About a year before the Upheaval…
Some lessons you have to learn the hard way.
Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, Reynard was debating the relative merits of snapping the young master’s neck. He could say that he fell off his horse. Idiot young nobility did that sort of thing all the time. It would be the perfect crime. Even if he were caught a lifetime in one of Acryn’s gaols might be better than having to endure the interminable torment that was the never-ending antics of Francesco Graves.
This time it had been some inappropriate comments directed towards a young Darrish. Francesco hadn’t understood why the man had gotten so angry at him, after all it was meant to be a compliment. Reynard suggested that he might not have appreciated being objectified like that. Francesco seemed to be of the opinion that he should have been grateful for the attention and besides how was he supposed to know he was with the warrior church.
“Well moving on from that unpleasant incident, you still need to pick another course for next term.”
“Urgh, really, I’m getting rather tired of all this studying nonsense.”
“Please, your mother has already threatened to disinherit you if you don’t do something productive.”
More importantly if your mother disowns you then I’m out of a job, thought Reynard. Such was the lot of the youngest child of a not particularly important noble family. He had practically begged Duke Graves to help him out and was delighted when he offered him the position of valet to his young nephew. Now he was beginning to wonder if it might not have been some sort of awful practical joke.
“Reynard, mother is never going to disinherit me. She threatens to all the time but what is she going to do? It’s not like she’s got a fall back option.”
“Nevertheless you should pick something. Go and sit through a couple of lectures. Get enough credit to pass the year.”
“Fine, read me the options.”
“An Introduction to Scribing with Leonello Runes.”
“You don’t even want to hear the course description?”
“Reynard, scribing magic, really? Do I look like some sort of bookish nerd to you?”
“Magic could have some potential…”
“Magic is nonsense, Reynard. I mean they all say it’s a route to cosmic power but in reality it takes too long and mana is expensive.”
“Fine. Next on the list is the Fundamentals of the Wine Trade.”
“I’ll do that one.”
“You’re interested in joining the Vintners?”
“Founders, no! Can you imagine me as a merchant?”
“Then might I suggest that that course may not be as fun as you think it’s going to be.”
“Is there at least a wine tasting?”
“Well, yes but-”
“I actually know quite a lot about wine. When I was president of the Orchestra’s drinking society-”
“Orchestra? You play an instrument?”
“Oh gods, no. Anyway before you rudely interrupted me, what I was about to say was I organised a wine tasting at The Wyvern.”
“Ah yes, I do recall. Although that wasn’t so much a wine tasting as drinking a lot of wine.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well at a wine tasting you’re meant to spit the wine out for one thing.”
“Really? What’s the point in that?”
“I-,” no, it really wasn’t worth it, “I couldn’t say. Anyway is it fair to say we can cross that one off the list?”
“I should think so!”
He could push him in the river. The current was strong today and the rocks looked quite slippery. He could claim he tripped and fell on them.
“I presume Consumption is out for the same reason as scribing?”
“Oh gods, that’s even worse! They make you eat insects.”
“You ate insects at Micello Darrish’s dinner party.”
“Those were rare iridescent silk moths brought in from Margush.”
“So give them a fancy name and call them a delicacy and it’s fine?”
Reynard recalled Isabella asking him over a drink one night why he continued to work for the young Graves if he hated him so much.
“You’re not nobility, so you wouldn’t understand.”
“I never took you before for a pompous ass,” she had replied as she swigged from her tankard.
“Look I might not like him but I believe the Founders brought us together for a reason. So I have to serve him to the best of my abilities. It’s my duty.”
Isabella had just rolled her eyes at that.
In his moment of recollection Reynard was distracted from the woman that came bounding up to them. She had a mass of dark curls around her face and a formidable bosom.
“You slimy, two-timing scoundrel!”
“What am I supposed to have done now?” exclaimed Francesco.
“You slept with my sister!”
“I most certainly did not!”
“Please,” interjected Reynard, “There must have been some misunderstanding.”
It took him some time to calm the irate young woman. Eventually he managed to convince her that Francesco’s protestations of innocence were in earnest.
“Did you really sleep with her sister?”
“No, of course not! Wait… is her sister the sort of athletic one? Short black hair?”
“I don’t even know why I bother defending you.”
“Because I pay you?”
“Well actually your mother pays me. Never mind that, though, you’re not getting out of picking your course options.”
“Urgh, fine, what’s next on your list?”
“History of Art.”
“That doesn’t sound too awful.”
“I think that it might be a good fit for you actually.”
“Wait, who’s teaching that?”
“It’s a non-starter. The woman hates me.”
“You know the thing we don’t talk about?”
“Ah, yes, The Incident. Yes, well I can see why she might not be taken with you.”
“You know I can’t help but notice you’ve been letting yourself down in your duties as my valet.”
“We’ve been walking for about an hour now and you’ve not commented once.”
“I must direct your attention to my feet.”
“Oh, new shoes. Well I suppose those are rather smart.”
“Not just smart, these are made from finest leather, imported from Caul, and bejewelled with high quality pearl from Thys.”
“Yes, they’re probably the nicest pair of shoes I’ve seen. Now seriously can we get back to the list?”
“Very well, if you insist, what’s next?”
“Bookmaking and Accountancy. I’m guessing that’s a no. I’m just going to cross that off.”
Francesco’s gaze seemed to be drawn to something on the other side of the river.
“You see that gentleman’s hat? Do you think I could pull something like that off?”
Then a voice came seemingly from nowhere.
“For once in your life can you not take something seriously! All you ever do is chase girls or ramble on about your shoes. You’re the laziest, most selfish and most obnoxious excuse for a human being that I have ever met. There are people who would kill to have half the opportunities you do and you just squander them away! I don’t know what sin I could have committed in a past life to deserve this but clearly the Founders are punishing me for something.”
Reynard recoiled in horror at the sudden realisation that this tirade had been coming from him.
“Young master,I’m so sorry, I’ve spoken out of turn. If you can’t forgive me, I’ll understand-”
“You know, thinking about it I think wide brimmed hats are going out of fashion, maybe I’ll shop around for something. Oh, were you saying something just then?”
“It was-,” Reynard breathed a sigh of relief, “It was nothing important. You know we still haven’t chosen a course for you.”
“Well what’s left on the list?”
“Nothing, we seem to have exhausted everything.”
“Really? That’s my options?”
“Well… what about the scribing course? Maybe we ruled that out too hastily.”
“I already told you, it’s for nerds.”
“Well, why don’t you just give it a try? Who knows maybe you have some as yet untapped hidden talent for magic. If not, you just sit through a couple of lectures, get the credit you need and never have to worry about it again.”
“Well if it’s that or Consumption then I suppose I’ll go for that.”
‘Just give it a try.’ The words had seemed innocuous enough at the time. If only he’d known how they would years later come back to haunt him. People never fail to surprise you. Unfortunately for Reynard that was one lesson he had to learn the hard way.