Boy was I wrong. Specifically, it gave me feelings about what little I remembered from that shitty, shitty "King Artemis the First" plotline from Road of the Patriarch. Specifically, I could see Jarlaxle's reasoning...you know, if you squinted and tilted your head to the side.
This meta is 90% conjecture and psychoanalysis. (The other 10% is bad spelling.) Everything contained within should be prefaced with "in my opinion" or "perhaps," but I'm too lazy to type that all the time, so just add it in your head. Basically, YMMV.
The first thing we need to do is accept that sometimes Jarlaxle makes shitty decisions for irrational reasons. Having just finished rereading RotP, this is something that I have no trouble accepting.
The second thing we need to do is remember that the Duo has spent the past several months in Damara, where it's impossible to escape the legends of King Gareth and his Heroic Companions.
Something that struck me as I was rereading was how opaque Jarlaxle's motivations are throughout this entire thing. We're given occasional glimpses into his head (as I'm about to quote below), but we don't get anything deep. We don't even know what the actual goal of the whole "kingdom" plot was. The most obvious is the one goal he claims to Entreri, to set up a kingdom and etc. etc., but it's also made clear that Entreri doesn't believe him, and we never get solid confirmation one way or another. Which... yeah, wtf? But for purposes of this meta, I'm assuming that a kingdom was the actual goal.
So, where's Jarlaxle's head at this point in time? He's still new to the surface. This is his first chance at a life away from Menzobarranzan. Consider this passage:
"You try to build here," Kimmuriel remarked. "What is it you seek here that does not already await you in our homeland?"
Freedom, Jarlaxle thought, but did not say.
Of course, Kimmuriel was a psionicist, and a powerful one indeed, so Jarlaxle never really had to "say" anything to him to get his point across.
Kimmuriel stared at him for a few moments, then slowly nodded. "There is no freedom," he finally said. "There is only survival."
Later, Jarlaxle talks about how survival could be a pentultimate goal, rather than the ultimate one. Clearly this is something that's been on his mind. Which makes sense. The surface has been his first taste of freedom, of hope. This is where 'King and Lionheart' starts to play in. The beginning of the song is very hopeful. It invokes a feeling of looking at the sky, of restlessness and progress and freedom. (Go ahead. Listen to the song. Tell me I'm wrong.)
And in the winter night sky, ships are sailing
Looking down on these bright blue city lights.
And they won't wait x3
We're here to stay x3
Jarlaxle's found freedom and hope on the surface, and he wants to keep it. But Kimmuriel expects him to return eventually, as do the Matron Mothers. (I'm making assumptions on the latter, but given the level of violent sexism in Menzobarranzan and the fervor with with they went after Drizzt, I have to assume that "you can't escape, there are no other options" is a huge part of the glue that stops drow society from imploding. A well-known male like Jarlaxle just running off to the surface would erode that considerably.) So he has freedom, but there are specters on the horizon threatening it. ('Howling ghosts they reappear in mountains that are stacked with fear.')
But setting up a kingdom --something which requires Bregan D'earthe support, tying him more closely to the Underdark-- seems a weird way to go about it. Until you consider that he's been surrounded by the narrative of no-escape for his entire life until now. (Why else would he have never left until now?) He's on the surface, in Damara, where the dominant narrative is of the Kind and His Heroic Companions, who can Fight Anything and Live in Splendor in the capital. And stories have power, whether we realize it or not.
Entreri is obviously cynical about the whole thing. He's been on the surface for most of his life, he's spent his life around these shiny, hopeful narratives, and he's seen just how hollow they are. Jarlaxle's spent his life in Menzobarranzan. The narratives there are a little darker and the drow make no bones about it. This sort of hopeful story would have a lot of appeal. Lacking other narratives to build his hope on, he'd use it as the structure for his own freedom.
And so, his bid for freedom from the Underdark takes its form as the attempt to build his own kingdom, complete with a castle and fancy proclamations. Most of my embarrassment squick comes from the trappings of royalty that are scattered throughout. (I'll do you the favor of not quoting anything here.) But the mimicry is there; the most painful bits of this plotline are the awkward parodies of the trappings of royalty, in the form of silly titles and pompous scrolls.
But of course they are. Jarlaxle is casting himself in the mold of the first narrative he's seen that could challenge the power of the Matron Mothers, and those bits are a part of the story. He's taking the bits without necessarily understanding the substance. He's still interpreting King Gareth's power through the lens he's familiar with. (Note how much more effective he is at dealing with Knellict and the Citadel with Assassins. They more closely follow organizations that he's familiar with, after all. He knows how they work, not just how they look.)
Which is why it doesn't work. He's trying to cast himself and his friend as the heroes of a story without understanding how those heroes would act differently. The song gets less and less hopeful as it goes on. There's still hope, but the circumstances get more and more dire. It fits Jarlaxle's hopes for this plan really fucking well.
This meta originally had like, a hundred percent more shipping feels? I'm not sure how this ended up not including Entreri? Like, I'm pretty sure that there's something about how Jarlaxle chose not to be the king himself, but I can't pin it down. Perhaps that's a meta for another day.