The Dark Elf Trilogy: Exile

6. Baldur's Gate


"To de rail! To de rail!" cried one voice.

"Toss 'em over!" agreed another. The mob of sailors crowded closer, brandishing curved swords and clubs.

Entreri stood calmly in the midst of the storm, Regis nervously beside him. The assassin did not understand the crew's sudden fit of anger, but he guessed that the sneaky halfling was somehow behind it. He hadn't drawn weapons; he knew he could have his saber and dagger readied whenever he needed them, and none of the sailors, for all their bluster and threats, had yet come within ten feet of him.

The captain of the ship, a squat, waddling man with stiff gray bristles, pearly white teeth, and eyes tightened in a perpetual squint, made his way out from his cabin to investigate the ruckus.

"To me, Redeye," he beckoned the grimy sailor who had first brought to his ears the rumor that the passengers were infected with a horrible disease - and who had obviously spread the tale to the other members of the crew. Redeye obeyed at once, following his captain through the parting mob to stand before Entreri and Regis.

The captain slowly took out his pipe and tamped down the weed, his eyes never releasing Entreri's from a penetrating gaze.

"Send 'em over!" came an occasional cry, but each time, the captain silenced the speaker with a wave of his hand. He wanted a full measure of these strangers before he acted, and he patiently let the moments pass as he lit the pipe and took a long drag.

Entreri never blinked and never looked away from the captain. He brought his cloak back behind the scabbards on his belt and crossed his arms, the calm and confident action conveniently putting each of his hands in position barely an inch from the hilts of his weapons.

"Ye should have told me, sir," the captain said at length.

"Your words are as unexpected as the actions of your crew," Entreri replied evenly.

"Indeed," the captain answered, drawing another puff.

Some of the crew were not as patient as their skipper. One barrel-chested man, his arms heavily muscled and tattooed, grew weary of the drama. He boldly stepped behind the assassin, meaning to toss him overboard and be done with him.

Just as the sailor started to reach out for the assassin's slender shoulders, Entreri exploded into motion, spinning and returning to his cross-armed pose so quickly that the sailors watching him tried to blink the sun out of their eyes and figure out whether he had moved at all.

The barrel-chested man slumped to his knees and fell face down on the deck, for in that blink of an eye, a heel had smashed his kneecap, and, even more insidious, a jeweled dagger had come out of its sheath, poked his heart, and returned to rest on the assassin's hip.

"Your reputation precedes you," the captain said, not flinching.

"I pray that I do it justice," Entreri replied with a sarcastic bow.

"Indeed," said the captain. He motioned to the fallen man. "Might his friends see to his aid?"

"He is already dead," Entreri assured the captain. "If any of his friends truly wish to go to him, let them, too, step forward."

"They are scared," the captain explained. "They have witnessed many terrible diseases in ports up and down the Sword Coast."

"Disease?" Entreri echoed.

"Your companion let on to it," said the captain.

A smile widened across Entreri's face as it all came clear to him. Lightning quick, he tore the cloak from Regis and caught the halfling's bare wrist, pulling him up off his feet and shooting a glare into the halfling's terror-filled eyes that promised a slow and painful death. Immediately Entreri noticed the scars on Regis's arm.

"Burns?" He gawked.

"Aye, that's how the little one says it happens," Redeye shouted, sinking back behind his captain when Entreri's glare settled upon him. "Burns from the inside, it does!"

"Burns from a candle, more likely," Entreri retorted. "Inspect the wounds for yourself," he said to the captain. "There is no disease here, just the desperate tricks of a cornered thief," He dropped Regis to the deck with a thud.

Regis lay very still, not even daring to breathe. The situation had not evolved quite as he had hoped.

"Toss 'em over!" cried an anonymous voice.

"Not fer chancin'!" yelled another.

"How many do you need to sail your ship?" Entreri asked the captain. "How many can you afford to lose?"

The captain, having seen the assassin in action and knowing the man's reputation, did not for a moment consider the simple questions as idle threats. Furthermore, the stare Entreri now fixed upon him told him without doubt that he would be the initial target if his crew moved against the assassin.

