“I don’t do this to hurt you, Arno.”
But when the rod comes down on Arno’s fingers it certainly feels like it hurts, and his father never did this when he misbehaved, so Arno’s having some trouble understanding why Monsieur de la Serre does.
“The pain is a reminder,” Monsieur de la Serre says, as though reading his mind (that is a strange quality that he does share with the late Monsieur Dorian). “When you are tempted to do something like this again, you will remember the pain, and you will learn to restrain yourself. Élise, you do not need to be present for this.”
Élise’s eyes widen, and the door, which had been open just enough for her wide eyes to be visible through the crack, quietly clicks shut.
Monsieur de la Serre brings the rod down again, and Arno flinches as it smacks his knuckles. Funny, he thinks- Élise has never mentioned being punished in such a way. Maybe it’s because she’s a girl, and Monsieur de la Serre’s own blood-daughter, and Arno is merely a boy-orphan he’s taken into his home.
Arno could protest. He could say ‘my father never did this’ or ‘stop it’, but he keeps his mouth shut.
More than one servant in the de la Serre household has cuffed him for his mischief, his silliness, and hissed, “Have you any idea how fortunate you are that Monsieur de la Serre chose to take you into this house? Have you any idea how it is for children who live on the streets of Versailles, or in Paris? Are you mad, testing your luck with these childish games?”
They say no such things to Élise, and again, Arno is reminded of one very simple fact: He is an orphan. He is without parents, without family, and as such is now reliant on the goodwill of men like Monsieur de la Serre if he is to spend his childhood and young-adulthood anywhere but on the streets.
Because, just as the servants say, the streets are not kind to children, and he is lucky to be with Monsieur de la Serre.
Still, Arno thinks, wincing as the rod comes down again, this seems a bit harsh for some spilled milk.
Alright, it was a lot of spilled milk, but in all seriousness, it was honestly an accident.
The rod comes down one more time, and Arno flinches again. The rod stings when it hits the thin skin, but it throbs after the strike, and red stripes lie across Arno’s knuckles. Monsieur de la Serre sets the rod on the table and motions for Arno to stand- the punishment is over, Dieu merci.
Monsieur de la Serre sets his hand down on Arno’s head, and it is oddly comforting, regardless of what’s transpired. “I do this for your betterment, Arno,” He says, and there is affection in his voice. “I hope you understand that someday.”
Arno nods. Less because he understands, or hopes to one day, and more because it feels like that’s what he’s supposed to do.
“Alright then, run along- and stay out of trouble, please.”
Arno retreats to the garden, where Élise is waiting. She jumps up from the grass and trots over to him. “Are you alright?”
There’s something inherently embarrassing about being punished when someone else hasn’t shared said punishment, and so Arno simply nods, holding his hands limply at his sides. The rod never struck hard enough to break skin, but the skin is still hot and throbbing. “Do you have anything cold?”
Élise bites her lip. “I can’t,” She finally says, full of regret. “My father has forbidden it.”
The pain is a lesson. Obviously Monsieur de la Serre thinks the lesson will not be learned as easily if Arno receives treatment for the welts.
“But,” Élise drawls, in her conspiratorial way, “I can distract him if you’d like to stick them in the fountain. The water won’t be cold, but it’s better than-”
“No,” Arno says quickly. “Never mind. I’ll be fine.”
Élise drops the subject and they go for a walk around the grounds, and eventually the pain recedes enough that Arno can knead the skin until the pain disappears entirely.
And he does, indeed, learn something.
Arno learns that he is not careful enough. After all, how can he be punished for something if he isn’t caught at it? For Élise is a girl, yes, and she is Monsieur de la Serre’s blood-daughter, but she is also far savvier at not being caught when she gets into her mischief (though it is still very true that Monsieur de la Serre does not punish her as he punishes Arno, and Arno feels a small pulse of anger at the unfairness of his situation, of the world, of the fact that he is an orphan now and must be treated as he is in order to have a home).
He learns to be quiet.
He learns to be fast.
And more importantly, when he does get caught at his mischief, Arno learns to manage the pain. Over time, he finds it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did that first time in Monsieur de la Serre’s study; but he still makes it out like it stings, flinches and whimpers in the right places because he knows if he doesn’t, the blows will become stronger or an alternative punishment will be doled out.
So yes, Arno does learn a lesson: How to be stealthy and quick on his feet, how to take a bit of pain for a larger benefit later on, and how to lie, make others believe what he wants them to.
Quite unintentionally, he learns almost everything necessary to be an Assassin.