In the firelight, Rumil and Orophin quickly found a defensible
position, shepherded their companions into it and, swords drawn,
mounted guard. Arador settled Valandil against the rock wall,
then drew the glowing crystal from his packthe flames were
already dying downand held it over Haldirs wounded
shoulder whilst Dínendal carefully opened the March Wardens
How is he? asked Rumil, over his shoulder.
He, answered Haldir, pointedly, has
been much better.
It is a deep cut, said the healer, and needs
stitching. Bring the light closer, Arador.
Did you feel anything, asked the boy, curiously,
apart from the blade?
What do you meann? Haldir gritted his
teeth as the needle pierced his flesh.
I have read, said Arador, that some of their
swords are sentient, and will feed on their victims.
Yes, this is cold, said Dínendal, spreading
a thick layer of healing salve over the wound. But it will
deaden the pain...
I felt nothing but steel, said Haldir.
Pity. I meannot from your point of view, obviously
Haldir tried to move his hand, but Dínendal caught it
and, gently bending the March Wardens arm at the elbow,
placed it on his breast. I have no choice, said the
healer, in response to Haldirs heavy sigh, your shoulder
must be kept still. He slid a piece of cloth beneath the
arm and motioned the boy to hold the ends in position.
What else have you read, Arador? asked Valandil suddenly.
Since his crazed attack on the drow, he had been silent, leaning
against the rocks with his eyes tightly closed. Now he seemed
fully alert again. Why have they taken her? Do you know?
Not really... Though, in their society, women are far
more important than men.
So they may have thought she was our leader?
Your holy woman, said the boy. They have holy
women who accompany the warriors into battle to call upon their
goddess for help. They probably thought she was your holy woman.
And what will they do with her?
Valandil... The boy handed the bandage to Dínendal
and turned towards the other elf. She fell...
No. She did not, said Valandil, firmly.
We cannot be sure, Arador, agreed Haldir, relaxing
his arm into the sling. All you found was a piece of her
And I know she is still alive, said Valandil.
I can feel it.
The boy opened his mouth to point out that Valandils earlier
suicidal fury had suggested otherwisebut immediately thought
better of it. What are we going to do then, he asked,
now that they know we are hereand Haldir is wounded?
Fighting waves of nausea, Wilawen backed away from the mushroom
men, turned, and ran, doubled-up, across the eerie moss-lit cavern
to the screen of stalagmites that hid her tiny refuge. Still clasping
her stomach, she stared up at the hole. It is too high,
she thought, tears of exhaustionand frustrationspilling
from her eyes. I cannot reach it...
She searched the ground for a piece of stone to use as a step.
Behind her, Guenhwyvar growled softly and, nudging her back,
gently pushed her out of the way, then crouched down at the foot
of the wall.
Wilawen gasped. Are you sure...?
The cat did not move.
Wilawen patted its shoulder. Good cat; good, good cat,slowly
she raised her foot and climbed onto its backkeep
still, keep But Guenhwyvar had a better idea, and
rose smoothly to its feet, allowing Wilawen to crawl easily into
the safety of the tunnel.
We know they are afraid of fire, said Haldir, struggling
to shoulder his pack with his one good arm. Dínendal stepped
forward to help.
It blinds them, agreed Arador.
And they have no long-range weapons, continued the
March Warden, reaching for his bow. So we will attack suddenly.
Arador will throw one of his fire-bottles, and we will use the
light to shoot as many as we can.
You cannot draw, said Orophin,which
means we only have three archers.
I have never used a bow in my life, said the boy.
Not even a human one.
Then it will have to be Dínendal. Haldir handed
the healer his great war bow and, with a struggle, unbuckled his
I shall do my best... said Dínendal, doubtfully.
I know you will, said Haldir. Give me your
I do not suppose you need me to point out, said Arador,
that, given that we cannot see without the crystals,
our chances of creeping up on a drow army are less than nil
No, said Haldir.
I thought not.
All I need you to do, Master Arador, is follow my orders.
Wilawen crawled to the end of the tunnel and curled up into a
ball. Guenhwyvar, seeming to understand her distress, settled
down beside her and nuzzled her shoulder, purring softly.
The womans sob turned into a shaky smile. Thank you,
You did not answer my question, said Valandil, taking
hold of the rope beside Arador. What will these demons do
I do not know.
You are not telling me the truth, said the elf, for
betrothal to a woman had taught him to recognise when something
was being hidden from him for his own good. What
will they do with her?
The boy sighed. Their goddess demands living sacrifices,
Haldir touched Valandils shoulder. We will get her
back before they have the chance to harm her, mellon nín,
he said. Move off Rumil. And, from now on, everyone is silent.
