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Kalends October MDCCLXXVII Anno Diocletiani
In the space before the small temple – so small it had been considered a mere shrine just a few years before – the crowds had gathered as usual for the chance to be chosen. They sat in their wheelchairs, or stood, faces drawn with pain and fatigue. All had given up just about everything, to make the journey here on the off chance that they might be deemed worthy to be healed by the grace of the Divine Diocletian.
It was not easy to get through the new barriers that surrounded the site. Security guards patrolled the perimeter and manned the gates. Dai Llewellyn and Bryn Cartivel had left their vehicle in the small car park behind one of the new cuponae that had sprung up to provide accommodation for those waiting their chance to visit the temple and approached the gates on foot, beside the queue that wound back to the road. Dai felt it would give them a chance to get a better idea of the atmosphere of the place. Which was also why he had not bothered to tell anyone at the temple that he was coming to visit.
“You do have to wonder why this place is so popular,” Bryn observed, scratching at his greying hair as they walked past the queue. “Over on Ynys Mon there is a state of the art medical research facility in the Asclepieion there, always seems to be offering people the chance to sign up for clinical trials. Can’t see as how this is going to be better than that. And there they pay you to take part and you get full on comfort and care – here you have to pay just for the chance to be summoned and get to stay in a miserable pilgrims’ dormitory.”
“I read the brochure too, it makes it very clear no money is charged for the healing. But those who want may offer small donations,” Dai observed.
“Ah, right. That would be why the cuponae here do such a roaring trade and the temple just built a whole new wing for the Pontifex of the place. Small donations.”
The two guards at the gate wore the haloed head of the Divine Diocletian on tabards over their paramilitary outfits. They were also armed with nerve whips which meant they would be Roman Citizens.
“Oy! You can’t just push in where you want,” one of the two called out as Dai and Bryn reached the gate.
“We have business here, we’re not here to participate in the rites,” Dai explained politely.
“Can’t you read, spado? Sign back there says ‘Closed during divine service’.”
“Yes. So I saw. But my business means I would need to observe the proceedings. Respectfully of course.”
The gate guard gave a short laugh.
“Listen, you stupid British irrumator, only those invited to attend are allowed in. now, whatever your ‘business’ might be, I suggest you take it elsewhere before I call the local vigiles and have you arrested for creating a disturbance.”
Beside Dai, Bryn gave a forced cough and cleared his throat.
“Senior Investigator Cartivel here, can I help you?” He held up his ID and pressed it against the fence so the gate guards could see it clearly. “And this is Submagistratus Llewellyn, who is my boss.”
Dai mirrored Bryn’s gesture and produced his own identification, holding it up so that the ring of Citizenship on his index finger was obvious too.
“If it’s no trouble, perhaps you could let us in now?” he said mildly. “We are here on a murder investigation.”
The body had been found washed up on a beach near Segontium and would normally have attracted little, if any, attention as no one had been reported missing. But this corpse had been found to have a ring of Citizenship still attached to a finger, but lodged in the corpse’s throat. To Dai’s impotent fury, Rome reserved the full benefits and privileges of justice for her own children – and it seemed this might be one such case.
Despite the body being partially decomposed, dental records had enabled them to trace its identity. Zirri Yedder had been a freelance journalist with a history of producing cutting investigative pieces that highlighted local issues – local to Mauretania Tingitana that is, the province, where he had lived in the capital, Tingist. Although the pathologist report that Dai read was not entirely sure of the cause of death, it was also very clear that the body had been tortured beforehand.
But the finger was not the finger of Zirri Yedder and he had never been a Roman Citizen. He had, however, been registered at a cupona in the village of Caerhun and the landlady there said he had been there awaiting an invitation to the temple. She had last seen him as he set off to answer his eventual summons and no one had seen him alive since then.
Which was why Dai and Bryn now stood on the edge of the crowd watching as the service began. A security guard hovered nervously near by, trying not to make it too obvious that he was watching them as they observed proceedings.
“Who’d have thought a man who died nearly two thousand years ago having self-labelled as a deity, would still be honoured as a worker of miracles in the modern age?” Bryn’s voice was pitched so it was lost in the chanting from the crowd. Even so Dai looked at him sharply.
“You should be careful saying those kinds of things, SI Cartvel. Especially here.”
Bryn lifted his wrist and tapped the screen on his wristphone.
“Not me, Bard, I’m just reading what our friend Yedder put up on his social media. It was meant as a teaser for his next piece.”
“And I missed that, how?”
“You are a busy man, Submagistratus and these little details…”
“I checked his social media feed, right back for the last three years.”
“Ah, that would explain it then.” Bryn was looking almost smug. “It only posted today – less than an hour ago in fact. It must have been one he scheduled before he died.”
“Spado!” Dai said, but without real rancour. “Was there more?”
The other man shook his head. “No. That was it. Just says: ‘My current investigation is going to make a lot of people sit up and think’, then what I told you. Seems to be his style. Putting up a teaser a couple of days before the main article comes out. This time though, I think he hit the wrong kind of deadline first.”