By Ariel-D and Surreptitious Chi X
Description: To Entreri's vexation, Jarlaxle discovers the Surface tradition of birthdays. Crack!fic/crack!fluff.
Disclaimer: Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle belong to WotC and RAS. No profit is being made.
A/N: I played Artemis, and Chi played Jarlaxle. Written for Christmas, but since there is no such holiday in FR, we went with general birthdays.
Set after Servant of the Shard. Ignores all that comes afterward.
Artemis Entreri knew he was having a bad day when he settled at the corner table at the tavern only to realize the long table beside him was filled not only with people but also presents. Before he could even suggest to Jarlaxle that they find a different tavern, he was assaulted by the song he hated most in life – the North's birthday song:
"It's your birthday, it's your birthday,
We gift you first with a unicorn with a golden horn,
We gift you second with two silver coins, and a unicorn with a golden horn,
We gift you third with three brass lamps, two silver coins, and a unicorn with a golden horn,
We gift you fourth with four Harpers harping, three brass lamps, two silver coins, and a unicorn with a golden horn,
We gift you fifth with five monks chanting, four Harpers harping, three brass lamps, two silver coins, and a unicorn with a golden horn!
We gift you sixth with six doves cooing, five monks chanting, four Harpers harping, three brass lamps - "
Entreri stood up and marched out, not caring if Jarlaxle followed him or not.
Jarlaxle stayed until the end of the song and watched in fascination as an elaborately iced cake was presented by a barmaid and cut. The slice of cake was splashed with rum and presented to a young man. Everyone patted him on the back and watched him eat it, then settled in with their own slices of cake.
When he judged the exotic ritual to be over, he finally sidled outside and found Artemis. "The noise disturbed you?"
Entreri was leaning against the building front, his arms crossed. "Are they done with that blasted song?"
"The song is over," Jarlaxle said. "Now they are eating rum cake."
Entreri nodded to himself. It might be safe to return. "Very well." He walked back inside and sat on the opposite side of the room this time.
Jarlaxle followed. He waited until their drinks were served and their meals were ordered before indulging his curiosity. "I assume those boxes do not hold the aforementioned gifts." Out of the corner of his vision, he saw the young man pull a fine wool cloak out of one of the boxes and examine it with admiration.
Entreri shook his head. "I despise the song. I suppose most people think it's clever the first time they hear it. After the third time, it's tiring. After the tenth time, it's annoying. After the twenty-fifth time, leaving is a better option." He took a sip of his honeymead. "The song makes no sense. I mean, there used to be a ritual in the North in which you gave someone a present each day for ten days until their birthday, hence 'The Ten Birthday Gifts' song. But who would want four Harpers harping? It's inane."
"Nor would one want five monks chanting," Jarlaxle said. He waved his hand. "Nor ten elves waltzing, nor nine gnomes knocking -" He realized repeating the entire rhyme was likely to set Artemis off and stopped. "The point is, it's a nonsensical song. Things that have no logic annoy you, therefore the song is annoying."
"It's not just the lack of logic," Entreri said, "it's the pointless repetition. We get the message the first time. You don't have to repeat it all ten times, essentially."
"Traditional folk music tends to build," Jarlaxle noted. "For instance, the drinking song about Mary going to market and purchasing various items. Or the song from Calimshan about fighting demons. The warrior's kills are listed off."
"Annoying, every one of them."
"But what is this about presents?" Jarlaxle asked brightly. "If one receives gifts, is it not tolerable to sit through an annoying tune?"
"I wouldn't know," Entreri said dryly.
"Why not?" Jarlaxle asked. "Is this ritual of presents a Northern invention?"
"Not precisely," Entreri said. "Although in Calimshan, one only celebrates birthdays that are a multiple of six because six is considered the luckiest number. Also, the gifts tend to be prescribed. In the North, they celebrate every year and are supposed to give you things you want."
"Whose birthday does one celebrate? The local monarch's, perhaps?" Jarlaxle was curious about whose birth warranted such celebration.
For a moment, Entreri didn't understand the question. "No. Everyone's."
Jarlaxle stared at him. "All the citizens of the nation choose a date and celebrate a collective birthday?" He couldn't imagine that kind of enforced thankfulness towards survival.
Entreri snorted. "No. You celebrate a person's birthday on the day that person was born."
"Everyone celebrates their birthday individually?" Jarlaxle protested. "That could take most of the year!"
