“Well, there she is, lad, the City of Sails,” Bruenor said to Wulfgar as the two looked down upon Luskan from a small knoll a few miles north of the city.
Wulfgar took in the view with a profound sigh of admiration. Luskan housed more than fifteen thousand – small compared to the huge cities in the south and to its nearest neighbor, Waterdeep, a few hundred miles farther down the coast. But to the young barbarian, who had spent all of his eighteen years among nomadic tribes and the small villages of Ten-Towns, the fortified seaport seemed grand indeed.
A wall encompassed Luskan, with guard towers strategically spaced at varying intervals. Even from this distance, Wulfgar could make out the dark forms of many soldiers pacing the parapets, their spear tips shining in the new light of the day.
“Not a promising invitation,” Wulfgar noted.
“Luskan does not readily welcome visitors,” said Drizzt, who had come up behind his two friends. “They may open their gates for merchants, but ordinary travelers are usually turned away.”
“Our first contact is there,” growled Bruenor. “And I mean to get in!”
Drizzt nodded and did not press the argument. He had given Luskan a wide berth on his original journey to Ten-Towns. The city’s inhabitants, primarily human, looked upon other races with disdain. Even surface elves and dwarves were often refused entry. Drizzt suspected that the guards would do more to a drow elf than simply put him out.
“Get the breakfast fire burning,” Bruenor continued, his angry tones reflecting his determination that nothing would turn him from his course. “We’re to break camp early, an’ make the gates ‘fore noon. Where’s that blasted Rumblebelly?”
Drizzt looked back over his shoulder in the direction of the camp. “Asleep,” he answered, though Bruenor’s question was wholly rhetorical. Regis had been the first to bed and the last to awaken (and never without help) every day since the companions had set out from Ten-Towns.
“Well, give him a kick!” Bruenor ordered. He turned back to the camp, but Drizzt put a hand on his arm to stay him.
“Let the halfling sleep,” the drow suggested. “Perhaps it would be better if we came to Luskan’s gate in the less-revealing light of dusk.”
Drizzt’s request confused Bruenor for just a moment – until he looked more closely at the drow’s sullen visage and recognized the trepidation in his eyes. The two had become so close in their years of friendship that Bruenor often forgot that Drizzt was an outcast. The farther they traveled from Ten-Towns, where Drizzt was known, the more he would be judged by the color of his skin and the reputation of his people.
“Aye, let ‘im sleep,” Bruenor conceded. “Maybe I could use a bit more, meself!”
They broke camp late that morning and set a leisurely pace, only to discover later that they had misjudged the distance to the city. It was well past sunset and into the early hours of darkness when they finally arrived at the city’s north gate.
The structure was as unwelcoming as Luskan’s reputation: a single iron-bound door set into the stone wall between two short, squared towers was tightly shut before them. A dozen fur-capped heads poked out from the parapet above the gate and the companions sensed many more eyes, and probably bows, trained upon them from the darkness atop the towers.
“Who are you who come to the gates of Luskan?” came a voice from the wall.
“Travelers from the north,” answered Bruenor. “A weary band come all the way from Ten-Towns in Icewind Dale!”
“The gate closed at sunset,” replied the voice. “Go away!”
“Son of a hairless gnoll,” grumbled Bruenor under his breath. He slapped his axe across his hands as though he meant to chop the door down.
Drizzt put a calming hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, his own sensitive ears recognizing the clear, distinctive click of a crossbow crank.
Then Regis unexpectedly took control of the situation. He straightened his pants, which had dropped below the bulge of his belly, and hooked his thumbs in his belt, trying to appear somewhat important. Throwing his shoulders back, he walked out in front of his companions.
“Your name, good sir?” he called to the soldier on the wall.
“I am the Nightkeeper of the North Gate. That is all you need to know!” came the gruff reply. “And who – ”
“Regis, First Citizen of Bryn Shander. No doubt you have heard my name or seen my carvings.”
The companions heard whispers up above, then a pause. “We have viewed the scrimshaw of a halfling from Ten-Towns. Are you he?”
“Hero of the goblin war and master scrimshander,” Regis declared, bowing low. “The spokesmen of Ten-Towns will not be pleased to learn that I was turned into the night at the gate of our favored trading partner.”
Again came the whispers, then a longer silence. Presently the four heard a grating sound behind the door, a portcullis being raised, knew Regis, and then the banging of the door’s bolts being thrown. The halfling looked back over his shoulder at his surprised friends and smiled wryly.
“Diplomacy, my rough dwarven friend,” he laughed.
The door opened just a crack and two men slipped out, unarmed but cautious. It was quite obvious that they were well protected from the wall. Grim-faced soldiers huddled along the parapets, monitoring every move the strangers made through the sights of crossbows.
“I am Jierdan,” said the stockier of the two men, though it was difficult to judge his exact size because of the many layers of fur he wore.
“And I am the Nightkeeper,” said the other. “Show me what you have brought to trade.”
“Trade?” echoed Bruenor angrily. “Who said anything about trade?” He slapped his axe across his hands again, drawing nervous shufflings from above. “Does this look like the blade of a stinkin’ merchant?”
