From Dying as a Druid – the latest Dai and Julia Mystery which is out today.
After a final blessing, the doors of the sanctuary were closed behind the shivering priests, who scuttled inside bearing with them the expensive offerings of a grateful city.
“Thank you so much for doing that, Julia, especially with it being so cold. I do have to think the Divine Diocletian didn’t have in mind that we should stand freezing in his honour when these festivities were first added to Saturnalia,” Caudinus observed as they made their way back across the atrium. “But then I don’t suppose it gets quite so cold in Spalatum in December as it does here in Cornovii so it was prob-”
Their escort had move smartly to come between Caudinus and the two men who suddenly appeared from the dispersing crowd, shepherding a smaller cloak-wrapped figure between them.
Caudinus frowned and made a frustrated tutting sound as they came to a halt in the middle of the atrium.
“I am Mot Fionn, dominus. This is my father Kalgo and my only child Megan.”
Julia realised with a slight shock of surprise that she recognised the name. Dai had told her how this time last year, well before he had even met Julia, Hywel had tried to match-make Megan and Dai on a blind date. The Fionns were neighbours to the Llewellyn lands, such close neighbours that their land wrapped around a strip of Hywel’s. Megan was the heiress to the Fionn lands and it had seemed a good idea to both families if an alliance could be arranged. But, it had not gone well, by Dai’s account and had finished with him returning an unhappy and rather drunk Megan home whilst not being exactly sober himself.
Dai had told her Megan was a young woman but had not said how young. Julia could see she was still really a child, maybe seventeen and beneath the hood of her cloak her face looked pinched and miserable.
“Please, Magistratus, I demand justice for my child,” Mot called out. “She has been treated badly and left in a sorry state.”
Caudinus gestured to his guards to let the trio approach.
“This is not the time or place, Fionn, but tell me the thrust of it quickly and then put the details in an email. When we get back to business after the festival I will see you have your justice.”
The two men were glaring at him with cold antipathy. Julia glanced at Megan, but she had her head lowered as if protecting something she was holding under the cloak.
“So? What is this? Speak up. I am willing to hear you, but not to freeze whilst you take your time thinking of what to say.”
“My apologies, dominus,” Kalgo said, bobbing his head respectfully. “It is just – I – well, we – are afraid to speak.”
Caudinus was frowning now.
“Unless you need to admit to some crime, you have no need to be afraid to speak. Just tell me what this is about.”
“With the greatest respect, dominus,” Mot said, his tone obsequious, “there is always peril is speaking truth to power. You are known to be a just and fair man, but when matters touch one’s own family – justice can be lost.”
“Oh for -” Caudinus snapped his mouth shut and drew a breath. “Part of being ‘just and fair’ is not favouring any. Now, please state your problem so we can all get into the warm.”
“Then I state here before witnesses that Dai Llewellyn fathered a child on my daughter and abandoned them both to marry another.” As he spoke he pulled open Megan’s cloak to show the dark-haired infant she held. Julia found the air she was breathing had no oxygen. An odd, detached and lightheaded sensation pulsed behind her eyes. For a moment she even thought she might faint.
Caudinus raised a hand to silence the sudden low buzz of speculation.
“You can’t just walk up to someone and make accusations like that, Fionn. This is not the time or the place – this is a temple on a sacred holiday, not a family court session.”
But Mot was pushing Megan forward, so much that she staggered a couple of paces, clutching the infant to her. Julia put out an instinctive hand to stop the girl stumbling and her face looked up in abject misery.
“Tell them, girl,” Mot demanded, “tell them who is the father of your child. Swear it before the gods and the people.”
“Dai Llewellyn is the father of my child,” she said the words in little more than a whisper.
“And?” Kalgo growled as if prompting her in a lesson.
“And I do swear it before the gods and the people.”
That was enough, more than enough, to set flame to the tinder of crowd gossip and Caudinus had to shout this time to get attention. Julia fought down the impulse to scream and run. With her head pounding and her heart lead in her breast, she drew on her years of military training to stand erect and proud.
“That is enough, Fionn!” Caudinus was saying. “Get your daughter and her baby into the warm and make a proper presentation of your claim in due legal manner. And if I find this is an accusation without proof -”
“We have proof, dominus,” Kalgo told him, face twisting in a grimace. “We have DNA test results. And don’t worry we’ll put it all in legal writing and send it to you like you ask.” He jerked his head and Mot almost pulled Megan over, as he seized her arm and strode off. In Megan’s arms, the baby started crying and the wails seemed to transfix the people in the temple precincts until the Fionn family had walked back out through the gate.
Dying as a Druid is the fourth in the Dai and Julia mysteries by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.