Drizzt found her on the same east-facing plateau where she had practiced all those weeks, the very spot where she had at last gained control of her strong-willed sword. Long shadows rolled out from the mountains, the sun low in the sky behind them. The first stars shone clearly, twinkling above Silverymoon, and Sundabar to the east beyond that.
Catti-brie sat unmoving, legs bent and knees pulled in tightly to her chest. If she heard the approach of the almost silent drow, she gave no indication, just rocked gently back and forth, staring into the deepening gloom.
"The night is beautiful," Drizzt said, and when Catti-brie did not jump at the sound of his voice, he realized she had recognized his approach. "But the wind is chill."
"The winter's coming in full," Catti-brie replied softly, not taking her gaze from the darkened eastern sky.
Drizzt sought a reply, wanted to keep talking. He felt awkward here, strangely so, for never in the years he had known Catti-brie had there been such tension between them. The drow walked over and crouched beside Catti-brie, but did not look at her, as she did not look at him.
"I'll call Guenhwyvar this night," Drizzt remarked.
Her continued silence caught the drow off guard. His calling of the panther, for the first time since the figurine was repaired, was no small thing. Would the figurine's magic work properly, enabling Guenhwyvar to return to his side? Fret had assured him it would, but Drizzt could not be certain, could not rest easily, until the task was completed and the panther, the healed panther, was back beside him.
It should have been important to Catti-brie as well. She should have cared as much as Drizzt cared, for she and Guenhwyvar were as close as any. Yet she didn't reply, and her silence made Drizzt, anger budding within him, turn to regard her more closely.
He saw tears rimming her blue eyes, tears that washed away Drizzt's anger, that told him that what had happened between himself and Catti-brie had apparently not been so deeply buried. The last time they had met, on this very spot, they had hidden the questions they both wanted to ask behind the energy of a sparring match. Catti-brie's concentration had to be complete on that occasion, and in the days before it, as she fought to master her sword, but now that task was completed. Now, like Drizzt, she had time to think, and in that time, Catti-brie had remembered.
"Ye're knowin' it was the sword?" she asked, almost pleaded.
Drizzt smiled, trying to comfort her. Of course it had been the sentient sword that had inspired her to throw herself at him. Fully the sword, only the sword. But a large part of Drizzt-and possibly of Catti-brie, he thought in looking at her-wished differently. There had been an undeniable tension between them for some time, a complicated situation, and even more so now, after the possession incident with Khazid'hea.
"Ye did right in pushing me away," Catti-brie said, and she snorted and cleared her throat, hiding a sniffle.
Drizzt paused for a long moment, realizing the potential weight of his reply. "I pushed you away only because I saw the pommel," he said, and that drew Catti-brie's attention from the eastern sky, made her look at the drow directly, her deep blue eyes locking with his violet orbs.
"It was the sword," Drizzt said quietly, "only the sword."
Catti-brie didn't blink, barely drew breath. She was thinking how noble this drow had been. So many other men would not have asked questions, would have taken advantage of the situation. And would that have been such a bad thing? the young woman had to ask herself now. Her feelings for Drizzt were deep and real, a bond of friendship and love. Would it have been such a bad thing if he had made love to her in that room?
Yes, she decided, for both of them, because, while it was her body that had been offered, it was Khazid'hea that was in control. Things were awkward enough between them now, but if Drizzt had relented to the feelings that Catti-brie knew he held for her, if he had not been so noble in that strange situation and had given in to the offered temptation, likely neither of them would have been able to look the other in the eye afterward.
Like they were doing now, on a quiet plateau high in the mountains, with a chill and crisp breeze and the stars glowing ever more brightly above them.
"Ye're a good man, Drizzt Do'Urden," the grateful woman said with a heartfelt smile.
"Hardly a man," Drizzt replied, chuckling, and glad for the relief of tension.
Only a temporary relief, though. The chuckle and the smile died away almost immediately, leaving them in the same place, the same awkward moment, caught somewhere between romance and fear.
Catti-brie looked back to the sky; Drizzt did likewise.
"Ye know I loved him," the young woman said.
"You still do," Drizzt answered, and his smile was genuine when Catti-brie turned back again to regard him.
