Streams of Silver 14. Star Light, Star Bright
Wulfgar set Regis and Bruenor down on a mossy bed in a small clearing deeper in the wood, then toppled over in pain.Drizzt caught up to him a few minutes later.
“We must camp here,” the drow was saying, “though I wish we could put more distance…” He stopped when he saw his young friend writhing on the ground and grasping at his injured leg, nearly overcome by the pain.Drizzt rushed over to examine the knee, his eyes widening in shock and disgust.
A troll’s hand, probably from one of those he had hacked apart when Wulfgar rescued Bruenor, had latched on to the barbarian as he ran, finding a niche in the back of his knee.
One clawed finger had already buried itself deep into the leg, and two others were even now boring in.
“Do not look,” Drizzt advised Wulfgar. He reached into his pack for his tinderbox and set a small stick burring, then used it to prod the wretched hand. As soon as the thing began to smoke and wriggle about, Drizzt slid it from the leg and threw it to the ground. It tried to scurry away, but Drizzt sprang upon it, pinning it with one of his scimitars and lighting it fully with the burning stick.
He looked back to Wulfgar, amazed at the sheer determination that had allowed the barbarian to continue with so wicked a wound. But now their flight was ended, and Wulfgar had already succumbed to the pain and the exhaustion. He lay sprawled unconscious on the ground beside Bruenor and Regis.
“Sleep well,” Drizzt said softly to the three of them. “You have earned the right.” He moved to each of them to make sure they were not too badly hurt. Then, satisfied that they would all recover, he set to his vigilant watch.
Even the valiant drow, though, had overstepped the bounds of his stamina during the rush through the Evermoors, and soon he too nodded his head and joined his friends in slumber.
Late the next morning Bruenor’s grumbling roused them. “Ye forgot me axe!” the dwarf shouted angrily. “I can’t be cutting stinkin’ trolls without me axe!”
Drizzt stretched out comfortably, somewhat refreshed, but still far from recovered. “I told you to take the axe,” he said to Wulfgar, who was similarly shaking off his sound slumber.
“I said it clearly,” Drizzt scolded mockingly. “Take the axe and leave the ungrateful dwarf.”
“‘Twas the nose that confused me,” Wulfgar replied. “More akin to an axe-head than to any nose I have ever seen!”
Bruenor unconsciously looked down his long snout. “Bah!” he growled, “I’ll find me a club!” and he tromped off into the forest.
“Some quiet, if you will!” Regis snapped as the last hint of his pleasant dreams flitted away. Disgusted at being awakened so early, he rolled back over and covered his head with his cloak.
They could have made Silverymoon that very day, but a single night’s rest would not erase the weariness of the days they had spent in the Evermoors, and on a tough road before that. Wulfgar, for one, with his injured leg and back, had to use a walking stick, and the sleep that Drizzt had found the night before had been his first, in nearly a week. Unlike the moors, this forest seemed quite wholesome. And though they knew that they were still in the wild lands, they felt safe enough to stretch out the road to the city and enjoy, for the first time since they had left Ten-Towns, a leisurely walk.
They broke out of the forest by noon of the next day and covered the last few miles to Silverymoon. Before sunset, they came over the final climb, and looked down upon the River Rauvin and the countless spires of the enchanted city.
They all felt the sensation of hope and relief when they glanced down upon that magnificent sight, but none felt it more keenly than Drizzt Do’Urden. The drow had hoped from the earliest planning of their adventure that its path would take him through Silverymoon, though he had done nothing to sway Bruenor’s decision in choosing a course. Drizzt had heard of Silverymoon after his arrival in Ten-Towns, and were it not for the fact that he had found some measure of tolerance in the rugged frontier community, he would have set back at once for the place. Reknowned for their acceptance of all who came in search of knowledge, regardless of race, the people of Silverymoon offered the renegade black elf a true opportunity to find a home.
Many times he had considered traveling to the place, but something within him, perhaps the fear of false hope and unfulfilled expectations, kept him within the security of Icewind Dale. Thus, when the decision had been made in Longsaddle that Silverymoon would be their next destination, Drizzt had found himself squarely facing the fantasy he had never dared to dream. Looking down now on his one hope for true acceptance in the surface world, he courageously forced his apprehensions away.
“The Moonbridge,” Bruenor remarked when a wagon below crossed the Rauvin, seemingly floating in mid-air. Bruenor had heard of the invisible structure as a boy, but had never seen it firsthand.
