Part Seven: Jarlaxle Baenre
The inside of the mound was lighted, forcing Jarlaxle to pause and allow his eyes to shift back to the visible light spectrum. Dozens of female dark elves moved about, the silver-and-black Baenre uniforms tightly fitting their firm and alluring bodies. All eyes turned toward the newcomer - the leader of Bregan D'aerthe was considered a fine catch in Menzoberranzan - and the lewd way the females scrutinised him, hardly looking at his face at all, made Jarlaxle bite back a laugh. Some male dark elves resented such leers, but to Jarlaxle's thinking, these females' obvious hunger afforded him even more power. - Starless Night
"I am quite pleased with your services."
Jarlaxle's smile widened and he dropped into a low bow, taking off his hat and sweeping it over the floor. His gaze didn't leave the Matron in front of him, not even when one of her daughters handed the second part of the payment to his lieutenant - the first part had been delivered when Jarlaxle had accepted the job.
They were standing in the chapel of the Fifteenth House, a house Bregan D'aerthe, Jarlaxle's newly founded but so far quite successful mercenary band, had worked for in the past few weeks. A spying job mostly, combined with a few well placed bribes and assassinations to ensure that the Matron's two eldest children would become teachers at Arach-Tinilith and Sorcere respectively next year.
Jarlaxle had given the job utmost priority - Matron Ssanana was rather young, but highly ambitious and intelligent. He knew that she would soon move on to more aggressive projects, and as her house's army was rather small she would need mercenaries. Jarlaxle wanted to make sure that, when the time came, she would choose Bregan D'aerthe.
"You have performed well," the priestess continued in her hard, almost unpleasant voice. "Better than I had expected from a rogue male." She paused and smiled slyly. "I think you earned a special payment, Jarlaxle," Ssanana drawled and chuckled.
The young mercenary leader swallowed. He knew that gaze too well: lewd, cruel, a promise of pain and pleasure, but with the pain being predominant. The look of a waiting predator rather than of a seductress. Jarlaxle had avoided priestesses since he had founded Bregan D'aerthe, carefully keeping every conversation on a business level, and none of his clients had ever asked for more than his professional services. Only once had a priestess become too interested in him. Jarlaxle had quickly sent a pretty soldier to take his place in her bed, and she hadn't objected to that.
Jarlaxle remembered his early experiences with priestesses all too well, and for the past decades he had mostly slept with males. But judging by the way Ssanana was looking at him, she wanted him, and she wouldn't settle with less.
Jarlaxle realised only now that his new fame - Bregan D'aerthe was already counted among the three most powerful mercenary bands of the city - also had disadvantages. He scolded himself because he hadn't seen this coming.
"You honour me, Mistress," he said and bowed again, his voice as smooth and charming as ever. His disturbing thoughts hadn't kept him from replying quickly enough to avoid arousing suspicion. "I would be delighted to put myself at your disposal, but unfortunately I have another client I cannot keep waiting. I am -"
"Do not forget your place, male!" Ssanana interrupted him violently and got up from her throne. The snakes on her whip were hissing angrily.
"Leave us," she snapped at her daughters and servants. Jarlaxle, although on the verge of panic, was at least sensible enough to send his men away as well. There was nothing they could do to help him in this situation, but he could prevent them from witnessing this. The other drow were gone within seconds, always quick to get away from an irate Matron Mother.
Jarlaxle was still smiling, but it was a strained smile now, and a humble one.
"I know my place, Matron Mother. I apologise if I have seemed impudent," he said, feeling almost sickened by his own words. Of course, he always shown the proper respect to his female clients, but so far none of them had forced him to grovel like this, not for the past decades.
She interrupted him again, this time with a slap, and as if an old, half-forgotten automatism had been reactivated, Jarlaxle dropped onto his knees.
