Author's Note: After talking on the Dynamic Duo forums, Lady Tragic gave me the idea to do this scene showing Matron Baenre's reaction to her son.


A Meeting of the Past and Future Masterminds

"Scrub," she hissed. "I know your filthy ways, playing out in the slave pen when you think no one will miss you. Matron Baenre will not tolerate rothe dung on her floor."

"I am always fastidiously clean, sister. I assure you I will scrub myself moon elf white for you and dear mother."

He heard the hiss of her whip. "If Matron Baenre did not want to see you without one blemish on your body, I would whip you here for using that tone. Be grateful I am the most obedient of Matron Baenre's priestesses."

Jarlaxle used a natural sponge on his bare body, covering himself in richly scented lather. He could feel his sister's eyes on him, constantly watching. This small, secluded bathing pool would be his eventually, after he finished training and was ushered in as an adult.

He raked lather through his long, thick hair and dived into the pool, emerging in the hot spring surrounded by a halo of soap bubbles floating on the water.

"Don't use the soap on your hair!" Triel snapped. "What are you, a barbarian? Use the oils."

He climbed out, streaming, and sat down on the bench. "Forgive me for my ignorance." He rubbed the thick, scented oil into his hair and rinsed himself off again.

"You are late," Triel said. She muttered a spell.

Jarlaxle saw her hand aimed at him and cringed.

A blast of warm air dried him off instantly.

He relaxed, grinning. "Can you do that again? What a lovely spell. To think that you would have memorized such frivolous spells, sister. I wonder what else –"

She threw the chain mail at him and saw to his credit that he caught it in one hand before it hit his face. The moment he slipped it on, she threw his new tunic, soft breeches, piwafwi and boots at him, all in quick succession.

Jarlaxle dressed as if he'd been dressing in these clothes since he was old enough to put on clothing by himself.

She got behind him and pushed. "Move."

"Do you not wish me to brush my hair?"

Triel growled, and with the small sparkle of another spell, Jarlaxle's hair untangled itself and then wove itself into eight long braids at reached the small of his back.

"I knew you had more if you had that one," Jarlaxle said. "I don't suppose you'd teach me –"

Triel slapped him, and he shut up.

Jarlaxle did not want to meet Matron Baenre. For all his flippant behavior with his sister, his insides felt as though a spider had sucked them out and replaced them with liquid dread.

***

"Jarlaxle Baenre, page prince," Triel announced, and moved to her mother's side.

Matron Baenre suspected for one brief moment that Triel had found some commoner's child and dressed him in her son's clothing as some kind of sick precursor to a coup attempt.

Then she saw his sire's nose and her eyes, the delicate curve of her cheek as it had been in youth.

Her second impression, after her surprise, was a male child with the build of a starved street rat; all bone and small muscles borne of working through desperation. Compared to her Gromph and Dantrag, her third son was not a healthy child. He was stunted and small-boned, average height but seemed smaller.

"Look at me."

Jarlaxle lifted his head at once and looked at her with the piercing gaze she saw in the mirror every morning.

She frowned. His gaze was too strong, unaware of his place in relation to hers, the veneration she should receive as the womb that carried him. His mouth curled up at the corners and gave his narrow face a sarcastic edge. His thick, silver hair had a slight wave to it evidenced in his forelocks that was a freak genetic accident.

In all this time, he never looked away or evinced embarrassment at being analyzed.

"You are an unlikely blessing," she said slowly, watching the effect her words had on him.

He shrugged. "I don't pretend to understand Lloth's vision."

That answer set her teeth on edge. It implied that she, by contrast, was pretending to understand. Yet at the same time, that savvy answer from his young mouth would have fooled lesser females.

"You are late."

Jarlaxle did not react to the criticism. His face stayed as calm as an Underdark lake. "My mentors have told me that I was a premature birth."

"When you come into my presence, you are to bow," she said.

"My apologies. I will remember next time."

She lost her temper the most she had with a male in recent recollection and snapped her whip. "Bow!"

Jarlaxle bowed very low, almost touching his nose to the floor.

She did not find that antic amusing.

"Triel, why was the page prince late?" Matron Baenre demanded.

"He was slow to ready himself," Triel replied.

Jarlaxle straightened, hands clasped behind his back.

Matron Baenre fixed him with a glare. "Sloth."
"I prefer to call it thoroughness," Jarlaxle said. "And an inability to underachieve."

"I prefer to call it sloth," she snapped. "Talk to me in this manner and I will remove your tongue."

Jarlaxle made another small bow to her. "Forgive me for overstepping my boundaries."

"You are clever," Matron Baenre said. "Impudent. Weapon Master Trellifein has reported that you lack strength. Gromph reports that you have little to no magical skill. Tell me, Prince: besides your mouth, what talents do you have?"

"I am fast," Jarlaxle said without a change in expression.

Matron Baenre raised a delicately arched eyebrow. "You are fast. Yet you evince sloth, in coming to me."

"Thoroughness."

"You possess an inability to learn," Matron Baenre said.

"On the contrary," Jarlaxle said without missing a beat. "I am an apt learner."

"Take off your clothing."

Jarlaxle stripped himself of his new attire and stood before her in his loincloth.

"Kneel."

Jarlaxle lowered himself to his knees.

"We will see if you have the ability to learn," Matron Baenre said. "You will receive twenty-five lashes for every smart word that came out of your mouth." She turned to her daughters. "How many words do you count?"

"Thirty eight," Triel said.

"I suppose if you only count the phrases themselves that gave offense," Matron Baenre conceded. She looked at Jarlaxle, and her eyes hardened. "You will receive twenty-five lashes thirty-eight times."

"Nine hundred and fifty," Jarlaxle said. "I can also do higher math."

"If you survive your punishment, you may go from this House with your life." Matron Baenre studied him. "I doubt that you will earn that mercy."

"Would you?" Jarlaxle asked, staring calmly into her eyes.

Matron Baenre's lip curled. "Easily."

Jarlaxle's face was a solemn, unyielding mask. "Then I will, too."

While he was beaten, he never took his eyes off of her face. His sisters all took turns, their arms strained by the task of dealing so many blows. Bladen'kerst took the most turns, whipping him with the most enthusiasm, and even she tired. Over fifty healing potions were forced down his throat.

He left under his own power, crawling, and came back more than a century later, standing tall, surrounded by the aura of power that cloaks rising leaders.

He talked, and she respected him.

There was no trace of pain in his eyes.

They were still her eyes.