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Jhereg has three meanings, all of which are linked to the fiction of Steven Brust:
Jhereg is the name of the first novel in the Vlad Taltos series, which was published in 1983. Steven Brust's JHEREG is a graphic novel adaptation published by Marvel Comics in 1987, and The Book of Jhereg is a slightly amended omnibus collection of the first three books in the series — Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla — published in 1999.
A jhereg is an animal in the series' fictional world of Dragaera.
The House of the Jhereg is the Dragaeran Noble House to which Vlad Taltos belongs. Members of House Jhereg are referred to as Jhereg, not jhereg. The animal's name is not capitalized.
Jhereg are small (40 cm) flying reptiles with leathery wings, sinuous necks, sharp claws, and a venomous bite. While cover art for the Vlad books depicts jhereg as lizardlike quadrupeds, they are described as serpentlike, and have two legs, like wyverns. They mate for life, with the larger females playing the dominant role. Jhereg were originally simple animals, but the manipulations of the Jenoine have given them intelligence comparable to humans. Despite their intelligence, they continue to live as scavengers and predators in the wild. Dragaerans hold them no higher than common animals. Vlad's jhereg familiar, Loiosh, has learned to appreciate the subtleties of human behavior and society through his telepathic link to Vlad.
Another breed of jhereg, separate from their smaller "swampy" brethren, are the "cliff jhereg", which measure eight meters in length. The first time this breed of jhereg is seen in the series is at Deathsgate falls, where Vladimir is amazed and Loiosh is terribly frightened. This may indicate that cliff jhereg are held in a higher respect and standard than their smaller relatives.
The House of the Jhereg
Unlike the other Great Houses, Jhereg was not a tribe or bloodline before the days of the Empire. It was created after the founding of the Empire by Dolivar, a traitor to House Dragon and the brother of the Empire's co-founder, Kieron. Dolivar gathered other outcasts and founded the House of the Jhereg. Kieron allowed the Jhereg to survive in exchange for the spying and scouting services they provided his army.
Because the House's origins do not lie in a common bloodline, Jhereg do not share any distinctive physical features, as members of other Houses do. They are also not related to the animal after which their House was named, as other houses are believed to be. The House took the name Jhereg originally as a joke. In spite of its low status, Jhereg is still a noble House. Because it will sell membership to anyone, even Easterners, Jhereg offers an easy path for peasants and outcasts to become nobles.
Jhereg are best known for the "business end" of their House, called the Organization, which is a criminal empire similar to the Mafia. The Organization is run by the Council, who control a number of bosses and under-bosses that divide up Adrilankha and the rest of the Empire between them. The Organization has its hands in many illegal activities, including prostitution, narcotics, loan sharking, and gambling. Assassination is a common method of dealing with problems and moving up in the hierarchy; a member killing his boss and taking the dead man's place is considered acceptable, provided the new boss proves capable of maintaining and managing the position he has usurped. Meetings between rival Jhereg bosses are usually tense affairs conducted in restaurants. Bosses take bodyguards with them to these meetings and will sometimes plant additional men as patrons or staff members at the restaurant beforehand.
In order to keep the authorities looking the other way, the Organization polices itself and maintains a strict code of conduct, always honoring a contract, delivering on their "protection", and never assassinating someone in their home. Bosses pay to have their employees "revivified" if possible, and will provide a bonus to the families of minions who die on the job. Jhereg use a system of euphemisms when discussing illegal activities, referring to assassinations as "work" and themselves as "my friend" to avoid incrimination.
An additional wing of the Jhereg is called the Left Hand of the Jhereg (and unofficially, "The Bitch Patrol"). They are a group of primarily female sorcerers who sell their magical services. While they are outside the jurisdiction of the Council, members of the Organization make frequent use of their services, usually to block teleportation or to prevent other sorcerers from revivifying their enemies.