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Nov 19, 2019 2:39 AM
democracy at work
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Deina will maintain to his dying day that it's not his fault for walking in on the Senator.

Look: he's had a successful day. His proposal for simplifying the process of manumission has an easy majority, and he expects to push it through the Assembly without difficulty. He expects Valentine to appreciate this; the man usually does.

So his mind is elsewhere, and he opens the door without knocking. It's not locked. How is that his fault?

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Valentine’s attention is, at the moment the door opens, elsewhere.

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His slave — the one who attends him in the Senate chamber, a slender Talosan boy with striking silver hair common to the planet — is curled up in his lap, shaking and weeping into his shoulder.

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“Shh, dove. You’re safe.”

He’s stroking the back of his neck, one arm holding him tight against his chest.

“I’m not going anywhere. I promise you.”

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Everyone knows Valentine's boy is his lover. It only takes eyes.

This, though ... this is something else.

 

He stands where he is, hand on the doorknob, transfixed.

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Valentine looks up.

 

He doesn’t change his posture, doesn’t stop his hand — looks Deina in the face.

If this is the end of me, he says, without speaking, let it be the end of me.

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Deina takes a moment, looking at the two of them.

 

The door locks on the inside. He turns the latch, before he leaves, so the lock clicks into place when he shuts the door behind him.

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The next day, Deina receives an invitation to dinner — a private affair, in a small restaurant they’ve met at before for policy discussions.

There is no mention in the invite of any particular occasion.

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Deina considers the invitation, considers what sort of a man Valentine is, and gives one of his freedmen a note for his sister with updated instructions in case of his death.

He attends dinner, though.

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Valentine is there when Deina arrives, at a curtained-off table at the back of the establishment.

 

“I was hoping,” he says, “that I could ask your advice. On a matter of politics.”

There’s already wine at the table — he pours with a perfectly steady hand.

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Valentine's dressed in his usual: purple-edged toga, scarlet shoes, earrings just a touch ostentatious. Would an assassination merit a special costume? Maybe, maybe not.

Deina sits. "Of course. I'm at your disposal."

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“There’s been talk,” he says, “about the invasion of Marina.”

A wealthy allied state — at odds with the capital on occasion, but reliable in trade, recovering from a recent conflict with Kotro.

“I am no great lover of war. But I’m aware I have a personal bias.”

He pours for himself, as well, sets the carafe down.

“I would like to hear your thoughts.”

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He puts his hand to his cup, but doesn't lift it, watching Valentine.

"Marina's trade brings wealth to our pockets."

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“Some believe that we would see more gains from trade if we were to propose sending warships instead of freighters.”

He picks up his own cup, sips delicately.

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He watches Valentine swallow before he tastes his own wine.

"It seems improbable, but I could be convinced."

The wine is a very good vintage, modestly watered. Valentine isn't trying to get him drunk and foolish; from anyone else, he'd think it a bribe, but Valentine is a very particular man in his food and drink.

Deina sets down his cup, considers it thoughtfully.

"But ... Marina is a great power. I do not think we could overthrow it without treachery. And the gods will not bless a war conducted by such means."

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“I’ve never known you to wait for their blessings,” he says, mildly.

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It's a fair point. He nods.

"Call it sentiment, then. A form of foul play I do not choose to sanction."

A dismissive little shrug, and he adds, "A man finds his honor where he can."

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His hand touches his earring, as he reaches up to tuck his hair back, fingertip brushing the thin spiral of gold.

“...yes,” he says, “I suppose that he does.”

 

He has, it turns out, actual politics to discuss, after that. Most of them are proposed edits to the wording of the manumission bill, which he has evidently read and annotated in its entirety.

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The notes are useful, as they always are. Valentine is a valuable ally, when one can have him.

 

A few weeks later, Deina finds the time to spare for a trip to Sicani. A little vineyard there, highly recommended; a particular vintage, not for sale until he spends the better part of the day chatting amiably with the proprietor's grandmother.

Some things must be done right.

He sends Valentine an invitation to drinks and conversation at his house. There are new bills to discuss; there always are.

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Valentine arrives a few minutes politely late, in black and gold,

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and not alone.

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Deina's one house-slave -- a man a little older than him, who looks likely to be his half-brother -- shows them in.

Deina himself is waiting in his study, reclining on one of the couches. There's wine out, and light refreshments, and a scattering of business papers.

"Ah. You came, I'm glad. Do make yourself comfortable."

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Valentine sits, barely has his coat halfway off before Cato takes it to spirit it off elsewhere.

“It’s always a pleasure.”

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This is stretching the truth to the breaking point. They've clashed often enough, and until ... recent events ... Deina wouldn't have dared the familiarity of this invitation.

"The pleasure is all mine. The business, I hope, can be shared. Have you seen the candidates for archon yet...?"

(Deina's slave slips in; pours wine for Valentine first, then for Deina.)

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“I’ve been informed.”

He nods to the slave, picks up his glass to sip.

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