She turned away almost at once, looked back to the bright stars and thought of Wulfgar.
"You would have married him," Drizzt went on.
Catti-brie wasn't so sure of that. For all the true love she held for Wulfgar, the barbarian carried around the weight of his heritage and a society that valued women not as partners, but as servants. Wulfgar had climbed above many of the narrow-thinking ways of his tribal people, but as his wedding to Catti-brie approached, he had become more protective of her, to the point of being insulting. That, above anything else, proud and capable Catti-brie could not tolerate.
Her doubts were clear on her face, and Drizzt, who knew her better than anyone, read them easily.
"You would have married him," he said again, his firm tone forcing Catti-brie to look back to him.
"Wulfgar was no fool," Drizzt went on.
"Don't ye be blamin' it all on Entreri and the halfling's gem," Catti-brie warned. After the threat of the drow hunting party had been turned away, after Wulfgar's demise, Drizzt had explained to her, and to Bruenor, who perhaps more than anyone else needed to hear the justification, that Entreri, posing as Regis, had used the hypnotic powers of the ruby pendant on Wulfgar. Yet that theory could not fully explain the barbarian's outrageous behavior, because Wulfgar had started down that path long before Entreri had even arrived at Mithril Hall.
"Surely the gem pushed Wulfgar further," Drizzt countered.
"Pushed him where he wanted to go."
"No." The simple reply, spoken with absolute surety, almost caught Catti-brie off guard. She cocked her head to the side, her thick auburn hair cascading over one shoulder, waiting for the drow to elaborate.
"He was scared," Drizzt went on. "Nothing in the world frightened mighty Wulfgar more than the thought of losing his Catti-brie."
"His Catti-brie?" she echoed.
Drizzt laughed at her oversensitivity. "His Catti-brie, as he was your Wulfgar," he said, and Catti-brie's smirk fell away as fully as her trap of words.
"He loved you," Drizzt went on, "with all his heart." He paused, but Catti-brie had nothing to say, just sat very still, very quiet, hearing his every word. "He loved you, and that love made him feel vulnerable, and frightened him. Nothing anyone could do to Wulfgar, not torture, not battle, not even death, frightened him, but the slightest scratch on Catti-brie would burn like a hot dagger in his heart."So he acted the part of the fool for a short while before you were to be wed," Drizzt said. "The very next time you saw battle, your own strength and independence would have held a mirror up to Wulfgar, would have shown him his error. Unlike so many of his proud people, unlike Berkthgar, Wulfgar admitted his mistakes and never made them again."As she listened to the words of her wise friend, Catti-brie remembered exactly that incident, the battle in which Wulfgar had been killed. Those very fears for Catti-brie had played a large part in the barbarian's death, but before he was taken from her, he had looked into her eyes and had indeed realized what his foolishness had cost him, had cost them both.Catti-brie had to believe that now, recalling the scene in light of the drow's words. She had to believe that her love for Wulfgar had been real, very real, and not misplaced, that he was all she had thought him to be.Now she could. For the first time since Wulfgar's death, Catti-brie could remember him without the pangs of guilt, without the fears that, had he lived, she would not have married him. Because Drizzt was right; Wulfgar would have admitted the error despite his pride, and he would have grown, as he always had before. That was the finest quality of the man, an almost childlike quality, that viewed the world and his own life as getting better, as moving toward a better way in a better place.What followed was the most sincere smile on Catti-brie's face in many, many months. She felt suddenly free, suddenly complete with her past, reconciled and able to move forward with her life.She looked at the drow, wide-eyed, with a curiosity that seemed to surprise Drizzt. She could go on, but exactly what did that mean?Slowly, Catti-brie began shaking her head, and Drizzt came to understand that the movement had something to do with him. He lifted a slender hand and brushed some stray hair back from her cheek, his ebony skin contrasting starkly with her light skin, even in the quiet light of night."I do love you," the drow admitted. The blunt statement did not catch Catti-brie by surprise, not at all. "As you love me," Drizzt went on, easily, confident that his words were on the mark. "And I, too, must look ahead now, must find my place among my friends, beside you, without Wulfgar.""Perhaps in the future," Catti-brie said, her voice barely a whisper."Perhaps," Drizzt agreed. "But for now...""Friends," Catti-brie