'Cato! How on earth did you get in here?'
'Brought a report from my centurion to headquarters, my lady. Somehow I lost my way trying to get out. And here I am.'
Flavia laughed as she rose from the floor. She had been busy packing a campaign chest for her husband and the wooden flooring was covered in neat piles of tightly folded clothes. 'You look awful. Rough night?'
'Yes, my lady. I went into Gesoriacum.'
'When will you youngsters learn? Still, I don't suppose you've come here to explain yourself to me. So you might want to go and inspect progress on the nursery I'm having built for Titus.'
'I've put Lavinia in charge of some household slaves to spruce up the nursery. She wanted a word with you. And I dare say you wouldn't mind seeing her again.' Flavia winked. 'Now run along and let me get back to work. Go out that flap, it's the third entrance on the left. Oh, and don't let anyone catch you in here.'
As Cato walked slowly the way Flavia had indicated, his mind raced. Desperate as he was to see Lavinia, there were still questions in his mind about that night in the legate's tent. He needed to know if she had said anything to anyone about him. Clearly Flavia knew he had been there, but who else? He paused at the entrance to the nursery.
Cato steeled himself and stepped inside. The interior was cluttered with children's toys and clothing. Squatting amongst the mess were several of Flavia's household slaves, busily striving to make a comfortable place for a child to play. Sitting to one side, happily painting a farm animal on to a small screen, was Lavinia. She had not seen Cato enter and jumped when he softly called her name from a few feet away.
'Now look what you've made me do.' She laughed, pointing her brush at the screen. 'There's a tail on my cow's head.'
'Cow?' Cato could have sworn it was a horse.
Lavinia turned to face him. For a moment her expression was serious and his heart sank. Then she reached out for his hands and smiled.
'I was worried about you, after I heard about that sentry.'
'Why didn't you come back?'
'I couldn't. When I got back to my quarters, my lady Flavia said she needed me, said Titus was ill. I couldn't see anything wrong with him but she told me to stay with him while she went to find some medicine. By the time she got back everyone was shouting. I'm glad you got out before that nasty business with the guard happened. I can't tell you how worried I've been. I felt really bad about leaving you alone in the tent. I'm sorry I did, truly I am.'
Cato squeezed her hands. 'It's all right. I'm just glad you were safe. When that man came into the tent I was afraid you'd walk right into him when you came back. I think he'd have killed you.'
'Yes, you didn't think it was me who attacked that sentry?'
'No… but who?'
'I don't know. When he discovered I was there he nearly did for me. I shouted for help and, when the sentry appeared, the man attacked him and vanished. I got out as quickly as I could.'
'Anyway, I was so glad to see you safe when the wagons arrived at the camp.'
'Were you glad? Really?'
'That's so sweet.' She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. 'You do care for me, don't you?'
He said nothing and kissed her back, for longer this time, his heart pounding against the warm softness pressed against his chest. When their lips parted he looked into her eyes, feeling cheap for what he was about to ask.
'Has the sentry identified anyone yet?'
'He's dead. He died back in Durocortorum. My mistress only had word of it this morning. He never spoke a word – so you're safe.'
'Does anyone, apart from Flavia, know that I was there that night?'
'No. But the legate knows I was there. He found my hair ribbon.'
'What did you say to him?' Cato felt a finger of ice trace its way down his spine.
'I told him I was going to meet someone else there and that when he didn't show up I went to bed. That's all I told him. I swear.'
'I believe you. Who did you say you were going to meet?'
'Why him?' Cato felt uneasy about Vitellius being fitted up in this manner. A vision came to mind of the tribune issuing orders in the flames of the German village. It would be a low thing to do to cast suspicion on him.
'Because my mistress told me to say so. Apparently her husband doesn't like him, and thinks there's something suspicious about him. He seemed the natural choice, she said.'
'It doesn't seem quite right.' Cato started to protest but Lavinia pulled him close and kissed him again.
'Hush! It doesn't matter. As long as no-one suspects you. That's all that matters to me. Now then,' she continued, pulling him to a screened-off area of the tent that was to be used as a changing area, 'we haven't much time and there's a lot we have to catch up on.'
'Wait. What do you mean, we haven't much time?'
'My mistress is returning to Rome soon. She's taking me with her.'
Cato felt sick.
'I'll try and wait for you in Rome,' she said gently.
'I might never return. And even if I do, it might be years from now.'
'It might be… It might not. Either way there's not much we can do about it right now.' Lavinia gently took his hand. 'We haven't got long, so come with me.'
'What about them?' Cato nodded at the other slaves.
'They won't mind us.'
She pulled Cato through a pair of curtains into Titus's sleeping chamber and drew the curtains behind them. A soft pile of folded materials had been neatly arranged over the floorboards, and Lavinia gently pushed Cato down on to his back. As he lay still, heart pounding, his eyes travelled down her body to where her hands were lifting the hem of her tunic.
'Now then,' said Lavinia, 'where were we?'