Wulfgar and Regis watched the spectacle of the flying wagon in blank amazement. The barbarian had overcome many of his fear’s of magic during his stay in Longsaddle, and he was truly looking forward to exploring this legendary city. Regis had been here once before, but his familiarity with the place did nothing to lessen his excitement.
They approached the guard post on the Rauvin eagerly, despite their weariness, the same post that Entreri’s party had passed four days before, with the same guards who had allowed the evil group to enter the city.
“Greetings,” Bruenor offered in a tone that could be considered jovial for the dour dwarf. “And know ye that the sight of yer fair city has bringed new life into me weary heart!”
The guards hardly heard him, intent upon the drow, who had pulled back his cowl. They seemed curious, for they had never actually seen a black elf, but, they didn’t appear too surprised by Drizzt’s arrival.
“May we be escorted to the Moonbridge now?” Regis asked after a period of silence that grew increasingly uncomfortable. “You cannot guess how anxious we are to view Silverymoon. So much we have heard!”
Drizzt suspected what was forthcoming. An angry lump welled in his throat.
“Go away,” the guard said quietly. “You may not pass.”
Bruenor’s face reddened in rage, but Regis cut off his explosion. “Surely we have done nothing to cause such a harsh judgement,” the halfling protested calmly. “We are simple travelers, seeking no trouble.” His hand went to his jacket, and to the hypnotic ruby, but a scowl from Drizzt halted his plan.
“Your reputation seems to outweigh your actions,” Wulfgar remarked to the guards.
“I am sorry,” replied one, “but I have my duties, and I see them through.”
“Us, or the drow?” Bruenor demanded.
“The drow,” answered the guard. “The rest of you may go to the city, but the drow may not pass.”
Drizzt felt the walls of hope crumbling around him. His hands trembled at his sides. Never before had he experienced such pain, for never before had he come to a place without the expectation of rejection. Still, he managed to sublimate his immediate anger and remind himself that this was Bruenor’s quest, not his own, for good or for ill.
“Ye dogs!” Bruenor cried. “Th’ elf’s worth a dozen of ye, and more! I owe him me life a hundred times, and ye think to say that he’s not good enough for yer stinking city! How many trolls be layin’ dead for the work of yer sword?”
“Be calm, my friend,” Drizzt interrupted, fully in control of himself. “I expect as much. They cannot know Drizzt Do’Urden. Just the reputation of my people. And they cannot be blamed. You go in, then. I will await your return.”
“No!” Bruenor declared in a tone that brooked no debate. “If ye can’t go in, then none of us will!”
“Think of our goal, stubborn dwarf,” Drizzt scolded. “The Vault of Sages is in the city. Perhaps our only hope.”
“Bah!” Bruenor snorted. “To the Abyss with this cursed city and all who live here! Sundabar sits less than a week’s walking. Helm, the dwarf-friend, will be more inviting, or I’m a bearded gnome!”
“You should enter,” Wulfgar said. “Let not our anger defeat our purpose. But I remain with Drizzt. Where he cannot go, Wulfgar, son of Beornegar, refuses to go!”
But the determined stomps of Bruenor’s stocky legs were already carrying him down the road back out from the city. Regis shrugged at the other two and started after, as loyal to the drow as any of them.
“Choose your camp as you wish, and without fear,” the guard offered, almost apologetically. “The Knights of Silver will not disturb you, nor will they let any monsters near the borders of Silverymoon.”
Drizzt nodded, for though the sting of the rejection had not diminished, he understood that the guard had been helpless to change the unfortunate situation. He started slowly away, the disturbing questions that he had avoided for so many years already beginning to press in upon him.
Wulfgar was not so forgiving. “You have wronged him,” he said to the guard when Drizzt moved away. “Never has he raised sword against any who did not deserve it, and this world, yours and mine, is better off for having Drizzt Do’Urden about!”
The guard looked away, unable to answer the justifiable scolding.
“And I question the honor of one who heeds to unjust commands,” Wulfgar declared.
The guard snapped an angry glare on the barbarian. “The Lady’s reasons are not asked,” he answered, hand on sword hilt. He sympathized with the anger of the travelers, but would accept no criticism of the Lady Alustriel, his beloved leader. “Her commands follow a righteous course, and are beyond the wisdom of me, or you!” he growled.
Wulfgar did not justify the threat with any show of concern. He turned away and started down the road after his friends.
