Chapter 5: Found
"Zaknafein! Thank Mielikki." Drizzt hugged his son tight. "Are you all right?" Even as he asked, he quickly and carefully checked for wounds. Zak's hands were slightly singed, but nothing serious. In darkvision, he could see a small cut on one finger, showing itself to be new because it glowed with more heat than the surrounding skin. Not deep, and not bleeding anymore. There was no other blood. He let out a long breath.
His son did not speak. He still held his hunting knife ready, clenched in a white-knuckled grip.
Drizzt gently pried the knife out of his son's fierce grasp and returned it to the sheath on the boy's hip.
Zaknafein looked at him blankly, still caught in the thrall of shock.
Drizzt swept off his dark green cloak and wrapped it around his son's small shoulders.
All at once, Zak began to shake. His entire body was shaking, and he let out a low moan.
Drizzt squatted down and sat the boy on his knee, pulling him close. He rubbed his back. "It's all right, Zak. You're safe now."
Zaknafein didn't want to cry—he didn't, but he couldn't help himself. Hot tears began racing down his face, and sobs tore themselves from his throat. Kel'nar hugged him close, and Zak cried into the front of his tunic, comforted by the familiar outdoorsy smells of pine and wood smoke that always clung to his father's clothing. He pressed his face against his father's chest, but tried to choke back his tears. "Kel'nar must think I'm such a baby."
"I'm proud of you, Zaknafein," Kel'nar murmured. He rubbed Zaknafein's back gently. "I'm so proud of you."
Zak blinked up at him. Proud? For what? He frowned and put his head back on his father's chest, safe in the circle of his arms. He tucked his head down, chin against his chest.
Kel'nar just held him.
Finally Zak's tears stopped. He sniffed hard and wiped his face with his sleeve.
Drizzt smiled down at him. "There now. Everything's all right." He brushed a few stray wisps of his son's unruly auburn hair away from the boy's face. "Ready to go home?"
Zak didn't answer. He was still breathing heavily, although he seemed calmer than before.
Why didn't his son say anything? Drizzt continued to cradle the boy on his knee quietly. He touched the unicorn pendant at his throat. "I'll carry you home, Zak." He stood, supporting Zak with an arm around his back.
Zaknafein took a stumbling step, pushed Drizzt's hands away, and—quite calmly, Drizzt thought—threw up everywhere.
Too much tension in his small body. Drizzt fished the water skin out of his pack. "Better now?" he asked, handing Zak the water. He casually kicked some dirt and dead leaves with his foot.
Zaknafein nodded, taking a few sips. He seemed more steady on his feet now.
Guenhwyvar was lying down on the other side of the fire, looking greatly fatigued. Drizzt gave her a nod of thanks. The panther blinked her huge yellow eyes once in response. She needed to rest on her own plane. "Go home, Guenhwyvar," Drizzt said quietly. He turned back to his son.
"K-Kel'nar?" Zaknafein choked out.
Drizzt let out a breath, feeling his shoulders relax. "I'm here, Zak."
Now Zak's words came tumbling out fast and furious. "Oh, Kel'nar! I went hunting, and I almost got a rabbit, but then there was this big buck, and I was so excited, but a crow cawed, and the deer started running, so I chased it, 'cause I thought I could still shoot it while I ran, but it got away." Zak's eyes were stinging fiercely. "And, and when I pried my arrow out of the tree, I was lost!" He rubbed his eyes savagely. "I should've paid better attention to where I was going, but I remembered the STOP thing you told us in case we got lost, and I—I climbed a tree, but it was too cloudy to see any landmarks." The lump was back in Zak's throat, and a single tear slipped down his cheek.
Kel'nar hugged him tight.
"I couldn't get the fire going, but Mielikki helped me. I know she did 'cause I prayed and then right after that I remembered to put my back to the wind. I made the shelter first though, just like the one we made on our camping trip, and I sang Grandpa Bruenor's mining song, but then the wolves came, and I was so scared, but I knew I had to do something ..." His voice cracked. Zak remembered those seemingly interminable moments with the wolves advancing and the flames burning his hands though he dared not let go of the blazing branches. "The wolves were ... but then ..." Zak couldn't hold it back. His shoulders shook with a suppressed sob, and he was crying again. "I thought the wolves were going to kill me for sure! I should've grabbed my bow, and I didn't even think of it till now!"
"It's all right, Zak," Drizzt said. "You're safe now."
"I was so scared–"
"I know, dalharuk. I know, but you're safe now. The wolves are dead. Look at them—they're dead, and if more come, I'll kill those too."
Zaknafein breathed a shuddery sigh. He looked at the stiff, lifeless bodies of the wolves. The heat was rapidly leaving their bodies. Before, they had glowed a vibrant red when viewed in darkvision, but now they were just a pale orangish-yellow, growing paler by the second. Dead. Kel'nar was here. He was safe now. Zak mopped his face with his sleeve. Everything would be all right because Kel'nar was here. "I should've shot them with my bow. Why didn't I do that?"
"You did good, Zak," Drizzt said. "You did everything right. The burning branches were a smart idea."
"But I forgot I even had my bow—"
"It was too close for ranged weapons."
"If I would've—"
"Zak," Drizzt interrupted. He put a firm hand on his son's shoulder. "Look where your bow is. Look where the dead wolf is—the one I killed."
Zak turned his head. His quiver and bow leaned against a tree at the edge of the clearing. The smaller wolf's body was only a few yards from it. "I—I guess you're right."
Drizzt squeezed his shoulder. "You did just fine."
"But I got lost. I shouldn't have."
"We all get lost sometimes," Drizzt said. "I've been lost before."
Drizzt nodded. "More than once."
Zaknafein squinted at him, then hung his head. "But I bet you've never gotten sick after a fight."
Drizzt stilled. Being tortured in a Menzoberranzan dungeon didn't exactly constitute a fight, at least not in the sense that Zaknafein meant, but there were things he wouldn't tell his son until he was much older. For now … "I vomited after a particularly nasty … battle … in the Underdark."
Zak's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"Yes, but let's not tell your grandpa Bruenor that one, all right?"
"All right." Zak smiled slightly.
As if on some silent cue, Zak and Drizzt both took a step toward the edge of the clearing where Zak's bow and quiver leaned.
"I can carry those for you."
Zak shook his head. "I'll manage."
Drizzt nodded. "The offer to carry you still stands, but something tells me that won't be necessary."
Zaknafein gave him a sideways grin. "Mum would think I was injured. Besides, I'm fine now."
Drizzt let one hand rest casually on a scimitar hilt and squeezed Zak's shoulder with the other. "Thank Mielikki for that. Let's go home."
dalharuk = son
A/N: Now complete. Thanks so much to everyone who has taken time to leave a review. I really appreciate it.