Weekend Wind Down – The Tribune Calls

It was an unseasonably cold, wet August morning, and Julia was in her sitting room watching the sun try to break through a veil of black cloud, with her two wolfhounds Canis and Lupo asleep in a twitching heap by a small simmering fire. Their usual keeper, her personal bodyguard Edbert, was busy about some other business, so the dogs stayed close to her. Julia was breaking her fast in the British manner, seated on a chair with both feet on the floor. As she had a sneaking preference for that manner of dining, she wasn’t making an issue of it. Instead, she smiled sunnily at her beloved who sat opposite her eating bread and honey.
“You,” she remarked with mock severity “have honey on your chin.”
“Do I?” he asked. “It’s probably because I was looking as well as eating.” His startling blue eyes met hers. “Isn’t the love of my life sitting opposite me dressed in silk and looking good enough to eat?”
She felt the blush running up from her throat to her face and he leaned across the table and placed a chaste kiss on one burning cheek, then he chuckled.
To her intense irritation, the sitting room door banged open and the burly, hook-nosed figure of Decimus Lucius Didero, Tribune in charge of the praetorian guard in Britain, stomped into the room.
“Do come in, Decimus,” Julia said coolly.
“I appear to be in,” the big man spoke mildly. “And now I am, I will have some of that bread and honey and some words with your man.”
Julia gave up the attempt to bring her foster brother to a sense of his own impropriety and spread honey on a hunk of crusty bread. She handed Decimus the bread and grinned at him.
“What do you want with my betrothed?”
Decimus masticated carefully before answering her.
“I’m in the nature of a supplicant. Being as how your man is now, thanks to his deeds of extraordinary valour, a Roman Citizen and a submagistratus-in-waiting to boot, the civilian authorities in general, and that stupid cunnus of a prefect in particular, can’t just order him to look into something. They have to ask. And it goes against the grain. They’d sooner lick my arse than his. So I get to ask.”
“Ask what?” Julia didn’t like the sound of this at all. “Today and tomorrow are public holidays and Dai and I had plans on how we wanted to spend them.”
Dai patted her hand.
“Hush, love. Let the man explain.”
She snarled at him, but subsided.
“Dai, do you remember Lugh Tasgo’s designs?”
Julia looked into Dai’s eyes and saw a slow flare of anger in their depths.
“Oh yes. I remember. I remember a dead Briton and a fat Roman bastard. And an investigation called off because nobody cared that a woman died.”
Decimus met his eyes.
“So you wouldn’t mind another look at the case?”
“That depends.”
“On what?”
Dai got up and went around the table to where Julia sat. He lifted her out of her chair and sat down with her in his lap. She could feel the tension in his lean body and turned her face into his neck. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged tightly.
“Grainne Cathan died trying to protect those designs for her employer and he called the investigation off. So it depends,” he said harshly, “on me being permitted to actually investigate no matter what the outcome.”

From Dying to Alter History a Dai and Julia mystery by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, one of the fourteen alternate history short stories in Tales From Alternate Earths III from Inklings Press.

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