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“Manas, after a time, was alone again,” said Augustus, turning the page. “Wandering through the world, through the world and the ruins from the time before time. This time, he walked through a mountain range and came upon the tallest mountain he'd seen yet. He chose, instead of merely jumping over it, or walking around it, to move forward unimpeded. He lifted his hand and the mountain cracked, right down the middle. From that crack, a man fell upon the rubble. The man knew not his name, nor why he was buried in the mountain. So Manas gave him a name, the name of Grin.”

Mallius sat with a smile on his face, playing with a wooden toy as Augustus read aloud.

“Grin followed Manas to ruins on a mountain top. The thin air was colder, and colder still were the winters. They spent time there, three winters came and went. Grin got cold, so Manas helped him build fires to keep warm. When they returned from the mountains, Grin was the god of fire, or as he’s sometimes referred to, the god of the hearth. His worship begins when the first snow touches the ground, so some people even call him the god of winter.”

The ending was just a summary. He could see Cressa waiting by the doorway, waiting for the opportunity to interrupt.

“Master Augustus, Cladius’ carriage has arrived,” said Cressa.

“Good. Mallius, Robillia, I have to go to lunch now,” said Augustus, looking at Mallius and his personal attendant. “Please make sure Mallius enjoys his stay until I return.”

Augustus patted his cousin on the head as he lifted from his chair. “As you wish, Master Augustus,” said Robillia. She grasped Mallius’s hand to calm him as Augustus walked away.

The carriage waited at the entranceway, with one of Cladius’ guards already holding the door open. The guard helped Augustus up then, with Heratio, sat on the perch. Inside, Cladius greeted his brother with a crouched hug, due to the height of the carriage. They both sat down across from each other.

“It’s been interesting times since I last saw you,” said Cladius.

“Yes, poor Giovannus. I prayed to Aurelia last night on his behalf.” Augustus hung his head, staring at the floor, for a short count. “Have you talked to him since the fire? I haven’t.”

“No. I can’t even imagine how busy he must be.” Cladius chuckled to himself. “It would’ve been impolite of me to show up, just to satiate my curiosity. But, it would have been funny to see his reaction.”

“So, Yander will meet us there. He’s probably already there and waiting patiently outside the eatery for us.”

“You know the restaurant you asked us to meet at–”

“I know,” said Augustus sternly. He stared Cladius down until he rolled his eyes away to look out the window, and shrugged his shoulders to indicate his lack of interest in any further details.

The carriage moved along, filled with a conversation of inane trivialities. Augustus was reminded of how Cladius’ mind was full of gossip that held no practical use.

They arrived, after a short time, at their destination, The Broken Stone. An influential eatery, located so close to the Senate, the perfect place for a trend to catch on. They traversed the last of the distance on foot, with the guards trailing closely. Augustus scanned the courtyard, bustling with people walking in a hurry, scanning for Yander. He caught sight of him leaning up against the base of a statue, dressed in his ceremonial captain’s uniform. The clothing looked uncharacteristically immaculate, cleaned thoroughly, giving its dominant white colour an apparent shine. The blues and green accents were also noticeably vibrant. Augustus had become so used to his casual, and somewhat dirty, image from the voyage, that his eyes passed over him once or twice during his scan before actually seeing him. Augustus waved, capturing Yanders attention. Yander walked over briskly, dodging the people in the crowd when they refused to give way to him.

“You didn’t need to wear a captain’s outfit,” said Cladius. “In fact, it looks a bit out of place here. You should have just worn some nice personal clothing.”

“Excuse me, Master Cladius, but I don’t have any personal clothing that would be fitting for this establishment,” said Yander. And to his credit, he managed to say it without a hint of shame.

"Oh." Cladius wrapped his arm around Augustus, yanking him close. “Well, then Augustus here will have to buy you some after we all get paid. Right, little brother?”

Augustus looked Yander up and down, weighing the obligation against the value of a portion of Yander's loyalty. These calculations were always complicated, since the clothes, Augustus knew, in no way guaranteed the purchase of his loyalty. In a situation like this, it would only influence it slightly one way or another, probably. "That'll have to depend on how much we profit. However, I have no problem with sharing my good fortune with those who are loyal."

