Giovannus looked at Augustus intensely, with a wide grin. His other hand came up and helped secure the tight grip on Augustus’ throat, then together they tightened. Augustus' face turned red, his breathing constricted. It took everything he could to quell the panic screaming in his mind. To stay his hand on that hilt from going for a strike. If he screamed, and the other guests rushed in to see him holding a knife and Giovannus bleeding, it would all be over.
Giovannus breathed heavily, each snort from his nostrils emphasizing the breaths Augustus couldn't take. "Do you think I'm gonna do it? Just kill you right here?" Giovannus stared deeply into Augustus' eyes. Everything began to blur, his thought becoming hazy.
Augustus let go of his knife. With all the energy he still had, he swung his foot forward. It smashed into Giovannus's sensitive area. He staggered back, releasing his grip of Augustus' neck.
They both collapsed to the floor. Augustus, with his back leaning against the bookcase, panting desperately. Giovannus, on all four limbs, smacking his fist against the floorboards.
"Why did you do that?" asked Augustus, in between breaths.
"Because I wanted to." Giovannus turned himself, to sit on the flat floor, his upper body resting on an arm placed behind him. "Why else would I do that?"
"That… you had nothing to gain by doing that. If someone walked in…" Augustus' thoughts trailed off with his words. He stared at the door, still shut. Behind it the crowd of people were still drinking. He heard the cacophony of laughs emanating from that direction.
"It's all a game to you. Do you even mourn Castor's death?"
"Of course I do."
"Marcus was more than a tutor for me. He taught me things… you wouldn't understand. You killed him, like it was nothing more than a move on a board game. I know Marcus would have only done what was in our family's best interests, despite what you claim. He should have returned with you, to see my triumph."
"And you killed father."
"I didn't. But even if I did, he was a monster. A worshipper of Horus, though I'm sure he would deny it. Those black robes would suit him well. Father and you, too. Monsters."
"What? What made him a monster?"
Giovannus turned his head and stood up. "Take the deal I offered. Leave the city, and live a happy life outside of my view."
Augustus lifted himself back onto his feet, in the process almost pulling the bookcase down on him. He watched Giovannus storm off towards the door. When he opened it, Augustus caught sight of Marielle peeking in at him. She caught the door before it swang shut and quickly traversed the room, catching him in a warm embrace.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"I'm fine. Were you spying through the door?"
"No. Once I saw you enter this room, alone, with your brother, I just made sure to stand by the door. Don't worry, no one saw me trying to peek through the cracks in the doorframe."
She caressed his neck. "I said I'm fine. I'll just sit down for a moment."
Marielle supported Augustus as he walked over to the chair by the reading desk. He collapsed into his seat.
Augustus felt around his neck, the pain and stress of being strangled seemed to linger, and his fingers worked to reassure him that he really was fine. When he looked up, he saw Marielle watching him closely. She was leaning against the reading desk to his side, reminding him when Castor would watch him study a book.
"What are you doing?" Augustus once asked his now deceased tutor.
"I'm looking to see your understanding. I know, I know. Some would say understanding holds no form to be seen, but I swear, sometimes, I can see it in the eyes."
Castor wouldn't always stand over him. Sometimes he would pace across the room, his hands folded behind his back. Sometimes deep in thought, but other times he would voice his thoughts to distract Augustus from his reading.
"Something happened yesterday," said Castor suddenly. Augustus looked up from his reading, something dry that had long been tossed aside in his memory.
"What happened?" Augustus asked. He knew vaguely of some negotiations going on.
"Something that would make a good lesson for you. But, I'm not sure how to phrase it, likely because, I'm not sure what the lesson is supposed to be."
Augustus turned in his chair, then turned his head the rest of the way to get a look at Castor. "How about, you just tell me what happened and I'll think about it with you."
Castor stopped pacing and pondered it over.
"Your neck, it shows some bruising," said Marielle, pulling Augustus out of his reminiscing.
"Will it show if I leave this room?"
"Yes. " Marielle nodded. "But, does that matter? If they see the bruising they'll know it was your brother. That would help turn them against him."
"Or show them that I am weak," said Augustus. He looked at the shut window right before him as it rattles from the wind, a reminder of the storm raging outside. "The most powerful emotion is fear. No matter how competent I can prove myself to be, if they fear Giovannus, but not fear me, he will win their support. I would prefer they don't see the bruising."
"So, will you try suddenly wearing a scarf?"