"I doubt that. You can play the independent, cocky mercenary leader with your soldiers or with females who are stupid enough to be impressed with your insolent demeanour," she snarled and kicked his hat out of his hand before she pulled his eye-patch off and threw it aside. Jarlaxle had to struggle with himself to refrain from taking it back. Since had had acquired it thirty years ago nobody had seen him without it! He felt naked and vulnerable.
"But I won't accept this. You can swagger and boast all you want, I know what you are! Scum! A male! You have been a fine tool, and now you will be a fine toy - it's the only thing males are good for!"
Jarlaxle kept his eyes lowered, mainly to hide his anger. In a fair fight he could kill this arrogant bitch. If he wanted to he could start a fight, and win it, even now. But this was Menzoberranzan, and he was a male facing a high priestess of Lolth in her own temple. No matter how clever and powerful he was, here he was only a slave. He rose almost automatically when he was ordered to and followed her to her bedchambers.
He felt as if the past decades, all those hard years he had spent freeing himself and building his empire as a mercenary, were wiped out in these moments. All his work and determination to become an independent mercenary were destroyed by a few orders from a female who reduced him once again to an obedient, humiliated animal. A male like every other.
Somewhere in a remote corner of his brain Jarlaxle wondered where all his cockiness and superiority had suddenly disappeared to, for the priestesses didn't even have to threaten him to make him obey. He had thought he had forgotten and overcome his upbringing, but he realised now that he remembered very well what he had been taught in his youth, and he acted accordingly. A barked order from Ssanana was enough to make Jarlaxle take off his clothes.
His fingers were trembling when he removed his jewellery. When he had taken off the last ring, exposing himself to the Matron in all his unadorned beauty he already felt as if she had beaten every free will out of him, as if she had ripped him open and torn out his heart.
"Beautiful." Ssanana's voice somehow found its way through the haze of Jarlaxle's thoughts. "How pretty you are without that horrible outfit of yours. Do you put it on to make females think you're unattractive? To keep them from taking what is theirs? Well, as you see, your pathetic tricks don't work with me."
All the while her fingers had been exploring Jarlaxle's naked body, not tenderly, but as if she was examining him, like a tradesman assessing an animal's value.
"You need to be punished, and severely. You've been running wild for too long; a simple whipping won't be enough to ... re-educate you," she said while she was digging her fingernails into Jarlaxle's thighs, and her words were accompanied by an almost anticipating hiss from the snakes. "I love to beat insolent males into subservience. I love how even the cockiest male ends up whimpering and pleading for mercy, promising that he will spend the rest of his life as a willing little slave. Just like you will."
She licked over his cheek before she bit viciously into the tip of his ear. Jarlaxle let out of pained gasp, but he managed not to move.
"But that will have to wait a little bit, my pet. First you will put your mouth to better use than your annoying babble."
Ssanana stepped back and drew her whip, delivering two hard blows on Jarlaxle's shoulders that brought him down to his knees. He felt the numbing pain of the bites and the poison, of the cold hard floor under his knees. Jarlaxle closed his eyes for a moment when she opened her robe and let it slide to the ground. He didn't want to see that naked female body; it would only remind him of past experiences, and for once he was grateful that he had to keep his eyes lowered even when he opened them again.
Jarlaxle tensed up when he felt her strong hand in his neck, pulling him closer. The very idea of doing what she wanted from him disgusted him, but he knew that refusal would only make his punishment later that night worse. Shutting out every thought, every memory, everything that made him an independent person with his own feelings, he forced himself to be the whore she wanted. Closing his eyes again he leant forward and started to lick.
And this was only one of the less humiliating things that awaited him that night.
When Jarlaxle was allowed to leave her room and the mansion several hours later his whole body hurt. He was covered in wounds from her snake whip, normal leather whips, shackles, clips, hot wax and painfully long fingernails. She had raped him so often that he had lost count at some point. Jarlaxle was so exhausted that he was staggering rather than walking. His mind was completely numb, so weary that he didn't even feel relieved when he stepped out of the mansion and discovered that only his lieutenant was waiting for him, not the common soldiers.
