With the freezing wind roaring in at him from the right, Wulfgar plodded along, ducking his shoulder and head against the constant icy press. He was on a high pass, and though he didn't like being out in the open, this windblown stretch was the route with by far the least remaining snow. He knew that enemies might spot him from a mile away, a dark spot against the whiteness, but knew he also that unless they were aerial creatures - and ones large enough to buck the wintry blow - they'd never get near to him.

What he was hoping for was that his former companions might spot him. For how else might he find them in this vast, up-and-down landscape, where vision was ever limited by the next mountain peak and where distances were badly distorted? Sometimes the next mountain slope, where individual trees could be picked out, might seem to be a short march, but was in reality miles and miles away, and those with often insurmountable obstacles, a sharp ravine or unclimbable facing, preventing Wulfgar from getting there without a detour that would take days.

How did I ever hope to find them? the barbarian asked himself, and not for the first, or even the hundredth time. He shook his head at his own foolishness in ever walking through Luskan's north gate on that fateful morning, and again at continuing into the mountains after the terrific storm when the south road seemed so much more accessible.

"And would I not be the fool if Drizzt and the others have sought out shelter, a town through which they can spend the winter?" the barbarian asked himself, and he laughed aloud.

Yes, this was about as hopeless as seemed possible, seeking his friends in a wilderness so vast and inhospitable, in conditions so wild that he might pass within a few yards of them without ever noticing them. But still, when he considered it in context, the barbarian realized he was not foolish, despite the odds, that he had done what he needed to do.

Wulfgar paused from that high vantage point and looked all around him at the valleys, at the peak looming before him, and at one expanse of fir trees, a dark green splash against the white-sided mountain, down to the right.

He decided he would go there, under the cover of those trees, making his way to the west until he came to the main mountain pass that would take him back into Icewind Dale. If he found his former companions along the way, then all the better. If not, he would continue along to Ten-Towns and stay there until Drizzt and the others came to him, or until the spring, if they did not arrive, when he could sign on with a caravan heading back to Waterdeep.

Wulfgar shielded his eyes from the glare and the blowing snow and picked his path. He'd have to continue across the open facing to the larger mountain, then make his way down its steep western side. At least there were trees along that slope, against which he could lean his weight and slow his descent. If he tried to go down from this barren area and got into a slide, he'd tumble a long way indeed.

Wulfgar put his head down again and plowed on, leaning into the wind.

That lean cost him when he stepped upon one stone, which sloped down to the right much more than it appeared. His furry boot found little traction on the icy surface, and the overbalanced Wulfgar couldn't compensate quickly enough to belay the skid. Out he went, feet first, to land hard on his rump. He was sliding, his arms flailing wildly in an effort to find a hold.

He let go of the large, unwieldy bardiche, tossing the weapon a bit to the side so it didn't tumble down onto his head behind him. He couldn't slow and was soon bouncing more than sliding, going into a headlong roll and clipping one large stone that turned him over sideways. The straps on his pack fell loose, one untying, the other tearing free. He left it behind, its flap opening and a line of his supplies spilling out behind it as it slid.

Wulfgar continued his twisting, bouncing descent and left the pack, the bardiche, and the top of the pass, far behind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"He's hurt!" Captain Deudermont said, his voice rising with anxiety as he watched the barbarian's long and brutal tumble.

He and Robillard were in his private quarters aboard Sea Sprite, staring into a bowl of enchanted water the wizard was using to scrye out the wandering barbarian. Robillard was not fond of such divination spells, nor was he very proficient with them, but he had secretly placed a magical pin under the folds of Wulfgar's silver wolf-furred clothing. That pin, attuned to the bowl, allowed even Robillard, whose prowess was in evocation and not divination, to catch a glimpse of the distant man.

"Oaf," Robillard quietly remarked.

They watched silently, Deudermont chewing his lip, as Wulfgar climbed to his feet at the bottom of the long slide. The barbarian leaned over to one side, favoring an injured shoulder. As he walked about, obviously trying to sort out the best path back to his equipment, the pair noted a pronounced limp.

"He'll not make it back up without aid," Deudermont said.

"Oaf," Robillard said again.

"Look at him!" the captain cried. "He could have turned south, as you predicted, but he did not. No, he went out to the north and into the frozen mountains, a place where few would travel, even in the summer and even in a group, and fewer still would dare try alone."

"That is the way of nature," Robillard quipped. "Those who would try alone likely have and thus are all dead. Fools have a way of weeding themselves out of the bloodlines."

"You wanted him to go north," the captain pointedly reminded.

"You said as much, and many times. And not so that he would fall and die. You insisted that if Wulfgar was a man deserving of such friends as Drizzt and Catti-brie, that he would go in search of them, no matter the odds.

"Look now, my curmudgeonly friend," Deudermont stated, waving his arm out toward the water bowl, to the image of stubborn Wulfgar.

Obviously in pain but just grimacing it away, the man was scrambling inch by inch to scale back up the mountainside. The barbarian didn't stop and cry out in rage, didn't punch his fist into the air. He just picked his path and clawed at it without complaint.

Deudermont eyed Robillard as intently as the wizard was then eyeing the scrying bowl. Finally, Robillard looked up. "Perhaps there is more to this Wulfgar than I believed," the wizard admitted.

"Are we to let him die out there, alone and cold?"

Robillard sighed, then growled and rubbed his hands forcefully across his face, so that his skinny features glowed bright red. "He has been nothing but trouble since the day he arrived on Waterdeep's long dock to speak with you!" Robillard snarled, and he shook his head. "Nay, even before that, in Luskan, when he tried to kill - "

"He did not!" Deudermont insisted, angry that Robillard had reopened that old wound. "That was neither Wulfgar nor the little one named Morik."

