Berg'inyon Baenre was not surprised to find Jarlaxle and the soldiers of Bregan D'aerthe waiting for him far below the surface, far from Mithril Hall. As soon as he had heard reports of desertion, Berg'inyon realized that the pragmatic mercenary was probably among those ranks of drow fleeing the war.
Methil had informed Jarlaxle of Berg'inyon's approach, and the mercenary leader was indeed surprised to find that Berg'inyon, the son of Matron Baenre, the weapon master of the first house, had also run off in desertion. The mercenary had figured that Berg'inyon would fight his way into Mithril Hall and die as his mother had died.
"The war is lost," Berg'inyon remarked. Unsure of himself, he looked to Methil, for he hadn't anticipated that the illithid would be out here, away from the matriarch. The illithid's obvious wounds, one arm hanging limply and a large hole on the side of his octopus head, grotesque brain matter oozing out, caught Berg'inyon off guard as well, for he never expected that anyone could catch up to Methil and harm him so.
"Your mother is dead," Jarlaxle replied bluntly, drawing the young Baenre's attention from the wounded illithid. "As are your two sisters and Auro'pol Dyrr."
Berg'inyon nodded, seeming hardly surprised.
Jarlaxle wondered whether he should mention that Matron Baenre was the one who had murdered the latter. He held the thought in check, figuring he might be able to use that little bit of information against Berg'inyon at a later time.
"Matron Zeerith Q'Xorlarrin led the retreat from Mithril Hall's lower door," the mercenary went on.
"And my own force caught up to those drow who tried, and failed, to get in the eastern door," Berg'inyon added.
"And you punished them?" Jarlaxle wanted to know, for he was still unsure of Berg'inyon's feelings about all of this, still unsure if he and his band were about to fight yet another battle down here in the tunnels.
Berg'inyon scoffed at the notion of punishment, and Jarlaxle breathed a little easier.
Together, they marched on, back for the dark and more comfortable ways of Menzoberranzan. They linked with Zeerith and her force soon after, and many other groups of dark elves and humanoids fell into line as the days wore on. In all, more than two thousand drow, a fourth of them Baenre soldiers, had died in the assault on Mithril Hall, and twice that number of humanoid slaves had been killed, most outside the mountain, on Fourthpeak's southern slopes and in Keeper's Dale. And a like number of humanoids had run off after the battles, fleeing to the surface or down other corridors, taking their chances in the unknown world above or in the wild Underdark rather than return to the tortured life as a slave of the drow.
Things had not gone as Matron Baenre had planned.
Berg'inyon fell into line as the quiet force moved away, letting Zeerith control the procession.
"Menzoberranzan will be many years in healing from the folly of Matron Baenre," Jarlaxle remarked to Berg'inyon later that day, when he came upon the young weapon master alone in a side chamber as the army camped in a region of broken caves and short, connecting tunnels.
Berg'inyon didn't disagree with the statement and showed no anger at all. He understood the truth of Jarlaxle's words, and knew that much trouble would befall House Baenre in the days ahead. Matron Zeerith was outraged, and Mez'Barris Armgo and all the other matron mothers would be, too, when they learned of the disaster.
"The offer remains," Jarlaxle said, and he left the chamber, left Berg'inyon alone with his thoughts.
House Baenre would likely survive, Berg'inyon believed. Triel would assume its rulership, and, though they had lost five hundred skilled soldiers, nearly two thousand remained, including more than three hundred of the famed lizard riders. Matron Baenre had built a huge network of allies outside the house as well, and even this disaster, and the death of Baenre, would not likely topple the first house.
There would indeed be trouble, though. Matron Baenre was the solidifying force. What might House Baenre expect from troublesome Gromph with her gone?
And what of Triel? Berg'inyon wondered. Where would he fit into his sister's designs? Now she would be free to raise children of her own and bring them into power. The first son born to her would either be groomed as the house wizard or as a candidate for Berg'inyon's position as weapon master.
