The Dark Elf Trilogy: Exile

9. Fiery Riddles


Now running with the currents of the Chionthar, and with the breeze at enough of an angle from the north for the sails to catch a bit of a push, the Sea Sprite cruised away from Baldur's Gate at a tremendous rate, spitting a white spray despite the concurrent movement of the water.

"The Sword Coast by midafternoon," Deudermont said to Drizzt and Wulfgar. "And off the coast, with no land in sight until we make Asavir's Channel. Then a southern journey around the edge of the world and back east to Calimport.

"Calimport," he said again, indicating a new pennant making its way up the mast of the Sea Sprite, a golden field crossed by slanted blue lines.

Drizzt looked at Deudermont suspiciously, knowing that this was not an ordinary practice of sailing vessels.

"We run Waterdeep's flag north of Baldur's Gate," the captain explained. "Calimport's south."

"An acceptable practice?" Drizzt asked.

"For those who know the price," chuckled Deudermont. "Waterdeep and Calimport are rivals, and stubborn in their feud. They desire trade with each other - they can only profit from it but do not always allow ships flying the other's flag to dock in their harbors."

"A foolish pride," Wulfgar remarked, painfully reminded of some similar traditions his own clannish people had practiced only a few years before.

"Politics," Deudermont said with a shrug. "But the lords of both cities secretly desire the trade, and a few dozen ships have made the connections to keep business moving. The Sea Sprite has two ports to call home, and everyone profits from the arrangement."

"Two markets for Captain Deudermont," Drizzt remarked slyly. "Practical."

"And it makes good sailing sense as well," Deudermont continued, his smile still wide. "Pirates running the waters north of Baldur's Gate respect the banner of Waterdeep above all others, and those south of here take care not to rouse the anger of Calimport and her massive armada. The pirates along Asavir's Channel have many merchant ships to pick from in the straights, and they are more likely to raid one that carries a flag of less weight."

"And you are never bothered?" Wulfgar couldn't help but ask, his voice tentative and almost sarcastic, as though he hadn't yet figured out if he approved of the practice.

"Never?" echoed Deudermont. "Not 'never,' but rarely. And on those occasions that pirates come at us, we fill our sails and run. Few ships can catch the Sea Sprite when her sails are full of wind."

"And if they do catch you?" asked Wulfgar.

"That is where you two can earn your passage," Deadermont laughed. "My guess is that those weapons you carry might soften a looting pirate's desire to continue the pursuit."

Wulfgar brought Aegis-fang up in front of him. "I pray that I have learned the movements of a ship well enough for such a battle," he said. "An errant swing might send me over the rail!"

"Then swim to the side of the pirate ship," Drizzt mused, "and tip her over!"

* * *

From a darkened chamber in his tower in Baldur's Gate, the wizard Oberon watched the Sea Sprite sail out. He probed deeper into the crystal ball to scry the elf and huge barbarian standing beside the ship's captain on the deck. They were not from these parts, the wizard knew. By his dress and his coloring, the barbarian was more likely from one of those distant tribes far to the north, beyond even Luskan and around the Spine of the World mountains, in that desolate stretch of land known as Icewind Dale. How far he was from home, and how unusual to see one of his kind sailing the open sea!

"What part could these two play in the return of Pasha Pook's gem?" Oberon wondered aloud, truly intrigued. Had Entreri gone all the way to that distant strip of tundra in search of the halfling? Were these two pursuing him south?

But it was not the wizard's affair. Oberon was just glad that Entreri had called in the debt with so easy a favor. The assassin had killed for Oberon - more than once - several years ago, and though Entreri had never mentioned the favors in his many visits to Oberon's tower, the wizard had always felt as if the assassin held a heavy chain around his neck. But this very night, the long-standing debt would be cleared in the puff of a simple signal.

Oberon's curiosity kept him tuned to the departing Sea Sprite a bit longer. He focused upon the elf - Drizzt Do'Urden, as Pellman, the harbormaster, had called him. To the wizard's experienced eye, something seemed amiss about this elf. Not out of place, as the barbarian seemed. Rather something in the way Drizzt carried himself or looked about with those unique, lavender orbs.

Those eyes just did not seem to fit the overall persona of that elf, Drizzt Do'Urden.

An enchantment, perhaps, Oberon guessed. Some magical disguise. The curious wizard wished that he had more information to report to Pasha Pook. He considered the possibilities of whisking himself away to the deck of the ship to investigate further, but he hadn't the proper spells prepared for such an undertaking. Besides, he reminded himself again, this was not his affair.

And he did not want to cross Artemis Entreri.

* * *

That same night, Oberon flew out of his tower and climbed into the night sky, a wand in hand. Hundreds of feet above the city, he loosed the proper sequence of fireballs.

* * *

Riding the decks of a Calimport ship named Devil Dancer, two hundred miles to the south, Artemis Entreri watched the display. "By sea," he muttered, noting the sequence of the bursts. He turned to the halfling standing beside him.

"Your friends pursue us by sea," he said. "And less than a week behind! They have done well."

Regis's eyes did not flicker in hope at the news. The climate change was very evident now, every day and every night. They had left the winter far behind, and the hot winds of the southern Realms had settled uneasily on the halfling's spirits. The trip to Calimport would not be interrupted by any other stops, and no ship - even one less than a week behind - could hope to catch the speedy Devil Dancer.