Camthalion took a sip of dark green liquid. What is this?
he asked, eyeing Arinna suspiciously
I have no idea, Cami, said the woman. Master
Findecáno told me to give it to you when you woke up. I
should think it is some sort of tonic.
A tonic... He reached for her arm.
A-ah! Arinna drew back with a playful wave of her
hand, and rose gracefully. I have promised Ori that I will
visit Mistress Cyllienhe is worried about her. Will you
be all right on your own for a while?
I shall try not to be too long. She draped her silken
shawl over her dark hair, throwing its fringed ends over her shoulders.
If you get up, Cami, remember to take things slowly,
she said, bending over to kiss his forehead.
But the elf caught her around the waist and, drawing her close,
kissed her mouth.
Arinna left their flet and strolled along the winding pathway,
through the clusters of elegant housesall delicate swirling
arches and opalescent glassamongst the red-leaved carantaur
Who would have thought, she mused, admiring the beauty
all around her, that I could be so happy living in the middle
of a forest, cooking, cleaningsometimesand being faithful,
like a good housewife?
She passed Legolas private chambers, turned off the main
walkway, and climbed the spiralling stairs up to the next level.
Of course, she thought, it does help having two willing and able
elves for husbands...
She nodded a greeting to an elleth she knew by sight, and continued
along the private path to a select group of dwellings tucked just
behind the Palace.
I wonder if Lord Legolas realises how well his garden is overlooked?
She stopped at the first house, and knocked on the door.
There was no answer.
She knocked louder.
Still no response.
She laid her fingertips on the wood and pushed, lightly.
The door swung open. Strange... Hello?
Arinna stepped inside. The sitting room looked exactly how her
own bedroom had looked the time she had found that animal, Wolfram,
ransacking it, but she did not, for one moment, imagine that the
March Wardens flet had been burgled.
She took a few more steps.
Because lying in the middle of the floor was a leather apronof
the kind the human carpenters working on the new wing of the Palace
all woreand coming from what Arinna assumed was the bedchamber
was the unmistakable sound of two people having sex.
Silly tart! she thought. If that was all she wanted,
she should have stayed in Carhilivren. And for a moment she
considered barging in and sending himwhoever he waspacking.
But no, she decided. I promised Ori I would take care of her,
and I shall.
The Green Cave
Wilawen opened her eyes.
There was something else in the green cavesomething other
than the mushroom mensomething that had just made a noise
like two stones, banging together. She turned to Guenhwyvar. The
cat had heard it, too, and had already risen to its feet, ears
pricked and listening hard
Wilawen immediately caught the scent of the mushroom mens
noxious spores. That will stop it, whatever it is, she
thought, remembering the effect the poison had had on her own
But Guenhwyvar was growing more and more agitated, and suddenly
moved to the tunnel mouth, tamping the rocky floor with its paws.
Wilawen closed her eyes and listened. There were more rhythmic
stone-claps, more spores, then the sound of clawed feet scraping
on stone... getting closer... and closer...
Guenhwyvar growled and dropped into a crouch.
Wilawen looked around frantically for a weapon.
Watching his feet, Arador shuffled forward, rope in one hand,
uncorked spirit bottle in the other, steeling himself for his
part in the next battle. The moment Haldir gives the order,
he thought, I drop to the ground, pull out the tinder box,
light the wick, and throw... Ground, tinderbox, wick, throw.
Ground, tinderboxgods! What was that?
The boy pulled hard on the rope, and the elves around him stopped
as one. Haldir came up beside him and leaned close to his ear.
What? he whispered.
Another piece of Mistress Wilawens dress.
Where? hissed Valandil.
Lying on the floor, back there.
Letting go of the rope, Valandil dropped to his knees and crawled
along the ground, sweeping the crystal back and forth. I
have found it, he whispered, excitedly, I
Suddenly silent, he lifted the crystal and held it a few inches
above the ground. Tail, he whispered. Then
he brought the light higher, slowly revealing a pair of leather-clad
legs, a fine mail hauberk, a shock of white hair, and a handsome
It was one of the dark warriors, standing with his back to the
wall, his empty hands raised in surrender.
Wilawen heard the cat snarl, heard more stone-claps close to
the tunnel, and snatched up a jagged piece of rock. She hesitated
for just a moment; then, spurred on by the sounds of fighting,
she followed the cat, sliding painfully down the rock wall and
tumbling out into the green cave.
