Once they were all on the Scarlet Wind, Augustus was able to introduce himself using his own words. “I would just like to say I hope that we will make a good team, and I will endeavour to make sure your transition to your new life is as pleasant as I can make it.”
“Thank you. I hope I will be able to aid you in your life and your business,” Marielle DeCastellian replied.
Marielle’s belongings were still being loaded. A wagon was drawn behind their carriage on the way to the docks, piled high with crates. Augustus guided her, hand-in-hand to her quarters. A room, although generous accommodations on a ship, were a far cry from the room she left behind. It contained a bed, a desk, and a chamber pot in the corner. To the side was a room for her attendants, Cressa and Sara, that just contained bunk beds.
Sara was a house slave of the Jorel family. She was assigned to be Marielle’s primary grooming attendant, which meant her duties were bathing, dressing, and anything else of a personal nature. Because they were so close in age, with Marielle being only a few years younger than Sara, they ended up as friends. Or as close to friends as two could be, with such a divide in positions. Unbeknownst to Marielle, Castor had insisted, during the harvest festival four years ago, that whoever was her closest slave should remain with her, to help her transition to her new life. Sara was raven haired, with pale white skin, despite her duties which required her to be out in the sun on occasion. A bit taller than Marielle, but still shorter than Augustus. Marielle thought Sara could look pretty if she cleaned herself up, but she either didn’t have the time or simply didn’t want to. Usually, she would use her long hair to hide her face, and would purposefully choose oversized clothing. Always slouching her shoulders, and hiding herself away when she wasn't needed.
Once the crates were loaded, the ship rowed out of the dock and set sail. As Marielle's two attendants were busy setting up her quarters, she went to have breakfast with her husband in the captain's quarters.
Castor performed the opening ritual, with the captain playing the part of the lord of the manor. Once they were done the meal could truly begin.
"Given the winds, it should only take two nights to get to Venocia," said Yander DeMerio, the captain of the Scarlet Wind.
"Marielle, you haven't been to Venocia before have you?" Augustus asked.
"No. Other than Jorland, I've only been to Honland," Marielle answered while looking at her food.
"You know, before I left on this voyage, I had never left greater Venocia. That is, the city of Venocia, some farmlands, the mountains, and the lakes atop those mountains, from which the aqueducts flow," said her husband.
"Oh, I wouldn't have guessed that. But from what I've heard, one wouldn't have to leave Venocia. I've heard it has everything."
"So you've been told about Venocia? I'm glad to hear that," Augustus nodded.
"Of course I've been told about Venocia. The tutor you sent would tell me tales! She described the bustling streets, the huge ports, and the temples of Aurelia and Ophelia, buildings that are marvels of architecture." Marielle was confused. How Augustus could have fathomed that she hadn't learned about Venocia in the past four years.
“Well, the temple of Ophelia is more known for its beautiful garden. That temple is actually quite plain, in comparison, to the temple of Aurelia,” said Augustus.
Augustus smiled and looked over to Castor. Castor must have seen some signal, as the same smile appeared on his face. "Have you heard about the great pillars of Venocia?" Castor asked.
Marielle thought through all she had learned about Venocia looking for a clue about any pillars. "No," she said, finally giving up. "I wonder why Cressa wouldn't mention buildings that important."
"Well, they aren't buildings really. The great pillars of Venocia are, like, philosophies and beliefs that form the bedrock of Venocia! They form the foundation of the true greatness of the city. Even though you haven't heard of them, would you like to guess?" Castor asked.
Marielle brainstormed her guesses. Money? Loyalty? Family? It's probably family, she thought. "Family?" she said, and everyone burst out laughing.
"No, none of them are family. Good guess," said Castor, wiping tears from his eyes. His laughing, however, contradicted the sentiment that it was, in fact, a good guess.
"Money?" This time they didn't laugh.
"No, none of them are money. That was a good guess," Castor said, having composed himself from the laughing fit. "Augustus, why don't you help her out? Name one of the great pillars."
Augustus paused and started counting on his fingers, mouthing the words while recounting in his mind the four pillars. "I'm gonna go with bureaucracy," said the grinning Augustus.
"Yes, bureaucracy is one of the great pillars. You do well Master Augustus," said Castor. Then turning back to Marielle, asked, "Would you care to take another guess?"
"The senate!" She was confident this time. An extrapolation from bureaucracy. Politics and education were probably pillars too.
"No," Castor said, as they all laughed. Except for Marielle. "Augustus, tell Marielle the other three pillars."
