ever much liked this place," Bruenor grumbled as he and Regis stood at the north gate of Luskan. They had been held up for a long, long time by the curious and suspicious guards.
"They'll let us in soon," Regis replied. "They always get like this as the weather turns - that's when the scum floats down from the mountains, after all. And when the highwaymen wander back into the city, pretending as if they belonged there all along."
Bruenor spat on the ground.
Finally, the guard who'd first stopped them returned, along with another, older soldier.
"My friend says you've come from Icewind Dale," the older man remarked. "And what goods have you brought to sell over the winter?"
"I bringed meself, and that oughta be enough for ye," Bruenor grumbled. The soldier eyed him dangerously.
"We've come to meet up with friends who are on the road," Regis was quick to interject, in a calmer tone.
He stepped between Bruenor and the soldier, trying to diffuse a potentially volatile situation - for any situation involving Bruenor Battlehammer was volatile these days! The dwarf was anxious to find his lost son, and woe to any who hindered him on that road.
"I am a councilor in Ten-Towns," the halfling explained. "Regis of Lonelywood. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
The soldier, his bristles up from Bruenor's attitude, spat at the halfling's feet. "Nope."
"And my companion is Bruenor Battlehammer himself," Regis said, somewhat dramatically. "Leader of Clan Battlehammer in Ten-Towns. Once, and soon again to be, King of Mithral Hall."
"Never heard of that either."
"But oh, ye're gonna," Bruenor muttered. He started around Regis, and the halfling skittered to stay in his way.
"Tough one, aren't you?" the soldier said.
"Please, good sir, enough of this foolishness," Regis pleaded. "Bruenor is in a terrible way, for he has lost his son, who is rumored to be sailing with Captain Deudermont."
This brought a puzzled expression to the face of the old soldier, "Haven't heard of any dwarves sailing on Sea Sprite" he said.
"His son is no dwarf, but a warrior, proud and strong," Regis explained. "Wulfgar by name." The halfling thought that he was making progress here, but, at the mention of Wulfgar's name, the soldier took on a most horrified and outraged expression.
"If you're calling that oaf your son, then you are far from welcome in Luskan!" the soldier declared.
Regis sighed, knowing what was to come. The many-notched axe hit the ground at his feet. At least Bruenor wouldn't cut the man in half. The halfling tried to anticipate the dwarfs movements to keep between the two, but Bruenor casually picked him up and turned around, dropping Regis behind him.
"Ye stay right there," the dwarf instructed, wagging a gnarly, crooked finger in the halfling's face.
By the time the dwarf turned back around, the soldier had drawn his sword.
Bruenor regarded it and laughed. "Now, what was ye saying about me boy?" he asked.
"I said he was an oaf," the man said, after glancing around to make sure he had enough support in the area. "And there are a million other insults I could rightfully hurl at the one named Wulfgar, murderer and rogue among them!"
He almost finished the sentence.
He almost got his sword up in time to block Bruenor's missile - that missile being Bruenor's entire body.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Drizzt turned to see a ragged and dirty Catti-brie standing at the window, outside and leaning on the pane, grim-faced and with Taulmaril in hand.
"It took you long enough," the drow remarked, but his humor found no spot in Catti-brie - not so soon after the kill. She stared right past Drizzt, not even registering his words. Would such actions ever become less troubling to her?
A big part of the woman who was Catti-brie hoped they would not.
Delly Curtie sprang up from the floor and rushed at Drizzt, running to her crying child's call. The woman calmed as she neared, for the smiling dark elf held the unharmed, though obviously upset child out to her and gladly handed Colson over.
"It would have been easier if you came up right behind me," Drizzt said to Catti-brie. "We could have saved some trouble."
"Are these looking like elven-bred to ye?" the woman growled back, pointing to her eyes - human orbs far inferior in the low light of the Waterdeep night. "And are ye thinking this to be an easy climb?"
Drizzt shrugged, grinning still. After all, the rocky climb hadn't given him any trouble at all.
"Go back down, then," Catti-brie insisted. She threw one leg over the window and eased herself into the room, not moving quickly, for her pant leg was torn, her leg bleeding. "Come back up with yer eyes closed, and ye tell me how easy them wet rocks might be for climbing."