The air was thick with spores and she immediately clutched her
stomach, gagging. But the effect did not last long and, squinting
through watery eyes, Wilawen realised that she was kneeling amongst
the ripped and shredded remains of the mushroom men, strewn across
the cavern floor.
Horrified, she raised her head to see what had killed them.
The elves drew their weapons; Valandil slashed with his sword.
OWilawen! cried the dark elf, neatly dodging
Valandil froze. What did you say?
OWilawen, the drow repeated, and pointed down
Take me to her, said Valandil, sheathing his weapon.
Take me to Wilawen.
The dark elf raised his finger to his lips. Shhh. Then
he beckoned. Follow me.
But Haldir, sword in his left hand, came up beside the drow and,
using his superior size, caged him in against the wall. How
do we know we can trust you? he hissed.
He saved her before, said Valandil. When I
was shot, I saw himhe has purple eyesthe others have
Haldir looked at Valandil for a long moment. Then, Very
well, he said. He stepped back.
Suddenly, the dark elf drew a pair of swords and, snapping them
into line, brushed Haldirs chest with their curved points,
let the blades drop and, turning the hilts outwards, offered them
to the stunned March Warden.
I think he is trying to show you that you can trust him,
said Arador, obviously impressed.
Thank you, Master Arador, said Haldir. Make
sure that bottle of yours is ready. He shook his head at
the drow, refusing the weapons.
The dark elf spun his swords back into their scabbards. Then
he pointed to his own chest. Drizzt, he said. Drizzt.
The creature that had killed the mushroom men was hugeat
least twice the height of a manwith a vultures head
and massive forearms ending in long, hooked pincers. Wilawen crouched
down, ducking in terror as the thing staggered back and forth
across the rocky floor, flailing its armsdeadly pincers
clackingin an attempt shake off Guenhwyvar, who was hanging
from the upper rim of its crab-like shell, snarling and snapping.
Wilawen could see that, although the monsters head and
strange under-body were protected by a natural bony armour, the
plates shifted as it moved, occasionally leaving patches of its
moist red flesh exposed...
Holding the end of Haldirs rope, the dark elf drew the
rescuers swiftly down the branching tunnels. He had already cautioned
them to be silent but, several minutes into the journey, he suddenly
bought them to a halt and, stepping into the light of Aradors
crystal torch, he raised his hands and made a series of complex
shapes with his fingersevidently giving them some sort of
When there was no response, he put a finger to his lips and waited
until Haldir had acknowledged his instructions with an emphatic
They were clearly passing close to his dark comrades, and Haldir
wondered what he was planning. Did he intend to lead an attack
on his own people? Or had he somehow managed to separate Wilawen
from her captors?
Or was he simply leading the elves into a trap?
Uneasy at the trust he was having to place in this stranger,
Haldir passed the rope to his injured hand and grasped the hilt
of his sword.
Guenhwyvar was tiring, but so was the monster, and the cat seemed,
at last, to have gained the upper handclamping its hind
feet on the lower ridge of the thing's shell, it lashed out with
its claws, raking its foes unprotected eyes...
The creature lurched under Guenhwyvars shifting weight
and, bringing its unwieldy pincers up to its face in blind panic,
crashed down on its knees.
Look, mouthed Arador, slipping the glowing crystal under
Sometimes, Master Arador, whispered Haldir, your
behaviour baffles me
The tunnel is getting lighter.
Haldir peered down the passage. He had failed to notice itperhaps
because his elven senses had been less hampered by the dark than
Aradorsbut the boy was right. The darkness had acquired
a faint green tint.
Guenhwyvar, thrown clear, landed on its feet and turned, ready
to spring back into the fray.
But Wilawen had spotted a chance. With determination, she staggered
to the monsters side, slid her jagged rock point into the
crimson gap between its shell and its bony skull cap and, when
the creature blindly pushed itself up on its hooked pincers, she
drove the stone home, crying out ashitting boneit
slipped and cut her own hand.
Without warning, the dark elf suddenly grasped Valandils
arm and, hissing OWilawen!, tried to push him
towards the source of light, but Haldir drew his swordclumsilyand
slipped it between their bodies, holding the drow back. Stop
From somewhere up ahead, Wilawen screamed in pain.
With a cry of anguish, Valandil slipped from the dark elf's grasp
and took off down the tunnel.
Haldir released the drow and ran after Valandil, crying, Come
on! and the rescuers followed as best they could, Arador
fumbling for the tinder box in his pocket.
Lying face-down in the lethal moss, the creature convulsed, blood-streaked
foam pouring from its open beak.
Wilawen sank to the ground. Guenhwyvar, equally exhausted, padded
to her side and settled down, laying its great head on her lap.
