Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore

  And so by Lolth’s will and by Baenre’s power, House Do’Urden was cleared that day of vagabonds and secret militia.

  And so by Lolth’s will, in accordance with Lolth’s demand, House Do’Urden was ready to be reconstituted.

  Minolin Fey noted the agitation in Mez’Barris’s movements as the Matron swept into the room.

  “You have seen the events of this day?” she asked, moving right to the point.

  Minolin Fey nodded. “They have not been secret about it.”

  “Four Houses, striking together.”

  Minolin Fey shrugged as if it should not matter. “The Do’Urden compound is forbidden ground,” she said quietly and calmly.

  “I note that Fey-Branche was not invited to Matron Mother Quenthel’s little excursion,” Mez’Barris said slyly. “House Baenre pulls her allies in close in this time of upheaval, and yet, there you are, alone and with a hungry and ambitious House Melarn watching.”

  Minolin Fey forced herself not to wince. House Baenre had guaranteed its alliance to House Fey-Branche at the Festival of the Founding, but indeed, the events of this day had not reassured Minolin’s family.

  “Matron Mother Quenthel makes more of a statement by those she did not invite, it would seem,” said Mez’Barris, twisting the knife a bit.

  “As with your own?”

  Matron Mez’Barris laughed easily and took a seat on a chair of overstuffed pillows just across from Minolin Fey. “We refused her invitation,” Mez’Barris said. “They have more than enough force to expel a few Houseless rogues, and I have better things to do than follow Matron Mother Quenthel on her ridiculous excursions.”

  A few Houseless rogues, Minolin Fey thought, and didn’t hide her knowing smile. Not so Houseless, most, she knew well, and not a few of them were tied right back here, to House Barrison Del’Armgo. Which was why, of course, there was no possibility that Matron Mother Quenthel had invited Mez’Barris along on the assault, despite the matron’s claims to the contrary.

  Mez’Barris’s lie revealed her fears, and thus, her weakness, Minolin Fey silently reassured herself.

  “Do you think Matron Zhindia Melarn will attack House Fey-Branche while the Baenre soldiers are still in the field?” Matron Mez’Barris asked. “Or will she wait until Quen—Matron Mother Quenthel’s little play is ended?”

  Minolin Fey merely smiled—not because she was confident that Mez’Barris was wrong, but because even if House Fey-Branche was wholly razed, she knew herself to be above the fray. Indeed, by Matron Mother Quenthel’s private decree, one sanctified by the Avatar of Lolth herself, Minolin was of House Baenre now, the secret wife of Gromph, the expectant mother of the future Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan. But of course, Mez’Barris Armgo didn’t need to know any of that.

  “What are we to do about this?” Mez’Barris asked, rather sharply, shocking Minolin Fey from her contemplation.


  “Be not coy,” said Mez’Barris. “Matron Mother Quenthel has struck out against House Melarn this day …”

  “And against your own House,” Minolin Fey interjected.

  Matron Mez’Barris looked at her as if she wanted to lash out.

  “If we are being … not coy,” Minolin Fey said.

  The matron paused for a long while, staring at Minolin Fey hard. “Matron Mother Quenthel has gathered her power together, and is daring House Melarn to retaliate, but to the side. Indeed, she seems to be goading House Melarn to strike at House Fey-Branche, and were that to pass, and were I to support Matron Zhindia of House Melarn, Matron Mother Quenthel and her lackeys would not intervene.”

  “You have already said as much, in fewer words,” Minolin Fey dared to reply.

  “What are we to do about it?” Matron Mez’Barris asked slyly, leadingly. Minolin Fey looked at her blankly.

  “What are you going to do about it?” Mez’Barris clarified, and after a few more heartbeats of uncomfortable silence, she added, “We are allies, yes? Long have we planned for this inevitable day. Perhaps it is time now for us to seal that alliance, Barrison Del’Armgo with Fey-Branche. I can hold Matron Zhindia at bay—House Melarn would not attack Fey-Branche without my blessing. Not now. Not when Matron Mother Quenthel has gathered her allies so tightly about her.”

  “What am I to offer the balor?” Minolin Fey asked.

  “Errtu was banished by a son of House Baenre. Defeated on a cold field in the World Above. Surely he is not enamored of Tiago’s family. You offer him the chance to repay Matron Mother Quenthel.”

