Author's Note: Sometime before Drizzt is born, I imagine this happening. It is called Ambiguity because I am exploring the lack of a defined role that Jarlaxle plays in Zaknafein's life and in the life of House Do'Urden.

Ambiguity

Jarlaxle walked into the torture chamber of House Do'Urden. It was a place that few Drow outside of the Do'Urden family had occasion to go, and he wouldn't be here if he weren't carrying a message for his friend.

"You wanted to see me, Matron?" Jarlaxle asked, bowing low and sweeping off his plumed hat. He straightened and put the hat back on as he said, "Your message indicated battle plans."

"Indeed," Matron Malice said, smiling at him. "You advertise yourself as giving consultations."

Jarlaxle smiled back. "Indeed, my good Matron." He raised an index finger. "Advice is free, following it is costly."

"I need you to consult with my weapon master," Matron Malice said.

Jarlaxle looked around the room quickly with unconcealed curiosity, for the only two people in attendance were Maya and Briza.

Malice smiled wider. "He is being…punished at the moment. As I was about to discuss with my daughters, here, one of us was about to fetch him." She regarded her daughters, who looked back at her innocently and nodded.

Jarlaxle swept off his hat in another bow and asked, "If it isn't too much trouble, Matron, perhaps you would like to send me?" Of course, if he read those smiles correctly, they had waited on purpose in order to give him that duty.

"That would be acceptable," Malice said with a regal nod. She gestured languidly. "Make sure you come quickly."

"Of course, Matron!" Jarlaxle said, beaming. "Far from it for me to linger in the torture chambers. I've no desire to enjoy the scenery." His little subtle hint that if she was trying to trap him down there, he wouldn't very much appreciate it. Also a reassurance that he would stay out of her way.

"You are dismissed, then." Malice clapped, apparently a signal to her daughters. "Briza, you will give good Jarlaxle here the keys, will you not?"

Briza handed them over without enthusiasm, but also without hostility.

Malice smirked. "He will be in our special chamber. You are dismissed."

And that was how Jarlaxle happened to be venturing underneath the complex of House Do'Urden with a key in one hand, hoping the walls would not drip slime on him. He'd just had his cape laundered and pressed. It wasn't that he was reluctant to go. It was just the smells and sights. The air was humid and carried the smells of blood, excretions of the body, and rot. There were decomposing goblins and kobolds in manacles, as well as a few drow soldiers who had been whipped and then left in isolation for a few hours as a punishment, and since it was one long, large, sloping room, Jarlaxle found himself passing by them all.

The "special chamber" was at the end, an archway blocked by a locked door. Jarlaxle fiddled with the key in his hands and then finally put it in the lock and twisted. There was an echoing click. He pushed open the door – it swung inwards – and stepped inside, closing the door after him.

This chamber was entirely different than the rest of the dungeon. It was carved of black stone that shimmered rainbow colors in heat vision, and the room was octagonal in shape, with sconces along the walls for fires to be lit. On the far wall was Zaknafein, hanging by his wrists from a pair of manacles chained to the wall. The fires were lit in the sconces nearest the weapon master.

Jarlaxle approached silently, quieting the enchantment on his boots, and studied his friend's naked form. He didn't doubt that Zaknafein had been here a while, because the weapon master did not appear conscious, but also, there were no new marks on his body, no open wounds. Either they had tortured Zak with mental spells only, or they had already healed him, and left him here merely as some kind of message to Jarlaxle.

The weapon master stirred as Jarlaxle watched, beginning to struggle with his manacles stiffly and letting out a groan.

Jarlaxle smiled brightly. "Greetings, Zaknafein." He tried to catch his friend's eye. "You've been pardoned – whatever it is that you've done this time. I've been sent to fetch you. We have work to do."

Zak mumbled something and looked at Jarlaxle with bleary eyes.

"What's that?" Jarlaxle politely inquired.

