The Crystal Shard 14. Lavender Eyes

The Crystal Shard 14. Lavender Eyes

Bruenor had regained his dour visage by the time he called on Wulfgar the following morning. Still, it touched the dwarf deeply, though he was able to hide the fact, to see Aegis-fang casually slung over the young barbarian’s shoulder as if it had always been there – and always belonged there.

Wulfgar, too, was wearing a sullen mask. He passed it off as anger at being put into the service of another, but if he had examined his emotions more closely, he would have recognized that he was truly saddened about separating from the dwarf.

Catti-brie was waiting for them at the junction of the final passage that led to the open air.

“Sure that you’re a sour pair this fine morning!” she said as they approached. “But not to mind, the sun will put a smile on your faces.”

“You seemed pleased at this parting,” Wulfgar answered, a bit perturbed though the sparkle in his eyes at the sight of the girl belied his anger. “You know, of course, that I am to leave the dwarven town this day?”

Catti-brie waved her hand nonchalantly. “You will be back soon enough,” She smiled. “And be happy for your going! Consider the lessons you will soon learn needed if you’re ever to reach your goals.”

Bruenor turned toward the barbarian. Wulfgar had never spoken with him about what lay ahead after the term of indenture, and the dwarf, though he meant to prepare Wulfgar as well as he could, hadn’t honestly come to terms with Wulfgar’s resolve to leave.

Wulfgar scowled at the girl, showing her beyond doubt that their discussion of the unfulfilled vow was a private matter. Of her own discretion, Catti-brie hadn’t intended to discuss the issue any further anyway. She simply enjoyed teasing some emotion out of Wulfgar. Catti-brie recognized the fire that burned in the proud young man. She saw it whenever he looked upon Bruenor, his mentor whether he would admit it or not. And she marked it whenever Wulfgar looked at her.

“I am Wulfgar, son of Beornegar,” he boasted proudly, throwing back his broad shoulders and straightening his firm jaw. “I have grown among the Tribe of the Elk, the finest warriors in all of Icewind Dale! I know nothing of this tutor, but he will be hard-pressed indeed to teach me anything of the ways of battle!”

Catti-brie exchanged a knowing smile with Bruenor as the dwarf and Wulfgar passed her. “Farewell, Wulfgar, son of Beornegar,” she called after them. “When next we meet, I’ll mark well your lessons of humility!”

Wulfgar looked back and scowled again, but Catti-brie’s wide smile diminished not at all.

The two left the darkness of the mines shortly after dawn, traveling down through the rocky valley to the appointed spot where they were to meet the drow. It was a cloudless, warm summer day, the blue of the sky paled by the morning haze. Wulfgar stretched high into the air, reaching to the limits of his long muscles. His people were meant to live in the wide expanses of the open tundra, and he was relieved to be out of the stifling closeness of the dwarven-made caverns.

Drizzt Do’Urden was at the spot waiting for them when they arrived. The drow leaned against the shadowed side of a boulder, seeking relief from the glare of the sun. The hood of his cloak was pulled low in front of his face as further protection. Drizzt considered it the curse of his heritage that no matter how many years he remained among the surface dwellers his body would never fully adapt to the sunlight.

He held himself motionless, though he was fully aware of the approach of Bruenor and Wulfgar. Let them make the first moves, he thought, wanting to judge now the boy would react to the new situation.

Curious about the mysterious figure who was to be his new teacher and master, Wulfgar boldly walked over and stood directly in front of the drow. Drizzt watched him approach from under the shadows of his cowl, amazed at the graceful interplay of the huge man’s corded muscles. The drow had originally planned to humor Bruenor in his outrageous request for a short while, then make some excuse and be on his way. But as he noted the smooth flow and spring of the barbarian’s long strides, an ease unusual in someone his size, Drizzt found himself growing interested in the challenge of developing the young man’s seemingly limitless potential.

