Marielle began filling her plate, prioritizing the vangar pie that took up a full quarter of the plate. She took whatever else looked familiar and a couple of pieces of eel, only to be polite, since it was recommended.
“So, Augustus, tell us of your oh so adventurous expedition,” said Giovannus from halfway across the room. The two were at different ends of the long table, most likely by the design of their hostess. “I’ve heard some things, but I would love to hear about it from a first-hand account.”
“Gladly,” said Augustus with a smile. “It was a long voyage. I was so unused to living on a ship, took a while to get used to, but my two personal attendants on the journey showed me what I needed to know. I fell into a routine, quickly enough, and soon enough I was quite at home on that ship.”
“Ah yes.” Giovannus nodded and shared a chuckle with the others at the table. “I’m sure we all remember our first expedition. My first voyage was to the north. I remember, Marcus Dayton even went with me, who, as you know, is very respected in their courts. He was an invaluable asset in navigating their politics, which are quite complicated, and an invaluable asset in helping with settling into the sea-faring life. Oh, I apologize if I interrupted you, please continue.”
“Yes, where was I? When we made it there, we encountered a problem. You see, rather than being a diplomat to the Maysian people, they have a name for themselves that I don’t recall at the moment, Marcus Dayton, who you seem to so admire, had set himself up as a tyrant to the local population.”
“A tyrant you say? That doesn’t seem like the man I knew.”
“When I got there, our expedition group and the natives were basically at each other’s throat. I was very reluctant to take any action, but if I didn’t the expedition could have very easily turned into a disaster. In the end, I had to appease the natives, so I sentenced Marcus Dayton to death. After all, it was his actions that were the cause of the tension.”
“You sentenced him to death? Yes, I had heard that in whispers coming from the crew of The Scarlet Wind, but I guess I didn’t fully believe it. Marcus was a good friend of our father, and a valuable asset. Why did you not find some way to bring him back home alive? Or did you just not think ahead? Did you react in a panic?”
“I reacted as I needed to. The problem, you see, was not only the tension between the two groups, but the liability he had saddled our family with, through his actions. He made us weak to our enemies in the Senate. If his actions got to the Senate, as they surely would have, as Giovannus said himself, he heard whispers from the crewmen, so word would have spread about what he did. I needed to make it obvious to those who would hear of it that our family did not condone his actions, such that it couldn’t be used against us. So I did something that some might see as drastic. I only acted in the family’s best interest.”
“Still, his death will affect our profits. Dealing with those northern courts will become more and more difficult over time without Marcus Dayton’s advice. I still find what you say to be quite unbelievable. I’m not saying that you would lie, never would I say that. But, if you were a lesser man, someone more devious and apt to manipulation, coming to me with such a tale, I would be forced to question the veracity. A lesser man might have made sure Marcus Dayton died, after all, that would mean more profits from not having to pay his high wages. Not to mention, the benefit of having him dead so that he could speak words in his defence, to refute claims made against him.”
“You go too far,” said Augustus. “Everyone on that ship bore witness, and none have petitioned the magistrates for a review. Castor would surely speak to the truth of what I said, if only he too wasn’t dead. Killed so suddenly, in this very building. His throat was slit by some intruder who took nothing of value. He was targeted, so boldly, on our family estate, and only a few days after he had returned from the expedition.”
“It was terrible what happened to Castor,” interjected Julianna. “I didn’t see the room myself, but I heard-tell from a servant that it was a terrible mess. Just thinking about what he told me is quite revolting. Castor was a good man, and I will miss him. The same for Marcus. We have lost so many people in the last few months, the most impactful, of course, is Giovanni. It’s like we’ve done something to be disfavoured by the gods, and Horus himself is ensuring turmoil in our lives.”
“We need not ascribe this turmoil to Horus,” said Augustus. “Would Horus send an assassin after a personal attendant and his wife? No, if he truly cursed our family, his priests would descend on our estate en mass, killing the men and raping the women before killing them too, they would leave no survivors. Horus does not act so precisely. This was an assassin with a target. An assassin who seemed to know the layout of the manse. Who would have that information and have a motive to kill him? It’s an interesting question to contemplate.”
