Cattie-brie meandered through the forest trails, straying from the path that led to the stream in favor of following the robins that flitted through the branches and going where she would, emerging at last in a grassy meadow where the warm sun caressed her face. She sighed deeply, closing her eyes and letting the warmth temporarily wash away any residual unpleasant feelings over her disagreement with Drizzt. "He'll just have to get over it," she told herself, and not for the first time. Still, her stomach twinged a bit at the memory of the hurt in his eyes when she'd thrown Wulfgar's name at him, but she pushed that away firmly. It was spring, and the evidence of new life all around her convinced her that soon all would be well.
A large patch of wintergreen, faithfully colorful throughout the long winter, now boasted flowers in small white bells hidden among its leaves in the dappled shade of the tree line. Cattie knelt and harvested a few leaves, careful not to disturb the delicate bells. She tore one leaf and inhaled deeply, the tangy scent of the plant sharp and fragrant in her nostrils. The fresh aroma took her back to her childhood, evoking memories of chewing the wintergreen leaves with her dwarven playmates. They would see who could keep the pleasantly strong leaves in their mouth the longest, as the flavor would eventually turn bitter. Cattie-brie smiled, popped the leaf into her mouth, and chewed. She had almost always won. Her adoptive father was right when he said she was nothing if not stubborn. A good thing too, young Cattie-brie had decided. As the only human child among dwarves, rescued from a band of goblins that had made her an orphan before she was old enough to walk, Cattie-brie had always thought she had something to prove. Perhaps even more so because her adoptive father, Bruenor Battlehammer, was none other than king of their dwarven clan.
Cattie-brie sucked on the wintergreen, lost in thought, then slowly straightened up, a sudden icy tingle making the hair stand up on the back of her neck. She removed the wintergreen leaf and took a deep breath. It smelled like ... bear!
Cattie-brie flung the basket from her arm and whirled, yanking the bow from her shoulder and fumbling for an arrow. There, not ten yards from her, stood a shaggy grizzly bear. It watched her with glittering, beady eyes. Cattie-brie's heart raced, and the blood pounded in her ears. "Go on!" she heard herself yell, as if from a distance. "Run away!" She nocked an arrow with trembling fingers. "Get gone!"
The bear rose up on its hind legs, squinted at her as if she were some creature who threatened it, and roared.
Cattie-brie could see its yellowed teeth, the four long fangs made for ripping and tearing, and she could scarcely breathe.
The bear dropped down to all fours just as Cattie shot. Her arrow sailed harmlessly overhead, and the ground trembled with the lumbering crash of the bear's weight.
"Help!" she screamed with all the breath she could muster, fitting another arrow and slowly backing away. It took all of her willpower not to turn and run. Something told her that the bear would be on her in an instant if she did. "HELP!"
No one will help you, her subconscious mocked. You pushed Drizzt away, and now you're on your own.
"Get away!" she choked out, and then much louder, "GET AWAY!" Oh Mielikki, why didn't it run? Cattie-brie drew back on the bowstring, praying desperately for a killing shot as the bear growled again and took a step toward her. If it came any closer, she'd be outmatched in an instant, bow or no bow.
A crashing noise in the bush behind her startled her, and she glanced back despite herself. There was the cub. It gave an answering cry, calling to its mother, and she was between them.
Drizzt had been tracking Cattie swiftly, but as soon as he heard her urgent cries, he ran straight to the source of the sound, his keen eyes picking out the easiest path, drow-trained feet no longer silent but desperately fast, Mielikki's name the prayer on his lips with every breath. He burst into the clearing, bared scimitars in hand. Three pairs of startled eyes met his, and for an instant all was frozen.
Then the mother bear stood up again, momentarily distracted from Cattie-brie. It used its seven-foot height to see him clearly.
Drizzt felt small indeed as the bear reared up, but size was of little consequence compared to training and speed, he reminded himself.
Cattie seized the opportunity to side-step, soon clearing a path between the bear and the wandering cub. Her arms were trembling from the strain of holding the bowstring taut for so long.
"Cattie, don't shoot!" Drizzt commanded forcefully, dreading the thought of an injured bear. "Lower the bow. Move slow and quiet. Look small." He kept his eyes on the grizzly as he gave the curt orders. Contrary to his own advice, he raised his arms and held them wide, even taking a quick, threatening step toward the cub.
"Drizzt!" Cattie shrieked. She saw what he was doing.
"Don't speak!" he ordered urgently, his voice deliberately louder than hers.
The mother bear looked between them, swinging her head back and forth. The cub trotted toward her, and she roared.
Drizzt took a firmer grip on his scimitars and felt the familiar battle-readiness wash over him. The grizzly bear could take his head off with one swipe of her claws. He'd have to kill it.
The little bear cub moved in his peripheral vision. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was so young. Without its mother, he was condemning them both to death, but it was the only way. Or was it?
Cattie-brie watched Drizzt send his scimitars spinning wildly, light gleaming off the shining blades. He caught the grizzly's attention. "I am the threat!" he yelled fiercely. There was an almost-feral light in his eyes.
Cattie didn't know if he was explaining it to her or to the bear. She backed away farther and farther, hunched small and quiet, breath ragged in her throat and a feeling like lead in her stomach. Drizzt would die, and it was all her fault. She raised the bow once more as the bear dropped to the ground and charged Drizzt. He'd forbidden her to shoot, but she'd never forgive herself if she let him die without so much as firing a single arrow.
Drizzt caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. "Don't shoot!" he yelled, and this time his voice broke on the last word.
The rough emotion reached Cattie-brie in a way that stern commands could not. She didn't understand his reasoning, but her hand relaxed the bowstring as if of its own accord.
Drizzt held his ground until the last possible second and then dove out of the way, enchanted anklets lending him impossible speed beyond his elven quickness.
The grizzly barreled past him with a swipe of its wicked claws that met empty air.
Drizzt came up from his shoulder roll and immediately backed away, perhaps more quickly than was prudent.
The bear looked between him and its bleating cub while the ranger continued to move, making himself less and less of a threat.
"Mielikki," Cattie-brie heard him say. What would the bear choose?
Either way, Drizzt looked ready. He had to be.
Mielikki, help us.
The bear swung its great shaggy head back and forth, and Drizzt didn't move, every muscle tensed. Then the grizzly turned and trotted toward its cub, calling, and they crashed away through the bushes.
Drizzt and Cattie-brie stayed frozen, listening as the sounds of the bears grew more distant. The blood pounded in Cattie-brie's ears, and her fingertips tingled. At last there was only the occasional far-off snapping of a dead branch, birds taking flight safely above their path.
Then Drizzt was at Cattie-brie's side in an instant, scimitars sheathed, hugging her hard.
She collapsed into his fierce embrace, eyes burning at her foolishness and at his reckless rescue.
A/N: In progress.