The slave trading movement in Skullport was alive and well, in spite of the efforts of the Harpers and the followers of Elistraee to shut down the black market business. The Harpers were focused on eradicating the slave market as a whole, but the Elistraeeans were more focused on a specific group: Drow. They spent their lives rescuing the dark elven children who had been sold into slavery, usually by their own families, children who had been taunted and beaten by the slave traders due to their heritage before they even docked in Skullport. No one bought a Drow to treat them well.
That was why Jarlaxle got involved.
He twisted and slashed his way across the deck of the filthy merchant ship, forced to use his twin extending daggers instead of his bracers due to the crowds of chained children crushed together on the deck. He gritted his teeth, his expression, for once, that of an utterly serious drow warrior. Around him, followers of Elistraee clad in silvery garments and assorted chain mail shirts fought with the fervor of feral cats, crying such slogans as, "Die, you slaver scum!" and "Unhand the future of Elistraee!" as well as the less optimistic "Drow die free!"
He ignored all of that, only skirted the clusters of terrified children who neither understood what was happening nor a single word of Common and made sure that the slavers didn't try to kill any of the children simply to prove their point that they were unstoppable. He slit a man's throat, and then stabbed another in the stomach in the same fluid motion, steely-eyed as the man fell whimpering to the deck.
Jarlaxle stood over him with narrowed eyes and glanced around at the battles going on around him, making sure the Elistraeeans had it handled for the moment.
The man was whimpering and clutching at his intestines as if he didn't recognize what it was that had come out of his stomach.
The mercenary was tempted to kill him then and there, but he held himself in check, reminding himself that they wouldn't have killed these children quickly. They would have given these children a fate worse than being sacrificed to Lloth.
"You don't want to deal with an adult drow, do you?" Jarlaxle asked. "Instead, you take out your anger on our young – assuming that no one will be here to stop you. Well, I'm here, and I'm going to stop you. You didn't expect that, did you?"
The man was shaking his head, tears beginning to roll down his unshaven cheeks.
Jarlaxle turned to the children, mostly males, and mostly still young enough to need wean-mothers. He spoke with his back to the carnage, relying on his peripheral vision to warn him if he were attacked, using their native language. "Take heart, little drowlings. It will not be as bad as it seems forever."
It struck his heart forcibly when they looked up at him with hopeful eyes, still so young that they had not even learned of the treacherous nature of their people, and still so young that they probably didn't understand how they had ended up on this ship.
A cheer went up from the fighters of Elistraee behind him. "The ship is secured! Elistraee triumphs!"
Jarlaxle smiled reassuringly at the small children, kneeling down to be on their level. He wiped his blades on the body of the dying slave trader and sheathed them. "You will come with us now. We will take care of you. I promise. Life will not be so bad."
He knew the Elistraeeans didn't really understand why he was here, in spite of the fact that they had agreed to let him come along, hearing of his identity and being impressed at the rogue of Menzoberranzan would lend his strength to their cause. He wanted to show them what he was here for, and he was conscious of the women watching him as he interacted with these children, saw them nudging each other out of the corner of his eye.
He smiled, and winked at his pint-sized audience, then took a pinch of sparkling blue powder from a pouch at his belt and blew it. It went everywhere, settling on the chains of the enslaved drow all across the deck as if sticky. Then there was a deafening chorus of clicks as all the shackles unlocked at once. The disgruntled expression of the leader of this expedition was gratifying – he had just eliminated the work she would have had to do in searching out the key.
None of the children moved. Some of them were even stunned to the point where they sat down on the deck and stared with wide, frightened eyes.
Jarlaxle slowly reached out his hands and picked up the child nearest him, settling the boy in his arms. "This is called an embrace." He cradled the boy, and let him rest his head on Jarlaxle's arm. "It is what friends do when they are glad to see each other. We are friends, aren't we?"
He buried his face in the sleeve of Jarlaxle's tunic and clung to him with scraped and bloodied hands.
Jarlaxle went through this process, one by one, while the Elistraeeans prepared to burn the ship and spoke amongst themselves about refugee accommodations. When it was time they leave, Jarlaxle had them trailing after him in a big, calm group, smiling and holding hands with the youngsters and earning more puzzled looks from the priestesses of Elistraee. He chatted and joked with the little ones, producing shiny rocks and little toy trinkets from unexpected places around his person, from his sleeves to behind his ear to his boots, looking like the world's kindest, most brightly dressed wean-mother.