Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Homecoming?

‘Is this the house of Julius Suetonius Miletus?’
‘Yes. Who should I say is calling, sir?’
‘My name is Castor, aide to Marcus Flavius Aquila of the Imperial service. Tell your master that we have property to return.’
The slave, an old man, who to Castor’s eyes looked somewhat undernourished, looked at the three men with what appeared to be a child with a blanket over its head and quickly nodded.
‘Please come in and wait here in the vestibulum, the master I am sure will be with you in but a few moments.’
Castor sighed and pushed Vita ahead of him over the mosaic floor.
‘Sit down girl,’ he said,’ and prepare yourself. I suspect the next few hours are going to get distinctly unpleasant.’
The slave returned.
‘The master will see you in the atrium, sir.’
Castor pulled off the blanket and handed it to one of the soldiers. As he revealed her he noticed the look of sympathy on the face of the older slave. Castor shrugged. It served no purpose of his to get soft now. He turned to his escort.
‘You two may go. From the noise out there the attack is started. You are needed more urgently elsewhere.’
The soldiers saluted and left.
‘I’ve no idea why they gave me soldiers anyway,’ Castor mused, turning to look at Miletus, who had appeared smiling at the inner doorway to the atrium.
The bearded man beckoned them in. He was staring intensely at Vita, who sensibly was keeping her gaze firmly on the floor.
‘They might have been expecting trouble,’ Miletus said mildly, still staring,’ she has caused me enough, after all. Sit down, Castor, wasn’t it?’ his voice hardened,’ you can get on your knees girl. Get used to that posture.’
Vita said nothing and lowered her bare knees to the stone floor. The older slave had returned with two cups of wine and some dates.
Goodness knows where this man had gotten dates in this godforsaken corner of the Empire, Castor thought, as he politely refused both.
Miletus took a cup and a handful of fruit.
‘Leave us, Sextus. Go back to the packing. We leave tonight,’ Miletus said to the slave and took a drink. He turned back to Castor.
‘I have to say I am surprised and delighted to get my property back,’ he began,’ I’d like to know how you found her.’
‘I have my methods. Observation mostly,’ Castor admitted,’ and a bit of luck never fails to come in handy.’
‘Tell me where she was hiding,’ Miletus asked.
‘I would rather not,’ Castor returned in a similarly mild tone and was amused to see the furrow of annoyance in the magistrate’s brow.
‘I want you to tell me where she was hiding. I am a magistrate of this city, and you will tell me.’
To the obvious surprise of Miletus, Castor just laughed.
‘First, Magistrate, I’m bond to the Imperial service on special licence and totally outside your jurisdiction,’ Castor got up from the bench,’ secondly, while I often deal with people I don’t like it is always in the service of the Empire. I don’t think that loyalty to the Empire comes anywhere near what you may call a heart, from your obvious plans to leave here.’
Castor thought of the scum he usually dealt with and realised that they were better than this moan. They were poor, had little opportunity. This man was rich, well connected and still chose to be wallow in the dark.
‘You, sir, should be out there with a sword in your hand as any honourable Roman would be, not sitting on your backside and eating dates. So I don’t feel inclined to assist you further in any way. I’ll show myself out.’
Castor glanced once more at the little girl shifting uncomfortably on the cold floor and felt one final twinge of conscience.
He didn’t really expect her to come up with anything. He had his own contingency plans. But it was a shame. She was brave and clever and girls often made such good agents. Castor shook his head and walked out, while the magistrate sat speechless with fury at being insulted so badly in his own home.
After Castor had gone, Vita kept her eyes firmly downward, but Miletus hit her anyway.
It was not a hard blow but it still knocked her flying. She looked up at the man with a look of fear that did not need to be faked.
‘I want to know everything you have been up to, and what you have told them about me.’
‘Nothing, sir, I know nothing!’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Miletus said,’ and I’m going to get the truth out of you one way or another,’ he ran his hand down over her short hair and let it continue down the length of her body, ignoring how Vita cringed at his touch, ‘and what’s more girl, I’m going to enjoy doing it.’