Bruenor purposely positioned their camp just a few hundred yards down the Rauvin, in clear sight of the guard post. He had sensed the guard’s discomfort at turning them away and he wanted to play upon that guilt as strongly as he could.
“Sundabar’ll show us the way,” he kept saying after they had supped, trying to convince himself as much as the others that their failure at Silverymoon would not hurt the quest. “And beyond that lies Citadel Adbar. If any in all the Realms know of Mithril Hall, it be Harbromm and the dwarves of Adbar!”
“A long way,” Regis commented. “Summer may run out before we ever reach the fortress of King Harbromm.”
“Sundabar,” Bruenor reiterated stubbornly. “And Adbar if we must!”
The two went back and forth with the conversation for a while. Wulfgar didn’t join in, too intent on the drow, who had moved a short distance away from the camp right after the meal – which Drizzt had hardly touched and stood silently staring at the city up the Rauvin.
Presently, Bruenor and Regis settled themselves off to sleep, angry still, but secure enough in the safety of the camp to succumb to their weariness. Wulfgar moved to join the drow.
“We shall find Mithril Hall,” he offered in comfort, though he knew that Drizzt’s lament did not concern their current objective.
Drizzt nodded, but did not reply.
“Their rejection hurt you,” Wulfgar observed. “I thought that you had accepted your fate willingly. Why is this time so different?”
Again the drow made no move to answer.
Wulfgar respected his privacy. “Take heart, Drizzt Do’Urden, noble ranger and trusted friend. Have faith that those who know you would die willingly for you or beside you.” He put a hand on Drizzt’s shoulder as he turned to leave.
Drizzt said nothing, though he truly appreciated Wulfgar’s concern. Their friendship had gone far beyond the need for spoken thanks, though, and Wulfgar only hoped that he had given his friend some comfort as he returned to the camp, leaving Drizzt to his thoughts.
The stars came out and, found the drow still standing alone beside the Rauvin. Drizzt had made himself vulnerable for the first time since his initial days on the surface, and the disappointment he now felt triggered the same doubts that he had believed resolved years ago, before he had ever left Menzoberranzan, the city of the black elves. How could he ever hope to find any normalcy in the daylight world of the fair-skinned elves? In Ten-Towns, where murderers and thieves often rose to positions of respect and leadership, he was barely tolerated. In Longsaddle, where prejudice was secondary to the fanatical curiosity of the unsinkable Harpells, he had been placed on display like some mutated farm animal, mentally poked and prodded. And though the wizards meant him no harm, they lacked any compassion or respect for him as anything other than an oddity to be observed.
Now Silverymoon, a city founded and structured on tenets of individuality and fairness, where peoples of all races found welcome if they came in goodwill, had shunned him. All races, it seemed, except for the dark elves.
The inevitability of Drizzt’s life as an outcast had never before been so clearly laid out before him. No other city, not even a remote village, in all the Realms could offer him a home, or an existence anywhere but on the fringes of its civilization. The severe limitations of his options, and even moreso, of his future hopes for change, appalled him.
He stood now under the stars, looking up at them with the same profound level of love and awe as any of his surface cousins had ever felt, but sincerely reconsidering his decision to leave the underworld.
Had he gone against a divine plan, crossed the boundaries of some natural order? Perhaps he should have accepted his lot in life and remained in the dark city, among his own kind.
A twinkle in the night sky brought him out of his introspection. A star above him pulsed and grew, already beyond normal proportions. Its light bathed the area around Drizzt in a soft glow, and still the star pulsed.
Then the enchanting light was gone, and standing before Drizzt was a woman, her hair shining silver and her sparkling eyes holding years of experience and wisdom within the luster of eternal youth. She was tall, taller than Drizzt, and straight, wearing a gown of the finest silk and a high crown of gold and gems.
She looked upon him with sincere sympathy, as if she could read his every thought and understood completely the jumble of emotions that he himself had yet to sort through.
“Peace, Drizzt Do’Urden,” she said in a voice that chimed like sweet music. “I am Alustriel, High Lady of Silverymoon.”
Drizzt studied her more closely, though her manner and beauty left him no doubts as to her claim. “You know of me?” he asked.
“Many by now have heard of the Companions of the Hall, for that is the name Harkle Harpell has put upon your troupe. A dwarf in search of his ancient home is not so rare in the Realms, but a drow elf walking beside him certainly catches the notice of all those he passes.”
She swallowed hard and looked deeply into his lavender eyes. “It was I who denied you passage into the city,” she admitted.
