Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Reward

‘You’re looking well this morning, Calgacus,’ said Antonius the foreman,’ did you get lucky last evening? Or is it just you’re getting used to the wine like the rest of us?’
Calgacus shrugged and put down his pack for the day.
‘Where do you want me to start Antonius?’
‘If you could carry those bricks over there that would be great. We’ve pretty much finished the hypocaust substructure so we can start on the baths proper. It’ll be good to have a proper baths again this end of town.’
‘Certainly more convenient that having to cross the entire town,’ Calgacus agreed,’ let’s hope this one doesn’t burn down like the last one.’
‘Yeah… I heard that one of the slaves stoking the furnace fell asleep. Burnt to death in the fire so I guess it serves him right. Talking of which, have you heard about the bounty for that slave girl that’s gone on the run?’
‘No,’ said Calgacus carefully as he hid his face from the foreman,’ no, I hadn’t. Is a big reward being offered?’
‘Oh, think you know where she is then?’ said the foreman and Calgacus felt his body stiffen. But then the other man laughed.
‘Just joking, Cal… But it is a big reward. A whole year’s wages, near enough.’
‘You’re kidding! I mean she’s just a little girl… I heard,’ he added quickly.
Antonius narrowed his eyes.
‘I though you said you didn’t know about the slave or the bounty?’
Calgacus carefully put down the pile of roof tiles he had been carrying and looked the foreman in the eye. Antonius was a foot shorter than he so that was not hard.
‘Antonius – it’s six in the morning. I’m still half asleep – although you’re right I took it easy on the wine last night so I feel better this morning. A feeling you are rapidly ruining.’
‘No need to get bad tempered. It’s a woman isn’t it? It always is. You need a wife Calgacus, like mine. To look after you, feed you –‘
‘- and run your life for you? Maybe someday I’ll want that, Antonius. At the moment, I’m enjoying being single.’
‘All the nice girls will be gone by then. You see the way they run after the soldiers.’
Calgacus put down the next set of bricks and gave his foreman a withering look.
‘Antonius, they chase the soldiers because the soldiers are young and from Hispania. They’re charming and exotic. They’re also going to be stuck in the army for at least another fifteen years and the legion will go where the empire sends it. Sooner or later the girls will realise that the kind of man they need is someone who is local with a bit of stability.’
‘But they’re damaged goods by then, not really worth bothering with…’
‘Don’t talk about people as though they were property!’ Calgacus shouted, surprising himself as his vehemence.
In his head he could only see Vita’s frightened little face.
Antonius, clearly taken aback, stepped back and held up his hands.
‘Suit yourself,’ said Antonius,’ but,’ his voice dropped to a whisper,’ changing the subject, if you do find this girl cut me in. I’ll do the same. That’s less money each but more eyes to look for her.’
Calgacus began to say something but gritted his teeth and stayed silent. Instead he just nodded. He went back to moving bricks. That was something simple, something he understood.
How had this girl taken over his life so quickly, that now he was thinking of her rather than himself? The gods had a wicked sense of humour.