Pascal leaned forward in his chair, elbows on the table and his forearms formed a triangle with one hand covering the other fist, obscuring the view of his mouth. His eyes held an intense stare as he spoke, "So what is your plan? You plan to depose him, right? Or is it maybe to run? If you cower before him, he will likely welcome you into his new administration as a competent agent."

"I won't explain the reason, but I don't think he would accept my obedience as genuine. It might be a mistake in his maneuvering, but I feel forced to either depose him or abscond from the city. Obviously I would prefer to depose him, and take the position I have been endeavouring towards throughout my education, but I won't rule anything out."

A house servant entered the room pushing a service cart that carried the various foods and wine that would be their lunch. A large platter of an assortment of meats, cheeses, and loaves of bread, with a side plate with pickled vegetables. Heratio stepped forward and started loading the two plates with food and placing the meals in front of the two seated. As always, the host started eating first, making a show of biting into each individual piece on his plate before Augustus began eating.

"Bring me a bottle of wine," said Pascal to Heratio. Heratio picked a bottle at random and opened it, then poured a glass for Pascal. When he went to place the glass for Augustus, Augustus covered the top and smiled.

"I'm fine with just water," said Augustus. "I have some other things to attend to today."

"To each their own." Pascal took a large sip from his glass and continued eating.

Augustus savoured the meal. The meats and cheeses were of a significantly higher quality than waited for him at home. His uncle hadn't needed to tighten his belt. The quarterly payment to members of the main family was generous enough that there was plenty left over after covering even extravagant household expenses. In addition to Pascal's savings, Augustus knew he had some other business ventures, although he was unsure of the details.

When he was younger and he visited, he would hear clues about Pascal's business. Mallius was an open book, all you needed to do was hold a sweet cake and ask him questions and he would tell you all he knew, however, it wasn't much. It clearly had to do with the Magician's Guild, and Augustus' sleuthing discovered information about some expedition to the north. Exactly how much capital he had access to however seemed to be a closely guarded secret.

"Speaking of loans," said Augustus carefully. Broaching the subject with the same delicacy he would employ when trying to saddle a wild horse. "Could you extend one to me?"

"No." It was a cold and brutal response that left no hint that negotiation was possible. "Do you know why? I shouldn't have to explain it to you." Augustus had expected that response, but the downside was minimal enough to take the risk of asking.

"If it is as I say, that Giovannus and I are irrevocably opposed, then you would be risking openly displaying allegiance to me. If I were to lose the battle, the blowback to you and your family could be devastating. And so far, I haven't proven I can win the fight."

"And asking for a loan isn't exactly filling me with confidence at your prospects. The advantage in these types of struggles has a way of compounding. Everyone wants to be on the winning side. You may have only lost the last election by a slim margin, but if an election were called now, that slim margin will be fatter than your cousin Cretinus. Don't expect even your allies to openly act on your behalf until you take the advantage."

"Would you help me in a more subtle way then?" Augustus said with the same tone as his previous request. "I need you to spread some information for me while concealing the source."

"What is this information?"

"I have made a change to my final testament. All my inheritance will go to my wife and I have written letters to be read in front of the Senate and council of Magistrates." Augustus inhaled a deep breath, pausing for a moment for dramatic effect. "The letter speaks of my suspicions that not only was my father killed by Giovannus but also that I suspect my own death was caused by Giovannus. Further, it claims that Giovannus is being extorted by a foreign kingdom."

Pascal shook his head then sat back in his chair. After a moment he chuckled to himself and smiled. "You said before that you suspected entities outside the family of influencing him, yes here you say foreign kingdom. I assume you have no proof."

"I don't. But we both know this speaks to the heart of the fear of the Senate. These letters would set the Senate and the Magistrates against the family. 'Venocia is a city that can't feed itself.' The most popular argument in the Senate. How many famous speeches begin with those exact words?" Every merchant in the city knew the words.

