Ben the Brewer dropped the blade back to the floor.
“I just realized that I don’t even know your name,” Drizzt said to the farmer woman a couple of mornings later. They stood outside the house. It was his first time away from Dahlia since administering the antidote. The elf rested easily, at last, her fever broken, the swelling in her foot and leg at last receding.
“Meg,” she answered.
“Just Meg. I had more of a name once, when it mattered. Now I’m Meg, just Meg, and Ma to my kids. Nothing more.”
“We owe you much,” Drizzt said.
“You owe me a clean floor, to be sure!” Meg said with a sad laugh.
Drizzt smiled at her. “Your generosity …”
“I did what any person would do, or ought to do, or once upon a time outside Luskan would do,” Meg replied, her voice sharp.
“Still, I would like to show my appreciation, to you and to Ben the Brewer.”
“I want nothing from you, other than that you’ll be long gone from my house, not to return.”
The chill in the woman’s voice surprised Drizzt. He thought perhaps their time there had forged a bond. He thought wrong, apparently.
“Firewood, at least,” said Drizzt. “Or perhaps I can hunt a boar for your table.” She involuntarily licked her lips, and he smiled, thinking he’d tempted her.
Her face turned stone cold. “You get your lady elf and be gone,” Meg said flatly. “She’ll be fine to travel this day, so you’re going, both of you, and don’t you come back.”
“Because people will talk and the high captains will hear,” came Dahlia’s voice from the doorway. She walked out on surprisingly steady legs.
Drizzt looked at Meg, but her expression didn’t change.
“Call your steed,” Meg said. “You’ve a road worth riding.” She turned away and walked past Dahlia, and shut the door behind her.
Drizzt stared after her, even started after her, but Dahlia grabbed him by the arm and held him back.
“Summon Andahar,” she said quietly. “It will be best.”
“They saved you.”
“You saved me.”
“They did—they helped us greatly!”
“They tried to cut my foot off.”
“Only to save you.”
“Better to die, then.”
The way she said it struck Drizzt profoundly, because he knew she meant it. He wanted to chastise her, wanted to tell her to never speak like that.
But then he thought of his midnight ride, of his exhilaration, of his sense of control, of confidence, of his sense of sheer joy in the adventure, whatever the stakes. It was a feeling Drizzt Do’Urden had not known in a long, long time.
He blew the whistle for Andahar, and he set the bells of the barding to ringing as they charged away, down the southern road.
Part II: The Enemy of My Enemy
Long has it occurred to me that I am a creature of action, of battle and of adventure. In times of peace and calm, like my friend Bruenor, I find myself longing for the open road, where bandits rule and wild orcs roam. For so many years, I stubbornly clung to the battle and the adventure. I admit my thrill when King Bruenor decided to quietly abdicate and go on his search for legendary Gauntlgrym.
For in that quest, we found the open road, the wilderness, the adventure, and indeed, the battles.
But something was missing. I couldn’t quite place it, couldn’t quite articulate it, but for a long while now, indeed back to the early days of King Bruenor’s reign of reclaimed Mithral Hall, there remained a sharp edge missing, a necessary edge scraping my skin and keeping me wholly alive.
Anyone who has ever stood on the edge of a cliff understands this. One can bask in the views, and with such a wide panorama, one cannot help but feel the thrill of being a part of something bigger and grander, much like the manner in which the stars pull a soul heavenward to join with the incomprehensible vastness of the universe.
But amid all the beauty and awe-inspiring grandeur, it is the feel of the wind that completes the sensation, particularly if it is a swirling and gusting breeze. For then comes the greatest affirmation of life: the sensation of fear, the recognition of how fleeting this entire existence can be.
When I stand on the edge of that cliff, on the precipice of disaster, and I lean against that wind, I am truly alive. I have to be quick to realign my balance and my footing as the wind swirls; if I wish to stay on my perch, indeed to stay alive, I have to remain quicker than the whims of the wind.
In the past, I stubbornly kept tight the battles and the adventures, and ever turned my eye to the open and dangerous road, but it was not until very recently that I came to understand that which was truly missing: the thrill of the risk.
The thrill of the risk. The edge of that high precipice. Not the risk itself, for that was ever there, but the thrill of that risk … In truth, it was not until my midnight ride back from Luskan that I realized how long I’d been missing that thrill.
When first I left Dahlia, I was afraid for her, but that fear dissipated almost immediately, replaced by a sense of invincibility that I have not known in decades, in a century perhaps! I knew that I would get over Luskan’s guarded wall, that I would find Beniago, and that I would bend him to my need. I knew that I would win out. I knew that I would be quicker than the gusting wind.
The risk was ever there, I now understand, but for so many years, the thrill of that risk was not because of the untenable price of defeat. For the price of having friends so dear and a companion so beloved is … vulnerability.
I can accept the wind blowing Drizzt Do’Urden from the cliff. Such a price is not too high. But to watch Catti-brie fall before me?
