Coffee Break Read – Tread Very Softly

The Villa Papaverus was a typical provincial dwelling for those Citizens of rank and status serving far from Rome and wanting to keep their civilized comforts. A large U-shaped building on two floors, set in the midst of its own estate, with a walled garden to the rear and outbuildings dotted around. It had become home to Dai Llewellyn and his new bride when he took on the role of Submagistratus in Demetae and Cornovii little less than a month previously. The villa went with the job as its official residence.
When the two men rolled up there in the late afternoon, Dai’s diminutive Roman wife, Julia, who had a shrewd handle on her husband and his friend, was waiting with a spicy dish of mutton and beans. She had asked their cook to heat and serve it when her husband told her he and Bryn were coming, and kept it hot over a spirit lamp.
“That smells a bit exotic,” Bryn was cautious, though clearly tempted.
“Worried me at first,” Dai admitted, “but my lady wife persuaded me and it goes down very well.”
hile they ate, Julia sat quietly, assessing the mood as one of generalised frustration. When Bryn finally put his spoon down and barely suppressed a satisfied belch she eyed the pair with some asperity.
“You may as well tell me, you know. I will find out anyway.”
Prior to her marriage, Julia had been an Inquisitor in the Vigiles herself, reporting directly to the Praetor in Rome, so this was no idle boast. Bryn grinned appreciatively, as Dai launched into an explanation of their morning. By the end, Julia was feeling truly grim, and it must have shown in her face as Dai was frowning with concern.
“What is it love?”
“You aren’t going to like this, but … ”
“What am I not going to like now?” He sounded weary, but also wary and angry.
Bryn put a hand on his forearm. “Remember, Bard. Didn’t we agree that whatever we have to deal with, it being Roman doesn’t make it Domina Julia’s fault?”
For a long moment nobody spoke, then Dai shook his head.
“We did. Sorry. I was just about to get bang out of line. Again.”
Julia, being too used to the pain of Dai’s anti-Roman outbursts, was surprised to find how much Bryn’s championship affected her. She smiled at him and stiffened her spine.
“You still might … We are going to have to tread very softly indeed. This is a temple sacred to the cult of the Divine Diocletian. That is one of the key foundations of the current Emperor’s right to rule. It has real power. And if we are not careful we could wind up getting told to turn a blind eye. It’s happened before.”
The men looked at her in glum silence. It was Bryn who found his voice first.
“What would happen,” he asked, “if we were ordered to keep our noses out?”
Julia favoured him with a sudden street urchin grin. “We’d have to investigate quietly.”
Dai just looked at her for a moment before leaning over the table to kiss her on both cheeks.
“Then maybe we shouldn’t be investigating too noisily now.”
“Stealth might be better. We need to hack into the computers at that temple. And we need to do so pretty bloody quickly.”
“That sounds like something you could do.”
“Probably. Very probably. Unless, of course, some irrumator has already erased the relevant files.”
Bryn wrinkled his brow. “I didn’t think you could ever really erase stuff from computers.”
“You can’t. Not if an investigator is in the same room with the computer. But you can certainly bury it deep enough to stop it being found remotely.” Julia sighed. “All of which means I should get right on it. You two go and look into some sheep stealing or something and keep out of my hair.”

From Dying to be Cured a Dai and Julia Mystery by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook one of the stories in the SciFi Roundtable’s anthology Gods of Clay .

Glossary
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.
Demetae and CornoviiWales and several English Midland counties including Shropshire.
Domin-a/us – Ma’am/Sir. Used to superiors both in rank and social status.
Diocletian – the reforming emperor who established the foundations of a new Roman Empire and the point at which this history divided from our own.
Irrumator – cock sucker.
Praetor – an extremely high-ranking official
Submagistratus – a more junior official with legal jurisdiction over an area, under the authority of a Magistratus.
Vigiles – Police. In Dai and Julia’s world the police are a sub-branch of the military.
Villa Papaverus – Poppy House. Dai and Julia’s ‘goes with the job’ residence.

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