Regis wrestled against an inner dilemma, trying to come to terms with the inevitability of his meeting with his old guildmaster.

Pasha Pook was not a forgiving man. Regis had personally witnessed Pook dealing out severe punishments to those thieves who dared to steal from other members of the guild. And Regis had gone even a step further than that; he had stolen from the guildmaster himself. And the item he had plucked, the magical ruby pendant, was Pook's most treasured possession. Defeated and despairing, Regis put his head down and walked slowly back toward his cabin.

The halfling's somber mood did nothing to quell the tingle running through Entreri's spine. Pook would get the gem and the halfling, and Entreri would be paid well for the service. But in the assassin's mind, Pook's gold was not the true reward for his efforts.

Entreri wanted Drizzt Do'Urden.

* * *

Drizzt and Wulfgar also watched the fireworks over Baldur's Gate that night. Back in the open sea, but still more than a hundred and fifty miles north of the Devil Dancer, they could only guess at the display's significance.

"A wizard," Deudermont remarked, coming over to join the two. "Perhaps he does battle with some great aerial beast," the captain offered, trying to draw up some entertaining story. "A dragon or some other monster of the sky!" Drizzt squinted to gain a closer look at the fiery bursts. He saw no dark forms weaving around the flares, nor any hint that they were aimed at a particular target. But possibly the Sea Sprite was simply too far away for him to discern such detail.

"Not a fight - a signal," Wulfgar blurted, recognizing a pattern to the explosions. "Three and one. Three and one.

"It seems a bit of trouble for a simple signal," Wulfgar added. "Would not a rider carrying a note serve better?"

"Unless it is meant as a signal to a ship," offered Deudermont.

Drizzt had already entertained that very thought, and he was becoming more than a little suspicious of the display's source, and of its purpose.

Deudermont studied the display a moment longer. "Perhaps it is a signal," he conceded, recognizing the accuracy of Wulfgar's observations of a pattern. "Many ships put in to and out of Baldur's Gate each day. A wizard greeting some friends or saying farewell in grand fashion."

"Or relaying information," Drizzt added, glancing up at Wulfgar. Wulfgar did not miss the drow's point; Drizzt could tell by the barbarian's scowl that Wulfgar was entertaining similar suspicions.

"But for us, a show and nothing more," Deudermont said, bidding them good night with a pat on the shoulder. "An amusement to be enjoyed."

Drizzt and Wulfgar looked at each other, seriously doubting Deudermont's assessment.

* * *

"What game does Artemis Entreri play?" Pook asked rhetorically, speaking his thoughts aloud.

Oberon, the wizard in the crystal ball, shrugged. "Never have I pretended to understand the motives of Artemis Entreri."

Pook nodded his accord and continued to pace behind LaValle's chair.

"Yet I would guess that these two have little to do with your pendant," said Oberon.

"Some personal vendetta Entreri acquired along his travels," agreed Pook.

"Friends of the halfling?" wondered Oberon. "Then why would Entreri lead them in the right direction?"

"Whoever they may be, they can only bring trouble," said LaValle, seated between his guildmaster and the scrying device.

"Perhaps Entreri plans to lay an ambush for them," Pook suggested to Oberon. "That would explain his need for your signal."

"Entreri instructed the harbormaster to tell them that he would meet them in Calimport," Oberon reminded Pook.

"To throw them off," said LaValle. "To make them believe that the way would be clear until they arrived in the southern port."

"That is not the way of Artemis Entreri," said Oberon, and Pook was thinking the same thing. "I have never known the assassin to use such obvious tricks to gain the upper hand in a contest. It is Entreri's deepest pleasure to meet and crush challengers face to face."

The two wizards and the guildmaster who had survived and thrived by his ability to react to such puzzles appropriately all held their thoughts for a moment to consider the possibilities. All that Pook cared about was the return of his precious pendant. With it he could expand his powers ten times, perhaps even gaining the favor of the ruling Pasha of Calimshan himself.

"I do not like this," Pook said at length. "I want no complications to the return of the halfling, or of my pendant."

He paused to consider the implications of his decided course, leaning over LaValle's back to get close to Oberon's image. "Do you still have contact with Pinochet?" he asked the wizard slyly.

Oberon guessed the guildmaster's meaning. "The pirate does not forget his friends," he answered in the same tone, "Pinochet contacts me every time he finds his way to Baldur's Gate. He inquires of you as well, hoping that all is well with his old friend."

"And is he now in the isles?"

"The winter trade is rolling down from Waterdeep," Oberon replied with a chuckle. "Where else would a successful pirate be?"

"Good," muttered Pook.

"Should I arrange a welcome for Entreri's pursuers?" Oberon asked eagerly, enjoying the intrigue and the opportunity to serve the guildmaster.

"Three ships - no chances," said Pook. "Nothing shall interfere with the halfling's return. He and I have so very much to discuss!"

Oberon considered the task for a moment. "A pity," he remarked. "The Sea Sprite was a fine vessel."

Pook echoed a single word for emphasis, making it absolutely clear that he would tolerate no mistakes.


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