The First Dai and Julia Omnibus by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook in ebook format, is on sale this week. Only £1.99 until June 26th then £2.99 June 27th-29th.
Some half an hour later they emerged, with the decanus ruefully rubbing his stubble obviously caught somewhere between annoyance and amusement.
“Right you lot,” he bellowed, “Domina Julia is here to witness band practice.”
Half of the Praetorians collected instruments and ‘tuned up’. When he judged them ready, Gallus pulled a baton out of his boot and counted them in. Julia winced as soon as they started playing. They were abysmal. Even those who managed to start together soon lost each other in the maelstrom of bum notes and desperation.
Julia lasted less than five minutes. She waved a hand for silence and slowly, slowly the dreadful cacophony stopped.
“Oh merda,” she muttered, “I expected bad but this is in a whole new dimension.” Catching sight of Edbert leaning against the door jamb she quirked an imperious finger. “There’s a brown leather folder on the desk in the librarium, would you be so kind as to fetch it for me?”
The blond giant snapped a salute.
Gallus looked truly apologetic.
“We’ve not had too much time for practicing, what with the work your man has kept us doing.”
She gave him her nicest smile.
“Not your fault, decanus. Let’s just see what we can salvage shall we?” She gave the band a scathing look. “Okay. We’ve seen what you can’t do. Let’s try and ascertain what you can…”
There was quite a lot of foot shuffling and she laughed, not unkindly.
“Right. Will anybody who can actually read music move over here please.” Three men stepped forward and she smiled at them. “Now. Do we have any singers?”
Nobody moved, but Gallus grunted.
“Marcus, Aurelius, Crestor, and Alexios, front and centre please!” Gallus put his hand up by his mouth as if hiding his words from the men and said in a stage whisper: “They used to be a barber’s shop quartet.”
Four men came forwards expressions apprehensive and more than a bit embarrassed. Julia couldn’t help laughing internally at the look on their faces, but she said nothing to them.
“Finally, is there anybody who plays an instrument outside of the band?”
The same men who had admitted to the ability to read music, reluctantly lifted their hands. Julia looked a question.
“Penny whistle, domina.”
“Pipes of Bacchus, domina.”
“Standing harp, domina.”
Julia beamed at them. Edbert had been hanging back, but now he came forward with the folder Julia had requested. She thanked him with a smile.
“Okay, have a look at this.”
She handed out sheets and the men looked in some trepidation. After a few minutes study they looked a lot happier.
“It’s pretty and it’s simple,” Gallus said, “what is it?”
Julia showed him her teeth.
“It’s one of the Celtic folk airs you lot are supposed to be here learning. This folder is full of them. Most written by my husband’s ancestor who was a famous bard.”
After handing over the sheet music, Edbert had disappeared. He returned now with a large standing harp held tenderly in his big hands. He put it down in front of the confessed harpist.
“Domina Julia’s own harp. Treat it with care.”
The youngster looked petrified, and Julia took pity on him.
“I can’t play the thing.”
Then he touched the strings tenderly and a waterfall of gentle notes leapt from his fingertips. He bent his head, suddenly oblivious to everything but the music. Julia smiled, and began to sing a simple little tune. He picked it up quickly and was soon playing along with her. The other two ‘unauthorised’ players, having collected their own instruments, joined in.
For a while, the singers just looked bashful, then one fine tenor voice joined in. He stumbled over pronunciation but soon lost his fear, and then his friends joined in, pitching their harmonies around his lead. Julia smiled as the whole piece lifted and swelled, musicians and singers together. It was actually bloody good.
Even the non-musical Praetorians clapped enthusiastically when the song ran down and Gallus gave a satisfied nod.
“We need to practice. A lot. But…”