Hundreds of years ago another family had a large port business, larger even than the Castellian port business. But the succession of the business was unclear and a vicious battle ensued that tore the company apart. The connections of the family disintegrated. The result was a famine in the city, that led to riots, and that led to the bloody deaths of numerous Senators. When it was over, the Senate set to make sure that never happened again. After that, all businesses vital to the Republic of Venocia were forcibly placed in trusts with approved documents detailing exactly the rules of succession. Each family had slightly different rules for their trust, but the broad strokes were similar. They were all designed to put the most capable family member at the head, and increase the influence of the family.

"It's a defensive move. When he finds this out it should stop him from aiming for your head. Your death would be a bigger liability than your continued existence. However, it won't curry you any favours in the family."

"That's why I'm asking you to spread the information. If it comes from me, they will believe it too easily. If it were to spread instead as a rumour then I could simply deny it. They shouldn't be able to confirm or deny the veracity of that rumour until I'm dead. It would be effective at its purpose while softening the downsides."

"Alright," said Pascal. "By tomorrow evening, it'll be spread about as a hot topic of conversation. They'll whisper about it to each other at the dinner party where Giovannus will hear it. Anything else you need from me?"

"Just to listen out for anything I could use."

"I'm always listening."

The current business was settled so they finished the rest of their meal then went to visit Mallius in the courtyard. He was pulling up water from the well and emptying it into a large tub. At the sounds of footsteps, he turned his head and his face lit up with joy. A bright enthusiastic smile on his face as he shouted, "Auggy!"

He was a grown man, older than Claudius, but possessing the mind of a child. His face was childlike already and his penchant for sweets had given him pudgy cheeks. Cursed by Horus. Normally, when babies are seen to be born with a curse, the baby is given to the temple of Aurelia and they are given the everlasting baptism that cleanses the soul but leaves the body vacant to be buried or burned. Some might consider Pascal a sentimental fool for not doing that, instead, he raised the boy as best he could, hiring caretakers and accepting the mark of shame that came with raising him.

Mallius quickly rose from his kneeling position and sprinted over to Augustus, giving him a thunderous hug. He lifted him in the air, holding Augustus tightly against his chest, then dropping him suddenly. Augustus managed the landing safely, but it was a distance, Mallius was taller than Heratio and plumper.

"You're back! Auggy!" said Mallius. "Did you bring any sweets?"

"He did," said Pascal revealing something wrapped in cloth. He carefully opened it up to reveal the treat, some pieces of cake. Mallius quickly went at them with both hands, stuffing his face eagerly. They were quickly gone, the only traces left a few crumbs on the cloth and on Mallius clothing.

"Thank you Auggy!" Mallius embraced Augustus once more.

"Your welcome, your welcome. That's enough hugging."

"Mallius, hold onto my hand," said Robillia, and Mallius put Augustus down then did as she requested. "Master Augustus, we were just in the middle of collecting water, would you like to join us?"

Pascal left them to mingle with each other, retreating to the house. Robillia led Mallius back to the well where he continued his work. The slow process of pulling a full bucket up from the depths. As he did Augustus told the tale of his voyage, except edited with large omissions. It instead focused on the details of sailing a ship he had learned, and descriptions of the fauna that grew on the island. Mallius never interrupted, just worked diligently with a smile on his face. This was usually how it went when Augustus visited, he would talk, or read a book aloud, as Mallius was put to some simple task. Mallius enjoyed the task, whether it be gathering water, digging holes, or moving boxes at the warehouses, but he would always need the supervision of a caretaker.

Augustus started visiting shortly after his sister's death to avoid being at home. It was a reliable excuse, and it was convenient. He could read whatever he studied at the time, as the subject didn't matter to Mallius. As an added bonus he gained favour with Pascal, and could discreetly pry for information from Mallius.

Before Augustus could finish his story Pascal burst out of the house followed by a boy. "Augustus!" he shouted. "There's an urgent message from your mother!"

Augustus leapt to attention, eyeing the boy. The boy didn't bother with any greeting, he simply stated the message immediately. "Your servant Castor has been attacked. He is gravely wounded back at the manse."

Heratio gripped the hilt of his sword tightly and his eyes shot open. "What happened!"

Augustus didn't wait for a response to start moving, heading directly towards the manse. "Come on, we must move quickly! Boy, you will explain everything you know as we walk."

Heratio hurried after.  And once Augustus saw they were following, he quickened his pace.


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