An extract from 'When Dai met Bryn' one of the two stories in Dying to be Friends by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago
The Prefect had an office at the top of the Vigiles building with a panoramic view over Londinium. The Augusta Arena, Constantius Column, the Temple of the Divine Diocletian set in beautiful parkland running down to the river, the sub aquila housing, the Forum and the new baths. Dai presumed the Prefect’s view would be even better than the one he had from the small waiting area outside the office. He was on his fourth cup of water from the cooler and wondering if he should risk a quick trip to the snack dispenser he had seen by the lifts to curtail his stomach’s noisy ambition to digest itself, when the door opened and he was shown in to the Prefect’s sanctum.
The Prefect was a stiff-backed old-school Vigiles, clearly not too many years from his – presumably – well-earned retirement back to the warmth and civilisation of Rome. He was standing, not sitting when Dai walked in and responded to his salute with little more than an upwards nod of his head. Dai, standing in his best parade-ground stance, said nothing.
“Llewellyn,” the Prefect was behind his desk and reached down to tap a folder on it – old-school – with the photo of Dai pinned to the front they had taken when he signed up for the course. “Good things. It says very good things.”
There was a pause and the Prefect stared at him as if expecting some response.
“Thank you, dominus, I am glad I have been meeting expectations.”
“Meeting. Exceeding. Top of the class, Llewellyn. Highest score we’ve had in years.”
This time Dai said nothing in the silence. They were not told their mark on the Investigator’s exam, only that they had passed it.
“Yes,” the Prefect went on as if answering a question, “Impressive for a Briton. Direct graduate too. Master’s degree. What was that in again?”
“British History,” Dai provided, painfully aware how that sounded every time he said it. “I did do sub-units on the Early Empire and the reign of the Divine Diocletian as well,” he added hurriedly. But for all the reaction he got, he could have said it was Celebrity Studies or Creative Cartwheeling. Dai felt the usual sensation of being invisible, even though on this occasion at least, he was the supposed focus of a Roman’s attention.
“Vacancy here,” the Prefect was saying. “Lost the last man. Tragedy. He was promising too. Very bright. Shame. But have to have someone and you’ll do. Be wasted in the sticks anyway.”
Dai blinked and tried to make sense of what he was hearing. He opened his mouth to ask if he could ask something, but the prefect was speaking again.
“Accommodation provided for the first month, after that on your own – but you’ll be paid by then and can find something in one of the estates.” Then the Prefect stepped away from the desk and glowered at Dai. “I don’t like appointing one of you people, but this role needs it. You will be dealing more with your sort than with Citizens.”
Your sort. The sting of made Dai’s guts tighten.
“I’m not sure I understand, dominus. I am going home tom-”
The Prefect made that odd upward nod, like a wild animal scenting blood.
“No. Not happening. We need you here. Starting now.”
There was no room to argue. He had signed up for twenty years minimum service. But it was going to be a very awkward call to his brother telling him he needed to find another groomsman at short notice. That would do little to help with their already strained relationship – strained through disagreement over Dai’s career choice.
“Of course, dominus,” he said, working hard to keep the tight resentment from leaking into his voice.
“Great privilege. Working in Londinium. Do well here, could get transferred to Trev.” It was odd to hear the contraction of the regional capital in the mouth of a Roman, for some reason Dai had always assumed it was a British thing.
“Yes, dominus.” He noticed there was no mention of possible promotion. But then there could not be. The best he could ever hope for was a lateral transfer. No non-citizen ranked higher in the Vigiles. The Inquisitors and up were all Roman.
“Good. Sorted. Team Room XIII. Downstairs. They are expecting you. Dismissed.”
His life casually rewritten for him in less time than it took to boil a kettle, Dai found himself walking from the office wishing he’d not bothered putting in those extra revision sessions for his last exams.