Drizzt realized that the most painful part of meeting this man, as it was with everyone he met, would be Wulfgar’s initial reaction to him. Anxious to get it over with, he pulled back his hood and squarely faced the barbarian.

Wulfgar’s eyes widened in horror and disgust. “A dark elf!” he cried incredulously. “Sorcerous dog!” He turned on Bruenor as though he had been betrayed. “Surely you can not ask this of me! I have no need nor desire to learn the magical deceits of his decrepit race!”

“He’ll teach ye to fight – no more,” Bruenor said. The dwarf had expected this. He wasn’t worried in the least, fully aware, as was Catti-brie, that Drizzt would teach the overly proud young man some needed humility.

Wulfgar snorted defiantly. “What can I learn of fighting from a weakling elf? My people are bred as true warriors!” He eyed Drizzt with open contempt. “Not trickster dogs like his kind!”

Drizzt calmly looked to Bruenor for permission to begin the day’s lesson. The dwarf smirked at the barbarian’s ignorance and nodded his consent.

In an eyeblink, the two scimitars leaped from their sheaths and challenged the barbarian. Instinctively, Wulfgar raised his warhammer to strike.

But Drizzt was the quicker. The flat sides of his weapons slapped in rapid succession against Wulfgar’s cheeks, drawing thin streaks of blood. Even as the barbarian moved to counter, Drizzt spun one of the deadly blades in a declining arc, its razor edge diving at the back of Wulfgar’s knee. Wulfgar managed to slip his leg out of the way, but the action, as Drizzt had anticipated, put him off-balance. The drow casually slipped the scimitars back into their leather scabbards as his foot slammed into the barbarian’s stomach, sending him sprawling into the dust, the magical hammer flying from his hands.

“Now that ye understand each other,” declared Bruenor, trying to hide his amusement for the sake of Wulfgar’s fragile ego, “I’ll be leavin’ ye.” He looked questioningly at Drizzt to make sure that the drow was comfortable with the situation.

“Give me a few weeks,” Drizzt answered with a wink, returning the dwarf’s smile.

Bruenor turned back to Wulfgar, who had retrieved Aegis-fang and was resting on one knee, eyeing the elf with blank amazement. “Heed his words, boy,” the dwarf instructed one last time. “Or he’ll cut ye into pieces small enough for a vulture’s gullet!”

* * *

For the first time in nearly five years, Wulfgar looked out beyond the borders of Ten-Towns to the open stretch of Icewind Dale that spread wide before him. He and the drow had spent the remainder of their first day together hiking down the length of the valley and around the eastern spurs of Kelvin’s Cairn. Here, just above the base of the northern side of the mountain, was the shallow cave where Drizzt made his home.

Sparsely furnished with a few skins and some cooking pots, the cave had no luxuries to speak of. But it served the unpretentious drow ranger well, allowing him the privacy and seclusion that he preferred above the taunts and threats of the humans. To Wulfgar, whose people rarely stayed in any place longer than a single night, the cave itself seemed a luxury.

As dusk began to settle over the tundra, Drizzt, in the comfortable shadows deeper in the cave, stirred from his short nap. Wulfgar was pleased that the drow had trusted him enough to sleep easily, so obviously vulnerable, on their first day together. This, coupled with the beating Drizzt had given him earlier, had caused Wulfgar to question his initial outrage at the sight of a dark elf.

“Do we begin our sessions this night, then?” Drizzt asked.

“You are the master,” Wulfgar said bitterly. “I am only the slave.”

“No more a slave than I,” replied Drizzt. Wulfgar turned to him curiously.

“We are both indebted to the dwarf,” Drizzt explained. “I owe him my life many times over and thus have agreed to teach you my skill in battle. You follow an oath that you made to him in exchange for your life. Thus you are obliged to learn what I have to teach. I am no man’s master, nor would I ever want to be.”