"I will trust in your word," he said commandingly, silencing the grumbles of his nervous crew. "No need to inspect the wounds. But, disease or no, our deal is ended." He looked pointedly to his dead crewman.

"I do not mean to swim to Calimport," Entreri said in a hiss.

"Indeed," replied the captain. "We put in at Baldur's Gate in two days. You shall find other passage there."

"And you shall repay me," Entreri said calmly, "every gold piece."

The captain drew another long drag from his pipe. This was not a battle he would choose to fight. "Indeed," he said with equal calm. He turned toward his cabin and ordered his crew back to their stations as he went.

* * *

He remembered the lazy summer days on the banks of Maer Dualdon in Icewind Dale. How many hours he had spent there, fishing for the elusive knucklehead trout, or just basking in the rare warmth of Icewind Dale's summer sun. Looking back on his years in Ten-Towns, Regis could hardly believe the course fate had laid out for him.

He thought he had found his niche, a comfortable existence - more comfortable still with the aid of the stolen ruby pendant - in a lucrative career as a scrimshander, carving the ivorylike bone of the knucklehead into marvelous little trinkets. But then came that fateful day, when Artemis Entreri showed up in Bryn Shander, the town Regis had come to call home, and sent the halfling scampering down the road to adventure with his friends.

But even Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-brie, and Wulfgar had not been able to protect him from Entreri.

The memories provided small comfort to him as several grueling hours of solitude in the locked cabin slipped by. Regis would have liked to hide away in pleasant recollections of his past, but invariably his thoughts led back to the awful present, and he found himself wondering how he would be punished for his failed deception. Entreri had been composed, even amused, after the incident on the deck, leading Regis down to the cabin and then disappearing without a word.

Too composed, Regis thought.

But that was part of the assassin's mystique. No man knew Artemis Entreri well enough to call him friend, and no enemy could figure the man out well enough to gain an even footing against him.

Regis shrank back against the wall when Entreri at last arrived, sweeping through the door and over to the room's table without so much as a sidelong glance at the halfling. The assassin sat, brushing back his ink-black hair and eyeing the single candle burning on the table.

"A candle," he muttered, obviously amused. He looked at Regis. "You have a trick or two, halfling," he chuckled.

Regis was not smiling. No sudden warmth had come into Entreri's heart, he knew, and he'd be damned if he let the assassin's jovial facade take his guard down.

"A worthy ploy," Entreri continued. "And effective. It may take us a week to gain passage south from Baldur's Gate. An extra week for your friends to close the distance. I had not expected you to be so daring."

The smile left his face suddenly, and his tone was noticeably more grim when he added, "I did not believe that you would be so ready to suffer the consequences."

Regis cocked his head to study the man's every movement. "Here it comes," he whispered under his breath.

"Of course there are consequences, little fool. I commend your attempt - I hope you will give me more excitement on this tedious journey! But I cannot belay punishment. Doing so would take the dare, and thus the excitement, out of your trickery."

He slipped up from his seat and started around the table. Regis sublimated his scream and closed his eyes; he knew that he had no escape.

The last thing he saw was the jeweled dagger turning over slowly in the assassin's hand.

* * *

They made the River Chionthar the next afternoon and bucked the currents with a strong sea breeze filling their sails. By nightfall, the upper tiers of the city of Baldur's Gate lined the eastern horizon, and when the last hints of daylight disappeared from the sky, the lights of the great port marked their course as a beacon. But the city did not allow access to the docks after sunset, and the ship dropped anchor a half-mile out.

Regis, finding sleep impossible, heard Entreri stir much later that night. The halfling shut his eyes tightly and forced himself into a rhythm of slow, heavy breathing. He had no idea of Entreri's intent, but whatever the assassin was about, Regis didn't want him even suspecting that he was awake.

Entreri didn't give him a second thought. As silent as a cat - as silent as death - the assassin slipped through the cabin door. Twenty-five crewmen manned the ship, but after the long day's sail, and with Baldur's Gate awaiting the first light of dawn, only four of them would likely be awake.

