A/N: Hello! This is my take on the childhood friendship of Zaknafein and Jarlaxle. I took a few non-canon liberties - namely that everyone knows Jarlaxle is the third Baenre son. Also I assumed Zak was a commoner from a lower house.
This will be a multi-chapter fic. I'm not entirely sure where the plot is going, but I have a couple chapters written and a general sense of the story... I hope you enjoy!
From the moment Zaknafein stepped foot into Melee Magthere, one name was whispered through the corridors. One face turned heads in every room, one pair of boots dared to echo down the hallways. Walking slowly, casually, with no fear of punishment.
Every student and master of the Academy knew his name.
Zaknafein had heard all the rumours, of course. This Jarlaxle figure was a son of Matron Baenre—but no normal Baenre son would draw this much attention. He was, so the rumours say, the third son, blessed by Lloth Herself, murderer of his older brother in infancy, and nigh untouchable by any master at Melee Magthere.
Zak found the rumours ridiculous. It was probably some ploy by a Baenre Priestess to gain even more prestige for the First House of Menzoberranzan. So what if this boy was blessed by Lloth? He, like anyone else, would have to prove his worth in Zak's eyes.
And seeing as Zak was trained by a Weapons Master of great renown, it was beyond difficult to impress him.
The pyramidal compound of Melee Magthere loomed above him, dark and ominously inviting, its doors firmly closed but decorated with entrancing patterns. Zak was early, but already there were a few young drow males milling around it. There were thirty students in his class and half a dozen nobles—an unprecedentedly large size—but Zak didn't particularly care. Let there be a hundred. Let there be a thousand. He would see how well their strength measured against his.
He had always been praised for his talent. He defeated the House Weapons Master after six months of training, and by the age of thirteen could hold his own against five warriors at once. There would be no defeat for him in Melee Magthere, Zak was sure. There would be no one to match him, no one except perhaps…
The abnormally loud sound of boots tapping on stone alerted Zak—and the rest of the students—to the newcomer, and all heads turned his way. Whispers sprang up amongst them, eyes darted around in respect or fear, Zak did not know.
The boy certainly did not look any different from normal drow. Long white hair styled in the typical fashion, glowing red eyes that seemed to know more than he was supposed to. Handsome, yes, but weren't all drow handsome?
He carried no distinguishing items. His House's crest was not on display for all to view. He could be any other drow from any other house … so how did Zak instinctively know this was Jarlaxle Baenre?
It was the smile, Zak decided. A cunning smirk that slipped into a grin as Jarlaxle turned to survey his fellow classmates. A smile that marked him as extremely dangerous indeed.
Jarlaxle seemed to bask in the attention, chuckling a little as he swept his hands through the air in an extravagant bow. "Greetings, friends!" he announced, and the crowd collectively winced at the cheery voice and the fact that they had been addressed as friends without even knowing one another. Or perhaps the drow had meant allies? The drow word abbil was always difficult to decipher, but Zak knew that Jarlaxle was unlikely to have any friends, in the Academy or ever.
The grand doors of Melee Magthere opened soundlessly with a billow of cold air, and out stepped the Masters, wielding whips. Zak darted in with the crowd as they began to put their whips to good use. He entered a long corridor, criss-crossing and intersecting with so many others that he wondered how he would ever make his way around without getting lost.
He glanced back at the cracks of whips cutting through the air, and the cries of students at the back who were not fast enough. Strangely enough, Jarlaxle Baenre was one of the stragglers, yet not a whip came close to him. He even tipped an imaginary hat to one of the Masters as he passed them by.
Then everyone was inside, and the doors swung shut. They were herded like rothé through side corridors until they reached a large, oval room.
"Silence!" roared a master, and as the whips cracked sharply against the air, the room came to order. "I am Hatch'net, the master of Lore," he continued. "This room will be your hall of instruction for fifty cycles of Narbondel. You will bring no weapons to this place!"
Zak cracked a smirk at that, as did many of the other students. He had a dagger concealed in his boot and a blow gun in his hair; he would never be caught unprepared for a knife in the back.
