Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore

  “Good enough for them,” he muttered, shaking his head. After all these years, the drow still hadn’t gotten used to his body—his gangly legs and “stretched” form, his pasty skin that turned red at the first hints of a sunbeam, and particularly his carrot-colored mop of hair.

  Three keys disarmed the multitude of traps and unlocked his bedchamber door, and the high captain pushed into the room. He would have much work before him, he knew. Jarlaxle was surely going to chase Artemis Entreri to Port Llast, and Kimmuriel was not due back until late in the year, at least. With that in mind, Beniago started for his large desk, covered in parchment more so than even Jarlaxle’s had been, and with that in sight, he changed his mind and veered for the small hutch beside it, where he kept his fine and potent beverages.

  It wasn’t until he started reaching for his finest bourbon that Beniago at last realized that something was amiss. He paused, his hand outstretched for the bottle, his other hand discreetly seeking the fine dagger he kept in his belt sash.

  He caught the slightest of sounds behind him: a light step, a soft breath.

  He drew and spun around with practiced ease and the agility of a noble drow warrior.

  And his eyes widened and he stopped his thrust mid-strike, trying to cover up instead against the coordinated strikes of a swarm of snakes.

  Beniago lurched and fell back, crashing against the hutch, bottles falling and shattering all around him. He tried to re-orient himself, to sort out the confusing explosions of movement. He felt the burn of poison.

  He heard the crack of the whip.

  He saw that these were not snakes at all, but the serpents of Lolth’s instrument.

  “You dare raise a weapon against me?” the wielder of that awful instrument scolded in the language of Menzoberranzan, and the writhing swarm struck once more, the lightning speed of the vipers overwhelming poor Beniago. He felt curving fangs tearing at his cheek, and a second snake biting around his belly.

  “Or has your human disguise overcome your mind at last?” the wielder yelled as Beniago desperately threw himself to the floor, thinking to scramble under his desk for some cover. “Have you forgotten your place, son of House Baenre?”

  The words froze him in place

  House Baenre?

  “Matron Mother,” he breathed, and all thoughts of fleeing flew from him and he prostrated himself before the priestess … and tried not to squirm as the five snakes of Matron Mother Quenthel Baenre’s scourge bit at him some more.

  “If you cry out, I will kill you,” she promised.

  Beniago felt as if he had been thrust back in time, to his youth in Menzoberranzan, where he had known such beatings as a matter of course.

  It went on until the pain and venom drove him to unconsciousness, but barely had he escaped that torment when the warm waves of healing magic washed through him, leaving him awake once more.

  Just as it had been when he was a young boy: beaten to unconsciousness, healed back to the waking world, and beaten some more. He opened his eyes to find that he was sitting up in a chair, slumped but unhurt, and facing Matron Mother Quenthel, his great aunt.

  “Please me,” she told him bluntly, nodding. “Yes, even though you are iblith and ugly.”

  Beniago knew better than to look up at her, and staring at her feet, he saw her robes drop to the floor. “May I speak?”

  “Be quick!”

  “I have not worn my true form in many tendays … p-perhaps a … a year …” Beniago stammered. “I can revert …”

  “No,” she commanded. “I am curious.” She walked up to him, cupped his chin with her hand, and lifted his face up so he could look into her eyes. “I have great promises for you. Do not disappoint me,” she said.

  Despite the torment, despite his very well-grounded terror, Beniago knew that he would not. Eagerly, he stood up before Quenthel.

  Eagerly, despite the beating she had put upon him.

  Hungrily, because this was how he had been trained, with punishment as prelude to seduction, with supplication as beggary for pleasure.

  “And then you will tell me,” Quenthel said, pulling him close and biting his lip.

  “Tell you?”

  “Everything,” she said and she shoved him down atop his desk.

  Jarlaxle figured that in all of Faerûn there were probably only a score of magic-users or priestesses powerful enough to get through the multitude of magical wards he had spent years enacting around his private quarters, and maybe half that number who could do so without him being aware of the intrusion.