"No. Could you go back to the party and bring me a bottle of wine? It doesn't need to be full."
"As you wish." Marielle stood up, adjusted her hair and clothing, then walked out the door, only keeping the door open for a minimum of time.
Alone with his thoughts, he was drawn back to Castor standing in that room. "Hm… we were negotiating with a member of a northern tribe. Marcus had brought him all the way to Venocia."
Augustus nodded. He particularly enjoyed hearing about the actual going ons in the business.
"This tribesman had control of land that we wanted to fund a mining operation on. It was land he didn't particularly use, so it should have been easy enough. We pay them to use their land, we get the resources, we both benefit, easy. But the man wanted to take almost all the profit, so much so, it was turning into a bad prospect."
"That's just foolish of them. If they try to take too much we can simply build our operation somewhere else."
"Yes, but they don't see it like that. They thought that the land belonged to them. And whatever we brought out of the ground was theirs. So, in his mind, they deserved almost all it was sold for. We tried to explain to him that metals in the ground are essentially worthless, they don't do anyone any good. He wouldn't listen, at first. Eventually, he seemed to understand, but by then we decided not to go ahead with the deal anyway."
"Why not? We must have decided that would be a very profitable operation."
"I guess that's the lesson. The problem of dealing with irrational people. See, there are people who will act irrationally, and there are people who are irrational. Regardless of which they are, if you honestly think they are irrational, it gains them an advantage in negotiating."
"So you shouldn't do deals with people who are irrational."
"How should I put this?" Castor asked rhetorically. He rubbed his chin for a moment before continuing. "Imagine a wealthy merchant drops a bag of coin by accident, and two beggars find it shortly after. They look in the bag, and what luck, there are four gilden in the bag. What would they do?"
"Split it evenly, two gilden each."
"Yes, most would agree with you. But what if one of them says, 'Give me three of the gilden, or I'll tell the merchant?' What would happen then?"
"If he told, he'd lose the two gilden. I wouldn't believe him."
"What if you did believe him? What if you knew him enough, and you had seen his history of irrational decisions? Would you risk losing the one gilden you know you would have, for the two gilden that might be taken away? To a beggar, a gilden is a life-changing amount of currency, they couldn't and shouldn't take that risk."
"I see. Although being irrational can be good in certain situations, for long term deals it is disadvantageous. People will hesitate to enter longer-term arrangements with you if they can't predict your actions."
"Good, good. Often it is better to be seen as reasonable, but sometimes it is better to be feared."
The door opened. Marielle came into the room holding the bottle of wine. Making sure to shut the door again, she crossed the room and placed the bottle on the desk before Augustus.
"You have my thanks," said Augustus as he grabbed the bottle and in his hand weighed the contents. Half-full. "And my thanks for how well you have conducted yourself today. I should tell you something."
"Giovannus offered me a deal. He offered to place me, and by extension you, in a position in a foreign court. If I took the deal, he would be secured as head of the family. But, we would be safer from retaliation, and we would have a comfortable life. It would come with a stipend, and I'm sure I would be able to find opportunities to exploit."
"From my vantage, it seems like a generous offer. But… you already turned the deal down?"
"No, I said I'd think about it. Although, I expect the offer to be withdrawn quickly." Augustus emptied a bit of the bottle into his hand, then flicked it onto his clothing. Then he opened the window. Rain poured in as he poured some of the wine out the window, before shutting it again.
"Then why did he try to strangle you?"
"I think it was his way of encouraging me to take the offer. You want me to take it, too, don't you?"
"I'll admit it. It seems to be the best path for us. Maybe we could even end up near Jorland," said Marielle. She smiled at that thought. Augustus knew she must've longed for home, and resented the circumstances he placed her in.
"He might be open to a request to be placed in Dunlowe. But, likely, he'll choose the place he feels will make sure I'm not a threat. A known quantity."
"Still, these have been uncertain days here.". Marielle looked away, refusing the eye contact Augustus offered. She must know how he felt, thought Augustus, knew that it would pain him greatly to take that offer.
"I don't think it would be the right thing to do. And, I fear, even if I accepted, he wouldn't honour it." Augustus places his hand around Marielle and pulled her close. "Tonight we must ask mother to let us sleep off the drink here, in my old bedroom preferably. I will drink to make sure of it."
With their waists attached, they walked back to the party. Augustus playing the part of a drunkard moved his arms about haphazardly, his diction reduced and his words became slurred. Marielle made sure to stay next to him.