The Dark Elf Trilogy: Exile

3. Conyberry's Pride


"Those are the farms that Malchor spoke of," Wulfgar said as he and Drizzt came around a spur of trees on the great forest's border. In the distance to the south, a dozen or so houses sat in a cluster on the eastern edge of the forest, surrounded on the other three sides by wide, rolling fields.

Wulfgar started his horse forward, but Drizzt abruptly stopped him.

"These are a simple folk," the drow explained. "Farmers living in the webs of countless superstitions. They would not welcome a dark elf. Let us enter at night."

"Perhaps we can find the path without their aid," Wulfgar offered, not wanting to waste the remainder of yet another day.

"More likely we would get lost in the wood," Drizzt replied, dismounting. "Rest, my friend. This night promises adventure."

"Her time, the night," Wulfgar remarked, remembering Malchor's words about the banshee.

Drizzt's smile widened across his face. "Not this night," he whispered.

Wulfgar saw the familiar gleam in the drow's lavender eyes and obediently dropped from his saddle. Drizzt was already preparing himself for the imminent battle; already the drow's finely toned muscles twitched with excitement. But as confident as Wulfgar was in his companion's prowess, he could not stop the shudder running through his spine when he considered the undead monster that lay before them.

In the night.

* * *

They passed the day in peaceful slumber, enjoying the calls and dances of the birds and squirrels, already preparing for winter, and the wholesome atmosphere of the forest. But when dusk crept over the land, Neverwinter Wood took on a very different aura. Gloom settled all too comfortably under the wood's thick boughs, and a sudden hush descended on the trees, the uneasy quiet of poised danger.

Drizzt roused Wulfgar and led him off to the south at once, not even pausing for a short meal. A few minutes later, they walked their horses to the nearest farmhouse. Luckily the night was moonless, and only a close inspection would reveal Drizzt's dark heritage.

"State yer business or be gone!" demanded a threatening voice from the low rooftops before they got close enough to knock on the house's door.

Drizzt had expected as much. "We have come to settle a score," he said without any hesitation.

"What enemies might the likes of yerselves have in Conyberry?" asked the voice.

"In your fair town?" Drizzt balked. "Nay, our fight is with a foe common to you."

Some shuffling came from above, and then two men, bows in hand, appeared at the corner of the farmhouse. Both Drizzt and Wulfgar knew that still more sets of eyes - and no doubt more bows - were trained upon them from the roof, and possibly from their flanks. For simple farmers, these folk were apparently well organized for defense.

"A common foe?" one of the men at the corner - the same who had spoken earlier from the roof - asked Drizzt. "Surely we've seen none of yer likes before, elf, nor of yer giant friend!"

Wulfgar brought Aegis-fang down from his shoulder, drawing some uneasy shuffling from the roof. "Never have we come through your fair town," he replied sternly, not thrilled with being called a giant.

Drizzt quickly interjected. "A friend of ours was slain near here, down a dark path in the wood. We were told that you could guide us."

Suddenly the door of the farmhouse burst open and a wrinkled old woman popped her head out. "Hey, then, what do ye want with the ghost in the wood?" she snapped angrily. "Not fer to both'ring those that leaves her to peace!"

Drizzt and Wulfgar glanced at each other, perplexed by the old woman's unexpected attitude. But the man at the corner apparently felt the same way.

"Yeah, leave Agatha be," he said.

"Go away!" added an unseen man from the roof.

Wulfgar, fearing that these people might be under some evil enchantment, gripped his war hammer more tightly, but Drizzt sensed something else in their voices.

"I had been told that the ghost, this Agatha, was an evil spirit," Drizzt told them calmly. "Might I have heard wrong? For goodly folk defend her."

"Bah, evil! What be evil?" snapped the old woman, thrusting her wrinkled face and shell of a body closer to Wulfgar. The barbarian took a prudent step back, though the woman's bent frame barely reached his navel.

"The ghost defends her home," added the man at the corner. "And woe to those who go there!"

"Woe!" screamed the old woman, pushing closer still and poking a bony finger into Wulfgar's huge chest.

Wulfgar had heard enough. "Back!" he roared mightily at the woman. He slapped Aegis-fang across his free hand, a sudden rush of blood swelling his bulging arms and shoulders. The woman screamed and vanished into the house, slamming the door in terror.

"A pity," Drizzt whispered, fully understanding what Wulfgar had set into motion. The drow dove headlong to the side, turning into a roll, as an arrow from the roof cracked into the ground where he had been standing.

Wulfgar, too, started into motion, expecting an arrow. Instead, he saw the dark form of a man leaping down at him from the rooftop. With a single hand the mighty barbarian caught the would-be assailant in midair and held him at bay, his boots fully three feet off the ground.