"Bureaucracy, bureaucracy and ... bureaucracy. They're all bureaucracy!" Augustus laughed while rubbing Marielle's shoulder in sympathy. "Don't be mad. It's a very old and very common joke in Venocia."
When the laughing had settled down, Marielle forced a smile.
"What do you think of the food?" Augustus asked. It was the standard breakfast she knew; eggs, bread and vegetables.
"It's delicious. It's what I would normally have for breakfast in Jorland," Marielle replied.
"Yes, we restocked the supplies overnight in the port. For a few weeks at sea, it was nothing but oats and fish," said Augustus. "But we did get these two giant turtles which we were told would taste amazing. I thought maybe it could be the first meal we ate after we got married. But, we just wanted to try one when we had so little variety. Once we knew how good it was, we couldn't resist eating the other one. I apologize about that, but there will be plenty of splendid dishes for you to try once we get to Venocia."
Marielle thanked them for the meal then headed back to her quarters alone. She was glad to finally be alone. The whole wedding had been nerve-wracking. In particular, the consummation was embarrassing, awkward and physically uncomfortable. But at least it was over, she thought to herself. Seeing the room was mostly ready, she laid down and slept half the day.
For the rest of the voyage, Marielle would eat her meals with her husband in the captain's quarters. Augustus always acted warmly towards her, making an active effort to include her in the obscure topics of conversations they would have while eating. Constantly looking over to make sure she was interested, and if he thought she was lost, would pause the conversation, and attempt to explain the nuances of the discussion. Between meals, she would walk on the deck, gazing out in marvel at the views of the ocean, or at a ship passing by in the distance, or a settlement on the shore that was barely distinguishable from the surrounding landscape. When she got tired of that, she returned to her quarters where Cressa would attempt lessons.
The morning the captain predicted, the Scarlet Wind caught sight of its homeport of Venocia. Marielle rushed to the bow of the ship to gaze out at the city she had heard so much about. It was indeed a massive city. Houses filled the visible shore. To the sides there was the sprawl of villas with their large estates. In the center, where they were headed, the concentration of buildings gradually increased. Marielle could spot buildings that were six stories tall, and among them, the tall spire of a majestic temple that she knew must be the temple of Aurelia she heard about. Once they were closer to shore, the port dominated the view, where seemingly hundreds of ships docked, with room for a hundred more.
The Scarlet Wind furled it’s sails as the crewmen scrambled below deck to ready the oars. Another crewman walked up near Marielle at the bow of the ship with a large horn. He would blow it, causing a thunderous sound, whenever another ship would get too close. Gently and slowly, the Scarlet Wind gently rowed into port.
Augustus appeared in the turquoise robe he wore during the wedding in Jorland. “Castor will get us a carriage, and send a messenger to my family for us. We will head to the main house of the Castellian family, where my immediate family, except my brothers, lives. We will travel by carriage, but we must make two stops. The magistrate building, for something you need not concern yourself with; and the temple of Aurelia, to confirm the time for our wedding ceremony at the temple. Since we will be stopping in the temple, you must wear the religious dress that I gifted you.”
Marielle went and got changed, and as she returned found Augustus talking with a man she didn’t recognize. The two of them were standing apart from the rest of the crew on an empty part of the deck, facing away from everyone else. “I’m back,” Marielle said, and Augustus turned around in a startle.
“Oh, allow me to introduce my wife, the lovely Marielle DeCastellian,” Augustus said as the unknown man gave a bow. “Marielle, this is my second cousin, Vernius Castellian. He was managing the docks today.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Marielle said, giving a bow.
“No. The pleasure is all mine. I assure you, ” said Vernius.
“I would love for you two to have a familial chat at some point, but today will be a busy day. First day back in port, you know how it is.” Augustus said with a hurried pace. “So, let us deal with the import tax.” Augustus glanced at Marielle to make sure she was paying attention. “Marielle, you'll need to learn all this, so pay attention.”
“Yes, the aprivo tax. Cressa taught me.”
“Vernius, explain what will happen to Marielle.”
