Excerpt from R. A. Salvatore's Servant of the Shard:

Where on that scale does Artemis Entreri lie, I wonder? Is the man truly beyond help and hope?

Yes, to the former, I believe, and no to the latter. There is no help for Artemis Entreri because the man would never accept any. His greatest flaw is his pride – not the boasting pride of so many lesser warriors, but the pride of absolute independence and unbending self-reliance. I could tell him his errors, as could anyone who has come to know him in any way, but he would not hear my words.

Yet perhaps there may be hope of some redemption for the man. I know not the source of his anger, though it must have been great. And yet I will not allow that the source, however difficult and terrible it might have been, in any way excuses the man from his actions. The blood on Entreri's sword and trademark dagger is his own to wear.

He does not wear it well, I believe. It burns at his skin as might the breath of a black dragon and gnaws at all that is within him. I saw that during our last encounter, a quiet and dull ache at the side of his dark eyes. I had him beaten, could have killed him, and I believe that in many ways he hoped I would finish the task and be done with it, and end his mostly self-imposed suffering.

That ache is what held my blade, that hope within me that somewhere deep inside Artemis Entreri there is the understanding that his path needs to change, that the road he currently walks is the one of emptiness and ultimate despair. Many thoughts coursed my mind as I stood there, weapons in hand, with him defenseless before me. How could I strike when I saw that pain in his eyes and knew that such pain might well be the precursor to redemption? And yet how could I not, when I was well aware that letting Artemis Entreri walk out of that crystalline tower might well spell the doom of others?

(236-237)

Chapter 1

Help and Hope

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His supple, youthful body gleamed in the soft lights of the bathing chamber. Small blue lights danced in the warm, still air. One landed on his nose. It was warm. He closed his eyes and smiled, delighting in the feeling.

"Come closer."

He cocked his head, opening his eyes. "Yes, Matron."

Except for her face, she was completely submerged under the shining water in the pool. She smiled at him.

He walked further into the pool, the rough stone harsh on his bare feet. The bath was naturally formed and fed by a hot spring. Sweet smells of bathing salts mixed with steam to float through the air.

She was across the pool. "Come closer." She beckoned him with a finely formed hand.

He waded into the pool up to his neck, long hair floating around him.

"You are tall." She seemed pleased.

He knew he was tall for a boy his age. He'd just never had anyone compliment him for it before. His sisters had always seemed disgusted. The smile on her lips made faint heat rise to his cheeks. "Yes, Matron."

"Come closer."

He half-walked, half-swam through the pool until he stood beside her. The slow, laughing ripple of the water sang in his ears. They were almost the same height. She rested on an outcropping of rock that elevated her a couple inches above him.

"Do you know what vith is?"

"No…"

The water rippled around her shoulders as she reached through the water. Her hand touched the organ between his legs.

He shivered.

"Is something wrong?" Her eyes took on a predatory look.

He felt his body tense up with dread at the painful knowledge awaiting him. That look never meant anything good. It was the look in his sisters' eyes when they promised pain. "No, Matron."

Her hand moved.

Sensations, none like he had ever experienced, vibrated through him. He was shivering. He moaned despite himself. His head rolled back, eyes half closed, and his hands felt weak, numb. He could suddenly feel his heart beating inside his chest. He was gasping for air, as if the air around them had turned into some substance he couldn't breathe. Yet, in the midst of these alarming physical changes were sharp jolts of feeling in his groin. Pleasure. The unexpectedness of it invoked more fear than if he had been sweating in agony.

"What is it, little one?"

He panted, too confused to reason much more than that she had called him that because of his youth. She was a century older than he.

"Speak."

His legs trembled. He didn't know what was happening to him. Her fingers didn't stop their lazy motions. "That feels good."

"Does it?"

"Uh….Uh-huh."

"How about this?"

Her fingers started squeezing, and he almost fell to his knees. "M-M-Matron…" Deep overwhelming feelings of needles jabbed his groin and pure, adrenaline-like ecstasy intoxicated him.