Entreri didn't understand that statement at all. "What makes you say that? Each family simply celebrates the birthdays of their members - and by that I mean first or second degree relatives. A few friends might be invited as well. Even if you had ten children, two parents, and four grandparents, that's still only sixteen birthdays in a year. Hardly taxing."
"This is not a national holiday, but a private institution?" Jarlaxle asked. He felt he understood less of what was going on.
Entreri nodded. Jarlaxle's reaction made it quite clear that drow did not celebrate birthdays.
Jarlaxle tried to imagine a family ceremony of celebrating the births of its members. "Do such families generally get along peacefully?"
Entreri shrugged. "Supposedly. Considering the practice is widespread, if you failed to celebrate someone's birthday, it would be the same as telling him he'd been disowned."
Jarlaxle frowned. He glanced up and saw that the barmaid had come to deliver their food. She set their entrees in front of them and curtsied. "Anything else?"
Entreri shook his head. He'd been presented with a steaming plate of biscuits and gravy along with smoked ham and eggs. He couldn't complain.
Jarlaxle shook his head as well, smiling. "No, thank you. Our food is excellent." He paid her. Then he turned to his own dish, roast chicken with mashed red potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. He ate for several moments in silence. "You grew up in the Basadoni Guild. Did you receive presents for your special birthdays, or no?"
Entreri shook his head. "Basadoni gave me gifts occasionally, but not for my birthday."
"Was he afraid that open favor would affect your survival?" Jarlaxle asked, eating his chicken and mashed potatoes.
Entreri glanced up. "I have no idea." It was possible, he supposed.
"I see no harm in adopting this birthday ritual, and a great deal of fun involved," Jarlaxle declared. "We won't sing any foolish songs, but why should we not commemorate our birthdates?"
Entreri stared at him. "You want to celebrate birthdays?" Somehow he should have seen this coming, he realized.
"Why not?" Jarlaxle asked. He sipped his white wine. "We have made survival our game. This birthday custom fits perfectly with our values."
Although it took a moment for Entreri to shift his worldview enough to see Jarlaxle's point of view, he managed it. "Of course that would require that we know when our birthdays are. If your culture doesn't celebrate birthdays, what reason would you have to remember it? Do you even know when your birthday is?"
"That is a small obstacle," Jarlaxle said easily.
"Oh? Does that mean you can find out?" Entreri quirked an eyebrow. "Or that you'll just choose one?"
"I know that I was born sometime in Tarsakh," Jarlaxle said. He drank another sip of wine. "If I wish to know the date I need merely to bother my sister, who doubtless remembers because of the inconvenience my birth caused."
Entreri wasn't surprised to hear Jarlaxle had managed to cause a commotion just by entering the world. "No doubt," he drawled.
Jarlaxle grinned. "You haven't the slightest inkling. If I could take credit for any of it, I would congratulate myself."
Entreri snorted with laughter. "Again, no doubt."
Jarlaxle shrugged and speared a carrot on his fork. "Given that your birthdays were not celebrated, do you remember when your birthday is?"
"Not at all." Entreri took a sip of his honeymead. "I remember there was a period of rain. That's all. Still, the rainy season is late spring, so that gives me a mild clue. I made up my mind long ago that my birthday is Mirtul 14th."
"Well, if you've made up your mind, then there is no obstacle for you," Jarlaxle said. "In fact, your birthdate is coming up. I shall have to supply a present."
"And yours has just passed," Entreri said. It was Mirtul 2nd, after all. "For all we know, your birthday was two days ago."
"Then you're late," Jarlaxle admonished playfully.
Entreri had never given anyone a gift in his life. He didn't even know where to begin. "And what to get the drow who has everything?" he asked dryly, although Jarlaxle might not get the cultural reference.
"I don't have everything," Jarlaxle said, apparently blissfully unaware of the joke.
"Give me some ideas, then," Entreri said. He didn't really want to get involved in gift exchange, but he knew Jarlaxle would pursue this zealously now. He'd end up drawn in one way or the other, so he figured he might as well play along.
Then he realized with some horror that gifts were often wrapped and tied with bows. He had no idea how to do either of those things.
Jarlaxle thought for a moment. "A bottle of valuable wine. Or a new magical trinket of some sort. Or a finely made article of clothing. Or perhaps a bottle of perfume or an attractive painting. Anything that pleases the senses, really."