The assassin slipped through the crew's barracks, following the light of a single candle at the rear of the ship. In the galley, the cook busily prepared the morning's breakfast of thick soup in a huge cauldron. Singing as he always did when he was at work, the cook paid no attention to his surroundings. But even if he had been quiet and alert, he probably would not have heard the slight footfalls behind him.

He died with his face in the soup.

Entreri moved back through the barracks, where twenty more died without a sound. Then he went up to the deck.

The moon hung full in the sky that night, but even a sliver of a shadow was sufficient for the skilled assassin, and Entreri knew well the routines of the watch. He had spent many nights studying the movements of the lookouts, preparing himself, as always, for the worst possible scenario. Timing the steps of the two watchmen on deck, he slithered up the mainmast, his jeweled dagger in his teeth.

An easy spring of his taught muscles brought him into the crow's nest.

Then there were two.

Back down on deck, Entreri moved calmly and openly to the rail. "A ship!" he called, pointing into the gloom. "Closing on us!"

Instinctively the two remaining watchmen rushed to the assassin's side and strained their eyes to see the peril in the dark - until the flash of a dagger told them of the deception.

Only the captain remained.

Entreri could easily have picked the lock on his cabin door and killed the man in his sleep, but the assassin wanted a more dramatic ending to his work; he wanted the captain to fully understand the doom that had befallen his ship that night. Entreri moved to the door, which opened onto the deck, and took out his tools and a length of fine wire.

A few minutes later, he was back at his own cabin, rousing Regis. "One sound, and I'll take your tongue," he warned the halfling.

Regis now understood what was happening. If the crew got to the docks at Baldur's Gate, they would no doubt spread the rumors of the deadly killer and his "diseased" friend, making Entreri's search for passage south impossible to fulfill.

The assassin wouldn't allow that at any cost, and Regis could not help but feel responsible for the carnage that night.

He moved quietly, helplessly, beside Entreri through the barracks, noting the absence of snores, and the quiet of the galley beyond. Surely the dawn was approaching; surely the cook would be hard at work preparing the morning meal. But no singing floated through the half-closed galley door.

The ship had stocked enough oil in Waterdeep to last the entire journey to Calimport, and kegs of the stuff still remained in the hold. Entreri pulled open the trap door and hoisted out two of the heavy barrels. He broke the seal on one and kicked it into a roll through the barracks, spewing oil as it went. Then he carried the other - and half-carried Regis, who was limp with fear and revulsion - topside, spreading the oil out more quietly and concentrating the spill in a tight arc around the captain's door.

"Get in," he told Regis, indicating the single rowboat hanging in a jigger off the starboard side of the ship. "And carry this." He handed the halfling a tiny pouch.

Bile rose in Regis's throat when he thought of what was inside the bag, but he took the pouch anyway and held it securely, knowing that if he lost it, Entreri would only get another.

The assassin sprang lightly across the deck, preparing a torch as he went. Regis watched him in horror, shuddering at the cold appearance of his shadowed face as he tossed the torch down the ladder to the oil-soaked barracks. Grimly satisfied as the flames roared to life, Entreri raced back across the deck to the captain's door.

"Good-bye!" was the only explanation he offered as he banged on the door. Two strides took him to the rowboat.

The captain leaped from his bed, fighting to orient himself. The ship was strangely calm, except for a telltale crackle and a wisp of smoke that slipped up through the floorboards.

Sword in hand, the captain threw the bolt back and pulled open the door. He looked around desperately and called for his crew. The flames had not reached the deck yet, but it was obvious to him - and should have been to his lookouts - that the ship was on fire. Beginning to suspect the awful truth, the captain rushed out, clad only in his nightshirt.

He felt the tug of the trip-wire, then grimaced in further understanding as the wire noose bit deeply into his bare ankle. He sprawled face down, his sword dropping out in front of him. An aroma filled his nostrils, and he fully realized the deadly implications of the slick fluid drenching his nightshirt. He stretched out for his sword's hilt and clawed futilely at the wooden deck until his fingers bled.

A lick of flame jumped through the floorboards.

Sounds rolled eerily across the open expanse of water, especially in the empty dark of night. One sound filled the ears of Entreri and Regis as the assassin pulled the little rowboat against the currents of the Chionthar. It even cut through the din of the taverns lining the docks of Baldur's Gate, a half-mile away.

