e'lorinel worked defensively, as always, letting the opponent take the lead, his twin scimitars weaving a furious dance. The elf parried and backed, dodged easily and twirled aside, letting Tunevec's furious charge go right past.
Tunevec stumbled, and cursed under his breath, thinking the fight lost, thinking Le'lorinel would surely complain and moan about his deficiencies. He closed his eyes, waiting for the slap of a sword across his back, or his rump if Le'lorinel was feeling particularly petty this day.
No blow came.
Tunevec turned about to see the bald elf leaning against the wall, weapons put away.
"You do not even bother to finish the fight?" Tunevec asked.
Le'lorinel regarded him absently, as if it didn't matter. The elf stared up at the lone window on this side of the tower, the one to Mahskevic's study. Behind that window, Le'lorinel knew, the wizard was getting some more answers.
"Come!" Tunevec bade, and he clapped his scimitars in the air before him. "You paid me for one last fight, so let us fight!"
Le'lorinel eventually got around to looking at the impatient warrior. "We are done, now and forever."
"You paid for the last fight, and the last fight is not finished," Tunevec protested.
"But it is. Take your coins and be gone. I have no further need of your services."
Tunevec stared at the elf in abject disbelief. They had been sparring together for many months, and now to be dismissed so casually, so callously!
"Keep the scimitars," Le'lorinel remarked, not even looking at Tunevec anymore, but rather, staring up at that window.
Tunevec stood there for a long while, staring at the elf incredulously. Finally, having sorted it all out, the reality of the dismissal leaving a foul taste in his mouth, he tossed the scimitars to the ground at Le'lorinel's feet, turned about, and stormed off, muttering curses.
Le'lorinel didn't even bother to retrieve the scimitars or to glance Tunevec's way. The fighter had done his job - not very well, but he had served a useful purpose - and now that job was done.
In a matter of moments, Le'lorinel stood before the door of Mahskevic's study, hand up to knock, but hesitating. Mahskevic wasn't pleased by all of this, Le'lorinel knew, and had seemed quite sullen since the elf s return from E'kressa.
Before Le'lorinel could find the nerve to knock, the door swung open, as if of its own accord, affording the elf a view of Mahskevic sitting behind his desk, his tall and pointy blue wizard's cap bent halfway up and leaning to the left, several large tomes open on the oaken desk before him, including one penned by Talasay, the bard of Silverymoon, detailing the recent events of Mithral Hall, including the reclamation of the dwarves' homeland from the duergar and the shadow dragon Shimmergloom, the anointing of Bruenor as King, the coming of the dark elves bearing Gandalug Battlehammer - Bruenor's grandfather - and finally, after the great victory over the forces of the Underdark, Bruenor's abdication of the throne to Gandalug and his reputed return to Icewind Dale. Le'lorinel had paid dearly for that tome and knew every word in it very well.
Between the books on the wizard's desk, and partially beneath one of them, was spread a parchment that Le'lorinel had written put for the wizard, recounting the exact words E'kressa had used in his divination.
"I told you that I would call to you when I was done," Mahskevic, who seemed very surly this day, remarked without looking up. "Can you not find a bit of patience after all of these years?"
"Tunevec is gone," Le'lorinel answered. "Dismissed and departed."
Now Mahskevic did look up, his face a mask of concern. "You did not kill him?" the wizard asked.
Le'lorinel smiled. "Do you believe me to be such an evil creature?"
"I believe that you are obsessed beyond reason," the wizard answered bluntly. "Perhaps you fear to leave witnesses behind, that one might alert Drizzt Do'Urden of the pursuit."
"Then E'kressa would be dead, would he not?"
Mahskevic considered the words for a moment, then shrugged in acceptance of the simple logic. "But Tunevec has left?"
"A pity. I was just growing fond of the young and able warrior. As were you, I had thought."
"Not so fine a fighter," the elf answered, as if that was all that truly mattered.
"Not up to the standards you demanded of your sparring partner who was meant to emulate this notable dark elf," Mahskevic replied immediately. "But then, who would be?"
"What have you learned?" Le'lorinel asked.
