Chapter 8: Exile

Once she had led them close enough to Menzoberranzan that Ghazryn was familiar with their surroundings, Drizzt knelt and dismissed Guenhwyvar back to the Astral Plane, then pocketed the figurine. Turning to his companions, he spoke as they walked through the tunnels. "I am obliged to report to Matron Malice, who will most certainly be displeased. However, there is no such obligation for you. Ghazryn, I'm releasing you back to Zaknafein until such a time as I recall you, I suggest you have him find you a post far away from the Matron Mother for the time being. Artemis, it's not safe for you inside the Do'Urden compound right now. With myself out of favour, anyone looking to find favour with one of my rivals will see you as an easy target. But Menzoberranzan is unsafe for drow, let alone humans. Keep your piwafwi tight, find somewhere safe to hide, and whatever you do, don't let anyone see that you're not a drow. Meet me tomorrow at Narbondel's nadir, at Zegorath's."

Drizzt's orders earned him a thankful look from Ghazryn, who knew all too well of the wrath of drow females, deserved or not, and an equally reproachful one from Artemis. Drizzt knew his bodyguard would prefer to walk in beside him to face Matron Malice, would willingly step between him and the Matron Mother, but Drizzt felt a duty to protect the adolescent. Artemis would not like being separated from Drizzt, would not like the fact that he could not protect his master, but at least Matron Malice wouldn't take out her anger on what she considered an iblith, barely superior to the rothe dung used to fertilize the mushroom fields. Whatever else she might do, she wouldn't kill Drizzt. A male he might be, but a male with the potential to be the greatest swordsman the city of the drow had ever seen. Above all else, Malice was cunning, and she would never dispose of such a great tool.

The remainder of the journey passed in silence, each member of the party absorbed in their own thoughts, and as soon as they slipped back into the city, by a rarely used tunnel not wide enough for the carts of merchants, Ghazryn took off ahead of the other two, clearly trying to find Zaknafein for new orders well before Drizzt made it to the Do'Urden compound. Somewhere along the way Artemis slipped into the shadows, but Drizzt was sure the devoted human continued to tail him, well out of sight. Eventually, Drizzt found himself staring up at the great gate of the Do'Urden compound, a massive adamantine construction hung between two stalagmites. For a moment he hesitated, considered turning around, turning back, but only for a moment. He squared his shoulders, swallowed heavily, and strode through.

The moment Drizzt stepped into the main building of the compound, on his way to the throne room, Zaknafein stepped out of a side passage, falling into lockstep with his protege. The older drow said nothing, but Drizzt was comforted by his presence. At least with Zaknafein there, someone would be on his side. For Zaknafein's part, he looked on his son sadly, but proudly. He could tell the blow that this defeat had given his usually unshakable son, and he wished there was something he could do, something he could say. But the most he could do was lend his silent support, and even that was pushing it. Matron Malice would not look kindly on Zaknafein inserting himself into the situation. Each step seemed to take an age, the air seemingly thickening around them in anticipation. Eventually the two drow males made it to Matron Malice's throne room. Right as the younger drow reached out to open the door, Zaknafein put his hand on his protege's shoulder. Just for a moment, then he retracted it, as the heavy door swung open to reveal the full Do'Urden court. Malice, it seemed, had called in every available drow elf in House Do'Urden to witness her judgement of the Do'Urden thirdboy. The Matron Mother herself sat in her onyx throne, resplendent in her middle age, features lent character but no lack of beauty by her few centuries. At her feet, subservient, knelt her new Patron, Ra'Hepnar, a Do'Urden wizard known better for his looks than his skills. But such was the way of all Malice's consorts over the years, save for Zaknafein. Briza, released at last from the chapel, loomed over her mother's shoulder, cruel grin spreading across her face and Drizzt's misfortune, and over the other shoulder Maya, less obviously pleased, but perhaps relieved, that it was not her own judgement being witnessed. Dinin, his allegiances clear, flanked Briza, with Vierna and Nalfein nowhere to be seen, with a host of Do'Urden priestesses of all ranks filling the rest of the cavernous room, and even a few males, warriors and wizards alike, come to watch the entertainment.