  Unfortunately for him, one of that select group was his brother, Gromph Baenre.

  “Well met,” he greeted, sliding his chair around to regard the archmage. “To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure?”

  “My generous personality.”

  Jarlaxle nodded.

  “How fares Luskan?”

  Jarlaxle shrugged. “It is a wretched place of wretched people, so not well, I presume. But I fare well here, profitably so.”

  “Fortunately so, I would say.”

  “The gems and baubles flow back to Xorlarrin, as agreed, and to the coffers of House Baenre, I would expect.”

  “Fortunately so … for you.”

  “Is there an issue? Do tell?”

  “I am sure there is. I did not come here to see you, but merely as a guide for another who is about within the city.”

  “Yet here you are … fortunately, no doubt, for me.”

  “For another, who is at Ship Kurth,” Gromph added, and Jarlaxle had to work hard to keep the concern from his face.

  “Come to study the Hosttower’s tendrils, then? To discern the important ties to the city now called Xorlarrin?”

  “No, come to speak with Beniago Baenre.”

  Jarlaxle sat back and tried very hard to look unimpressed. “It is not a name he has used—”

  “In a century or more,” Gromph agreed. “But, alas, Baenre is a surname he cannot escape.”

  “Do you plan to speak openly, or continue in riddles?” Jarlaxle asked, starting to rise.

  “Sit down,” Gromph instructed, stopping him in mid-stand.

  Jarlaxle stared at the old mage for a long while, measuring the possibilities. Had it come, at last, to a battle between them, he wondered?

  There were many ways in which Jarlaxle could strike at Gromph in this room, traps he could strategically spring, including no small number of disenchantments that might strip much of his brother’s magical armor away.

  But no, Jarlaxle realized, his best action would be a swift retreat, and that, too, could be done with a mere tug on his earring.

  “The barmaid at the inn across the river is one of your lovelies?” Gromph asked, and seemed quite pleased with himself for having discerned that information, or even that there was an inn across the river with which Jarlaxle was associated.

  “A plaything,” Jarlaxle replied nonchalantly.

  “Pretty, for a human. Perhaps you will bring her along.”

  “Are we going somewhere?”

  “Oh yes, I expect we are.”

  “More riddles?”

  “It is not my place to tell you.”

  Jarlaxle started to respond, but bit it back, seeing the seriousness in Gromph’s expression. That last claim hadn’t been some off-handed remark; the mage had chosen his words purposely and carefully.

  But who could claim a place above Gromph?

  “When might I expect more guests, then?” Jarlaxle asked. “Should I prepare for a visit? Some food brought down for a proper feast of greeting, perhaps?”

  “Just sit, and for once, dear brother, do shut up,” the archmage replied.

  There were times, as when he had first arrived here this day with Beniago, when Jarlaxle was glad that Kimmuriel was not around Luskan. And there were times when Jarlaxle truly missed Kimmuriel Oblodra and the drow’s psionic powers, telepathically relaying information to Jarlaxle from a different perspective and a deeper understandin
g, or with Kimmuriel preparing to discombobulate an aggressive wizard with a blast of mind-scrambling energy, or with Kimmuriel ready and prepared to instantly send a telepathic call to all of Bregan D’aerthe’s allies.

  This was one of those times.

  An exhausted and battered Beniago Baenre sat in his room, contemplating the dramatic changes. Luskan was his now, and he had just become directly responsible to House Baenre for any failures!

  He wondered how Jarlaxle had survived all these years with such vile witches as the matrons flitting around the edges of his domain. Jarlaxle was a master of deception, perhaps the best Beniago had ever known at that intricate craft, but how to fool a matron, let alone the matron mother, given their abilities to magically detect lies?

  “I need an eyepatch,” the high captain quietly lamented.

  He tried to sort out Matron Mother Quenthel’s sudden interest in Luskan, in Bregan D’aerthe, even in Entreri’s band, and by extension, in Drizzt. Likely it had to do with Tiago, since Tiago had made no secret of his desire to hunt down the rogue and claim his head as a trophy.

