Augustus MDCCLXXXIII Anno Diocletiani
There were, Dai decided as his two children buried him in the sand on the beach at Traeth Abermaw for the third time that day, far worse times of year to be placed on gardening leave from his job as Submagistratus of Demetae and Cornovii.
It was not that he was under real suspicion, that had been made clear several times by the Magistratus Domina Agrippina Julius Valerius Apollinara, but the fact remained that Caeso Maol had been an acquaintance of his and he had not only been the one to find the body, but he had also been in the next room when the murder took place and so it was simply a matter of propriety and perception (her exact words) that Dai should be kept out of the gaze of both the public and officialdom whilst his wife Julia, who happened to be the other Submagistratus of Demetae and Cornovii, found out who had actually done it.
However, just because he was not involved in the investigation did not mean that, up to his neck in sand, arms behind his head, he could not spend some time considering it. The murder had taken place at an informal gathering of some of the well to do men of Viriconium. Dai had gone along as the guest of Paulus Vinicius Cato, a lawyer friend, who had virtually begged him to be there in order to make a gods-awful social commitment into something bearable.
“You can not imagine what these dos are like,” Paulus had told him on the drive to the baths, “everyone trying to both show off how wonderful and independently successful they are and all at the same time trying to get the support of others for whatever their present pet project in self-promotion might be. I have to attend as half my clients go.”
Dai could imagine, and had imagined, and had been close to making some careful social excuse to avoid the misery right at the last minute, but Paulus was a good friend and it was not a bad notion anyway for Dai to mix a bit with the kind of community that were attending.
They were almost exclusively Romano-British, with names that reflected the fact. Most had the defensive pride which many non-native Romans developed, seeing themselves one step up from their British neighbours, but never quite able to feel they were fully equal to a Roman citizen from Italia itself. And, to be fair, Dai knew that was not entirely their own fault. He, too, straddled that boundary and grappled with being seen as too Roman by the British and too British by the Romans. But he was fortunate in that his family was one that carried a lot of respect in the area and he had good friends in Rome, being married to a woman the Praetor regarded as a foster sister.
But for those without such advantages allowing them to maintain and deepen their connections in both directions, being Romano-British put them into an uncomfortable middle ground and, as a group, they tended to keep together.
That evening’s gathering reflected a painful awareness of their cultural insecurity. It was held at the baths in Viriconium and then was to include a meal at Aureum Anatisa, the Golden Duck, a very expensive caupona, on the banks of the river. The Duck was one of less than a handful of exclusive sub aquila places in Viriconium, a building where the eagle above the entrance declared it was reserved exclusively for Citizens. But, ironically, the Duck was renowned for its excellent British menu. Dai had a feeling that the owners had cleverly, and cynically, carved their niche, by playing on the insecurities of these cross-culture families.
He had no opportunity to find out though, because whilst they were all having a post bathe massage before heading to the caupona, a scream from one of the staff had shattered his relaxation. The woman was screaming because there was blood trickling out from a changing cubicle and when Dai had pulled the door open, the body of Caeso Maol had literally fallen into his arms.
There would have been no suspicion of Dai at all had he not needed to use the urinal and left the main party for a few minutes shortly before the body was discovered. Which meant, in theory, he could have had time to kill poor Caeso. It did not help that earlier Caeso had been regalling the company as they sat in the hot room with tales from his schooldays—schooldays he had shared with Dai as they had happened to be in the same class—and not all the stories had been that complimentary to Dai, who had been a rather shy and studious nerd at that time.
So, expressing her profound regret at having to do so, the Magistratus had told Dai to take paid leave of absence and enjoy the summer sunshine and his children’s company until the matter had been resolved.
He had decamped for the week to Traeth Abermaw taking his daughter, five year old Aelwen and her three year old brother, Rhodri together with their nursemaid, Luned and a discreet individual called Duggan—though whether that was his first or last name Dai was not entirely certain. The Magistratus had insisted on Duggan accompanying them to ensure their security. Dai had initially objected seeing no reason to have a bodyguard on a family holiday in the place where he himself had spent many happy such as a child, but Pina had simply knitted her brows and given him a stern look.
“Until we know what went on,” she told him in a tone that was filled with the gravitas of her Imperial heritage, “we have no idea whether your being a witness might place you at an additional risk.”
He could not argue that and to be fair to Duggan, the man was so little in evidence that Dai sometimes wondered if he had neglected his duty altogether and sloped off to the nearest taberna. So he was a bit surprised when he heard Luned say the man’s name and opened his eyes to see the compactly muscular, steel eyed Duggan looking down at him.
“Someone named Cartival, dominus, says he knows you.”
Dai tried to sit up, but the sand the children had packed firmly around him did not give way.
“Er—yes, that’s Bryn,” he said quickly, feeling acutely embarrassed to be stuck immobile in the sand. “Bryn Cartival is indeed a friend of mine. Thank you, Duggan.”
The man gave a terse nod and Dai was sure there was a grin breaking out as he turned away, but perhaps that was just his own humiliation.
By the time Bryn had strolled over, carrying five dripping ice creams, Dai had managed to free himself from the beach, with the enthusiastic assistance of his two children and was dusting down the damp sand with a towel.
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.
caupona – an inn or hotel
Demetae and Cornovii – Wales and several English Midland counties including Shropshire
domin-a/us – Ma’am/Sir. Used to superiors both in rank and social status
Italia – we would call it Italy
magistratus – senior official with legal jurisdiction over an area
sub aquila – literally ‘under the eagle’. An eagle above the entrance of any building means it is Citizen access only – aside for those who might work there of course
submagistratus – a more junior official with legal jurisdiction over an area, under the authority of a magistratus
taberna – pub/bar
Traeth Abermaw – we would call it Barmouth Beach
Viriconium – we would call it Wroxeter. The area capital of Demetae and Cornovii