How long, then, did Berg'inyon have? Fifty years? A hundred? Not long in the life span of a dark elf.
Berg'inyon looked to the archway, to the back of the departing mercenary, and considered carefully Jarlaxle's offer for him to join Bregan D'aerthe.
Mithril Hall was a place of mixed emotions: tears for the dead and cheers for the victory. All mourned Besnell and Firble, Regweld Harpell and so many others who had died valiantly. And all cheered for King Bruenor and his mighty friends, for Berkthgar the Bold, for Lady Alustriel, still nursing her grievous wounds, and for Stumpet Rakingclaw, hero of both the Undercity and Keeper's Dale.
And all cheered most of all for Gandalug Battlehammer, the patron of Clan Battlehammer, returned from the grave, it seemed. How strange it was for Bruenor to face his own ancestor, to see the first bust in the Hall of Kings come to life!
The two dwarves sat side by side in the throne room on the upper levels of the dwarven complex, flanked by Alustriel (with Stumpet kneeling beside the Lady of Silverymoon's chair, nagging her to rest!) on the right and Berkthgar on the left.
The celebration was general throughout the dwarven complex, from the Undercity to the throne room, a time of gathering, and of parting, a time when Belwar Dissengulp and Bruenor Battlehammer finally met. Through the magic of Alustriel, an enchantment that sorted out the language problems, the two were able to forge an alliance between Blingdenstone and Mithril Hall that would live for centuries, and they were able to swap tales of their common drow friend, particularly when Drizzt was wandering about, just far enough away to realize they were talking about him.
"It's the damned cat that bothers me," Bruenor huffed on one occasion, loud enough so that Drizzt would hear.
The drow sauntered over, put a foot on the raised dais that held the thrones, and leaned forward on his knee, very close to Belwar. "Guenhwyvar humbles Bruenor," Drizzt said in the Drow tongue, a language Belwar somewhat understood, but which was not translated by Alustriel's spell for Bruenor. "She often uses the dwarf for bedding."
Bruenor, knowing they were talking about him, but unable to understand a word, hooted in protest-and protested louder when Gandalug, who also knew a bit of the Drow tongue, joined in the conversation and the mirth.
"But suren the cat's not fer using me son's son's son's son's son's son's son's 'ead fer a piller!" the old dwarf howled. "Too hard it be. Too, too!"
"By Moradin, I should've left with the damned dark elves," a defeated Bruenor grumbled.
That notion sobered old Gandalug, took the cheer from his face in the blink of an eye.
Such was the celebration in Mithril Hall, a time of strong emotions, both good and bad.
Catti-brie watched it all from the side, feeling removed and strangely out of place. Surely she was thrilled at the victory, intrigued by the svirfnebli, whom she had met once before, and even more intrigued that the patron of her father's clan had been miraculously returned to the dwarven complex he had founded.
Along with those exciting feelings, though, the young woman felt a sense of completion. The drow threat to Mithril Hall was ended this time, and new and stronger alliances would be forged between Mithril Hall and all its neighbors, even Nesme. Bruenor and Berkthgar seemed old friends now-Bruenor had even hinted on several occasions that he might be willing to let the barbarian wield Aegis-fang.
Catti-brie hoped that would not come to pass, and didn't think it would. Bruenor had hinted at the generous offer mostly because he knew it wouldn't really cost him anything, Catti-brie suspected. After Berkthgar's exploits in Keeper's Dale, his own weapon, Bankenfuere, was well on its way as a legend among the warriors of Settlestone.
No matter what Berkthgar's exploits might be, Bankenfuere would never rival Aegis-fang, in Catti-brie's mind.
Though she was quiet and reflective, Catti-brie was not grim, not maudlin. Like everyone else in Mithril Hall, she had lost some friends in the war. But like everyone else, she was battle-hardened, accepting the ways of the world and able to see the greater good that had come from the battle. She laughed when a group of svirfnebli practically pulled out what little hair they had, so frustrated were they in trying to teach a group of drunken dwarves how to hear vibrations in the stone. She laughed louder when Regis bopped into the throne room, pounds of food tucked under each arm and already so stuffed that the buttons on his waistcoat were near bursting.
