* * *
Wen I wus ilevvan and thre kwarters I saw a… Catti-brie stopped and tapped her lip with the nib of her quill pen, instantly turning her lip bluish black.
Drizzt bit back a snort of laughter.
She looked up at him. "What?"
Drizzt gently took the feather end of the quill and tugged her hand away from her face. "If you keep this up, you will paint yourself my color before you finish your masterpiece."
"I got ink on me face?" Catti-brie asked. "How?"
Drizzt stared at her a moment, and then was unable to keep himself from bursting out into laughter. He took out one of his scimitars, mirror-bright, and angled it so she could see her face.
Her eyes widened. "Yuck!" She rubbed vigorously at the ink on her bottom lip, but it was mostly stuck. "Me pen leaked ink on me lip while I was thinking!"
Drizzt produced a handkerchief and dabbed some cleaning oil on it. "Here. This doesn't taste very good, but it will probably get the ink off."
She took it and wiped her lip pink again. "Thanks, Drizzt." She leaned over and hugged him. "You're me best friend ever."
Drizzt, startled, wasn't quick enough to avoid the hug, and wasn't quick enough to participate. Before he could even decide what to do about her affection, she withdrew and went back to writing.
They sat crosslegged across from each other on a rocky hill overlooking Ten Towns. In the summer, it wasn't quite so barren. Lichen grew on the larger rocks, and a withered old tree behind them actually had leaves on it. Patches of clover and long grass managed to grow, sweetening the air.
"I done!" Catti-brie said, holding up the parchment in front of her.
"Read it to me," Drizzt said.
Her chest, still flat, was boyish as his, her freckled body nearly as lithe. She had constant scrapes and scabs on her knees and elbows, but Drizzt saw a certain prettiness in her face, in the wideness and blueness of her eyes, that suggested to him she might become very pretty as a woman. He watched her chest puff out proudly at his attention, and he experienced strange feelings. "Wen I was ilevvan and thre kwarters I saw a monstur. It wus big and harry and had big teeth and bad breth. It wus calld a yeti! I wus scaird but not for long becuz Drizzt cayme and stabbed it with hiz simmitars. Then it dyed. Da sed he wus the best elf ever –"
Drizzt burst out laughing at that bold declaration. More like Bruenor had called him a 'durned elf' and cursed his carelessness for engaging the yeti by himself instead of calling for help. He hadn't needed help, but Bruenor never saw it that way. He suspected Bruenor didn't know his fighting capabilities because he'd never seen Drizzt truly pressed before. Drizzt fought the yetis for sport. They were no real challenge. If he ever had to fight against a real opponent, someone who was his equal…
Catti-brie finished her sentence in spite of him, giving him a look of confusion. " – and then we all went hoam."
"I see," Drizzt said gravely, but his eyes were sparkling.
"Why did ye laugh?" she asked.
"'The best elf ever'?" Drizzt said, chuckling even as he quoted her. "Is that what Bruenor said?"
"Yes," Catti-brie said staunchly.
To more giggles from the drow ranger.
She scowled at him, sticking out her lower lip.
"No one will believe you if they know Bruenor very well," Drizzt said, and collapsed on his side on the ground in a fit of gasping laughter, kicking his feet in mirth.
Catti-brie got up, flouncing in a rare, unintended moment of female grace, and kicked him in the stomach. Not hard. It was more of a nudge, really. She scowled down at him harder, parchment rolled up in hand, and said, "I'm telling Da ye laughed at me!" She skipped down the path towards her home. "I'm telling Da, I'm telling Da!"
Drizzt didn't think there would be serious consequences for that, but he couldn't be sure, and he wouldn't stake his life on it. "No, wait!" he gasped, raising his hand. Then he collapsed back down at the silliness of it all, and spent the next five minutes trying to collect himself.
He caught up to her in their home, just when she pulled Bruenor's attention away from his morning beer with her parchment.
Bruenor's thick eyebrows beetled together as he took the parchment from her, gently in his stubby, callused hands, and read her document.
When he looked up at her again, Drizzt was standing beside her, doing his best to look innocent.
Catti-brie gave the ranger a dirty look and pointed at him. "He made fun of me writing!"
"I can't read," Drizzt said. "How could I make fun of her writing? Why, in fact, would I make fun of such a dear friend? I was merely pointing out historical inaccuracies with her story, when she was kind enough to read it to me."
"Ye mighta done well to make fun of her writing, too, elf," Bruenor said.
"Da!" Catti-brie protested.
He looked her in the eye. "Me girl, have you been practicing your letters?"
Catti-brie stood up straight and clasped her hands behind her back, eyes wide. "Yes, Da. Every day."
"I think ye've been having fun with Drizzt every day while the weather's still warm," Bruenor said.
Catti-brie started turning pink. "I practiced. I promise."
"Yer notions of spelling are atrocious, girl," Bruenor said.
Drizzt hid his surprised smile behind his hand. "I didn't notice."
"Fool elf, not bein' able to read," Bruenor grumbled.
"But what about him making fun of me?" Catti-brie said, pointing at Drizzt.
Bruenor scratched his head. "Well, that depends on what be yer idea of, er, an historical inaccuracy."
"The ending," Drizzt said delicately.
Bruenor glanced down at Catti-brie's story and huffed. "There ain't being anything wrong with this ending, elf."
"Not one thing?" Drizzt asked.
Bruenor looked at him. "Besides her spelling bein' uglier 'n an orc's."
Catti-brie's face turned a desperate shade of red. "Da, it's not that bad. I spelled most of them words right, didn't I?"
Bruenor shook his head. "No."
"Half o' them have to be right, at least," Catti-brie said.
Bruenor shook his head. "No."
Catti-brie sweated with embarrassment and desperation. "How many?"
Bruenor took the trouble of counting, because she was his daughter. He growled, took his time, and rolled his eyes. Drizzt bit his lip to keep his laughter private. Bruenor drummed his fingers on the table. "Alright, me girl, maybe ye ain't as hopeless as I mighta said." He waved an admonishing finger at her. "But you study yer letters! There ain't no reason why ye should be spelling 'was' W-U-S."
"It is spelled W-U-S," Catti-brie said in a tiny voice.
"It be spelled W-A-S, ye nitwit girl," Bruenor roared, setting her back a pace.
Catti-brie cringed. "Ah, ah, I'm sorry, Da. I'll try harder."
Bruenor stabbed an accusing finger at Drizzt. "And ye! Why can't ye read after all this time?"
"I can't write, either," Drizzt said helpfully. "My last mentor was blind. He could teach me neither."
Bruenor and Catti-brie fell silent, both forgetting their own troubles in order to feel bad.
Bruenor rubbed his nose. "Well, ye can start with Catti-brie. I reckon she needs a bit more time on the basics, anyway. She can teach ye what she knows." He grumbled, "Just take it with a bit 'o salt, til she gets her head straight on those letters."
"Thank you," Drizzt said, startled. He looked at Catti-brie. "I don't want to impose my –"
"It'll be fun," Catti-brie said. "I reckon I won't mind studyin' so much if you're around."
"About the end of the story?" Drizzt said, bringing it up one last time.
Bruenor squinted at him. "Ye know perfectly well, elf, that I ain't gonna make any o' me usual comments about yer recklessness after ye just saved me daughter's life." He roared with laughter at the expression on Drizzt's face.
Drizzt rubbed the back of his neck and smiled ruefully. "Yes, of course. How could I forget that."