drizzt replied.

  “Surely” said Zak, “but that is why we train. Your plan was masterful, your timing perfect. Only the situation was wrong. Still, I will say it was a good try!'

  “You expected it” said the student.

  Zak smiled and nodded. “That is, perhaps, because I had seen the maneuver attempted by another student!'

  “Against you?” Drizzt asked, feeling a little less special now that he knew his battle insights were not so unique.

  “Hardly” Zak replied with a wink. “I watched the counter fail from the same angle as you, to the same result!' Drizzt's face brightened again. ”We think alike“ he com-mented.

  “We do” said Zak, “but my knowledge has been increased by four centuries of experience, while you have not even lived through a score of years. Trust me, my eager student. The cross-down is the correct parry!'

  “Perhaps” Drizzt replied.

  Zak hid a smile. “When you find a better counter, we shall try it. But until then, trust my word. I have trained more sol-diers than I can count, all the army of House Do'Urden and ten times that number when I served as a master in Melee-Magthere. I taught Rizzen, all of your sisters, and both of your brothers!'

  “Both?”

  “I . . Zak paused and shot a curious glance at Drizzt. ”I see“ he said after a moment. ”They never bothered to tell you!' Zak wondered if it was his place to tell Drizzt the truth. He doubted that Matron Malice would care either way; she probably hadn't told Drizzt simply because she hadn't considered the story of Nalfein's death worth telling.

  “Yes, both!' Zak decided to explain. ”You had two brothers when you were born: Dinin, whom you know, and an older one, Nalfein, a wizard of considerable power. Nalfein was killed in battle on the very night you drew your first breath!'

  “ Against dwarves or vicious gnomes?” Drizzt squeaked, as wide-eyed as a child begging for a frightening bedtime story. “Was he defending the city from evil conquerors or rogue monsters?”

  Zak had a hard time reconciling the warped perceptions of Drizzt's innocent beliefs. “Bury the young in lies” he la-mented under his breath, but to Drizzt he answered, “No”

  “Then against some opponent more foul?” Drizzt pressed.

  “Wicked elves from the surface?”

  “He died at the hands of a drow!” Zak snapped in frustra-tion, stealing the eagerness from Drizzt's shining eyes. Drizzt slumped back to consider the possibilities, and Zak

  could hardly bear to watch the confusion that twisted his young face.

  “War with another city?” Drizzt asked somberly. “I did not know…… ”

  Zak let it go at that. He turned and moved silently toward his private chamber. Let Malice or one of her lackeys de-stroy Drizzt's innocent logic. Behind him, Drizzt held his next line of questions in check, understanding that the con- versation, and the lesson, was at an end. Understanding, too, that something important had just transpired.

  The weapon master battled Drizzt through long hours as the days blended into weeks, and the weeks into months. Time became unimportant; they fought until exhaustion overwhelmed them, and went back to the training floor again as soon as they were able.

  By the third year, at the age of nineteen, Drizzt was able to hold out for hours against the weapon master, even taking the offensive in many of their contests.

  Zak enjoyed these days. For the first time in many years, he had met one with the potential to become his fighting equal. For the first time that Zak could ever remember, laughter often accompanied the clash of adamantite weap- ons in the training room.

  He watched Drizzt grow tall and straight, attentive, eager, and intelligent. The masters of the Academy would be hard put just to hold a stalemate against Drizzt, even in his first year!

  That thought thrilled the weapon master only as long as it took him to remember the principles of the Academy, the precepts of drow life, and what they would do to his won- derful student. How they would steal that smile from Drizzt's lavender eyes.

  A pointed reminder of that drow world outside the prac- tice room visited them one day in the person of Matron Mal- ice.

  “Address her with proper respect” Zak warned Drizzt when Maya announced the matron mother's entrance. The

  weapon master prudently moved out a few steps to greet the head of House Do'Urden privately.

  “My greetings, Matron” he said with a low bow. “To what do i owe the honor of your presence?”

  Matron Malice laughed at him, seeing through his facade.