As if enhanced by the unspoken cries of protest of the dead crew and by the dying ship itself - a singular, agonized voice screamed for all of them.

Then there was only the crackle of fire.

* * *

Entreri and Regis entered Baldur's Gate on foot soon after daybreak. They had put the little rowboat into a cove a few hundred yards downriver, then sank the thing. Entreri wanted no evidence linking him to the disaster of the night before.

"It will be good to get home," the assassin chided Regis as they made their way along the extensive docks of the lower city. He led Regis's eye to a large merchant ship docked at one of the outer piers. "Do you remember the pennant?"

Regis looked to the flag flying atop the vessel, a gold field cut by slanted blue lines, the standard of Calimport. "Calimshan merchants never take passengers aboard," he reminded the assassin, hoping to diffuse Entreri's cocky attitude.

"They will make an exception," Entreri replied. He pulled the ruby pendant out from under his leather jacket and displayed it beside his wicked smile.

Regis fell silent once more. He knew well the power of the ruby and could not dispute the assassin's claim.

With sure and direct strides revealing that he had often before been in Baldur's Gate, Entreri led Regis to the harbormaster's office, a small shack just off the piers. Regis followed obediently, though his thoughts were hardly focused on the events of the present. He was still caught in the nightmare of the tragedy of the night before, trying to resolve his own part in the deaths of twenty-six men. He hardly noticed the harbormaster and didn't even catch the man's name.

But after only a few seconds of conversation, Regis realized that Entreri had fully captured the man under the hypnotic spell of the ruby pendant. The halfling faded out of the meeting altogether, disgusted with how well Entreri had mastered the powers of the pendant. His thoughts drifted again to his friends and his home, though now he looked back with lament, not hope. Had Drizzt and Wulfgar escaped the horrors of Mithril Hall, and were they now in pursuit? Watching Entreri in action and knowing that he would soon be back within the borders of Pook's realm, Regis almost hoped that they wouldn't come after him. How much more blood could stain his little hands?

Gradually Regis faded back in, half-listening to the words of the conversation and telling himself that there might be some important knowledge to be gained.

"When do they sail?" Entreri was saying.

Regis perked up his ears. Time was important. Perhaps his friends could get to him here, still a thousand miles from the stronghold of Pasha Pook.

"A week," replied the harbormaster, his eyes never blinking nor turning from the spectacle of the spinning gemstone.

"Too long," Entreri muttered under his breath. Then to the harbormaster, "I wish a meeting with the captain."

"Can be arranged."

"This very"

The harbormaster shrugged his accord.

"And one more favor, my friend," Entreri said with a mock smile. "You track every ship that comes into port?"

"That is my job," said the dazed man.

"And surely you have eyes at the gates as well?" Entreri inquired with a wink.

"I have many friends," the harbormaster replied. "Nothing happens in Baldur's Gate without my knowledge."

Entreri looked to Regis. "Give it to him," he ordered.

Regis, not understanding, responded to the command with a blank stare.

"The pouch," the assassin explained, using the same lighthearted tone that had marked his casual conversation with the duped harbormaster.

Regis narrowed his eyes and did not move, as defiant an act as he had ever dared to show his captor.

"The pouch," Entreri reiterated, his tone now deadly serious. "Our gift for your friends." Regis hesitated for just a second, then threw the tiny pouch to the harbormaster.

"Enquire of every ship and every rider that comes through Baldur's Gate," Entreri explained to the harbormaster. "Seek out a band of travelers - two at the least, one an elf, likely to be cloaked in secrecy, and the other a giant, yellow-haired barbarian. Seek them out, my friend. Find the adventurer who calls himself Drizzt Do'Urden. That gift is for his eyes alone. Tell him that I await his arrival in Calimport." He sent a wicked glance over at Regis. "With more gifts."

The harbormaster slipped the tiny pouch into his pocket and gave Entreri his assurances that he would not fail the task.

"I must be going," Entreri said, pulling Regis to his feet. "We meet tonight," he reminded the harbormaster. "An hour after the sun is down."

