Artemis Entreri was woken up one fine spring morning by an undignified yell of the only other occupant in their comfortable inn suite. He considered simply rolling over and going back to sleep, except that said occupant chose that moment to burst into his room—never mind how he had managed to disable all the magical and physical traps around the door in record time—and gasp:
“Artemis, my hat is missing.”
Entreri showed no visible sign that he had heard the statement. Lying facing the wall and, by extension having his back to this unwelcome wakeup call, he exhaled slowly and closed his eyes.
“Artemis, my hat is missing!”
With a twitch, Entreri opened his eyes but still did not move.
“I heard the first time!” With a growl, Entreri sat up, in time to see a sly grin creep over Jarlaxle’s ebony face. No doubt the drow was feeling delighted that he had elicited a reaction from the assassin. But it was far too early to face Jarlaxle’s annoyingly optimistic smile.
“Good riddance to your hat,” he said.
Jarlaxle’s features rearranged themselves into one of deep hurt and betrayal, and he ran a hand over his bald, hatless head. “How could you say such a thing, my friend? My hat, my most beloved possession, one fabulously fashionable item that has gotten us out of deep water time and time again—you do not care for it at all?”
“Not in the slightest,” Entreri confirmed. “In fact, I can now sleep soundly at night knowing that horrendous blight on the earth is gone.”
Jarlaxle’s crimson eyes narrowed. “Artemis Entreri,” he said in a dangerously low voice, “do not ever insult my hat in such a fashion again.” His tone was enough to make an ordinary man cower at his feet.
Artemis Entreri was no ordinary man. “Ex-hat,” he said, “and I don’t believe it was ever in fashion.”
He saw Jarlaxle’s hand twitch towards the magic bracers he wore on his wrists. “To be frank, my friend, I am rather tempted to put a dagger through your heart at this moment...”
“How do you think I feel every day?”
“...but I won’t, otherwise you won’t be able to help me with my next venture!” Jarlaxle’s voice returned to its usual cheerful tone.
Entreri was immediately on his guard, scooting away from the drow until his back was against the wall.
“Venture?” Entreri dared to ask. Any idea of Jarlaxle’s was bound to be a bad one, and yet somehow the cunning drow had managed to convince him to go along with these ideas time and time again.
“Yes,” said Jarlaxle, his eyes glinting. “The venture of finding my lost hat, of course.”
Entreri stared him down with his most terrifying glare yet, and the drow whistled a jaunty tune while acting oblivious to his certain and imminent death.
“You will help, won’t you Artemis?” Jarlaxle asked innocently.
“Not if the Nine Hells froze over,” Entreri snarled.
Jarlaxle sighed. “My friend, please do not be difficult. You cannot deny the battle capabilities of my hat. We would be seriously hindered in our bounty hunting without it.”
Entreri grunted noncommittally. He knew Jarlaxle’s words to be true but refused to admit it—that would just lend support to the idea.
“Not to mention my countless priceless magical trinkets,” Jarlaxle continued, “which are infinitely useful for all sorts of trouble we may find ourselves in.”
Entreri grunted again.
“And most importantly that hat is an intrinsic part of my soul and identity! Now those who see us will no longer say, ‘Here comes Jarlaxle in his gloriously fabulous hat’—”
“I’ll wager nobody has ever said that,” Entreri muttered.
Jarlaxle pretended not to hear him. “—Instead they will simply say, ‘Here comes a drow and a terribly sour human, let us ready our weapons,’ and so they will ready their weapons and I will have no magical items to assist us, which brings me back to my first point—”
“Fine!” Entreri snapped, throwing back his blankets in what he hoped was an air of dignified frustration. “I’ll help you find that damned horror you call a hat. Now will you shut up?”
Jarlaxle grinned as if he had expected this reaction all along. “I thank you for your most gracious offer, Artemis! We must begin at once! Put on some clothing lest you catch something dreadful, and let us be off on this new and exciting venture!” The drow clapped his hands together and had the decency to rush from the room, leaving Entreri to groan at what he had agreed to.
