Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore


  Sent home to the Astral Plane? he wondered. He had been well-schooled in the ways of Drizzt Do’Urden before being sent in pursuit of the strange halfling.

  He nodded, thinking that must be it, hoping that must be it.

  Then he realized that Drizzt Do’Urden, riding calmly and easily still, no longer had his bow slung over his shoulder …

  “Likely a jackalope or wayward caribou,” Catti-brie whispered to Drizzt as they plodded along. Something had attracted Guenhwyvar’s attention, and Drizzt had let the panther run off.

  “Guen will let us know,” Drizzt assured her. He turned back to the other three. “If her warning call sounds, guard the wagon at all costs. We don’t want to lose our supplies to a hungry yeti.”

  “Not a yeti,” Wulfgar replied. “A yeti would have had to be closer, or even Guenhwyvar would not have noted it.”

  “You underestimate Guen.”

  “You have forgotten tundra yetis, then?” Wulfgar asked.

  “Aye, elf, ye ain’t remembering how many times I pulled ye out from under one o’ them beasties when you runned right into them?” Bruenor added.

  “Once,” Drizzt admitted, to the laughter of his friends. “Only once.”

  “I’m thinkin’ an elf’s only good eatin’ once, eh?” asked Bruenor.

  “Stay with the wagon,” Drizzt replied.

  Wulfgar and Bruenor laughed, and Drizzt turned to Regis for support, to find the halfling apparently distracted and not paying attention.

  “Regis?”

  The halfling looked at him directly, seeming startled. “Stay with the wagon?” Drizzt remarked again.

  “Back among that swollen pile of boulders, I think,” Regis answered, but didn’t glance back, not wanting to tip his hand.

  Drizzt wasn’t quite what to make of the statement, but before he could inquire further, a low growl echoed across the muddy plain of the melting tundra, and indeed, it seemed to come from the very spot Regis had indicated.

  Drizzt spun around and tugged Andahar hard to the left, the unicorn leaping off the trail and splashing off in full gallop. Catti-brie on her spectral mount paced him stride for stride, the two galloping hard and angling for the back side of the small mound of swollen mud and boulders.

  “Drive them our way!” Bruenor called. “Bah, but I’m wantin’ a good fight, I am!”

  “I had thought you in a fine mood,” Regis argued.

  “Am!” Bruenor agreed. “What’s yer point?”

  But Regis wasn’t listening any longer He noted the angle of Drizzt and Catti-brie’s approach, and saw a potential problem. He, too, whirled his mount, and drove his heels into Rumble’s flank, the pony leaping away.

  “ ’Ere, where ye going, Rumblebelly?” Bruenor shouted.

  “That’s my pony’s name!” Regis called back, never slowing.

  Bruenor tried to turn the wagon, but Wulfgar grabbed him by the arm, holding him steady and shaking his head.

  “Aye, we’ll be runnin’ with muddy feet,” the dwarf agreed. “Like old times.”

  Braelin Janquay didn’t notice the mounts breaking from the group. His attention was held by the black form he’d noticed behind him, the panther stalking up the back side of the hillock around the scattered boulders. The drow scout thought to sprint for the trail, but realized the cat would surely cut him off.

  He lifted his hand crossbow and started to draw his sword. Just then, Guenhwyvar came more clearly into view, cutting behind a small tumble halfway up the back side of the hill. Braelin wasn’t thirty feet above her anymore, looking down at her. He had underestimated the size of the beast. Braelin shook his head, wanting no part of that fight.

  Then he noted movement out on the plain, back and to the right—the two steeds charging along.

  The drow turned and jumped from the cliff. He heard a shout from up the road but ignored it and concentrated on the situation at hand. He tapped his Bregan D’aerthe insignia, activating the levitation magic of the brooch, and his drop became a float, caught on the breeze and drifting out over the road.

  He landed to find a new enemy close at hand: the halfling on his pony.

  “Perfect,” he said, thinking to shoot this one from the saddle and commandeer the mount, and up came the hand crossbow.

  But the clever halfling fell over to the side of his mount, stealing the shot. Braelin growled and held steady, and glanced back up to the cliff, expecting a giant panther to leap down upon him.