The woman looked at her handit was hurting, but the cut
did not seem very deep. Using her left hand, she pulled Drizzts
water skin from her belt, took a mouthful of water, and offered
to pour some into Guenhwyvars mouth.
The cat refused.
Wilawens head slumped forward. We are safe for now,
she thought, closing her eyes...
Wilawen! Valandil raced into the eerily-lit
cavern, ripping out his sword and lunging at the monstrous black
cat that was pinning the woman to the ground. Yaaaaggghhh!
But the blow fell shortfor the drow, smaller and nimbler
than his surface cousins, had brought Valandil down with a flying
tackle. The elf kicked and swore and struggled, using the strength
of his arms to crawl towards Wilawenuntil her calm voice
finally penetrated his fury.
Valandil?she raised her head, staring at him
in disbeliefOh Valandil!
The cat, who now seemed to be standing guard over her, growled
a warning but, No, she said, patting its shoulder,
this is Valandil.
And, to the elfs relief, the cat stepped aside, the drow
released him, and he crawled to his beloved, and took her in his
Arinna leaned over the walkway rail, idly wondering what fun
might take place in that pretty little gardenbeneath the
canopy of that bedwhen the moon was full and the stars were
shining bright. She had a great fondness for Legolas, who, despite
his three thousand years, struck her as a very innocent lover...
A noise caught her attention and she turned, screened by a carantaur
bough, and watched him slip from the housewearing
his leather apron and carrying (she smiled cynically) his bag
of carpenters toolsand swagger off down the twisting
Arinna assessed him with a professional eyetall, blond,
ruggedly handsome, and, by elven standards, magnificently builtthough
the woman knew that elven bodies were deceptive in the critical
matters of strength and stamina.
She waited until the lover had disappeared around a bend, then
crossed the flet and knocked on Cylliens door.
The elleth opened it immediately. What do you want?
she demanded, for the pair had had more than one encounter in
Carhilivren, and none of them had been amicable.
I saw that you were having the bed refurbished, and thought
I might offer some advice. Arinna stepped inside. I
have come, she said, quietly, because someone has
asked me to watch over you.
Arinna shook her head. No. But someone who has his well-being,
as well as yours, at heart.
Arinna did not correct her. You are such a fool,
What! How dare?
I, as you know, am the first to recommend sex as a hobby,
but it is not the answer in your caseyou do not even
How dare you?
You are using that young bull to escape your disappointing
life with the March Warden just as you used the March Warden to
escape from Ribhadda, and you used Ribhadda
A stinging blow from Cyllien cut her off, mid-sentence.
Arinna calmly rubbed her face. You used Ribhadda,
she continued, and, I imagine, many othersto deaden
the pain of losing him. She waved her hand. We
need not speak of himthere is always a him and,
no doubt, some tragic reason why you cannot be together
Get out! I mean it! Get out now!
But Arinna stood her ground. I have made a fortune
out of fools like you, she said, men and women who
think that sex will make them forget. Do you forget him?
Of course not! That oaf only makes you remember him more. Sex
is release, and when a woman is filled with pain, pain is what
it releases. Look She moved aside a pile of clothing
and sat down. No one doubts that you have suffered a great
loss. No one doubts that, as an elf, you can grieve for eternity.
But you have been given a second chance with the March Warden
What do you know of Haldir?
I know that he is good elf and that you would be stupid
to throw him away. I also know that he is far too proud to turn
a blind eye to this sort thing, she said, waving her hand
towards the bedroom.
The Green Cave
Haldirs gaze lingered on the reunited couple
Look at this! hissed Arador.
Haldir turned away, reluctantly.
The boy was crouching beside a strange creature, lying dead in
a patch of luminous moss. It is some sort of crab-man!
he whispered, excitedly. It has eight legs andlookthese
are what make that noise we keep hearing! He pointed to
its curved pincers. And this,he rapped his knuckles
against its shellis a natural suit of armour, but
Mistress Wilawen found a chink. He reached for the jagged
sliver of rock protruding from the things neck, but Drizzt
grabbed his arm. What?
The dark elf pointed to the glowing moss, then gestured with
his hand, No.
It must be poisonous... Arador bowed to the drow.
Haldir! cried Rumil. Over here.
Beckoning Arador to follow, the March Warden joined his brothers
beside what looked like pieces of a vast mushroom. It has
eyes, said Rumil, prodding the rounded cap with the tip
of his sword. And organs, he added, distastefully.
We must move, said Haldir. The Valar only know
what else is down here. He turned to Drizzt. Show
the Manling the way out.
