The Crystal Shard 12. The Gift

The Crystal Shard 12. The Gift

Wulfgar sat high up on the northern face of Bruenor’s Climb, his eyes trained on the expanse of the rocky valley below, intently seeking any movement that might indicate the dwarf’s return. The barbarian came to this spot often to be alone with his thoughts and the mourn of the wind. Directly before him, across the dwarven vale, were Kelvin’s Cairn and the northern section of Lac Dinneshere. Between them lay the flat stretch of ground known as Icewind Pass that led to the northeast and the open plain.

And, for the barbarian, the pass that led to his homeland.

Bruenor had explained that he would be gone for a few days, and at first Wulfgar was happy for the relief from the dwarf’s constant grumbling and criticism. But he found his relief short-lived.

“Worried for him, are you?” came a voice behind him. He didn’t have to turn to know that it was Catti-brie.

He left the question unanswered, figuring that she had asked it rhetorically anyway and would not believe him if he denied it.

“He’ll be back,” Catti-brie said with a shrug in her voice. “Bruenor’s as hard as mountain stone, and there is nothing on the tundra that can stop him.”

Now the young barbarian did turn to consider the girl. Long ago, when a comfortable level of trust had been reached between Bruenor and Wulfgar, the dwarf had introduced the young barbarian to his “daughter,” a human girl the barbarian’s own age.

She was an outwardly calm girl, but packed with an inner fire and spirit that Wulfgar had been unaccustomed to in a woman. Barbarian girls were raised to keep their thoughts and opinions, unimportant by the standards of men, to themselves. Like her mentor, Catti-brie said exactly what was on her mind and left little doubt as to how she felt about a situation. The verbal sparring between her and Wulfgar was nearly constant and often heated, but still, Wulfgar was glad to have a companion his own age, someone who didn’t look down at him from a pedestal of experience.

Catti-brie had helped him through the difficult first year of his indenture, treating him with respect (although she rarely agreed with him) when he had none for himself. Wulfgar even had the feeling that she had something indirectly to do with Bruenor’s decision to take Wulfgar under his tutorship.

She was his own age, but in many ways Catti-brie seemed much older, with a solid inner sense of reality that kept her temperament on an even level. In other ways, however, such as the skipping spring in her step, Catti-brie would forever be a child. This unusual balance of spirit and calm, of serenity and unbridled joy, intrigued Wulfgar and kept him off-balance whenever he spoke with the girl.

Of course, there were other emotions that put Wulfgar at a disadvantage when he was with Catti-brie. Undeniably, she was beautiful, with thick waves of rich, auburn hair rolling down over her shoulders and the darkest blue, penetrating eyes that would make any suitor blush under their knowing scrutiny. Still, there was something beyond any physical attraction that interested Wulfgar. Catti-brie was beyond his experience, a young woman who did not fit the role as it had been defined to him on the tundra. He wasn’t sure if he liked this independence or not. But he found himself unable to deny the attraction that he felt for her.

“You come up here often, do you not?” Catti-brie asked. “What is it you look for?”

Wulfgar shrugged, not fully knowing the answer himself.

“Your home?”

“That, and other things that a woman would not understand.”

Catti-brie smiled away the unintentional insult. “Tell me, then,” she pressed, hints of sarcasm edging her tone. “Maybe my ignorance will bring a new perspective to these problems.” She hopped down the rock to circle the barbarian and take a seat on the ledge beside him.

Wulfgar marveled at her graceful movements. Like the polarity of her curious emotional blend, Catti-brie also proved an enigma physically. She was tall and slender, delicate by all appearances, but growing into womanhood in the caverns of the dwarves, she was accustomed to hard and heavy work.

“Of adventures and an unfulfilled vow,” Wulfgar said mysteriously, perhaps to impress the young girl, but moreso to reinforce his own opinion about what a woman should and should not care about.

“A vow you mean to fulfill,” Catti-brie reasoned, “as soon as you’re given the chance.”