The old mercenary gave him a an almost sympathetic look, at least understanding, and handed Jarlaxle a healing potion. It wasn't strong enough to heal all of his wounds, but it gave him the strength he needed to get to his head quarters on his own feet.
They didn't talk - no drow male, unless he was particularly ugly, hadn't had at least a few painful encounters with females. There was no need to talk about what had happened, they both knew. Jarlaxle knew he could count on his lieutenant's discretion. It wasn't a question of trust; the old mercenary knew simply that Jarlaxle was the highest asset their band had. Jarlaxle's death would stop Bregan D'aerthe's ascension, and therefore he could count, for the moment, on his band's loyalty. The lieutenant managed to get Jarlaxle into their head quarters and to his private rooms without too many curious soldiers seeing them. Then he sent for a slave and left his master.
As soon as the half-elf slave appeared Jarlaxle ordered him to prepare a bath. He stripped awkwardly, giving his blood-soaked silk shirt a sad glance. Completely naked he limped towards a locker and pulled out a strong healing potion, drinking it in one gulp. The pain disappeared within seconds, but that made the numbness in his heart even worse.
The slave returned with a basin of warm water and a soft cloth. With his eyes respectfully lowered he washed the blood off his master's body. Jarlaxle gave the young man a pensive look. He didn't mind slavery; it was too deeply rooted in his culture to appear unjust and condemnable to him, but he didn't want to become a slave himself. He didn't want to have that soulless, empty expression in his eyes, the hopeless pain he saw not only in the faces of slaves from other races, but also in those of many drow males.
When his body was washed clean from most of the sweat and blood Jarlaxle slowly walked into his private bathroom. Wincing, more from the memory than from real pain, he lowered himself into the steaming water and waved the slave away. As soon as the door was closed Jarlaxle's half-numb mind suddenly began to go haywire. He couldn't bring himself to relax and even started to tremble.
This couldn't be true! He was not like other males, he was special! He was Jarlaxle Baenre, the only noble of the First House who had escaped, at least to some extent, Matron Baenre's control. He was the leader of Bregan D'aerthe, a brazen individualist for whom normal rules didn't apply! He shouldn't have to be a priestess's whore like ordinary males!
Outrage, shame, anger coursed through his exhausted body. He wanted to cry and hide and at the same time to beat someone senseless. He felt so helpless.
But gradually, the hot water and the soothing scent of soap and oil calmed his overwrought nerves. He stopped trembling, and his breathing slowed once again down. His panicked mind returned to rationality, harnessing his uncontrolled emotions so they couldn't harm him anymore.
Jarlaxle leant back and made himself relax, trying to rationalise what had happened to him. And if he put aside all those humiliating details, it boiled down to a very simple fact: females desired him. And he realised suddenly that he had completely underestimated how useful a tool that could be. How easy would it be to manipulate a priestess who wanted him, who might make mistakes, or give concessions to get him into her bed in return. Of course, this would only be possible once he was powerful enough to refuse females. He had to learn how to turn his good looks into a tool and an advantage, to use them just like he used his cleverness and his charisma.
The idea calmed him down even more. As his power would grow he would be able to choose more and more freely, and he might even enjoy it every once in a while. He would simply be a mercenary who made profit of all his talents. It wouldn't be like being a Matron's patron or toy, like he had been tonight.
Jarlaxle spent the next two hours trying to convince himself that it was different. He knew it was in so far as he would be able to keep up the appearances. But deep inside, in that private little corner of his mind which he kept carefully locked most of the time, he knew that his plan was nothing but a way of coping with the inevitable, of turning something he didn't want at least into something useful. Even with a bit more independence and freedom of choice, it would still mean that he was a male serving a female in bed.
Jarlaxle was a pragmatist - he would do it because it would afford him more power - but he knew that at least a part of his dream of independence had been shattered tonight. His refusal of drow customs, as he had to realise, did not mean that he was exempt from all drow rules. They worked differently for him - Jarlaxle would make sure of that - but they would always be there.