With great reluctance, he picked out his clothing for the day—meaning he grabbed whatever he could find—and just as he put his shirt on, he heard Jarlaxle’s voice floating over.
“I’ve already started in my room, Artemis! You can have a good look around in yours, and then we’ll both search the living room.”
“Why on earth would your hat be in my room?” Entreri bellowed back.
A ringing silence greeted his words.
Entreri cursed Jarlaxle under his breath. A cursory glance around his room was enough to confirm his suspicions that the hat was indeed not there. He had very few possessions of his own—so few that the room was basically bare—and there was nowhere that could hide a large broad-brimmed hat with an obnoxious orange feather sticking out of it. Nowhere except...
He cursed his dark elf companion again, this time not under his breath. “If Jarlaxle comes in now and sees this undignified sight, I will skewer him where he stands.”
Then Artemis Entreri, greatest assassin of Calimport, dropped to his hands and knees and looked under the bed.
Entreri stood up, brushed the dust from his breeches, and left to find his companion.
“How did you even lose that thing anyway?” he asked, as he leaned on the doorframe of Jarlaxle’s room and watched the drow frantically upend every bag and container he had ever owned. Mounds of gold, treasure, and strange trinkets already covered the floor, but the mercenary showed no sign of stopping.
“If I knew, I would be able to find it,” said Jarlaxle with a huff, as he pulled open a magical button from his waistcoat and promptly tipped it upside down, sending a landslide of trinkets and gold tumbling into the room and obscuring the last remaining piece of floor visible. “It was in its customary position on the shelf last night, and when I awoke from my reverie this morning it was gone.”
“Strange,” was all Entreri provided for commentary. He thought privately that Jarlaxle had enough treasure to make a small dragon jealous.
“Exceedingly so.” Jarlaxle spared him a glance while sifting through his mass of gold. “You didn’t steal it, did you, Artemis?”
“If I had, would I be helping you look for it?”
“Ah, but you might be pretending to help me to throw suspicion off yourself.”
“If I did steal it you would not find it again, because I would have burnt that miserable excuse for a hat and scattered its ashes somewhere far away.”
Jarlaxle stopped in his searching, looking horrified.
Entreri sighed. “But if I had wanted to do that, I would have done it a long time ago.”
The dark elf flashed him a smile, and resumed his antics. “Point taken, my dear friend. Now if you will be so kind as to search the living room, I will assist you as soon as I possibly can.”
Seeing no way out of this predicament, Entreri started towards the living room, before a thought stopped him in his tracks. He returned to Jarlaxle’s doorway, and voiced it. “Jarlaxle...”
“That is my name, yes,” said the drow distractedly, brushing the sweat off his head as he crossed the room in three strides to approach the bed.
“Do you not have a magical ring for locating magical items?”
Jarlaxle dropped onto his knees, and scanned the bottom of the bed with no hint of embarrassment. “I do.”
“And does your hat not contain an assortment of magical items?”
Jarlaxle straightened up again, confident that there was no hat underneath the bed. “It does.”
“Then why not use the ring to find your hat.” It was phrased like a question, but certainly wasn’t one.
Jarlaxle turned around, looking sheepish.
“Because, Artemis, that ring is in my hat.”
Entreri slapped a hand to his forehead. He decided that any more time in the drow’s presence would truly drive him mad. “I’ll be in the living room,” he said, turned on his heels, and escaped the idiocy as quickly as he could.
Kimmuriel Oblodra had a great many reasons for materialising in Artemis Entreri’s private bedchamber in the dead of the night.
One of these reasons was that it was an honest mistake, and he had been looking for Jarlaxle’s room instead. However, one could argue that materialising in Jarlaxle Baenre’s bedchamber (which was what he eventually did anyway) was not exactly better, so Kimmuriel had come up with a multitude of excuses in case he was caught in the act.
Luckily for him, he was not caught in the act, and so did not have to recite this long list of reasons to a fuming Jarlaxle or a murderous Entreri.