Then her hand started moving up and down. He lost all feeling in his limbs. His body was moving around, thrashing, and he couldn't control it. He'd lost control to his sisters many times, over many different things, but he'd never lost control this way. He was frightened enough to sob. It was humiliating, and unfamiliar. Tears of sheer terror at his helplessness rolled down his cheeks. "Let go, let go, let go –" Her hand clenched tight enough to crush him.

He screamed.

Jarlaxle woke up, struggling, swathed in the rich bedding of the room where he'd laid, silent and unconscious, for a week. It all came back to him in one rush of desperation and keen clarity.

He'd been tossing and turning in uneasy reverie, unable to escape from his body coping with his grave injuries. A dozen nightmare-tinted memories of struggling to wake up with people coming and going around him mingled together. Jarlaxle felt his stomach tighten in dread.

He had to get up.

He pushed the layers of silk covers away, scrambling out of the four poster bed. His legs shook, but he felt power and surety returning to his limbs. He flexed his arms, and looked around for something to dress himself in.

There was nothing.

He stumbled to the dresser, heart racing, and tore through the drawers. Nothing of his – only a pair of pale gray shirts and threadbare brown trousers. Without a thought, he pulled them on.

A flash of color caught the corner of his eye as he dressed. He turned. His hat, hanging on a coat rack. Heart hammering in disbelief, he snatched the intact hat and put it on, adjusting it in a full length mirror across the room before he could stop himself. Even his red diatryma feather was in its full glory. He walked up to the mirror, touching his face and his hat to make sure it was real.

"I don't understand this," he whispered.

Artemis burst in through the door. "Come on, we have to go," he said harshly. He grabbed Jarlaxle's arm and yanked him towards the door.

"I have nothing on my –"

Jarlaxle found himself running down the hallway with his arm in Artemis' vise-like grip. "…feet."

"I don't care! You can levitate!" Artemis snapped. "This is a little more important than your personal comfort!"

"I wasn't out a week because I chose it!" Jarlaxle snapped back.

"We're escaping," Artemis said. "Now. I found a way out."

They skidded around a corner. He kept talking. "The guards are dead. Tandy is locked in her meditation chambers, attacking the villagers of Shaar. She is in a deep trance, controlling the animals by her will. This is our only chance. Understand? There won't be any second chances. She was devising a way to keep us under her spell forever. If we don't leave now, we'll be mindless pawns."

Jarlaxle listened and let himself be pulled, dazed. That was too much new information to assimilate. He noticed, then, that Artemis had lost Charon's Claw somehow. He was holding an unfamiliar sword encrusted with jewels. It looked like a more colorful match to his vampiric dagger.

"My daggers," Jarlaxle mumbled. "What about my daggers?"

"Your bracers have been taken and are under lock and key. Leave them. We need time to regroup."

"My hat. How did you get my hat?"

"Chance." Artemis made a wry face. "Apparently Tandy appreciates its style so much that she gave it to one of her lieutenants to wear. It was quick work to snatch it from his body after he was dead."

"It's my hat. Only I should wear it."

"Believe me, I am not disputing that."

Then Jarlaxle saw it. The arched double doors at the end of the hallway with sunlight streaming through the cracks. His jaw dropped. "What is this?" His eyes quickly traced the unbelievable hallway and doors. "A magic door – not on my map of this place."

"Our way out," Artemis said. "This is what we were close to when you blundered and walked into that trap."

They got to the end of the hallway. Artemis flung open the doors without so much as skidding to a stop. A blinding flash of light burned Jarlaxle's eyes, and Artemis yanked them through.

They were falling.

It was a moment where time stopped and Jarlaxle's heart was in his throat – a moment he knew that no matter how brave, Artemis was probably sharing with him right now.

They fell into the expansive white snow drifts below them. The drift compacted under them with twin crunches, and snow flew everywhere, covering them from head to foot.

