Streams of Silver 17. The Challenge

They left under stars and did not stop until stars filled the sky once again. Bruenor needed no support. Quite the opposite. It was the dwarf, recovered from his delirium and his eyes focused at last upon a tangible path to his long-sought goal, who drove them, setting the strongest pace since they had come out of Icewind Dale. Glassy-eyed and walking both in past and present, Bruenor’s obsession consumed him. For nearly two hundred years he had dreamed of this return, and these last few days on the road seemed longer than the centuries that had come before.
The companions had apparently beaten their worst enemy: time. If their reckoning at the Holdfast was correct, Mithril Hall loomed just a few days away, while the short summer had barely passed its midpoint. With time no longer a pressing issue, Drizzt, Wulfgar, and Regis had anticipated a moderate pace as they prepared to leave the Holdfast. But Bruenor, when he awoke and learned of the discoveries, would hear no arguments about his rush. None were offered, though, for in the excitement, Bruenor’s already surly disposition had grown even fouler.
“Keep yer feet moving!” he kept snapping at Regis, whose little legs could not match the dwarf’s frantic pace. “Ye should’ve stayed in Ten-Towns with yer belly hanging over yer belt!” The dwarf would then sink into quiet grumbling, bending even lower over his pumping feet, and driving onward, his ears blocked to any remarks that Regis might shoot back or any comments forthcoming from Wulfgar or Drizzt concerning his behavior.