Entreri would go for the wine or magical item. The rest was too dependent on personal taste. "Very well."
Jarlaxle nodded in satisfaction. "What would you like for your birthday celebration?"
Entreri didn't suppose there was any question that Jarlaxle could have asked that would be more difficult to answer. He didn't covet material items; everything he wanted was abstract. However, right before he could shrug it off, his practical side kicked in. "Magical items are good - either clothing or jewelry. I always welcome things that function as concealed armor or have protective traits."
Jarlaxle nodded. "I will look into the acquisition of such items. Rest assured, something you desire will be in a box."
Entreri couldn't doubt that. Jarlaxle had already given him a hat and fine black shirt with armor-like properties. In fact, Entreri suspected Jarlaxle was slowly waging a secret war on his wardrobe. He didn't really care. All he asked from his clothing was that it be serviceable, comfortable, and dark in color. And, of course, not silly-looking.
"Would you like to exchange gifts on the same day?" Jarlaxle asked.
"Sure." Entreri figured that would keep the insanity down to a minimum. Maybe. It depended on what else Jarlaxle managed to learn about birthdays and celebrations.
At least Jarlaxle had promised there would be no singing.
On the day of Entreri's birthday, Jarlaxle temporarily banished him from their apartment so that 'preparations could be made'. That had a terrifying ring to it, but a birthday celebration surely could not be as formidable as a red dragon.
When the two hours were up, Entreri dared to approach the familiar door. Unfortunately for him, a sign reading: 'Do not Disturb: Birthday in Progress' now hung from the doorknob.
"Come in," Jarlaxle called, ruining any chance of retreat.
Entreri steeled himself and entered. It was Jarlaxle, so he tried to prepare himself for some kind of overwhelming shock.
The entire apartment was festooned in bunting, and their small dining table had been dragged into the middle of the room and draped with a white cloth. Silver platters with domes to keep heat in sat on the table. At one end was a box wrapped in bright red paper with a black ribbon tied into a bow.
Jarlaxle stood by the table, grinning. "Welcome, khal abbil." He lifted the domes off of the platters, revealing biscuits and gravy, lamb kabobs with rice, and steak with potatoes. "Three of your favorite foods." He gestured grandly. "First, we shall dine. Then we shall exchange gifts."
All in all, Entreri decided it wasn't a disaster. He would have never imagined bunting, but he could deal with eating his favorite foods. "All right." He walked over to the table and set down a box, which he'd paid a woman to wrap for him. The paper was silver, and purple and green ribbons crisscrossed the box. Both a purple and green bow sat side by side on top.
"Impressive," Jarlaxle said. "I would have never imagined that you could learn a pleasing art so quickly." He dished up food for both of them.
Entreri took a seat at the table. "I didn't. I paid someone to do it. Now that I've seen it done, it doesn't seem terribly difficult." More than anything, it seemed to require precision and patience.
Jarlaxle chuckled. "I'm honored." That Artemis bothered to make sure his present was properly wrapped no matter what the means was a powerful demonstration of their growing friendship.
Entreri wasn't sure what had earned him that response, but from his point of view, it wasn't worth doing something unless it was done well. All or nothing - so he went with all.
"As for me, I sat down with an instruction booklet," Jarlaxle said, eating some lamb.
"I doubt that would have helped me much," Entreri said. He was more of a visual person.
Jarlaxle shook his head. "I found it a challenge as well. But I am always looking to acquire new skills. I have no doubt my practice will be put to good use sometime in the future."
Given that Entreri couldn't imagine drow exchanging gifts, he wondered when and how Jarlaxle would be putting it to use. He didn't say that, however; he simply served himself each of his favorite foods and began eating. Jarlaxle had provided more food than he could eat, really, so he had to give himself small servings.
Jarlaxle served himself some biscuits and gravy after finishing his lamb. "You don't seem to like desserts, so I wasn't certain how to please you in that department. I took the liberty of choosing an array of small desserts to choose from."
"Very well." Entreri knew it was tradition to eat dessert on one's birthday. The type of dessert varied by culture, however. Calishites often served omogano, which were flat pastries decorated with candied nuts. The number of nuts were supposed to match one's age, although most people stopped adding nuts after age eighteen.
After dinner was finished, Jarlaxle cleared the leftovers away and presented Entreri with a glossy box from a local bakery. Inside were tiny squares of various desserts, including omogano. Jarlaxle had a box of his own. He sat down across from Entreri once more. "I am curious to try the desserts of your homeland. The bakery made baklava, omogano, and these little jellies."