Then I am not invincible. Then there is simply the risk, and not the thrill of living on the edge of that dangerous cliff.
For when I rode to Luskan, I was invincible. The walls could not stop me. Beniago could not stop me.
And now I understand that when I lost my friends, my family, my home, I lost, too, my vulnerability, and gained back in return the thrill of danger, the freedom to not only walk on the edge of that high cliff, but to dance there, to taunt the wind.
What a strange irony.
But what, then, of my growing relationship with Dahlia?
She fascinates me. She teases me with her every movement and every word. She lures me—to where I do not know!
On my ride, in my unbridled joy, in the thrill of adventure and battle and yes, risk, I knew that she would survive. I knew it! Even when all reason warned me that the poison would take her long before I could return from Luskan, somewhere deep inside of me, I just knew she wouldn’t be lost to me. Not then, not like that. Her fate could not be written such; her death wouldn’t be so crude and mundane.
But what if I was proven wrong? What if she had been taken from me, like those before? Surely Dahlia dances more wildly on the edge of that cliff than I do. She is fearless to the point of utter recklessness—in the short time I have known her, I have seen that all too clearly.
And yet, that risk does not frighten me.
I don’t want her to die. The fascination, the attraction, is all too real and all too powerful. I want to know her, to understand her. I want to yell at her and kiss her all at once. I want to test her in battle and in passion.
She is as erratic as she is erotic, changing her tone as easily as she alters her appearance. I think it a game she plays, a way to keep friends and enemies alike off-balance. But I cannot be sure, and that, too, is part of her never-ending seduction. Is she teasing me with seemingly erratic behavior, or is Dahlia truly erratic? Is she the actor or the role?
Or perhaps there is a third answer: Am I so desperate to know this unpredictable doppelganger that I am reading too much into her every word? Am I seeking, and thus seeing, deeper meaning than she intends as I scour for clues to that which is in her heart?
A carefully guarded heart. But why?
Another mystery to unravel …
I knew she wouldn’t be lost to me, but how? How did my instincts counter my reason so fully? Given all that has passed in my life, shouldn’t I have expected the worst outcome regarding Dahlia? Given the losses I have endured, shouldn’t I have feared exactly that in a desperate situation?
And yet I did not. I reveled in the midnight ride, in the adventure and the thrill of the risk.
Is it Dahlia’s competency, her swagger, her own fearlessness, affecting my heart? Or is it, perhaps, that I do not love her—not as I loved Catti-brie, or Bruenor, Wulfgar and Regis?
Or is it something more, I wonder? Perhaps Innovindil’s lesson reached me more deeply than I had known. Logically, rationally, I can see Innovindil’s viewpoint, that we elves have to live our lives in shorter segments because of the short-lived races with whom we naturally interact. But could it be that Innovindil’s lessons have sparked within me a confidence that I will go on, that there is more road in front of me? Though those I deeply loved are removed from my side, I will find others to share the leagues and the fights?
It is all of that, I expect, and perhaps something more. Perhaps each loss hardened my heart and numbed me to the pain. The loss of Bruenor stung less than those of Catti-brie and Regis, and less than my knowledge that Wulfgar, too, has surely passed on. There are other reasons, I am confident. Bruenor’s last words to me, “I found it, elf,” reflected a full life’s journey, to be sure! What dwarf could ask for more than what King Bruenor Battlehammer knew? His final battle alone, his victory over the pit fiend while immersed in the power of dwarven kings of old, would surely fill to bursting the heart of any dwarf.
So I did not cry for Bruenor, though I surely miss him no less than any of the others.
There is no one answer, then. Life is a complicated journey, and few are the direct lines from feeling to consequence and consequence to anticipation. I will try to unravel it all, of course, as that is my nature, but in the end, I am left now with only one inescapable truth: the joy of that midnight ride, of bargaining with Beniago at the end of a scimitar, of reckless adventure.
The thrill, the edge of the cliff.
This is your promise to Drizzt Do’Urden, my lady Dahlia the erotic, the erratic.
And this is your legacy to Drizzt Do’Urden, my old Companions of the Hall.
Do you see me now, Catti-brie?
Do you see me now, Bruenor?
Do you see me now, Regis?
Do you see me now, Wulfgar?
Because I see you. You walk with me. You are in my thoughts every day, all four, and I see you smile when I smile and frown when I hurt. I believe this, I sense this.
I pray for this.
Chapter 9: Black Diamond
DRIZZT MOVED TO THE BACK OF THE SMALL ENCAMPMENT, coming to the edge of the bluff overlooking the riverbank. Dahlia was at the cold stream, her boots and black leather hat on the ground beside her. Her black hair was still in its fashionably shoulder-length cut, swept forward, and her woad remained hidden by the makeup … or was it the other way around, where the woad was the makeup and this was the real Dahlia?
Drizzt chuckled as he considered that, for the illusion that was Dahlia resonated with him on many more levels than her physical appearance. It was a helpless chuckle, for he held no hope that he would unwind the mysteries of Dahlia anytime soon.