  “Errtu is patient. Perhaps he would prefer to exact his revenge on his own, in time.”

  “You have spoken with the balor?” Matron Mez’Barris asked bluntly.

  “Not recently, and not directly. I cannot summon him, of course, since he is banished from our plane of existence, and I do not often travel to the Abyss, particularly not to parlay with one as unpredictable and dangerous as Errtu. I do not wish to find myself as a cell mate to Matron K’yorl.”

  “We have discussed this,” an agitated Mez’Barris said.

  “The sword of Tiago Baenre has altered our … possibilities.”

  “We will go to Errtu together,” Mez’Barris offered. “We will bring the archmage as well. Yes, it is time for him to assert control.”

  “Gromph will not go against Matron Mother Quenthel. Not now.”

  “He knows of our plan—indeed, it was his plan to begin with!” Mez’Barris argued.

  It was true enough, Minolin Fey had to admit. The three of them, none favoring Matron Mother Quenthel, had indeed plotted Quenthel’s downfall. With Lady Lolth venturing into the realm of the arcane, the drow wizards, even though overwhelmingly male, sought to gain newer and higher stature, and of course, none stood to gain more than Gromph Baenre, the great Archmage of Menzoberranzan, the oldest and, by many estimations, the most powerful drow in the city. Perhaps Gromph would even be officially recognized as the Patron Father of House Baenre. Such things were unprecedented, but then, so were these curious and chaotic times.

  Mez’Barris Armgo certainly would support the ascent of Gromph, mostly because her House would, in that circumstance, almost surely be elevated above House Baenre, at long and deserving last. But also because she and Gromph had developed a mutual understanding over the past few decades.

  At least, that had been the case, Minolin Fey thought but did not say. Unbeknownst to Mez’Barris, much had changed in the Festival of the Founding.

  “Errtu will give us Matron K’yorl,” Mez’Barris insisted, referring to the Matron of House Oblodra, a drow family skilled in the strange magic of psionics. In the Time of Troubles, when normal magic had gone awry, K’yorl had tried to take advantage of her House’s sudden imbalance of power, but alas, Matron Mother Yvonnel Baenre had channeled the power of Lolth and dropped House Oblodra into the chasm known as the Clawrift. For her insolence, K’yorl Odran, Matron K’yorl, had been gifted to the demon Errtu, where she remained, tormented, to this day. “Her hatred of House Baenre is beyond sanity, and her powers … yes, with House Oblodra a distant memory, Matron Mother Quenthel will not be prepared to deal with the bared powers of K’yorl. She will destroy Quenthel, and we will be rid of the witch!”

  “Bregan D’aerthe’s Kimmuriel is said to be of House Oblodra, and quite skilled—”

  “He will never get to Quenthel’s side in time!” Matron Mez’Barris insisted, so agitated now that she had dropped the use of the proper title for her rival.

  Minolin Fey merely smiled. She had gone that morning for her first … encounter, with Methil El-Viddenvelp, who was now, it seemed, firmly in the court of Matron Mother Quenthel. Even if freed and their plan enacted, K’yorl would not be nearly as effective as Matron Mez’Barris hoped, Minolin Fey suspected.

  “Gromph will not go against Matron Mother Quenthel,” Minolin Fey said again. “Not now, perhaps never. And so our plan is moot.”

  “We do not need him!”

  “You do not need him,” Minoli
n Fey said. “If you wish to go to the Abyss to deal with Errtu, then may Lady Lolth go with you, because you will need her.”

  “Your House stands alone,” Matron Mez’Barris reminded her. “I am your one hedge against the wrath of House Melarn!”

  “My House? My House does not fear Matron Zhindia.”

  “Fey-Branche is no match for—”

  “Fey-Branche is not my House,” Minolin Fey said, tired of the discussion, and confident that she had learned all that she might this day.

  Matron Mez’Barris stared at her curiously.

  “I am Minolin Fey-Baenre,” she announced boldly, standing, “wife of Gromph, servant of Matron Mother Quenthel Baenre.”

  “You dare?” an outraged Mez’Barris cried.

  “The Avatar of Lolth appeared at House Fey-Branche in the Festival of the Founding,” Minolin Fey explained. “It is not merely a rumor, Matron. It is the truth. And that truth has sealed a bond between House Baenre and House Fey-Branche. You might wish to relay that truth to Matron Zhindia Melarn before she does something rather stupid.”

