Just after dawn, Flavia was sitting at her portable writing desk going through some papers. From the next tent she could hear Titus squealing with laughter as his nurse struggled to feed him his morning meal. Flavia intended to catch up on some correspondence she had been meaning to write since the Legion had set out from the Rhine. She had already despatched a letter to a distant relative commanding a cavalry unit that was joining the invasion force, hoping to meet up with him when the Second Legion arrived in Gesoriacum. Then there were people in Rome she needed to inform of her return. And there were instructions to be issued to the majordomo of the house on the Quirinal, as well as to the steward of Vespasian's villa in Campania. Both establishments needed plenty of warning to ensure that they would be ready to receive Flavia and her retinue.
But the writing of those letters must wait until the present task was meticulously completed. She dipped the tip of her stylus in the inkwell and continued writing with deliberation, pausing occasionally to copy some detail or other from the map on a scroll lying open before her. A salute was shouted outside her tent and Flavia quickly pushed her paperwork into a roughly ordered pile as Vespasian entered. Flavia smiled and laid her stylus down as she rose to give him a kiss.
'I'm afraid you'll have to begin packing in a moment,' apologised Vespasian. 'Even the legate's wife is not permitted to delay the Legion.'
'Surely, after last night's rumpus, you'll allow us time to recover?'
'Recover from what? Lost sleep is a fact of life in the army.'
'I'm not in the army,' she protested.
'No, but you're married to it.'
'Brute!' Flavia scowled. 'I knew I should have married some fat old senator with a consuming interest in viniculture. Instead of roughing it out here in the barbaric wilderness with a man who thinks being a soldier matters.'
'I never forced you to,' Vespasian said quietly.
Flavia took his face between her hands and looked deep into his eyes. 'Just joking, you idiot. You know why I married you. For love – as unfashionable as that may be.'
'But you could have married better.'
'No, I couldn't.' Flavia kissed him. 'One day, you'll be powerful beyond your wildest dreams. I guarantee it.'
'That's reckless talk, Flavia. Please don't. It's too dangerous to even think such things these days.'
Flavia looked deeply into his eyes for a moment and then smiled. 'You're right, of course. I'll be careful what I say. But mark me, history won't remember you merely for commanding a legion. I'll see to that if no-one else will. You really should be more ambitious, or do you still cling to that deep-seated Republican modesty of yours?'
'Maybe.' Vespasian shrugged. 'But right now I think I'll be lucky if I retain command of the Second until the end of the month.'
'Why dear? What's the matter?'
'That incident last night-'
'The person who caused the fire. The thief. He stole something quite precious – something that Narcissus had trusted me to keep secret. Once Narcissus finds out that it's been stolen I don't think he'll be in much of a mood for any excuses.'
'It's not your fault it was stolen,' Flavia protested. 'Whatever "it" was. He can't replace you just for that.'
'He can. He will. He has to.'
'Why? Whatever can be that important?'
Vespasian allowed himself a small smile. 'That I can't tell you. The orders were quite explicit on that point at least.'
'Were they?' asked Flavia, her face momentarily flushed with anxiety. 'When we join the rest of the army, let me have a word with Narcissus. He was a good friend of mine back at the palace.'
'I'd rather you said nothing to him. Let me continue the investigation here in the Legion. We'll find the thief sooner or later.'
'How is the sentry?'
'Not good. The surgeon says he's lost a lot of blood. He's in no shape to travel and today's journey might just finish him off.'
'Well, why can't we leave him at Durocortorum until he's well enough to follow the Legion – if he lives?'
'We could, with a few men to carry a litter once he's up to it. I had thought of that. But he won't be under the care of the surgeon.'
'Good thing too – if half of what I've heard is true. Look here, why don't I leave Parthenas to care for him? He's a trained physician. I've seen him at work on the other slaves and he seems competent enough.'
'All right,' Vespasian nodded. 'The man would have a far better chance of survival lying still in a bed rather than bouncing along the road in a hospital wagon. Now, if it's not too much trouble, I'd be greatly obliged if you would arrange for your personal effects to be packed immediately.'
'Oh! One other thing.'
Vespasian reached inside his tunic and drew out a small silk ribbon. 'I wonder if you've ever seen this before?'
'Let me have a look.' Flavia examined the ribbon a moment before replying. 'This is Lavinia's. Where did you find it?'
'In my command tent, on my couch. Yet there's no reason for her to have been in there and I don't recall seeing it when I left the tent last night. Odd, don't you think?'
'Lavinia has no cause to be in my tent. Do you know anything about this?'
'Why should I? It's your tent.'
'She's your maid.' Vespasian looked up, a strange expression on his face – one that alarmed his wife.
'Whatever's the matter?'
'Probably nothing. But I think I might have a word with that girl. There's something funny going on.'