They angled their path back to the Rauvin, to use its waters as a guide. Drizzt did manage to convince Bruenor to veer back to the northwest as soon as the peaks of the mountain range came into view. The drow had no desire to meet any patrols from Nesme again, certain that it was that city’s warning cries that had forced Alustriel to keep him out of Silverymoon.
Bruenor found no relaxation at the camp that night, even though they had obviously covered far more than half the distance to the ruins of Settlestone. He stomped about the camp like a trapped animal, clenching and unclenching his gnarly fists and mumbling to himself about the fateful day when his people had been pushed out of Mithril Hall, and the revenge he would find when he at last returned.
“Is it the potion?” Wulfgar asked Drizzt later that evening as they stood to the side of the camp and watched the dwarf.
“Some of it, perhaps,” Drizzt answered, equally concerned about his friend. “The potion has forced Bruenor to live again the most painful experience of his long life. And now, as the memories of that past find their way into his emotions, they keenly edge the vengeance that has festered within him all these years.”
“He is afraid,” Wulfgar noted.
Drizzt nodded. “This is the trial of his life. His vow to return to Mithril Hall holds within it all the value that he places upon his own existence.”
“He pushes too hard,” Wulfgar remarked, looking at Regis, who had collapsed, exhausted, right after they had supped. “The halfling cannot keep the pace.”
“Less than a day stands before us,” Drizzt replied. “Regis will survive this road, as shall we all.” He patted the barbarian on the shoulder and Wulfgar, not fully satisfied, but resigned to the fact that he could not sway the dwarf, moved away to find some rest. Drizzt looked back to the pacing dwarf, and his dark face bore a look of deeper concern than he had revealed to the young barbarian.
Drizzt truly wasn’t worried about Regis. The halfling always found a way to come through better off than he should. Bruenor, though, troubled the drow. He remembered when the dwarf had crafted Aegis-fang, the mighty warhammer. The weapon had been Bruenor’s ultimate creation in a rich career as a craftsman, a weapon worthy of legend. Bruenor could not hope to outdo that accomplishment, nor even equal it. The dwarf had never put hammer to anvil again.
Now the journey to Mithril Hall, Bruenor’s lifelong goal. As Aegis-fang had been Bruenor’s finest crafting, this journey would be his highest climb. The focus of Drizzt’s concern was more subtle, and yet more dangerous, than the success or failure of the search; the dangers of the road affected all of them equally, and they had accepted them willingly before starting out. Whether or not the ancient halls were reclaimed, Bruenor’s mountain would be crested. The moment of his glory would be passed.
“Calm yourself, good friend,” Drizzt said, moving beside the dwarf.
“It’s me home, elf!” Bruenor shot back, but he did seem to compose himself a bit.
“I understand,” Drizzt offered. “It seems that we shall indeed look upon Mithril Hall, and that raises a question we must soon answer.”
Bruenor looked at him curiously, though he knew well enough what Drizzt was getting at.
“So far we have concerned ourselves only with finding Mithril Hall, and little has been said of our plans beyond the entrance to the place.”
“By all that is right, I am King of the Hall,” Bruenor growled.
“Agreed,” said the drow, “but what of the darkness that may remain? A force that drove your entire clan from the mines. Are we four to defeat it?”
“It may have gone on its own, elf,” Bruenor replied in a surly tone, not wanting to face the possibilities. “For all our knowing, the halls may be clean.”
“Perhaps. But what plans have you if the darkness remains?”
Bruenor paused for a moment of thought. “Word’ll be sent to Icewind Dale,” he answered. “Me kin’ll be with us in the spring.”
“Barely a hundred strong!” Drizzt reminded him.
“Then I’ll call to Adbar if more be needed!” Bruenor snapped. “Harbromm’ll be glad to help, for a promise of treasure.”
Drizzt knew that Bruenor wouldn’t be so quick to make such a promise, but he decided to end the stream of disturbing but necessary questions. “Sleep well,” he bid the dwarf. “You shall find your answers when you must.”
The pace was no less frantic the morning of the next day. Mountains soon towered above them as they ran along, and another change came over the dwarf. He stopped suddenly, dizzied and fighting for his balance. Wulfgar and Drizzt were right beside him, propping him up.
“What is it?” Drizzt asked.
“Dwarvendarrow,” Bruenor answered in a voice that seemed far removed. He pointed to an outcropping of rock jutting from the base of the nearest mountain.
“You know the place?”
Bruenor didn’t answer. He started off again, stumbling, but rejecting any offers of help. His friends shrugged helplessly and followed.
An hour later, the structures came into view. Like giant houses of cards, great slabs of stone had been cunningly laid together to form dwellings, and though they had been deserted for more than a hundred years, the seasons and the wind had not reclaimed them. Only dwarves could have imbued such strength into the rock, could have laid the stones so perfectly that they would last as the mountains themselves lasted, beyond the generations and the tales of the bards, so that some future race would look upon them in awe and marvel at their construction without the slightest idea of who had created them.
Bruenor remembered. He wandered into the village as he had those many decades ago, a tear rimming his gray eye and his body trembling against the memories of the darkness that had swarmed over his clan.
His friends let him go about for a while, not wanting to interrupt the solemn emotions that had found their way through his thick hide. Finally, as afternoon waned, Drizzt moved over to him.
“Do you know the way?” he asked.
Bruenor looked up at a pass that climbed along the side of the nearest mountain. “Half a day,” he replied.
“Camp here?” Drizzt asked.
“It would do me good,” said Bruenor. “I’ve much to think over, elf. I’ll not forget the way, fear not.” His eyes narrowed in tight focus at the trail he had fled on the day of darkness, and he whispered, “I’ll never forget the way again.”
* * *
Bruenor’s driven pace proved fortunate for the friends, for Bok had easily continued along the drow’s trail outside of Silverymoon and had led its group with similar haste. Bypassing the Holdfast altogether – the tower’s magical wards would not have let them near it in any case – the golem’s party had made up considerable ground.
In a camp not far away, Entreri stood grinning his evil smile and staring at the dark horizon, and at the speck of light he knew to be the campfire of his victim.
Catti-brie saw it, too, and knew that the next day would bring her greatest challenge. She had spent most of her life with the battle-seasoned dwarves, under the tutelage of Bruenor himself. He had taught her both discipline and confidence. Not a facade of cockiness to hide deeper insecurities, but a true self-belief and measured evaluation of what she could and could not accomplish. Any trouble that she had finding sleep that night was more due to her eagerness to face this challenge than her fear of failure.
They broke camp early and arrived at the ruins just after dawn. No more anxious than Bruenor’s party, though, they found only the remnants of the companions’ campsite.
“An hour – perhaps two,” Entreri observed, bending low to feel the heat of the embers.
“Bok has already found the new trail,” said Sydney, pointing to the golem moving off toward the foothills of the closest mountain.
A smile filled Entreri’s face as the thrill of the chase swept over him. Catti-brie paid little attention to the assassin, though, more concerned with the revelations painted on Jierdan’s face.
The soldier seemed unsure of himself. He took up after them as soon as Sydney and Entreri started behind Bok, but with forced steps. He obviously wasn’t looking forward to the pending confrontation, as were Sydney and Entreri.

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