"Intertwined symbols of Dumathoin, the Keeper of Secrets under the Mountain, and of Clangeddin, dwarf god of battle," the wizard explained. "E'kressa was correct."
"The symbol of Bruenor Battlehammer," Le'lorinel stated.
"Not really," Mahskevic answered. "A symbol used only once by Bruenor, as far as I can tell. He was quite an accomplished smith, you know."
As he spoke, he waved Le'lorinel over to his side, and when the elf arrived, he pointed out a few drawings in Talasay's work: unremarkable weapons and a breastplate.
"Bruenor's work," Mahskevic remarked, and indeed, the picture captions indicated that very thing. "Yet I see no marking similar to the one E'kressa gave to you. There," he explained, pointing to a small mark on the bottom corner of the breastplate. "There is Bruenor's mark, the mark of Clan Battlehammer with Bruenor's double 'B' on the mug."
Le'lorinel bent in low to regard the drawing and saw the foaming mug standard of the dwarven clan and Bruenor's particular brand, as Mahskevic had declared. Of course, the elf had already reviewed all of this, though it seemed Mahskevic was drawing clues where Le'lorinel had not.
"As far as I can tell, Bruenor used this common brand for all his work," the wizard explained.
"That is not what the seer told to me."
"Ah," the wizard remarked, holding up one crooked and bony finger, "but then there is this." As he finished, he flipped to a different page in the large tome, to another drawing, this one depicting in great detail a fabulous warhammer, Aegis-fang, set upon a pedestal.
"The artist copying the image was remarkable," Mahskevic explained. "Very detail-minded, that one!"
He lifted a circular glass about four inches in diameter and laid it upon the image, magnifying the warhammer. There, unmistakably, was the mark E'kressa had given to Le'lorinel.
"Aegis-fang," the elf said quietly.
"Made by Bruenor for one of his two adopted children," Mahskevic remarked, and that declaration made E'kressa's cryptic remarks come into clearer focus and seemed to give credence to the overblown and showy seer.
"Find the dwarf's most prized creation of his hands to find the dwarf's most prized creation of the flesh," the gnome diviner had said, and he had admitted that he was referring to one of two creations of the flesh, or, it now seemed obvious, children.
"Find Aegis-fang to find Wulfgar?" Le'lorinel asked skeptically, for as far as both of them knew, as far as the tome indicated, Wulfgar, the young man for whom Bruenor had created Aegis-fang, was dead, killed by a handmaiden of Lolth, a yochlol, when the drow elves had attacked Mithral Hall.
"E'kressa did not name Wulfgar," Mahskevic replied. "Perhaps he was referring to Catti-brie."
"Find the hammer to find Catti-brie, to find Bruenor Battle-hammer, to find Drizzt Do'Urden," Le'lorinel said with a frustrated sigh.
"Difficult crew to be fighting," Mahskevic said, and he gave a sly smile. "I would enjoy your continued company," he explained. "I have so much work yet to be done, and I am not a young man. I could use an apprentice, and you have shown remarkable insight and intelligence."
"Then you will have to wait until my business is finished," the stubborn elf said sternly. "If I live to return."
"Remarkable intelligence in most matters," the old wizard dryly clarified.
Le'lorinel snickered and took no offense.
"This group of friends surrounding Drizzt has earned quite a reputation," Mahskevic stated.
"I have no desire to fight Bruenor Battlehammer, or Catti-brie, or anyone else other than Drizzt Do'Urden," said the elf. "Though perhaps there would be a measure of justice in killing Drizzt's friends."
Mahskevic gave a great growl and slammed Talasay's tome shut, then shoved back from the desk and stood tall, staring down hard at the elf. "And that would be an unconscionable act by every measure of the word," he scolded. "Is your bitterness and hatred toward this dark elf so great that you would take innocent life to satisfy it?"
Le'lorinel stared at him coldly, lips very thin.
"If it is, then I beg you to reconsider your course even more seriously," the wizard added. "You claim righteousness on your side in this inexplicable pursuit of yours, and yet nothing - nothing I say - would justify such unrelated murder! Do you hear me, boy? Do my words sink through that stubborn wall of hatred for Drizzt Do'Urden that you have, for some unexplained reason, erected?"
