"We'll need seedlings at this point. We've cleared enough space, the flower beds are ready for planting, but we need to buy the seedlings."

"Send a couple of servants out to buy them."

"You don't want me to go and get it myself?"

"You should get better at delegating tasks. You are too important to waste your time on that stuff. If you consume all your time with such trivialities, you’ll have no time to plan and make the connections that are vastly more important. So, out of our servants, what combination of servants would you send, and why?"

"I'd send Cressa… and Sara."

"Why?" Augustus looked pleased with the response. He leaned his head on his interlocked fingers and looked deeply into Marielle’s eyes.

“Sara should have a rough idea of what I want. Cressa knows the city enough.”

“Good, send them. Hand them an amount of coin that you expect they’ll be able to buy the amount of seedlings you want. Try to accurately gauge how much the seedlings will cost when you hand them the coins, with this type of task it’s expected they get to keep any excess coin leftover after they buy the appropriate goods. It’s an important part of a servant’s income.”

“I’ve never bought seedlings in Venocia before. How should I know what it’ll cost?”

“You can make an estimate. How hard is it to raise a seedling?” Augustus leaned back, but his stare remained.

“It’s not difficult. There is some equipment involved, but mostly it just takes time.”

“Sounds like vegetables. You know what vegetables cost, right?”

“Yes, I went to the market to buy that already.” Marielle nodded.

“Then base it off that, add a bit extra just to be safe and to just be nice, then give them that amount.” Augustus smirked then turned to a smiling Cressa who stood against a wall, and with a wave of his hand indicated he was ready to eat. Cressa bowed and left to the kitchen. “Now then, let’s eat. I trust you to handle the details from here, then when we are together in the garden, I will speak plainly with you about how things are, as I see it, and my plans to resolve things.”

The food came in, it was the usual fare. Nothing nearly as extravagant as the food of the night prior. A hearty stew of vegetables and meat, salted and spiced generously. It felt comforting, but clearly, their cook’s skills were in want of improving. Marielle could imagine the looks and comments Revenica would make after she was invited into their home for a meal and got served something similar.

“If we intend to have Quintus and Revenica over for a meal, maybe we should consider hiring a cook, at least for that day,” said Marielle. Sara, who stood in attendance, hung her head.

“There’s no need. If they care enough about the quality of the food to comment, that alone would be important information. You need not be embarrassed about the food we serve, or the state of our home, so vacant of decorations and extravagance. We will win them over regardless of all that.”

After Marielle finished her meal, she went to get some coins from their hidden lockbox. She decided three venti was enough, and after sealing and re-concealing the lockbox she went to the kitchen to find her servants. Sara and Cressa were ready, having heard the conversation earlier, they were already dressed in outdoor wear and had smiles on their faces.

Marielle handed the three coins to Sara. “Get me enough seedlings to fill up the five flower beds outside. Make sure they are in a variety of colours. Take Cressa with you. I’ve handed you the coin, but this is a task for the both of you to complete.”

Sara nodded. “Yes, My Lady, and thank you for this task.”

“Please carry out the task swiftly.”

“We will,” said Cressa, and the two bowed before hurrying out.

After they left, Augustus spent his time in the study, alone with his thoughts. It left Marielle to spend the time waiting as she pleased. Her time was too valuable to be spent on menial tasks, and so she thought first what she had been trained to for years by Cressa, handle the accounts of the household. On the bookshelf in her bedroom, the book waited. She scanned the pages. It took time to get a lay of the land when looking through ledgers, to get a sense for the flow of coin and what each label meant. They had a rather large redecorating expense recently of two gilden that she recognized immediately as the two gilden she saw Augustus pay Heratio the previous day.

Marielle shook her head. She felt a weight in his chest that seemed to restrict her breathing, a weight that got heavier the longer she stared at the ledger. “What is Augustus Doing?” She whispered to the empty room. They were running out of coin, quickly. She shut her eyes, and then blindly shut the ledger. She couldn’t believe Augustus’ arrogance, to take that drastic action that not only put them in danger and dismissed the convenient option Giovannus offered, but also drained their coffers so significantly. They still had some finances, but with all their expenses it would run out shortly after the wedding. And that was only if there weren’t any more miscellaneous expenses. Somehow, she didn’t think that was going to happen.

With her eyes still closed, she wished in her heart that when she opened her eyes the ledger would have fixed itself, and the problem solved, but she knew it wouldn’t work. She opened her eyes and the book remained. Marielle took a deep breath, like Augustus did to calm himself down, then put the ledger back where it belonged. For a time, she paced the room, lost in her worries before deciding to busy herself with something, anything, just to stop her from bursting into the study to demand answers. Maybe she had every right to storm in there, to admonish his recklessness, but she knew she had nothing to gain from that. She was stuck in this with him, whether she liked it or not.