“Then why come to me now?” Drizzt asked, more in curiosity than in anger, unable to reconcile that act of rejection with the person who now stood before him. Alustriel’s fairness and tolerance were well known throughout the northland, though Drizzt had begun to wonder how exaggerated the stories must be after his encounter at the guard post. But now that he saw the high lady, wearing her honest compassion openly, he could not disbelieve the tales.
“I felt I must explain,” she replied.
“You need not justify your decision.”
“But I must,” said Alustriel. “For myself and my home as much as for you. The rejection has hurt you more than you admit.” She moved closer to him.
“It pained me as well,” she said softly.
“Then why?” Drizzt demanded, his anger slipping through his calm facade. “If you know of me, then you know as well that I carry no threat to your people.”
She ran her cool hand across his cheek. “Perceptions,” she explained. “There are elements at work in the north that make perceptions vital at this time, sometimes even overruling what is just. A sacrifice has been forced upon you.”
“A sacrifice that has become all too familiar to me.”
“I know,” Alustriel whispered. “We learned from Nesme that you had been turned away, a scenario that you commonly face.”
“I expect it,” Drizzt said coldly.
“But not here,” Alustriel retorted. “You did not expect it from Silverymoon, nor should you have.”
Her sensitivity touched Drizzt. His anger died away as he awaited her explanation, certain now that the woman had good cause for her actions.
“There are many forces at work here that do not concern you, and should not,” she began. “Threats of war and secret alliances; rumors and suspicions that have no basis in fact, nor would make any sense to reasonable people. I am no great friend to the merchants, though they freely pass through Silverymoon. They fear our ideas and ideals as a threat to their structures of power, as well they should. They are very powerful, and would see Silverymoon more akin to their own views.
“But enough of this talk. As I said, it does not concern you. All that I ask you to understand is that, as leader of my city, I am forced at times to act for the overall good, whatever the cost to an individual.”
“You fear the lies and suspicions that might befall you if a black elf walks freely in Silverymoon?” Drizzt sighed incredulously. “Simply allowing a drow to walk among your people would implicate you in some devious alliance with the underworld?”
“You are not just any drow elf,” Alustriel explained. “You are Drizzt Do’Urden, a name that is destined to be heard throughout the Realms. For now, though, you are a drow who is fast becoming visible to the northern rulers, and, initially at least, they will not understand that you have forsaken your people.
“And this tale gets more complicated, it seems,” Alustriel continued. “Know you that I have two sisters?”
Drizzt shook his head.
“Storm, a bard of reknown, and Dove Falconhand, a ranger. Both have taken an interest in the name of Drizzt Do’Urden – Storm as a growing legend in need of proper song, and Dove…I have yet to discern her motives. You have become a hero to her, I think, the epitome of those qualities that she, as a fellow ranger, strives to perfect. She came into the city just this morn, and knew of your impending arrival.
“Dove is many years younger than I,” Alustriel went on. “And not so wise in the politics of the world.”
“She might have sought me out,” Drizzt reasoned, seeing the implications that Alustriel feared.
“She will, eventually,” the lady answered. “But I cannot allow it now, not in Silverymoon.” Alustriel stared at him intently, her gaze hinting at deeper and more personal emotions. “And moreso, I myself would have sought audience with you, as I do now.”
The implications of such a meeting within the city seemed obvious to Drizzt in light of the political struggles that Alustriel had hinted at. “Another time, another place perhaps,” he queried. “Would it bother you so much?”
She replied with a smile. “Not at all.”
Satisfaction and trepidation descended upon Drizzt all at once. He looked back to the stars, wondering if he would ever completely discover the truth about his decision to come to the surface world, or if his life would forever remain a tumult of dangled hope and shattered expectations.
They stood in silence for several moments before Alustriel spoke again.
“You came for the Vault of Sages,” she said, “to discover if anything in there spoke of Mithril Hall.”
“I urged the dwarf to go in,” Drizzt answered. “But he is a stubborn one.”
“I assumed as much,” laughed Alustriel. “But I did not want my actions to interfere with your most noble quest. I have perused the vault myself. You cannot imagine its size! You would not have known where to begin your search of the thousands of volumes that line the walls. But I know the vault as well as anyone alive. I have learned things that would have taken you and your friends weeks to find. But truthfully, very little has been written about Mithril Hall, and nothing at all that gives more than a passing hint about the general area where it lies.”
“Then perhaps we are the better for being turned away.”
