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Britannia is sweltering under an unseasonable sun.
The column of slow and ugly army supply lorries, left Londinium early in the morning, heading north-west on the main road to Viriconium. It was carrying a recently appointed Submagistratus of Demetae and Cornovii, his brand-new force of vigiles, their families and possessions and a vexillation of grim-faced praetorians.
Julia Lucia Maxilla wondered idly why they didn’t use hover vehicles. She mentioned this to her husband of just seven days – who happened to be the Submagistratus – and he laughed.
“Range my lovely, they would need to recharge and there aren’t any charging stations where we are going.”
“Right. Fine. It’s just that I haven’t seen a wheeled vehicle, leave alone been in one, since my brief time as a border guard on the eastern fringes of the Empire.”
Dai looked down into her face.
“By the sound of your voice that wasn’t the most pleasant of secondments.”
“It had its moments. But I met Edbert and found Canis and Lupo so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.”
She could see he was dying to ask more and felt a surge of affection towards him for the care he always took with her. In the end, though, it seemed he couldn’t resist just one question.
“What was an Inquisitor in the service of the Praetor doing on the Eastern Border?”
She turned in his arms and squinted up at his face. “I wasn’t an Inquisitor. I was a customs officer. Undercover. But those days are gone now. I’m a very proper Roman wife now.”
He laughed and put his hands around her waist. “Not too proper I hope…”
She made a rude noise and crossed her eyes at him. Bending his handsome head, he kissed her into submission.
She giggled, pointing to the man-mountain that was Edbert, her personal bodyguard, who was pretending to be asleep in the opposite corner of the passenger cabin. Dai smiled, then glanced down and his face creased with laughter.
“Will you look at them?”
Julia followed his gaze and saw identical expressions of aristocratic disgust on the faces of Canis and Lupo, her shaggy grey wolfhounds.
When she stopped laughing, she prodded Dai’s chest with a determined forefinger. “Instead of behaving in that extremely un-Roman fashion, why don’t you explain your family to me? Since we are going to be living just outside Viriconium and less than a spit from where they are, I’d like to know a bit more about them.”
“I wondered when you would ask.”
She was instantly contrite.
“I’m sorry love. Should I have asked before?”
“No. I’m sort of glad you haven’t. Let’s me know you married me for myself not my prospects.”
“Oh. Do you have prospects?”
“Actually, no. But most people seem to think I have.”
“Me neither, so we’re quits there.”
You can keep reading Dying for a Poppy by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago for free if you download it today 3 December 2022.
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