The Loremaster continued, speaking of the history of the drow, of their horrible oppression by the elves and the countless horrors of the surface. Zak could not help but shudder at the descriptions of masses of burning flame, day and night, hounding him ceaselessly, eternally.
"But it was Lloth who saved us!" cried the Loremaster, and a chant went up praising Lloth. Zaknafein moved his lips because he noticed a Master watching him closely, but did not utter the words. What had Lloth ever done for him, other than brand him as 'weaker' simply because he was male?
"It was the Spider Queen who guided us to salvation. The Spider Queen who gave us power to defeat our enemies! The Spider Queen who—"
Hatch'net broke off abruptly, and Zak looked around, searching for the reason. Then he saw it, a thin ebony arm peeking above the crowd of students.
Jarlaxle Baenre had raised his hand, like a child, and stopped the Loremaster mid-sentence. Zak's mouth dropped open with a mix of incredulity and indignation.
"If Lloth loves us so much, as you say, O great Loremaster," Jarlaxle began politely, "why does she demand a sacrifice of the third-born son?"
Zak's eyes widened, as did the eyes of his fellow students—so the rumours were true!
Hatch'net's eyes blazed at the sacrilegious question, but seemed to remember who he was talking to. "Lloth demands it for a proof of fealty and devotion," he answered, with a barely noticeable nod of his head in Jarlaxle's direction.
"All fair," replied the Baenre son, "but why the third? Why not the first or second or eighth son? It
just seems a little unlucky that whoever is born the third son is doomed to die—"
"Not unlucky," interrupted the Loremaster, who seemed to realise that the conversation as slipping away from him and desperately wanted it back, "simply preordained by Lloth unless … other circumstances arise." He gave Jarlaxle another meaningful look.
"Exactly," said Jarlaxle, who had listened politely, had nodded at the meaningful look, and now sounded as if he were having a perfectly ordinary discussion. "So why did she preordain the third? Why a son, for that matter—sacrificing a daughter would prove loyalty even more. In fact, why a drow? Why not a kobold or something that won't make a difference to your House's strength—"
"Enough!" cried the Loremaster, and his eyes widened in shock as he realised exactly who he was addressing. "Son of House Baenre, desist with your questions. All will be answered in good time. Now, you are all dismissed for today and will be shown to your rooms, but I expect you back here tomorrow at first light of Narbondel."
"You know, my brother lights Narbondel every day," Jarlaxle said loudly to nobody in particular, as the students began to filter out of the room.
As he was swept along with the crowd, Zak craned his neck for a better look at the mysterious Jarlaxle. The boy was an idiot—an absolute fool who asks the most ridiculous questions. Or was he just daring, pushing the boundaries and testing his favoured status?
Whatever the case, it seemed as though he hadn't crossed the line. Yet.
Zak stepped dexterously through the students, and positioned himself directly behind the Baenre son. "You should be careful not to dance across fine lines," he murmured.
In response, Jarlaxle turned a perfect half-pirouette to face Zak, and swept a low bow.
One moment, the space beside him was empty. The next, Jarlaxle was there, wearing that already-familiar grin.
Zaknafein fought hard to keep the surprise off his face. Nobody had crept up on him in almost a decade, and it was unnerving that this drow managed it so easily. Not to mention Zak still hadn't figured out Jarlaxle's motives—there had to be a reason he was challenging authority this openly, swaggering around so brashly. No self-respecting drow would draw this much negative attention towards themselves.
Zak shook his head, and returned to listening to the Loremaster. The talk was about the svirfneblin today, cruel underground dwarves who would cut off your hands and enslave you for eternity. Zak felt himself shuddering with revulsion, and curled his hands into fists, wishing for his swords to strike at these evil dwarves. His attention was caught, however, by some discreet hand signals out of the corner of his eye.
Well isn't this … interesting, Jarlaxle signed at him. The drow was careful to keep his hand signals neutral, but Zaknafein could see the sarcasm evident on his handsome face.
Zak turned, an expression of disbelief stamped all over his face. You feel no hatred for these evil monsters? he signed, hands shaking with anger. He couldn't believe that this drow, a Baenre no less, could hold anything other than pure hatred towards the evil svirfneblin. It was so bizarre that he wondered for a moment if Jarlaxle's brain was, perhaps, mentally unsound.