Regis and Drizzt both moved to calm the dwarf, though Wulfgar, as tense as Bruenor, stayed off to the side, his huge arms crossed before him and his stern gaze boring into the impudent gatekeeper.
The two soldiers backed away defensively and the Nightkeeper spoke again, this time on the edge of fury. “First Citizen,” he demanded of Regis, “why do you come to our door?”
Regis stepped in front of Bruenor and steadied himself squarely before the soldier. “Er…a preliminary scouting of the marketplace,” he blurted out, trying to fabricate a story as he went along. “I have some especially fine carvings for market this season and I wanted to be certain that everything on this end, including the paying price for scrimshaw, shall be in place to handle the sale.”
The two soldiers exchanged knowing smiles. “You have come a long way for such a purpose,” the Nightkeeper whispered harshly. “Would you not have been better suited to simply come down with the caravan bearing the goods?”
Regis squirmed uncomfortably, realizing that these soldiers were far too experienced to fall for his ploy. Fighting his better judgement, he reached under his shirt for the ruby pendant, knowing that its hypnotic powers could convince the Nightkeeper to let them through, but dreading showing the stone at all and further opening the trail for the assassin that he knew wasn’t far behind.
Jierdan started suddenly, however, as he noticed the figure standing beside Bruenor. Drizzt Do’Urden’s cloak had shifted slightly, revealing the black skin of his face.
As if on cue, the Nightkeeper tensed as well and, following his companion’s lead, quickly discerned the cause of Jierdan’s sudden reaction. Reluctantly, the four adventurers dropped their hands to their weapons, ready for a fight they didn’t want.
But Jierdan ended the tension as quickly as he had begun it, by bringing his arm across the chest of the Nightkeeper and addressing the drow openly. “Drizzt Do’Urden?” he asked calmly, seeing confirmation of the identity he had already guessed.
The drow nodded, surprised at the recognition.
“Your name, too, has come down to Luskan with the tales frown Icewind Dale,” Jierdan explained. “Pardon our, surprise.” He bowed low. “We do not see many of your race at our gates.”
Drizzt nodded again, but did not answer, uncomfortable with this unusual attention. Never before had a gatekeeper bothered to ask him his name or his business. And the drow had quickly come to understand the advantage of avoiding gates altogether, silently slipping over a city’s wall in the darkness and seeking the seedier side, where he might at least have a chance of standing unnoticed in the dark corners with the other rogues. Had his name and heroics brought him a measure of respect even this far from Ten-Towns?
Bruenor turned to Drizzt and winked, his own anger dissipated by the fact that his friend had finally been given his due from a stranger.
But Drizzt wasn’t convinced. He didn’t dare hope for such a thing – it left him too vulnerable to feelings that he had fought hard to hide. He preferred to keep his suspicions and his guard as close to him as the dark cowl of his cloak. He cocked a curious ear as the two soldiers backed away to hold a private conversation.
“I care not of his name,” he heard the Nightkeeper whisper at Jierdan. “No drow elf shall pass my gate!”
“You err,” Jierdan retorted. “These are the heroes of Ten-Towns. The halfling is truly First Citizen of Bryn Shander, the drow a ranger with a deadly, but undeniably honorable, reputation, and the dwarf – note the foaming mug standard on his shield – is Bruenor Battlehammer, leader of his clan in the dale.”
“And what of the giant barbarian?” asked the Nightkeeper, using a sarcastic tone in an attempt to sound unimpressed, though he was obviously a bit nervous. “What rogue might he be?”
Jierdan shrugged. “His great size, his youth, and a measure of control beyond his years. It seems unlikely to me that he should be here, but he might be the young king of the tribes that the tale-tellers have spoken of. We should not turn these travelers away; the consequences may be grave.”
“What could Luskan possibly fear from the puny settlements in Icewind Dale?” the Nightkeeper balked.
“There are other trading ports,” Jierdan retorted. “Not every battle is fought with a sword. The loss of Ten-Towns’ scrimshaw would not be viewed favorably by our merchants, nor by the trading ships that put in each season.”
The Nightkeeper scrutinized the four strangers again. He didn’t trust them at all, despite his companion’s grand claims, and he didn’t want them in his city. But he knew, too, that if his suspicions were wrong and he did something to jeopardize the scrimshaw trade, his own future would be bleak. The soldiers of Luskan answered to the merchants, who were not quick to forgive errors that thinned their purses.
The Nightkeeper threw up his hands in defeat. “Go in, then,” he told the companions. “Keep to the wall and make your way down to the docks. The last lane holds the Cutlass, and you’ll be warm enough there!”
Drizzt studied the proud strides of his friends as they marched through the door, and he guessed that they had also overheard pieces of the conversation. Bruenor confirmed his suspicions when they had moved away from the guard towers, down the road along the wall.
“Here, elf,” the dwarf snorted, nudging Drizzt and being obviously pleased. “So the word’s gone beyond the dale and we’re heared of even this far south. What have ye to say o’ that?”
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