"Don't worry, Master Auguster. I'll be paid plenty enough with my wages and the bonus pay. Besides, if I received a lavish gift at the expense of a smaller bonus to my crew, it would cause me more problems than that gift would hope to solve."

Cladius let go of Augustus and began to lead them all to the front entrance. There was no large sign at the front, to attract visitors. Just a simple inconspicuous wooden door. Cladius knocked on it loudly and the door opened immediately.

“Greetings. I am Cladius DeCastellian.”

The well-dressed man in the doorway smiled and gestured down the stairwell that was the only path after the doorway. “Welcome,” he said. “You are always welcome here.”

“We’re here to meet with the proprietor. I sent him a letter yesterday. He should be here, or be arriving shortly,” said Cladius as he proceeded down the stairs.

As Augustus followed, the light dimmed around but slow enough his eyes could easily adjust. They entered the large room, the walls lined with deep stalls and a table with enough space to seat ten men. They chose an empty stall; the Castellian brothers took the places next to the wall, Yander sat next to Augustus and the two guards took their seats near the corridors through which the servants moved.

“The proprietor will arrive soon,” said Cladius, patting his clothing to look for an item. “But first, we should sign the contracts. You have them with you, right?”

“Of course,” responded Augustus. He reached into his clothing and produced two scrolls, rolled up and bound by metal rings that would be just a bit too large to fit on anyone’s fingers. He unfurled them on the table and handed one to Cladius and the other to his bodyguard. “Read it aloud. And your guard will verify both are written verbatim.”

Cladius read his copy, outlining precisely the deal that was already struck verbally. Cladius nodded throughout, and when finished, smiled. “That is what we agreed to. I half worried that you might’ve forgotten some of it considering how drunk you got that night. I’ve had nights like that where I couldn’t remember much with any accuracy.”

“I hadn’t drunk that much at that point. So, you are saying everything in this contract is in order?”

“Yes, yes. You are quite the diligent notary,” said Cladius. He reached his hand out quickly, catching Augustus off guard and unable to dodge the hand from patting the top of his head and ruffling his hair. “Let’s sign.”

Cladius pulled out a quill and a small bottle of black ink and signed without a second thought. They each signed, the two signatories and the two witnesses. Once the contracts were signed by all parties, they were bound again by the metal ring, then sealed and stamped. Both the Castellians tucked their respective copies onto their person.

"Now that all that’s out of the way, we should discuss our progress,” said Yander.

“Yes,” smiled Cladius. “I’ve already begun my work. Yesterday, when I went out to dinner, I already pushed the spice to the staff at Permillion. I had the chef come out and meet me at the table and we worked out a deal.”

"Already lined up a sale?" Asked Augustus.

"No, no. Not at all. If they bought it without any demand, that would just be them paying me for my continued patronage. And if I were willing to just leverage that like that, I would be much better served selling something for which I took the full profit.”

“Then what is your deal?” Asked Yander.

“Well, for a price, they are willing to push their creations, that they’ve already concocted thanks to the free sample given to them by Yander, on their high-class clientele.”

“You’re saying that on top of giving them the free sample, we should be paying them?” Asked Yander, incredulously.

"Yes. A small fee of ten venti. They will then read a script to their customers, asking them to try the new menu items. They will even offer a discount to those of influence. I would suggest striking that deal with every high-end eatery."

"That would cost at least a few gilden." Augustus leaned against the wall beside him, with his hand pushing against his face, his elbow resting on the table. His eyes squinted with consideration of the proposal.

“Since it would be an expedition expense, the cost would be borne by the Castellian company along with yourself. But, it wouldn't strain your current liquidity."

"Shouldn't the cost burden be on you? It's your plan, after all,” said Yander.

“No. As per the contract, my fee is based on the sale price. We shouldn't bother annulling this document," said Cladius as he patted his breast, the location he placed his copy of the contract. "It's such a well-written document, would be a shame to mar it with scribbles. In the end, it's your decision whether you want to spend the coin. But if time is an issue, it's the course that will get the quickest results."

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