Masters of Intrigue
Author's Note: This story takes place directly after Servant of the Shard and disregards any canon after that point.
At different points, I may quote Servant of the Shard or another work of canon preceding Servant of the Shard as a reminder of what has happened in canon up to that point. I do this because R.A. Salvatore has created a potentially confusing timeline. Plus, it is a lot to ask of people to keep track of several books' worth of information.
From Servant of the Shard:
"Cadderly began casting yet again, a wind-walking spell that soon carried them out of the cathedral and across the miles to the south and east to the caverns of the mighty Hephaestus" (p. 312 hardback edition).
After their luck in finding the village - more of a trading post, really - Jarlaxle scented out the metropolis north of them like a bloodhound and gathered supplies before getting them underway, armed with a map. Hephaestus' mountain had turned out to be part of the Firesteap Mountains, the squat mountain range running along one edge of the Shaar. Artemis was familiar with the existence of the Shaar; it was due east of Calimshan. However, he had never been to the Shaar because of the sharp cultural divide. Shaaryans were nomadic barbarians who preferred to handle things themselves. Such people had no need of an assassin.
After a day's trek, they arrived at the gates of Innarlith. Innarlith was not as seedy as Luskan, nor as compacted and piled up with architecture as Calimport. The city was relatively new, which meant it was mostly clean looking. However, as soon as they were waved through by the guards, they found themselves on a main avenue clogged with street vendors, beggars, and all manner of travelers, a morass similar to any large, dishonest city's.
What few guards there were seemed conspicuously bored.
Jarlaxle smiled and gestured, inhaling curry-scented air. "Ah...This could get to be a second home, couldn't it?"
Entreri looked around and saw merely a different face on every other city he'd ever been in. "Seems familiar enough, despite it all."
Jarlaxle nodded. "Exactly. I suspect it'll only take a few hours to feel out the place, and then we can settle on an inn for the night to plot our next move."
Entreri returned the nod. Anything was better than facing off with a red dragon. Plus, even though he didn't want to admit it, he was tired by this point. He really believed that Jarlaxle was developmentally the same age as he was, as far as the lifespan of a human and an elf were concerned. Surely Jarlaxle felt much the same.
Indeed, Jarlaxle's next words were, "I have the resources to allow for a period of rest before pragmatism demands we search for some method of employment. Let us take advantage of that."
"Let's," Entreri said without pause. He'd do his dead level best to stay in top shape to the day he died, but it didn't mean he wasn't going to age.
Jarlaxle scouted out the city for the next couple hours, buying them lunch in the process. At the end, he successfully drifted away from the main roads and to a quiet neighborhood, not poor but not wealthy. A reasonably polite creature with a rat's tail and ears pointed them to a block of flats being leased. The diversity of Innarlith proved a relief; Jarlaxle did not sense any strange looks on account of his lineage.
"This is even better than an inn," Jarlaxle said, walking up the steps of a brown stone building three stories tall. "We can set up a live-in office here if we please."
"As you say." Entreri honestly didn't care by that point as long as sleep entered the equation soon. He'd always been a night person rather than a day person, anyway, so having his time tables turned around did not to wonders for his temper. Nor did meeting a creature that vaguely reminded him of a wererat. He'd had to suppress wrinkling his nose.
Jarlaxle grinned and opened the door, holding it for Artemis after he'd walked through. He spoke politely with a human landlady about which flats were available for lease, the terms, the status of the flats, and narrowed it down to a second story two-room two-bed flat with a view of the side street. Gold and keys changed hands.
The interior of the building was well contructed but plain, with steps wide enough for one person going each way to pass without bumping into each other. Jarlaxle opened the door to their new flat with his key and looked around the front room. There was a row of pegs on the wall inside the door for coats and hats and things, a decorative table with a bowl of wax fruit on it with a mirror on the wall above, and a clerk's desk with chair.
Jarlaxle entered the door on the left and found one bedroom with two separated beds and the window with the view of the alley. Two dressers, one walk in closet, a chest at the foot of each bed.
He walked out across the hall and found a tiny bathroom barely big enough for the amenities in it.
Jarlaxle turned to Artemis with a smile. "The miracles of indoor plumbing. A pity the North hasn't caught up yet."
Entreri glanced into the bathroom. "Admittedly, if I have a hedonistic streak, then it applies to having indoor plumping."