It all started when one of Bregan D’aerthe’s sources had drawn his attention to a deal that seemed almost too good to be true: a large sum of gold by House Mizzrym, Sixth House of Menzoberranzan, in return for assurance that a lower house, fallen out of Lolth’s favour, was sure to be toppled. More than that, House Mizzrym already had a significant number of soldiers, and needed Bregan D’aerthe only as a backup.
The job was so incredibly simple that Kimmuriel didn’t even need to do his usual risk calculations to confirm that this was a good deal (but he did those calculations anyway). He had an agent respond to House Mizzrym’s request immediately, only for said agent to return with the news that the Matron Mother would “discuss only with the leader of Bregan D’aerthe.”
Kimmuriel glared at the agent until the unfortunate drow scampered off, but ultimately decided that this could not be avoided – he had to go foster relations himself. So he went, seemingly alone, but with half a dozen elite soldiers watching his back as he entered House Mizzrym. The Matron Mother was waiting for him, but her smile disappeared when he came into view.
“I was under the impression that I would be dealing with the leader of Bregan D’aerthe,” she said icily, her red eyes narrowing.
Kimmuriel ignored the contempt in her voice. “That would be the right impression, Matron Miz’ri,” he replied.
If possible, Miz’ri’s eyes narrowed even further, to make her seem as though she were squinting. “Then go scarpering back to your superior and tell him to drag his sorry self here, before I change my mind and withdraw the deal.”
It was Kimmuriel’s turn to drop his voice to a dangerously low tone. “I would, but at the moment there is no one superior to me in the ranks of Bregan D’aerthe.”
This sent Miz’ri’s eyes wide. “What about your leader?”
“At this point in time, Matron Miz’ri, I am the leader. My name is Kimmuriel—”
“No, no, no.” She shook her head. “I know Bregan D’aerthe, and your leader wears a hat.”
Kimmuriel closed his eyes, counted to ten to stop himself punching a wall in frustration, and let out a long sigh. When his composure was regained, he opened his eyes again and said, “Matron Miz’ri, I could easily go procure a hat from the street if that would convince you of my status.”
“Not any hat! A big one, with a broad brim and a large nauseating feather. Don’t try to be smart with me now – I’ve seen your leader marching around with it.”
Kimmuriel mentally cursed Jarlaxle’s name thrice. There was no way he could convince the flamboyant leader-on-hiatus to return to the Underdark just for a minor business deal, so he had to think of something else. His mind whirled. “And have you ever seen the features of our ... esteemed leader?”
“Well, no,” admitted Miz’ri, “I have not paid much attention to the comings and goings of lowly males. And of the few times I have seen him, his face has always been obscured by the hat. But until you fetch him I refuse to negotiate.”
“That can be arranged,” Kimmuriel ground out between his teeth. He hastened out of House Mizzrym as fast as was dignified, and after a few short minutes was back in his private quarters in Bregan D’aerthe. Those few short minutes consisted of him alternating between cursing Jarlaxle and planning the next step in this business venture.
As soon as he was alone in his quarters, Kimmuriel summoned a dimensional portal up to the surface, to the place where Jarlaxle had summoned him just a few days earlier. The flamboyant drow had mentioned, rather excitedly, that he and Entreri were staying at an inn which served exotic beverages unheard of by drow ears. If Kimmuriel strained his memory, he could remember just two of the many strange names Jarlaxle had mentioned—‘milkshake’ and ‘smoothie’. He hoped that Jarlaxle was still staying in that town, because he did not fancy tracking him down across the surface of Faerûn. He also hoped that the exotic beverages would have no detrimental impact on Jarlaxle’s behaviour.
Kimmuriel stepped through the portal to find that, much to his satisfaction, it was night time on the surface. He was in the shadows of a large oak tree, and could see the lights twinkling in the nearby town—already too bright for the psionicist’s tastes. Kimmuriel sent his mind out for Artemis Entreri’s consciousness, knowing that Jarlaxle’s eyepatch would render his psionics ineffective, and that the drow would be found wherever that troublesome human assassin was.
