Yet Another Engagement Party

Adjusting the fit of his purple suit coat in the mirror, Lothario let out a heavy sigh, ”There’s no escaping it any longer.” He left his room to a pair of servants who picked up the shirts and suit pants lying around on the bed, chair, and even floor. Each step down the flight of stairs to the first floor tightened the sour knot in his stomach. Shuffling his feet off the landing and into the sitting room, Lothario forced a smile which did not reach his eyes.

”Ok, mother. I am ready to go.”

Elanora Venturi’s ball gown shuffled as she rose from the chair. Clasping her gloved hands together, she smiled, ”Well don’t you look lovely this evening. Times like this make me think of what a shame it was the marriage with Ilaria never worked out.” A servant opened the door, and Lothario followed his mother to the waiting gondola.

”Your step father gets back from Austria later this week. And if all goes well, I hear that Hapsburg-Lorraine women tend to bear male children. You would father our family heir soon after marriage.”

Lothario rolled his eyes, ”Of course. That would be a lovely turn of events.”

Elanora studied her son as he entered the gondola, ”I know you dislike going to these engagement parties, but they’ve always been an excellent place to catch up on business with other noble families. The rituals around starting a family provide for willing dealmakers.”

Lothario grabbed a side as the gondola shoved off, ”Of course, mother. I remember that lesson from the last engagement party I attended.”

Elanora shook her head, ”No you don’t. But I promise one day you will.”

The pair rode the rest of the way in silence. Upon arriving at Palazzo Volpe, Lothario followed his mother into the engagement party. Once inside, the pair split up so they could meet and greet other nobility.

Glass of red wine in hand, Lothario drained it after enduring yet another round of gossip with a newly married couple. Walking right past a young man, the corner of Lothario’s eye caught the outlines of well defined muscles underneath the clothing of a young man he hadn’t met before. He continued on for a few more meters before turning around and circling back.

Approaching the Russian noble, Lothario attempted to make conversation, ”Evening. You look as excited to be here as I do. Though not recognizing you, perhaps you haven’t attended enough noble engagement parties to become as jaded as me.”

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

Valerio, the son of Nicholas' host, was sometimes far too optimistic for his own good or so the Prince was beginning to realise he once again found himself herded into yet another mediocre social event. He had been promised the engagement party would be 'the event of the year', however Nicholas found it very apparent that no part of the promise was true from the moment he took a step inside. Now, unsure if Venetian parties were simply not as sophisticated as Russian ones, or wondering if Valerio might simply just be a bad choice of guide, the Grand Duke counted the minutes until he could politely excuse himself. Better to enjoy the evening drinking wine and enjoying the warm winds overlooking the grand canal, than to remain in the den of baying middle age women attempting to force their daughters on him.

Nicholas' found himself retreating to a slightly obscured corner, where he could wait in peace for the proper amount of time to pass before he made his departure. It was very much like being at one of his grandmother's galas all over again, hiding in the corner while everyone else went on about their business, compeltely oblivious of his existence - although in this case, Nicholas was keen to be ignored.

Twisting about a gold and jewel encrusted pocket watch in the palm of his hand and a glass of wine in the other, Nicholas was momentarily distracted enough to not realise he had been approached, at least until the man spoke. The man's purple coat was bright, a stark contrast to his own more sedate forest green, though it was entirely not something Nicholas would be seen in, he could still appreciate the expense of the fabrics.

"I was promised, 'the even of a lifetime'." Nicholas responded dryly, in Russian accented French since his Venetian was not in anyway good enough for a proper conversation. He made a gesture to the room at large, with his wine glass, "As you can see, I have been falsely informed." He added, the dryness remaining in his tone.

"The last engagement party I attended, was far more dramatic." He added with a tone of musing, because it had in fact been his own party and he had stormed out of it after a terrible argument with his grandmother and father. Needless to say, it had been the very catalyst which had caused his 'exile' to Venice.

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

Lothario paused for a second while he tried to place the accent. He had heard French, English, Spanish, and even German accented Venetian. But this man’s accent was none of those. A mystery to solve. Far more interesting than chatting up a bunch of noble women, half of which were sizing him up as to how good a father he would be to their heirs.

He grabbed a glass of red wine from a nearby tray then chuckled, ”Perhaps it would be of one were born yesterday and had nothing to compare against. All of them are like this - meander around gossipping and politicking with the other noble families. Yes, I’m afraid you have been misinformed.” Lothario drank some of his wine and sighed, ”Honestly, if it weren’t for the invitation I would forget which one I’m attending.”

Holding out his hand to shake, Lothario introduced himself, ”Lothario Venturi. As you might tell by my accent, I’ve lived in or around Venice my whole life.”