finished.Drizzt moved his hand back from her cheek, held it in the air before her face, and she reached up and clasped it firmly.Friends.The moment lingered, the two staring, not talking, and it would have gone on much, much longer, except that there came a commotion from the trail behind them, and the sound of voices they both recognized."Stupid elf couldn't do this inside!" blustered Bruenor."The stars are more fitting for Guenhwyvar," huffed Regis breathlessly. Together they crashed through a bush not far behind the plateau and stumbled and skidded down to join their two friends."Stupid elf?" Catti-brie asked her father."Bah!" Bruenor snorted. "I'm not for saying...""Well, actually," Regis began to correct, but changed his mind when Bruenor turned his scarred visage the halfling's way and growled at him."So ye're right and I said stupid elf!" Bruenor admitted, speaking mostly to Drizzt, as close to an apology as he ever gave. "But I've got me work to do." He looked back up the trail, in the direction of Mithril Hall's eastern door. "Inside!" he finished.Drizzt took out the onyx figurine and placed it on the ground, purposely right before the dwarf's heavy boots. "When Guenhwyvar is returned to us, I will explain how inconvenienced you were to come and witness her return," Drizzt said with a smirk."Stupid elf," Bruenor muttered under his breath, and he fully expected that Drizzt would have the cat sleep on him again, or something worse.Catti-brie and Regis laughed, but their mirth was strained and nervous, as Drizzt called quietly for the panther. The pain they would have to bear if the magic of the figurine had not healed, if Guenhwyvar did not return to them, would be no less to the companions than the pain of losing Wulfgar.They all knew it, even surly, blustery Bruenor, who to his grave would deny his affection for the magical panther. Silence grew around the figurine as the gray smoke came forth, swirled, and solidified.Guenhwyvar seemed almost confused as she regarded the four companions standing about her, none of them daring to breathe.Drizzt's grin was the first and the widest, as he saw that his trusted companion was whole again and healed, the black fur glistening in the starlight, the sleek muscles taut and strong.He had brought Bruenor and Regis out to witness this moment. It was fitting that all four of them stood by when Guenhwyvar returned.More fitting would it have been had the sixth companion, Wulfgar, son of Beornegar, joined them on that plateau, in the quiet night, under the stars, in the last hours of Mithril Hall's peace.Part 4THE DROW MARCHI noticed something truly amazing, and truly heartwarming, as we, all the defenders of Mithril Hall and the immediate region, neared the end of preparations, neared the time when the drow would come.I am drow. My skin proves that I am different. The ebony hue shows my heritage clearly and undeniably. And yet, not a glare was aimed my way, not a look of consternation from the Harpells and the Longriders, not an angry word from volatile Berkthgar and his warrior people. And no dwarf, not even General Dagna, who did not like anyone who was not a dwarf, pointed an accusing finger at me.We did not know why the drow had come, be it for me or for the promise of treasure from the rich dwarven complex. Whatever the cause, to the defenders, I was without blame. How wonderful that felt to me, who had worn the burden of self-imposed guilt for many months, guilt for the previous raid, guilt for Wulfgar, guilt that Catti-brie had been forced by friendship to chase me all the way to Menzoberranzan.I had worn this heavy collar, and yet those around me who had as much to lose as I placed no burden on me.You cannot understand how special that realization was to one of my past. It was a gesture of sincere friendship, and what made it all the more important is that it was an unintentional gesture, offered without thought or purpose. Too often in the past, my "friends" would make such gestures as if to prove something, more to themselves than to me. They could feel better about themselves because they could look beyond the obvious differences, such as the color of my skin.Guenhwyvar never did that. Bruenor never did that. Neither did Catti-brie or Regis. Wulfgar at first despised me, openly and without excuse, simply because I was drow. They were honest, and thus, they were always my friends. But in the days of preparation for war, 1 saw that sphere of friendship expand many times over. I came to know that the dwarves of Mithril Hall, the men and women of Settlestone, and many, many more, truly accepted me.That is the honest nature of friendship. That is when it becomes sincere, and not self-serving. So in those days, Drizzt Do'Urden came to understand, once and for all, that he was not of Menzoberranzan.I threw off the collar of guilt. I smiled.