"He will know that his son is dead by now," Drizzt remarked.
He was brushing Sunset, paying particular care to the many scratches the pegasus had suffered in the flight from the orc army.
"Then perhaps he will come to us," the elf replied, "and save us the trouble of hunting him down."
Drizzt's concern at Innovindil's grim tone washed away when he considered her wide grin. He watched her walking toward him - he couldn't pull his eyes away. She had taken off her battle gear and was dressed in a simple light blue gown of thin, nearly sheer material that rested smoothly against her every curve. Behind her, the last rays of day leaped forth from the horizon, backlighting the elf in a heavenly glow, surrounding her beautiful hair in soft yellow hues.
"You brought forth my anger," Innovindil reminded him.
"I have found a place of... concentration," Drizzt tried to explain, shaking himself from the spectacle of the elf. "A state of mind that is clearer. When I left my homeland, I traveled alone through the dark ways of the Underdark. For ten years, I wandered, mostly alone." He gave a grin and produced the onyx figurine. "Except for Guenhwyvar."
"If the Underdark is as I have heard, then you should not have survived."
"Nor would I have, even with Guen, had I not found the Hunter."
"That place of concentration," Drizzt explained. "A place within my heart and mind where rage transforms into focus."
"Most would argue that rage is blinding."
"And so it can be," Drizzt agreed. "If it is not in control."
"And so you become this creature of focus and rage .. ."
"And the cost is heavy, I have come to know," Drizzt added. "The cost is joy and hope. The cost is ..."
"I do not know," Drizzt admitted. "Perhaps there is room within for all that I must be."
"Room for Drizzt, and for the Hunter?"
The drow merely shrugged.
"We have much to do," Innovindil told him. "With the dwarves' retreat, all the North is imperiled. Who will rouse the forces of the land against Obould if not Drizzt and Innovindil?"
Drizzt nodded in agreement and added in all seriousness, "Should we rouse the world against him before or after we kill him?"
The thought brought a grim smile to Innovindil's fair face, creating a most amazing paradox to the lavender eyes of the drow. Beautiful and terrible all at once, she seemed, the warmest of friends and the deadliest of enemies.
* * *
"We gotta get back," Dagna grumbled. "Them trolls're heading for the halls, not to doubt!"
"We cannot!" Galen Firth shouted. "Not now! My people are nearby - somewhere."
He stopped and looked around, as did many of the others, at the muddy landscape, the few scraggly trees and the ground torn by battle and the march of many great trolls, as Galen Firth had warned upon his arrival to Mithral Hall. The band had been near to the southern tunnel exits when they'd realized the truth of the Nesme rider's words, when a band of ugly and smelly trolls had struck hard at them.
Quick thinking and quicker feet had gotten the dwarves away, the band scrambling down a tunnel that was too low for the large trolls to pursue. That long tunnel, first completely of stone and rising and turning to stone and earth, had taken them to the edge of the Trollmoors and somewhere to the east of Nesme, by Galen Firth's reckoning.
Grim-faced, Dagna stared hard at the animated Galen and gradually came to understand the man's point of view. As Dagna felt that his duty was to return to Regis and warn Mithral Hall, so Galen Firth fiercely believed that his course was to search there, to find his people and help them to safety. Dagna couldn't ignore that plea. He had been sent there to help the rider from Nesme do just that.
"I'll give ye three days o' hunting," Dagna conceded. "After that, me and me boys gotta turn back fast for Mithral Hall. Them trolls didn't keep up the chase - they're heading for me home."
"You do not know that."
"I feel it," Dagna countered. "In me old bones, I can feel the threat to me kinfolk. What're Trollmoors trolls doing in tunnels?"
"Perhaps they chased the folk of Nesme underground."
Dagna nodded and hoped that Galen Firth was right, that the trolls were not marching on Mithral Hall but were merely finishing their business there.
"Three days," he said to the man.
Galen Firth nodded his agreement, and fifty dwarves gathered up their packs and weapons. They had run flat out for hours, and that after a day of hard marching. The sun was sinking fast in the west, the long shadows reaching out to darken all the land.