Upon hearing about the previous engagement party being more dramatic, he leaned in a bit so the surrounding people wouldn’t overhear their conversation, Lothario nodded, ”Never had anything dramatic happen, but the last person I met at one of these, a French nobleman, vanished soon after. Some revolutionaries from France tracked him down and attempted to bring him back to stand for his crimes. But between you and me - from what I hear - Louis XVI merely stepped to gather his forces to dissolve the national assembly. Should have things back to order in a month, two tops.”

”My own engagement party wasn’t too bad, though two days later the family broke off the wedding and my bride-to-be now lives outside the city. I guess I save my drama for the wedding itself. But speaking of drama, I don’t expect any tonight. You have any suggestions involving leaving, I’m open to them.”

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

"Gossip and politicking is be expected." Nicholas pointed out, it was the purpose of most functions and he was content to accept it as a necessity. "What is lacking is the entertainment." He gave a pointed look to the rather average quartet of musicians in the far corner who were the sole entertainment for the evening. "One could easily mistake this for a country dance." Where were the jugglers, the fire breathers, or at least, where was a the orchestra.

To Nicholas, a handshake was a strange gesture, given it was reserved for a meeting between equals and Nicholas had none (except his brothers, whom he would greet with a hug or far more familiar embrace). He bowed to those above him and those below, bowed to him. It was simply the way of the world in which Nicholas lived. Despite this, he was ready to adapt and although he found the gesture somewhat awkward to make, he shook the older man's hand briefly, before dropping it back to his side.

If a handshake was a strange gesture, then introducing himself was just as unusual for the Imperial Prince, however he obliged. In most cases, he would not have hesitated to announce himself correctly, however Nicholas had an inkling the stranger could better amuse him if they kept things informal and to put it simply, on equal terms. Men seemed happy the chat and gossip with their peers, however if presented with a Prince, the offer might quality fade and thus, he would be left alone, bored and counting the moments until he could leave. "Nicholas Pavlovich Romanov, from Russia." He replied with a slight grin. Of course, if Monsieur Venturi knew anything about European nobility he would guess Romanov was a noble surname, and if he had kept abreast of Venetian news he would also know of the Russian Prince visiting the city, however if the failed to put these details together Nicholas believed he could very well remain on equal footing with the other man.

Nicholas was intrigued by Monsieur Venturi's initial story, not just for what may have happened to the nobleman, but for what he thought of the situation in France. "A King who can not rule in complete authority is no King." It was something his grandmother had always said. The monarchy were appointed by God and it was their place to rule, the situation in France was simply an upset of the natural order. "His own greed and carelessness lead him to this position..." Nicholas added, completely unaware of the irony, when his own family were accused of very much the same faults by their people.

Keen to leave talk of politics behind, Nicholas gave a small chuckle, it seemed Monsieur Venturi and himself shared the delight of broken engagements, although he had been on the other side of the equation. "I am sorry to hear of your broken arrangement, although you do not sound particuarly put out by it." Nicholas pointed out before draining his glass of wine and passing it off to the nearest server, leaving his hands free. He was not about to announce his own mistakes, given it was hardly good manners or proper to break one's betrothal - even less so when one's engagement had been ordered by the Empress.

"Well, Monsieur Venturi, you are the native to these lands. I expect you have better suggestions than I." By this point Nicholas was happy to take suggestions, "I have a gondola waiting, if that is of any inspiration." The Prince added with a slight grin, a not at all innocent, for if this Monsieur Venturi was prepared to skip out of the engagement party like an unruly adolescent, then so too was he! Had he not been instructed by his father to enjoy himself?

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

Russia… Russia…, Lothario thought to himself, trying to will to the forefront of his memory the childhood lessons of various European nobilities that his tutor went on for weeks instilling in Lothario and his best friend Beppin. At the time, it seemed like a shipload of useless information. Who knew it would come in handy when meeting someone at a social gathering? Perhaps the windfall of money so generously provided by the Barbaro family could pay for additional lessons.

Lothario nodded at Nicholas’ musings of the situation in France, ”Indeed. Once I’m the head of our household, everybody will know their place.” In Venice, hypocrisy flowed as freely as the waters through the canals.

He sighed upon hearing Nicholas’ condolences, ”Thank you. Ilaria is a sweet, young woman. But the thought of marriage apparently was too much for her to bear. Better to find these things out now than after we swear an oath in front of God and family.” She would have been the perfect cover for his own sexuality. However, even that had its limits.

A gondola would be perfect for reaching Lothario’s planned destination. Before he could even open his mouth to respond, a hand rested upon his arm, ”Lothario, glad I found you.” Spinning to the side, a familiar face most would find pretty even in middle age with a burgundy dress adorned with gold borders and brunette hair sitting in a pile of curls addressed her son, ”And good to see you making yourself useful.” His mother exchanged proper introductions with Nicholas before continuing, ”I have a nasty headache, but fortunately one that bleeding can’t take care of. Must depart early, and it pleases me to see I’m leaving the family business in good hands for once.” She curtsied to Nicholas before turning around and walking away.