"So you say."

"He suffers hardships without complaint," the captain went on, again directing the wizard's eyes to the image in the bowl. "Though I hardly think Wulfgar considers such a storm as this even a hardship after the torments he likely faced at the hands of the demon Errtu."

"Then there is no problem here."

"But what now?" the captain pressed. "Wulfgar will never find his friends while wandering aimlessly through the wintry mountains."

Deudermont could tell by the ensuing sigh that Robillard understood him completely.

"We spotted a pirate just yesterday," the wizard remarked, a verbal squirm if Deudermont had ever heard one. "Likely we will do battle in the morning. You can not afford - "

"If we see the pirate again and you have not returned, or if you are not yet prepared for the fight, then we will shadow her. As we can outrun any ship when we are in pursuit, so we can when we are in retreat."

"I do not like teleporting to unfamiliar places," Robillard grumbled. "I may appear too high, and fall."

"Enact a spell of flying or floating before you go, then."

"Or too low," Robillard said grimly, for that was ever a possibility, and any wizard who wound up appearing at the other end of a teleport spell too low would find pieces of himself scattered amongst the rocks and dirt.

Deudermont had no answer for that other than a shrug, but it wasn't really a debate. Robillard was only complaining anyway, with every intention of going to the wounded man.

"Wait for me to return before engaging any pirates," the wizard grumbled, fishing through his many pockets for the components he would need to safely - as safely as possible, anyway - go to Wulfgar. "If I do return, that is."

"I have every confidence."

"Of course you do," said Robillard.

Captain Deudermont stepped back as Robillard moved to a side cabinet and flung it open, removing one of Deudermont's own items, a heavy woolen blanket. Grumbling continually, the wizard began his casting, first a spell that had him gently floating off of the floor, and another that seemed to tear the fabric of the air itself. Many multicolored bubbles surrounded the wizard until his form became blurred by their multitude - and he was gone, and there were only bubbles, gradually popping and flowing together so that the air seemed whole again.

Deudermont rushed forward and stared into the watery bowl, catching the last images of Wulfgar before Robillard's divining dweomer dissipated.

He saw a second form come onto the snowy scene.

* * * ** * * * * * *

Wulfgar started to slip yet again, but growled and fell flat, reaching his arm up and catching onto a jag in the little bare stone he could find. His pulled with his powerful arm, sliding himself upward.

"We will be here all afternoon if you continue at that pace," came a familiar voice from above.

The barbarian looked up to see Robillard standing atop the pass, a heavy brown blanket wrapped around him, over his customary wizard robes,

"What?" the astonished Wulfgar started to ask, but with his surprise came distraction, and he wound up sliding backward some twenty feet to crash heavily against a rocky outcrop.

The barbarian pulled himself to his feet and looked back up to see Robillard, the bardiche in hand, floating down the mountain slope. The wizard scooped a few of Wulfgar's other belongings on the way, dropped them to Wulfgar, and swooped about, flying magically back and forth until he had collected all of the spilled possessions. That job completed, he landed lightly beside the huge man.

"I hardly expected to see you here," said Wulfgar.

"No less than I expected to see you," Robillard answered. "I predicted that you would take the south road, not the north. Your surprising fortitude even cost me a wager I made with Donnark the oarsman."

"Should I repay you?" Wulfgar said dryly.

Robillard shrugged and nodded. "Another time, perhaps. I have no desire to remain in this godsforsaken wilderness any longer than is necessary."

"I have my possessions and am not badly injured," Wulfgar stated. He squared his massive shoulders and thrust out his chin defiantly, more than ready to allow the wizard to leave.

"But you have not found your friends," the wizard explained, "and have little chance of ever doing so without my help. And so I am here."

"Because you are my friend?"

"Because Captain Deudermont is," Robillard corrected, and with a huff to deny the wry grin that adorned the barbarian's ruddy and bristled face.

"You have spells to locate them?" Wulfgar asked.

"I have spells to make us fly up above the peaks," Robillard corrected, "and others to get us quickly from place to place. We will soon enough take account of every creature walking the region. We can only hope that your friends are among them."

"And if they are not?"

"Then I suggest that you return with me to Waterdeep."

"To Sea Sprite!"

"To Waterdeep," Robillard forcefully repeated.

Wulfgar shrugged, not wanting to argue the point - one that he hoped would be moot. He believed that Drizzt and the others had come in search of Aegis-fang, and if that was the case he expected that they would still be there, alive and well.

He still wasn't sure if he had chosen correctly that day back in Luskan, still wasn't sure if he was ready for this, if he wanted this. How would he react when he saw them again? What would he say to Bruenor, and what might he do if the dwarf, protective of Catti-brie to the end, simply leaped at him to throttle him? And what might he say to Catti-brie? How could he ever look into her blue eyes again after what he had done to her?

Those questions came up at him forcefully at that moment, now that it seemed possible that he would actually find the companions.

But he had no answers for those questions and knew that he would not be able to foresee the confrontation, even from his own sensibilities.

Wulfgar came out of his contemplation to see Robillard staring at him, the wizard wearing as close to an expression of empathy as Wulfgar had ever seen.

"How did you get this far?" Robillard asked.

Wulfgar's expression showed that he did not understand.

"One step at a time," Robillard answered his own question. "And that is how you will go on. One step at a time will Wulfgar trample his demons."

Robillard did something then that surprised the big man as profoundly as he had ever been: he reached up and patted Wulfgar on the shoulder.

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