But are they evil? Jarlaxle asked, raising an eyebrow.
They slaughter our kin and enslave those who flee! His hand motions were stiff with anger.
But do they?
Again with the incessant questioning. Was there nothing this drow wasn't curious about?
Do you not hear the Loremaster? Even as he signed those words, Zak realised that he himself wasn't listening either. Muttering a curse under his breath, he turned his attention back to the speech, attempting to ignore Jarlaxle completely.
It didn't work.
If his words are true, why do we need a Loremaster?
Because— Zak began, but his hands froze as his mind began to process the question. Why indeed? Why couldn't his mother or sister teach him the common knowledge of the drow world? Why did it need to be taught if it was so obviously true?
Because the Loremaster teaches it better, Zak signed, but his answer rang hollow in his mind.
Jarlaxle flashed a grin, and did not reply. Nor did he need to. For the rest of the session, Zak found himself questioning every word, doubting every claim, and by the end of the long hours he walked out with less certainty than when he came in.
For the next five tendays, the two students did not listen to a word the Loremaster said.
Jarlaxle and Zaknafein stayed near the back of the class, the former asking silly questions about every aspect of life, and the latter being too intrigued to end the conversation. Zak thought it was amazing that none of the Masters noticed, until Jarlaxle tapped his ring one day, pointed at all the Masters, and mimed pulling a blanket over himself.
Zak simply shook his head in wonder. His new friend had even snuck a magical item into the Academy!
But the thought also worried him profoundly. The Grand Melee was fast approaching, and no matter how friendly Jarlaxle may seem, it was every drow for himself in that contest. And if Jarlaxle had one magical item, perhaps he was hiding more…
Zak decided then and there that he would have to start practicing again. In secret.
Jarlaxle was a far more dangerous drow than he had expected.
In between their numerous duties, they were allowed four hours of reverie each night, but Zak only slept for two of them. He woke up just after the Black Death of Narbondel, crept silently through the corridors, and entered the deserted weapons training chamber. This room was forbidden to students under third year, but rules had never been Zak's forte. Rows and rows of weapons hung on the wall, their metal edges deadly sharp, their crafted hilts in perfect balance.
He chose two matching longswords, his most familiar weapons. Back in his House, he had spent long tendays, months, years training with swords that were similar enough. It was time to reclaim his fighting brilliance.
He went through his usual routines, noticing how much his hands had slowed down over the last five tendays, and cursing himself for it. If he wanted to be ranked at the top of the class, he had to do better.
After his warm up, the real work began. Zaknafein cut and slashed, spun around and rolled, improvised and feinted until his swords were a whirling blur like blades of wind through the air. He shredded dummies into pieces, lopped the individual fingers off targets, and even left deep gashes in the stone walls.
"An impressive display," came a familiar voice behind him.
Zak spun around to face two glowing red eyes. The rest of Jarlaxle's body was so perfectly blended into the heat signals of the room that he seemed to simply disappear.
"How long have you been there?" Zak growled.
"Long enough." Jarlaxle smiled and stepped forward, coming out from his camouflage. "And I do wonder if anyone can match you at the Grand Melee. Your skill with the blade is without equal."
Zak accepted the compliment stoically, eyes still narrowed, aware that Jarlaxle was flattering him for a reason.
"Perhaps I might suggest an alliance?" the Baenre said with a disarming grin. "Who can stand against the formidable duo of Zaknafein and Jarlaxle?"
"I do not find you so formidable," Zak scoffed, lying between his teeth. "I have never even seen your skills."
"You will have an opportunity to see them when we are the last two in the arena," Jarlaxle said confidently, casually, as if it had already been decided.
"That does not seem fair. You have already seen mine."
"I have seen some of what you can do," Jarlaxle corrected, "but improvisation is the mark of a true warrior. And so, I expect, you will throw out some new surprises for me." He headed for the door, previously loud boots making not a sound on the stone floor. "I will not pry next time," Jarlaxle added over his shoulder, as he disappeared into the corridor outside. "See you at the Grand Melee."
Zak tightened his grip on the sword hilts.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed it :) Please review if you did (or even if you didn't, I'm not picky)!