Lothario leaned a bit closer to Nicholas, as if his mother might hear from thirty feet away, ”There’s a back exit I discovered from the last time here. The gondola would be perfect for taking us to one of the best brothels in Venice. The women are exquisite, and privacy can be purchased for the right coin.” Females may not be his preference, but his mother did say sacrifices must be made for further the affairs of family.

”Come. This way”, Lothario beckoned Nicholas in the opposite direction his mother went towards a door that led to a stairway above the side exit.

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

After making a rather innocuous introduction to his new companion's mother, Nicholas had begun to doubt his conviction in play the role of the commoner. He had read enough books and seen enough operas to know pretending to be someone else never turned out particularly well for anyone involved. His grandmother had sent him to Venice to enjoy himself, had she not? It was under the guise of punishment, yet it was still a chance for him to experience the freedom of being away from the strict Russian Court. If he were to do anything like this in his life, then now was his chance to do so.

Bracing himself against his own doubts, Nicholas did as he was bidden and followed Monsieur Venturi from the ballroom to his convenient back exit.

"A brothel?" The Prince queried, not sure his wild adventure ought to take him to a brothel. Bad enough he was already pretending to be a commoner without also being caught out in a house of ill repute. "Perhaps somewhere else, of better reputation?" Nicholas already had a distinct feeling he would go wherever the enigmatic Monsieur Venturi lead but it seemed prudent to suggest a different venue for the night's revelry.

When they broke out into the warm air of the Venetian night, Nicholas carefully glanced back at the Palazzo and then at the gondola awaiting him. "Wait a moment - I need to speak with the guards." Nicholas quickly murmured to Monsieur Venturi before quickly heading over to his gondola and the two green-clad guards. Before the two men could bow or make any other action which might arouse suspicion in his new companion, Nicholas called out in Russian - presuming Monsieur Venturi would have no idea of what they spoke about.

"Odin iz vas pridet so mnoy, drugoy vernetsya v Palatstso. S etogo momenta, pozhaluysta, obrashchaytes' ko mne po-russki." Nicholas said quickly, before turning back to Monsieur Venturi and gesturing for the other man to join him.

The guards looked doubtful, but both gave a firm, "Da vashe vysochestvo." Before one parted from the group and headed back toward the ballroom.

"Shall we?" He grinned slightly, carefully boarding the gondola, still not entirely used to the process of doing so and despite it being a rather large and grand boat.

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

A brothel? Perhaps somewhere else, of better reputation?

Lothario put his hand over an inside pocket and jingled the coins around, ”Not to worry. This isn’t just any old whorehouse. We’re talking one of the most reputable in all of Venice. The cost is comparable, but then family fortunes have recently made a sharp turn for the better. Rest assured, your mind will be put at ease the moment we step inside.”

As the pair walked out of Palazzo Volpe, Lothario nodded and studied the guards while Nicholas spoke in Russian. His French and English had been barely passable, let alone an exotic language like Russian. A translator might be in order if he was going to do business with the eastern part of Europe. Lothario sighed, wondering why they all couldn’t speak proper Venetian.

He greeted the returning Nicholas with a wave to get aboard, ”Indeed, we shall.” They climbed into the gondola, and Lothario told the man holding the oar that Madame De Leze was their destination. The ten minute ride kept them within Dorsoduro and its lavish buildings. The gondola stopped just outside one of the smaller buildings along the row.

”Madame De Leze was a courtesan to Doge Renier. After his death, she started this brothel. It caters to those with exquisite tastes. I’m confident you’ll find it up to your standards.”, Lothario said as he disembarked, ”All in the name of good international relations. The ladies cater to most ‘unusual’ requests. For a price, of course, but don’t let that stop you as it’s on me.” He never bothered to question how his mother and stepfather came into such good fortune, but Lothario was determined not to let it go to waste.

The reception area had several candle filled chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Paintings adorned the walls while several area rugs sat upon the marble flooring. Two hallways led to the interior of the building. Upon entering, a woman in her early twenties wearing a red dress approached the pair and smiled at Lothario, ”Signore Venturi, so good to see you again. The usual?”

”Of course, Signorina Giovante”, Lothario gestured to Nicholas, ”And whatever Signore Romanov desires, I have that covered as well.”

”And will you two be together or separate?”

”Ahhhh”, Lothario shrugged and looked at Nicholas, ”That’s up to you.”

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

Nicholas was not as reassured by Monsieur Venturi's promise as the man might have hoped. A whorehouse was still a whorehouse, no matter which way it was phrased. Given both his position and his naturally reserved nature regarding the services a whorehouse might offer, Nicholas sudden had a pang of anxiety. Who knew where the evening was heading, perhaps wandering off with a stranger was not the smartest thing he had ever done.