"I was not serious in my remark concerning the woman or the dwarf," Le'lorinel admitted, and the elf visibly relaxed, features softening, eyes glancing downward.
"Can you not find a more constructive pursuit?" Mahskevic asked sincerely. "You are more a prisoner of your hatred for Drizzt than the dark elf could ever be."
"I am a prisoner because I know the truth," Le'lorinel agreed in that melodic alto voice. "And to hear tales of his heroism, even this far from Mithral Hall or Ten-Towns stabs profoundly at my heart."
"You do not believe in redemption?"
"Not for Drizzt, not for any dark elf."
"An uncompromising attitude," Mahskevic remarked, stroking a hand knowingly over his fluffy beard. "And one that you will likely one day regret."
"Perhaps I already regret that I know the truth," the elf replied. "Better to be ignorant, to sing bard songs of Drizzt the hero."
"Sarcasm is not becoming."
"Honesty is oft painful."
Mahskevic started to respond but just threw up his hands and gave a defeated laugh and a great shake of his shaggy head.
"Enough," he said. "Enough. This is a circular road we have ridden far too often. You know that I do not approve."
"Noted," the uncompromising Le'lorinel said. "And dismissed."
"Perhaps I was wrong," Mahskevic mused aloud. "Perhaps you do not have the qualities necessary to serve as an appropriate apprentice."
If his words were meant to wound Le'lorinel, they seemed to fail badly, for the elf merely turned around and calmly walked out of the room.
Mahskevic gave a great sigh and dropped his palms that he could lean on his desk. He had come to like Le'lorinel over the years, had come to think of the elf as an apprentice, even as a son, but he found this self-destructive single-mindedness disconcerting and disheartening, a shattering reality against his hopes and wishes.
Mahskevic had also spent more than a little effort in learning about this rogue drow that so possessed the elf's soul, and while information concerning Drizzt was scarce in these parts far to the east of Silverymoon, everything the wizard had heard marked the unusual dark elf as an honorable and decent sort. He wondered, then, if he should even allow Le'lorinel to begin this hunt, wondered if he would then be morally compromised through his inaction against what seemed a grave injustice.
He was still wondering that very thing the next morning, when Le'lorinel found him in his little spice garden on the small balcony halfway up his gray stone tower.
"You are versed in teleportation," the elf explained. "It will be an expensive spell for me to purchase, I presume, since you do not approve of my destination, but I am willing to work another two tendays, from before dawn to after dusk, in exchange for a magical journey to Luskan, on the Sword Coast."
Mahskevic didn't even look up from his spice plants, though he did stop his weeding long enough to consider the offer. "I do not approve, indeed," he said quietly. "Once again I beseech you to abandon this folly."
"And once again I tell you that it is none of your affair," the elf retorted. "Help me if you will. If not, I suspect I will easily enough find a wizard in Silverymoon who is willing to sell a simple teleport."
Mahskevic stood straight, even put his hand on the back of his hip for support and arched his back, stretching out the kinks. Then he turned, deliberately, and put an imposing glare over the confident elf.
"Will you indeed?" the wizard asked, his glare going to the elf s hand, to the onyx ring he had sold to Le'lorinel and into which he had placed the desired magical spells.
Le'lorinel had little trouble in following his gaze to discern the item that held his attention.
"And you will have enough coin, I expect," the wizard remarked. "For I have changed my mind concerning the ring I created and will buy it back."
Le'lorinel smiled. "There is not enough gold in all the world."
"Give it over," Mahskevic said, holding out his hand. "I will return your payment."
Le'lorinel turned around and walked off the balcony, moving right to the stairs and heading down.
An angry Mahskevic caught up just outside the tower.
"This is foolishness!" he declared, rushing around and blocking the smaller elf s progress. "You are consumed by a vengeance that goes beyond all reason and beyond all morality!"
"Morality?" Le'lorinel echoed incredulously. "Because I see a drow elf for what he truly is? Because I know the truth of Drizzt Do'Urden and will not suffer his glowing reputation? You are wise in many things, old wizard, and I am better for having tutored under you these years, but of this quest I have undertaken, you know nothing."
"I know you are likely to get yourself killed."