  “So much time do you and my son spend in here” she said. “I came to witness the benefit to the boy”

  “He is a fine fighter” Zak assured her.

  “He will have to be” Malice muttered. “He goes to the Academy in only a year”

  Zak narrowed his eyes at her doubting words and growled, “The Academy has never seen a finer swordsman”

  The matron walked away from him to stand before Drizzt. “I doubt not your prowess with the blade” she said to Drizzt, though she shot a sly gaze back at Zak as she spoke the words. “You have the proper blood. There are other qualities that make up a drow warrior-qualities of the heart. The attitude of a warrior!”

  Drizzt didn't know how to respond to her. He had seen her only a few times in all of the last three years, and they had exchanged no words.

  Zak saw the confusion on Drizzt's face and feared that the boy would slip up-precisely what Matron Malice wanted. Then Malice would have an excuse to pull Drizzt out of Zak's tutelage-dishonoring Zak in the process-and give him over to Dinin or some other passionless killer. Zak may have been the finest instructor with the blade, but now that Drizzt had learned the use of weapons, Malice wanted him emotionally hardened.

  Zak couldn't risk it; he valued his time with young Drizzt too much. He pulled his swords from their jeweled scab-bards and charged right by Matron Malice, yelling, “Show her, young warrior!”

  Drizzt's eyes became burning flames at the approach of his wild instructor. His scimitars came into his hands as

  quickly as if he had willed them to appear.

  It was a good thing they had! Zak came in on Drizzt with a fury that the young drow had never before seen, more so even than the time Zak had shown Drizzt the value of the cross-down parry. Sparks flew as sword rang against scimi-tar, and Drizzt found himself driven back, both of his arms already aching from the thudding force of the heavy blows.

  “What are you. . ” Drizzt tried to ask.

  “Show her” Zak growled, slamming in again and again. Drizzt barely dodged one cut that surely would have killed him. Still, confusion kept his moves purely defensive. Zak slapped one of Drizzt's scimitars, then the other, out wide, and used an unexpected weapon, bringing his foot straight up in front of him and slamming his heel into Drizzt's nose.

  Drizzt heard the crackle of cartilage and felt the warmth of his own blood running freely down his face. He dove back into a roll, trying to keep a safe distance from his crazed opponent until he could realign his senses. From his knees he saw Zak;a short distance away and ap-proaching. “Show her!” Zak growled angrily with every de-termined step.

  The purple flames of faerie fire limned Drizzt's skin, mak- ing him an easier target. He responded the only way he could; he dropped a globe of darkness over himself and Zak. Sensing the weapon master's next move, Drizzt dropped to his belly and scrambled out, keeping his head low-a wise choice.

  At his first realization of the darkness, Zak had quickly levitated up about ten feet and rolled right over, sweeping his blades down to Drizzt's face level.

  When Drizzt came clear of the other side of the darkened globe, he looked back and saw only the lower half of Zak's legs. He didn't need to watch anything more to understand the weapon master's deadly blind attacks. Zak would have cut him apart if he had not dropped low in the blackness.

  Anger replaced confusion. When Zak dropped from his magical perch and came rushing back out the front of the

  globe, Drizzt let his rage lead him back into the fight. He spun a pirouette just before he reached Zak, his lead scimi. tar cutting a gracefully arcing line and his other following in a deceptively sharp stab straight over that line.

  Zak dodged the thrusting point and put a backhand block on the other.

  Drizzt wasn't finished. He set his thrusting blade into a se. ries of short, wicked pokes that kept Zak on the retreat for a dozen steps and more, back into the conjured darkness. They now had to rely on their incredibly keen sense of hear. ing and their instincts. Zak finally managed to regain afoot. hold, but Drizzt immediately set his own feet into action, kicking away whenever the balance of his swinging blades allowed for it. One foot even slipped through Zak's de. fenses, blasting the breath from the weapon master's lungs.