Wulfgar nodded solemnly. “It is my heritage, a burden passed on to me when my father was killed. The day will come…” He let his voice trail away, and he looked back longingly to the emptiness of the open tundra beyond Kelvin’s Cairn.

Catti-brie shook her head, the auburn locks bouncing across her shoulders. She saw beyond Wulfgar’s mysterious facade enough to understand that he meant to undertake a very dangerous, probably suicidal, mission in the name of honor. “What drives you, I cannot tell. Luck to you on your adventure, but if you’re taking it for no better reason than you have named, you’re wasting your life.”

“What could a woman know of honor?” Wulfgar shot back angrily.

But Catti-brie was not intimidated and did not back down. “What indeed?” she echoed. “Do you think that you hold it all in your oversized hands for no better reason than what you hold in your pants?”

Wulfgar blushed a deep red and turned away, unable to come to terms with such nerve in a woman.

“Besides,” Catti-brie continued, “you can say what you want about why you have come up here this day. I know that you’re worried about Bruenor, and I’ll hear no denying.”

“You know only what you desire to know!”

“You are a lot like him,” Catti-brie said abruptly, shifting the subject and disregarding Wulfgar’s comments. “More akin to the dwarf than you’d ever admit!” She laughed. “Both stubborn, both proud, and neither about to admit an honest feeling for the other. Have it your own way, then, Wulfgar of Icewind Dale. To me you can lie, but to yourself…there’s a different tale!” She hopped from her perch and skipped down the rocks toward the dwarven caverns.

Wulfgar watched her go, admiring the sway of her slender hips and the graceful dance of her step, despite the anger that he felt. He didn’t stop to think of why he was so mad at Catti-brie.

He knew that if he did, he would find, as usual, that he was angry because her observations hit the mark.

* * *

Drizzt Do’Urden kept a stoic vigil over his unconscious friend for two long days. Worried as he was about Bruenor and curious about the wondrous warhammer, the drow remained a respectful distance from the secret forge.

Finally, as morning dawned on the third day, Bruenor stirred and stretched. Drizzt silently padded away, moving down the path he knew the dwarf would take. Finding an appropriate clearing, he hastily set up a small campsite.

The sunlight came to Bruenor as only a blur at first, and it took him several minutes to reorient himself to his surroundings. Then his returning vision focused on the shining glory of the warhammer.

Quickly, he glanced around him, looking for signs of the fallen dust. He found none, and his anticipation heightened. He was trembling once again as he lifted the magnificent weapon, turning it over in his hands, feeling its perfect balance and incredible strength. Bruenor’s breath flew away when he saw the symbols of the three gods on the mithril, diamond dust magically fused into their deeply etched lines. Entranced by the apparent perfection of his work, Bruenor understood the emptiness his father had spoken of. He knew that he would never duplicate this level of his craft, and he wondered if, knowing this, he would ever be able to lift his smithy hammer again.

Trying to sort through his mixed emotions, the dwarf put the silver mallet and chisel back into their golden coffer and replaced the scroll in its tube, though the parchment was blank again and the magical runes would never reappear. He realized that he hadn’t eaten in several days, and his strength hadn’t fully recovered from the drain of the magic. He collected as many things as he could carry, hoisted the huge warhammer over his shoulder, and trudged off toward his home.

The sweet scent of roasting coney greeted him as he came upon Drizzt Do’Urden’s camp.

“So, yer back from yer travels,” he called in greeting to his friend.

Drizzt locked his eyes onto the dwarf’s, not wanting to give away his overwhelming curiosity for the warhammer. “At your request, good dwarf,” he said, bowing low. “Surely you had enough people looking for me to expect that I’d return.”

Bruenor conceded the point, though for the present he only offered absently, “I needed ye,” as an explanation. A more pressing need had come over him at the sight of the cooking meat.

Drizzt smiled knowingly. He had already eaten and had caught and cooked this coney especially for Bruenor. “Join me?” he asked.

Before he had even finished the offer, Bruenor was eagerly reaching for the rabbit. He stopped suddenly, though, and turned a suspicious eye upon the drow.