  Minolin waved her hand and cast a quick spell of recall, and said, “I go … home.”

  The corporeal form of Minolin Fey seemed to fall apart then, bursting into a multitude of fast-dissipating black balls of insubstantial smoke, leaving Mez’Barris Armgo staring dumbfounded at this most curious, and surely most dangerous, turn of events.



  ENTRERI,” BENIAGO TOLD JARLAXLE IN THE DROW’S PRIVATE ROOM IN the bowels of Illusk, a room magically warded from any unwanted intrusions. “Not Drizzt, but Entreri and the others of that band.”

  Jarlaxle shifted his eyepatch from his left eye to his right, humming all the while as he considered the startling report. Entreri and his band, sans Drizzt apparently, had passed Luskan, heading south. After nearly two decades of complete absence, the group had returned.

  And this so close on the heels of the report from Braelin Janquay, a most reliable scout, that a woman, powerful with magic, and the curious halfling who had come through Luskan the previous autumn were apparently going by names quite familiar to Jarlaxle.

  “Catti-brie and Regis,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. He remembered when the two had passed on, when Drizzt and King Bruenor had begged him to find them. Well now, perhaps, he had, but with no sign of Drizzt anywhere and with Bruenor lying dead under the rocks in distant Gauntlgrym, or so he believed.

  “They’ve been dead a hundred years,” Beniago replied, though Jarlaxle had been speaking to himself and was startled by the response.

  “You think it impossible?”

  “Implausible,” Beniago said. “But then, I find myself astonished that Entreri and his band of five have returned. Perhaps I have grown so cynical that nothing can truly surprise me anymore, eh?”

  “Cynical?” Jarlaxle replied with a chuckle. “My dear Beniago, I would argue just the opposite. Believe in miracles, or in anything else that makes your day a better journey!”

  “And be ready for anything,” Beniago finished with a wry grin, one that Jarlaxle matched with a smile and a nod of his own.

  “He would not come to Luskan,” Jarlaxle said. “Likely he believes that I might still be here.”

  “Entreri? One would think him grateful. I can think of few fates worse than suffering eternity as a block of stone.”

  Jarlaxle’s thoughts drifted back across the years, to the assault he had led on the castle of Lord Draygo Quick in the Shadowfell. He couldn’t help but laugh as he replayed that most enjoyable adventure. He and his minions had thoroughly thrashed the castle guard, as indeed Jarlaxle had thrashed the castle itself, enacting an instant fortress of adamantine right within Draygo Quick’s foyer! He could still see the expressions of the House guard.

  After the rout, Jarlaxle had gone to the substructure of the castle, and there had found and rescued Artemis Entreri, Dahlia, and the monk Afafrenfere, all three turned to stone by Lord Draygo’s pet medusa.

  “Perhaps the nothingness of stone was preferable to Entreri than the torment he feels in his heart and mind,” Jarlaxle heard himself saying, but absently, for his thoughts were already moving to the present, to the revelation that Entreri was up and about once more.

  Jarlaxle didn’t know why he cared so much. But he did.

  “Where has he gone?” the mercenary leader asked.

  “Port Llast, they said, and the five are probably halfway to the place already,” Beniago answered. “Dangerous road these days, though, so we cannot—”

  Jarlaxle’s laughter cut him short. “I assure you that it will take more than a band of highwaymen to stop or even delay the likes of that group,” he said, and he was already planning his own trip to Port Llast.

  “Any further word from Braelin?”

  Beniago shook his head. “Drizzt, do you think?”

  Jarlaxle nodded, and muttered under his breath, “Let’s hope.” He looked up at Beniago, and noted the high captain’s surprise at that statement, and indeed, Jarlaxle realized that such a sentiment must seem curious indeed to those who did not understand his own long history with the Do’Urden rogue, or worse, who did not understand what Drizzt Do’Urden had secretly come to symbolize for many of Menzoberranzan’s drow, particularly drow males. Perhaps Beniago hadn’t lived in Menzoberranzan long enough to properly appreciate that point.

  Interesting times seemed to be upon them, and Jarlaxle was glad that Kimmuriel was not in Luskan, or even this part of the world, at that time. Jarlaxle’s co-captain was off playing with his illithid friends at some horrid hive-mind, which offered Jarlaxle great latitude in directing Bregan D’aerthe, and in his own choice of roads.