“Of course. A man from the import ministry will arrive and come aboard. He will check below decks and document all the cargo. Once that is filled out can we begin unloading the ship, with some exceptions. They will take that list back to the ministry, and use it to calculate the aprivo tax based on a table, updated yearly, of the value of each good. I’ve never seen the table, but I hear it’s volumes and volumes of books. If it’s not in the table, they will approximate the value based on other entries in the table, and with the consultation of a relevant craftsman, the tax will be charged based on the estimate. But, then the next year, the updated table would have an entry for what the new item actually sold for. Every so often, though, a product will appear that’s so different there’s no way to estimate its value. In that case, the inspector will create a ‘letter of taxation’ and that specific good will be assigned an observer. The observer will then be present at all negotiations on the sale of the product. And at the point of sale, the observer will take the tax.” Vernius smiled as if all he said was the simplest thing in the world. “I only mention the last bit because Augustus has told us there is a new spice, kisum as he called it, that will surely be requiring a letter of taxation.”
Marielle nodded with a blank expression. She looked to Augustus for assistance, but Augustus wasn’t paying attention. Instead staring off into the distance.
“Oh, don’t worry. The only thing you need to know is that selling the spice, the kisum will take a while, as each negotiation to sell it will need to be scheduled with the import ministry.”
“The carriage is ready for us. The wagons can be loaded without us here, and will head directly to the Castellian estate,” Heratio said, appearing from the gangway.
Marielle, Augustus, Heratio, Sara and Cressa entered the carriage, and they set off through the cobbled streets. The ride was much smoother than the dirt roads in Jorland, where Marielle would sometimes be tossed lightly into the air just from passing over a bump.
Marielle watched the streets pass by, each one of them filled with crowds. The streets were lined on each side by buildings taller than any she had seen before. “There are so many people,” said Marielle, looking at Augustus. But Augustus just stared out into the street. “So, we are headed to the magistrate building, right? I believe I’ve heard of magistrates before, but would you mind explaining it to me?” Marielle asked Augustus, but he didn’t respond in the slightest.
“A magistrate is an agent of the law. They have the authority to order people around and declare punishments for people who break the laws of the city. The building is their administrative office, where they keep documents pertaining to their actions. See, when a magistrate invokes their authority they have a responsibility to document what orders they gave, and what punishments they gave out and the reasons for doing so,” explained Cressa, once she saw that Augustus had no interest in the conversation.
“Why would we need to go there?” Marielle asked, again directing the question directly at Augustus. She had grown fond of their rapport during meals, and the way Augustus would carefully explain things to her.
“If you don’t mind, I would prefer silence right now.” Augustus didn’t even turn his head.
They all sat in a heavy silence as the carriage drove along. Marielle with her head down as she tried to figure out what she did that made Augustus’ demeanour change so much. She looked over to each other passenger in turn, but their glares back all told the same thing, that they would not dare be the first to speak.
At last, the carriage creaked to a halt. Wordlessly, Augustus picked up a few documents that were sitting next to him and left the carriage with Heratio following. They entered into a large building made of large expertly cut marble blocks. The building design was ornate, with relief art decorating the front, depicting scenes that Marielle has no context for.
“Did I do something wrong?” Marielle asked, allowing the concern to show.
“You mustn’t nag Master Augustus,” said Cressa. “Yes, you should focus on being independent. Master Augustus wants a wife, not a child. A partner who can help him enact his business plans.”
“I guess you are right, ” Marielle said while looking out the window.
After some time Augustus and Heratio reappeared and got back in the carriage. There was silence, once again, as the carriage moved towards the next destination. In the silence, all Marielle could do was look out the window, watching the people pass by. She looked at the details of the city. The clothing of the commoners was impressive, most having quality linens that would rival her nicer clothing back in Jorland. All along the streets were shops, selling a variety of goods, some she had never seen before. Gradually the clothing became more uniform in colour, turning turquoise, white, and blue. She looked up and saw the majestic spire of a massive temple. An arched stained glass window depicted Aurelia, the god of the ocean, leading a group of people, with Aurelia pointing off at a depiction of the bay of Venocia. Except the city of Venocia wasn’t there.
The temple’s architecture was lavish. Every part of the building had exquisite detail work. It must have taken a generation to build, Marielle thought to herself. The carriage stopped in front of the main entrance, which had similar relief artwork to the magistrate building.
“Marielle, you’ll come in this time,” Augustus said, getting a new package of documents from beside him. He opened the door and exited the carriage. She followed, although with some surprise that Heratio didn’t even try to move from his seat. Maybe it would have been insulting to bring a bodyguard into a religious temple. Augustus reached out his hand, to take her’s, as she descended the steps carefully.