Drizzt was relieved to see no others of his group in attendance. While Artemis and Ghazryn he knew were out of the line of fire, for now, at least, he had had no news of Khazra, Yalael, or Zayana, and he hoped they would not be punished merely for their association with him. He cleared his mind of all extraneous thoughts, and stepped forward confidently, as he had so often seen Zaknafein do, and bowed deeply, showing full propriety and etiquette. "Matron Malice," he spoke, fighting to keep his voice deep and steady, a monumental task as great as any enemy he had faced on the battlefield, "I am here to report, as requested." He straightened his back, posture perfect, and waited, tensed, for a barrage of invective from the Matron Mother, and possibly even the bite of a snake-headed whip.

What he was not expecting, nor prepared for, was Malice's calm, even tone, and even more so for the words she spoke. "Drizzt," she intoned, almost purring the name, yet dripping with danger, "you were tasked with the defence of Do'Urden's holdings. You were given resources, given freedom, given authority, even over the females of the house. Clearly that was a mistake." Drizzt felt his knees go weak, even as Zaknafein stiffened beside him.

Nothing could have prepared him for what came next. The throne room exploded into whispers as Matron Malice spoke. "You are no longer of House Do'Urden. Get out of my sight."

Zaknafein, to his credit, foolishly attempted to protest this decision. The male managed to step forward, but he'd barely begun his argument when Matron Malice gave a slight nod of the head, prompting Briza, snake-headed whip already in hand, to step forward, Dinin again flanking her, hands resting on the pommels of his weapons. Maya merely spoke a brief incantation, settling a dweomer of silence on the angry Weapon Master.

While all this was going on, Drizzt just stood, numbly, failing to observe the goings-on around him. Tears stung the corners of his eyes, ice coursing through his veins. As if controlled by an outside entity, he turned, feet leading him unthinkingly onwards as he strode towards the exit.

By the time he came fully to his senses, Drizzt was already well outside the familiarity of the Do'Urden compound, long strides eating up the distance on the stone floor of the cavern of Menzoberranzan. Finally, his head cleared enough that he realized what he was doing in his stupor, feet taking him towards Tier-Breche, the location of Menzoberranzan's Academy, where Nalfein and Vierna taught. With Narbondel nearing its nadir, Drizzt was nearly alone on the streets of Menzoberranzan, with only a few slaves of the lower races scurrying to and fro, and even fewer drow, all covered and wrapped tightly in their piwafwis, identities hidden, like Drizzt's himself.

Gaining access to the Academy was easy. As a noble of a major House, Drizzt was barely questioned upon identifying himself at the gates. Clearly, word of his banishment had not spread. Following the familiar halls of Sorcere, where he had once spent six months training, in his final year of study, he found the quarters of the Vice-Chancellor of Sorcere, Nalfein Do'Urden. Knocking once on the door, he stepped back, and waited.

Meanwhile, at the Do'Urden compound, another drow warrior was waiting with far less patience. Zaknafein had been remanded to the War Room while Malice snapped orders and barked commands at her subordinates in the Throne Room, seething with rage at her treatment of Drizzt. Lack of control was Zaknafein's greatest hate, and one with which he had become intimately familiar in the matriarchal society of Menzoberranzan. Zaknafein stalked the cold stone floor, five paces from wall to wall before turning on his heel and pacing back. Over and over the Weapons Master paced, releasing his anger and nervous energy through his boot-heels into the stone.

As the adrenaline wore off, anger converted into self-loathing. Zaknafein cursed himself, cursed his own weakness. He had once been able to control his emotions as finely as any drow warrior, had resigned himself to a life of intrigue and slaughter, fighting whoever he was commanded to fight, killing whoever he was commanded to kill, and above all, self-preservation in the face of the mercurial moods of drow priestesses. But his son, his brilliant, unique, compassionate son, so like his father yet even more talented and even more kind, had given him the one thing no drow male could afford, hope. And Zaknafein now cursed that hope, hope that Matron Malice had taken away from him by decree, the lives of all House Do'Urden's drow hers to play with, to use or discard at her whim.

Eventually Zaknafein stopped his pacing and retired to the couch, slumping into the cushions. There he sat, staring at the blank, lifeless stone wall, trying fruitlessly to keep his mind clear, knowing that rage and self-recriminations could do nothing to help his son.

After what felt like an age, Zaknafein felt the familiar prickle of magic being used, and he watched as the locking dweomer holding the door sealed was lifted. Moments later, the door was eased gently open, and red eyes peered into the War Room. "Zaknafein, your presence is required in the Throne Room," the newly arrived drow elf spoke, one of the house wizards. "Keep your hands where I can see them," the wizard spoke, not nastily, but with an air of great solemnity. Zaknafein grunted in reply, and slowly moved to lever himself up from the couch. That he could easily slay the wizard, leave the Do'Urden compound, and find his son crossed Zaknafein's mind for a brief moment, but the Weapons Master knew he would never have the courage to abandon his home and become a houseless vagabond. So he slowly made his way towards the throne room, wizard in tow.