“How long have ye been in?” the dwarf asked nervously.

“Just arrived this morning,” Drizzt lied, respecting the privacy of the dwarf’s special ceremony. Bruenor smirked at the answer and tore into the coney as Drizzt set another on the spit.

The drow waited until Bruenor was engrossed with his meal, then quickly snatched up the warhammer. By the time Bruenor could react, Drizzt had already lifted the weapon.

“Too big for a dwarf,” Drizzt remarked casually. “And too heavy for my slender arms.” He looked at Bruenor, who stood with his forearms crossed and his foot stamping impatiently. “For who then?”

“Ye’ve a talent for puttin’ yer nose where it don’t belong, elf,” the dwarf answered gruffly.

Drizzt laughed in response. “The boy, Wulfgar?” he asked in mock disbelief. He knew well that the dwarf harbored strong feelings for the young barbarian, though he also realized that Bruenor would never openly admit it. “A fine weapon to be giving a barbarian. Did you craft it yourself?”

Despite his chiding, Drizzt was truly awe-stricken by Bruenor’s workmanship. Though the hammer was far too heavy for him to wield, he could clearly feel its incredible balance.

“Just an old hammer; that’s all,” Bruenor mumbled. “The boy lost ‘is club; I couldn’t well turn ‘im loose in this wild place without a weapon!”

“And its name?”

“Aegis-fang,” Bruenor replied without thinking, the name flowing from him before he even had time to consider it. He didn’t remember the incident, but the dwarf had determined the name of the weapon when he had enchanted it as part of the magical intonations of the ceremony.

“I understand,” Drizzt said, handing the hammer back to Bruenor. “An old hammer, but good enough for the boy. Mithril, adamantite, and diamond will simply have to do.”

“Aw, shut yer mouth,” snapped Bruenor, his face flushed red with embarrassment. Drizzt bowed low in apology.

“Why did you request my presence, friend?” the drow asked, changing the subject.

Bruenor cleared his throat. “The boy,” he grumbled softly. Drizzt saw the uncomfortable lump well in Bruenor’s throat and buried his next taunt before he spoke it.

“He comes free afore winter,” continued Bruenor, “an’ he’s not rightly trained. Stronger than any man I’ve ever seen and moves with the grace of a fleeing deer, but he’s green to the ways o’ battle.”

“You want me to train him?” Drizzt asked incredulously.

“Well, I can’t do it!” Bruenor snapped suddenly. “He’s seven foot and wouldn’t be takin’ well to the low cuts of a dwarf!”

The drow eyed his frustrated companion curiously. Like everyone else who was close to Bruenor, he knew that a bond had grown between the dwarf and the young barbarian, but he hadn’t guessed just how deep it ran.

“I didn’t take ‘im under me eye for five years just to let him get cut down by a stinkin’ tundra yeti!” Bruenor blurted, impatient with the drow’s hesitance, and nervous that his friend had guessed more than he should. “Will ye do it, then?”

Drizzt smiled again, but there was no teasing in it this time. He remembered his own battle with tundra yetis nearly five years before. Bruenor had saved his life that day, and it hadn’t been the first and wouldn’t be the last time that he had fallen into the dwarf’s debt. “The gods know that I owe you more than that, my friend. Of course I’ll train him.”

Bruenor grunted and grabbed the next coney.

* * *

The ring of Wulfgar’s pounding echoed through the dwarven halls. Angered by the revelations he had been forced to see in his discussion with Catti-brie, he had returned to his work with fervor.

“Stop yer hammerin’, boy,” came a gruff voice behind him.

Wulfgar spun on his heel. He had been so engrossed in his work that he hadn’t heard Bruenor enter. An involuntary smile of relief widened across his face. But he caught the show of weakness quickly and repainted a stern mask.

Bruenor regarded the young barbarian’s great height and girth and the scraggly beginnings of a blond beard upon the golden skin of his face. “I can’t rightly be callin’ ye ‘boy’ anymore,” the dwarf conceded.

