Coffee Break Read – Venting Spleen

She was doing pretty well until the plates were cleared, when Ancilla addressed her directly.
“Now, Julia parva, do tell us all about the sheep stealing and tractor rustling that passes for crime in this armpit of the Empire.”
Julia raised her face and looked straight into the eyes of her would-be tormentor. She waited a beat then raised one eyebrow. Ancilla snorted and stared down her patrician nose. Julia, who had grown up in the slums around the skirts of Rome, wasn’t one whit abashed by the older woman’s stare.
Seeing that Julia wasn’t impressed, Ancilla tried another tack. She turned her face to Pina.
“I thought we were here for a meeting. When will it convene?”
“As soon as you and Domina Annia leave.” Julia saved her boss the bother of a reply.
For a moment, Ancilla’s reaction hung in the balance. Then she painted on a smile.
Mea culpa,” she said, adding a bright, tinkling laugh. “You are, of course, correct. My own frustration at the limitations of my body, and the dreariness of constant pain caused me to overstep the mark. Please excuse me.”
Julia was not to be so easily mollified and she looked steadily into the bright, malicious eyes. Ancilla put up with this for a few seconds before hunching a pettish shoulder.
“What is one to do, except amuse oneself where one can?”
“Perhaps you should speak to a medicus with experience of pain control. I believe there is one such with a province wide reputation at the asclepieion on Ynys Mon. As for the rest, you might consider not venting your spleen on those around you. None of whom was the architect of your misfortune.”
You could have cut the tension around the table with a very blunt knife and Julia felt Gallus draw himself together in case action was necessary. In the event, though, it was all a bit of an anticlimax.
Ancilla gave a shout of what sounded like genuine amusement and spoke in a completely different voice from the light, malicious drawl that had had Julia itching to box her ears.
“Busted. I really have been behaving like a spoilt brat.”
Julia wisely forbore from comment.
Pina took up the conversational baton.
“Perhaps we could convene in my office.”
She led the way with Julia and Gallus at her heels. Once inside the quiet room, Pina so far forgot her imperial dignity as to laugh until she cried. Julia watched patiently and when her boss recovered shook her head.
“I have to say I am delighted at the way you outed Ancilla. She is by way of a distant relative and our mothers were close so we were often together as children, but I have to say we’ve grown apart long since. We’ve barely spoken since childhood. I could not refuse her, though, when she asked to come and stay. I helped her son get an administrative job in the area some time ago and she wanted to visit him and thank me in person. But I have to say she has been pretty dreadful since she arrived.”
Julia grinned. “Happy to be of assistance,” she said and gave a military style salute. “Permission to return to work, domina.”
“Yes. Off you go. And, Julia. Thank you.”
Julia and Gallus made good their escape.

From Dying as a Spy by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Glossary of Latin and Other Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.

asclepieion – healing spa, hospital
mea culpa – ‘through my fault’, my bad
medicus – doctor
parva – literally small, term of endearment

Coffee Break Read – Petty Malice

It had been rather earlier in the morning than Julia really wanted to be on the road, but a summons to a meeting with the Magistratus was more or less an imperial decree. Ientaculum meetings were apparently all the fashion in Rome right now, so Julia was dressed smartly and bowling along the imperial highway towards Viriconium before her eyes were truly open. Her Senior Investigator who also happened to be her husband’s vitricus, Gaius Brutus Gallus, cracked his jaw in an enormous yawn.
“The devil fly away with the woman,” he grumbled. “What maggot has got into her brain now?”
Edbert answered from the driving seat. “It’s her fancy imperial cousin who is staying with her. Keeps dropping the latest fashions in Rome into the conversation. Bedwyr thinks the woman is taking the mingo.”
Julia sighed. “Well I’m going to have a word. Agrippina may be my boss, but she has to realise she’s currently down a submagistratus.”
“And that means you don’t have the time to be popping along to Viriconium just to smooth her ego.” Edbert had the right of it, of course, but putting it that bluntly made Julia wince.
“Why does Bedwyr think the mingo is being extracted?”
“Because he can see the imperial cousin laughing behind her hand, and so can Domina Annia, but Domina Agrippina is in one of her moods.”
“Which one?”
“Overbearingly gracious.”
“Oh that one. We had some experience of that when she believed Bestia’s lies about Dai. Why is she like it now?”
“Bedwyr says she don’t much like her cousin. But feels obliged to offer sanctuary as the woman is disabled. Ski-ing accident apparently.”
Julia sighed. “This could be all sorts of awkward, then.”
“It could. If you let it. Time to poker up and do your best Domina Julia face.”
Julia made a very rude noise. “I suppose that explains why Viriconium, not Annia’s villa. Which is a site closer.”
“Indeed. But so much less formal.”
Gallus grunted. “I think I’d be better off going to the kitchen with Edbert.”
Julia showed him her teeth. “You don’t get away that lightly. If the Magistratus wants an ientaculum meeting that’s what she’s going to get. And if I’d any forethought I’d have brought Angie Ffrydd along too.”
There being not much more to say, the rest of the journey was completed in silence, with Gallus going so far as to close his eyes and pass the time dozing gently.
At the portico of the Magistratus’ official dwelling, a uniformed porter leapt forward to open the door of the all-wheel. Julia snarled at him and he refrained from attempting to help her out of the vehicle.
With Gallus at her shoulder she turned to look at Edbert. “I’ll buzz you when I’m ready to leave.”
“Yes Domina Julia.” His voice was the perfect blend of respect and polite blandness, but his eyes were alight with unholy amusement. Julia offered him the suspicion of a wink before following the porter into the building.
The Magistratus, her partner Annia, and a thin brown-skinned woman who leaned heavily on a single elbow crutch were just arriving in the atrium.
“Ah, Julia, on time as ever. And you have brought along your Senior Investigator…”
The Magistratus was obviously struggling over what to say next, and Julia let her fumble for a few seconds before speaking briskly.
“You said ‘meeting’. And SI Gallus always accompanies me to meetings.”
This being inalienable, Agrippina led the way into the garden, where a simple buffet meal was laid out. Julia was glad to see chairs around a white-clothed table as the idea of sharing a lectus with any of the others was unappealing.
Annia caught her eye and made a deprecating face to which Julia replied with a grin.
They filled their plates and sat down to ‘enjoy’ what Julia thought was probably the most awkward meal it had ever been her misfortune to sit through. Pina was at her Imperial worst, Annia stared at her plate and refused to meet anybody’s eyes, Gallus ate in stoic silence, and the visitor, who was introduced as ‘Ancilla’, made small talk in a patrician drawl. It didn’t take long to hear the undertones of belittlement and not-so-subtle mockery of anything and anyone attached to the Magistratus. Julia gritted her teeth, and made a mental note to leave as soon as common civility permitted. She could, she thought, survive without blowing a steam valve if she just concentrated on her food and let the flood of petty malice flow over and around her without actually listening.

From Dying as a Spy by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Glossary of Latin and Other Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.

ientaculum – breakfast
lectus – dining couch
mingo – piss
vitricus – stepfather

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