To his surprise, the Throne Room was empty on his arrival, except for Matron Malice, no longer towering with rage, but seemingly relaxed, almost purring with satisfaction, alone on the great onyx throne. Zakanfein didn't bother with even the pretense of a bow to the Matron Mother as his escort slipped quietly from the room, standing straight-backed as the heavy doors closed behind him. For a moment, silence reigned as the siblings stared each other down, but with uncharacteristic impatience, Zaknafein broke the silence after only moments. "Malice," the male growled, "why the fuck would you do that?"

Zaknafein was completely unprepared for the Do'Urden matron to burst out laughing in response to his rage, and his rage turned to confusion as she composed herself and replied. "Well, Zaknafein, if my ploy worked on you, you can be assured that it will work on the Council of Eight as well."

"What ploy?" Zaknafein barked. "You exiled the strongest warrior of House Do'Urden for failing to complete an impossible task! And you know full well you could have given him more resources, more support, more anything!"

Once again, Malice merely laughed, the sound of cruel joy rising from her lips. "Come, Zaknafein, we all know you care little for the fortunes of House Do'Urden. You care only for the boy. You are soft Zaknafein, yet House Do'Urden needs you, so I shall explain."

"But do not become used to it!" she snapped, tone changing in an instant. "You are a mere male, you have no right to question the Matron Mother!" Once again her tone changed, back to her previous conciliatory mood. "Drizzt is the greatest unknown quantity of House Do'Urden, and rumour spreads quick in Menzoberranzan. By the time Narbondel rises again tomorrow, the whole city will know that Drizzt Do'Urden has been exiled, and they shall wonder. They shall wonder how powerful is House Do'Urden that they can exile the strongest warrior produced by Melee-Magthere in centuries. They shall wonder how much does House Do'Urden know, or how little, about our enemies. And while they are plotting, and scheming, and wondering, we buy time to secure our position, secure our holdings, and train our troops." At this point, Zaknafein made to interrupt, but Malice stopped him before he could begin, continuing with her own train of thought. "As for Drizzt, the priestess Zayana, his bedroom companion, is currently on her way to meet with him. He is our weapon in secret, the true thirdboy of House Do'Urden, exiled in name only to strike at our enemies from the shadows. And once they reveal themselves in earnest, we shall reveal that Drizzt Do'Urden is no exile, but a soldier in good standing, ready to defend House Do'Urden with his blades."

Zaknafein's shoulders slumped in relief and the Weapons Master took a deep breath, trying to regain composure. While he understood Malice's points, and he was certainly relieved to hear that Drizzt was not truly exiled, he worried for his son, and seethed with resentment towards Malice for her trickery.

"I should go to him," Zaknafein stated. "I could help him. I have contacts in the underworld, with Bregan D'Aerthe and other mercenaries."
"Don't be a fool," Malice snapped. "Nobody in all of Menzoberranzan will be more heavily watched that you, Zaknafein, now that Drizzt has been exiled. If you are seen meeting with him, everyone will know of our ruse. Drizzt can look after himself. You need to follow instructions, Zaknafein, or I will take you to Lloth's altar myself and give you to the Spider Queen as an offering. Or perhaps Vierna could make you into a drider." Her tone brooked no argument, and Zaknafein recognized that the situation could only deteriorate if he angered Malice any further. He sketched a quick bow, turned on his heel, and left the room. He would have to track down Drizzt's little accomplice, Ghazryn, and send the undersized warrior to search out Drizzt, to provide whatever support he could.

It seemed an age between Driztt's knock and Nalfein finally opening the door, Drizzt uncomfortably checking his shoulder every moment, uncertain if at any moment an enemy might arrive, if the news of his banishment had been publicized. He let out a sigh of relief when the door finally opened, his brother peering out suspiciously before realizing who was there to visit him.

"Get inside quickly," Nalfein hissed, taking Drizzt's forearm and dragging him into the room, before shutting the door and muttering a dweomer, sealing the door tightly. "What are you doing here?" he asked, now speaking at a normal volume. "Did Matron Malice send you?"
Drizzt looked at his feet as though they were the most interesting thing in the world. "No," he mumbled in reply, "she didn't send me. I've been cast out of House Do'Urden for failing to do the impossible." Drizzt heard a sharp intake of breath from Nalfein at the news but continued to hold his gaze on his toes. "I just came to warn you, Nalfein. Dinin will be out for your head now that there is no thirdboy behind him. He's always coveted the title of firstboy, and now he has his opportunity. I'm going to leave Menzoberranzan tonight, and I'll take Artemis with me. Give my regards to Vierna when you next see her."

