At Revenica's mention, Marielle remembered hearing something about that during Cressa's lessons that left the impression she wouldn't want to visit the Senate. An impression that, until then, had been forgotten. "What's the hassle with entering the Senate? I think I learned that before." The moment she said it, she regretted it. Her curiosity had gotten the better of her, making her ask a question in a way that made her look weak. She made her best effort to hide that momentary disappointment she had for herself from showing on her face.
“Oh, you have to go into a room and undress completely. One of the ecudaria watches you, then hurls water at you from a bucket until you are completely doused. Then you have to dress in a single white cloth that they give you.” Revenica smirked as she explained, and even noticed a face Marielle made when the word ecudary was said. “The ecudaria are like slaves, but really they’re orphans, technically they are raised by the temple of Aurelia, but basically, they are slaves. They live in dorms near the Senate and have no possessions. Anyway, once you are inside the Senate there are no personal guards so it would be a big problem if a bunch of commoners were let in there. They could just attack some senator. So you can only get in with an invitation, which is usually only for people who come to speak in front of the senate.”
“Well then, visiting there just to look around would be too much trouble. I’m sure they would have no reason to ask me to speak, in any case.”
The carriage came to a halt. Outside, Marielle could see the eatery from her window. The staple clay red roof of the area and walls made of stone bricks with redwood fittings resulted in a high-class atmosphere. They exited the carriage. Then all four of them, the two Castellian wives and their respective bodyguards, walked up the cobblestone path to greet the host of the eatery.
“Lady Revenica, it is always a joy to see you again,” said the sharply dressed man. He wore a short-sleeve shirt and an orange apron. “Your table is ready for you, please come this way.”
They walked through the sparsely populated eatery interior, to come outside the back of the building, to the packed outdoor area. Marielle and Revenica were seated at a table set for two, with the two guards seated at an empty separate table that was set aside, next to their table.
From their vantage, they could look down on a swath of the city of the large well-built houses one could expect to have that view of the Typers river. Across the wide river was a sheer cliff of white rock.
“It’s a beautiful day to be out is it not?” Asked Revenica.
“We are fortunate to have Cyril’s blessings today. So what will we be eating?”
"Let me ask. " Revenica picked up the small bell from the middle of the table and rang it before putting it down again. A man walked over from inside the building wearing the same uniform as the host. "What shall we be eating today?"
"River trout dressed in alfalfa and lemon sauce, with pickled beets and potatoes on the side. For an appetizer, we have a bowl of greens and nuts sprinkled with oil."
"Bring it out whenever it is ready," said Revenica, without even looking at him. The server bowed to leave.
"Shall we have wine while we wait? Please Revenica, order some. And don't worry about the expense, I'll take care of things in thanks for you being my guide today." The server paused upon hearing it.
"Bring us a bottle of your blue wine."
"Certainly, my Lady," said the server, then he left.
"I'm sure the food will be good. The chef goes to the docks in the morning to buy the best of the catch of the day, then spends the rest of the morning preparing whatever will compliment it."
"It does sound delicious."
"They specialize in seafood. The ocean has always been at the center of Venocian culture. It's a classic Venocian restaurant, which means fish, fish, and more fish. So, now that we're here, let's talk about the interesting stuff."
"Very well. You asked about the events at Giovannus' estates, right?" Revenica nodded in reply. "I stayed the night at the manse because Augustus had too much to drink."
"Oh? I didn't know Augustus was that much of a drunk. He always seemed so composed to me, so he never struck me as the type."
"He's not," said Marielle. She knew Revenica and Quintus needed to have the highest possible opinion of Augustus. "Other than last night, I hadn't seen him drink a drop of wine. No one was more surprised than me to see him act that way." A deliberate lie. One that made Augustus’s action even more suspicious. Marielle knew that lie also helped implicate Augustus in the attack, something Augustus didn't seem too concerned about when he explained himself.
Revenica, for the briefest of moments, hung her jaw and let her eyes go wide. But she quickly hid that behind a smile. "Oh, I wonder why he chose that night to lose himself to drink. No matter. Anyways, you were saying, you stayed the night at the manse."
The server returned, carrying the bottle of wine they ordered and two metal cups. After uncorking the bottle and serving the two ladies, he retreated again inside the eatery.
Without taking a sip from her cup, Marielle continued. "I awoke to a servant telling my husband about the fire. We left in the morning with no further updates. That's all I know of it."
