R A Salvatore
The Neverwinter Trilogy, Book I, 2010
A LOT COULD BE SAID OF KING BRUENOR BATTLEHAMMER OF MITHRAL Hall, and many titles could be rightfully bestowed upon him: warrior, diplomat, adventurer, and leader among dwarves, men, and even elves. Bruenor had been instrumental in reshaping the Silver Marches into one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions in all Faerun. Add “visionary” to his title, fittingly, for what other dwarf might have forged a truce with King Obould of the orc kingdom of Many-Arrows? And that truce had held through the death of Obould and the succession to his son, Urlgen, Obould II.
It was truly a remarkable feat, and one that had secured Bruenor’s place in dwarven legend, though many of the dwarves in Mithral Hall still grumbled about dealing with orcs in any way other than war. In truth, Bruenor was often heard second-guessing himself on the matter, year in and year out. However, in the end, the simple fact remained that not only had King Bruenor reclaimed Mithral Hall for his stout clan, but through his wisdom, he had changed the face of the North.
But of all the titles Bruenor Battlehammer could claim as earned, the ones that had always sat most comfortably on his strong shoulders were those of father and friend. Of the latter, Bruenor knew no peer, and all who called him friend knew without doubt that the dwarf king would gladly throw himself in front of a volley of arrows or a charging umber hulk, without hesitation, without regret, in the service of friendship. But of the former…
Bruenor had never wed, never sired children of his own, but had come to claim two humans as his adoptive children.
Two children since lost to him.
“I tried me best,” the dwarf said to Drizzt Do’Urden, the unlikely drow advisor to the throne of Mithral Hall-on those increasingly rare occasions when Drizzt was actually present in Mithral Hall. “I teached them as me father teached me.”
“No one could ever say different,” Drizzt assured him.
The drow rested back in a comfortable chair near the hearth in a small side room of Bruenor’s chambers, and took a long look at his oldest friend. Bruenor’s great beard was less red, even less orange, as more gray wound among the fiery locks, and his shaggy scalp had receded just a bit. On most days, though, the fire in his gray eyes sparkled as intensely as it had those decades before on the slopes of Kelvin’s Cairn in Icewind Dale.
But not that day, and understandably so.
The melancholy so plain in his eyes was not reflected in the dwarf’s movements, though. He moved swiftly and surely, rocking in his chair and hopping to his feet to grab another log, which he pitched perfectly onto the fire. It crackled and smoldered in protest and failed to erupt in flames.
“Damn wet wood,” the dwarf grumbled. He stomped on the foot-bellows he had built into the hearth, sending a long, steady stream of air rushing across the coals and low-burning logs. He worked diligently at the fire for a long while, adjusting the logs, pumping the bellows, and Drizzt thought the display fitting for Bruenor. For that was how the dwarf did everything, from holding strong the tentative peace with Many-Arrows to keeping his clan operating in efficient harmony. Everything just right, and so too was the fire, at last, and Bruenor settled back in his chair and picked up his great mug of mead.
The king shook his head, his face a mask of regret. “Should o’ killed that smelly orc.”
Drizzt was all too familiar with the lament that had plagued Bruenor since the day he’d signed the Treaty of Garumn’s Gorge.
“No,” the drow replied, less than convincing.
Bruenor scoffed at him, somewhat viciously. “Yerself vowed to kill ’im, elf, and ye let him die o’ old age, didn’t ye?”
“Take care, Bruenor.”
“Ah, but he cleaved yer elf friend in half, now, didn’t he? And his spearmen bringed down yer dear elf lass, and the winged horse she rode.”
Drizzt’s stare reflected both pain and simmering anger, a warning to Bruenor that he was crossing the line here.
“But ye let him live!” Bruenor shouted, and he slammed his fist down on the arm of his chair.
“Aye, and you signed the treaty,” Drizzt said, his face and voice calm. He knew he didn’t need to shout those words for them to have a devastating effect.
Bruenor sighed and dropped his face into his palm.
Drizzt let him stew there for a few moments, but finally could take it no longer. “You’re hardly the only one angered by the fact that Obould lived out his years in comfort,” he said. “No one wanted to kill him more than I.”
“But we didn’t.”
“And we did the right thing.”
“Did we, elf?” Bruenor asked in all seriousness. “Now he’s gone and they’re wantin’ to keep on, but are they really? When’s it goin’ to break? When’re the orcs goin’ to be orcs and start another war?”
Drizzt shrugged, for what answer could he give?
“And there ye go, elf!” Bruenor replied to that shrug. “Ye can’t be knowing and I can’t be knowing, and ye telled me to sign the damned treaty, and I signed the damned treaty… and we can’t be knowin’!”
“But we are ‘knowing’ that many humans and elves and yes, Bruenor, dwarves, got to live out their lives in peace and prosperity because you had the courage to sign that damned treaty. Because you chose not to fight that next war.”
“Bah!” the dwarf snorted, throwing up his hands. “Been stickin’ in me craw since that day. Damned smell o’ orc. And now they’re tradin’ with Silverymoon and Sundabar, and them damned cowards o’ Nesme! Should o’ killed them all to death in battle, by Clangeddin.”
Drizzt nodded. He didn’t disagree. How much easier his life would be if life in the North became a never-ending fight! In his heart, Drizzt surely agreed.
But in his head, he knew better. With Obould offering peace, Mithral Hall’s intransigence would have pitted Bruenor’s clan alone against Obould’s tens of thousands, a fight they could never have won. But if Obould’s successor decided to break the treaty, the resulting war would pit all the goodly kingdoms of the Silver Marches against Many-Arrows alone.
A cruel grin widened on the drow’s face, but it fast became a grimace as he considered the many orcs who had become, at least somewhat, friends of his over the last… had it been nearly four decades?
“You did the right thing, Bruenor,” he said. “Because you dared to sign that parchment, ten, twenty, fifty thousand lived out their lives that would have been shortened in a bloody war.”
“I cannot do it again,” Bruenor replied, shaking his head. “I got no more, elf. Done all I could be doin’ here, and not to be doin’ it again.”
He dipped his mug in the open cask between the chairs and took a great swallow.
“Ye think he’s still out there?” Bruenor asked through a foamy beard. “In the cold and snows?”
“If he is,” Drizzt replied, “then know that Wulfgar is where he wants to be.”
“Aye, but I’m bettin’ his old bones’re arguing that stubborn head o’ his every step!” Bruenor replied, adding a