"Omogano is the traditional one," Entreri said. He'd never even tried it. He picked up the round pastry, which was golden and flakey with a honey glaze and honey-roasted almond halves. He took a bite and was surprised to find he liked it. It was sweet without being sickening.
Jarlaxle smiled at Entreri's reaction and tried the omogano himself. "I enjoy the crunch of it. Quite delicious."
Entreri ate the omogano, then considered the baklava. He'd only had it once, but he remembered it was very sweet. It was made of layers of filo pastry, filled with chopped almonds, and sweetened the honey. He ate a bite just to taste test it. It was incredibly rich, so he only ate half of it.
Jarlaxle happily devoured his baklava. He licked his fingers and laughed. "I don't think I'll finish this box."
Entreri took a sip of his water. "I know I can't." He'd get nauseated if he even tried.
"It is a bit much, isn't it?" Jarlaxle closed the lid on his. He patted it and then looked up at Artemis. "Well, is it present time?"
Entreri nodded. Much to his discomfort, he found he actually cared whether Jarlaxle liked the gift he'd gotten him. He was surprised at himself, but he couldn't deny his own perfectionist tendencies.
Jarlaxle grinned. "You should have your present first, since it is your birthday today." He pushed his gift-wrapped box Artemis' way.
Entreri picked up the box, tearing right in and tossing the paper aside. Inside the box he discovered a new belt of black leather with a silver buckle. The buckle had the design of a flying raven, quite ornate. The gift was cushioned with white tissue paper.
"You will find that this belt offers significant protection," Jarlaxle said.
Entreri was amused. Since the belt was from Jarlaxle, it was no surprise that the buckle would be fancy. Jarlaxle detested the plain and ordinary. However, it was black and silver, which he preferred, and more to the point, it was enchanted. "Thank you," he said simply.
Jarlaxle nodded. "Of course. You are my friend, and this is your birthday. Think nothing more of it."
Entreri pushed Jarlaxle's gift across the table to him. "Here."
Jarlaxle grinned and carefully took apart the wrapping, untying the bow and removing the paper. Then he lifted the lid of the box off. Inside was a black bottle of wine with a cream label that was decorated with a coat of arms bearing a lion and two swords in red and black. The label read Morallani - Merlot - 1283. Morallani was one of the top three wine makers in Faerun, known especially for their merlot and cabernet sauvignon. To get a 1283 was to pay a good chunk of gold.
Jarlaxle's eyes widened. He looked at Entreri with comical disbelief.
Entreri had to smile then, although it was closer to a smirk. "You're hard to buy for," he said dryly. "Especially if I actually intend to awe you."
Jarlaxle burst out laughing. He stroked the bottle with gentle fingertips. "No one would sell me this; spirits are a sentimental thing, especially for collectors. I'm sure that whoever owned this would have a stroke if he realized his fine wine had gone to a drow." He shook his head, abruptly speechless.
Entreri was quite pleased, even if he'd never admit it. "I have my ways."
Jarlaxle grinned at Entreri with sparkling eyes. "Clearly." He hadn't expected something like this. Never, never like this. He ended up stroking the bottle again. "I shall place this wine in the safest of places, as a present like this deserves."
Entreri quirked an eyebrow. "Do you not wish to taste it first?"
That restored Jarlaxle's balance. He wagged a finger at Entreri. "I'll taste this wine only when we both have experienced the fulfillment of a grand success. And then we shall drink it together."
Entreri inclined his head. After all, it was Jarlaxle's wine to do with as he pleased.
Jarlaxle was silent a few moments. This day had turned into so much more than he'd anticipated. "No one has ever given me such a gift before. When I suggested that we take up the tradition of birthdays, I never imagined that you would accept that suggestion with such seriousness." He gave Entreri a smile. "Truly, there are none like you, my friend."
In truth, Entreri's first impulse hadn't been to get quite so serious, but it was just like with the gift wrapping: he wasn't really built to do things halfway. "If we're going to do it, we might as well do it right." Certainly everyone Entreri had ever known would be shocked by his actions, but he didn't feel self-conscious. Friends were hard to come by, after all, and were also one of the few things Entreri had ever desired.
Jarlaxle grinned widely. "Indeed!" He raised his glass of water in a toast, clinked it against Entreri's, and drank.