Julia Lucia Maxilla stood up to her full four feet and eleven inches and stared at her co-investigator. She saw a tall, handsome man with black hair, pale skin and a square jawline. He glared down at her, and she was surprised by the blueness of his eyes. Her dogs came to lean against her, and this would have alerted her to the idea the man wasn’t precisely pleased to see her if her own intuition hadn’t already made that clear.
“Llewellyn, is it?” she kept her voice cool.
Behind him she could see another man trying to blend into the wall.
“If we are going to work together, I think we can dispense with such formality. The name is Julia.”
“Julia,” he hesitated fractionally, “I’m Dai Llewellyn. This is Decanus Bryn Cartivel, and is it permitted to ask what those dogs are?”
Julia decided to let the hesitation pass. She summoned a smile.
“Canis and Lupo are wolfhounds,” she turned and indicated the huge Saxon who stood at her shoulder. “The dogs and Edbert guard me. In case you missed it, I’m not very big so if I need to intimidate somebody they help with that too.”
For a moment the Briton actually grinned, then he must have remembered whatever grievance was wearing at him and he started looking sulky again. Julia sighed inwardly. He was going to be difficult and that was a shame because he was really, really pretty. Before she got chance to snap his handsome nose off for him, he surprised her by holding out a hand to Edbert.
Edbert actually grasped his wrist and the two tall men stood eye to eye for a moment.
“You play nicely with my lady. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
Her bodyguard spoke rarely, and when he did his uncomfortably deep voice always reminded Julia of a thunderstorm in some far valley. She winced inwardly, rather wishing he hadn’t chosen to speak now, and was surprised to hear a thread of amusement in the Briton’s response.
“You can be sure I’ll bear that in mind.”
“If you two have finished bonding, I have a visit to make.” Julia turned a carefully blank face to Dai. “You had better come with me. Edbert and your decanus can take a break.”
“Does it pertain to the investigation?”
“No. And yes. It’s a duty visit to the Tribune. The Prefect is just a time server and she’s a complete waste of time as far as I can see. The Tribune is a different matter. Aside from policy, he and I have known each other since we were children.”
“Since you were children?” Llewellyn frowned. “But wasn’t the Tribune born in the Suburra? I heard he was raised in the insulae at the foot of the Capitoline Hills before he was adopted.”
“He was. And so was I. Any questions?”
Dai shut his mouth with a snap. Julia could all but hear him thinking, and took pity on him. It would make little sense to a Briton, who was no doubt raised on TV crime dramas which featured the poverty and criminality of the poorest slum area in Rome, that someone from that place could be in any position of influence or power.
“My father was a soldier, but my mother was a lupa, I think you use the term ‘whore’. My father was killed when he was twenty, in a border skirmish with the Mongol Empire, my mother died soon after of an occupational disease – she succumbed to morbus insu, an STD. I was raised by my father’s family who took me in because I was his only child and I think they wanted something to remember him by.”
“Oh. But how did -?”
“How did I get to be an inquisitor? A long story. And mostly painful, so can we leave it?” She essayed a smile and her new colleague managed a half grin in response. Julia looked at him more closely.
“Your tunic,” she said severely, “is pretty grubby. That fish sauce must be days old. Do you have another?”
He nodded, wearing the expression of a schoolboy caught cheating in a class test.
“Good. Decimus is a fussy blighter. We’ll swing past yours on the way.”
Once Dai was tidied to her satisfaction, Julia led the way to the Tribune’s apartment, which backed onto the barracks housing the cohort of Praetorians that were stationed in Londinium under the Tribune’s command.
“There was a reason I didn’t bring Edbert and the hounds,” Julia admitted.
Dai raised an eyebrow.
“The Lady Lydia don’t like them.”
Dai grinned tautly.
“If rumour is correct, she isn’t seeing people right now.”
Julia treated him to a quick, incurious, glance.
“One Titillicus. Inquisitor and nasty piece of work. Sent home to his mother in a body bag.”
“Oh. Whoops.” Julia frowned. “Why doesn’t she realise he is never going to divorce her?”
Dai looked down at her, his expression suggesting a genuine curiosity.
“Is she stupid?”
“I always think bed-hoppers must be the lowest of the low,” Dai told her. “If you can betray your avowed spouse, you are not going to find it too hard to do the dirty in other ways.”
Julia smiled, pleased that they were beginning to find common ground in their values. It eased the conversation as they waited for the Man himself.