Drizzt knelt by the fire in his cave, warming his hands against the flickering flames. Guenhwyvar had left to explore the surrounding peaks- it had been some time since he had felt the need to summon his friend and after a brief reunion the panther had caught some new scent and left to pursue it. Drizzt planned to join her shortly once he worked the bite of the cold out of his fingers. Years living in the humid city of Menzoberranzan had not equipped him for a life amidst the snows of Icewind Dale, no matter how much he enjoyed he enjoyed the bracing breeze and blazing purity of the white snow around him. He knew it would be some time before he was truly comfortable here.
Drizzt wriggled and twirled his wrists, watching the interplay of flame and shadow between his splayed fingers. At last satisfied that his extremities had fully returned, he strapped on his scimitars and gnawed on a piece of dried meat from his pack. He hadn't gone hunting for a few days and was hungry for a fresh, roasted meal- hopefully Guenhwyvar had found something during her travels. As he stood up his stomach rumbled and he chuckled ruefully at the sound.
He wasn't the only one. A booming laugh rebounded from the cave's entrance. 'I didn't know ye even got hungry, elf,' said Bruenor Battlehammer cheerfully. 'Thought it was part of yer mystique.'
Drizzt smiled. 'My hunger serves only one purpose- to amuse you, my friend. I promise I don't eat at all when you are not present.'
Bruenor eyed his slender frame critically. 'I can believe that. Ye should sit down at a dwarven feast- I'd show ye a real meal!'
'I wouldn't wish to make your people uncomfortable, Bruenor.'
'Bah! Me girl and I don't have a problem with ye- and neither does me clan! You've shown yeself our friend.'
Drizzt shrugged and pulled on his cloak, grateful for-but not quite believing- his friend's assertion. 'Was there something you wanted?'
Bruenor shook his head, looking at Drizzt with sympathy in his eyes. 'Found meself with some free time- thought ye might want some company. There's said to be some elk down on the lower planes. Ye up for some huntin'?'
'I have summoned Guenhwyvar,' Drizzt warned. 'She may have already beaten us to it.'
Bruenor blazed up at once. 'I'll not be beaten by some damned cat! An axe'll do just as well as claws and fangs. Let's go!'
Drizzt smiled and pulled up his hood. 'As you wish.'
They made their way quickly down the hidden, sloping trails of Kelvin's Cairn, Bruenor stomping ahead eagerly to reach his goal. Drizzt made his way more cautiously- the light on the surface, particularly when reflecting against the snow, still troubled his sensitive eyes and could make some journeys dangerous. He also had no wish to startle their prey and kept a careful eye on his surroundings, watching for movement from elk and the other creatures that stalked the peaks. He spotted the signs of Guenhwyvar's passing ; a faint imprint in the snow of a large paw, likely left specifically for him to follow. Her tracks passed away to their left, but Bruenor kept going onwards, oblivious to the signs.
Drizzt reached out for his shoulder. 'This way,' he said, pointing in the other direction. 'We can make a game of it- try to beat Guenhwyvar before she completes her hunt.'
Bruenor looked sceptical. 'How far ahead did ye say she was?'
'Only a few minutes,' the drow replied confidently. 'Come.'
The dwarf shrugged submissively and followed, soon cutting ahead of Drizzt once more.
Drizzt looked for other signs of his friend's prey, but found nothing- no tracks, no indications of elk or anything else; and the horizon was bare. Usually Guenhwyvar chose a target they both could pursue- but now that Drizzt thought about it, the panther had reacted strangely when she caught her scent. She hadn't growled or indicated any other sort of alarm, but neither had she left the cave with her usual eagerness. Drizzt suddenly realised that Guenhwyvar had gone ahead of him on purpose- not to get ahead in their game, but to scope out a threat.
He quickened his pace. 'Bruenor, something is wrong.'
The dwarf grunted. 'What do ye mean? Everythin' looks alright to me.'
Drizzt shook his head. 'No. Guenhwyvar has found something unusual. I'm sure of it- this is not the way we hunt. We should hurry.'
'That's what I've been doin' the whole time, ye blasted elf!'
Drizzt ignored him and broke out into a light jog, moving easily across the thick, compacted snow as Bruenor huffed behind him. The trail ahead of them sloped into a narrow valley dotted with boulders and small rocks. A large, black shape suddenly emerged from the landscape with a soft growl of warning and pounced to Drizzt's side.
'Guenhwyvar, my shadow.' Drizzt crouched beside her and scratched the panther behind the ears. 'What have you found?'
Guenhwyvar turned and loped away further down the trail. Her posture was relaxed and gave Drizzt no call for alarm, but he pulled one of his scimitars free all the same and followed his friend.
Guenhwyvar led them far down the hilly mountainside, away from any paths used by the inhabitants, and into the wastelands of Icewind Dale. Bruenor grew increasingly disgruntled as they carried on and had no hesitation in making his feelings known.
'Seems like a wild goose chase, elf,' he muttered darkly, watching the panther with suspicion. 'How do ye know this isn't some game?'
'Guenhwyvar would not lead us astray, no matter the reason,' Drizzt replied.
'Ye sure of that?'
'I have no doubt. Nor should you, Bruenor Battlehammer. You know her better than you pretend.'
Bruenor sighed in annoyance but said nothing further.
