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Homeland (part 1 chapter 19)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 19 Promises of Glory

  “Have you found the trail?” Drizzt whispered, moving up beside the great panther. He gave Guenhwyvar a pat on the side and knew from the slackness of the cat's muscles that no danger was nearby.

  “Gone, then” Drizzt said, staring off into the emptiness of the corridor in front of them. “'Wicked gnomes: my brother called them when we found the tracks by the pool. Wicked and stupid” He sheathed his scimitar and knelt be-side the panther, his arm comfortable draped across Guenhwyvar's back. “They're smart enough to elude our pa-trol”

  The cat looked up as if it had understood his every word, and Drizzt rubbed a hand roughly over Guenhwyvar's, his finest friend's, head. Drizzt remembered clearly his elation on the day, a week before, when Dinin had announced-to Masoj Hun'ett's outrage-that Guenhwyvar would be de-ployed at the patrol's point position beside Drizzt.

  “The cat is mine!” Masoj had reminded Dinin.

  “You are mine!” Dinin, the patrol leader, had replied, end-ing any further debate. Whenever the figurine's magic would permit, Masoj summoned Guenhwyvar from the As-tral Plane and bid the cat to run up in front, bringing Drizzt an added degree of safety and a valued companion.

  Drizzt knew from the unfamiliar heat patterns on the wall that they had gone the limit of their patrol route. He had purposely put a lot of ground, more than was advised, between himself and the rest of the patrol. Drizzt had confi- dence that he and Guenhwyvar could take care of them-selves, and with the others far behind, he could relax and enjoy the wait. The minutes Drizzt spent in solitude gave him the time he needed in his endless effort to sort through his confused emotions. Guenhwyvar, seemingly non- . judgmental and always approving, offered Drizzt a perfect audience for his audible contemplations.

  “I begin to wonder the worth of it all” Drizzt whispered to the cat. “I do not doubt the value of these Patrols-this week alone, we have defeated a dozen monsters that might have brought great harm to the city-but to what end?”

  He looked deeply into the panther's saucer eyes and

  found sympathy there, and Drizzt knew that Guenhwyvar somehow understood his dilemma.

  “Perhaps I still do not know who I am” Drizzt mused, “or who my people are. Every time I find a clue to the truth, it leads me down a path that I dare not continue upon, to con-clusions I cannot accept”

  “You are drow” came a reply behind them. Drizzt turned abruptly to see Dinin a few feet away, a look of grave con-cern on his face. '

  “The gnomes have fled beyond our reach” Drizzt said, trying to deflect his brother's concerns. '

  “Have you not learned what it means to be a drow?” Dinin asked. “Have you not come to understand the course of our history and the promise of our future?”

  “I know of our history as it was taught at the Academy” Drizzt replied. “They were the very first lessons we re-ceived. Of our future, and more so of the place we now re-side, though, I do not understand”

  “You know of our enemies” Dinin prompted.

  “Countless enemies” replied Drizzt with a heavy sigh.

  “They fill the holes of the Underdark, always waiting for us to let down our guard. We will not, and our enemies will fall i to our power”

  “ Ah, but our true enemies do not reside in the lightless ca-verns of our world” said Dinin with a sly smile. “Theirs is a world strange and evil” Drizzt knew who Dinin was refer-ring to, but he suspected that his brother was hiding some-thing.

  “The faeries” Drizzt whispered, and the word prompted a jumble of emotions within him. All of his life, he had been told of his evil cousins, of how they had forced the drow into the bowels of the world. Busily engaged in the duties of his everyday life, Drizzt did not think of them often, but whenever they came to mind, he used their name as a litany against everything he hated in his life. If Drizzt could some-how blame the surface elves-as every other drow seemed

  to blame them-for the injustices of drow society, he could find hope for the future of his people. Rationally, Drizzt had to dismiss the stirring legends of the elven war as another of the endless stream of lies, but in his heart and hopes, Drizzt clung desperately to those words.

  He looked back to Dinin. “The faeries” he said again,

  “whatever they may be”

  Dinin chuckled at his brother's relentless sarcasm; it had become so commonplace. “They are as you have learned” he assured Drizzt. “Without worth and vile beyond your imagination, the tormentors of our people, who banished us in eons past; who forced-”

  “I know the tales” Drizzt interrupted, alarmed at the in- creasing volume of his excited brother's voice. Drizzt glanced over his shoulder. “If the patrol is ended, let us meet the others closer to the city. This place is too dangerous for such discussions” He rose to his feet and started back, Guenhwyvar at his side.