And she laughed loudest of all when Bidderdoo Harpell raced past her, Thibbledorf Pwent scrambling on his knees behind the wizard, begging Bidderdoo to bite him!
But there remained a reflective solitude behind that laughter, that nagging sense of completion that didn't sit well on the shoulders of a woman who had just begun to open her eyes to the wide world.
In the smoky filth of the Abyss, the balor Errtu held his breath as the shapely drow, the delicate disaster, approached his mushroom throne.
Errtu didn't know what to expect from Lloth; they had both witnessed the disaster.
The balor watched as the drow came through the mist, the prisoner, the promised gift, in tow. She was smiling, but, on the face of the Lady of Chaos, one could never hope to guess what that meant.
Errtu sat tall and proud, confident he had done as instructed. If Lloth tried to blame him for the disaster, he would argue, he determined, though if she had somehow found out about the antimagic stone he had sent along with the glabrezu ...
"You have brought my payment?" the balor boomed, trying to sound imposing.
"Of course, Errtu," the Spider Queen replied.Errtu cocked his tremendous, horned head. There seemed no deception in either her tone or her movements as she pushed the prisoner toward the gigantic, seated balor."You seem pleased," Errtu dared to remark.Lloth's smile nearly took in her ears, and then Errtu understood. She was pleased! The old wretch, the most wicked of the wicked, was glad of the outcome. Matron Baenre was gone, as was all order in Menzoberranzan. The drow city would know its greatest chaos now, thrilling interhouse warfare and a veritable spiderweb of intrigue, layer upon layer of lies and treachery, through each of the ruling houses."You knew this would happen from the beginning!" the balor accused.Lloth laughed aloud. "I did not anticipate the outcome," she assured Errtu. "I did not know Errtu would be so resourceful in protecting the one who might end his banishment."The balor's eyes widened, and his great leathery wings folded close about him, a symbolic, if ineffective, movement of defense."Fear not, my fiendish ally," Lloth cooed. "I will give you a chance to redeem yourself in my eyes."Errtu growled low. What favor did the Spider Queen now want from him?"I will be busy these next decades, I fear," Lloth went on, "in trying to end the confusion in Menzoberranzan."Errtu scoffed. "Never would you desire such a thing," he replied."I will be busy watching the confusion then," Lloth was willing to admit. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "And watching what it is you must do for me."Again came that demonic growl."When you are free, Errtu," Lloth said evenly, "when you have Drizzt Do'Urden entangled in the tongs of your merciless whip, do kill him slowly, painfully, that I might hear his every cry!" The Spider Queen swept hers arms up then and disappeared with a flurry of crackling black energy.Errtu's lip curled up in an evil smile. He looked to the pitiful prisoner, the key to breaking the will and the heart of Drizzt Do'Urden. Sometimes, it seemed, the Spider Queen did not ask for much.It had been two weeks since the victory, and in Mithril Hall the celebration continued. Many had left-first the two remaining men from Nesme and the Longriders, along with Harkle and Bella don DelRoy (though Pwent finally convinced Bidderdoo to stick around for a while). Then Alustriel and her remaining Knights in Silver, seventy-five warriors, began their journey back to Silverymoon with their heads held high, the lady ready to meet the challenges of her political rivals head-on, confident that she had done right in coming to King Bruenor's aid.The svirfnebli were in no hurry to leave, though, enjoying the company of Clan Battlehammer, and the men of Settlestone vowed to stay until the last of Mithril Hall's mead was drained away.Far down the mountain from the dwarven complex, on a cold, windy plain, Catti-brie sat atop a fine roan-one of the horses that had belonged to a slain Silverymoon knight. She sat quietly and confidently, but the sting in her heart as she looked up to Mithril Hall was no less acute. Her eyes scanned the trails to the rocky exit from the mountains, and she smiled, not surprised, in seeing a rider coming