She stumbled into the room, moving forward a few steps before fully gaining her balance - and that put her right in front of Delly Curtie and the baby.
"Catti-brie," the woman said. Her tone, while friendly and grateful enough, showed that she was a bit uneasy with seeing Catti-brie here.
The woman from Icewind Dale gave a slight bow. "And ye're Delly Curtie, unless I'm missing me guess," she replied. "Me and me friend just came from Luskan, from the tavern of Arumn Gardpeck."
Delly gave a chuckle and seemed to breathe for the first time since the fighting began. She looked from Catti-brie to Drizzt, knowing them from the tales Wulfgar had told to her. "Never seen a drow elf before," she said. "But I've heard all about ye from me man."
Despite herself, Catti-brie started at that remark, her blue eyes widening. She looked at Drizzt and saw him regarding her knowingly. She just grinned, shook her head, and turned her sights back on Delly.
"From Wulfgar," Delly said evenly.
"Wulfgar is yer man?" Catti-brie asked bluntly.
"He's been," Delly admitted, chewing her bottom lip.
Catti-brie read the woman perfectly. She understood that Delly was afraid, not of any physical harm, but that the return of Catti-brie into Wulfgar's life would somehow endanger her relationship with him. But Delly was ambiguous, as well, Catti-brie understood, for she couldn't rightly be upset about the arrival of Catti-brie and Drizzt, considering the pair had just saved her and her baby from certain death.
"We have come to find him," Drizzt explained, "to see if it is time for him to come home, to Icewind Dale."
"He's not alone anymore, ye know," Delly said to the drow. "He's got. . ." She started to name herself, but stopped and presented Colson instead. "He's got a little one to take care of."
"So we heard, but a confusing tale, it seems," Catti-brie said, approaching. "Can I hold the girl?"
Delly pulled the still-crying child in closer. "She's afraid," she explained. "Best that she's with her ma."
Catti-brie smiled at her, offering an expression that was honestly warm.
Their joy at the rescue was muted somewhat when Drizzt left Delly and Catti-brie in the drawing room and confirmed just how bloodthirsty this band truly had been. He found the two house guards murdered in the foyer, one lying by the door, one on the stairs. He went out front of the house, then, and called out repeatedly, until there at last came a reply.
"Go and fetch the watch," Drizzt bade the neighbor. "A murder most terrible has occurred!"
The drow went back to Delly and Catti-brie. He found Delly sitting with the child, trying to stop her crying, while Catti-brie stood by the window, staring out, with Guenhwyvar curled up on the floor beside her.
"She's got quite a tale to tell us of our Wulfgar," Catti-brie said to Drizzt.
The drow looked at Delly Curtie.
"He's speaking of ye both often," Delly explained. "Ye should know the road he's walked."
"Soon enough, then," Drizzt replied. "But not now. The authorities should arrive momentarily." The dark elf glanced around the room as he finished, his gaze landing alternately on the bodies of the intruders. "Do you have any idea what might have precipitated this attack?" he asked Delly.
"Deudermont's made many enemies," Catti-brie reminded him from the window, not even turning about as she spoke.
"Nothing more than the usual," Delly agreed. "Lots who'd like Captain Deudermont's head, but nothing special is afoot that I'm knowing."
Drizzt paused before responding, thinking to ask Delly what she knew of this pirate who supposedly had Wulfgar's war-hammer. He looked again at the fallen intruders, settling his gaze on the woman.
The pattern fit, he realized, given what he had learned from the encounter with Jule Pepper in Icewind Dale and from Morik the Rogue. He crossed the room, ignoring the noise of the authorities coming to the front door, and moved right beside the dead woman, who was still stuck upright against the wall, pinned by Catti-brie's arrow.
"What're ye doing?" Catti-brie asked as Drizzt tugged at the collar of the dead woman's bloody tunic. "Just pull the damned arrow out to drop her from the perch."
Catti-brie was obviously unnerved by the sight of the dead woman, the sight of her latest kill, but Drizzt wasn't trying to pull this one down. Far from it, her present angle afforded him the best view.