The inside of the temple was even more lavish. There were paintings lining the walls with various depictions of the ocean. One of trading vessels at sea, another of a whale springing out of the water, and another was just the waves rolling into a beach. They walked down the long hallway, and into the main hall. It was a massive room, in the middle was a huge pool with a depth that would wet you up to your stomach if you attempted to wade through it. In the pool were lily pads, and the floating bulbs of flowers, for decoration. The room was so large it needed fat supporting pillars spaced around the room, many jutting up from within the pool. Despite the pillars, the room was well lit by the large arched stained glass windows. Marielle glanced behind her to see the reverse of the window she saw from the carriage. The other windows depicted other scenes, one of Aurelia being plucked out of the ocean by a white-robed figure, and another of Aurelia addressing the Senate of Venocia.
They continued, circumventing the pool, in silence. On the opposite side of the room from where they entered was a door. Augustus opened it, and inside was a much smaller room with a man in a turquoise robe sitting behind a desk. The man noticed them enter immediately and greeted them with a smile. “May the blessings of Aurelia be upon you.”
“May the blessings of Aurelia be upon you. I am humbly, Augustus DeCastellian, and I’m here to confirm a wedding, ” Augustus announced.
“Of course! I recognized you when I saw you. And is this the bride?” The man behind the desk said, gesturing to Marielle.
“Yes, she was Marielle Jorel, daughter of Count Anthony Jorel, of Jorland. A ceremony was held in Jorland. Held by a priest of Cyril. As she is marrying into the Castellian family we will need a marriage ceremony here in the temple with a priest of Aurelia.”
The man behind the desk pulled out a large book and started flipping through the pages. “Since your marriage was arranged, I believe your family already had a date booked. Yes, here it is. Two weeks from today. Hilday, the twelfth of Aurdos. But, oh, this is unfortunate.”
“What is unfortunate?” Augustus asked.
“You are supposed to present yourself with your wife a month before the date of the wedding, to verify that the wedding is to take place. It appears you are too late, and on that date, the main hall was given to another couple, as an upgrade.” He glanced down to carefully read the document he was holding. “I recognize these names. They are nowhere near as prestigious as you two. But I remember them hearing the news that their wedding would be taking place in the main hall. They were ecstatic with joyous energy. I would do anything for the Castellian family, though, because our temple has such a close connection with your family. It will be a burden I must bear to break such terrible news to them.” The man looked down, acting out the sorrow.
“Then I must compensate you directly for the burden my negligence has placed on you.” Augustus reached into his robe, and brought out two venti coins and placed them on the desk. “For being so kind as to keep the date we were registered to.”
The man quickly reached under his desk to fetch a conveniently placed scale and coin-standard weight. He weighed the two coins, both of them passing the test. “I thank you graciously for this unnecessary gift. Your family has always been so generous with the temple.”
Augustus handed an envelope to the man and he started reading it.
“I see. This is a document of consummation. I take it by you handing this to me, you do not want to document a separate consummation here?” the man said with a frown. “It is quite important that your god witness your consummation, so that she may fully bless your union. We have a perfect place on the beach. And these names you have as witnesses, they are nowhere near the stature that someone as important as yourself should have.”
“I do not wish to put our child-making on display again. This document will suffice.” Augustus turned now to Marielle. “I have no plans to challenge the marriage.”
“Very well, then I wish you a blessed union.”
Marielle and Augustus left the room, back into the empty main hall, and away from the priest. “You didn’t greet the priest!” Augustus said, his brow furrowed as he kept walking. “You should have said 'may the blessings of Aurelia be upon you' when he greeted us. It’s the same tradition as with a priest of Cyril so I assumed you would know that.”
“I’m… I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to interrupt,” Marielle said.
“It doesn’t matter. He wasn’t the head priest, I don’t even know who it was. So it was an unimportant mistake. But the small mistakes are insidious in their own way, being so little to breed complacency. If you aren’t vigilant they will pile up and multiply.” Augustus stopped and turned to look directly at Marielle. “I see now how ill-prepared you are. Right now, you are nothing but a liability to me! A disaster awaits us at my family’s manse!” His eyes were filled with genuine anger.
They continued walking until a passing man in a turquoise robe stopped them. “Aurelia blesses you, ” the man said as he hugged Marielle. “The waters of Aurelia are always a blessing here.”
Augustus turned around in confusion, but when the hug was over he understood. “Oh, you’re crying.” They continued walking and left the temple. “In the temple, crying is a type of prayer. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. But you must stop it before we go to the Castellian manse, and you must make every effort not to show any of your emotions while we are there.”