Nalfein drew in a deep breath, and considered his options. The consummate drow wizard, he had no sentiment regarding his younger brother, yet Drizzt was a useful tool, and it was difficult for Nalfein to understand how his cunning, ruthless mother could dispose so easily of such a tool. Already his mind was whirring for ideas of how to make use of his brother's talents, even if none of the rest of House Do'Urden would get the benefit.

Finally, he spoke. "You can't leave," he said, and Drizzt's eyes finally raised from the ground to meet his, shocked by the firstboy's pronouncement. "Whether or not Malice has banished you, Drizzt," he continued, trying to inject as much emotion into his words as possible, knowing that the younger drow cared for such things, "I have not banished you, and neither has Vierna." Of course, Nalfein had no intention of sharing with his sister, but he knew that the two were close, and using Vierna's name would help to convince his brother.

Nalfein was about to continue his proposal when he was interrupted by another knock. He shoved Drizzt towards the closet, the younger drow loosening his scimitars in their scabbards even as he hid, blending into the darkness. He listened intently as Nalfein cancelled the locking dweomer on the door, then opened it, anticipating any kind of disturbance that would set him charging out to do battle. Instead, Nalfein's voice, smooth and aristocratic, carried into the room. "Ah, Zayana," Drizzt heard the elder drow say, "it's such an honour to be visited in my bedchamber by such an esteemed priestess, but I'm sure you know I don't partake in your direction. So sorry to disappoint."

"Shut the fuck up, Nalfein," the priestess replied, not angrily, but in a playful, bantering voice, "you know only one Do'Urden male holds any interest for me anyway. Now let me in, I have something to say to him."
Nalfein began to make an attempt to deny Drizzt's presence, but the younger male simply stood and walked to the door, greeting his sometime paramour with a slight smile. "Nalfein, please let her in. We can talk privately, and see what she has to say. I don't think she's here to kill either of us." With that, Nalfein stood aside and allowed the priestess to enter, before magically locking the door once again, and showing his guests to the small study in his living quarters.

Once they were all seated, Zayana spoke. "Matron Malice has sent me with a message for Drizzt, and instructions. This scroll should make everything clear." With that, she handed Drizzt a small scroll, which he unrolled to see the seal of House Do'Urden. "That's a Letter of Marque from Matron Malice herself, naming you under the protection of House Do'Urden, and providing you the authority to order the garrison of House Do'Urden in line with the privileges ordinarily held by a Thirdboy of the house. But you must not show it to anyone except in dire need. Matron Malice needs you to be able to operate independently of House Do'Urden until we identify our aggressors and defeat them. Once we do, you will be reinstated as Thirdboy."

With this explanation, a weight lifted from Drizzt's chest. Despite his qualms with many aspects of drow life, he had never desired to leave Menzoberranzan, his home, and his family, and still wanted to do everything in his power to protect them. "Who else knows about this?" he asked.

"Just Matron Malice, myself, and now you and Nalfein. I believe Matron Malice will be informing Zaknafein as well, but this information must be kept secret. If other houses learn that you are not truly banished, we lose the element of surprise. And if it gets out," she added, looking directly into Nalfein's eyes, "we will know who cannot be trusted."

With that last dire warning, Zayana rose from her seat, then leaned down and whispered something in Drizzt's ear, her lips brushing his cheek. A moment later she was gone, cancelling Nalfein's locking dweomer with a flick of her hand and exiting Sorcere with haste.

Drizzt looked at his brother. "I should go," the thirdboy spoke, flashing a second scroll that Zayana had slipped into his hand. "Matron Malice has plans for me, and nobody can know that I was here. But be careful, Dinin still does not know of my status, and he will be plotting against you." With that, the younger drow rose from his seat, and pulling his piwafwi tight, slipped out of the room.

Sighing, Nalfein once again flicked his hand, muttered an incantation, and cast the locking dweomer on the door, this time reinforcing it with a number of other spells. Pulling off his robes, the wizard put on his nightclothes and sank into the comfort of his feather bed, covering his eyes and exhaling deeply. For all that he enjoyed the scheming of the drow, scheming was best done in the daytime.