Wulfgar turned back to the tundra. He didn’t fully trust Drizzt yet, though he couldn’t figure out what ulterior motives the drow could possibly be pursuing with the friendly facade.

“We fulfill our debts to Bruenor together,” said Drizzt. He empathized with the emotions Wulfgar was feeling as the young man gazed out over the plains of his homeland for the first time in years. “Enjoy this night, barbarian. Go about as you please and remember again the feel of the wind on your face. We shall begin at the fall of tomorrow’s night.” He left then to allow Wulfgar the privacy he desired.

Wulfgar could not deny that he appreciated the respect the drow had shown him.

* * *

During the daytime, Drizzt rested in the cool shadows of the cave while Wulfgar acclimated himself to the new area and hunted for their supper.

By night, they fought.

Drizzt pressed the young barbarian relentlessly, slapping him with the flat of a scimitar every time he opened a gap in his defenses. The exchanges often escalated dangerously, for Wulfgar was a proud warrior and grew enraged and frustrated at the drow’s superiority. This only put the barbarian at a further disadvantage, for in his rage all semblance of discipline flew from him. Drizzt was ever quick to point this out with a series of slaps and twists that ultimately left Wulfgar sprawled on the ground.

To his credit, though, Drizzt never taunted the barbarian or tried to humiliate him. The drow went about his task methodically, understanding that the first order of business was to sharpen the barbarian’s reflexes and teach him some concern for defense.

Drizzt was truly impressed with Wulfgar’s raw ability. The incredible potential of the young warrior staggered him. At first he feared that Wulfgar’s stubborn pride and bitterness would render him untrainable, but the barbarian had risen to the challenge. Recognizing the benefits he could reap from one as adept with weapons as Drizzt, Wulfgar listened attentively. His pride, instead of limiting him into believing that he was already a mighty warrior and needed no further instruction, pushed him to grab at every advantage he could find that would help him to achieve his ambitious goals. By the end of the first week, during those times he could control his volatile temper, he was already able to deflect many of Drizzt’s cunning attacks.

Drizzt said little during that first week, though he would occasionally compliment the barbarian about a good parry or counter, or more generally on the improvement Wulfgar was showing in such a short time. Wulfgar found himself eagerly anticipating the drow’s remarks whenever he executed an especially difficult maneuver, and dreading the inevitable slap whenever he foolishly left himself vulnerable.

The young barbarian’s respect for Drizzt continued to grow. Something about the drow, living without complaint in stoic solitude, touched Wulfgar’s sense of honor. He couldn’t yet guess why Drizzt had chosen such an existence, but he was certain from what he had already seen of the drow that it had something to do with principles.

By the middle of the second week, Wulfgar was in complete control of Aegis-fang, twisting its handle and head deftly to block against the two whirring scimitars, and responding with cautiously measured thrusts of his own.

Drizzt could see the subtle change taking place as the barbarian stopped reacting after the fact to the scimitars’ deft cuts and thrusts and began recognizing his own vulnerable areas and anticipating the next attack.

When he became convinced that Wulfgar’s defenses were sufficiently strengthened, Drizzt began the lessons of attack. The drow knew that his style of offense would not be the most effective mode for Wulfgar. The barbarian could use his unrivaled strength more effectively than deceptive feints and twists. Wulfgar’s people were naturally aggressive fighters, and striking came more easily to them than parrying. The mighty barbarian could fell a giant with a single, well-placed blow.

All that he had left to learn was patience.

* * *

Early one dark, moonless night, as he prepared himself for the evening’s lesson, Wulfgar noticed the flare of a campfire far out on the plain. He watched, mesmerized, as several others sprang suddenly into sight, wondering if it might even be the fires of his own tribe.

Drizzt silently approached, unnoticed by the engrossed barbarian. The drow’s keen eyes had noted the stirrings of the distant camp long before the firelight had grown strong enough for Wulfgar to see. “Your people have survived,” he said to comfort the young man.