He took out one scimitar and used its fine edge to slice through the clothing a bit, enough so that he could pull the fabric down low over the back of the dead woman's shoulder.
The drow nodded, far from surprised.
"What is it?" Delly asked from her seat, where she had at last quieted Colson.
Catti-brie's expression showed that she was about to ask the same thing, but it shifted almost at once as she considered the angle with which Drizzt was viewing the woman and the knowing expression stamped upon his dark face. "She's branded," Catti-brie answered, though she remained across the room.
"The mark of Aegis-fang," Drizzt confirmed. "The mark of Sheila Kree."
"What does it mean?" asked a concerned Delly, and she rose out of her chair, moving toward the drow, hugging her child close like some living, emotional armor. "Does it mean that Wulfgar and Captain Deudermont have caught Sheila Kree, and so her friends're trying to hit back?" she asked, looking nervously from the drow to the woman at the window. "Or might it mean that Sheila's sunk Sea Sprite and now is coming to finish off everything connected with Captain Deudermont and his crew?" Her voice rose as she finished, an edge of anxiety bubbling over.
"Or it means nothing more than that the pirate has learned that Captain Deudermont is in pursuit of her, and she wished to strike the first blow," Drizzt replied, unconvincingly.
"Or it means nothing at all," Catti-brie added. "Just a coincidence."
The other two looked at her, but none, not even Catti-brie, believed that for a moment.
The door crashed open a moment later and a group of soldiers charged into the room. Some turned immediately for the dark elf, howling at the sight of a drow, but others recognized Drizzt, or at least recognized Delly Curtie and saw by her posture that the danger had passed. They held their companions at bay.
Catti-brie ushered Delly Curtie away, the woman bearing the child, and with Catti-brie calling Guenhwyvar to follow, while Drizzt gave the authorities a full account of what had occurred. The drow didn't stop at that, but went on to explain the likely personal feud heightening between Sheila Kree and Captain Deudermont.
After he had secured a net of soldiers to stand guard about the house, Drizzt went upstairs to join the women.
He found them in good spirits, with Catti-brie rocking Colson and Delly resting on the bed, a glass of wine in hand.
Catti-brie nodded to the woman, and without further word, Delly launched into her tale of Wulfgar, telling Drizzt and Catti-brie all about the barbarian's decline in Luskan, his trial at Prisoner's Carnival, his flight to the north with Morik and the circumstances that had brought him the child.
"Surprised was I when Wulfgar came back to the Cutlass," Delly finished. "For me!"
She couldn't help but glance at Catti-brie as she said that, somewhat nervously, somewhat superiorly. The auburn-haired woman's expression hardly changed, though.
"He came to apologize, and oh, but he owed it to us all," Delly went on. "We left, us three - me man and me child - to find Captain Deudermont, and for Wulfgar to find Aegis-fang. He's out there now," Delly ended, staring out the west-facing window. "So I'm hoping."
"Sheila Kree has not met up with Sea Sprite yet," Drizzt said to her. "Or if she has, then her ship is at the bottom of those cold waters, and Wulfgar is on his way back to Waterdeep."
"Ye can not know that," Delly said.
"But we will find out," a determined Catti-brie put in.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"The winter fast approaches," Captain Deudermont remarked to Wulfgar, the two of them standing at Sea Sprite's rail as the ship sailed along at a great clip. They had seen no pirates over the past few tendays, and few merchant vessels save the last groups making the southern run out of Luskan.
Wulfgar, who had grown up in Icewind Dale and knew well the change of the season - a dramatic and swift change this far north - didn't disagree. He, too, had seen the signs, the noticeably chilly shift in the wind and the change of direction, flowing more from the northwest now, off the cold waters of the Sea of Moving Ice.
"We will not put in to Luskan, but sail straight for Waterdeep,"
Deudermont explained. "There, we will ready the ship for winter sailing."
"Then you do not intend to put in for the season," Wulfgar reasoned.
