An extract from Dying for a Vacation, the next instalment in the Dai and Julia Mysteries alternative history series about a couple who are detectives in the fight against crime in a modern-day Britain still ruled by the Roman Empire.
The door opened with such force that it bounced back off the wall, and Hywel stomped in. His face was puce and he was waving a sheet of paper. Seemingly unable to speak he threw the paper on the table in front of Julia.
She read it and could feel the blood draining from her own face. It was an official complaint that the family of one Hywel Llewellyn, non-citizen, had been observed to be visiting a sub aquila residence without due authorisation.
The Villa Papaverus was not their own house, it was the residence that went with Dai’s job as Submagistratus and was owned by Rome. As such it was designated sub aquila which meant only Roman citizens and those non-citizens employed to work there were legally permitted inside.
“Oh merda,” she said softly. “I never even thought of that. Dai hates having that wretched eagle above our door.”
She passed the paper to Caudinus who read it swiftly then sighed.
“I am so sorry, I should have seen that coming. As I didn’t, I shall have to investigate.”
Hywel made a noise like a cat that has just had its fur stroked backwards,
“Sorry? Sorry that me and my entire family are being criminalised by your filthy Roman rules?”
Caudinus looked at him severely. “Hush man. Be glad I didn’t officially hear you say that. As I said, I do have to investigate. So will you just be quiet and let me think. Or is shouting and blustering at a pregnant woman something you think a good idea?”
Hywel subsided slightly.
“If this goes through the fine will take most of my livelihood for the last quarter.”
“Oh it’s worse than that,” Caudinus said his expression grim. “The fine would be the lightest of penalties. If it were deemed to have been done in deliberate defiance of Roman authority it could be counted as treason. And this complaint names you, your wife Enya and your step-mother, Olwen.”
Julia felt sick. Dai’s mother, sister-in-law and brother were being placed in real peril through someone’s spite.
“Treason?” Hywel echoed, his tone hollow and slumped into a chair, the fire and fury suddenly deserting him. Treason always carried the death sentence – a humiliating and agonising death in the arena.
Caudinus swept the printed emails into a pile and got to his feet.
“Yes, treason. But if I have anything to do with it, it won’t come to that and I will make sure you are issued with passes under my authority so there is not a problem ongoing.”
“Isn’t there something you can do to dismiss this?” Julia asked, “It is your legal jurisdiction after all.”
Caudinus pulled a face. “It will depend on the nature of the complaint and who the complainant is. It could go over my head to provincial level and those damnable bureaucrats in Augusta Treverorum.” He touched Julia lightly on the shoulder. “You mustn’t worry about this, you hear me?” His tone was stern. She mustered a smile more for his benefit than because she felt reassured. “And you come with me Llewellyn, I need to get some details from you, if you can guard your tongue enough to manage a trip to Viriconium with me?”
Hywel struggled to his feet looking shamefaced and anxious.
“Uh – yes. I’m sorry, dominus. I know it’s not your fault. I’m sorry, Julia too – it’s just that…”
Julia held out her arms and Hywel walked into them to receive a quick hug.
“It’s alright,” she said, letting him go, “but for Enya and Olwen’s sake and the children, you have to keep a lid on your anger over this.”
Hywel nodded and Julia felt a little more hopeful when Caudinus dropped her a wink over his head. A short time later she saw Caudinus’ hovercar gliding along the driveway.
Pushing her own fears to one side, Julia took the time to walk her two wolfhounds, Canis and Lupo, in the orchard, finding their cheerful company helped lift her mood. Then she returned to the house and with the two dogs sleeping by hearth, she opened her laptop and started composing an email to Hook-Beak explaining why she couldn’t leave Britannia at this time and probing for more information about his new married status. She was just thinking about how she could best raise the issue of Hywel’s case to see if, as Praetor, Hook-Beak could short-circuit the legal process in someway, when the sound of heavy footsteps made her look up in time to see the door burst open for the second time that morning.
Dai stood filling the doorway, his expression like a thundercloud fronting a storm. A cold and feral fire burned in his blue eyes that made Julia shiver despite herself.
“You are leaving. Today. Now.” His voice was almost a snarl. “I’ve sent for Elfrida to pack for you. Two of Gallus’ men and Edbert will be your escort. I have made arrangements. You can stay with Didero in Londinium, he has an entire legion of praetorians there to keep you safe.”
Julia opened her mouth and then closed it sharply to prevent the unforgivable, vile, words she so wanted to say from escaping. Instead she got demurely to her feet and walked over to her husband, drawing herself up to her full height of almost five feet.
“Oh you are so right, husband, I am leaving,” she said, keeping her tone sweet. “But not for Londinium. I am going where I choose to go not where you think to send me. And right now I am not at all sure that I will be coming back.”
The Dai and Julia Mysteries are written by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago. Dying for a Vacation, the fifth novella in the series, is out today.