  “Not as dangerous as the place I soon will lead you” Dinin replied with that same sly smile. Drizzt stopped and looked at him curiously.

  “I suppose you should know” Dinin teased. “We were se-lected because we are the finest of the patrol groups, and you have certainly played an important role in our attaining that honor”

  “Chosen for what?”

  “In a fortnight, we will leave Menzoberranzan” explained Dinin. “Our trail will take us many days and many miles from the city”

  “How long'?” Qrizzt asked, suddenly very curious.

  Two weeks, maybe three“ replied Dinin, ”but well worth the time. We shall be the ones, my young brother, who enact a measure of revenge upon our most hated foes, who strike a glorious blow for the Spider Queen!“

  Drizzt thought that he understood, but the notion was too outrageous for him to be certain.

  “The elves!” Dinin beamed. “We have been chosen for surface raid!”

  Drizzt was not as openly excited as his brother, unsure of the implications of such a mission. At last he would get to view the surface elves and face the truth of his heart and hopes. Something more real to Drizzt, the disappointment he had known for so many years, tempered his elation, re-minded him that while the truth of the elves might bring an excuse to the dark world of his kin, it might instead take away something more important. He was unsure how to feel.

  “The surface” Alton mused. “My sister went there once- on a raid. A most marvelous experience, so she said” He looked at Masoj, not knowing how to figure the forlorn ex-pression on the young Hun'ett's face. “Now your patrol makes the journey. I envy you”

  “I am not going” Masoj declared.

  “Why?” Alton gasped. “This is a rare opportunity indeed. Menzoberranzan-to the anger of Lloth, I am certain-has not staged a surface raid in two decades. It may be twenty more years before the next, and by then you will no longer be among the patrols”

  Masoj looked out from the small window of Alton's room in House Hun'ett, surveying the compound.

  “Besides” Alton continued quietly, “up there, so far from prying eyes, you might find the chance to dispose of two Do'Urden's. Why would you not go?”

  “Have you forgotten a ruling that you played a part in?” Masoj asked, whirling on Alton accusingly. Two decades ago, the masters of Sorcere decided that no wizards are to travel anywhere near the surface!“

  “Of course” Alton replied, remembering the meeting. Sor-cere seemed so distant to him now, though he had been, within the Hun'ett house for only a few weeks. “We con-cluded that drow magic may work differently-unexpectedly-under the open sky” he explained. “On that raid twenty years ago-”

  “I know the story” Masoj growled, and he finished the sen- tence for Alton. “A wizard's fireball expanded beyond its normal dimensions, killing several drow. Dangerous side-effects, you masters called it, though I've a belief that the wizard conveniently disposed of some enemies under the guise of an accident!”

  “Yes” Alton agreed. “So said the rumors. In the absence of evidence. . ” He let the thought go, seeing that he was doing little to comfort Masoj. “That was so long ago” he said, try-ing to offer some hope. “Have you no recourse?”

  “None” Masoj replied. “Things move so very slowly in Menzoberranzan; I doubt that the masters have even begun. their investigation into the matter.

  “A pity” Alton said. “It would have been the perfect oppor-tunity”

  “No more of that!” Masoj scolded. “Matron SiNafay has not given me her command to eliminate Drizzt Do'Urden or his brother. You have already been warned to keep your per-sonal desires to yourself. When the matron bids me to strike, I will not fail her. Opportunities can be created

  “You speak as if you already know how Drizzt Do'Urden will die” Alton said.

  An smile spread over Masoj's face as he reached into the pocket of his robe and produced the onyx figurine, his un-thinking magical slave, which the foolish Drizzt had come to trust so dearly. “Oh, I do” he replied, giving the statuette of Guenhwyvar an easy toss, then catching it and holding it out on display.

  “I do.”

