Sorrowful notes of a violin resonated throughout the study, off the few books Reynard owned, off the torn banners and knickknacks displayed on the walls and shelves. He looked down at his desk. Placed upon it was a crystal decanter filled with the best cognac he could afford. The two cups, made from refined glass, were more expensive.
He stopped playing.
He couldn't stop his hands from shaking.
A young man, too young, quietly entered the door. Following closely was a young, silver-haired girl, not even in her teens. And with a face, pale as a sheet, followed a wide and bearded gentleman. Reynard had recognized him but did not know his name.
"Monsieur Reynard, I presume. (Please, don't stop playing because of me,)" The youth said, motioning for him to continue.
Reynard's mouth twitched as he stared at his shaking hand holding the violin bow.
The youth spoke the Old Language flawlessly. His skin was white as if he'd never labored a day in the sun. Wet blood dripped down his leather armor.
It was as if he were a noble out of a political painting on war. Beautiful. Untouchable. Covered in the blood of commoners.
"Pardon me, sir. My hands have lost ze melody," Reynard gently turned, returning his violin and bow to its stand. He could feel the youth's gaze, heated upon his back.
"A shame, Monsieur Reynard. Truly a shame," the golden-eyed youth closed his eyes and shook his head.
He pointed, "(Mister Gilebert, fetch me a chair.)"
"(Of course, young master. Right away, young master,)" the older man hurried out of the room, leaving the door open. A man had fallen right outside of the door, his eyes were rolled back and wet blood spilled messily from his mouth.
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He mentally reviewed what nobleman he could have possibly offended. He and his men hadn't arranged any risky scores in weeks. His mouth twisted in anxiety as he again stared at the two drinking glasses on the desk.
Hesitantly, Reynard spoke, "(May I know how to address you, sir?)"
He couldn't refer to the youth as 'young master', as Gilebert did. He was still the leader of an organization and had to hold onto whatever little pride he could, so he wouldn't look weak.
"Tycondrius. Monsieur le Baron."
Tycondrius did not offer a hand in greeting. Gilebert returned with a bloodied chair, draping a cloth over it and placing it at the desk, and promptly excusing himself afterward.
"(Smart man. His parents are proud of him. You'd do well to nurture such a talent.)" Tycon sat down without being offered.
Reynard cleared his throat as he tried to calm his painfully thumping heart, "(May I ask... what business you have with me, sir baron?"
The youth smiled but offered no response.
This meeting was not at all going how Reynard was expecting. The baron had entered his compound without a word of warning and had savagely beaten and crippled his men. He'd even tossed around severed heads. The man feared nothing. And now that he'd entered Reynard's office... there was no yelling. There were no threats or harsh words. There was only the man's cold demeanor... and a seething and barely-contained anger hidden behind a smile. Reynard would have almost preferred naked violence.
Reynard swallowed hard, his mouth an arid wasteland, "(May I ask... How I've offended you?")
The youth smiled wider, revealing his teeth, "(I'm so happy that you've asked the question I've been waiting for.)"
Sweat began to drip down Reynard's forehead, his body hot from fear, "(I'll punish whoever has offended you, sir baron-- Or their parents, or their children. I can make anyone in this city disappear.)"
The young girl leaned over the desk to stare at the Reynard's miserable, sweating and babbling form, "What's he saying, Boss? Is he begging for his life?"
Reynard's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Was the baron here to kill him? To torture him and make him suffer?
"Monsieur Reynard, I apologize for troubling you, but I'd like to continue this conversation in the common tongue. I am trying to teach my young associate how to do business."
Reynard looked to the silver-haired girl with a new fear, "Yes, of course, Monsieur le Baron. There is no trouble, no trouble at all."
"Leadership, Monsieur Reynard..." The baron crossed his legs, "--is like being a father to many children."
Reynard did not like where the baron was taking the conversation.
Tycon continued, "If the father finds their child is lacking... What do we do?"
Reynard bowed his head close to the desk, the pressure overwhelming. He had built his organization with his own hands, on a mountain of fallen men, allies and enemies. With his work still unfinished, he did not want to die. "I... I am so... so, sorry, Monsieur le--"
"Answer. the question. Reynard," Tycon firmly repeated himself, shocking Reynard into silence.
"...The child... is punished, Monsieur le Baron."
"Ve~ry good, Monsieur," Tycon lightly applauded. Slow. Measured claps, "And if we were out walking..."
Tycon took a deep breath and spoke measuredly, "(You see a parent and their many children. They run in the streets. They steal from the market stalls. They take the gods' names in vain.)"
The youth watched Reynard's eyes for comprehension, "(They *cry* because they are scolded by other adults. And the parent does nothing?) What do we do? Who do we blame?"
Reynard stared blankly at the glasses on the desk, "It is... the fault of the parent."
"It is a harsh truth in this world, Monsieur Reynard. The sins of the child can be seen as the failure of the parent. And that, Monsieur, is the issue I have come to address with you, today."
Tycon uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, "And that is why I cannot, in good faith, merely ask you to reprimand your men."
Reynard slumped over in his chair. He shook his head with moistened eyes and sat back up to speak, "I'm... sorry, Monsieur. I--"
Tycon tilted his head and raised his hand to stop the gang boss, "What do we do, Monsieur Reynard? What. Do. We. Do? When a parent cannot properly educate their children?"
Reynard's eyes went out of focus as he searched inwardly for an answer that would not get him killed.
"Young Lady?" The baron looked to the silver-haired girl, "Do you have an answer?"
Smilingly, she stared at Reynard, "We break every fucking bone in his body."
The baron pat the girl on the head, ruffling her short, silvery hair, "Oh, children. So innocent and straightforward. You and I, Monsieur Reynard, we are adults. And we cannot give in so easily to our base desires."
Reynard's heart had stopped. Only with the baron's gentle words, did his basic functions continue, "What... can I do?"
"Simple, Monsieur. I will teach you." The baron stood, which prompted Reynard to bolt out of his chair, standing rigidly and upright. Slowly, the baron took the glass decanter and poured the dark liquid into the two glasses, "I will contract you, provide you with funding. You will adopt a higher standard for yourself and for the men who follow you. They will be loyal to you because you are just, fair, and generous."
"And they will fear you." The baron lifted a glass, "Because you fear me."