  They came back out the side of the globe, and Zak, too, glowed in the outline of faerie fire. The weapon master felt sickened by the hatred etched on his young student's face, but he realized that this time, neither he nor Drizzt had been given a choice in the matter. This fight had to be ugly, had to be real. Gradually, Zak settled into an easy rhythm, solely defensive, and let Drizzt, in his explosive fury, wear himself down.

  Drizzt played on and on, relentless and tireless. Zak coaxed him by letting him see openings where there were none, and Drizzt was always quick to oblige, launching a thrust, cut, or kick.

  Matron Malice watched the spectacle silently. She couldn't deny the measure of training Zak had given her son; Drizzt was-physically-more than ready for battle.

  Zak knew that, to Matron Malice, sheer skill with weap-ons might not be enough. Zak had to keep Malice from con-versing with Drizzt for any length of time. She would not approve of her son's attitudes.

  Drizzt was tiring now, Zak could see, though he recog-nized the weariness in his student's arms to be partly decep-tion.

  “Go with it” he muttered silently, and he suddenly “twisted” his ankle, his right arm flailing out wide and low

  as he struggled for balance, opening a hole in his defenses that Drizzt could not resist.

  The expected thrust came in a flash, and Zak's left arm streaked in a short cross-cut that slapped the scimitar right out of Drizzt's hand.

  “Ha!” Drizzt cried, having expected the move and launch- ing his second ruse. His remaining scimitar knifed over Zak's left shoulder, inevitably dipping in the follow-through of the parry.

  But by the time Drizzt even launched the second blow, Zak was already down to his knees. As Drizzt's blade cut harmlessly high, Zak sprang to his feet and launched a right cross, hilt first, that caught Drizzt squarely in the face. A stunned Drizzt leaped back a long step and stood perfectly still for a long moment. His remaining scimitar dropped to the ground, and his glossed eyes did not blink.

  “A feint within a feint within a feint!” Zak calmly ex- plained.

  Drizzt slumped to the floor, unconscious. Matron Malice nodded her approval as Zak walked back over to her. “He is ready for the Academy” she remarked.

  Zak's face turned sour and he did not answer.

  “Vierna is there already” Malice continued, “to teach as a mistress in Arach- Tinilith, the School of Lloth. It is a high honor”

  A laurel for House Do'Urden, Zak knew, but he was smart enough to keep his thoughts silent.

  “Dinin will leave soon” said the matron.

  Zak was surprised. Two children serving as masters in the Academy at the same time? “You must have worked hard to get such accommodations” he dared to remark.

  Matron Malice smiled. “Favors owed, favors called in”

  “To what end?” asked Zak. “Protection for Drizzt?”

  Malice laughed aloud. “From what I have just witnessed, Drizzt would more likely protect the other two!”

  Zak bit his lip at the comment. Dinin was still twice the fighter and ten times the heartless killer as Drizzt. Zak knew that Malice had other motives.

  “Three of the first eight houses will be represented by no fewer than four children in the Academy over the next two decades” Matron Malice admitted. “Matron Baenre's own son will begin in the same class as Drizzt”

  “So you have aspirations” Zak said. “How high, then, will House Do'Urden climb under the guidance of Matron Mal-ice?”

  “Sarcasm will cost you your tongue” the matron mother warned. “We would be fools to let slip by such an opportu-nity to learn more of our rivals!”

  “The first eight houses” Zak mused. “Be cautious, Matron Malice. Do not forget to watch for rivals among the lesser houses. There once was a house named DeVir that made such a mistake”

  “No attack will come from behind” Malice sneered. “We are the ninth house but boast more power than but a hand-ful of others. None will strike at our backs; there are easier targets higher up the line”

  “And all to our gain” Zak put in.

  “That is the point of it all, is it not?” Malice asked, her evil smile wide on her face.

  Zak didn't need to respond; the matron knew his true feel-ings. That precisely was not the point.

  “Speak less and your jaw will heal faster” Zak said later, when he again was alone with Drizzt.

  Drizzt cast him a vile glance.

  The weapon master shook his head. “We have become

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