"No, but our route will be south out of Waterdeep harbor and not north," Deudermont pointedly explained. "Perhaps we will patrol off of Baldur's Gate, perhaps even farther south. Robillard has made it clear that he would prefer a busy winter and has mentioned the Pirate Isles to me many times."
Wulfgar nodded grimly, understanding more from Deudermont's leading tone than from his actual words. The captain was politely inviting him to debark in Waterdeep and remain there with Delly and Colson.
"You will need my strong arm," Wulfgar said, less than convincingly.
"We are not likely to find Sheila Kree south of Waterdeep," Deudermont said clearly. ''Bloody Keel has never been known to sail south of the City of Splendors. She has a reputation for putting into dock, wherever that dock may be, for the winter months."
There, he had said it, plainly and bluntly. Wulfgar looked at him, trying hard to take no offense. Logically, he understood the captain's reasoning. He hadn't been of much help to Sea Sprite's efforts of late, he had to admit. While that only made him want to get right back into battle, he understood that Deudermont had more to worry about than the sensibilities of one warrior.
Wulfgar found it hard to get the words out of his mouth, but he graciously said, "I will spend the winter with my family. If you would allow us the use of your house through the season."
"Of course," said Deudermont. He managed a smile and gently patted Wulfgar on the shoulder, which meant that he had to reach up a considerable distance. "Enjoy these moments with your family," he said quietly and with great compassion. "We will seek out Sheila Kree in the spring, on my word, and Aegis-fang will be returned to its rightful owner."
Every fiber within Wulfgar wanted to refuse this entire scenario, wanted to shout out at Deudermont that he was not a broken warrior, that he would find his way back to the battle, with all of the fury, and, more importantly, with all of the discipline demanded by a crack crew. He wanted to explain to the captain that he would find his way clear, to assure the man that the warrior who was Wulfgar, son of Beornegar, was waiting to be freed of this emotional prison to find his way back.
But Wulfgar held back the thoughts. In light of his recent, dangerous failures in battle, it was not his place to argue with Deudermont but rather to graciously accept the captain's polite excuse to get him off the ship.
They would be in Waterdeep in a tenday's time, and there Wulfgar would stay.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Delly Curtie found Drizzt and Catti-brie packing their belongings, preparing to leave Deudermont's house early the next morning.
"Sea Sprite will likely return soon," she explained to the duo.
"Likely," Drizzt echoed. "But I fear there might already be news of a confrontation between Kree and Sea Sprite, farther in the north. We will go to Luskan, where we are to meet with some friends and follow a trail that will take us to Kree, or to Wulfgar."
Delly thought about it for just a moment. "Give me some time to pack and to ready Colson," she said.
Catti-brie was shaking her head before Delly ever finished the thought. "Ye'll slow us down," she said.
"If ye're going to Wulfgar, then me place is with yerself," the woman replied firmly.
"We're not knowing that we're going to Wulfgar," Catti-brie replied with all honesty and with measured calm. "It might well be that Wulfgar will soon enough be here, with Sea Sprite. If that's the truth, then better that ye're here to meet with him and tell him all that ye know."
"If you come with us, and Sea Sprite puts into Waterdeep, Wulfgar will be terribly worried about you," Drizzt explained. "You stay here - the watch will keep you and your child safe now."
Delly considered the pair for a few moments, her trepidation obvious on her soft features. Catti-brie caught it clearly and certainly understood.
"If we're first to Wulfgar, then we'll be coming with him back here," she said, and Delly relaxed visibly.
After a moment, the woman nodded her agreement.
Drizzt and Catti-brie left a short while later, after gaining assurances from the authorities that Deudermont's house, and Delly and Colson, would be guarded day and night.
"Our road's going back and forth," Catti-brie remarked to the drow as they made their way out of the great city's northern gate. "And all the while, Wulfgar's sailing out there, back and forth. We've just got to hope that our routes cross soon enough, though I'm thinking that he'll be landing in Waterdeep while we're walking into Luskan."
Drizzt didn't crack a smile at her humorous words and tone. He looked to her and stared intently, giving her a moment to reflect on the raid of the previous night, and the dangerous implications, then said grimly, "We've just got to hope that Sea Sprite is still afloat and that Wulfgar is still alive."