At that same instant, Drizzt came out of his roll and into position in front of the two men at the corner, a scimitar poised at each of their throats. They hadn't even had time to draw their bowstrings back. To their further horror, they now recognized Drizzt for what he was, but even if his skin had been as pale as that of his surface cousins, the fire in his eyes would have taken their strength from them.

A few long seconds passed, the only movement being the visible shaking of the three trapped farmers.

"An unfortunate misunderstanding," Drizzt said to the men. He stepped back and sheathed his scimitars. "Let him down," he said to Wulfgar. "Gently!" the dark elf added quickly.

Wulfgar eased the man to the ground, but the terrified farmer fell to the dirt anyway, looking up at the huge barbarian in awe and fear.

Wulfgar kept the grimace on his face - just to keep the farmer cowed.

The farmhouse door sprang open again, and the little old woman appeared, this time sheepishly. "Ye won't be killing poor Agatha, will ye?" she pleaded.

"Sure that she's no harm beyond her own door," added the man at the corner, his voice quaking with each syllable.

Drizzt looked to Wulfgar. "Nay," the barbarian said. "We shall visit Agatha and settle our business with her. But be assured that we'll not harm her."

"Tell us the way," Drizzt asked.

The two men at the corner looked at each other and hesitated.

"Now!" Wulfgar roared at the man on the ground.

"To the tangle of birch!" the man replied immediately. "The path's right there, running back to the east! Twists and turns, it does, but clear of brush!"

"Farewell, Conyberry," Drizzt said politely, bowing low. "Would that we could remain a while and dispel your fears of us, but we have much to do and a long road ahead." He and Wulfgar hopped into their saddles and spun their mounts away.

"But wait!" the old woman called after them. Their mounts reared as Drizzt and Wulfgar looked back over their shoulders. "Tell us, ye fearless - or ye stupid warriors," she implored them, "who might ye be?"

"Wulfgar, son of Beornegar!" the barbarian shouted back, trying to keep an air of humility, though his chest puffed out in pride. "And Drizzt Do'Urden!"

"Names I have heard!" one of the farmers cried out in sudden recognition.

"And names you shall hear again!" Wulfgar promised. He paused a moment as Drizzt moved on, then turned to catch his friend.

Drizzt wasn't sure that it was wise to be proclaiming their identities, and consequently revealing their location, with Artemis Entreri looking back for them. But when he saw the broad and proud smile on Wulfgar's face, he kept his concerns to himself and let Wulfgar have his fun.

* * *

Soon after the lights of Conyberry had faded to dots behind them, Wulfgar turned more serious. "They did not seem evil," he said to Drizzt, "yet they protect the banshee, and have even named the thing! We may have left a darkness behind us."

"Not a darkness," Drizzt replied. "Conyberry is as it appears: a humble farming village of good and honest folk."

"But Agatha," Wulfgar protested.

"A hundred similar villages line this countryside," Drizzt explained. "Many unnamed, and all unnoticed by the lords of the land. Yet all of the villages, and even the Lords of Waterdeep, I would guess, have heard of Conyberry and the ghost of Neverwinter Wood."

"Agatha brings them fame," Wulfgar concluded.

"And a measure of protection, no doubt," added Drizzt.

"For what bandit would lay out along the road to Conyberry with a ghost haunting the land?" Wulfgar laughed. "Still, it seems a strange marriage."

"But not our business," Drizzt said, stopping his horse. "The tangle the man spoke of." He pointed to a copse of twisted birch trees. Behind it, Neverwinter Wood loomed dark and mysterious.

Wulfgar's horse flattened its ears. "We are close," the barbarian said, slipping from the saddle. They tethered their mounts and started into the tangle, Drizzt as silent as a cat, but Wulfgar, too big for the tightness of the trees, crunching with every step.

"Do you mean to kill the thing?" he asked Drizzt.

"Only if we must," the drow replied. "We are here for the mask alone, and we have given our word to the people of Conyberry."

"I do not believe that Agatha will willingly hand us her treasures," Wulfgar reminded Drizzt. He broke through the last line of birch trees and stood beside the drow at the dark entrance to the thick oaks of the forest.

"Be silent now," Drizzt whispered. He drew Twinkle and let its quiet blue gleam lead them into the gloom.

The trees seemed to close in about them; the dead hush of the wood only made them more concerned with the resounding noise of their own footfalls. Even Drizzt, who had spent centuries in the deepest of caverns, felt the weight of this darkest corner of Neverwinter on his shoulders. Evil brooded here, and if either he or Wulfgar had any doubts about the legend of the banshee, they knew better now. Drizzt pulled a thin candle from his belt pouch and broke it in half, handing a piece to Wulfgar.

"Stuff your ears," he explained in a breathless whisper, reiterating Malchor's warning. "To hear her keen is to die."

