susual, Wulfgar was the first one to debark Sea Sprite when the schooner glided into dock at one of Waterdeep's many long wharves. There was little spring in the barbarian's step this day, despite his excitement at the prospect of seeing Delly and Colson again. Deudermont's last real discussion with him, more than a tenday before, had put many things into perspective for Wulfgar, had forced him to look into a mirror. He did not like the reflection.
He knew Captain Deudermont was his friend, an honest friend and one who had spared his life despite evidence that he, along with Morik, had tried to murder the man. Deudermont had believed in Wulfgar when no others would. He'd rescued Wulfgar from Prisoner's Carnival without even a question, begging confirmation that Wulfgar had not been involved in any plot to kill . Deudermont had welcomed Wulfgar aboard Sea Sprite and had altered the course-of his pirate-hunting schooner many times in an effort to find the elusive Sheila Kree. Even with the anger bubbling within him from the image in the mirror Deudermont pointedly held up before his eyes on the return journey to their home port, Wulfgar could not dispute the honesty embodied in that image.
Deudermont had told him the truth of who he had become, with as much tact as was possible.
Wulfgar couldn't ignore that truth now. He knew his days sailing with Sea Sprite were at their end, at least for the season. If Sea Sprite was going south, as was her usual winter route - and in truth, the only available winter route - then there was little chance of encountering Kree. And if the ship wasn't going to find Kree, then what point would there be in having Wulfgar aboard, especially if the barbarian warrior and his impulsive tactics were a detriment to the crew?
That was the crux of it, Wulfgar knew. That was the truth in the mirror. Never before had the proud son of Beornegar considered himself anything less than a warrior. Many times in his life, Wulfgar had done things of which he was not proud - nothing more poignantly than the occasion on which he had slapped Catti-brie. But even then, Wulfgar had one thing he could hold onto. He was a fighter, among the greatest ever to come out of Icewind Dale, among the most legendary to ever come out of the Tribe of the Elk, or any of the other tribes. He was the warrior who had united the tribes with strength of arm and conviction, the barbarian who had hurled his warhammer high to shatter the cavern's hold on the great icicle, dropping the natural spear onto the back of the great white wyrm, Icingdeath. He was the warrior who had braved the Calimport sun and the assassins, tearing through the guildhouse of a notorious ruffian to save his halfling friend. He was, above all else, the companion of Drizzt Do'Urden, a Companion of the Hall, part of a team that had fostered the talk of legend wherever it had gone.
But not now. Now he could not rightly hold claim to that title of mighty warrior, not after his disastrous attempts to battle pirates aboard Sea Sprite. Now his friend Deudermont - an honest and compassionate friend - had looked him in the eye and showed to him the truth, and a diminishing truth it was. Would Wulfgar find again the courageous heart that had guided him through his emotional crises? Would he ever again be that proud warrior who had united the tribes of Ten-Towns, who had helped reclaim Mithral Hall, who had chased a notorious assassin across Toril too rescue his halfling friend?
Or had Errtu stolen that from him forever? Had the demon truly broken that spirit deep within the son of Beornegar? Had the demon altered his identity forever?
As he walked across the city of Waterdeep, turning to the hillock containing Deudermont's house, Wulfgar could not truly deny the possibility that the man he had once been, the warrior he had once been, was now lost to him forever. He wasn't sure what that meant, however.
Who was he?
His thoughts remained inward until he almost reached the front door of Captain Deudermont's mansion, when the sharp, unfamiliar voice ordered him to halt and be counted.
Wulfgar looked up, his crystal-blue eyes scanning all about, noting the many soldiers standing about the perimeter of the house, noting the lighter colors of the splintered wood near the lock of the front doors.
Wulfgar felt his gut churning, his warrior instincts telling him clearly that something was terribly amiss, his heart telling him that danger had come to Delly and Colson. With a growl that was half rage and half terror, Wulfgar sprinted straight ahead for the house, oblivious to the trio of soldiers who rushed to bar the way with their great halberds.
"Let him pass!" came a shout at the last second, right before Wulfgar crashed through the blocking soldiers. "It's Wulfgar returned! Sea Sprite is in!"
The soldiers parted, the rearmost wisely rushing back to push open the door or Wulfgar would have surely shattered it to pieces. The barbarian charged through.
He skidded to an abrupt stop just in side the foyer, though, spotting Delly coming down the main stairway, holding Colson tight in her arms.
She stared at him, managing a weak smile until she reached the bottom of the stairs - and there she broke down, tears flowing freely, and she rushed forward, falling into Wulfgar's waiting arms and tender hug.
Time seemed to stop for the couple as they stood there, clenched, needing each other's support. Wulfgar could have stayed like that for hours, indeed, but then he heard the voice of Captain Deudermont's surprise behind him, followed by a stream of curses from Robillard.
Wulfgar gently pushed Delly back, and turned about as the pair entered. The three stood there, looking about blankly, and their stares were no less incredulous when Delly at last inserted some sense into the surreal scene by saying, simply, "Sheila Kree."
* * * * * * * * *
Deudermont caught up to Wulfgar later, alone, the barbarian staring out the window at the crashing waves far below. It was the same window through which Drizzt and Catti-brie had entered, to save Delly and Colson.
