Coffee Break Read – Petty Malice

It had been rather earlier in the morning than Julia really wanted to be on the road, but a summons to a meeting with the Magistratus was more or less an imperial decree. Ientaculum meetings were apparently all the fashion in Rome right now, so Julia was dressed smartly and bowling along the imperial highway towards Viriconium before her eyes were truly open. Her Senior Investigator who also happened to be her husband’s vitricus, Gaius Brutus Gallus, cracked his jaw in an enormous yawn.
“The devil fly away with the woman,” he grumbled. “What maggot has got into her brain now?”
Edbert answered from the driving seat. “It’s her fancy imperial cousin who is staying with her. Keeps dropping the latest fashions in Rome into the conversation. Bedwyr thinks the woman is taking the mingo.”
Julia sighed. “Well I’m going to have a word. Agrippina may be my boss, but she has to realise she’s currently down a submagistratus.”
“And that means you don’t have the time to be popping along to Viriconium just to smooth her ego.” Edbert had the right of it, of course, but putting it that bluntly made Julia wince.
“Why does Bedwyr think the mingo is being extracted?”
“Because he can see the imperial cousin laughing behind her hand, and so can Domina Annia, but Domina Agrippina is in one of her moods.”
“Which one?”
“Overbearingly gracious.”
“Oh that one. We had some experience of that when she believed Bestia’s lies about Dai. Why is she like it now?”
“Bedwyr says she don’t much like her cousin. But feels obliged to offer sanctuary as the woman is disabled. Ski-ing accident apparently.”
Julia sighed. “This could be all sorts of awkward, then.”
“It could. If you let it. Time to poker up and do your best Domina Julia face.”
Julia made a very rude noise. “I suppose that explains why Viriconium, not Annia’s villa. Which is a site closer.”
“Indeed. But so much less formal.”
Gallus grunted. “I think I’d be better off going to the kitchen with Edbert.”
Julia showed him her teeth. “You don’t get away that lightly. If the Magistratus wants an ientaculum meeting that’s what she’s going to get. And if I’d any forethought I’d have brought Angie Ffrydd along too.”
There being not much more to say, the rest of the journey was completed in silence, with Gallus going so far as to close his eyes and pass the time dozing gently.
At the portico of the Magistratus’ official dwelling, a uniformed porter leapt forward to open the door of the all-wheel. Julia snarled at him and he refrained from attempting to help her out of the vehicle.
With Gallus at her shoulder she turned to look at Edbert. “I’ll buzz you when I’m ready to leave.”
“Yes Domina Julia.” His voice was the perfect blend of respect and polite blandness, but his eyes were alight with unholy amusement. Julia offered him the suspicion of a wink before following the porter into the building.
The Magistratus, her partner Annia, and a thin brown-skinned woman who leaned heavily on a single elbow crutch were just arriving in the atrium.
“Ah, Julia, on time as ever. And you have brought along your Senior Investigator…”
The Magistratus was obviously struggling over what to say next, and Julia let her fumble for a few seconds before speaking briskly.
“You said ‘meeting’. And SI Gallus always accompanies me to meetings.”
This being inalienable, Agrippina led the way into the garden, where a simple buffet meal was laid out. Julia was glad to see chairs around a white-clothed table as the idea of sharing a lectus with any of the others was unappealing.
Annia caught her eye and made a deprecating face to which Julia replied with a grin.
They filled their plates and sat down to ‘enjoy’ what Julia thought was probably the most awkward meal it had ever been her misfortune to sit through. Pina was at her Imperial worst, Annia stared at her plate and refused to meet anybody’s eyes, Gallus ate in stoic silence, and the visitor, who was introduced as ‘Ancilla’, made small talk in a patrician drawl. It didn’t take long to hear the undertones of belittlement and not-so-subtle mockery of anything and anyone attached to the Magistratus. Julia gritted her teeth, and made a mental note to leave as soon as common civility permitted. She could, she thought, survive without blowing a steam valve if she just concentrated on her food and let the flood of petty malice flow over and around her without actually listening.

From Dying as a Spy by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

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.

ientaculum – breakfast
lectus – dining couch
mingo – piss
vitricus – stepfather

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