Augustus had spent much of his childhood in that library. It was where Castor usually held his lessons. Most of the walls were covered in bookshelves, stacked with books on a wide variety of subjects. In front of the wall with the windows, were the desks, slightly sloping so accommodate the act of reading, and chairs placed in front of them. There, Augustus would be planted, with Castor beside him as he dictated his reading list, then questioning him on the contents.
In the center of the room was the table with a built-in stixis board and two chairs, one for each player. Giovannus stood behind the further chair, and leaned his weight on the backrest, looking straight at Augustus.
“Now then, I feel like we have gotten off on the wrong foot,” said Giovannus, with a pleasant smile. “Since you arrived back in Venocia, that is. That little thing out there, talking about Marcus and Castor, and our father, it felt an aura of animosity.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Augustus stood with his hands folded behind his back near the entrance.
“Let’s have a seat, and talk like brothers.” Giovannus took his usual seat.
Augustus stepped forward slowly and sat across from him, resting his hands on the table. Just the stixis board between them, each in the seat they usually sat in when Giovanni, the tutors, and other relatives, would watch them play. Augustus seemed to always win back then, and when he did Giovanni would rustle up his curly hair, and say, “Well done, son.”
“What do you want?” asked Augustus.
“What do I want? Nothing more than a conversation, I guess. We are family, and family shouldn’t quarrel. See, just there, ‘what do you want?’ Such a hostile question. Where did all this hostility come from?”
“You know where.” Augustus watched as Giovannus casually leaned back in his chair.
“I guess I do. After all, look at where we sit. We were set against each other at such an early age. But, those were just games and competitions, we can’t let those feelings bleed into our lives.” Giovannus grabbed a playing piece from a compartment of the table and twirled it around in his hand as he spoke.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant our sister.”
“What does our sister, may she be remembered well, have to do with anything?” Giovannus tilted his head with an open mouth.
“You killed our sister.”
"I did what? Our sister drowned in the river. How dare you accuse me of that. I loved our sister like I love all of our family." Giovannus' posture changed, folding his arms across his torso. His face was incredulous.
"Why keep up the charade here, when no one can hear? I saw you do it. You know I saw you do it."
"Really now, listen to yourself. This is insane." Giovannus shook his head. "I blame our father. He always set us against each other, no wonder you would imagine such things. Remember, this was our battleground, these two seats. The moment you sat down, it must have felt so nostalgic, to remember father doting on you after your victories."
"I know what I saw."
"Do you? You were young when our sister died. A tragedy that affected me deeply. It must have affected you just as much. Perhaps your young mind, already motivated to see me as an enemy, rationalized an irrational and pointless death into that strange tale."
"Heh, as father would say, 'Doubt can be a weapon.' I know what you are trying to do."
Giovannus rested his forehead in his fingers. They massaged his brow as he exhaled. "I'm not trying to do anything. Or rather, I am just trying to repair this rift between us. You don't need to see me as the enemy anymore. Father is dead."
"Don't be ridiculous, I never thought of you as an enemy, or saw you as a competitor, until you killed our sister. Does a hunter see the deer as a competitor? No. When the difference between them is so great, you only see them as prey. Father, for sure, never saw you as a competitor. To him, you were just a prop to show others how talented I was."
Giovannus leaned back, clenching the stixis piece in his closed fist. "Stixis is a pointless game. It was foolishness, on his part, to put so much emphasis on it."
"You honestly expect me to believe I just dreamed of you killing our sister? That I dreamed you trying to choke me in my room?"
"So what if I didn't spend my time reading volume after volume about some stupid game? Marcus focused me on things directly relevant to running a business. Business deals aren't settled with a game of stixis." Giovannus looked to the side, at a wall of books.
"You were so quick to take advantage of our father's death. If you truly loved your family, as you said you did, why rush the vote? There was no urgency. You acted only in your own interest, you strong-armed the family into voting.”
“Back then you hadn’t even been out of the city. I met with the northern tribes and went to Bremen, I had deals and connections already. But when I returned, father just arranged for me to play that stupid game with you in front of Pascal and some other senators.”
Augustus slapped the table with his open hand. “What is the point of this conversation? Why did you ask me into this room? To ruminate about our stixis matches?”
“To put the past behind us, whatever we each perceive it to be. To make peace.”
“Were we at war to begin with?”
“Stop playing games. I’m being serious. Bend the knee, and all can be forgiven. I will embrace and forgive any trespasses you’ve committed. All you have to do is mean it.”
“This conversation is pointless. Bend the knee? Are you a king, all of a sudden? What are the consequences if I don’t beg for your forgiveness?”
“Look at where you are. You know, as well as I do, that power has a way of congregating. You can choose to be on the winning side, or you can stand alone against the rising tide.” Giovannus stood up from the chair and moved over to the bookcase he looked at earlier. He moved his over the spines of the books before stopping on a specific book that he pulled off the shelf.
“That’s why you would lose so often at stixis, you always got overconfident. In life, like in that stupid game you care so little for, things can change quickly. You focus too much on how things are, rather than how things will change.”
“And how will things change?” asked Giovannus as he flipped through the pages of the book.
Augustus sat in silence, watching his brother, his silhouette becoming particularly apparent from the flashes of lightning coming in through the window. Augustus tapped on the board as he waited.
“Well, yes. I suppose you would have no reason to answer that question.” Giovannus snapped the book shut and placed it back on the shelf, then picked up another. He flipped through the pages. “You are so very stubborn, you know that? How about a compromise?”
“After the wedding, I will give you a post away from this city. You think I killed our sister right? You must fear me to some extent, then. This would provide you distance, and in your mind, safety. You can deal with some other court, with a handsome salary, and plenty of opportunities to find personal investments to further enrich yourself.”
“Allowing you free reign to consolidate power within the family.”
“Yes, that would end up being the cost. Is it such a terrible price to pay? Does it mean so much to you that you wouldn’t be the center of the family? That you wouldn’t get to lord that power over your kin?”
The words stung. Augustus always wanted to be the head of the family, although he never thought too deeply about why. It was just something that everyone expected of him, and his father and tutors all acted as if it was only natural to hold that seat as the most important place to strive for. Still, was this really an option? Augustus couldn’t bring himself to feel comfortable trusting Giovannus. “I can only promise you that I will consider it.”
“Consider it?” Giovannus seemed to be engrossed by the passage he read. “Maybe this will change your mind. Come over here, I want to show you something.”
Augustus stood and folded his hands back behind his back, but stood in place. Giovannus, seeing his hesitation beckoned him forward with a hand, the other hand casually waving the book about, showing the contents of the pages, but at enough of a distance to be indiscernible. Augustus stepped forward, his hand brushing against the solid object tucked into the back of his robe. “What is it you want to show me?”
“This, right here,” said Giovannus, holding the book facing Augustus.
Augustus leaned in to get a look. Giovannus moved swiftly, his hand grasping Augustus’ neck firmly, and with enough force to push him into the bookcase. He discarded the book to the ground, and with the hand that once held it, punched Augustus in the stomach. Augustus flinched at the intense pain. His hand gripping the object in his robe, the hilt of one of Heratio’s knives that was tucked into the back of his robe.