  He thought back to his raid on the castle of Lord Draygo, and could hardly believe that the attack had been his last real adventure. He looked down at his great desk, covered in parchment, in this, his private room in the Bregan D’aerthe enclave, carved out of a subterranean ruin crawling with ghosts and ghouls.

  “I have become a clerk,” he said absently.

  Beniago’s laugh reminded him that he was not alone.

  “You take heart in my misery?” Jarlaxle asked, feigning upset.

  “I laugh at the notion that mighty Jarlaxle would ever think such of himself,” replied High Captain Kurth, who was really a drow of the same House as Jarlaxle—though Beniago didn’t know that little detail about Jarlaxle’s true identity. “A clerk!”

  Jarlaxle waved his hand above the piles of inventories, payroll records, and purchase requisitions.

  “So give the records to Serena or one of your other consorts or associates and go out and kill something!” Beniago replied heartily.

  “I hope I haven’t forgotten how to fight.”

  Beniago laughed all the harder and stood to leave. “If you decide to find out, please do so with someone other than me, eh?” he said.

  “Why so?” Jarlaxle replied. “Perhaps you will defeat me and take over Bregan D’aerthe in Kimmuriel’s absence.”

  “I would hardly want that,” Beniago said sincerely. “And want even less to go to my grave at the end of Jarlaxle’s sword, or dagger, or wand, or other wand, or giant bird, or enchanted boot, or belt whip, or … have I missed one?”

  “Many more than one,” Jarlaxle assured him.

  “Go to Port Llast,” Beniago said as he moved to the door at the side of the room. This led to a small alcove and a circular stairway that began a winding path that would get take him under the harbor and back up to Closeguard Isle and the Ship Kurth compound. “You know that you must. The trade with the Xorlarrins proceeds easily, the city is under our thumb fully, and I will be here when you return, with a smile, a pot of gold, and a bevy of lovely ladies to suit your tastes!” He tipped his cap and left the room.

  Jarlaxle found that he believed every word. Indeed, never had Bregan D’aerthe run so smoothly. The trade brought enormous profits, the City of Sails was fully, if discreetly, cowed, tamed
, and spiderwebbed with an intricate set of new tunnels, and not a hint of trouble darkened any horizon Jarlaxle could see.

  “No wonder I am bored,” he said, a lament he regretted as soon as he heard it.

  “Are you indeed?” came the response from the corner behind him, spoken in the language of Menzoberranzan, and spoken in a voice he knew well, to his great dismay.

  On Closeguard Isle in Luskan Harbor stood as secure a fortress as any in the city, the squat keep and tower that housed Ship Kurth. Beniago Baenre, who was known as High Captain Kurth, was the most powerful of the five high captains that ruled the city, as he would have been even if he didn’t secretly have the forces of Bregan D’aerthe supporting him, as was his predecessor even before Bregan D’aerthe had thrown in with the Ship.

  Ship Kurth claimed the largest fleet in Luskan, more than twice the number of foot soldiers as the next Ship in line, and an array of allied magic-users who split their time between Closeguard Isle and the haunted remains of the Hosttower of the Arcane, on nearby Cutlass Island. The only land route to Cutlass Island, other than the secret tunnels Bregan D’aerthe had constructed beneath the water, was a bridge between Closeguard and Cutlass, and so when the wizards had come to the city seeking to reclaim the lost glories of the Arcane Brotherhood, or at least trying to recover some of the secrets and artifacts from the ruins of the Hosttower, Beniago naturally invited them into an alliance with his Ship.

  With all of that might arrayed around him, and Bregan D’aerthe’s deadly mercenaries in easy reach, Beniago walked easily when he entered his thick-walled keep, and took no note that there seemed to be few others about this day, which he simply attributed to the fact that spring had at last come, and the ships and caravans were being prepared once more for their travels. The drow paused in front of a large mirror outside the door of his private chambers on the squat tower’s second floor, noticing his human disguise. “Not human,” he reminded himself aloud, for he had taken to telling people that he was actually half-elven. He had been in Luskan for decades, and had barely aged, after all, as more than a few had noticed. To keep his human guise properly aging was too much trouble, the Bregan D’aerthe wizards had told him, so he was Beniago the half-elf.

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