Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XVI

Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning.

Dai looked down at Julia.
“You think they are in the wind, don’t you?” he asked.
“Yes. I really, really do. And maybe we’ll never catch up with them.”
“Do you think it is just those three?”
“I don’t know. And I don’t see how it can be. I just wish I could get a handle on what they are up to. Is it betting? Or what?”
Decimus looked at them and snapped his teeth together.
“I think you two are missing something here. Four women from patrician families. Three with unsatisfactory husbands, one with an unsatisfactory job.”
Dai scratched his head.
“Domina Lydia, Octavia Tullia Scaevia, Annia Bellona Flavia, and…”
“Marcella Tullia Junius,” Julia supplied.
“Yes, her. I don’t know about her, but I don’t see the other three masterminding any sort of a plot.” He looked embarrassed.
Decimus actually gave a bark of laughter.
“The boy has a point, Julia. Lydia is as stupid as she is arrogant. Octavia isn’t as pathetic as she chooses to appear but she’s no genius. And the Flavian woman was almost criminally incompetent. That just leaves Marcella Junius. I don’t really know her, but she has the reputation of being both intelligent and as cold as ice. So maybe. Just maybe.”
Julia kicked his desk with one small booted foot.
“Just those four? I wonder. Whatever. If they have poofed we are in trouble. We know they are part of something;, what we have to do now is prove it, and that could be the sticking point.” She fulminated a bit more. “Do you know what really strokes my fur backwards? The Britons. Three athletes in their prime and one half-stupid beastmaster, all killed for no better reason than to hide whatever that lot were part of.”
Dai and the stolid Boudicca exchanged a glance of surprised appreciation. Julia caught that look and stamped her foot in sheer frustration.
“And you two are pissing me off as well. Just because I’m Roman I’m not capable of caring about the lives of Britons? Well I do care. I really bloody care. I joined up to protect everybody, be they Citizens or not. And you can believe me or disbelieve me. About that, I’m beyond caring.”
Dai had the grace to look ashamed, and Boudicca smiled albeit grimly.
“Fair enough, domina. I should have known that a friend of the Tribune’s would be made of good stuff.” Then she subsided, as if aware that she had probably said far too much for an ex-slave.
“Sit down, woman,” Decimus growled. “I’ll get us something to drink while we wait.”
Another bad- tempered clang on his bell brought a young guard running.
“Don’t look scared, lad. I won’t eat you. Just get that idle spado of a house steward to rustle up a drink and a snack for four.”
The guard saluted smartly and went about his business.

In a remarkably short space of time there was a scratch on the door and a procession of servitors brought in a flagon of mead and one of small beer, a tray of the finest glasses from Venezia, and a selection of snacks ranging from olives and salty Hellenic cheese to tiny fried dough balls filled with apple and cream.
Eating and drinking eased a lot of the tension. So much so that Julia was emboldened to put a hand on Dai’s forearm.
“Sorry Dai. I was well out of order there.”
He actually patted her hand.
“No. Truly, you weren’t. I need reminding sometimes that Romans are human.”
For the first time since they met, Julia sensed a genuine thaw in Dai’s attitude to her. She was grateful. By telling herself that such a shift would help their working relationship no end, she could consciously choose to ignore the fact that the tall Celt with his snapping blue eyes was stirring feelings she had no wish to think about.
Before such impure thoughts could sour her improving mood, there was a respectful tap in the door.
“Come.”

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

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