The Crystal Shard 5. Someday

The Crystal Shard 5. Someday

Bruenor walked up the rocky slope with measured steps, his boots finding the same footholds he always used when he ascended to the high point of the southern end of the dwarven valley. To the people of Ten-Towns, who often saw the dwarf standing meditatively on the perch, this high column of stones in the rocky ridge that lined the valley had come to be known as Bruenor’s Climb. Just below the dwarf, to the west, were the lights of Termalaine, and beyond them the dark waters of Maer Dualdon, spotted occasionally by the running lights of a fishing boat whose resolute crew stubbornly refused to come ashore until they had landed a knucklehead.

The dwarf was well above the tundra floor and the lowest of the countless stars that sparkled the night. The celestial dome seemed polished by the chill breeze that had blown since sunset, and Bruenor felt as though he had escaped the bonds of earth.

In this place he found his dreams, and ever they took him back to his ancient home. Mithril Hall, home of his fathers and their’s before them, where rivers of the shining metal ran rich and deep and the hammers of dwarven smiths rang out in praise to Moradin and Dumathoin. Bruenor was merely an unbearded boy when his people had delved too deep into the bowels of the world and had been driven out by the dark things in dark holes. He was now the eldest surviving member of his small clan and the only one among them who had witnessed the treasures of Mithril Hall.

They had made their home in the rocky valley between the two northernmost of the three lakes long before any humans, other than the barbarians, had come to Icewind Dale. They were a poor remnant of what had once been a thriving dwarven society, a band of refugees beaten and broken by the loss of their homeland and heritage. They continued to dwindle in numbers, their elders dying as much of sadness as old age. Though the mining under the fields of the region was good, the dwarves seemed destined to fade away into oblivion.

When Ten-Towns had sprung up, though, the luck of the dwarves rose considerably. Their valley was just north of Bryn Shander, as close to the principle city as any of the fishing villages, and the humans, often warring with each other and fighting off invaders, were happy to trade for the marvelous armor and weapons that the dwarves forged.

But even with the betterment of their lives, Bruenor, particularly, longed to recover the ancient glory of his ancestors. He viewed the arrival of Ten-Towns as a temporary stay from a problem that would not be resolved until Mithril Hall had been recovered and restored.

“A cold night for so high a perch, good friend,” came a call from behind.

The dwarf turned around to face Drizzt Do’Urden, though he realized that the drow would be invisible against the black backdrop of Kelvin’s Cairn. From this vantage point, the mountain was the only silhouette that broke the featureless line of the northern horizon. It had been so named because it resembled a mound of purposely piled boulders; barbarian legend claimed that it truly served as a grave. Certainly the valley where the dwarves now made their home did not resemble any natural landmark. In every direction the tundra rolled on, flat and earthen. But the valley had only sparse patches of dirt sprinkled in among broken boulders and walls of solid stone. It, and the mountain on its northern border, were the only features in all of Icewind Dale with any mentionable quantities of rock, as if they had been misplaced by some god in the earliest days of creation.

Drizzt noted the glazed look of his friend’s eyes. “You seek the sights that only your memory can see,” he said, well aware of the dwarf’s obsession with his ancient homeland.

“A sight I’ll see again!” Bruenor insisted. “We’ll get there, elf.”

“We do not even know the way.”

“Roads can be found,” said Bruenor. “But not until ye look for them.”

“Someday, my friend,” Drizzt humored. In the few years that he and Bruenor had been friends, the dwarf had constantly badgered Drizzt about accompanying him on his adventure to find Mithril Hall. Drizzt thought the idea foolish, for no one that he had ever spoken with had even a clue as to the location of the ancient dwarven home, and Bruenor could only remember disjointed images of the silvery halls. Still, the drow was sensitive to his friend’s deepest desire, and he always answered Bruenor’s pleas with the promise of “someday.”

“We have more urgent business at the moment,” Drizzt reminded Bruenor. Earlier that day, in a meeting in the dwarven halls, the drow had detailed his findings to the dwarves.

“Yer sure they’ll be comin’ then?” Bruenor asked now.

“Their charge will shake the stones of Kelvin’s Cairn,” Drizzt replied as he left the darkness of the mountain’s silhouette and joined his friend. “And if Ten-Towns does not stand united against them, the people are doomed.”

Bruenor settled into a crouch and turned his eyes to the south, toward the distant lights of Bryn Shander. “They’ll not, the stubborn fools,” he muttered.

“They might, if your people went to them.”

“No,” growled the dwarf. “We’ll fight beside them if they choose to stand together, an’ pity then to the barbarians! Go to them, if ye wish, an’ good luck to ye, but nothing o’ the dwarves. Let us see what grit an’ guts the fisherfolk can muster.”

Drizzt smiled at the irony of Bruenor’s refusal. Both of them knew well that the drow was not trusted, not even openly welcomed, in any of the towns other than Lonelywood, where their friend Regis was spokesman. Bruenor marked the drow’s look, and it pained him as it pained Drizzt, though the elf stoically pretended otherwise.

“They owe ye more than they’ll ever know,” Bruenor stated flatly, turning a sympathetic eye on his friend.

“They owe me nothing.”

Bruenor shook his head. “Why do ye care?” he growled. “Ever yer watchin’ over the folk that show ye no good will. What do ye owe to them?”

Drizzt shrugged, hard-pressed to find an answer. Bruenor was right. When the drow had first come to this land, the only one who had shown him any friendship at all was Regis. He often escorted and protected the halfling through the dangerous first legs of the journey from Lonelywood, around the open tundra north of Maer Dualdon and down toward Bryn Shander, when Regis went to the principle city for business or council meetings. They had actually met on one such trek: Regis tried to flee from Drizzt because he’d heard terrible rumors about him. Luckily for both of them, Regis was a halfling who was usually able to keep an open mind about people and make his own judgements concerning their character. It wasn’t long before the two were fast friends.