He sensed Artemis Entreri on the second floor of the inn (at least, he assumed it was an inn – why would Entreri be sleeping in someone else’s house?) and made a beeline towards it. Strangely enough, none of the few villagers staggering around noticed his presence, perhaps because they were too drunk or too used to Jarlaxle’s presence, or both.
But if he entered the inn, he would definitely be drawing attention to himself.
Kimmuriel looked up at the second floor, his psionic abilities unable to pinpoint exactly where Entreri was, due to the damnation known as Charon’s Claw. So he simply chose the room where Jarlaxle was most likely to sleep in, opened a psionic portal, and stepped into it.
Which was how he found himself in the bedroom of Artemis Entreri.
Kimmuriel froze, and slowly turned his head to regard the assassin. With his darkvision, he could see the warm red shape of the human beneath the covers of the bed ... a shape that had not stirred in the slightest. The psionicist let out a silent sigh of relief.
There was no breeze in the room—the windows were shut—and no light but the dim crescent moon. No sound save for the gentle snoring of the sleeping occupant.
Kimmuriel wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Snoring. How despicable.
A flick of his head sent his long white hair flipping through the air in a magnificent display of lusciousness. It was a gesture he had long perfected, and conveyed his absolute revulsion of the situation. Unfortunately, the grandiosity of it all was rather lost on Artemis Entreri.
Kimmuriel summoned another portal, and stepped into the next room.
The first thing he saw, before he had fully taken in his surroundings, was a large hat with an even larger feather (so large that it made the hat look small by comparison) sitting innocently on the shelf. Kimmuriel stretched his hand out for it, froze, and turned to take a look behind him at the (hopefully) motionless figure of Jarlaxle. Halfway through turning his head, he decided that he really didn’t have the courage to face any Jarlaxle, in reverie or otherwise, and just grabbed the hat and scarpered.
The moment he stepped back into his private quarters in Bregan D’aerthe, Kimmuriel Oblodra let out a huge sigh of relief, and began planning his imminent funeral.
The living room was in shambles.
The couches were overturned, the cushions strewn onto the floor with careless abandon. The chairs were toppled—more than one leg was missing— and the table flung into a corner. Surrounding it littered the smashed remains of a china vase. The cabinet doors, pulled off their hinges, had been defenestrated in a particularly careless throw by a certain mercenary. Lying beneath the small pieces of shattered glass, books had been scattered on the ground, pages torn or ripped out completely. A cloak rack lay on the floor, broken cleanly in two.
“How,” said Artemis Entreri between gritted teeth, his grey eyes burning with wrath, “are we going to explain this to in the innkeeper?”
Jarlaxle shrugged and rubbed the sweat off the top of his head. “A better question, my friend, is how come my hat is nowhere to be found?”
“To the Nine Hells with your damned hat!” Entreri roared in frustration. Their entire suite of rooms has been destroyed because of a single accursed hat and an even more accursed drow.
Before Jarlaxle had come downstairs, Entreri had systematically searched the living room, the kitchen and the bathroom, and found no hat other than his own small-brimmed one. He had cleaned up as he went, and left the rooms in pristine condition.
Then the leader of Bregan D’aerthe had charged down the stairs with a wild gleam in his visible eye, demanding that the Artemis Entreri, greatest assassin of Calimport and rival of Drizzt Do’Urden, had not searched carefully enough.
Jarlaxle proceeded to upend the place.
And now they were going to have to explain their actions and pay for damages and probably would never be back allowed in this town—a pity because Entreri had grown rather fond of smoothies.
“Perhaps it is because my hat has been stolen,” said Jarlaxle thoughtfully. He paused, clearly expecting some sort of reply.
Entreri let the silence drag on.
“Yes, that must be it, if it is not here,” Jarlaxle said again at length.
“And how do you presume to track down this hypothetical thief?” Entreri said, rolling his eyes.
Jarlaxle flashed his typical disarming grin. “We must ... what is the phrase you Surface-dwellers use? Ah yes, we must get into his head.”
“It takes a thief to catch a thief,” Entreri remarked, “so the great Jarlaxle should have no problem at all.”
“You wound me so, Artemis!” Jarlaxle said, clutching his hand to his heart and arranging his features into one of betrayal. “I was rather hoping you could provide insight into the wrong side of the law.”
