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Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Magistrate

Marcus Aquila had sat through the Magistrate’s briefing with a patience he was impressed to find he still possessed.
He hated his dealings with these jumped up provincial officials. It astounded him that they could spend so long talking about something of such little importance.
‘So you see, Miletus – terribly nice chap, good breeding you know – tells me that this little brat tried to steal from him and then made off; well that would be just a normal situation for some of these slaves brought from the North – they’re all barbarians up there you know – but in trying to get at his possessions she may have seen some documents that included, well should we say, some family business dealings. Miletus did not give any details and I’m not going to pry.’
‘Surely she cannot read, this “barbarian” child?’
The Magistrate shifted on the stone bench.
Aquila was not sure if he was uncomfortable about his answer or just lacking in the cushions he normally required.
Sometimes Aquila really missed Castor’s ability to read people. But the old dog was more use to him out sniffing around among the detritus.
‘I don’t think he wants to take the risk. I mean the Governor’s name is apparently mentioned…’
‘And the dealings might be considered, by those of a cruel disposition, to be not entirely legal?’ It’s the old story, Aquila thought. Give men power, and they’ll just line their pockets at the first opportunity.
‘I am sure everything is above board,’ the Magistrate admonished.
‘Oh, I’m sure,’ Marcus said calmly,’ but it is amazing how you can misinterpret the most innocent of phrases if you are so inclined, is that not so, Magistrate? And why is this Miletus not here in person?’
‘He is attending to his duties, like any loyal official,’ the Magistrate said dismissively as though this somehow answered the question adequately, ‘ and so you will find the slave?’
‘Yes. I will find her – if she is still alive of course.’
‘Good,’ said the Magistrate as he got off from the bench, rubbing his backside.
Aquila smiled. Ah, it was cushions rather than conscience then, as he’d suspected.
‘You will give me nightly reports of your progress.’
‘No. I don’t think I will, Magistrate.’
The Magistrate looked at Aquila in the same way you might look at a cooked chicken that was in the process of crawling off the dinner table.
‘Pardon me?’
‘I said no, honoured Magistrate,’ Aquila sighed,’ look, let me be straight with you. I will remind you that I am an Imperial Investigator and I report to the Imperial staff and their appointments. Here in Britannia that means the Governor. I will report to him and to him alone… Not to this Miletus, not to you, and not the idiots commanding the Ninth Legion stationed here. If you want to see me, you can make an appointment to meet me in the Mansio.’
Aquila got up, trying hard not to suppress a feral grin. Finally he was starting to enjoy himself.
‘Goodnight. I must go and rest now, considering the important work I have defending the Empire in the days ahead. And I want to meet this Miletus myself. Make it happen tomorrow.’
He walked out of the Basilica without looking back at the Magistrate.
Mainly this was because Aquila was frightened of bursting into laughter at the man’s expression of open mouthed shock.
He was making enemies here but he didn’t care. If they made things difficult for him he would bring them down. They all had secrets to expose.
Aquila’s nightmares were not filled with the wrath of minor officials wrapped up in their own little games and perversions.
What did worry him were sword wielding natives he saw around every corner, pretending to be Romanised but just waiting for something to help unleash their anger against their still so recent conquerors.
He would send to Colchester for news of the Iceni. As long as Suetonius Paulinus was on the other side of the country with the bulk of the Imperial forces, new cities such as this one were terribly vulnerable.
He just hoped he was wrong about what might be coming. Or at least that he could be out of the province when the disaster finally came.
‘Damn it child,’ he said to himself as he drank one of several cups of wine back at his lodgings,’ give yourself up quickly, for all our sakes!’

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