The path was easy to follow, even in the deep darkness, for the aura of evil rolled down heavier on their shoulders with every step. A few hundred paces brought the light of a fire into sight. Instinctively they both dropped to a defensive crouch to survey the area.

Before them lay a dome of branches, a cave of trees that was the banshee's lair. Its single entrance was a small hole, barely large enough for a man to crawl through. The thought of going into the lighted area within while on their hands and knees did not thrill either of them. Wulfgar held Aegis-fang before him and indicated that he would open a bigger door. Boldly he strode toward the dome.

Drizzt crept up beside him, uncertain of the practicality of Wulfgar's idea. Drizzt had the feeling that a creature who had survived so successfully for so very long would be protected against such obvious tactics. But the drow didn't have any better ideas at the moment, so he dropped back a step as Wulfgar hoisted the war hammer above his head.

Wulfgar spread his feet wide for balance and took a steadying breath, then slammed Aegis-fang home with all his strength. The dome shuddered under the blow; wood splintered and went flying, but the drow's concerns soon came to light. For as the wooden shell broke away, Wulfgar's hammer drove down into a concealed mesh of netting. Before the barbarian could reverse the blow, Aegis-fang and his arms were fully entangled.

Drizzt saw a shadow move across the firelight inside, and, recognizing his companion's vulnerability, he didn't hesitate. He dove through Wulfgar's legs and into the lair, his scimitars nipping and jabbing wildly as he came. Twinkle nicked into something for just a split second, something less than tangible, and Drizzt knew that he had hit the creature of the nether world. But dazed by the sudden intensity of the light as he came into the lair, Drizzt had trouble finding his footing. He kept his head well enough to discern that the banshee had scampered into the shadows off to the other side. He rolled up to a wall, put his back against it for support, and scrambled to his feet, deftly slicing through Wulfgar's bonds with Twinkle.

Then came the wail.

It cut through the feeble protection of the candle wax with bone-shivering intensity, sapping into Drizzt's and Wulfgar's strength and dropping a dizzying blackness over them. Drizzt slumped heavily against the wall, and Wulfgar, finally able to tug free of the stubborn netting, stumbled backward into the black night and toppled onto his back.

Drizzt, alone inside, knew that he was in deep trouble. He battled against the dizzying blur and the stinging pain in his head and tried to focus on the firelight.

But he saw two dozen fires dancing before his eyes, lights he could not shake away. He believed that he had come out of the keen's effects, and it took him a moment to realize the truth of the place.

A magical creature was Agatha, and magical protections, confusing illusions of mirror images, guarded her home.

Suddenly Drizzt was confronted on more than twenty fronts by the twisted visage of a long-dead elven maiden, her skin withered and stretched along her hollowed face and her eyes bereft of color or any spark of life.

But those orbs could see - more clearly than any other in this deceptive maze. And Drizzt understood that Agatha knew exactly where he was. She waved her arms in circular motions and smirked at her intended victim.

Drizzt recognized the banshee's movements as the beginnings of a spell. Still caught in the web of her illusions, the drow had only one chance. Calling on the innate abilities of his dark race - and desperately hoping that he had correctly guessed which was the real fire - he placed a globe of darkness over the flames. The inside of the tree cave went pitch black, and Drizzt fell to his belly.

A blue bolt of lightning cut through the darkness, thundering just above the lying drow and through the wall. The air sizzled around him; his stark white hair danced on its ends.

Bursting out into the dark forest, Agatha's ferocious bolt shook Wulfgar from his stupor. "Drizzt," he groaned, forcing himself to his feet. His friend was probably already dead, and beyond the entrance was a blackness too deep for human eyes. But fearlessly, without a thought for his own safety, Wulfgar stumbled back toward the dome.

Drizzt crept around the black perimeter, using the heat of the fire as his guide. He brought a scimitar to bear with every step, but caught nothing with his cuts but air and the side of the tree cave.

Then, suddenly, his darkness was no more, leaving him exposed along the middle of the wall to the left of the door. And the leering image of Agatha was all about him, already beginning yet another spell. Drizzt glanced around for an escape route, but realized that Agatha didn't seem to be looking at him.

Across the room, in what must have been a real mirror, Drizzt caught sight of another image: Wulfgar crawling in defenselessly through the low entrance.

Again Drizzt could not afford to hesitate. He was beginning to understand the layout of the illusion maze and could guess at the general direction of the banshee. He dropped to one knee and scooped up a handful of dirt, splaying it in a wide arc across the room.

All of the images reacted the same way, giving Drizzt no clue as to which was his foe. But the real Agatha, wherever she was, was spitting dirt; Drizzt had disrupted her spell.

