Coffee Break Read – Mulled Wine and Murder

The Dragon and Leek was a small but substantial wayside cupona on a narrow, but well-travelled, road skirting through the foothills of the mountains. It seemed to lack any kind of village and stood, half-hidden by the forest in its deep valley. Here the road tracked the path of a brook which locals considered worthy of being considered a river. Used to the Tamesis, Dai was not convinced.
It was mid-morning as the vigiles piled out of the all-wheeler in the car park which doubled as a stableyard and were met by the worried landlord. Blaen Aderyn was a man who looked past the age of retirement and leaned on a stick to walk, but had a fierce briskness which defied anyone to consider him too old for his role.
Introductions made, Dai sent Bryn and his team with one of the staff to begin the usual investigation preliminaries and let himself be coaxed into the warmth of the lounge area, by Aderyn. A few locals, presumably from the hill farms around, were gathered at one end watching a game of harpastum on a big screen. Now and then the image broke up or the screen blanked, but the small audience didn’t seem to mind. Aderyn found them seats well away from the sports fans. The two of them were served with mugs of honey sweetened mulled wine that Dai only agreed to when assured it was mostly just spices and water – and on the promise a tray would be provided for Bryn’s team as they worked.
“This is a terrible shock to us all, I don’t know how it could be. They were fine when they arrived early evening, ate quietly – the men here and the lady upstairs in her room. It is not anything we have had happen here before and I can’t imagine how it could be. This is so very, deeply disturbing.”
Dai nodded along sympathetically and brought the topic to the point.
“So they came in last night, rooms were pre-booked in the name of,” he checked the entry in the book – handwritten. “Deliciae Parnassa Devotius?”
The man nodded. “Yes. She came all cloaked and hooded. Could barely see her face beneath the fur.” “And her escort were Roman – are you sure?”
“As sure as I can be. They spoke like it and they both wore one of those.” He gestured to the broad silver ring of citizenship on Dai’s index finger. “They ate their food and went up to their room soon after.”
“Did they say or do anything you recall whilst they ate?”
Aderyn frowned and shook his head.
“Not aside what you might expect – the weather, having to travel at Saturnalia – that kind of thing.”
“Anything about their employer?”
“Not a word as I heard. I can ask the staff of course, or you can.”
“Did they talk to anyone else? Any other guests?” “Well, it being Saturnalia and all they were the only guests. Most of our trade comes from those who have business at one of the medical or care facilities on Ynis Mon. Romans don’t like to stay there overnight and we make a good stop-over before they run back to Londinium. But trade has not been so good lately, what with the latest economic downturn and -”
Dai cut across him.
“Did they talk to any locals?”
The old man shook his head again, a worried frown on his face.
“Not that I know. You lot are going to pin it on me though, aren’t you? Just like the last Submagistratus did over the contraband they they found in the cellar of The Fox and Radish. You don’t care who gets the blame long as someone can be tried for it. They took Geddy Haps and had her executed for it within the week. And she was as innocent as they come.” His voice was rising in pitch as he spoke and some heads turned from the game towards them.
“Won’t happen,” Dai said in the brief space when Aderyn paused to draw breath. “The man you speak of is himself disgraced and dead. There will be no miscarriage of justice on my watch. You have my word.”
“The word of a Roman?”
“The word of a Llewellyn – and a citizen.”
The old man reacted to his name, which was not so surprising. The family was very well known throughout Cornovii and beyond.
“A Llewellyn you say? And a citizen? How can that have happened?”
“When this is all dealt with I will happily come back, sit by your welcoming hearth and buy us a jug of your finest ale to share as I tell you the tale of it. But for now I need your honesty – so we can find who did this and what has happened.”

From Dying as a Druid, a Dai and Julia Mystery by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago

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