Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XVII

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.

A tall praetorian came into the room and stood kicking his feet like a schoolboy. Decimus sat abruptly upright.
“All right man, what don’t you want to say?”
The hard-bitten guard looked into his commander’s eyes.
“We obtained entry to the Rufus apartment and there we discovered two females. Identified as Lydia Augusta Severius and Octavia Tullia Scaevia. Both females were deceased. Preliminary examination suggests poison. I’m sorry sir.”
Decimus stood up and clapped the man on his hard, muscular shoulder.
“Thank you,” he said simply and the soldier left, walking quietly.
“Oh. My dear friend,” Julia felt incapable and suddenly very small and useless.
Fortunately Boudicca was well able for the situation. She went and put her plump, motherly arms around Decimus and he laid his head on her shoulder. Julia walked over to them and patted them both.
“We’ll just leave you then…”
“No lass,” Decimus’ voice was thick with tears, but he spoke with authority. “You two should at least hang about until we find out if my lads caught up with Marcella. Though I doubt it.”
“I do too,” Julia said moodily. “I think the futatrix will be long gone.”
Dai looked on, and his face clearly expressed complete puzzlement.
“Tell him, lass. I can’t speak about it right now and he needs to know.”
“When Decimus was offered the job as Tribune in charge of the Praetorian Cohort of Britannia, which was a huge promotion, there were strings. Or rather there was one string. The Praetor had a problem daughter who he wanted married and off his hands. Decimus was single, and with the reputation of being a tough man to cross. The Praetor thought him the perfect man to take his daughter off his hands. Decimus wasn’t given the option of refusal. He married the girl. And she never forgave him. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“Yes, but…,” Dai was groping for words.
“But why am I shedding tears for her?” Decimus provided, stepping away from Boudicca and gently gripping her arm in gratitude.
“Sorry, dominus. But yes…”
Because the poor silly futatrix got as little out of the marriage as me. Maybe even less. She wanted some little wastrel, who was the only son of a senator. But his father didn’t agree. Even when it was proved the girl was spoilt goods. Spoilt by his spoilt son. And that’s why I was weeping. I was weeping at the waste of it all – and because no one should die unmourned. Even simple piety demands tears be shed for her.”
“Oh. I see…”
Julia gave him a little punch on the biceps.
“You probably don’t, and neither do I. But that’s the way they do it in the first families. Lydia was supposed to be grateful to Decimus for marrying her and he was supposed to be grateful for a patrician bride. Sadly, neither felt gratitude. He felt pity. She felt loathing.”
She watched Dai’s face carefully as she spoke, willing him to at least try and understand. Try to see that Romans could be as trapped in their lives as he was in his. When she wound down, he gave her shoulders a little squeeze as if to reassure her, before speaking directly to Decimus.
“I’m sorry dominus. Sorry for what you are going through and sorry for my own crassness. I think I just always assumed that being a Roman Citizen meant you had at least half of the world at your feet. I never thought that might carry its own set of problems.”
Decimus looked at the tall Celt and dredged up a wry grin.
“Just keep it in mind when you are dealing with Julia will you? She’s had it a lot harder than me.”
“Shut up, Decimus,” Julia said, feeling the heat in her face.
“Why should I? Am I not speaking truth?”
“You are. But…” her voice was tense, willing him to leave it alone. This was not the time.
Boudicca gave Decimus a little shake.  “Not yours to tell.”
He subsided, still grumbling under his breath, while Julia tried to deal with the twin demons of memory and loneliness.

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

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