down."I knew ye'd follow me down here," she said to Drizzt Do'Urden when the ranger approached."We all have our place," Drizzt replied."And mine's not now in Mithril Hall," Catti-brie said sternly. "Ye'll not change me mind!"Drizzt paused for a long while, studying the determined young woman. "You've talked with Bruenor?" he asked."Of course," Catti-brie retorted. "Ye think I'd leave me father's house without his blessings?""Blessings he gave grudgingly, no doubt," Drizzt remarked.Catti-brie straightened in her saddle and locked her jaw firmly. "Bruenor's got much to do," she said. "And he's got Regis and yerself ..." She paused and held that thought, noticing the heavy pack strapped behind Drizzt's saddle. "And Gandalug and Berkthgar beside him," she finished. "They've not even figured which is to rule and which is to watch, though I'm thinking Gandalug's to let Bruenor remain king.""That would be the wiser course," Drizzt agreed.A long moment of silence passed between them."Berkthgar talks of leaving," Drizzt said suddenly, "of returning to Icewind Dale and the ancient ways of his people."Catti-brie nodded. She had heard such rumors.Again came that uncomfortable silence. Catti-brie finally turned her eyes away from the drow, thinking he was judging her, thinking, in her moment of doubt, that she was being a terrible daughter to Bruenor, terrible and selfish. "Me father didn't try to stop me," she blurted with a tone of finality, "and yerself cannot!""I never said I came out to try to stop you," Drizzt calmly replied.Catti-brie paused, not really surprised. When she had first told Bruenor she was leaving, that she had to go out from Mithril Hall for a while and witness the wonders of the world, the crusty dwarf had bellowed so loudly that Catti-brie thought the stone walls would tumble in on both of them.They had met again two days later, when Bruenor was not so full of dwarven holy water, and, to Catti-brie's surprise and relief, her father was much more reasonable. He understood her heart, he had assured her, though his gruff voice cracked as he delivered the words, and he realized she had to follow it, had to go off and learn who she was and where she fit in the world. Catti-brie had thought the words uncharacteristically understanding and philosophical of Bruenor, and now, facing Drizzt, she was certain of their source. Now she knew who Bruenor had spoken to between their meetings."He sent ye," she accused Drizzt."You were leaving and so was I," Drizzt replied casually."I just could not spend the rest o' me days in the tunnels," Catti-brie said, suddenly feeling as if she had to explain herself, revealing the guilt that had weighed heavily on her since her decision to leave home. She looked all around, her eyes scanning the distant horizon "There's just so much more for me. I'm knowing that in me heart. I've known it since Wulfgar ..."She paused and sighed and looked to Drizzt helplessly."And more for me," the drow said with a mischievous grin, "much more."Catti-brie glanced back over her shoulder, back to the west, where the sun was already beginning its descent."The days are short," she remarked, "and the road is long.""Only as long as you make it," Drizzt said to her, drawing her gaze back to him. "And the days are only as short as you allow them to be."Catti-brie eyed him curiously, not understanding that last statement.Drizzt was grinning widely as he explained, as full of anticipation as was Catti-brie. "A friend of mine, a blind old ranger, once told me that if you ride hard and fast enough to the west, the sun will never set for you."By the time he had finished the statement, Catti-brie had wheeled her roan and was in full gallop across the frozen plain toward the west, toward Nesme and Longsaddle beyond that, toward mighty Waterdeep and the Sword Coast. She bent low in the saddle, her mount running hard, her cloak billowing and snapping in the wind behind her, her thick auburn hair flying wildly.Drizzt opened a belt pouch and looked at the onyx panther figurine. No one could ask for better companions, he mused, and with a final look to the mountains, to Mithril Hall, where his friend was king, the ranger kicked his stallion into a gallop and chased after Catti-brie.To the west and the adventures of the wide world.