Jarlaxle leaped straight into the air, shivering. "Aie!" He looked all around them with wild eyes, levitating above the ground. "We're in a snow land! The north? –" There was nothing but snow and evergreen trees all around them.

Artemis climbed out of the snow like a wet cat, hair hanging in his face. Jarlaxle pitied whatever creatures got in Artemis' way. "At least the damned exit took us far away from her and her machinations." He growled.

"Yes," Jarlaxle agreed. He tried to keep his teeth from chattering and couldn't. Still, he managed a smile. "Now we can go and visit Drizzt. He'll be so happy to see us."

Artemis grunted, apparently not amused.

They walked through the snow together. Jarlaxle stood unusually close, and Artemis wrapped his cape around the both of them. Jarlaxle was shaking violently, but trying to pretend as though he weren't. Snow melted on his bare feet.

That situation didn't last for long. Snow stopped melting so readily on Jarlaxle's feet, and the drow started complaining. Faced with the decision to let Jarlaxle probably die after already saving him from death, Artemis consented grumpily to carrying the drow through the snow.

"Come here…" The assassin resignedly held out his arms so that Jarlaxle couldn't mistake his intentions.

"Many thanks!" Jarlaxle jumped into his arms like a paramour.

"That's not what I –"

Jarlaxle threw his arms around Artemis' neck. They were freezing. "Oh, please?" He batted his eyelashes at the assassin and made a pitiful face. "I'll only be a little while. I'm sure that after a while I can walk again."

Artemis glared at that obvious trick. Jarlaxle braced for being dropped in the snow. At the last moment, however, the expression on Jarlaxle's face seemed to give Artemis pause. Jarlaxle felt his arms tighten around him. "When you're well…" he said grimly.

"I'll make up for it."

Artemis slogged on, braced against the chill wind that stirred up every now and again.

"You're showing mercy," Jarlaxle said. "You better be careful. I might take advantage of you." He burrowed into Artemis' warm body and tucked his head into the crook of the assassin's arm.

"You have no need to worry," Artemis said. His face was utterly devoid of expression. "If you start taking advantage of me, I'll leave you here to die."

"Your obvious leniency when it comes to chill winds and drow has-beens belies your sentiment." Jarlaxle started warming his hands against Artemis' shirt pocket.

Entreri looked affronted by this behavior.

"My hands are cold," Jarlaxle complained, seeing the look on his partner's face. "What am I supposed to do? Blame your tailor for the convenient pocket on your chest."

"I don't have a tailor."

"Ah, so that's the problem."

"I'm sure we'll reach a town soon. When we do, you can stop using me as a viable heat source."

"I hope so." Jarlaxle pouted. "I'm hungry. You didn't happen to steal some food before we left, did you?"

Artemis sighed. He knew now why he had asked Tandy to spare Jarlaxle. He hadn't had a meaning to his life, and as much as he regretted it due to all the trouble it was causing him now, there had been only one person who had bothered to give him one. Jarlaxle. The thing that gave his meaning right now was whining about the cold and sticking his sneaky ebon hands into every pocket he could find. There was only one reason he bothered to keep Jarlaxle from getting frostbite, and only one reason he was trudging through the snow right now when all he wanted to do was sit down and dwell on his feelings of emptiness.

Jarlaxle checked the last of the assassin's pockets, and then settled down again. "No, I guess not."

Until he found something better, Artemis' only reason for continuing in life past Drizzt was his friendship with Jarlaxle.

It began to snow.

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Artemis stumbled through the door of the inn with snow in his hair and a festive ring of the stuff on Jarlaxle's hat brim. He blinked, breathing a sigh of relief at the warm air that hit his face and melted the snow on his eyelashes. Although there were a group of people settled at the tables closest to the fire, Artemis walked past them all and deposited Jarlaxle on the floor in front of the blazing fireplace. He left Jarlaxle wrapped up in his cape, even though it was soaked through and he knew it would take longer for Jarlaxle to get warm. He didn't feel like explaining at the moment that the bundle he was carrying was drow.