Entreri’s eyes narrowed. “Do not lump me with those petty criminals,” he said in a low voice. “I detest them almost as much as I detest drow.”
“Not so much, then,” Jarlaxle said brightly, causing Entreri to scowl. “Well, my friend, you leave me little choice. There is only one other course of action.” The drow paused, his tone suddenly grim. “I do not wish to involve him unless I have no other option, because I know he is very busy, but this is of utmost importance and we have exhausted all our methods...”
Entreri’s scowl deepened. He understood the meaning behind those words at once. “No,” he growled, glaring hard at Jarlaxle, daring him to continue on a path which would lead to certain death. “Don’t you dare summon him, Jarlaxle.”
“What choice do we have, Artemis? He is most effective—”
“Just buy a new bloody hat!”
“You know I cannot do that, my friend. I will not leave my magical trinkets. I have spent centuries amassing those, and each and every item is priceless.”
Entreri raised an eyebrow. “And yet you put all your eggs in one basket.”
Jarlaxle frowned in confusion. “I do not collect eggs, and nor do I own a basket.”
“It’s just a Surface phrase,” Entreri said with a sigh.
Jarlaxle nodded, still bemused but momentarily satisfied at the explanation. “He is the most effective,” he continued, “at getting into the heads of others. Quite literally. Would you not prefer our predicament to be finished quickly so that we may pursue other, more bountiful roads?”
Entreri heaved a bigger sigh. There was no way he could talk Jarlaxle out of this. The drow mercenary truly was infuriatingly stubborn.
“Get it over and done with, then,” said the assassin.
Jarlaxle beamed. He reached for the silver whistle that hung around his neck, brought it to his lips, and blew.
Kimmuriel winced as the shrill psionic call almost shattered his delicate mental eardrums.
To the Matron Mother sitting opposite him, watching his every move carefully, there was nothing wrong. But Kimmuriel knew that everything was wrong, and the blood drained from his face at the dread of imminent death.
But his life didn’t mean very much right now, because he had forfeited it the moment he had decided to steal the hat.
The very large, very purple hat, with a very orange feather, that was at that very moment sitting on his very head.
Kimmuriel cleared his throat to mask his absolute terror, and turned his impassive face back to the contract that he was reading. It would only take him a few more minutes to finish reading ... and then he could sign it as the leader of Bregan D’aerthe, and give the hat back, and life would be very sweet indeed.
If only Jarlaxle could be patient for a few more minutes...
Even as he had that thought, a second psionic whistle blasted into his mind, momentarily petrifying him before Kimmuriel could regain his senses.
Damn that Jarlaxle...
He turned back to the contract.
Kimmuriel Oblodra had never kept his superior waiting before. Whenever a call had come, he simply dropped everything he was doing and stepped out onto the Surface. But this time was different. He had to finish reading the contract (how could he be expected to sign anything without knowing what he was getting himself into?), and for that he needed two thing: time, and hat.
Kimmuriel sensed the third call before it hit, and put up his mental barriers just as the whistle came again, a terrifyingly loud screech that crashed against his defences for almost half a minute. A gasp escaped from his mouth as he fought against the call, wishing Jarlaxle would shut the hell up and take the hint that he, Kimmuriel, was busy.
But even as the last notes of the whistle faded, Kimmuriel knew that there would be no fourth summoning. There would only be punishment for disobeying Jarlaxle three consecutive times.
And powerful drow pionicist or otherwise, Kimmuriel Oblodra did not want to be in that situation.
So he did the only thing he could do. He opened a portal behind the back of Matron Miz’ri, and waited.
Jarlaxle drummed his fingers impatiently on the wall he was leaning against. His left hand fiddled with the whistle that had failed to bring him a response twice already, however hard he blew on it. The drow mercenary frowned, turned the whistle over in his hand, brought it up to his eyes and examined it closely, before shrugging at his companion.
“I do not know why it is not working.”
