The Tribune breezed into the room like a beak-nosed hurricane. Julia rather wished that she could see her new partner’s face when the formidable Decimus Lucius Didero lifted her in his brawny arms and kissed her on both cheeks. She wriggled and kicked and he put her down.
“Llewelyn,” he grunted, “you take care of my little foster sister.”
Dai looked as if he couldn’t think what to say. Julia was very sure this was not the way he usually saw Romans interacting. The Tribune grinned.
“She will grow on you, and she can’t help being Roman any more than you can help coming from a place where they make up songs about everything and shag sheep. Now. I’ll assign you a contubernium of praetorians.”
Julia winced inwardly knowing how that would sound to the Briton and was not surprised that Dai’s looked furious although he said nothing. Decimus smiled a wolf’s smile.
“Calm down, you and Julia will still be in command and you can keep your own posse too, if you can trust them all. It’s just that my lads can get away with doing things you and yours never could. And they don’t have to wait for anybody’s permission. I’m thinking that by the time your boss has consulted all the people who are paying her, our bird could easily have flown the coop,”
Once again, Dai kept his mouth shut and Julia could see the knowledge that Decimus was right, openly warring with his loyalty to the force to which he belonged. She gave him a sympathetic look and he actually smiled back at her, a thin smile to be sure, but definitely an upward tilt of the lips. The Tribune, who she knew would have missed nothing, grunted at them, but it wasn’t an unfriendly sound.
“Right. Listen carefully. There are some things you need to know but I’m not supposed to tell you. Privileged information, praetorian confidentiality and that kind of merda. Well I’m not having it. My little sister doesn’t go to war unprepared.” He pointed a thick finger at the pair of them. “You need to know about your corpses. Bellicus and Docca were in big trouble. They were being targeted by a betting syndicate who try to get players taking money to fix Games. And I don’t mean any of your little Londinium locals, I mean the big boys from Rome. Those people do not play nice when someone says ‘no’. They also don’t take kindly to anyone poking a nose in their affairs, no matter who it might be.
“More of a worry, though, is this Luca. He left Rome under a cloud. It was either exile or death. He chose exile. You don’t need to know precisely what he did but you do need to know that at least six very powerful families had reason to want him punished. Whether or not they succeeded at arm’s length, I don’t care to speculate. Just be aware that he was very good at making enemies. The interesting thing is he was supposed to stay in Gallia Lugdunensis where Daddy has extensive estates around the town of Lutetia, under a form of house arrest. But clearly he didn’t and I heard today his wife didn’t either. We have no idea where she is right now.”
Julia looked at her old friend.
“That explains a lot. That old cunnus Marius looked as if he was eating merda when he had me in his office and sent me on this mission. He about halfway forbade me to bring Edbert and the dogs.”
“I hope you ignored him.”
“Good. You’ll need them. But you will also have an apartment here. Inns are insecure at the best of times. This is starting to smell bad.”
Julia opened her mouth to object, then thought better of it. Things were indeed smelling bad. She began to formulate a thought, but before she had time to work it through, Didero turned his attention to Dai.
“You’ll move your men in here for the duration of this case.”
Again, Julia could see the flare of pride in the Briton’s blue eyes being quickly damped by rational thought. She realised, at that moment, that she was dealing with a man who lived in a steady state of war with his own passions, a very Celtic trait. Somehow that thought just made him more intriguing.
“As you will, dominus,” Dai said. “And I see that would be safer. We’ll be in the barracks?”
“They will be, yes. They can share with the men assigned to you and Julia. I’ll arrange your accommodation too.”
Dai bowed his head.