THE BLOODY TRAIL
nce again Catti-brie shows me that she knows me better than I know myself. As we came to understand that Wulfgar was climbing out of his dark hole, was truly resurfacing into the warrior he had once been, I have to admit a bit of fear, a bit of jealousy. Would he come back as the man who once stole Catti-brie's heart? Or had he, in fact, ever really done that? Was their planned marriage more a matter of convenience on both parts, a logical joining of the only two humans, matched in age and beauty, among our little band?
I think it was a little of both, and hence my jealousy. For though I understand that I have become special to Catti-brie in ways I had never before imagined, there is a part of me that wishes no one else ever had. For though I am certain that we two share many feelings that are new and exciting to both of us, I do not like to consider the possibility that she ever shared such emotions with another, even one who is so dear a friend. Perhaps especially one who is so dear a friend! But even as I admit all this, I know that I must take a deep breath and blow all of my fears and jealousies away, I must remind myself that I love this woman, Catti-brie, and that this woman is who she is because of a combination of all the experiences that brought her to this point. Would I prefer that her human parents had never died? On the one hand, of course! But if they hadn't, Catti-brie would not have wound up as Bruenor's adopted daughter, would likely not have come to reside in Icewind Dale at all. Given that, it is unlikely that we would have ever met. Beyond that, if she had been raised in a traditional human manner, she never would have become the warrior that she now is, the person who can best share my sense of adventure, who can accept the hardships of the road with good humor and risk, and allow me to risk - everything! - when going against the elements and the monsters of the world.
Hindsight, I think, is a useless tool. We, each of us, are at a place in our lives because of innumerable circumstances, and we, each of us, have a responsibility (if we do not like where we are) to move along life's road, to find a better path if this one does not suit, or to walk happily along this one if it is indeed our life's way. Changing even the bad things that have gone before would fundamentally change who we now are, and whether or not that would be a good thing, I believe, is impossible to predict.
So I take my past experiences and let Catti-brie take hers and try to regret nothing for either. I just try to blend our current existence into something grander and more beautiful together.
What of Wulfgar, then? He has a new bride and a child who is neither his nor hers naturally. And yet, it was obvious from Delly Curtie's face, and from her willingness to give herself if only the child would be unharmed that she loves the babe as if it was her own. I think the same must be true for Wulfgar because, despite the trials, despite the more recent behaviors, I know who he is, deep down, beneath the crusted, emotionally hardened exterior.
I know from her words that he loves this woman, Delly Curtie, and yet I know that he once loved Catti-brie as well.
What of this mystery, love? What is it that brings about this most elusive of magic? So many times I have heard people proclaim that their partner is their only love, the only possible completion to their soul, and surely I feel that way about Catti-brie, and I expect that she feels the same about me. But logically, is that possible? Is there one other person out there who can complete the soul of another? Is it really one for one, or is it rather a matter of circumstance?
Or do reasoning beings have the capacity to love many, and situation instead of fate brings them together?
Logically, I know the answer to be the latter. I know that if Wulfgar, or Catti-brie, or myself resided in another part of the world, we would all likely find that special completion to our soul, and with another. Logically, in a world of varying races and huge populations, that must be the case, or how, then, would true lovers ever meet? I am a thinking creature, a rational being, and so I know this to be the truth.
Why is it, then, that when I look at Catti-brie, all of those logical arguments make little sense? I remember our first meeting, when she was barely a young woman - more a girl, actually - and I saw her on the side of Kelvin's Cairn. I remember looking into her blue eyes on that occasion, feeling the warmth of her smile and the openness of her heart - something I had not much encountered since coming to the surface world - and feeling a definite bond there, a magic I could not explain. And as I watched her grow, that bond only strengthened.
So was it situation or fate? I know what logic says.
But I know, too, what my heart tells me.
It was fate. She is the one.
Perhaps situation allows for some, even most, people to find a suitable partner, but there is much more to it than finding just that. Perhaps some people are just more fortunate than others.
When I look into Catti-brie's blue eyes, when I feel the warmth of her smile and the openness of her heart, I know that I am.