Marielle supported Augustus as they walked through the threshold to his old room. But, once clear and the door shut, Augustus’ demeanour changed from the stupor of drunkenness to an upright posture. Though she knew Augustus wasn’t as drunk as he let on, she remained surprised at the suddenness that he disrobed himself of that guise. He searched the room, under the bed and inside the closets making sure they were alone. The room was sparse, which she hadn't expected. She thought there would be ample decoration and expensive trinkets. But it was a simple room, although larger, by a good amount, than the one she grew up in, it didn't feel fancier.
The room had a bed with posts that reached the ceiling with blue and white bedsheets, past that a wooden wardrobe large enough a musical band could be hiding in it. A blue rug sat on the floor, in front of the fireplace. To the opposite side of the room a slanted reading desk, that faced the wall of windows, and two chairs, next to a table with four more chairs. Along the walls were barren bookcases, emptied of their content from when Augustus left for the expedition. All the wood used was hard oak, stained a dark wood colour so that they all matched.
He wedged a chair against the door to the water room and said, “If you need to relieve yourself, let me know. We will check the room and wedge the servant’s door closed as we use it, to be safe.”
Marielle nodded. She tried not to think about the implications of why Augustus seemed so on edge. Instead, she soaked in her relief that she managed to arrange for this room for the night. It should have been an easy task, but Augustus chose to make it difficult. While requesting the room from her mother, he kept insisting with his slurred words, and all too loudly, that he was fine to return home and the drink hadn’t greatly affected him. It presented a conundrum to both say he was mistaken and not openly disagree with her spouse.
“I’m just… fine. Let’s just go home… We don’t. We don’t want to be a bother,” said Augustus with a deafening volume. The other guests turned and stared at them.
“I’m sure you are fine. But it is such frightful weather. Let’s just wait for the morning. We will have a much nicer carriage ride back home in the morning.” Marielle couldn’t help but roll her eyes at her husband. After all, he was the one who insisted they spend the night in the manse.
Augustus shook his head in disagreement with his arm sloppily hanging over her shoulder, cradling one of her breasts.
“Marielle, it would be my pleasure to host you two for the night. You shall stay in Augustus’s old quarters. I have not repurposed the room yet. It is just as he left it.” Julianna smiled gracefully and gave a nod to a nearby server who led them to the room.
Marielle lamented that stubbornness in Augustus. That he would actively work against his own intentions, to make it more believable. She stared at him as he moved with purpose about the room, checking the windows and using a piece of cloth intended for bedding to tie the handles together.
“We must wedge the door to the hallway. I can’t account for who might have the key,” said Augustus as he grabbed another chair, placing it against the door. “No one should enter without knocking except those with nefarious purposes. If someone does knock, remove this chair as silently as possible before answering. There will be no need to rush. We are a married couple, after all.”
“What’s going on?” asked Marielle.
“They killed Castor in this building. If Giovannus would send an assassin after Castor here, he would definitely send an assassin after me, if he thought it would be successful. These are only necessary precautions.”
“That makes sense, but why wouldn’t you want to return home then?”
“Heratio and Gillivan are presently occupied with something. Although Giovannus was brazen enough to have someone killed here, it still offers more protection than our home without any bodyguards. If we are attacked, we will make sure to make as much noise as possible. In fact, I don’t even plan on sleeping tonight. I will keep watch over you as you sleep.”
Marielle sat on the edge of the bed, fingers interlocked with her elbows resting on her thighs. She watched Augustus pace around the room. “There’s something else, something you aren’t telling me.”
Augustus stopped pacing, and still looking to the side, ran his hand through his hair back and forth. His face looked tired already. It had been an eventful day already. He turned to his wife, and his hand fell back to his side. “Alright, I should have told you this earlier, but I didn’t. I needed you to act casually, the way you should act without knowledge of what was afoot.”
“Stop explaining yourself and simply say what it is.”
“I sent them to make a move, an offensive attack. While Giovannus is here, enjoying the merry atmosphere, laughing with the feckless imbeciles that have aligned themselves with him, Heratio and Gillivan will be at his estate, helping me make a bold statement.”
“And what is that statement?” Somehow to Marielle, Augustus looked different. His hand’s movements showed his unease, as they would sit on his side for a moment, then move back up to his chin. She had formed a picture of him as calm and deliberate, a statue moving only with purpose. The man who stood before Marielle now could hardly be described that way.
“I can’t hope to win enough of the family to my side while they still fear Giovannus. Even with convincing them I am more capable, they know Giovannus is capable of murder. In their hearts, they know. They can’t support me, even if it might look like I have the advantage because they risk everything by supporting me. I could offer them status, the promise of a prominent position in the business, but that benefit would always be weighed against the cost of their life. And I know which side that scale would favour.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. You need to calm yourself. Sit down, on the bed.” Augustus sat next to Marielle. He seemed to notice the change in his own demeanour too. He took slow, deep breaths. Marielle rubbed his shoulder in a small circular motion. “You can’t let what happened with Giovannus get to you. It’s alright, it’s all over now. Now, tell me, what is that statement?”
“It is a statement written in blood. I told them to attack Giovannus’ estate, to leave no witnesses alive, to make it look like the work of agents of Horus.” Augustus said it so calmly. He looked straight into Marielle’s eyes. They gauged the subtle movement’s in each other’s faces, measuring the other’s reaction.
The words hung heavy in the air and on Marielle’s chin, leaving her mouth agape. Agents of Horus, demons of the night, the monsters her mother would tell her about when she misbehaved. It signified a level of carnage she couldn’t imagine. “That seems dangerous. Why would you do that?”
“I was at the disadvantage. It was a risk, for sure, but on balance, it was worth it. If they fail and are captured, I can try to claim they acted on their own, but that would never be believed, not fully. Any support I would have in the family would be lost, and our status in the family would fall dramatically. We might even be exiled.” Augustus looked to the ground now. His eyes covered by the palms of his hands as he rested his head against them.
“That doesn’t seem good.” Marielle tried her best to calm herself, making sure her voice didn’t raise. She didn’t move from her place on the bed, though she now wanted to stand up and pace as Augustus had. “You risked so much, you put my life on the line, and you didn’t even tell me.”
“You must want to scream right now. I understand that. You must want to admonish me for my recklessness. But, the move I made was the right one. At the moment I made the decision, with the information I had, it was the rational action. The likelihood of success is high, considering the weather.”
“Are you an expert on warfare now?”
“I deferred to Heratio’s expertise. He said he’d be able to do it.”
“And you trust Heratio completely?”
“He’s had plenty of opportunities where he was alone with me, where he could have easily slit my throat. If I can’t trust him, I can’t trust anyone.” Augustus stood up and went over to the fireplace. “It’s a cold night. I’ll start a fire.”
He began by putting the kindling, then taking the pieces from the stocked wood stack to the side. Marielle watched the placements until she became annoyed enough to stand up and take over. “You’re placing the wood all wrong. Just let me do it.”
“Thank you. I would normally have a servant do this stuff for me.” Augustus grabbed two chairs and placed them next to each other in front of the fire, then sat down in one, as Marielle made the fire. With a quick strike of flint against steel, she lit the kindling. That tiny spark ignited a tiny piece of dried grass and spread, first to the rest of the kindling, and then the twigs and smaller pieces of woods, then eventually the big logs that would sustain the fire through the night.
“There,” said Marielle as she put another log onto the fire. She sat down next to Augustus and watched the flames rise. “It would have been much simpler to just take that offer. To be out of this city.”
“I doubt, after tonight, the offer will still be on the table. I could have just said it back then, accepted the deal. But, things were already in motion.”