"Fine friends you left behind in Icewind Dale," the captain remarked, moving to stand beside Wulfgar and staring out rather than looking at the huge man. When Wulfgar didn't answer, Deudermont did glance his way, and noted that his expression was pained.
"Do you believe you should have been here, protecting Delly and the child?" the captain said bluntly. He looked up as Wulfgar looked down upon him, not scowling, but not looking very happy, either.
"You apparently believe so," the barbarian quipped.
"Why do you say that?" the captain asked. "Because I hinted that perhaps you should not take the next voyage out of Water-deep with Sea Sprite1? What would be the point? You joined with us to hunt Sheila Kree, and we'll not find her in the south, where surely we will go."
"Even now?" Wulfgar asked, seeming a bit surprised. "After Kree launched this attack against your own house? After your two friends lay cold in the ground, murdered by her assassins?"
"We can not sail to the north with the winter winds beginning to blow," Deudermont replied. "And thus, our course is south, where we will find many pirates the equal to Sheila Kree in their murders and mayhem. But do not think that I will forget this attack upon my house," the captain added with a dangerous grimace. "When the warm spring winds blow, Sea Sprite will return and sail right into the Sea of Moving Ice, if necessary, to find Kree and pay her her due."
Deudermont paused and stared at Wulfgar, holding the look until the barbarian reciprocated with a stare of his own. "Unless our dark elf friend beats us to the target, of course," the captain remarked.
Again Wulfgar winced, and looked back out to sea.
"The attack was nearly a month ago," Deudermont went on. "Drizzt is likely far north of Luskan by now, already on the hunt."
Wulfgar nodded, but didn't even blink at the proclamation, and the captain could see that the huge man was truly torn.
"I suspect the drow and Catti-brie would welcome the companionship of their old friend for this battle," he dared to say.
"Would you so curse Drizzt as to wish that upon him?" Wulfgar asked in all seriousness. He turned an icy glare upon Deudermont as he spoke the damning words, a look that showed a combination of sarcasm, anger, and just a bit of resignation.
Deudermont matched that stare for just a few short moments, taking a measure of the man. Then he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "As you wish. But I must tell you, Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, self pity does not become you."
With that, the captain turned and walked out of the room, leaving Wulfgar alone with some very unsettling thoughts.
* * * * * * * * * *
"The captain said we can stay as long as we wish," Wulfgar explained to Delly that same night. "Through the winter and spring. I'll find some work - I am no stranger to a blacksmith's shop - and perhaps we can find our own home next year."
"In Waterdeep?" the woman asked, seeming quite concerned.
"Perhaps. Or Luskan, or anywhere else you believe would be best for Colson to grow strong."
"Icewind Dale?" the woman asked without hesitation, and Wulfgar's shoulders sagged.
"It is a difficult land, full of hardship," Wulfgar answered, trying to remain matter-of-fact.
"Full o' strong men," Delly added. "Full of heroes."
Wulfgar's expression showed clearly that he was through playing this game. "Full of cutthroats and thieves," he said sternly. "Full of thieves running from the honest lands, and no place for a girl to grow to a woman."
"I know of one girl who grew quite strong and true up there," the indomitable Delly Curtie pressed.
Wulfgar glanced all around, seeming angry and tense, and Delly knew that she had put him into a box here. Given his increasingly surly expression, she had to wonder if that was a good thing, and was about to suggest that they stay in Waterdeep for the foreseeable future just to let him out of the trap.
But then Wulfgar admitted the truth, bluntly. "I will not return to Icewind Dale. That is who I was, not who I am, and I have no desire to ever see the place again. Let the tribes of my people find their way without me."
"Let yer friends find their way without ye, even when they're trying to find their way to help ye?"
Wulfgar stared at her for a long moment, grinding his teeth at her accusatory words. He turned and pulled off his shirt, as if the matter was settled, but Delly Curtie could not be put in her place so easily.
"And ye speak of honest work," she said after him, and though he didn't turn back, he did stop walking away. "Honest work like hunting pirates with Captain Deudermont? He'd give ye a fine pay, no doubt, and get ye yer hammer in the meantime."
Wulfgar turned slowly, ominously. "Aegis-fang is not mine," he announced, and Delly had to chew on her bottom lip so she didn't scream out at him. "It belonged to a man who is dead, to a warrior who is no more."
"Ye canno' be meaning that!" Delly exclaimed, moving right up to grab him in a hug.
But Wulfgar pushed her back to arms' length and answered her denial with an uncompromising glare.
"Do ye not even wish to find Drizzt and Catti-brie to offer yer' thanks for their saving me and yer baby girl?" the woman, obviously wounded, asked. "Or is that no big matter to ye?"
Wulfgar's expression softened, and he brought Delly in and hugged her tightly. "It is everything to me," he whispered into her ear. "Everything. And if I ever cross paths with Drizzt and Catti-brie again, I will offer my thanks. But I'll not go to find them - there is no need. They know how I feel."
Delly Curtie just let herself enjoy the hug and let the conversation end there. She knew that Wulfgar was kidding himself, though. There was no way Drizzt and Catti-brie could know how he truly felt.
How could they, when Wulfgar didn't even know?