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The conversation ebbed and flowed through topics of equal disinterest to Augustus. As someone rambled on and on about his peculiar interest, or niche business fact, Augustus’ mind wandered. It watched the closed windows, waiting to see the flashing of light through the slits between panes, and the muffled rumbles of thunder moments later. The band’s music was loud enough so that the sound wasn’t jarring to the guests. He thought surely his mother had asked them to play as loudly as possible due to this inclement weather.

He looked over to his wife, she had finally introduced herself to some guests and began mingling. Augustus had considered telling her the plan but, in the end, decided against it. She still needed to hold conversations, and it would be better to not have it weighing down on her. Another few flickers of light flashed through the seams of the window doors.

“Then, we went for a hike and saw it. The dovetailed raven. It’s a beautiful bird,” prattled Millius. “We also saw a couple of red sparrows. They must have a nest along that trail.”

“Oh, that’s so interesting,” said Augustus. “When I visited the Maysian Isles, I saw some wondrous birds of vibrant colours. I don’t think they matched any bird I’d seen before, they probably hadn’t been named yet.”

“Oh,” said Millius with intense interest. “Did you bring any back with you?”

“No. We were pressed for time, as you know, and it would have been too difficult to keep a caged bird on the voyage back. We probably would have just ended up eating it.”

“That’s too bad.” The look of disappointment hung prominently on Millius’ face. “I remember, one time, on a voyage up north, there was a white owl that I ordered some crewmembers to catch…”

Augustus nodded his head at reasonable intervals while scanning around the room. He saw his older brother Giovannus making the rounds. Bowing and kissing the hands of ladies, like the gentleman he always pretends to be. Those that received those bows smiled openly and competed for Giovannus’ attention. He held an ever-increasing amount of power here, a fact Augustus was particularly dismayed by. The lesser members of the family would vainly compete for high-status positions, and when it’s granted, they would become loyal. Augustus knew time was of the essence, the power in the family gradually flowed to the head of the family, that was one of the reasons he settled on acting so drastically.

Another flash of lightning, then a five-count later the thunder.

“... Alas, the darn owl got away!” Millius laughed at his own joke, whatever it was. Augustus tried his best to give a genuine laugh, but gave up half-way through and just smiled.

Out of the corner of his eye, Augustus saw his cousin Patricia walking briskly to join the conversation.

“What’s this I hear about your last testament?” Patricia asked.

“I don’t know,” he responded with a dumbfounded look. “What have you heard?”

“I heard you wrote a letter to the Senate to investigate Giovannus for your death!”

“My last testament is a private matter. I will not comment on its contents.”

“You won’t comment? Not even to say that you aren’t putting our family’s sovereignty in jeopardy?”

“You exaggerate.” Augustus shook his head.

“Exaggerate? That is exactly what will happen if there’s some letter from one of our prominent sons saying he suspects our family head of murder.” Patricia leaned forward forcing Augustus to take a step back.

“I should probably go see my wife,” said Millius as he looked at the floor. He turned and walked away.

“I will say that the family’s sovereignty is something I find deeply important. But still, I refuse to comment on my last testament. It is incredibly impolite for you to pry into such things.” Augustus put his hand up to end the conversation.

Patricia scrunched her face and stormed off to the crackling sound of thunder over the declining music. Once the music stopped completely the singer announced the start of dinner. The mass of people slowly congregated to their seats, each place having been assigned with a card folded and placed on each dinner plate. After his mother and two older brothers took their seats, Augustus sat in his assigned spot at the long table, and Marielle took her place next to him.

The servants brought out the huge platters of food. He looked over at Marielle to catch her reaction, as to her, this was surely an exotic palette of foods. Up until then since arriving in Venocia, her meals had been staples she could expect in her home. As Augustus expected, her eyes opened in wonder at what she witnessed. Fried eel, a chopped salamander with a vanilla sauce, baked vegetables that only grow in certain lands, egg soups with batter covered fishballs, salads, and even vangar pie, it was a feast to serve a variety of tastes.

The ritual began, Giovannus took the role of the guest and Julianna the host. They divided and filled the two plates in the dramatic fashion and ate in full view, as the onlookers chit chatted.

Augustus looked over to see Marielle talking gregariously with her neighbour on the opposite side, his brother Cladius. “I know the eel seems unappetizing, but trust me, it’s delicious,” said Cladius. Then he took a big gulp from his wine glass.

“I will make sure to try it,” Marielle said with her eyes transfixed on the fried eel with a blank expression. “I thought I smelled vangar pie earlier.”

