Chapter Twenty-One: The Tower
His daughter sat across from him in the wooden chair. Her face an emotionless mask, her only movement was an occasional glance around the room at the miscellany of arcane objects that rested upon the shelves. A human child her age, indeed, even a surface elf, would never be this still. But drow children didn't grow to be as old as Kesrith without learning to be quiet and unobtrusive. And Jarlaxle was beginning to believe that his daughter was a clever little survivor indeed.
Her quiet behavior did frustrate him, however. Without her opening up, he could never get to understand her. Never get to make a connection.
He wondered what she felt right now. Was there a storm of uncertainty and fear churning in her mind at this moment?
He couldn't tell. Just like she wouldn't be able to perceive the turmoil behind his current bland expression. All the events of the past few days were on the verge of overwhelming him. Which was something he almost never had to deal with. He didn't know where to turn, who to trust.
Gods knew he couldn't trust Vaelirra. Not that he expected her to be trustworthy, necessarily. Drow weren't trustworthy. But most drow were at least consistent in their personalities and grew predictable. Vaelirra had seemed lazy and flippant, and she hadn't cared much about religion. He had always counted on her to be too hedonistic to devote herself fully to a faith.
But that had all changed. Now she was willing sell her own child to the Cult of Shar. Not that Shar was so much worse Lolth, mind you. Shar was just another supernatural tyrant, in his opinion. Another invincible horror willing to destroy mortals at her whim. Following her would bring no freedom. Especially not for someone who had no ability to seriously commit to anything. But perhaps such reasoning was beyond Vaelirra. After all, the woman spent most of her time tripping on mushrooms and any other drug she could get.
And then there was the Kesrith herself. What to do with the girl? How would he even begin to raise this child, who had spent so much of her young life being indoctrinated against everything he stood for?
He studied her face. She did not respond.
He shook his head. There was no guarantee that he would be able to undo whatever brainwashing she had undergone. He couldn't keep her isolated forever. Maybe he could control her for a few years at least. To keep her away from the religion of Lolth, but he doubted even that. Most of his own mercenaries believed in her and he had even recruited priestesses who still practiced their faith albeit in a much less intrusive way than those who ruled Menzoberranzan.
And of course there was the matter of her power and what to do with that. According to Entreri she had used magic again in self defense. The girl would burn the city down without training and that was why he was here.
He had brought her here to the Hosttower of the Arcane to see his brother, an Archmage, who might have an answer to the riddle of this child. And now they waited as Gromph sorted through his enormous library for a clue that could unravel it.
A few moments of silence passed until the door opened.
Gromph strode in wearing marvelous purple robes befitting his station. His well-groomed white hair fell past his shoulders and he carried a book under his arm and bottle of wine under the other.
He sat down behind his desk and placed the two objects on the table.
His brother gestured for Jarlaxle to pour himself a drink, but the mercenary shook his head. Gromph shrugged and poured a generous glass for himself, then sat in his chair, leaning back in relaxation. It was a few moments before he spoke, and Kesrith was watching him, taking in his every move. She was trying to keep her mask of neutrality up, but was failing hard. She was fascinated with Gromph. Jarlaxle wasn't sure that was a good thing. He knew Gromph had children of his own, but that didn't mean he wanted him to have undue influence over her. As crafty as Jarlaxle was, his elder brother's machinations ran too far and too deep for him to get a grasp on.
The scent of wine brought him back to an earlier memory with a stronger drink. The blood that had run hot within him...
Entreri. He felt himself cringe. Lolth's tits. How had he let himself get so out of control? It was no secret that he had lusted after the human for many years. Even his own men teased him for it. But he didn't want to ruin his relationship with the assassin. Their inexplicable bond was something he looked forward to in life. To destroy it in a moment of weakness would be a tragedy.
But then, Entreri himself hadn't been angered. He hadn't pulled his daggers on him. And he could've sworn that for a moment the man seemed just as aroused as he was...
"You are not listening, brother" said Gromph, the deep timbre of his voice cutting into Jarlaxle's worry. He spoke in the common tongue, which Kesrith did not yet know. Jarlaxle saw his daughter perk up out of the corner of her eye to watch the two men converse.
His elder brother studied him, mouth turned down in disapproval. His golden eyes shifted to Kesrith who was staring at the Archmage with a fascination that she was obviously trying to keep under control..