“You have the right to call me whatever you wish,” retorted Wulfgar. “I am your slave.”

“Ye’ve a spirit as wild as the tundra,” Bruenor said, smiling. “Ye’ve ne’er been, nor will ye ever be, a slave to any dwarf or man!”

Wulfgar was caught off guard by the dwarf’s uncharacteristic compliment. He tried to reply but could find no words.

“Never have I seen ye as a slave, boy,” Bruenor continued. “Ye served me to pay for the crimes of yer people, and I taught ye much in return. Now put yer hammer away.” He paused for a moment to consider Wulfgar’s fine workmanship.

“Yer a good smith, with a good feel for the stone, but ye don’t belong in a dwarf’s cave. It’s time ye felt the sun on yer face again.”

“Freedom?” Wulfgar whispered.

“Get the notion outa yer head!” Bruenor snapped. He pointed a stubby finger at the barbarian and growled threateningly. “Yer mine ’til the last days of fall, don’t ye forget that!”

Wulfgar had to bite his lip to stem a laugh. As always, the dwarf’s awkward combination of compassion and borderline rage had confused him and kept him off balance. It no longer came as a shock, though. Four years at Bruenor’s side had taught him to expect – and disregard – the sudden outbursts of gruffness.

“Finish up whatever ye got here to do,” Bruenor instructed. “I take ye out to meet yer teacher tomorrow morning, and, by yer vow, ye’ll heed to him as ye would to me!”

Wulfgar grimaced at the thought of servitude to yet another, but he had accepted his indenture to Bruenor unconditionally for a period of five years and a day, and he would not dishonor himself by going back on his oath. He nodded his consent.

“I won’t be seein’ much more o’ ye,” Bruenor continued, “so I’ll have yer oath now that ye’ll never again raise a weapon against the people o’ Ten-Towns.”

Wulfgar set himself firmly. “That you may not have,” he replied boldly. “When I have fulfilled the terms you set before me, I shall leave here a man of free will!”

“Fair enough,” Bruenor conceded. Wulfgar’s stubborn pride actually enhancing the dwarf’s respect for him. He paused for a moment to look over the proud young warrior and found himself pleased at his own part in Wulfgar’s growth.

“Ye broke that stinkin’ pole o’ yers on me head,” Bruenor began tentatively. He cleared his throat. This final order of business made the tough dwarf uncomfortable. He wasn’t quite sure of how he could get through it without appearing sentimental and foolish. “Winter’ll be fast upon ye after yer term to me is ended. I can’t rightly send ye out into the wild without a weapon.” He reached back into the hallway quickly and grabbed the warhammer.

“Aegis-fang,” he said gruffly as he tossed it to Wulfgar. “I’ll place no bonds on yer will, but I’ll have yer oath, for me own good conscience, that ye’ll never raise this weapon against the people o’ Ten-Towns!”

As soon as his hands closed around the adamantite handle, Wulfgar sensed the worth of the magical warhammer. The diamond-filled runes caught the glow of the forge and sent a myriad of reflections dancing about the room. The barbarians of Wulfgar’s tribe had always prided themselves on the fine weapons they kept, even measuring the worth of a man by the quality of his spear or sword, but Wulfgar had never seen anything to match the exquisite detail and sheer strength of Aegis-fang. It balanced so well in his huge hands and its height and weight fit him so perfectly that he felt as if he had been born to wield this weapon. He told himself at once that he would pray for many nights to the gods of fate for delivering this prize unto him. Certainly they deserved his thanks.

As did Bruenor.

“You have my word,” Wulfgar stammered, so overcome by the magnificent gift that he could hardly speak. He steadied himself so that he could say more, but by the time he was able to pull his gaze from the magnificent hammer, Bruenor was gone.

The dwarf stomped through the long corridors toward his private chambers, mumbling curses at his weakness, and hoping that none of his kin came upon him. With a cautious look around, he wiped the moisture from his gray eyes.