“That’s a common meal in Dunlowe right?” asked Cladius. “Mother probably instructed the chef to make it specifically for your benefit.”

“If true, that’s very kind of her. A little taste of home.”

“You’ve only left your home recently, right? A bit early to be pining for nostalgia.”

“I guess that is true. I will use today to expand my tastes. Speaking of expanding tastes, did you hear about the new spice that Augustus brought back with him.”

“A new spice?” asked Cladius with newfound interest. He peered over Marielle to lock eyes with Augustus. “And our family has sole control over this?”

“For now.” Augustus knew where this was headed.

“Maybe you would be aided by a facilitator,” Cladius said with a smile that bared his greedy teeth. “I have many connections in the eatery businesses.”

“Yander and I are already working hard to explore those avenues.”

“Without a guide, it may prove to be profitable, but it will be slow going. You should accept my help. Speed up the process.”

Augustus had wanted Cladius’ help. He told no lie when he said he had connections to the eateries. He was a prominent patron of many high-class establishments, often throwing parties there where the drink would flow generously. But, he could not ask for his help. Cladius would extort a high toll for his aide, as he always did. He was a notorious parasite, latching on to any scheme he could find. Augustus knew he needed to maintain his negotiating power.

“I have connections of my own, and I have already received offers from other facilitators.”

“I’m sure none as qualified as me,” said Cladius. “There’s not a chef in the city that wouldn’t take a meeting with me. Plus, it would reflect poorly on you to use someone outside the family when there is someone so qualified and eager to assist you.”

“Only if they were offering the same rate,” replied Augustus.

“Family shouldn’t squabble over such meagre amounts. Any loss you take will eventually come around to even out, or even in your favour eventually. That’s the beauty of working with family, it’s a relationship that will last a lifetime.”

It would be tricky to deal with Cladius. If they agreed to a flat percentage, Cladius could very well just sit back lazily, adding nothing, while Augustus did all the work anyway. “How about, if we manage to sell all of the spice, through your connections, before the wedding ceremony at the temple of Aurelia, you can have a three percent commission.”

“That’s outrageous--” Cladius was interrupted by the applause completing the pre-meal ritual. Cladius turned his head to Giovannus and Julianna and quickly gave a few unenthusiastic claps. “Your wedding is only a bit over a week away. Besides, if you try to sell it that fast you won’t be able to sell it for its true worth.”

“I only wish to properly motivate you to your true potential,” said Augustus with a smile. “You are the great restauranteur of Venocia.”

“Five percent. And I’ll accept your caveat.”

“Four percent,” responded Augustus. Cladius looked insulted and thought for a moment. “Don’t play around Cladius, accept the four percent. We both know you will.”

“What if you decide not to sell a portion, just to spite me? What recourse do I have?”

“I will put it all in writing. The requirement is that you find buyers at a price I am willing to sell at, demonstrated by me selling any amount at that price. If the buyers you find are willing to pay that price or higher for the total amount I have available, then you unlock your fee, whether I sell all of it or not.”

“The fee is over the total volume or just the amount you sell?”

“I would prefer over just the amount sold. I don’t want to corner myself into having to sell all of it then and there.”

“That’s a problem. How can I feel properly motivated if I don’t have any idea how much I’ll receive at the end? I do all that work, secure a buyer or even buyers, and just have to hope I get a decent pay? Not even knowing how much you’ll fancy selling?” Cladius leaned back in his chair. Augustus knew he had a point, Cladius, although lazy and aloof, still possessed the cunning one would expect from a member of the family.

“Then, if you fulfill the conditions I laid out before, you will stay on as an agent, to receive the four percent whenever the remainder of the spice is sold.”

“That’s acceptable. Done!” They both made a motion as if they were washing their hands, except with water or soap. A gesture to signify the sealing of the deal. Once that gesture was made, they were honour bound to sign the legal contract they agreed to.

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A note from TaxReligion

I wanted to use this opportunity to ask my readers a question.  Has my writing improved?  So, let me elaborate.  I only began writing a few months ago because my hobbies got shut down because of COVID.  I wrote a bit when I was in grade school and middle school, but pretty much put down the pen since then.  The version of this story you're reading is pretty what I started with.  Since then, I've been watching Brandon Sanderson on youtube lecture about how to write, and I hope, I've been improving.  So, really my question is:  Is there a noticeable difference in quality from the first few chapters to the last few chapters?  If you comment, thanks for taking the time to give your opinion.  I like to think I have thick skin, so don't shy away from being harsh.


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TaxReligion

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