She was doing pretty well until the plates were cleared, when Ancilla addressed her directly.
“Now, Julia parva, do tell us all about the sheep stealing and tractor rustling that passes for crime in this armpit of the Empire.”
Julia raised her face and looked straight into the eyes of her would-be tormentor. She waited a beat then raised one eyebrow. Ancilla snorted and stared down her patrician nose. Julia, who had grown up in the slums around the skirts of Rome, wasn’t one whit abashed by the older woman’s stare.
Seeing that Julia wasn’t impressed, Ancilla tried another tack. She turned her face to Pina.
“I thought we were here for a meeting. When will it convene?”
“As soon as you and Domina Annia leave.” Julia saved her boss the bother of a reply.
For a moment, Ancilla’s reaction hung in the balance. Then she painted on a smile.
“Mea culpa,” she said, adding a bright, tinkling laugh. “You are, of course, correct. My own frustration at the limitations of my body, and the dreariness of constant pain caused me to overstep the mark. Please excuse me.”
Julia was not to be so easily mollified and she looked steadily into the bright, malicious eyes. Ancilla put up with this for a few seconds before hunching a pettish shoulder.
“What is one to do, except amuse oneself where one can?”
“Perhaps you should speak to a medicus with experience of pain control. I believe there is one such with a province wide reputation at the asclepieion on Ynys Mon. As for the rest, you might consider not venting your spleen on those around you. None of whom was the architect of your misfortune.”
You could have cut the tension around the table with a very blunt knife and Julia felt Gallus draw himself together in case action was necessary. In the event, though, it was all a bit of an anticlimax.
Ancilla gave a shout of what sounded like genuine amusement and spoke in a completely different voice from the light, malicious drawl that had had Julia itching to box her ears.
“Busted. I really have been behaving like a spoilt brat.”
Julia wisely forbore from comment.
Pina took up the conversational baton.
“Perhaps we could convene in my office.”
She led the way with Julia and Gallus at her heels. Once inside the quiet room, Pina so far forgot her imperial dignity as to laugh until she cried. Julia watched patiently and when her boss recovered shook her head.
“I have to say I am delighted at the way you outed Ancilla. She is by way of a distant relative and our mothers were close so we were often together as children, but I have to say we’ve grown apart long since. We’ve barely spoken since childhood. I could not refuse her, though, when she asked to come and stay. I helped her son get an administrative job in the area some time ago and she wanted to visit him and thank me in person. But I have to say she has been pretty dreadful since she arrived.”
Julia grinned. “Happy to be of assistance,” she said and gave a military style salute. “Permission to return to work, domina.”
“Yes. Off you go. And, Julia. Thank you.”
Julia and Gallus made good their escape.
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.
asclepieion – healing spa, hospital
mea culpa – ‘through my fault’, my bad
medicus – doctor
parva – literally small, term of endearment
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