* * *

Regis knew that Pasha Pook had connections in Baldur's Gate, but he was amazed at how well the assassin seemed to know his way around. In less than an hour, Entreri had secured their room and enlisted the services of two thugs to stand guard over Regis while the assassin went on some errands.

"Time for your second trick?" he asked Regis slyly just before leaving. He looked at the two thugs leaning against the far wall of the room, engrossed in some less-than-intellectual debate about the reputed virtues of a local "lady."

"You might get by them," Entreri whispered.

Regis turned away, not enjoying the assassin's macabre sense of humor.

"But, remember, my little thief, once outside, you are on the streets in the shadow of the alleyways, where you will find no friends, and where I shall be waiting." He spun away with an evil chuckle and swept through the door.

Regis looked at the two thugs, now locked in a heated argument. He probably could have walked out the door at that very moment.

He dropped back on his bed with a resigned sigh and awkwardly locked his hands behind his head, the sting in one hand pointedly reminding him of the price of bravery.

* * *

Baldur's Gate was divided into two districts: the lower city of the docks and the upper city beyond the inner wall, where the more important citizens resided. The city had literally burst its bounds with the wild growth of trade along the Sword Coast. Its old wall set a convenient boundary between the transient sailors and adventurers who invariably made their way in and the long-standing houses of the land. "Halfway to everywhere" was a common phrase there, referring to the city's roughly equal proximity to Waterdeep in the North and Calimport in the South, the two greatest cities of the Sword Coast.

In light of the constant bustle and commotion that followed such a title, Entreri attracted little attention as he slipped through the lanes toward the inner city. He had an ally, a powerful wizard named Oberon, there, who was also an associate of Pasha Pook's. Oberon's true loyalty, Entreri knew, lay with Pook, and the wizard would no doubt promptly contact the guildmaster in Calimport with news of the recovered pendant, and of Entreri's imminent return.

But Entreri cared little whether Pook knew he was coming or not. His intent was behind him, to Drizzt Do'Urden, not in front, to Pook, and the wizard could prove of great value to him in learning more of the whereabouts of his pursuers.

After a meeting that lasted throughout the remainder of the day, Entreri left Oberon's tower and made his way back to the harbormaster's for the arranged rendezvous with the captain of the Calimport merchant ship. Entreri's visage had regained its determined confidence; he had put the unfortunate incident of the night before behind him, and everything was going smoothly again. He fingered the ruby pendant as he approached the shack.

A week was too long a delay.

* * *

Regis was hardly surprised later that night when Entreri returned to the room and announced that he had "persuaded" the captain of the Calimport vessel to change his schedule.

They would leave in three days.


Wulfgar heaved and strained on the ropes, trying to keep the mainsail full of the scant ocean wind as the crew of the Sea Sprite looked on in amazement. The currents of the Chionthar pushed against the ship, and a sensible captain would normally have dropped anchor to wait for a more favorable breeze to get them in. But Wulfgar, under the tutelage of an old sea dog named Mirky, was doing a masterful job. The individual docks of Baldur's Gate were in sight, and the Sea Sprite, to the cheers of several dozen sailors watching the monumental pull, would soon put in.

"I could use ten of him on my crew," Captain Deudermont remarked to Drizzt.

The drow smiled, ever amazed at the strength of his young friend. "He seems to be enjoying himself. I would never have put him as a sailor."

"Nor I," replied Deudermont. "I only hoped to profit from his strength if we engaged with pirates. But Wulfgar found his sea legs early on."

"And he enjoys the challenge," Drizzt added. "The open ocean, the pull of the water, and of the wind, tests him in ways different than he has ever known."

"He does better than many," Deudermont replied. The experienced captain looked back downriver to where the open ocean waited. "You and your friend have been on but one short journey, skirting a coastline. You cannot yet appreciate the vastness, and the power, of the open sea."

Drizzt looked at Deudermont with sincere admiration and even a measure of envy. The captain was a proud man, but he tempered his pride with a practical rationale. Deudermont respected the sea and accepted it as his superior. And that acceptance, that profound understanding of his own place in the world, gave the captain as much of an advantage as any man could gain over the untamed ocean. Drizzt followed the captain's longing stare and wondered about this mysterious allure the open waters seemed to hold over so many.

