Saturnalia – from ‘Dying as a Druid’

Later, as they lay in bed under the goose down comforter, Dai pulled Julia so she lay across his chest.

“What do I have to wear at this gods-forsaken function tomorrow? I’m dreading it, the annual temple turnout for the birthday of the Divine Diocletian I mean. Outside? December? Toga?”

Julia smiled down at him.

“No. Tunic and trews, and a good warm cloak. You have new trews and tunic in fine cashmere wool. You’ll be fine. You should rather have pity on me, as women are not allowed to wear trousers in the temple precinct. But I do have some thick woollen stockings that make my legs look really fat.”

He laughed and they drifted off to sleep in happy intimacy.

The next morning they had to be up well before dawn. Julia had just got in the bath and Dai was shaving when there came an urgent trill from Dai’s wristphone which he had left beside the bed. Dai wrapped a towel around his waist and went to see what was afoot, carefully closing the bathroom door behind him. Julia had a bad feeling about someone calling before it was properly light so she jumped out of the warm water and towelled herself briskly. Before she had finished dressing Dai was back. With his work face on.

“Sorry love, looks like I get to miss the ceremonials. Message from the landlord of the Dragon and Leek on the Ynys Mon road. A bit garbled, because the place is deep in a valley in the woods and the comms are merda, but something about a fine lady gone missing and two dead Roman outriders. I’ve roused Bryn and the posse.”

Julia sighed, it was going to be a trying day.

“I’ll go wake Cookie and rustle up a packed breakfast.”

“Thanks love.”

She hurried to the kitchen, to find Cookie and Elfrida ahead of her. They worked harmoniously and were able to send Dai and his men to their work with a hamper of breakfast foods and hot soup for later.

***

“So you do know you don’t have to be here, Bard,” Bryn pointed out, munching happily. “You could be back there, snug and warm at home like any other Submagistratus, leaving the donkey work to your underlings.” As he spoke he gestured with his honey sandwich back along the road visible through the back window of the large vigiles all-wheeler and then had to move quickly to catch a golden droplet before it fell on his trews.

Dai sipped the half-cup of hot tea he had just poured from his vacuum flask, before answering.

“Was not going to be a ‘snug and warm’ sort of day. Besides, who would get you lot a decent breakfast if I didn’t come along?”

“I didn’t see you up with breakfast hampers when we were on dawn patrol looking for Glynis Penarddun’s stolen tractor last week. Nor when we answered the shout on the break-in at the Henbeddestr’s first day of Saturnalia – and that was an armed break in too, with theft of the family silver.”

Dai grunted. He felt the good-natured banter more deeply than it was intended. It reminded him that his new role took him ever further away from the aspects of the job he had always enjoyed the most. Nowadays he had to put other aspects of his job ahead of the groundwork he loved.

“I trust you to do your job,” he said and tried to marshall a grin. “Here, have some tea.”

Bryn took the flask and swore as the vehicle hit a rut just as he was pouring it.

“I’d not want you looking over my shoulder all the time, for sure,” he said after he had sponged the worst off his tunic using his dark, vigilis uniform coat.

“Tell you what, next time someone’s chickens are rustled or their TV is stolen, I will turn out with the troops and you can have a lie in. That make you happy?”

Bryn grinned.

“It’ll make Gwen happy. She’s been after me for some help with a bit of heavy lifting around the house since we moved in.” Bryn slurped the last of his tea and set it down with a satisfied sigh. “Would make you happy too I reckon. Here, these honey rolls are fresh baked. Saturnalia Optima.”

Dying as a Druid is the fourth in the Dai and Julia mysteries by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

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