Revenica listened while taking a couple of sips. "It's Augustus' brother, after all. Didn't he send some servants to help him? Didn't he send messengers? How could you not know more than that? You must try the wine, Marielle, blue wine is a completely different flavour. Tastes sweetly of berries."
The questions came as a surprise to Marielle. But she also knew it shouldn't have. She took a slow sip to contemplate her response. The taste really was different. Even sweeter than one would expect from a blueberry flavour. She did her best to ignore the taste and returned to the task at hand. "Unfortunately we didn't have the personnel to spare during the fire, what with the loss of Castor. And, the lack of payments from the family hasn’t helped us with filling out our staff. Besides, when we returned from the manse in the morning, we could see the fire had run its course. There wasn't much to help with at that point."
"You're having trouble filling out your staff? Are Augustus' finances strained?" Asked Revenica in a hushed tone. She tilted her head and leaned forward.
"Our finances are fine. But, like everyone else, we would be happier with more coins in our pockets. Wouldn't you be? Has the lack of payments from the family trust not been an annoyance for you and your husband?"
"My husband and I have enough independent ventures that we are getting by just fine. Although, our lack of funds lately has allowed a couple of opportunities to pass by unexplored. To listen to Quintus talk about, it would seem it was the end of the republic, the way he rants about it."
"Isn't it odd that Giovannus has suspended the payments? My understanding was that the business is done well, better than ever, but that information comes from my husband whose knowledge comes from when his father was head of the family."
"Giovannus has said he is reinvesting the funds in expansion—"
"Is he? Where is he expanding to? I'm afraid this is coming as news to me."
"I'm not sure."
"Really? This is the family trust we are talking about. Does your husband Quintus know what's happening with the family trust? It sounded like he was a man with his ear to the ground, I'm sure he must be keeping his eyes on what's happening."
"Quintus doesn't know what's going on there either. I remember when the first payment was held back, Quintus got into one of his moods. But, this is the noble Giovannus we're talking about, I'm sure he has a plan and is only withholding the information because it's necessary. Unfortunately, he hasn't announced any details about the expansion plans, if he had it would surely cheer up Quintus."
"Yes, I'm surprised my new family members aren't in an uproar about it. It goes to show how high esteem they hold Giovannus in. He must have been a paragon of virtue in his adolescence."
Revenica chuckled. "You surely jest. Augustus found himself a delightful wife with a good sense of humour, hasn't he. Lucky him."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to jest. I actually don't know much of Giovannus' past."
"He was just overly arrogant, or at least that was my impression of him."
"Arrogant huh? How did he take it when Giovanni started touting Augustus as his preferred heir. I would think that's not the type of thing that an arrogant man would take lightly."
Revenica smiled broadly. "Do you know why that happened? Did Augustus tell you?"
At that moment Marielle realized that Augustus had never mentioned that specific piece of information directly, but left the impression it just had to do with some level of business acumen. Did he even know? That Revenica even asked implied the real reason wasn't widely known. Was it not that Augustus was the most capable son? In any case, Marielle knew, that was the proper response. "Giovanni decided that Augustus would be better at running the family business. It was a choice that should have eventually returned the family greater profits."
Revenica's wide smile disappeared, instead, she cradled her cup of wine and rolled her eyes. "Yes, that is the official explanation. But, I and the other girls thought there had to be more to it. Giovanni had such a mood when he announced it to the family."
“Augustus hasn’t elaborated much on it. How about you ask him directly?” Asked Marielle as she looked off to the side to see the server bringing out the first course, one plate in each hand. He made sure to place Marielle’s dish first.
“The main course will be out shortly,” said the server before quickly leaving.
“Oh, I don’t think Augustus would tell me if I just asked him.”
“I’ll make sure he does tell you. How about you come over for a meal tomorrow? And you should bring Quintus.”
“What should I serve? My cooking servants are new to this city. So it would have to be something simple. Do you have any suggestions?”
“I really like buttered goat meat. From what I’ve heard from my cooks, it’s not complicated to make.” Revenica’s eyes looked off to the side as she answered.
“So, it’s settled then. You and Quintus will come tomorrow for a meal and we’ll serve buttered goat meat. Lunch or dinner?” Marielle nodded.
“Lunch would be best.” Revenica shrugged her shoulders, then smiled again.