  He should have focused on the road ahead. The well-trained pony kept coming and even veered in a bit, and Braelin had to fall back a step to avoid being run down. He turned with the pony as it thundered by, aiming a shot at its low rider.

  But the halfling wasn’t there.

  Braelin whirled, to face a hand crossbow much like his own. The halfling had the drop on him and fired true. The dart hit him in the chest and he staggered back under the weight of the blow, and felt the burn of poison.

  But he was drow, and well-trained, and Braelin brought his own hand crossbow to bear quickly.

  Except the halfling wasn’t there.

  Braelin felt the tip of a rapier prodding at his back.

  “Yield or die!” came the command.

  Drizzt studied the hillock as they came around the back side, picking a path to ride up. He kept circumventing the mound, though, and was startled indeed when Regis’s pony appeared on the road to the north, riderless and galloping.

  “Quick!” he called to Catti-brie, and put his head down and spurred Andahar on. He caught sight of Guenhwyvar then.

  “To him, Guen!” he cried, and the panther roared and leaped back the other way.

  Andahar cut around the north side of the mound, and Drizzt caught sight of Regis, behind a drow—a drow!—and holding his slender blade to the dark elf’s back!

  Hurry, Regis thought, considering his friends. Despite his initial success, he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect, or his odds, of holding a drow at bay. He holstered his hand crossbow and reached for his dirk.

  Sure enough, neither was the drow, who spun around faster than Regis could strike, a sword leading to drive the rapier blade aside.

  Regis was already moving with the turn, crying out and falling back. His rapier went flying from his grasp and he tried to draw the three-bladed dirk, though what good that might do against a dark elf waving two fine swords, he did not know.

  The drow came forward a step and Regis fell away, but the fellow turned to the left, to the north.

  Regis, purely on reflex and purely in terror, drew not his dirk but a living snake, and threw it out before him even as he fell to the ground.

  The drow didn’t seem to know what to make of the quick serpent, which rushed up and around his throat like a living garrote. He turned back to Regis, even took a step the halfling’s way, but then the specter appeared, the evil soul of the dirk. It tugged the snake garrote with wicked strength, so powerfully that the drow was thrown back and to the ground, his swords flying, his boots coming right off the ground.

  At that same moment, something dark and ominous crashed down beside Regis, who yelped again and tried to scramble away—until he noted Guenhwyvar, leaping over to straddle his fallen enemy.

  “Hurry!” Regis cried. “Please, oh please!”

  He noted Drizzt and Catti-brie, riding hard from the north. He saw Wulfgar and Bruenor running up from the south, but he knew in his heart that his plea was not to any of them, but to himself. He wasn’t going to let the ghost choke the life out of this one, not when Guenhwyvar had the drow under control.

  He rushed to retrieve his rapier and scrambled to the fallen drow, who was struggling to pry at the snake with one hand, his other arm thrown over his eyes in a desperate attempt to stop the great panther from raking his face off.

  Regis rushed up beside the fallen drow and stabbed down with his rapier.

  “Rumblebelly!” Bruenor yelled in shock.

  “Regis, no!” Drizzt cried.

  But Regis was
n’t aiming for the drow, instead prodding the leering face of the specter. This was the weakness of the garrote ability, he knew: a single strike at the undead monster and it would disappear in a puff of gray smoke—as it did now. The snake released its choking hold around the drow’s throat and died instantly.

  So half the drow’s problems were solved, but there remained the little problem of six hundred pounds of feline muscle standing atop him.

  “Wh-what?” Drizzt stammered, dropping down from Andahar and rushing to his halfling friend. “What was that?”

  “A rather pleasant weapon, don’t you think?” replied Catti-Brie, who had seen this particular dirk in play before, on the banks of Maer Dualdon.

  Drizzt moved over to look down at the pinned drow, the captive’s eyes wide with terror. Guenhwyvar kept her face near his own, and opened her mouth wide to let him see her deadly incisors.

  “Who are you?” Drizzt asked.

  “Don’t kill me, Drizzt Do’Urden,” he replied. “I meant you no harm.”

  “Baenre?” Drizzt asked.

  “Bregan D’aerthe,” the drow answered.