“Best to leave that work to the magistrates,” said Giovannus. “But still, Castor’s death does remind us how fleeting life can be. You must always be prepared for that eventuality, have everything in order in case it happens so suddenly. You know, that reminds me of something I heard, that I just couldn’t believe. A terrible thing. I heard, Augustus, that you filed your last testament with a letter claiming that if you died, to immediately suspect me of being the culprit. And, you addressed the letter to be read to the magistrates and on the Senate floor. Now, Augustus, this couldn’t possibly be true, could it?”
The table fell incredibly silent. Augustus held a steel face but dared not look anyone else in the eyes. “You know it is impolite to ask someone to speak on their last testament.”
“And yet, I ask it anyway. Is the rumour true? Did you so brazenly decide to put our family’s sovereignty over our business in jeopardy?”
“I refuse to comment on it.”
“I take that as an admission then. How are we to believe that, as you claim, only consider what is in the best interest of the family, when you do something that so innately contradicts that statement?”
“Giovannus,” said Julianna. “That’s enough. This was meant to be a dinner to introduce a new member of our family. Marielle over there is the honoured guest, and by extension, Augustus is an honoured guest as well. You are turning this dinner into an interrogation, and that is just unacceptable!”
“I apologize,” said Giovannus, lowering his head then leaning back in his seat as he picked up a morsel of food to chew on. “Augustus, let's have a private chat later. I’m sure calmness will prevail, and all will be forgiven then.”
“Yes, I agree.”
With the matter dropped, for the time being, Augustus concentrated on eating and socializing with those who sat around him. He eyed the interactions of Giovannus, as he jovially laughed with the people around him who were, unfortunately, people of higher esteem within the family. He watched Marielle too, tasting the food, her eyes brightening up in surprise as she tasted each morsel. The cooks his mother hired were incredibly skilled, able to turn even the dishes she was familiar with into an interesting and novel experience.
Augustus continued with his plan, pretending to sip from his wine in an exaggerated manner, and encouraging his wife to do the same. He would refill her cup any chance he could, and to his approval, she made sure to take plenty of sips of small volume.
“You still haven’t tried the eel?” asked Cladius.
“I was saving it. But I’ll try it now.” Marielle sliced off a portion of eel and, after a bit of hesitation, put it in her mouth. After a few chews, she smiled. “It tastes good.”
“I told you,” smiled Cladius. “Try the other stuff you aren’t familiar with. It’ll surprise you too.”
Marielle did as Cladius asked, refilling her plate with a wider variety of tastes. Augustus turned his attention away from her, confident she would be able to handle her own conversations, and devoted his time during the meal to conversing with some of his lesser esteemed cousins that surrounded him.
However, the conversations flowed unnaturally, as all parties were too aware of the taboo subjects they needed to avoid. Their averted gazes hinted at their apprehension of being seen getting too cozy with Augustus. The talk remained at the most surface level of topics, talks of fashion and home decorations. Before long, most of the food was eaten, and the servants came by and cleared the plates and utensils.
All the guests rose from the table and began mingling again. Augustus tried to avoid Giovannus, but he walked in a straight path toward him and appeared right beside him. Giovannus placed his arm over Augustus’ shoulder as a brother would lovingly show affection for his younger sibling and shook Augustus lightly.
“Come now, let's go talk in private as we agreed during the meal,” Giovannus said, loud enough for those around to hear as he used his greater to direct Augustus in the direction he wished. Augustus went along with it, he knew he couldn’t afford to be seen openly physically struggling with his brother. His brother’s request wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Giovannus squeezed his arm a bit tighter as he guided Augustus into the library. Once they were alone in the room, he let his younger brother escape his arm as Giovannus turned and closed the door behind them so they wouldn’t have an audience.