  The members of the chosen raiding party quickly came to realize that this would be no ordinary mission. They did not go out on patrol from Menzoberranzan at all during the next week. Rather, they remained, day and night, seques-tered within a barrack of Melee-Magthere. Through nearly every waking hour, the raiders huddled around an oval ta-ble in a conference room, hearing the detailed plans of their pending adventure, and, over and over again, Master Hat- ch'net, the master of Lore, spinning his tales of the vile

  elves.

  Drizzt listened intently to the stories, allowing himself, forcing himself, to fall within Hatch'net's hypnotic web. The tales had to be true; Drizzt did not know what he would hold onto to preserve his principles if they were not. Dinin presided over the raid's tactical preparations, dis-playing maps of the long tunnels the group would travel, grilling them over and over until they had memorized the route perfectly.

  To this, as well, the eager raiders-except for Drizzt-listened intently, all the while fighting to keep their excite-ment from bursting out in a wild cheer. As the week of preparations neared its end, Drizzt took note that one mem- ber of the patrol group had not been attending. At first, Drizzt had reasoned that Masoj was learning his duties in the raid in Sorcere, with his old masters. With the depar-ture time fast approaching and the battle plans clearly tak-ing shape, though, Drizzt began to understand that Masoj would not be joining them.

  “Where is our wizard?” Drizzt dared to ask in the late hours of one session.

  Dinin, not appreciating 1he interruption, glared at his brother. “Masoj will not be joining us” he answered, know-ing that others might now share Drizzt's concern, a distrac- tion they could not afford at such a critical time.

  “Sorcere has decreed that no wizards may travel to the surface, Master Hatch'net explained. ”Masoj Hun'ett will await your return in the city. It is a great loss to you indeed, for Masoj has proven his worth many times over. Fear not, though, for a cleric of Arach- Tinilith shall accompany you.

  “What of . . Drizzt began above the approving whispers of the other raiders.

  Dinin cut his brother's thoughts short, easily guessing the question. “The cat belongs to Masoj” he said flatly. “The cat stays behind.

  “I could talk to Masoj” Drizzt pleaded.

  Dinin's stern glance answered the question without the

  need for words. “Our tactics will be different on the sur-face” he said to all the group, silencing their whispers. “The surface is a world of distance, not the blind enclosures of bending tunnels. Once our enemies are spotted, our task will be to surround them, to close off the distances” He looked straight at his young brother. “We will have no need of a point guard, and in such a conflict, a spirited cat could well prove more trouble than aid”

  Drizzt had to be satisfied with the answer. Arguing would not help, even if he could get Masoj to let him take the panther-which he knew in his heart he could not. He shook the brooding desires out of his head and forced him-self to hear his brother's words. This was to be the greatest challenge of Drizzt's young life, and the greatest danger.

  Over the final two days, as the battle plan became in-grained into every thought, Drizzt found himself growing more and more agitated. Nervous energy kept his palms moist with sweat, and his eyes darted about, too alert. Despite his disappointment over Guenhwyvar, Drizzt could not deny the excitement that bubbled within him. This was the adventure he had always wanted, the answer to his questions of the truth of his people. Up there, in the vast strangeness of that foreign world, lurked the surface elves, the unseen nightmare that had become the common enemy, and thus the common bond, of all the drow. Drizzt would discover the glory of battle, exacting proper revenge upon his people's most hated foes. Always before, Drizzt had fought out of necessity, in training gyms or against the stupid monsters that ventured too near his home.

  Drizzt knew that this encounter would be different. This time his thrusts and cuts would be carried by the strength of deeper emotions, guided by the honor of his people and their common courage and resolve to strike back against their oppressors. He had to believe that.

  Drizzt lay back in his cot the night before the raiding par-ty's departure and brought his scimitars through some slow-motion maneuvers above him.

  “This time” he whispered aloud to the blades while mar-veling at their intricate dance even at such a slow speed.

  “This time your ring will sound out in the song of justice!”

  He placed the scimitars down at the side of his cot and rolled over to find some needed sleep. “This time” he said again, teeth clenched and eyes shining with determination. Were his proclamations his belief or his hope? Drizzt had dismissed the disturbing question the very first time it had entered his thoughts, having no more room for doubts than he had for brooding. He no longer considered the possibility of disappointment; it had no place in the heart of a drow warrior.

  To Dinin, though, studying Drizzt curiously from the shadows of the doorway, it sounded as if his younger brother was trying to convince himself of the truth of his own words.

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