  Drizzt looked at him curiously. He had heard this ploy before—indeed, he, Entreri, and Dahlia had used it before, claiming to be a member of Jarlaxle’s band when confronted by the Xorlarrins and a noble son of House Baenre in Gauntlgrym.

  “Jarlaxle sent me here, following the halfling from Luskan.”

  The others looked at Regis.

  “I saw our old friend in Luskan,” Regis confirmed. “At an inn called One-Eyed Jax—his tavern, from what I could gather. I didn’t think he recognized me. It’s been a hundred years, after all and—”

  “Enough,” Drizzt cut him short. Regis swallowed hard, likely realizing that he had probably just revealed far too much.

  “I helped him, and the girl,” the drow pleaded. “On the beach.”

  Again, all eyes turned to Regis, and to Catti-brie as well. The woman, looking confused, merely said, “I’ve never seen him before.”

  But Regis was already nodding. “The dart,” he said, looking to Catti-brie. “The archer who was shot down into the sand. That wasn’t my dart that put him to slumber.”

  They looked down at the drow. “My dart,” he said.

  “Why?” Drizzt asked.

  “Jarlaxle wouldn’t want him dead, I figured.”

  “Good choice. Let him up, Guen.”

  When the panther sprang away, Regis moved to offer his hand, but with agility only a dark elf could match, the drow leaped to his feet.

  “Your name?” Drizzt demanded.

  The drow hesitated, and Drizzt sighed.

  “Braelin Janquay,” he answered.

  “Of Bregan D’aerthe?”

  Braelin nodded.

  “What will you tell Jarlaxle, then?”

  “What would you have me tell him?”

  Regis whistled sharply, startling them all. When they reflexively turned to the halfling, he motioned rather sheepishly down the road to his pony, which he had just called back. The little round-bellied pinto cantered along, tossing his head as if in complaint—which of course seemed fitting to the others for Regis’s mount.

  “Tell him that I pray he is well,” Drizzt answered and laughed.

  “Where have you been, Drizzt Do’Urden?” Braelin asked. “Jarlaxle has been looking for you for many years.”

  Drizzt considered it for a moment, then sighed. “I needed some rest, apparently.”

  “Eighteen years?” Braelin said skeptically.

  “It has been a long road,” Drizzt replied with feigned exasperation.

  “Goin’ to get longer, I’m thinking,” said Bruenor.

  “Where is Jarlaxle?” Drizzt asked. He turned to Catti-brie and said quietly, “We could use his talents, I expect,” and the woman was already nodding, clearly thinking along the same lines. Jarlaxle knew the underground way from Luskan to Gauntlgrym, and if anyone knew how to deal with a vampire, it would be the mercenary leader.

  “Luskan, and there I am bound,” Braelin answered.

  “Travel with us, then,” Regis blurted. Many surprised looks came his way. Regis had just invited a drow, one they did not know, into their camp. Rarely would such a gesture prove to be a good idea.

  Drizzt looked over the newcomer carefully, then turned to Catti-brie, who merely shrugged. “Do,” he said to Braelin. “The road is dangerous this time of year. We could use another sword.” He looked to the left, to one fallen blade, then to the other, across to the right. “Or two.”

  They set off soon after, Braelin taking point far out in front, on Drizzt’s order.

  “Rumblebelly beat himself a drow elf!” Bruenor said when at last Braelin was out of earshot.

  “That’s my pony’s name,” Regis replied, evenly and in all seriousness.

  “Aye, and what’s yer own name, then?” asked the laughing dwarf.

  Regis straightened his shoulders. “Spider,” he said. “Aye, Spider Parrafin of Morada Topolino.”

  “Aye, well there’s a mouthful.”

  “And what of yourself?” the halfling asked.

  “Was known as Reginald Roundshield, o’ the Adbar Roundshields,” Bruenor answered. “Little Arr Arr, some called me, but don’t think o’ doing that yerself, or know that I’ll put me fist in yer eye!” He stomped his heavy boot on the footboard of the wagon and declared, “Bruenor’s me name and none other. Bruenor Battlehammer o’ Mithral Hall!”

  “And you are Ruqiah,” Regis said to Catti-brie, who walked her mount casually across the wagon from him and his pony. “Daughter of Niraj and Kavita of Desai, raised on the plains of Netheril.” She had told him the tales, of course, over the long days of the previous winter.