The Prince attempted to keep an open mind. Many brothels offered music, dancing and gambling, as well as their more traditional services and so with any luck he would have more than enough entertainment for the evening. The more Monsieur Venturi spoke, however, the less Nicholas was convinced of this and instead he wondered how he would be able to extricate himself from the situation without insulting the amiable Monsieur Venturi. Forthrightness might have been valued in his home country but Nicholas had discovered some Venetians were a little sensitive when it came to foreigners disagreeing with something they were certain of.

Even as the gondola docked at their destination, Nicholas had not yet formed the right words to inform his guide of his desire to do nothing with whores, other than perhaps gamble or perhaps, at a stretch, dance. The hostesses' familiarity with Monsieur Venturi was...Disturbing and Nicholas found himself glancing back at the gondola, wondering if he could simply walk away from the situation without any explanation. Monsieur Venturi did not know who he was after all...

Glancing back to the woman and looking to Monsieur Venturi, having missed some of the discussion in his contemplations of escape, he struggled to decide what he was supposed to say.

"I, uh, well...That is -" Nicholas gave a small, awkward cough an attempt at giving his brain enough time to come up with an actual sentence rather than just a collection of random sounds, "-Ah..Certainly an interesting offer, however, I was hoping to just have a drink."

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

The ‘clik-clak clik-clak’ of two sets of heels grew louder and louder from the adjacent hallway as Nicholas coughed and mentioned that a drink would suffice. Before Lothario could attempt to further persuade Nicholas to join in any sexual activity, one of the women spoke.

”Thank you so much for agreeing to this. I wanted to surprise my girlfriend when she comes to visit me out in the country estate next Thursday.” The pair crossed the entrance to the reception area, but neither paid attention to their surroundings as they continued down the other hallway, ”But I wanted to practice with this at least once beforehand. Don’t want to ruin the moment. Not like I get to see her very often.”

The voices and footsteps trailed off down the hallway. All color drained from Lothario’s face, and he steadied himself against a chair arm to keep from falling over. He mouthed a few words while staring into the hallway the pair of women just traversed.

He turned back to Nicholas after regaining some composure, “You know, a drink does sound good. In fact, many drinks sound good. Come”

Signorina Giovante looked on as Lothario began walking out the way he came, ”Wait. Don’t you want to”

Lothario interrupted before she could finish, ”Another time.” He walked out of the brothel without looking back, almost as if he forgot someone had been with him. After walking back to the gondola, Lothario climbed in and just stared off into the distance.

When Nicholas caught up, Lothario sighed, ”I’m sure you have at least one or two places we could go have a drink. Might need to carried home as I hope to drink enough to understand why my ex-fiance is probably sleeping with my mother.”

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Re: Yet Another Engagement Party

The Prince watched as the colour drained completely from Monsieur Venturi's face. Realising, somewhat belatedly, the man's reaction was to the female voice and not his own answer to the implied question, Nicholas offered a somewhat perplex look in response. Clearly, something had drastically changed the other man's mind on the topic of brothels and Nicholas was happy to oblige, turning to follow Monsieur Venturi out of the building and back toward the dock where Nicholas' gondola was moored.

Taller and clearly very motivated to leave, Monsieur Venturi took him to the boat quicker than Nicholas could manage without jogging, and regardless of anything, a Prince did not jog in public. A few moments after, Nicholas joined Monsieur Venturi aboard the timber vessel, sitting himself down at one end, on the plush velveteen seating, just as the Venetian explained why had been in such a rush.

It took a moment to process the man's words but when he had, Nicholas could do nothing but laugh. A man's mother and his ex-fiance? It was as hilarious as it was tragic. There were so many questions to ask! Though as Nicholas looked at the expression on Monsieur Venturi's face, he decided it was perhaps not the best time for them.

With his lips twitching as he attempted to stop the amused smile, the Prince nodded, "I have the perfect remedy for this." Vodka was the answer. If one wished to forget something, lots of vodka would solve the issue. Unfortunately, as they were in Venice, there was only one location one could get proper, quality vodka and that was from Nicholas' own stocks, back at his palazzo.

"To the Palazzo Pisiani, if you please," Nicholas instructed the gondoliers, realising his pretence of being a commoner would now be all for nought once Monsieur Venturi visited the Palazzo, his residence in Venice.

Fortunately, Nicholas' residence was not far from where they now were, and they arrived at the private docks before the grand canal-side palace in good time. "You have an interesting family Monsieur Venturi. " Nicholas quipped, still with questions he wanted to ask but waiting until Monsieur Venturi had at least drunk a few glasses to numb the shock.

"Welcome home your imperial highness, " The guard at the dock said with a bow as Nicholas disembarked the gondola onto the stop forecourt of the palace. As they said, the cat was now out of the bag...

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