Artemis Entreri was also examining the whistle, but with a look of intense suspicion. “I don’t think it is the whistle’s fault,” he said. Anticipating a meeting with his one of his most hated enemies, he had gone upstairs to grab Charon’s Claw. The sword hung at his side and the gauntlet was upon his right hand. It had throbbed uncomfortably when Jarlaxle’s lips touched the whistle, suggesting that the summoning magic was still working.
“Then what?” Jarlaxle said. “You think that Bregan D’aerthe has been attacked, and Kimmuriel is dead?”
“I fervently wish that were the case,” Entreri deadpanned, “but it is unlikely.”
“I agree,” said Jarlaxle, bringing his right hand from the wall to stroke his chin, “but then what?”
“Perhaps he is intentionally ignoring your call,” said Entreri.
Jarlaxle laughed. “Impossible, my friend! Kimmuriel responds to my every command. He is as loyal as drow come.”
“Including when he and Rai-guy plotted to kill you?” Entreri said slyly, raising an eyebrow.
“Only once,” replied Jarlaxle, waving a hand dismissively, “so as loyal as drow come,” he repeated. He turned the whistle over in his hand again. “Perhaps I shall try once more.” He blew again for a third time, holding the note for as long as his breath would allow him. No sound came out, but Jarlaxle saw Entreri glare at his gauntlet, so he knew the psionics was working...
...and yet nothing happened.
Jarlaxle looked over to Entreri, who shrugged. The drow pondered ... could Charon’s Claw be blocking the call? But that, insofar as Jarlaxle knew, was not how the weapon worked.
A glowing portal materialised in front of the two, revealing the darkness of Menzoberranzan beyond, and Jarlaxle smiled. About time.
But there was no change in the portal, and there was certainly no drow psionicist who stepped out. It just stood there, proudly, silently, almost invitingly...
“I think my lieutenant wants to try a different approach this time,” said Jarlaxle. He sounded amused, but inwardly he was worried. What on earth would have prompted Kimmuriel to change their plans so bizarrely, to ignore his first two calls only to invite them into Menzoberranzan on the third?
“To the Nine Hells with your lieutenant, too,” Entreri spat, making Jarlaxle laugh. “I am not entering the Underdark another time.”
Jarlaxle watched the assassin curiously, wondering how much of that reaction was genuine. He concluded that he had pushed Entreri enough for one morning, and simply smiled. “Very well, Artemis, each to his own. You can explain to the innkeeper that unfortunately a hurricane had ravaged our rooms during the night, and I shall solve the mystery of my missing hat and the strange ways of my lieutenant.”
He reached his hand up to tip his hat, but met only empty air. Jarlaxle’s heart skipped a beat in shock, before remembering that he was not wearing the hat. Eager to cover his mistake, he saluted instead, and stepped through the portal.
Artemis Entreri was not fooled by Jarlaxle’s antics. As soon as the drow was gone, his mouth widened into a small smile, which quickly faded when he realised what was ahead of him. Tell the innkeeper about a hurricane? How did Jarlaxle even know what a hurricane was?
He sighed, and went downstairs to order a banana smoothie.
“Everything seems to be in order,” said Kimmuriel, as his crimson eyes finally found their way to the last sentence of the contract, squinting against the bright candlelight that allowed him to read the words. He had altered his voice very slightly to make him sound more like Jarlaxle, but he doubted the Matron Mother noticed. The portal was still there, in a corner of the room behind Matron Miz’ri’s back, and he was almost certain she hadn’t noticed that either.
She was smiling at him with a gleam in her red eyes. “As it should be,” she purred.
It was with great willpower that Kimmuriel did not recoil, horrified, at the images running through Miz’ri’s mind. Instead, he simply nodded, and dipped his quill into ink, preparing to sign.
Jarlaxle stepped out of his portal.
Though he had been expecting it, Kimmuriel dropped his quill in shock. He was suddenly very aware of the weight of the hat upon his head, and of the seconds ticking past towards his own destruction.
“Greetings, my dear lieuten—” Jarlaxle stopped short as he noticed something of great interest—a purple hat with an orange feather atop said lieutenant’s head. His visible eye widened.