He walked up to the front desk and set down two gold coins stamped with the mark of Calimshan. They were special, heavy coins worth several northern pieces of gold, but two of the coins paid to him by the guilds of Calimport for a job completed. He let the innkeeper look at them while he waited patiently.

"I'd say you want a room then," the innkeeper said in a gravelly voice. The balding graybeard cleared his throat and coughed into one weathered fist. "Got yourself a double suite, too."

"Fine," Artemis said levelly. "I have a companion."

"Oh?" The innkeeper raised his bushy eyebrows.

Artemis nodded over to the fireplace. The innkeeper followed his eyes and saw Jarlaxle lying there. He looked puzzled and a little concerned. "You'd better get your friend there some help. He looks like he could use a healer. Assuming you trekked all this way through the snow like that, that is. He could use a bit of warming up. Why don't you take him upstairs for a bath, and I'll send my wife? She's good with compresses and things."

"My partner is under an illusion," Artemis said, pitching his voice low enough so that the conversation was private. "His business led him to disguise himself as a drow. The spell will wear off in a few weeks, but until then, he's stuck in the shape of a drow warrior. Can you manage that without being indiscreet? He's still technically on a job right now. We've just hit some bad luck."

"Sure," the innkeeper said, still looking puzzled. He glanced at Jarlaxle again. "He'll…uh… act like a person though, won't he?"

"We're not under cover at the moment, and our trail is unlikely to be found by our enemies," Artemis said. "I'll advise him to drop his guard as not to scare anyone."

"That would be great." The innkeeper looked relieved. "I'm a well- established man here, and it would hurt my reputation among my neighbors to house a drow."

"I understand," Artemis nodded.

He went over and took Jarlaxle upstairs. Jarlaxle was very weak, almost asleep due to the bitter cold, so rather than risk an accident, Artemis carried him once more. He found the bathroom easily enough and pushed open the door with his foot.

Artemis set the drow down in order to prepare the bath.

"Where are we?" Jarlaxle asked, blinking. He sat up slowly, taking off his hat.

"An inn. We made it." Artemis tested the temperature of the water pouring into the bathtub.

"What are you doing over there?"

"Making a bath. Someone's got to thaw you out."

"You're not going to make it too hot, are you?" Jarlaxle whined. "I'm a delicate person."

"I'm not an idiot, Jarlaxle. If I wanted your feet to be permanently damaged I would have let you walk here."

Artemis helped Jarlaxle strip off his wet, clingy clothes and get into the bath. Jarlaxle hissed and winced at the temperature, amplified by the coldness of his body.

Artemis turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Jarlaxle said plaintively.

Artemis didn't turn around. "If you must have my attendance, I'll come back after setting up our room."

"What if someone walks in on me? I'm a half frozen drow sitting naked in a bathtub." Jarlaxle wrung his hands, partly to increase circulation and partly because of anxiety. "I'm a sitting goblin!"

Artemis clenched his fists, shoulders tense, as if he were almost on the verge of strangling the drow and being done with it, but at the last moment, he relaxed. "Fine. Have it your way."

The two partners interacting in such a delicately personal event was unfamiliar to say the least.

Jarlaxle reclined in the tub, hot water swirling around his waist. He wore a catlike smile.

Artemis Entreri stood over him scowling, washcloth in hand.

"I'm only doing this because you couldn't walk here on your own, and you stink." To prove his point, he lathered Jarlaxle's body with a layer of soap and suds, then splashed a bucket of water over him. He sniffed. "Now I might be able to bear staying in the same room with you more than five minutes."

Jarlaxle smiled at him ingratiatingly and leaned forward a little. "Could you scrub my back some more? It itches… right between the shoulder blades. I can't reach it."

"You haven't been doing any of the work."

Jarlaxle batted his eyelashes. "I'm an invalid."

"And I'm not your servant."

"Please?"

