R. Salvatore: The Collected Stories, The Legend of Drizzt

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R. Salvatore The Collected Stories, The Legend of Drizzt
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R. A. Salvatore

The Collected Stories, The Legend of Drizzt

The First Notch

"Ye got it all?” asked the stocky young dwarf, his hand stroking his still hairless cheeks and chin.

The two smaller dwarves, Khardrin and Yorik, nodded and dropped their large sacks, the clanging as the bundles struck the stone floor echoing through the stillness of the deep caverns.

“Quiet, will ye!” snapped Feldegar, the fourth member of the conspiracy. “Garumn’d have our heads if he knew!”

“Garumn’ll know well enough when we’re done,” said Bruenor, the stocky dwarf, with a sly wink and a smile that eased the sudden tension. “Sort it out, then. No time for wastin’!”

Khardrin and Yorik began fishing through the assorted pieces of armor and weapons in the sacks. “Got ye the foaming mug,” Khardrin said proudly, handing Bruenor a shining shield.

“Me father’s own!” Bruenor laughed, marveling at the stealth and nerve his younger cousins had shown. He slid the heavy shield onto his arm and took up the newly crafted axe that he had brought, wondering in sudden seriousness if he was worthy to bear the shield emblazoned with the foaming mug, the standard of Clan Battlehammer. He had passed the midpoint of his third decade, nearly into his threens, yet truly he felt a child when he thought of his hairless face, not a single whisker showing. He turned away to hide his blush.

“Four sets?” said Feldegar, looking at the piles of battle gear. “Nay! The two o’ ye are to stay. Ye’re too young for such fightin’!”

Khardrin and Yorik looked helplessly to Bruenor.

Feldegar’s observation made sense, Bruenor knew, but he couldn’t ignore the crestfallen looks on the faces of his younger cousins, nor the pains the two had taken to get them all this far. “Four sets’ll be needed,” he said at length. Feldegar snapped an angry glare at him.

“Yorik’s comin’ with us,” Bruenor said to him, holding the look with his own. “But I’ve a more important job for Khardrin.” He winked at the littlest of the four. “The door’s to be closed an’ locked behind us,” he explained. “We be needin’ a guard who’s quick to open, and quicker still with his tongue. Ye’re the only one o’ us sneaky enough to dodge the askin’s o’ any who might wander down here. Think ye can do it?”

Khardrin nodded with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, feeling important once again, though he still would have preferred to go along.

But Feldegar wasn’t appeased. “Yorik’s too young,” he growled at Bruenor.

“By yer measure, not mine,” Bruenor retorted.

“I be leadin’!” said Feldegar.

“Bruenor’s the leader,” Yorik and Khardrin said together. Feldegar’s glare turned dangerous.

“His grandfather’s the king,” reasoned Khardrin.

Feldegar stuck his chin out. “Ye see this?” he asked, pointing to the patches of hair on his face. “Whiskers! I am the leader!”

“Ah, yer no older than Bruenor,” said Yorik. “And he’s a Battlehammer, second behind the throne. And Battlehammers rule in Mithral Hall!”

“That tunnel’s not yet claimed,” Feldegar said wryly. “Outside o’ Mithral Hall, it is, and beyond Garumn’s domain. In there, the one with the beard leads.”

Bruenor shrugged the comment away, despite yet another reminder of his hairless face. He understood the danger and daring of their adventure and wasn’t about to see it all unravel over a title that would mean little when the fighting began. “Ye’re right, Feldegar,” he conceded, to the amazement and disappointment of Khardrin and Yorik. “In the tunnel, ye be leadin’. But by me figuring, we’re still in Mithral Hall, and me word holds. Khardrin guards the door, and Yorik goes.”

Despite his bravado, Feldegar was smart enough to give a concession to get a concession. He could snort and holler and stick out his beard all he wanted, but if Bruenor opposed him, he knew, none of the others would follow him. “Then let’s get the business done,” he grunted, and he lifted the iron bar off the heavy stone door.

Bruenor grasped the iron ring on the door and reconsidered (and not for the first time) the path he was about to take. Of the five adult dwarves who had recently gone down to explore this tunnel, only one had returned, and his tale had shot shivers up the spines of the hardiest of Clan Battlehammer’s warriors.

And now Bruenor and his young friends, not one of them old enough to be counted among those warriors, had taken it upon themselves to clear the tunnel and avenge their kin.

Bruenor grunted away a shudder and pulled the door open, its swing releasing a gush of the cramped air inside. Blackness loomed up before them. They had lived underground all their lives, tunnels had ever been their homes, but this one seemed darker still, and its stifled air pressed on them heavily.

Feldegar grabbed a torch from a wall sconce, its light hardly denting the depth of the darkness. “Wait till we’re outta sight,” he told Khardrin, “then bar the door! Three taps, then two, means it’s us returned.” He steadied himself and led them in.

For the first time, Khardrin was truly glad to be left behind.

The torchlight seemed pitiful indeed when the bang of the stone door echoed behind them. Boulders and rocks sent them stumbling and scrambling, stalactites leered down from the low ceiling, and rock buttresses kept them turning one blind corner after another, each promising a monster poised to spring upon them.

Yorik had brought a good supply of torches, but when the second had died away and the third burned low, the tension began to wear at their resolve. They found a flat stone to use as a seat and took their first break.

“Drat and begrudges on this whole thing!” growled Feldegar, rubbing a sore foot. “Three hours it’s been, an’ not a sign o’ the filthy thing! Me mind’s wonderin’ at the truth o’ the tale.”

“Then yer mind’s wanderin’ from its wits,” said Yorik. “ ’Twas an ettin that took the four, an’ not to doubt!”

“Wag yer tongues in a whisper,” Bruenor scolded them. “If the torch ain’t enough a beacon, the echo o’ yer words suren are!”

“Bah!” Feldegar snapped. “And if yer father were true to being a prince, he’d’ve come down here and finished the thing proper!”

Bruenor’s eyes narrowed dangerously. But he shook his head and walked a few paces off, not about to get into such an argument. Not here, not now.

“Bangor did promise to take the heads o’ the thing,” protested Yorik. “But after the merchants from Settlestone are gone, when there’s more time for plannin’.”

“And when the ettin’s got away?”

If they had been back in the halls, Feldegar would have paid for that insult with a few teeth, but Bruenor let it go. He knew that his father, Bangor, and King Garumn had done right in sealing off the tunnel with the heavy door until they could devote their fullest efforts to battling the ettin. Any ettin is a formidable foe, a two-headed giant more at home in the dark than even a dwarf. Careless and quick is not the way to go after an ettin.

Yet here he was with only two companions, and not a one of them even tested in real battle.

Again Bruenor fought through his fear, reminding himself that he was a dwarven prince. He and his friends had spent countless hours in training. Weapons sat easily in their young hands, and they knew all the tactics. “Come, let us be on our way,” Bruenor growled stubbornly, picking up the torch.

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