Matron Miz’ri turned at the new voice. “Who are you, and how did you get past my defences?” she snapped, glaring at the newcomer.
Jarlaxle opened his mouth, then closed it again, clearly deciding who to address with his next words. Kimmuriel suppressed a whimper and wished he could disappear entirely from this scene.
“Matron Miz’ri,” said Jarlaxle, sweeping a low bow without the usual flourishing of his hat, “Jarlaxle, leader of Bregan D’aerthe, at your service.” In the act of bowing, he completely overlooked Kimmuriel’s desperate hand signals to tell him to shut up at once.
“You are not!” said Matron Miz’ri.
Jarlaxle was so taken aback that his mouth dropped open. “I am not what?”
“Not the leader of Bregan D’aerthe,” she proclaimed triumphantly.
“This,” she gestured at Kimmuriel, “is the leader of Bregan D’aerthe.”
“He is not!” said Jarlaxle.
“He is so.”
“Well how can you prove it, Matron?” said Jarlaxle, smiling like an assassin about to slit the throat of his next victim.
“Simple,” declared Miz’ri, “he wears the hat.”
Jarlaxle’s smile disappeared. “That’s my hat!” he snapped. He crossed the room in three strides and plucked the hat off Kimmuriel’s head, before the psionicist could utter anything more than, “Jarlaxle, wait—”
Kimmuriel’s snowy white hair came tumbling down past his shoulders. He gave Jarlaxle a pleading stare, which the mercenary leader overlooked again because he was busy checking for any damage dealt to the hat. Satisfied that there were none, Jarlaxle plopped it on his head and beamed.
“By the Spider Queen,” gasped the Matron Mother, “you are the leader of Bregan D’aerthe!”
Kimmuriel resisted the urge to facepalm at her utter stupidity. The only outward sign of his exasperation was an almost imperceptible twitch in his left eye.
Jarlaxle, however, chuckled with amusement. He swept another low bow, this time accompanied by a great flourish of his hat. “At your service.”
“Then would you like to sign the contract that I have prepared?” She turned back to Kimmuriel, and her eyes narrowed. “But if he is the leader ... then who are you?”
“He is my lieutenant,” Jarlaxle said smoothly, before Kimmuriel could so much as open his mouth. “Temporarily in charge of Bregan D’aerthe while I, ah, attend to other personal business...”
“At the moment there is no one superior to me in the ranks of Bregan D’aerthe,” Kimmuriel said coldly, repeating what he had said at their very first meeting.
Matron Miz’ri looked between them both, confusion etched upon her features. Then she exhaled deeply, and shrugged. “Very well,” she said, “I care not about this business any longer. Will one of you sign this contract and formalise our alliance already?” She plucked the contract from the table and waved it around in the air as she spoke.
Jarlaxle snatched it from her and skimmed it with such briefness that Kimmuriel inwardly cringed. “This looks good,” Jarlaxle announced. He picked up a quill and dipped it in ink, but his hand paused over the space reserved for his signature. “Ah, but this is not my decision to make.”
He looked over at Kimmuriel, winked exaggeratedly with his one visible eye, and tossed the contract over. It was quickly followed by an inky quill.
Kimmuriel caught both, and raised a questioning eyebrow at Jarlaxle. His leader only grinned. “This business deal was yours to make, and should be credited to you. I only came here for this.” He tipped his hat to the other two drow in the room, and walked back through the portal. The last click of Jarlaxle’s boots faded into silence.
“He is a very eccentric drow, is he not?” asked Matron Miz’ri.
“More so than you know,” Kimmuriel murmured, and signed the contract.
Jarlaxle returned to the inn to find a rather smug-looking Artemis Entreri glaring down the innkeeper, who was apologising over and over again. The poor man was pale, shaking and obviously scared witless.
“...so sorry, it—it will not happen again, I a-apologise profusely, p-p-please accept my apologies, I am very s-sorry, we will compensate, absolutely horrified at how this—this could happen, very sorry, please accept...”
Entreri looked up at Jarlaxle’s return, and his eyes widened as they took note of the hat, which was once more sitting in its rightful place on Jarlaxle’s head.