Alustriel blushed in embarrassment, though Drizzt meant no sarcasm in his observation. “My guards have informed me that you plan to move on to Sundabar,” the lady said.
“True,” answered Drizzt, “and from there to Citadel Adbar if need be.”
“I advise you against this course,” said Alustriel. “From everything that I could find in the vault, and from my own knowledge of the legends of the days when treasures flowed from Mithril Hall, my guess is that it lies in the west, not the east.”
“We have come from the west, and our trail, seeking those with knowledge of the silvery halls, has led us continually eastward,” Drizzt countered. “Beyond Silverymoon, the only hopes we have are Helm and Harbromm, both in the east.”
“Helm may have something to tell you,” Alustriel agreed. “But you will learn little from King Harbromm and the dwarves of Adbar. They themselves undertook the quest to find the ancient homeland of Bruenor’s kin just a few years ago, and they passed through Silverymoon on their journey – heading west. But they never found the place, and returned home convinced that it was either destroyed and buried deep in some unmarked mountain, or that it had never existed and was simply the ruse of southern merchants dealing their goods in the northland.”
“You do not offer much hope,” Drizzt remarked.
“But I do,” Alustriel countered. “To the west of here, less than a day’s march, along an unmarked path running north from the Rauvin, lies the Herald’s Holdfast, an ancient bastion of accumulated knowledge. The herald, Old Night, can guide you, if anyone can in this day. I have informed him of your coming and he has agreed to sit with you, though he has not entertained visitors for decades, other than myself and a few select scholars.”
“We are in your debt,” said Drizzt, bowing low.
“Do not hope for too much,” Alustriel warned. “Mithril Hall came and went in the knowledge of this world in the flash of an eye. Barely three generations of dwarves ever mined the place, though I grant you that a dwarven generation is a considerable amount of time, and they were not so open with their trade. Only rarely did they allow anyone to their mines, if the tales are true. They brought out their works in the dark of night and fed them through a secret and intricate chain of dwarven agents to be brought to market.”
“They protected themselves well from the greed of the outside world,” Drizzt observed.
“But their demise came from within the mines,” said Alustriel. “An unknown danger that may lurk there still, you are aware.”
“And still you choose to go?”
“I care not for the treasures, though if they are indeed as splendid as Bruenor describes, then I would wish to look upon them. But this is the dwarf’s search, his great adventure, and I would be a sorry friend indeed if I did not help him to see it through.”
“Hardly could that label be mantled upon your neck, Drizzt Do’Urden,” Alustriel said. She pulled a small vial from a fold in her gown. “Take this with you,” she instructed.
“What is it?”
“A potion of remembrance,” Alustriel explained. “Give it to the dwarf when the answers to your search seem near at hand. But beware, its powers are strong! Bruenor will walk for a time in the memories of his distant past as well as the experiences of his present.
“And these,” she said, producing a small pouch from the same fold and handing it to Drizzt, “are for all of you. Unguent to help wounds to heal, and biscuits that refresh a weary traveler.”
“My thanks and the thanks of my friends,” said Drizzt.
“In light of the terrible injustice that I have forced upon you, they are little recompense.”
“But the concern of their giver was no small gift,” Drizzt replied. He looked straight into her eyes, holding her with his intensity. “You have renewed my hope, Lady of Silverymoon. You have reminded me that there is indeed reward for those who follow the path of conscience, a treasure far greater than the material baubles that too often come to unjust men.”
“There is, indeed,” she agreed. “And your future will show you many more, proud ranger. But now the night is half gone and you must rest. Fear not, for you are watched this night. Farewell, Drizzt Do’Urden, and may the road before you be swift and clear.”
With a wave of her hand, she faded into the starlight, leaving Drizzt to wonder if he had dreamed the whole encounter. But then her final words drifted down to him on the gentle breeze. “Farewell, and keep heart, Drizzt Do’Urden. Your honor and courage do not go unnoticed!”
Drizzt stood silently for a long while. He bent low and picked a wildflower from the riverbank, rolling it over between his fingers and wondering if he and the Lady of Silverymoon might indeed meet again on more accommodating terms. And where such a meeting might lead.
Then he tossed the flower into the Rauvin.
“Let events take their own course,” he said resolutely, looking back to the camp and his closest friends. “I need no fantasies to belittle the great treasures that I already possess.” He took a deep breath to blow away the remnants of his self-pity.
And with his faith restored, the stoic ranger went to sleep.