But it was not the time for rest.
* * *
"The elf's out there," Bruenor muttered over and over.
Gathered beside him, Regis, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and some of the other leaders just sat quietly and let all the information sink in. They had told him of the flight from Shallows, the fall of Dagnabbit, the unexpected rescue from Mirabar's refugees, and all the fighting that had followed.
"Well, we got to set our defenses all about, above at the gates and below in the tunnels," the dwarf king said at length. "No telling where them pigs'll hit at us."
"Or if they will," put in Regis, and all eyes turned to him. "What is their plan? Do they wish to try to complete their victory? They know the cost will be great."
"Or what else, then?" asked Bruenor.
Regis shook his head, closed his eyes, and let it all settle in his thoughts. The orcs that had driven them into the hall were different, he understood. They had acted cleverly at every turn. They had acted more like an army with a purpose than the typically vicious mob one associated with goblinkin.
"Whether it's the giants," said Regis, "or this orc of renown Obould Many-Arrows. . .."
"Curse his name!" spat Tred McKnuckles.
"Yerself and yer kin o' Felbarr know him, to be sure," Bruenor said to Tred. "Are ye thinking he's to come crashing in?"
Tred gave a snort and shrugged.
"If he's thinking to, then he's thinking to have all his fellows slaughtered," promised Banak Brawnanvil, who wasn't sitting, but rather lying on a cot set in the side of the room.
Even with all the work Cordio and the others had done on him, the tough old dwarf was far from healed, for the orc spear had bitten him deep indeed. Despite his physical infirmity, there seemed no quit in the old dwarf, though.
Others seconded that sentiment.
"Any word from the south?" Bruenor asked, turning to Regis.
"Not from Dagna, no," the halfling replied, and he glanced around, somewhat sheepishly. It had been his decision to send the dwarves off with Galen Firth, after all. "But there is some fighting in the lower tunnels. Trolls have come forth, and in force."
"We'll hold them," Banak promised. "Pwent and his boys went down to join in the fighting. Pwent likes trolls, he says, because their pieces wiggle even after ye cut 'em off!"
Bruenor nodded, taking it all in. Mithral Hall had held strong against an onslaught of dark elves; he was confident that no orcs, even with the aid of trolls and frost giants, could ever hope to dislodge Clan Battlehammer.
They had much to do in strengthening their defenses, in licking their wounds and organizing their forces, but Bruenor took heart that in his absence, Mithral Hall had been well guided.
But while his confidence in his clan and home held strong, the other issue, that of a lost friend, played heavily on the crusty dwarf's heart.
"The elf's out there," he muttered again, shaking his head. His face brightened as he looked to Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Regis in turn. "But I'm knowing a way out o' here and a way to get him back in."
"Ye cannot be thinking o' going out there!" Cordio Muffmhead scolded, and he stormed up to Bruenor's side. "Ye just got back to us, and ye're not for wandering - !"
He almost finished the sentence, until Bruenor's backhand sent him stumbling against the wall.
"Ye hear me, and ye hear me good," Bruenor told them all. "I seen the other side now, and I'm back with a mouth full o' spit on this. Ye call me yer king, and yer king I'll be - but I'm a king doing things me own way."
Bruenor looked back to his three dear friends and added, "The elf's still out there."
"Then maybe we should go get him," Regis replied.
Catti-brie and Wulfgar exchanged determined looks, then turned to regard Regis and Bruenor.
So it was agreed.
* * *
On a high bluff on a windblown mountainside, the dark elf watched the sunset. He wondered about the personal relevance of that image, of the light sinking behind a dark line. The change of day and, perhaps, of a chapter in the life of Drizzt Do'Urden.
He was an elf, yes, as Innovindil had reminded. He would see many sunsets, unless an enemy blade laid him low.
Merely thinking of that very real possibility forced a resigned grin to the drow's lips. Perhaps it would be such for him, as it had been for his friends, as it had been, before his very eyes, for poor Tarathiel. But it would not happen, he vowed silently then and there, until he had paid back the ugly orc, Obould Many-Arrows.
For all of it.