They were quickly greeted at the door by a servant, a gray-haired lady Augustus knew quite well. She was Robillia, the caretaker of his uncle’s oldest son Mallius. “Welcome Master Augustus, I will lead you two to a waiting room until Master Pascal is free to see you.”
Augustus and Heratio followed Robillia to a small room with a table and chairs. The walls were covered in books. She left, then returned with boiling water so that Augustus could make his own tea. “How has Mallius been?” the sitting Augustus asked the standing Robillia, as he took out his small metal container filled with loose tea leaves.
“He has been well,” she said with a smile. “He spends his time in the garden with his new pet dog. And I know he will be very happy when he sees you again.”
Augustus sipped on the tea a bit and browsed through the books, searching for something interesting to read. The wait stretched on, long enough for Augustus to get himself engrossed in a passage describing customs of a place he was unfamiliar with. The people of the Gale, nomadic and territorial. The land they live on is rocky and unsuitable for agriculture, so they keep flocks of goats that are corralled by their trained dogs. Every year the many tribes in the area will meet together forming a temporary tent city by Gale lake during the coldest part of the year. The land doesn’t experience the same winter as the lands to the north, but it gets cold enough there to form a frost across the land, and making their nomadic lifestyle particularly harsh. At this city, any territorial disagreements are settled either by the council of elders or a fight to submission, which sometimes end up being fights to the death. Starting to get interesting, Augustus thought as he read, but the door swung open and a different house servant entered the room.
“Master Pascal is free and is waiting in the reception room,” the new servant bowed. “Would you please follow me.” Augustus shut the book and left in on the table for Robillia to put away and followed the servant with Heratio trailing them.
Pascal was sitting in the modestly decorated room looking through some ledgers. “Please have a seat,” Pascal said closing his book. As soon as he did the house servant picked it up from the table and retreated from the room.
“Thank you for welcoming me into your home on such short notice,” said Augustus while bowing slightly before taking a seat. Heratio stood vigilantly in attendance.
“It’s no problem. I am glad to see my dear nephew,” said Pascal with a warm smile and a joyous inflection. Augustus surmised the sentiment was genuine. The two of them had always been on good terms, and that was helped greatly when Augustus started spending time with his son and reading to the poor soul. “I apologize for making you wait. My business with the magician’s guild this morning ran longer than expected.”
“Please, your apology is unnecessary.”
The two started with an introductory chat. Pascal inquired about his new wife, how they were settling into their new home, the preparation for the wedding, and of how the voyage went. Augustus made sure to never lie, but at the same time to never give more information than necessary, particularly about the voyage. He just said something vague about it being an interesting expedition and that seemed to be enough to satisfy his uncle.
“Let’s get straight to the point then. Given what happened while you were away, I have a good notion as to why you wanted to speak with me. So, just ask your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.” Pascal leaned back in his chair and threw out his arms. The motion reminded Augustus of his father, Pascal had a stark resemblance to his older brother. He was a bit less wrinkled, his hair a slightly more vibrant brown colour, and just a bit taller.
“I wasn’t here when the convocation took place. I haven’t checked the records yet, so I would first like to know who you and your family voted for.” Augustus searched for a look of surprise or shame, but none appeared on Pascal’s face. It was as if he was just asked what was for breakfast, no reaction.
“I and all but two of my children voted for you,” said Pascal.
“Why did those two children vote for Giovannus?”
“You’d be better off asking them. I will say that I never instructed my family on how to vote.”
“Was there anything suspicious about my father’s death?” Again Augustus searched Pascal’s face for a reaction. Pascal furrowed his brow and his stare linger on direct eye contact for a noticeable length of time.
“No,” Pascal said slowly. He took a deep breath before continuing. “The magistrates investigated the death, but nothing suspicious was turned up. I personally had no suspicions. But I take it from that question you suspect your brother?”
“Yes, I do.” Augustus nodded keeping his chin up and returning Pascal’s stare. There was no smile, nor was there a frown on his face, just a stern look of determination.
“That’s quite the accusation. What leads you to that suspicion?”
Augustus smiled at the question. “Because I know my brother. When my ship docked in the harbour, I was told of my father’s death. That was the first thing Vernius told me, and before he spoke any more words, in my mind his script was already formed. I knew the words before the spoke them. They had called the election in my absence, and Giovannus had miraculously won, despite my father’s intentions. The script being confirmed cemented my suspicion into a certainty. I will tell you now more about the script. You can ask my mother and she will tell you I never inquired about a payment from the Castellian fund. I never asked Vernius either. Why? I have just returned from a long voyage, surely my finances must be strained! So why did I never ask?”
“Because there is no payment. If it is true that you never inquired, I’ll go ahead and confirm it for you. Giovannus hasn’t authorized any payments since he has become head of the family.”
“Of course he hasn’t. It’s a simple deduction to make if you know his motivations. He wants to minimize my options, so he’s trying to starve me of coin.”
“I disagree,” Pascal said leaning forward and tilting his head. “He can only starve you of coin at the expense of starving himself any everyone else of coin. If his motivation was to be head of the family, then if anything he would increase the payments. This drought of coin will put him at odds with broad sections of the family.”
“That’s only a problem for him if he is worried about losing the next election. I don’t think he plans on having to defend his title from me at a convocation. I think he would rather settle the matter in a more permanent fashion. Cladius has no desire for responsibility. With me out of the way, as long as he runs the family semi-competently he will hold the position for life.”
“Do you expect me to believe he killed my brother and plans on killing you based just from him not releasing funds from the Castellian trust?”
“Suppose you are at a gambling hall, playing dice. You keep losing, then a man walks in and says, ‘these dice are loaded. They are weighted on the side of the one.’ The game dealer refuses to let you inspect the dice but you do remember the dice landing on the one a disproportionate amount. How much do you believe that stranger?”
“Well, I definitely wouldn’t return to that establishment. That’s for sure.”
“That’s right. How was the stranger so able to predict what happened? The only explanation is he knew the cause. See, you shouldn’t believe it because he hasn’t released the coin, you should believe it because I was able to predict it so easily. The only way I would be able to predict his actions is by understanding his motives. I’m asking you to trust me.”
“You know I always favoured you.” Pascal smiled fondly, his eyebrows raised as he looked averted his gaze upwards. “Even before my brother told me he preferred you as his successor. I know you aren’t lying. I will do what I can to help you, but I will not go about spreading your suspicion around in the hopes of gaining allies for you.”
“Tell me of the family then. Have you heard of any rumblings of dissatisfaction?”
“Despite what I said earlier, I haven’t. But these past months must have been difficult for the younger members of the family, who haven’t had a chance to establish themselves and not having savings to dip into. I’m sume there must be some discontent people, you need only search for them. Even some of the older members of the family spend coins as soon as they get their hands on it.”
“It’s possible they are all receiving loans."
Pascal frowned and moved his head back in revulsion. “I thought you were better educated than that. They wouldn’t be able to get loans of an appropriate size, at least not the young ones. They would have nothing to borrow against. You can’t borrow against the family name, and they have no assets to put up as collateral. No usurer would offer a loan of that size on word alone.”
“But what if they didn’t get the loan from a usurer? What if Giovannus provided the loan?”
“Giovannus wouldn’t have the funds. And he wouldn’t be able to use the Castellian funds either.”
“This is just a hunch. A wild guess, if you will. But he could have allied himself with interests outside the family. They would provide the loans, to be repaid by favourable business dealings.”
Pascal’s eyes opened wide in shock. They both knew, if that were true there would be dire consequences for the family. The outside party would use their power over Giovannus to slowly drain the Castellian family dry.