  “Yes,” Beniago mused. Jarlaxle had gone to great lengths to keep Drizzt hidden away from Tiago—but hadn’t that come on advice from Gromph? Beniago shook his head. It all made little sense to him, except that it was clear now that a power shift had occurred in Menzoberranzan, one that had put his aunt Quenthel in absolute control. Gromph would likely not be happy.

  He gave a resigned sigh, for what choice did he have in the matter? He was responsible now, and in charge.

  The caveat to that level of power struck him, though, in his contemplations of his cousin Tiago. Matron Mother Quenthel had made it quite clear that when and if Tiago ventured to Luskan, Beniago was to serve him without question.

  He wasn’t overly fond of his cousin. Indeed, Beniago hated Tiago, and he knew the feeling to be mutual.

  It was not a good day.

  “Matron Mother,” Jarlaxle said reverently, leaping out of his chair and bowing low when Quenthel Baenre unexpectedly joined Gromph in Jarlaxle’s private quarters in underground Illusk.

  “Such the diplomat,” Quenthel replied sarcastically.

  “The surprised diplomat,” Jarlaxle said, daring to stand straight once more. “Rarely does a Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan venture from the city. Indeed, I am shocked that you are here, and more so that you have not brought an army with you.” He paused and looked at her curiously. “You have not, have you?”

  Despite her grim aspect, Quenthel laughed.

  “We leave at once,” she said.

  “A pity!” Jarlaxle cried. “Do promise to return.”

  “We,” Quenthel said again, and she accentuated the next word as she continued, “three leave at once.”

  Jarlaxle’s eyes widened; he even lifted his eyepatch to let Matron Mother Quenthel see his shocked expression more clearly. “It is a complicated place, Luskan. I have many duties to attend to and preparations—”

  “Dear brother, shut up,” Matron Mother Quenthel ordered. “This pathetic city is no longer your concern. You are being recalled to Menzoberranzan.”

  Jarlaxle started to respond, but for one of the few times in his life, found himself choking on the words. “Menzoberranzan?” the mercenary leader asked.

  “I need soldiers. Bregan D’aerthe will suffice.”


  Matron Mother Quenthel’s hand went to her scourge, and the five snakes came to life instantly, writhing around and focusing their flicking tongues on Jarlaxle. Something was very wrong, and on a large scale, Jarlaxle knew, and particularly unsettling was the behavior of his sister.

  His stupid, weakling sister.

  He looked to Gromph again and the archmage returned his inquisitive expression with the slightest, but most definite of nods. Quenthel would actually whip him, he realized to his ultimate shock.

  “Take us home, Archmage,” Matron Mother Quenthel ordered.

  Later that same day, Jarlaxle wandered the corridors of House Do’Urden in the West Wall neighborhood of Menzoberranzan, coordinating a hundred Bregan D’aerthe foot soldiers as they scoured the place of any remaining vagabonds and secured each of the entrances.

  He was glad that he had capable lieutenants around him, setting up the defenses of the House, exploring secret passages, and generally readying the place for proper inhabitation once more. Jarlaxle’s thoughts were anywhere but House Do’Urden.

  He was glad when Gromph finally found him, in a quiet anteroom to the Do’Urden House chapel.

  “How? Who?” he asked bluntly, both questions obviously referring to the strange and powerful creature that seemed to be inhabiting Quenthel’s body.

  Gromph snorted. “It’s a long story. She handled you fairly, and with wisdom.”

  “And I find that the most unsettling thing of all!” Jarlaxle replied. By Quenthel’s order, to all looking in on this, it would seem as if Bregan D’aerthe had formally been hired by House Baenre to prepare House Do’Urden; indeed, House Baenre was even paying Jarlaxle for the service.

  “All will be as it has been,” Quenthel had assured him. “To all of Menzoberranzan, you are merely Jarlaxle, and your organization remains independent, and indeed that is the truth, as long as you serve me well.”

  If Jarlaxle didn’t play this well, he realized, Bregan D’aerthe would be absorbed into the Baenre garrison, and everything he had spent his life building would come crumbling down around him.