Jarlaxle chuckled. "I know mine does." He ducked out of the small room in which the toilet, bathtub, and sink had been crammed. "Well, I can see what I need to buy: soap, shampoo, hair oils, lotion, tooth powder." Tooth powder, another invention found in southern countries, was like soap for one's mouth. The drow had a similar invention, a mouth rinse which was regrettably difficult to keep in supply.
He glanced at Artemis. "Anything else, while I'm making a list? I'd like to be fully functional as soon as possible."
Entreri considered the list. "Towels and rags." The beds, at least, had linens on them.
Jarlaxle nodded. "Would you like to stay behind? I see no point in both of us going along for a task that requires only one."
With his dimensional pocket, he had no need of additional people to carry parcels.
"Sure." Entreri wasn't going to argue that one. After being around Jarlaxle and various other strangers all day, he needed some time alone.
Jarlaxle tipped his hat. He had his key to the flat, and Artemis had the other. "I'll be back in a short time with supplies." He headed out the door.
After they both bathed and slept, they woke at midnight feeling refreshed. Jarlaxle sat down on the side of his bed and polished his boots, and Artemis did equipment maintenance as well.
Jarlaxle thought about their immediate future. They were starting over in a new arena, but that didn't mean they had to start at the bottom. They were both too skilled for that. Instead, he would need to do some aggressive advertising, pick up a half decent job, and make sure he and Artemis excelled at it. Word of mouth and repeated persistence would do the rest.
Of course, word of mouth would be so much more effective if they used their real names. Jarlaxle paused in the act of brushing polish on his left boot. "I was thinking of our plans...Would you prefer to be known by your true name, or some pseudonym? The advantage to your name is that people already know you, so your previous experience works for you. The disadvantage is that your old enemies can find you."
Entreri looked up from his dagger, which he was whetting. "I'm not concerned about any of my old enemies. Your enemies would be more the issue. If you feel secure, then I will use my own name."
Jarlaxle nodded. "I have no fear of old enemies," he said lightly. "After all, old enemies can be made into new allies."
That settled that issue. Jarlaxle resumed spreading polish on his boot. "The next question is, what type of work would you prefer? As my partner, you are certainly entitled to jobs that please you."
Entreri's attention returned to his dagger. "I'm less concerned with the type of job I do than I am with the type of company I'm required to keep. I've been a thief, an assassin, a bodyguard, a tracker, and various other things. I prefer jobs that are pleasantly challenging and that don't force me to keep the company of annoying people."
Jarlaxle smiled at that. "Then perhaps what we need is a signal. The easiest way to weed out annoying people is to screen clients as we talk to them. I'll look for your secret cue, and if I see that you have judged a client annoying, unworthy, et cetera, I'll politely let negotiations fall through."
"Sounds reasonable," Entreri said. He put up the whetting stone and brought out a cloth to begin polishing.
Jarlaxle was satisfied that they had a good basis for understanding. "Is there any minimum fee you consider fair for our services, or are you more swayed by a challenge than by payment?"
He switched to polishing, shining up his previously scuffed toe.
Entreri pondered that for a moment. "I think there should be a minimum fee, with the ultimate price based on the complexity and danger of the job. The challenge is merely a matter of my personal satisfaction, which is not necessary. Food, water, and clothing are necessary. Proper lodging is also preferred."
"Agreed. I have already made the necessary calculations. 600 gold is the amount of money we need to stay afloat, plus a profit of 100 gold each. As a matter of course I include 50 gold extra in our expenses for wiggle room. This is per month, of course. Based on how hard we want to work, we should be able to calculate a minimum fee with relative ease."
He finished with his left boot and started on his right. It was rather more scuffed up, so he went back to the jar of polish with a generous hand. "So, would you say between two and four jobs a month would be fair? Do you have any preference for longer jobs over shorter ones?"
"I'd say that's fair, yes." Entreri shrugged and sheathed his dagger. "Length is not really an issue for me, so that basically translates into two long jobs or four short jobs."
Jarlaxle nodded. "I'd say the ideal minimum fee for our services is 300 gold, but if something is difficult and only lasts a day, someone might succeed into haggling me down to 200." He grinned. "What do you think?"
Entreri put up his cleaning cloth and then lounged on his bed. "Sounds reasonable." If he believed in anything, it was Jarlaxle's capacity to make money.
It could possibly be its own religion, he thought with a smirk.
Jarlaxle had a good feeling about this new start. And his feelings were his compass, so he couldn't be happier.