But to this day, Regis and the dwarves were the only ones in the area who considered the drow a friend. “I do not know why I care,” Drizzt answered honestly. His eyes turned back to his ancient homeland, where loyalty was merely a device to gain an advantage over a common foe. “Perhaps I care because I strive to be different from my people,” he said, as much to himself as to Bruenor. “Perhaps I care because I am different from my people. I may be more akin to the races of the surface…that is my hope at least. I care because I have to care about something. You are not so different, Bruenor Battlehammer. We care lest our own lives be empty.”

Bruenor cocked a curious eye.

“You can deny your feelings for the people of Ten-Towns to me, but not to yourself.”

“Bah!” Bruenor snorted. “Sure that I care for them! My folk need the trade!”

“Stubborn,” Drizzt mumbled, smiling knowingly. “And Catti-brie?” he pressed. “What of the human girl who was orphaned in the raid those years ago on Termalaine? The waif that you took in and raised as your own child.” Bruenor was glad that the cover of night offered some protection from his revealing blush. “She lives with you still, though even you would have to admit that she is able to go back to her own kind. Might it be, perhaps, that you care for her, gruff dwarf?”

“Aw, shut yer mouth,” Bruenor grumbled. “She’s a servin’ wench and makes my life a bit easier, but don’t ye go gettin’ sappy about her!”

“Stubborn,” Drizzt reiterated more loudly this time. He had one more card to play in this discussion. “What of myself, then? Dwarves are not overly fond of the light elves, let alone the drow. How do you justify the friendship you have shown me? I have nothing to offer you in return but my own friendship. Why do you care?”

“Ye bring me news when…” Bruenor stopped short, aware that Drizzt had cornered him.

But the drow didn’t press the issue any further.

So the friends watched in silence as the lights of Bryn Shander went down, one by one. Despite his outward callousness, Bruenor realized how true some of the drow’s accusations had rung; he had come to care for the people who had settled on the banks of the three lakes.

“What do ye mean to do then?” the dwarf asked at length.

“I mean to warn them,” Drizzt replied. “You underestimate your neighbors, Bruenor. They’re made of tougher stuff than you believe.”

“Agreed,” said the dwarf, “but my questions are of their character. Every day we see fightin’ on the lakes, an’ always over the damned fish. The people cling to their own towns an’ goblins take the others, for all they care! Now they’ve to show me an’ mine that they’ve the will to fight together!”

Drizzt had to admit the truth of Bruenor’s observations. The fishermen had grown more competitive over the last couple of years as the knucklehead trout took to the deeper waters of the lakes and became harder to catch. Cooperation among the towns was at a low point as each town tried to gain an economic advantage over the rival towns on its lake.

“There is a council in Bryn Shander in two days,” Drizzt continued. “I believe that we still have some time before the barbarians come. Though I fear for any delays, I do not believe that we would be able to bring the spokesmen together any sooner. It will take me that long to properly instruct Regis on the course of action that he must take with his peers, for he must carry the tidings of the coming invasion.”

“Rumblebelly?” snorted Bruenor, using the name he had tagged on Regis for the halfling’s insatiable appetite. “He sits on the council for no better reason than t’ keep his stomach well-stocked! They’ll hear ‘im less than they’d hear yerself, elf.”

“You underestimate the halfling, moreso even than you underestimate the people of Ten-Towns,” answered Drizzt. “Remember always that he carries the stone.”

“Bah! A fine-cut gem, but no more!” Bruenor insisted. “I’ve seen it meself, an’ it holds no spell on me.”

“The magic is too subtle for the eyes of a dwarf, and perhaps not strong enough to penetrate your thick skull,” laughed Drizzt. “But it is there – I see it clearly and know the legend of such a stone. Regis may be able to influence the council more than you would believe – and certainly more than I could. Let us hope so, for you know as well as I that some of the spokesmen might be reluctant to pursue any plan of unity, whether in their arrogant independence, or in their belief that a barbarian raid upon some of their less protected rivals might actually help their own selfish ambitions. Bryn Shander remains the key, but the principle city will only be spurred to action if the major fishing towns, Targos in particular, join in.”

“Ye know that Easthaven’ll help,” said Bruenor. “They’re ever ones for bringing all o’ the towns together.”

“And Lonelywood, too, with Regis speaking for them. But Kemp of Targos surely believes that his walled city is powerful enough to stand alone, whereas its rival, Termalaine, would be hardpressed to hold back the horde.”

“He’s not likely to join anythin’ that includes Termalaine. An’ yer in for more trouble then, drow, for without Kemp ye’ll never get Konig and Dineval to shut up!”

“But that is where Regis comes in,” Drizzt explained. “The ruby he possesses can do wondrous things, I assure you.”

“Again ye speak of the power o’ the stone,” grumbled Bruenor. “But Rumblebelly claims that his master o’ old had twelve o’ the things,” he reasoned. “Mighty magics don’t come in dozens!”

“Regis said that his master had twelve similar stones,” Drizzt corrected. “In truth, the halfling had no way of knowing if all twelve, or any of the others, were magical.”

“Then why would the man have given the only one o’ power to Rumblebelly?”

Drizzt left the question unanswered, but his silence soon led Bruenor to the same inescapable conclusion. Regis had a way of collecting things that didn’t belong to him, and though the halfling had explained the stone as a gift…