Le'lorinel shrugged, not disagreeing. "And if I abandon this, then I am already dead."
Mahskevic gave a shout and shook his head vigorously. "Insanity!" he cried. "This is naught but insanity. And I'll not have it!"
"And you can not stop it," said Le'lorinel, and the elf started around the old man, but Mahskevic was quick to shift, again blocking the way.
"Do not underestimate - " Mahskevic started to say, but he stopped short, the tip of a dagger suddenly pressing against his throat.
"Take your own advice," Le'lorinel threatened. "What spells have you prepared this day? Battle spells? Not likely, I know, and even if you have a couple in your present repertoire, do you believe you will ever get the chance to cast them? Think hard, wizard. A few seconds is a long time."
"Le'lorinel," Mahskevic said as calmly as he could muster.
"It is only because of our friendship that I will put my weapons aside," the elf said quietly, and Mahskevic breathed more easily as the dagger went away. "I had hoped you would help me on my way, but I knew that as the time drew near, your efforts to aid me would diminish. And so I forgive you your abandonment, but be warned, I will not tolerate interference from anybody. Too long have I waited, have I prepared, and now the day is upon me. Wish me well, for our years together, if for nothing else."
Mahskevic considered it for a while, then grimly nodded. "I do wish you well," he said. "I pray you will find a greater truth in your heart than this and a greater road to travel than one of blind hatred."
Le'lorinel just walked away.
"He is beyond reason," came a familiar voice behind Mahskevic a few moments later, with the wizard watching the empty road where Le'lorinel had already gone out of sight. Mahskevic turned to see Tunevec standing there, quite at ease.
"I had hoped to dissuade him, as well," Tunevec explained. "I believed the three of us could have carved out quite an existence here.".
"The two of us, then?" Mahskevic asked, and Tunevec nodded, for he and the wizard had already spoken of his apprenticeship.
"Le'lorinel is not the first elf I have heard grumble about this Drizzt Do'Urden," Tunevec explained as the pair walked back to the tower. "On those occasions when the rogue drow visited Alustriel in Silverymoon, there were more than a few citizens openly offering complaints, the light-skinned elves foremost among them. The enmity between the elves, light and dark, can not be overstated."
Mahskevic gave one longing glance back over his shoulder at the road Le'lorinel had walked. "Indeed," he said, his heart heavy.
With a profound sigh, the old wizard let go of his friend, of a large part of the last few years of his life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
On a rocky road many hundreds of miles away, Sheila Kree stood before a quartet of her crewmen.
One of her most trusted compatriots, Gayselle Wayfarer, her deck commander for boarding parties, sat astride a small but strong chestnut mare. Though not nearly as thin or possessed of classic beauty as Bellany the Sorceress or the tall and willowy Jule Pepper, Gayselle was far from unattractive. Even though she kept her blond hair cropped short, there was a thickness and a luster to it that nicely complimented the softness of her blue eyes and her light complexion, a creaminess to her skin that remained despite the many days aboard ship. Gayselle, a short woman with the muscular stature to match her mount, was, perhaps, the most skilled with weapons of anyone aboard Bloody Keel, with the exception of Sheila Kree herself. She favored a short sword and dagger. The latter she could throw as precisely as anyone who'd ever served with Sheila Kree.
"Bellany wouldn't agree with this," Gayselle said.
"If the task is completed, Bellany will be glad for it," Sheila Kree replied.
She looked around somewhat sourly at Gayselle's chosen companions, a trio of brutal half-ogres. These three would be running, not riding, for no horse would suffer one of them on its
back. It hardly seemed as if it would slow Gayselle down on her journey to Luskan's docks, where a small rowboat would be waiting for them, for their ogre heritage gave them a long, swift stride and inhuman endurance.
"You have the potions?" the pirate captain asked.
Gayselle lifted one fold of her brown traveling cloak, revealing several small vials. "My companions will look human enough to walk through the gates of Luskan and off the docks of Water-deep," the rider assured her captain.
"If Sea Sprite is in . . ."
"We go nowhere near Deudermont's house," Gayselle completed.