  “I was,” she corrected. “And now I am who I have always been.”

  “What o’ yerself, boy?” Bruenor asked of Wulfgar. “Ye ain’t telled us. Who ye been?”

  “Hrolf, son of Alfarin, of the tribe of the Elk,” Wulfgar answered.

  “Born o’ yer own people, then,” said Bruenor. “Ah, but ye found a bit o’ good luck in that!”

  Regis nodded, but as he considered the grand road that had brought him back to his friends, as he thought of beautiful Donnola Topolino and the Grandfather, and of Doregardo and the Grinning Ponies, he found that he could not agree with Bruenor’s assessment.

  “High Captain Kurth,” Regis informed his four companions when they noted the red-haired man approaching their camp just outside of Luskan’s northern reaches. With Braelin Janquay along, they had made an uneventful journey out of Icewind Dale and through the Spine of the World. The five companions had camped outside the city, sending Braelin in on his word that he would find and retrieve Jarlaxle.

  “High captain? Then he ain’t likely alone,” said Bruenor. “Ye think the drow rat double-crossed us, elf?”

  Drizzt was shaking his head, the others noted, but the look on his face was perplexed indeed. He knew this man from twenty years previous, but it seemed as if the red-headed fellow hadn’t aged a day.

  “Well met, and welcome back, Master Parrafin,” High Captain Kurth greeted, offering a nod to Regis. “Or do you prefer Spider?”

  Regis tipped his beret.

  “Serena sends her regards.”

  “And mine to her, then,” Regis replied.

  “Beniago?” Drizzt asked, for of course he remembered the name. It had been nearly two decades, but to Drizzt, who had slept a magical night in Iruladoon where eighteen years had passed on Faerûn, it had only been a few tendays.

  “Well met again, Master Do’Urden,” Beniago replied, but in a whisper, and he glanced around and patted the air with his hand, signaling them to be quiet.

  “High Captain now?”

  The man shrugged. “Outlive your superiors and the world is yours, yes?”

  “Especially for those who are friends of Jarlaxle, I would imagine.”

  Beniago grinned and shrugged. “Your other friends passed by here a tenday or so
ago,” he said.

  “Other friends?” Catti-brie asked.

  “Entreri and them strange ones,” said Bruenor, who had seen an unusual trio indeed—a weirdly twisted tiefling, a boisterous female dwarf, and a gray-skinned human in monk’s robes—on the side of Kelvin’s Cairn on the night he and the others had rejoined Drizzt.

  “Bound for …?” Drizzt asked, nodding to Regis to confirm Bruenor’s guess.

  The man shifted uncomfortably, something both Drizzt and Catti-brie surely caught. “Who can say? I have come to tell you …” He paused and looked around.

  “Where are our manners?” Drizzt asked. “A meal and a drink for our guest.”

  “I already have one set,” Wulfgar said from behind them and they turned to see him rearranging the large stones they were using as seats to allow for one more. The ease with which Wulfgar hoisted those rocks threw Drizzt back in time, for the man had apparently lost nothing of his uncanny strength in this second incarnation.

  They gathered around their campfire and Drizzt called in Guenhwyvar and set her off to make sure they were alone.

  “Should I warn her of your associates?” Drizzt asked.

  “I came out alone and dare not remain long,” Beniago replied. He looked around into the darkness, again seeming nervous. “I only came here because of your … mutual friendship with one of my associates.”

  “Jarl—?” Drizzt started to ask, but Beniago held up his hand, as if he didn’t want the name spoken aloud. Only then did Drizzt begin to fathom the gravity of the meeting.

  “The one you seek is not in Luskan,” Beniago explained, his voice going even quieter. “I doubt he will ever return. Nor should you go in there. Nor should you ever mention, to anyone, that you have traveled with Braelin. For his sake, I beg of you.”

  The surprising request, and the even more surprising humility from one who was High Captain of Ship Kurth, and thus, the nearest thing Luskan had to a ruler, set Drizzt back in his seat.

  “Eat,” Wulfgar offered, holding forth a bowl of stew, but Beniago shook his head and rose up.

  “Fare well, wherever you travel.”

 
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