She went to Heratio, who sat in the receiving room cleaning the weapons that were laid out on the table. “Heratio, I would like to talk to you while I wait for Augustus.”

“As you wish, My Lady,” he responded. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I wish to talk about Augustus. You are loyal to Augustus are you not?”

“Of course. However, you should know that any guard would say that, regardless of the truth. You can’t tell loyalty by asking. The truest test is actions. If you took last night as that test, then anyone could see the truth clearly enough they wouldn’t even need to ask.” Heratio didn’t even look up from his task. He just continued polishing a blade with a cloth. “Ask what you really want to ask.”

“Why are you loyal to Augustus?” Marielle sat down at the same table, watching Heratio’s face carefully. His cheeks creased and his eyes wandered from their focus for a second.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“He puts your life at risk. Castor is dead, in no small part because of his actions. And I know you cared for Castor, you can’t hide that.”

Heratio turned, now giving his undivided attention to Marielle. “My Lady, are you trying to turn me against him? Are you trying to mount some idiotic insurrection?” Heratio said with a harsh tone.

Marielle immediately put her hand over her mouth and her eyebrows lifted slightly. “No. I just meant to ask, aren’t you worried about what will happen if Augustus loses this power struggle?”

“Augustus will find a way to win. Somehow, he will resolve this struggle. There’s no question in my mind. I know it.” Heratio smiled and returned his focus upon his weapons. “Castor was the one who hired me as Augustus’ bodyguard. Before that I worked for him directly, accompanying him as he went abroad to work for the family.”

“I didn’t know that.” Marielle felt surprised and her eyes wandered to a window as she tried to remember the encounter. She couldn’t recall the events with much clarity, except for remembering how she disliked Castor back then.

“Yeah, I figured when you didn’t recognize me at your wedding. I was there when Castor arranged for you to be married to Augustus. Giovanni had given Castor the duty of finding an appropriate wife, you see, at the time Augustus wasn’t the preferred heir so Giovanni just left it to a vassal to sort out. Castor had considerable autonomy in the choosing. It just had to have some benefit to the family, else Giovanni would get angry at him.”

“Why did Castor choose me?” Asked Marielle as she tucked a lock of her straight blond hard behind an ear.

“He met with your father to negotiate the purchase of crops, and when things turned more casual, Anthony, your father, mentioned he was shopping your marriage around. He lamented to Castor how difficult it was.” Heratio put down the dagger in his hand and picked up a different blade, again starting his polishing. “He wasn’t trying to shop you to us. Just complaining as people do about the weather or a bad day. But, what your dad complained about wasn’t the station of the prospects, but about the men he chose from. One was too old, one was crippled, one had a nasty temperament.”

“He never talked to me about that. I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, few men are the type to talk about that with their twelve-year-old daughter. Castor didn’t share with me the reason he asked your father to meet you, but I suspect it was because he liked how your father talked about you. I think he thought your family had something that Augustus’ didn’t, and he hoped you could bring that something into Augustus’ life.” Heratio put his weapon down and looked away from Marielle towards the door that led outside. “If you’ll excuse me, My Lady, I need to go take a shit.”

Heratio didn’t wait for a response, he just got up and left Marielle to consider his words on her own. From the conversation, it became clear to her that Heratio and Castor were incredibly loyal to Augustus, and it left her wondering why. What inspired that loyalty? That Heratio would risk his life, jump into that fire, for her husband. He even said before that he would sell Heratio out if he got caught. How could that inspire such loyalty?

She looked out at the array of weaponry laid out before her, her hand moving slowly, moved by a desire to take a knife. She stopped herself. She only needed to ask Augustus and she was certain he would get her a knife, she didn’t need to take one and leave Heratio wondering where one of his knives went. Marielle shook her head, stood up, and walked away.

Marielle was in the attic, looking through the paintings that were stored up there to pass the time when Cressa and Sara returned to the estate. She heard the opening and closing of the doors and the murmur of their voices as they travelled the halls. Marielle rushed down the stairs, impatient to see the fruits of her servant’s outing. There on the table was a giant tray full of dirt and sprouting out of that dirt were small leaves the size of a pea.

Augustus must have heard the same thing as Marielle, because he appeared too, out of the study. “Good, it’s here. Marielle, I’m ready to have that chat with you, let’s start bringing these out to the garden.”


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