Wulfgar started at the sudden appearance of his teacher. “You know of them?” he asked.

Drizzt moved beside him and stared out over the tundra. “Their losses were great at the Battle of Bryn Shander,” he said. “And the winter that followed bit hard at the many women and children who had no men to hunt for them. They fled west to find the reindeer, banding together with other tribes for strength. The peoples still hold to the names of the original tribes, but in truth there are only two remaining: the Tribe of the Elk and the Tribe of the Bear.

“You were of the Tribe of the Elk, I believe,” Drizzt continued, drawing a nod from Wulfgar. “Your people have done well. They dominate the plain now, and though more years will have to pass before the people of the tundra regain the strength they held before the battle, the younger warriors are already coming into manhood.”

Relief flooded through Wulfgar. He had feared that the Battle of Bryn Shander had decimated his people to a point from which they could never recover. The tundra was doubly harsh in the frozen winter, and Wulfgar often considered the possibility that the sudden loss of so many warriors – some of the tribes had lost every one of their menfolk – would doom the remaining people to slow death.

“You know much about my people,” Wulfgar remarked.

“I have spent many days watching them,” Drizzt explained, wondering what line of thought the barbarian was drawing, “learning their ways and tricks for prospering in such an unwelcoming land.”

Wulfgar chuckled softly and shook his head, further impressed by the sincere reverence the drow showed whenever he spoke of the natives of Icewind Dale. He had known the drow less than two weeks, but already he understood the character of Drizzt Do’Urden well enough to know that his next observation about the drow was true to the mark.

“I’ll wager you even felled deer silently in the darkness, to be found in the morning light by people too hungry to question their good fortune.”

Drizzt neither answered the remark nor changed the set of his gaze, but Wulfgar was confident in his guess.

“Do you know of Heafstaag?” the barbarian asked after a few moments of silence. “He was king of my tribe, a man of many scars and great renown.”

Drizzt remembered the one-eyed barbarian well. The mere mention of his name sent a dull ache into the drow’s shoulder, where he had been wounded by the huge man’s heavy axe. “He lives,” Drizzt replied, somewhat shielding his contempt. “Heafstaag speaks for the whole of the north now. None of true enough blood remain to oppose him in combat or speak out against him to hold him in check.”

“He is a mighty king,” Wulfgar said, oblivious to the venom in the drow’s voice.

“He is a savage fighter,” Drizzt corrected. His lavender eyes bore into Wulfgar, catching the barbarian completely by surprise with their sudden flash of anger. Wulfgar saw the incredible character in those violet pools, an inner strength within the drow whose pure quality would make the most noble of kings envious.

“You have grown into a man in the shadow of a dwarf of indisputable character,” Drizzt scolded. “Have you gained nothing for the experience?”

Wulfgar was dumbfounded and couldn’t find the words to reply.

Drizzt decided that the time had come for him to lay bare the barbarian’s principles and judge the wisdom and worth of teaching the young man. “A king is a man strong of character and conviction who leads by example and truly cares for the sufferings of his people,” he lectured. “Not a brute who rules simply because he is the strongest. I should think you would have learned to understand the distinction.”

Drizzt noted the embarrassment on Wulfgar’s face and knew that the years in the dwarven caves had shaken the very ground that the barbarian had grown on. He hoped that Bruenor’s belief in Wulfgar’s sense of conscience and principle proved true, for he, too, like Bruenor years before, had come to recognize the promise of the intelligent young man and found that he cared about Wulfgar’s future. He turned suddenly and started away, leaving the barbarian to find the answers to his own questions.

“The lesson?” Wulfgar called after him, still confused and surprised.

“You have had your lesson for this night,” Drizzt replied without turning or slowing. “Perhaps it was the most important that I will ever teach.” The drow faded into the blackness of the night, though the distinct image of lavender eyes remained clearly imprinted in Wulfgar’s thoughts.

The barbarian turned back to the distant campfire.

And wondered.