“You found it then?” Entreri asked, his curious tone inviting Jarlaxle to explain.
“Kimmuriel has his ways,” was all Jarlaxle provided for an explanation. Now was not the best time to explain to his companion that his own lieutenant was the thief. “What did you do to this poor man?” he added, gesturing the innkeeper, who was still mumbling a barrage of apologies and paying no heed to their conversation. He did not even seem to notice that a flamboyantly dressed drow had suddenly appeared in their room.
“I told him the truth,” said Entreri, “of how we were robbed last night, and the thief left our rooms in this mess while he made off with many valuable possessions. How could any self-respecting innkeeper allow such a thing to happen to his patrons?” His voice grew dark, and the innkeeper’s trembling increased.
Jarlaxle’s smile widened wickedly. Of course, nobody who knew anything about Artemis Entreri or Jarlaxle would possibly believe such a blatant lie. But they were not well known in these parts, and appeared simply to be wealthy—but certainly dangerous—travellers.
“Now now Artemis, let us be reasonable,” said the grinning drow. “Let us receive a little compensation from the innkeeper, and we shall be off to track down the thief. Is that fair, good sir?”
The innkeeper could not nod fast enough.
“Now, as for the amount of compensation...” Jarlaxle’s eyes glinted. He could practically smell the profit. “We shall be merciful. Two hundred gold should cover our most basic inconveniences.”
The innkeeper’s eyes widened in horror. “Two hundred gold?” he cried, aghast.
“Surely naught but a triviality to a wealthy merchant like yourself, good sir,” Jarlaxle said happily. But when the innkeeper began to stammer a protest, his crimson eyes narrowed. “The items stolen from us were very precious,” he said quietly, his voice taking on a dangerous edge. “I am sure you understand. Have some common sense so that we may be gone at the earliest opportunity.”
“Tracking down our enemies should prove entertaining,” Entreri added. In a smooth motion, he drew his jewelled dagger from its sheath, and began admiring its deadly sharp point.
“Indeed,” said Jarlaxle, his grin widening when he saw the innkeeper shudder at the dangerous blade. Truly, humans were too much fun. “I pity any man who dares to get on the wrong side of my friend Artemis here, or of myself, Drizzt Do’Urden.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jarlaxle saw Artemis Entreri suppress a snicker. “I saw that,” he motioned in the drow sign language.
“You saw nothing,” Entreri motioned back.
A short while later, two hundred pieces of gold clinked merrily in Jarlaxle’s pocket as the two rode out of the town. It was a lovely spring morning, with a gentle breath of wind, and the sun appreciatively obscured from Jarlaxle’s face by a large familiar hat.
“Well,” said Jarlaxle, smiling contently, “it seems we made some profit out of that venture after all.”
“Always you seem to be able to squeeze something out of nothing,” Entreri replied.
“I am first and foremost a drow of business,” Jarlaxle laughed. “There is no harm in some extra coin, is there, my friend?”
Entreri sighed, and shook his head.
Jarlaxle pressed on insistently. “It worked well here. Perhaps we should try this ruse at every town!”
“Don’t push your luck,” Entreri warned, but Jarlaxle simply laughed. “You have not yet told me how you found your abomination of a hat,” the assassin added casually, trying to appear disinterested.
“Ah, ’twas a simple matter. Once I knew who had taken it, I did not even need to look.”
“You speak in riddles,” Entreri said dryly. “Who took your hat then?”
“Why, you said so yourself, Artemis! A thief!” cried the drow dramatically.
“I obviously made that up, you dolt.”
Jarlaxle pretended not to hear him. “But an honest thief. And witness how his actions have inadvertently bettered us all! I ought to give him a pay rise.”
“Pay rise?” Entreri asked suspiciously.
Jarlaxle simply laughed again. He did not need Kimmuriel’s psionic powers to know that the assassin already guessed most of the truth. But he found no need to confirm or deny Artemis Entreri’s suspicions.
Suspicions, but nothing more—never more.
That was the way of Jarlaxle.