He returned to where Wilawen was sitting between Valandil and
Dínendal (who was bandaging her hand). How is she?
The woman smiled up at Haldir. I am tired and hungry and
my hand hurts, she said, but none of that matters
now. She turned to Valandil, who hugged her close and kissed
If you could just wait until I have finished, grumbled
What happened to your arm, March Warden?
Ohit is just a scratch. Do you think you can walk,
Wilawen? I want us all safely back on the surface as quickly as
Of course, said the woman.
And I will carry her if she cannot, said Valandil.
But what about the lake? asked Arador, pointing to
the map. There is no bridge. He spread his hands to
indicate that he did not understand how they could cross the water.
Drizzt moved his arms, imitating breast stroke.
Suppose one of us cannot swim...
The dark elf, not understanding his question, seized the map
and traced the entire pathfrom the green cave, across the
lake, and along a short tunnel that appeared to end in a rock
wall but which must, Arador realised, connect with the surface
world. The route had the advantage of taking them, as quickly
as possible, far from where Drizzts comrades were lurking...
Arador sighed. Yes, he said, I understand.
It is the best way.
Drizzt approached Wilawen and Valandil cautiously, hands raised
in a gesture of reassurance, but Guenhwyvar, having no inhibitions,
bounded up to the couple and nuzzled Wilawens shoulder affectionately.
Wilawen laughed. This, she said to Valandil, is
the best bodyguard a woman could haveexcept one. She
looked up at Drizzt. Or two.
The dark elf reached into the pouch at his hip and drew out a
small black objectthe onyx cat that Wilawen had seen him
use before. He placed it on the ground and, with a smile at Wilawen,
said something in his own language.
Reluctantly, the cat left the womans side and approached
the figurine, its body seeming to dissolve with each step, until,
when it reached the tiny cat, there was nothing left but a dark
grey mist, swirling down into the black stone like water in a
Good bye, whispered Wilawen.
Valandil gave her a comforting hug.
With Drizzt leading them, the companionsthough they heard
the occasional stone-clapreached the lake without further
incident. Arador gazed across the expanse of inky water, just
visible in the shafts of dim light that filtered through chinks
in the rock above and turned the roof of the massive cavern into
the semblance of a moonless sky.
In its own way, it is beautiful down here, he thought.
Which is just as well... He glanced at the March Warden.
Best to get it over with. Haldir...
The elf sighed. What have you done now, Master Arador?
The boy considered the phrasing of the question and gave his
answer accordingly. I have never learned to swim.
The elf laughed. Is that all?
Arador was surprised at the reaction. I cannot cross the
water, he insisted. I will have to stay here...
You will come with one of uswith Rumil or Orophin,
that is, said Haldir, indicating his sling. He will
do the swimmingso all you will have to do is stay calm.
But I have never been in deep water
Are you saying that you are afraid?
Good. Then just lie on your back and stay calm.
Arador, relieved beyond words, and disliking Haldir's obvious
amusement, changed the subject. Why have his people not
come looking for him? he asked, nodding towards Drizzt.
Because they do not know he is missing, said Haldir.
He is a scout, used to patrolling the tunnels on his own,
or with the cat; his commander has sent him ahead and has no way
of knowing that he is not doing his job.
Why do you suppose he helped her?
Because a true warrior does not harm the weak and helpless.
Mistress Wilawen is hardly weak and helpless, said
Arador. And drow men are afraid of womenor
so I have read.
Haldir tried to shrug, but only achieved a wince. Are you
ready for your swimming lesson, Master Arador?
Goodbye, said Wilawen, and thank you.
As she walked away, her hand automatically slipped into her pocket,
where she found something and, turning back, pressed it into Drizzts
hand. To remember us by, she said, smiling.
Arador watched nervously as Valandil and Wilawen, then Dínendal,
and then Haldir and Rumil all waded waist-deep into the water
and began the long swim across the lake.
Ready? asked Orophin.
Take off your packthat is right, you will have to
drag it beside youthen wade into the water.
Clenching his fists, Arador did as he was told
Open your eyes, said Orophin.
Easy for you to say...
Now turn your back to me... Good. The elf wrapped
his arms around the boys torso and, pulling him down into
the water, set off in pursuit of their comrades.
Arador, staring up at the ceiling, had just begun to relax when
something pulled on his feetpulled and pulledso hard
that he slipped from Orophins grasp.
No! he cried, no, no, nnn... getting
in a mouthful of brackish water as he slid beneath its surface
and began to fallslowly at first, then faster, and fasterstruggling
to hold his breath as he sped towards a pale saucer of light that
seemed many miles beneath him...