Wulfgar regained his feet and immediately smashed his hammer through the wall to the right side of the door, then reversed his swing and heaved Aegis-fang at the image across from the door, directly over the fire. Again Aegisfang crashed into the wall, knocking open a hole to the nighttime forest.

Drizzt, firing his dagger futilely at yet another image across the way, caught a telltale flicker in the area where he had seen the reflection of Wulfgar. As Aegis-fang magically returned to Wulfgar's hands, Drizzt sprinted for the back of the chamber. "Lead me!" he cried, hoping his voice was loud enough for Wulfgar to hear.

Wulfgar understood. Bellowing "Tempus!" to warn the drow of his throw, he launched Aegis-fang again.

Drizzt dove into a roll, and the hammer whistled over his back, exploding into the mirror. Half of the images in the room disappeared, and Agatha screamed in rage. But Drizzt didn't even slow. He sprang over the broken mirror stand and the remaining chunks of glass.

Right into Agatha's treasure room.

The banshee's scream became a keen, and the killing waves of sound dropped over Drizzt and Wulfgar once again. They had expected the blast this time, though, and they pushed its force away more easily. Drizzt scrambled to the treasure hoard, scooping baubles and gold into a sack. Wulfgar, enraged, stormed about the dome in a destructive frenzy. Soon kindling lined the area where walls had stood, and scratches dripping tiny streams of blood crisscrossed Wulfgar's huge forearms. But the barbarian felt no pain, only the savage fury.

His sack nearly full, Drizzt was about to turn and flee when one other item caught his eye. He had been almost relieved that he hadn't found it, and a big part of him wished that it wasn't here, that such an item did not exist. Yet here it lay, an unremarkable mask of bland features, with a single cord to hold it in place over a wearer's face. Drizzt knew that, as plain as it seemed, it must be the item Malchor had spoken of, and if he had any thoughts of ignoring it now, they were quickly gone. Regis needed him, and to get to Regis quickly, Drizzt needed the mask. Still, the drow could not belay his sigh when he lifted it from the treasure hoard, sensing its tingling power. Without another thought, he put it in his sack.

Agatha would not so easily surrender her treasures, and the specter that confronted Drizzt when he hopped back over the broken mirror was all too real. Twinkle gleamed wickedly as Drizzt parried away Agatha's frantic blows.

Wulfgar suspected that Drizzt needed him now, and he dismissed his savage fury, realizing that a clear head was necessary in this predicament. He scanned the room slowly, hoisting Aegis-fang for another throw. But the barbarian found that he had not yet sorted out the pattern of the illusionary spells, and the confusion of a dozen images, and the fear of hitting Drizzt, held him in check.

Effortlessly Drizzt danced around the crazed banshee and backed her up toward the treasure room. He could have struck her several times, but he had given his word to the farmers of Conyberry.

Then he had her in position. He thrust Twinkle out before him and waded in with two steps. Spitting and cursing, Agatha retreated, tripping over the broken mirror stand and falling back into the gloom. Drizzt spun toward the door.

Watching the real Agatha, and the other images, disappear from sight, Wulfgar followed the sound of her grunt and finally sorted out the layout of the dome. He readied Aegis-fang for the killing throw.

"Let it end!" Drizzt shouted at him as he passed, slapping Wulfgar on the backside with the flat of Twinkle to remind him of their mission and their promise.

Wulfgar turned to look at him, but the agile drow was already out into the dark night. Wulfgar turned back to see Agatha, her teeth bared and hands clenched, rise up on her feet.

"Pardon our intrusion," he said politely, bowing low - low enough to follow his friend outside to safety. He sprinted along the dark path to catch up to Twinkle's blue glow.

Then came the banshee's third keen, chasing them down the path. Drizzt was beyond its painful range, but its sting caught up to Wulfgar and knocked him off balance. Blindly, with the smug smile suddenly wiped from his face, he stumbled forward.

Drizzt turned and tried to catch him, but the huge man bowled the drow over and continued on.

Face first into a tree.

Before Drizzt could get over to help, Wulfgar was up again and running, too scared and embarrassed, to even groan.

Behind them, Agatha wailed helplessly.

* * *

When the first of Agatha's keens wafted on the night winds the mile or so to Conyberry, the villagers knew that Drizzt and Wulfgar had found her lair. All of them, even the children, had gathered outside of their houses and listened intently as two more wails had rolled through the night air. And now, most perplexing, came the banshee's continual, mournful cries.

"So much fer them strangers," chuckled one man.

"Nah, ye're wrong," said the old woman, recognizing the subtle shift in Agatha's tones. "Them's wails of losing. They beat her! They did, and got away!"

The others sat quietly, studying Agatha's cries, and soon realized the truth of the old woman's observations. They looked at each other incredulously.

"What'd they call themselves?" asked one man.

"Wulfgar," offered another. "And Drizzt Do'Urden. I heared o' them before."

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