"I was strung up for drinking on the job," the weapon master said more clearly, giving the drow mercenary a squinting glare. "Now put out those lights. They're killing me."

Jarlaxle shrugged apologetically. "I'm not sure I have the jurisdiction. I'm sorry. It's probably magic, and it I started tampering with that, she'd have my head."

Zaknafein groaned again and closed his eyes.

Jarlaxle looked concerned. "She did this because she saw you drinking on the job?"

"I might've taught my soldiers to say 'kill all the women' as a battle cry," he said after a reluctant pause.

Jarlaxle lit up. "Don't worry about that! Your problem is that you didn't use enough code words!" The mercenary bounced up and down excitedly. "I can help you with that!"

"Code words?" Zak repeated, seeming to have no comprehension of what those words meant at all.

"Yes!" Jarlaxle said, raising an index finger. "You can't say it like that – you have to teach your soldiers a code language! For instance, if you want to say 'kill all the women', you have to assign words for 'women' and 'kill'! Like 'Lloth', for instance. Since she is the epitome of all women, you could train your soldiers that when you say Lloth, you really mean women."

He smiled and shrugged. "Then all you have to do is pick some other verb besides 'kill' that stands in for its meaning. Opposites do well in this area – like praise! There, you see? You could give them preparatory speeches in which they come to understand that you say 'Praise Lloth' but what you mean is 'Kill all the women!'" Jarlaxle folded his hands behind his back and looked pleased. "See? Problem solved. You can blaspheme to your heart's content."

Zaknafein was silent for one, long moment. "So what you mean is that I should shut up and pretend to believe anything I am supposed to publicly support."

Jarlaxle paused, put an index finger on his bottom lip, and then widened his eyes. "I didn't think of that." The bald mercenary beamed. "I think that's an excellent idea! That would save you so much trouble!"

The weapon master sighed, and Jarlaxle could tell his friend didn't believe a word.

"Now, repeat after me," Jarlaxle said softly, reaching up and stroking Zaknafein's cheek. "'Praise Lloth'."

"Praise Lloth."

Jarlaxle bade him to do it again. "Praise Lloth."

"Praise Lloth," the weapon master said tiredly.

The mercenary stroked his friend's cheek. "Good boy. Good." He brought Zaknafein down from the manacles and supported the weapon master until his friend could find his footing. "You'll do fine. Trust me. Now once more."

"Praise Lloth," Zak said, a little strength seeming to come back into him once they left the room and were back in comforting darkness, arms around each other as Jarlaxle supported him. He was limping badly.

"There's a good boy," Jarlaxle said. The mercenary looked at the decaying goblins as they walked through the main torture chamber back up to the House proper and drew Zaknafein closer.

They appeared to Matron Malice as is, except that by mutual silent agreement they stood apart and each walked on their own. Zaknafein fell down to the floor in front of the Matron and his two daughters, still completely naked, and asked in a monotone, "May I be forgiven for my sins?" Jarlaxle doubted he could stand.

"You may," Malice said.

The mercenary himself smiled and tipped his hat to Matron Malice and her two daughters, knowing they would allow him to get away with the disrespect this time because he'd brought results. He knew now that he had been called to talk some sense into his truculent weapon master friend, and his part in this dispute was most likely over. "I think I have given you all the advice you need, Matron." Jarlaxle winked over Zaknafein's bowed head at her in friendly comradeship. "I believe I've taught him a few things that will help him get along."

Malice just gave him a hard look in response, and then motioned his dismissal in restrained exasperation. Jarlaxle left, grinning. He always pushed his manners to the limit, and usually got away with it.

He felt an almost imperceptible emotion at the edges of his awareness that suggested he thought he might be spiritually smothering his friend to death, but the mercenary skillfully nudged it away before he could feel true guilt. It was for Zaknafein's own good; if he couldn't learn to control his tongue he wouldn't last another decade. Jarlaxle was seeing to his friend's survival.