The Dai and Julia Mysteries have a Saturnalia surprise for you this year and we are counting down to it by offering a free novella every day from now until Saturnalia begins on 17 December. Saturnalia Optima!
In a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire never left, Dai and Julia solve murder mysteries, whilst still having to manage family, friendship and domestic crises…
Idibus Augustus MDCCLXXIX Anno Diocletiani
Julia Llewellyn was on her way home from the Asclepieion on Ynys Mon at last. She had been there, or thereabouts, for most of the last two months and hard as it was, she pushed down the turmoil of emotions which revolved in her stomach every time she thought about that and focused hard on the future.
Firstly, she had endured a very difficult pregnancy from mid-term on, requiring extensive bedrest and the inevitable boredom and frustration that had meant. Despite all that, her son, Rhodri, had still been born six weeks early needing to be hailed off to an incubator. Then he was discovered to have a hole in his diaphragm requiring immediate surgery. Several sleepless nights followed with herself and her husband keeping watch over his tiny form, before he was declared on the mend. And then Julia had to wait for him to grow big enough to leave his incubator and come home…
She was glad for more than the obvious reasons. Her husband, Dai Llewellyn was a Submagistratus for the region of Demetae and Cornovii and she knew he was keeping something from her, holding back to protect her, as he would think. It was hard to pin him down in his brief visits, once home she was sure she would get to do so.
At last the great day had come and she was seated decorously in the back of a burly all-wheel being piloted by her friend and bodyguard, Edbert. If she had been an expecting sort of a woman, she would have expected Dai to be sitting beside her. But he was conspicuous by his absence. She sighed a tiny sigh and kissed the downy head that rested on her breast.
“Not his fault.” Edbert’s unfeasibly deep voice broke gently into her reverie.
“What’s not who’s fault?” Julia kept her voice even for fear of waking Rhodri.
Edbert laughed softly. “It’s not Dai’s fault that he isn’t sitting beside you, you cross-grained little person.”
Julia found herself relaxing. “Catch a hot case did he?”
“Nope. Having refused to see or speak to Dai, or either of his Senior Investigators – Bryn or Gallus – for the best part of a month, Magistratus Sextus Catus Bestia called a meeting for this morning. Messaged just before we were setting out to fetch you.” His voice dripped sarcasm. “If I didn’t know better I’d think it was timed to cause maximum inconvenience.”
Julia sighed again. “He is such a petty man. I keep hoping things will improve. But it’s not likely.”
“Isn’t. And his attitude to ‘servants’ is beyond despicable.”
Julia held the baby carefully as she leaned forward and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Bestia really is a piece of work, isn’t he? But he is just petty and that can’t hurt us.”
“I wouldn’t place any bets on that.”
“Me neither, honestly. But I can’t afford to think like that.”
“No. Nor you can. My bad. How is the little one standing up to the journey?”
“He’s fine. Had his prandium before we set out. Sleeping now. The medica said something to me just before you rolled up that was very comfortable. ‘Rhodri Ddu is a fighter and as tough as they come’. She says not to treat him any different to any other baby now. He’s all healed and a hundred percent fit.” One tear escaped and ran down her cheek, but it was a tear of thankfulness not sorrow. Her precious baby was well and could take his place in the nursery where he and his sister Aelwen would be in the care of the nursery maid Luned, who was as brave as a lioness and as tender as the touch of silk. All things considered, Julia thought today was a good day, even if the pinpricks from Dai’s boss were getting sharper and less disguised. She wondered if they were what was behind her beloved’s withdrawn mood.
The rest of the ride home passed in silence, save for Rhodri’s tiny snore.
Just before they were due to turn onto the private road to the Villa Papaverus, Edbert stopped the car and screwed around in his seat to look at Julia with deep wisdom in his winter grey eyes.
“A word of warning. There’s about half a hundred people waiting to greet you. If I was you I’d wait in the all-wheel and hand the little one off to Luned before you get out. What with dogs and in-laws, and that madwoman Domina Lavinia, it would be easy for you to take a tumble. Luned and me put our heads together and she has found a big old high-wheel baby carriage so everybody can see young Rhodri without crowding.”
For a moment, Julia didn’t know what to say and she felt her throat constricting. Edbert smiled and touched her cheek with the back of one huge hand.
“All a bit overwhelming ain’t it?”
“It is. And thank you my friend.”
“Always got your back small stuff.”
“Always got yours, you big ape.”
With the shoals of emotion successfully navigated Edbert started the engine again.
Glossary of Latin and Other Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.
Asclepieion – healing spa, hospital
Demetae and Cornovii – Wales and several English Midland counties including Shropshire
Ddu – dark, as in hair and/or skin
Domin-a/us – Ma’am/Sir. Used to superiors both in rank and social status
Magistratus – senior official with legal jurisdiction over an area
Medic-a/us – doctor
Prandium – brunch or lunch
Submagistratus – a more junior official with legal jurisdiction over an area, under the authority of a Magistratus
Villa Papaverus – Poppy House. Dai and Julia’s residence.
Ynys Mon – or the Isle of Anglesey