He considered Deudermont's last words. "One day, perhaps," he said quietly.

They were close enough now, and Wulfgar released his hold and slumped, exhausted, to the deck. The crew worked furiously to complete the docking, but each stopped at least once to slap the huge barbarian across the shoulder. Wulfgar was too tired to even respond.

"We will be in for two days," Deudermont told Drizzt. "It was to be a week, but I am aware of your haste. I spoke with the crew last night, and they agreed - to a man - to put right back out again."

"Our thanks to them, and to you," Drizzt replied sincerely.

Just then, a wiry, finely dressed man hopped down to the pier. "What ho, Sea Sprite?" he called. "Is Deudermont at your reins?"

"Penman, the harbormaster," the captain explained to Drizzt. "He is!" he called to the man. "And glad to see Pellman, as well!"

"Well met, Captain," Pellman called. "And as fine a pull as I've ever seen! How long are you in port?"

"Two days," Deudermont replied. "Then off to the sea and the south."

The harbormaster paused for a moment, as if trying to remember something. Then he asked, as he had asked to every ship that had put in over the last few days, the question Entreri had planted in his mind. "I seek two adventurers," he called to Deudermont. "Might you have seen them?"

Deudermont looked to Drizzt, somehow guessing, as had the drow, that this inquiry was more than a coincidence.

"Drizzt Do'Urden and Wulfgar, by name," Pellman explained. "Though they may be using others. One's small and mysterious elflike - and the other's a giant and as strong as any man alive!"

"Trouble?" Deudermont called.

"Not so," answered Pellman. "A message."

Wulfgar had moved up to Drizzt and heard the latter part of the conversation. Deudermont looked to Drizzt for instructions. "Your decision."

Drizzt didn't figure that Entreri would lay any serious traps for them; he knew that the assassin meant to fight with them, or at least with him, personally. "We will speak with the man," he answered.

"They are with me," Deudermont called to Pellman. "'Twas Wulfgar," he looked at the barbarian and winked, then echoed Pellman's own description, "as strong as any man alive, who made the pull!"

Deudermont led them to the rail. "If there is trouble, I shall do what I can to retrieve you," he said quietly. "And we can wait in port for as long as two weeks if the need arises."

"Again, our thanks," Drizzt replied. "Surely Orlpar of Waterdeep set us aright."

"Leave that dog's name unspoken," Deudermont replied. "Rarely have I had such fortunate outcomes to my dealings with him! Farewell, then. You may take sleep on the ship if you desire."

Drizzt and Wulfgar moved cautiously toward the harbormaster, Wulfgar in the lead. Drizzt searched for any signs of ambush.

"We are the two you seek," Wulfgar said sternly, towering over the wiry man.

"Greetings," Pellman said with a disarming smile. He fished in his pocket. "I have met with an associate of yours," he explained, "a dark man with a halfling lackey."

Drizzt moved beside Wulfgar, and the two exchanged concerned glances.

"He left this," Pellman continued, handing the tiny pouch to Wulfgar. "And bade me to tell you that he will await your arrival in Calimport."

Wulfgar held the pouch tentatively, as if expecting it to explode in his face.

"Our thanks," Drizzt told Pellman. "We will tell our associate that you performed the task admirably."

Pellman nodded and bowed, turning away as he did so, to return to his duties. But first, he realized suddenly, he had another mission to complete, a subconscious command that he could not resist. Following Entreri's orders, the harbormaster moved from the docks and toward the upper level of the city.

Toward the house of Oberon.

Drizzt led Wulfgar off to the side, out of plain view. Seeing the barbarian's paling look, he took the tiny pouch and gingerly loosened the draw string, holding it as far away as possible. With a shrug to Wulfgar, who had moved a cautious step away, Drizzt brought the pouch down to his belt level and peeked in.

Wulfgar moved closer, curious and concerned when he saw Drizzt's shoulders droop. The drow looked to him in helpless resignation and inverted the pouch, revealing its contents.

A halfling's finger.

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