Sheila Kree started another remark but stopped and nodded, reminding herself that this was Gayselle, intelligent and dependable, the second of her crew after Bellany to wear the brand. Gayselle understood not only the desired course for this, but any alternate routes should the immediate plan not be possible. She would get the job done, and Captain Deudermont and the other fools of Sea Sprite would understand that their hounding of Sheila Kree might not be a wise course to continue.
t has often struck me how reckless human beings tend to be.
In comparison to the other goodly reasoning beings, I mean, for comparisons of humans to dark elves and goblins and other creatures of selfish and vicious ends make no sense. Menzoberranzan is no safe place, to be sure, and most dark elves die long before the natural expiration of their corporeal bodies, but that, I believe, is more a matter of ambition and religious zeal, and also a measure of hubris. Every dark elf, in his ultimate confidence, rarely envisions the possibility of his own death, and when he does, he often deludes himself into thinking that any death in the chaotic service of Lolth can only bring him eternal glory and paradise beside the Spider Queen.
The same can be said of the goblinkin, creatures who, for whatever misguided reasons, often rush headlong to their deaths.
Many races, humans included, often use the reasoning of godly service to justify dangerous actions, even warfare, and there is a good deal of truth to the belief that dying in the cause of a greater good must be an ennobling thing.
But aside from the fanaticism and the various cultures of warfare, I find that humans are often the most reckless of the goodly reasoning beings. I have witnessed many wealthy humans venturing to Ten-Towns for holiday, to sail on the cold and deadly waters of Maer Dualdon, or to climb rugged Kelvin's Cairn, a dangerous prospect. They risk everything for the sake of minor accomplishment.
I admire their determination and trust in themselves.
I suspect that this willingness to risk is in part due to the short expected life span of the humans. A human of four decades risking his life could lose a score of years, perhaps two, perhaps three in extraordinary circumstances, but an elf of four decades would be risking several centuries of life! There is, then, an immediacy and urgency in being human that elves, light or dark, and dwarves will never understand.
And with that immediacy comes a zest for life beyond anything an elf or a dwarf might know. I see it, every day, in Catti-brie's fair face - this love of life, this urgency, this need to fill the hours and the days with experience and joy. In a strange paradox, I saw that urgency only increase when we thought that Wulfgar had died, and in speaking to Catti-brie about this, I came to know that such eagerness to experience, even at great personal risk, is often experienced by humans who have lost a loved one, as if the reminder of their own impending mortality serves to enhance the need to squeeze as much living as possible into the days and years remaining.
What a wonderful way to view the world, and sad, it seems, that it takes a loss to correct the often mundane path.
What course for me, then, who might know seven centuries of life, even eight, perhaps? Am I to take the easy trail of contemplation and sedentary existence, so common to the elves of Toril? Am I to dance beneath the stars every night, and spend the days in reverie, turning inward to better see the world about me? Both worthy pursuits, indeed, and dancing under the nighttime sky is a joy I would never forsake. But there must be more for me, I know. There must be the pursuit of adventure and experience. I take my cue from Catti-brie and the other humans on this, and remind myself of the fuller road with every beautiful sunrise.
The fewer the lost hours, the fuller the life, and a life of a few decades can surely, in some measures, be longer than a life of several centuries. How else to explain the accomplishments of a warrior such as Artemis Entreri, who could outfight many drow veterans ten times his age? How else to explain the truth that the most accomplished wizards in the world are not elves but humans, who spend decades, not centuries, pondering the complexities of the magical Weave?
I have been blessed indeed in coming to the surface, in finding a companion such as Catti-brie. For this, I believe, is the mission of my existence, not just the purpose, but the point of life itself. What opportunities might I find if I can combine the life span of my heritage with the intensity of humanity? And what joys might I miss if I follow the more patient and sedate road, the winding road dotted with signposts reminding me that I have too much to lose, the road that avoids mountain and valley alike, traversing the plain, sacrificing the heights for fear of the depths?
Often elves forsake intimate relationships with humans, denying love, because they know, logically, that it can not be, in the frame of elven time, a long-lasting partnership.
Alas, a philosophy doomed to mediocrity.
We need to be reminded sometimes that a sunrise lasts but a few minutes.
But its beauty can burn in our hearts eternally.