And then, as if in reproof to the dwarf's doubts, Guenhwyvar stopped abruptly and looked down at a small mound in the snow. The panther growled and approached the heap, sniffing at it and swiping with her paw. Drizzt sucked in a breath as she revealed a blue, delicate hand and hurried to put away his scimitar before rushing to Guenhwyvar's discovery.
Bruenor imitated him and wordlessly the two friends scooped away the snow.
'It's an elf,' said Bruenor, looking down at the body with surprise.
Drizzt could hear the faint sound of her breathing. The elf woman's face was chapped and blue, her eyes crusted shut with snow. 'Quickly,' he said tersely. 'We must get her out!'
'I don't think she's alive-'
'She is. I promise you. And even if she weren't we must get her free!'
'I wasn't saying we shouldn't help, lad,' said Bruenor softly, pulling the elf's legs free and gathering them in his arms. Drizzt took her torso and the two of them began moving at a half-run, back the way they came.
'Guenhwyvar, watch for danger,' said Drizzt, hooking the girl's arms through his elbows and around his waist so he could run facing forwards.
The panther pounced ahead of them, disappearing around the bend. They reached Drizzt's cave soon afterwards and the drow hurried to place her near the fire. 'There are blankets in the corner!' he called out, his voice rising as he hurried to get the stranger warm.
Bruenor rushed away and came back, blankets in hand. Drizzt hesitated- they would need to undress the elf and get her out of her sodden clothes to keep her warm. Otherwise she might die.
Bruenor sensed his anxiety. 'I'd call for me girl if I could,' he said firmly, 'but that'll take too long. Just do it, lad.'
Drizzt nodded and held out a hand for the blanket, quickly removing the elf's trousers and cloak. 'What was she doing travelling in these?' he asked disbelievingly as he wrapped her up and moved her closer to the fire. 'These are not clothes for the Dale.'
Bruenor shrugged. He was warming water over the flames. 'What's an elf doing in the Dale at all? It's not the kind of place I was expectin' to find her kind.' Finished, he held out a cup to Drizzt. 'Give her this- I'll be makin some broth. I don't reckon she'll wake up for a while yet, but the girl needs food all the same. Rub her arms and legs- get the blood pumpin'.'
Drizzt nodded and did as he was told, not daring to remove the blanket that covered her bare skin. Just looking at her made his teeth want to chatter. Who are you? he thought, looking down at that pale, ravaged face. What are you doing here?
Drizzt sent Guenhwyvar back to her home on the Astral Plane as they waited, and Bruenor returned to the halls to find Cattie-brie. Somehow Drizzt suspected that he shouldn't be the one the elf woke up to. He took the time to inspect her face- she wasn't beautiful, like most of the other elves he'd encountered, and her golden hair was matted. He would need to cut it off, he realised regretfully. Beneath her blanket the elf was almost starved, but thankfully the ominous blue tinge had left her skin after Bruenor had carefully tipped some broth down her throat. Drizzt was painfully anxious for her to wake up and to tell them (Cattie-Brie anyway- he planned to hide in order not to disturb her) why she had ventured so far from her home. As far as Drizzt knew no elves lived in the north, aside from himself and the exiles of Ten Towns.
Cattie-brie arrived just before sundown, looking flushed and excited. 'Is she awake?' she asked Drizzt eagerly, her eyes immediately moving to the prone figure by the fire.
Drizzt shook his head and smiled. 'Not yet. She won't wake for some time.'
Bruenor's daughter was fourteen now, and after a brief flash of disappointment she smiled toothily at Drizzt and rushed forward to hug him, wrapping her arms tightly around his ribs. Drizzt pretended to heave and struggle for breath before gently disentangling her from him. In all his life only Cattie-brie had ever shown him such unabashed affection, and he loved the girl dearly for it.
'Here,' he said moving to the fire, 'help me cut her hair.'
Cattie-brie nodded and rushed to obey, laying the elf's head gently in her lap. 'Ye know, this is the first elf I be seeing- aside from yerself, of course.'
Drizzt smiled sadly and pulled a short knife from his belt. 'My people and hers once coexisted,' he said as he took one handful of tangled golden hair and cut it short, just above the stranger's ear. 'There was harmony and love between us.'
'What happened?' asked Cattie-brie, watching him with all-too-knowing eyes.
'I don't know.' He laced another group of strands between his fingers and raised the knife to them. 'I've often wondered that myself.' Golden cobwebs fell onto his knees.
Drizzt refrained from saying more. He was seeing the face of the elf child he'd saved during his brother's raid on the surface- perhaps the drow truly were evil if they were capable of committing such pointless butchery. But if that were so, how come he had turned out the way he was? It wasn't the first time, nor the last, that he wondered if his people could be saved.
Cattie-brie sat in silence until he was finished.
'Will you come back tomorrow?' Drizzt asked, slipping the knife back into his belt. 'If she wakes I want her to see a friendly face, not…' He trailed off.
'It's not fair for her to hate ye,' Cattie-brie said sadly, looking down at the frail face cradled between her hands. 'Ye saved her life.'
'Guenhwyvar did,' Drizzt interjected. 'She was the one who found her.'
Cattie-brie sighed with annoyance and gently laid the elf's head back on the ground before swooping up the shorn hair scattered on the cave floor. 'Ye know that's not true,' she said to Drizzt before she left. 'I'll be back at dawn- and I'll bring ye some breakfast too, ye skinny elf!'