Gromph's mouth quirked up in amusement.
"As I was saying," he nodded towards the book - a blue and gold volume in what seemed to be Netherese. "It is unusual for a sorcerer's powers to awaken so early." He regarded Kesrith who stared right back at him with defiance - and a little fear.
"Not unprecedented, mind you, but unusual." said the wizard, his golden gaze drifting over to the girl. "She is full of arcane potential, in fact. Nine out of ten apprentices in Sorcere would kill for that raw talent."
Gromph pour himself another glass, then swirled it around in his cup. "The question is, dear brother, what you intend to do about it."
Jarlaxle looked at him for a moment, then sighed. "She's going to need training. She sets fires to things when she is up set."
Gromph raised a brow. "Oh? Well then we will begin training for our little fire starter here." He studied his finely manicured nails. "A couple of days a week will be required to teach her basic control."
His brother turned towards his daughter. "You don't want to burn the house down around you do you?" he asked her in drow.
She blinked at him, then replied. "Priestess Solenva says sometimes things need to be burned down. That Lolth will burn the whole world with venom and remake it in her image."
"Oh really? I would be very interested to learn all about this priestess of yours."
"She is a true priestess. Not a heretic priestess like the ones from Baenre house."
"Indeed? Well I am sure that we have all truly been practicing our faith the wrong way until Priestess Solenva came along. It's imperative that you tell me all about her, so that I might be truly enlightened. Now let's see about beginning your lessons, shall we?"
"I want to return. To Menzoberranzan."
"Yes, child. I heard all about your little escape attempt. I doubt you will make it on your own however."
"I must return. I must leave this land of iblith."
"Well, perhaps in time you will leave this place. Your father might even get sick of you and return you to your grandmother." Gromph reached across his desk and closed his fingers around a small bell. He rang it, the tiny chimes echoing louder than Jarlaxle thought possible. "In the meantime, however, you will learn to control your magic. The houses on the surface are far more flammable than those in the Underdark."
Her little mouth turned down, Kesrith didn't seem to know what to make of that. With a somewhat bemused expression on her face she stayed silent.
A few seconds later, a mage walked in.
"Larian, take miss Kesrith below and gather her materials for basic instruction. Chapters one through three in Theory of Magic, yes?"
The man nodded and Kesrith reluctantly followed him out the door after much coaxing from her father and uncle.
Gromph turned back to Jarlaxle.
"You must keep her from getting entangled in this cult again. Everything I have heard of the Melarns is even worse than our own house. The fool Armgos and some other minor houses have allied themselves with them but the other matrons are following it closely. They are highly unorthodox in their beliefs and methods. There will come a time when the other houses will not stand for this. It is only a matter of time before they incriminate themselves with something beyond the pale."
A chill went through Jarlaxle. The rest of the drow would annihilate the rogue houses, and possibly everyone within them, down to the last child.
Gromph gave him a knowing look. "You know what her fate will be. You had better keep her. Or give her to our house, of which she could be counted as a member with our dear sister's blessing."
"No," snapped Jarlaxle. "I do not want Quenthel Baenre to have anything to do with my daughter."
"They think she is chosen somehow. You know how superstitious females are. I think they would keep her. They would be delighted to train one with such potential."
"And they would be delighted to turn her into another Yvonell the Eternal," said Jarlaxle.
Gromph inclined his head.
"Well if you do not wish for that to happen, then you must keep her here."
"You heard her. She doesn't wish to be here."
Gromph leaned back and steepled his fingers. "She is a child. Children can be convinced."
"I shudder to think of the methods you have used to convince your own children."
"Oh, don't be like that. Yes, on occasions I have used fear to control my children. But there are other methods."
"Like what?" Jarlaxle tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"That depends entirely on the child. What would make her more likely to want to stay here, instead of escaping?"
"I do not know. It seems that she is more interested in following Lolth than anything else."
Gromph's mouth widened a little. "And there is nothing you can think of that would be more appealing to a girl her age than slavish devotion to a religion?" He chuckled. "And here I was under the impression that you were a little more charismatic than that.
"I don't know what would make her want to be in Luskan with me."
"And there is your answer. It is your objective to know her. In time, I am sure she will see a different way."
Jarlaxle sat silently for a moment, internalizing the conversation.
Finally he spoke up. "And what do you get out of this? The Great Gromph always has his own agenda."
The other man chuckled. "Indeed."