  “You knew it had to happen sooner or later,” Gromph said to him, as if reading his mind, which truly, at that time, would prove no difficult task. The eyepatch might prevent such magical intrusions, but it could not hide the obvious.

  And Gromph was right, Jarlaxle had to admit. His life and his organization was in many ways a charade. Indeed, it survived because of that very fact, forever on the edge of disaster, forever just at the edge of the sufferance of the Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan, forever just a power play away from wrecking that sufferance.

  Unless Jarlaxle wanted open war.

  In the halls of a place once known as House Do’Urden, the thought crossed his mind.



  THE DROW CREPT UP TO THE LEDGE, FLAT ON HIS BELLY ON THE COLD stone, and peered down at the road below, shaking his head in disbelief. This side of the small hillock was a straight drop, perhaps thirty feet or more, affording him a splendid view of the troupe moving past him on the road below.

  Braelin Janquay had heard of Drizzt Do’Urden, of course, but seeing him now, riding a shining white unicorn with a horn of gold and a coat of elaborate barding covered in bells—bells that were silent now, and obviously magically connected to the will of the rider—took the young scout’s breath away. The rogue rode easily, very comfortable in the small saddle and using the unicorn’s long white mane as his reins. His scimitars bounced along at his hips, the diamond edge of Icingdeath catching the morning light and reflecting it brilliantly, and the ease with which he carried a bow across his shoulders spoke of great skill with that weapon, as well.

  And indeed, Jarlaxle had told Braelin of the bow called Heartseeker, and had claimed that Drizzt could take down a line of orcs with a single shot, or split stone, even, with the lightning arrows.

  That last recollection had Braelin edging back from the stony ledge just a bit.

  A huge black panther loped along beside the unicorn and seemed on edge, constantly turning at this sound or that.

  The scout thought of Tiago Baenre. It was no secret among Bregan D’aerthe that the young warrior had been seeking Drizzt for two decades now, determined to claim the rogue’s head as a trophy. The whispers said that Jarlaxle and Beniago had gone to great lengths to keep Tiago away from Drizzt, and now Braelin understood the wisdom of that choice.

  He couldn’t imagine Tiago surviving an encounter with this one.

  To say nothing of Drizzt’s companions, even, for beside him rode the human woman named Catti-brie,
astride a spectral mount, another unicorn and one she had summoned with a magical spell, a steed nearly as impressive as the drow’s own. Behind them came a wagon, pulled by mules and driven by a young and ferocious red-bearded dwarf wearing a one-horned helm and carrying an axe that had seen many battles—too many, if this one’s age was to be believed. Beside him sat another human, one whose parents must have included an ogre, Braelin thought, given his great size and obvious strength. On the road beside that formidable pair rode the halfling, Regis, on a fat pinto pony.

  The troupe bounced down the muddy road to the southwest, seeming a carefree bunch, though they were leaving the safety of Ten-Towns behind. Other caravans were forming in the towns, particularly the closest one, Bremen, on the southern bank of Maer Dualdon, but those caravans would not leave without a full escort of at least twenty guards, Braelin had learned. Not at this time of the year, when the roads were full of yetis and goblinkin and all sorts of beasts ready to begin fattening up now that winter was at last letting go.

  Yet here they were, a group of only five, depending on a slow-moving wagon, riding into the wilds, seemingly without a care in the world.

  Watching them, Braelin Janquay hadn’t a doubt in the world that they would get through the Spine of the World safely.

  And Jarlaxle and Beniago would be waiting for them. He slid back from the ledge. Perhaps he could at last leave this forsaken place and deliver this last report in person. He’d shadow the group to their first camp, then go past them in the dark of night—and perhaps even get in close to the camp to see if he might find a bauble or two of his own …

  With a wicked smile on his face, the young Bregan D’aerthe scout crept back to the ledge and looked back to the companions, who had moved off. Something struck Braelin as different about the troupe then, but he dismissed it as unimportant—until he realized that the black panther was no longer beside them.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]