Artemis sighed heavily and walked behind him. He scrubbed Jarlaxle's back without any particular sense of gentleness.

"A little lower?" Jarlaxle asked, trying to look at Artemis over his shoulder. "Please?"

Artemis growled. "I could drown you, you know. You'd never be able to make it out of here alive. It would be like puppies in a sack."

Jarlaxle gave him a wide eyed, perfectly innocent look. He tapped his lower lip. "Now, how did Drizzt put it? You're too honorable?"

"The drow has a crack in his head large enough to fit my hand into. All of his sense leaked out years ago."

"But I trust you," Jarlaxle protested playfully.

"Next time, don't hire a trained killer to be your nursemaid."

Jarlaxle lifted his foot out of the water and wiggled his toes. "Could you scrub my toes? I like it when I can get someone to scrub my toes."

"Puppies. Sack."

"Then I suppose the answer to that request is no," Jarlaxle sighed regretfully.

"I think you'd better get out of the bath before the water turns cold and your skin wrinkles to the point where you resemble a raisin."

Jarlaxle slouched further into the water. "I think I'll stay here a little longer."

Artemis left, and then returned to toss a bundle of clothing on the floor. "Here. I can't have you frightening everyone and flashing the patrons, so I brought you a clean set of clothes. Try not to stay in here too late. I'm going to sleep soon, and if you creep into the bedroom in the middle of the night, I'll kill you."

"You are too jumpy. You really should relax. Not every little noise is a threat."

Artemis glared at him. "I'll kill you on purpose."

Jarlaxle chuckled.

Soon after Jarlaxle got out of the bath, the innkeeper's wife came upstairs. Jarlaxle was already in bed and found her attentions quite awkward.

"Oh, you poor man," the innkeeper's wife said, propping an extra pillow under his head and slipping a bed warmer under the blankets. "You, trekking out there in the snow without proper clothing on, half freezing to death for the cause of freedom."

Artemis and Jarlaxle exchanged glances.

She said, "Oh, you must be a Harper. I have a nose about these things." She tapped her nose. "You're much too handsome to be an ordinary man, even under that awful disguise."

Jarlaxle smiled up at her awkwardly.

"Don't worry. I won't be telling." She tucked him in even more snugly and made sure the fire in the fireplace would roar all night long. She closed the door behind herself with a smile and a parting wave.

"Harper?" Artemis grumbled. "Then who am I, Elminster?"

Jarlaxle looked a little too discomfited to chuckle. "In spite of my disguise?" He looked at Artemis with a pout. "I am handsome because of my heritage. Is this not so? Do not my ebony skin and my molten red eyes add to my charm?"

"Get some sleep," Artemis advised. "We're leaving here tomorrow if we can. In the morning I'll purchase supplies, and we can plan where to go from here."

"I'm the most handsome drow that ever lived," Jarlaxle mumbled petulantly. "She has in her narrow-minded village life no capacity to appreciate my beauty."

"Right." Artemis turned over and pulled the blanket over his head pointedly.

So Jarlaxle was left alone with a lightly snoring Entreri, wide awake and confused about this day's events. No sooner had he awakened from a deathly sleep than he'd been yanked out of imprisonment, marched across a snowy plain, and then tucked into another bed a thousand miles away from where he began.

He had to go without his mercenary band, since he couldn't contact them, and he had to go without a plan, because he couldn't think straight through all the complaints his body was sending him. He was stranded, with no security other than Artemis. If he'd been the type to break down and cry, he would be now with no one to watch him. He missed his tools, his wands, his rings, his necklaces, his boots, his fabulous cape, his eye patch…

Jarlaxle beat his fists against the soft, feather bed. If only I had my eye patch! I was going half snow blind out there today! Of all the places for a door to lead in Tandy's palace. The north! Typical! The worst possible case scenario in the realms.

"Of course, it could have been one of the nine hells," he murmured to himself. After that perspective, he was able to rest his mind sufficiently to go to sleep with a smile on his face.