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One of the finest examples of a surviving Roman road in Britain, Blackstone Edge, on Rishworth Moor near Manchester

One of the finest examples of a surviving Roman road in Britain, Blackstone Edge, on Rishworth Moor near Manchester

Marcus Lucius waited patiently for her to move. She pressed her right side against the wooden, cold wall for some more minutes. She trembled, because it was chilly. She was used to Mediterranean warmth and she wasn’t comfortable with the bleak weather of Britannia. It was rainy and moist. She didn’t have proper dresses for such muggy places. Marcus Lucius attentively covered her with another blanket. She stopped trembling and started looking somewhere, where her eyes didn’t meet his. She had a runny nose for the first time. She didn’t like it at all.

Soon after the talk, Nerva appeared feeling insecure. Marcus Lucius assumed that Nerva and Octavian had already exchanged the latest news and instructions from Appius. Nerva looked indeed exhausted. He was wet from sweat and the dust of the road collected on his tanned skin. His short, completely black hair was wet, as well. He introduced himself, not sure whether Marcus Lucius remembered him. Nerva saluted, Marcus Lucius nodded with his head while sitting on the floor next to Julia. It wasn’t a proper behaviour to let your subordinate sleep in your bed. Nerva was totally surprised and unsure what was happening. It felt like in a trap, but Marcus Lucius gave him an impression of assurance. He didn’t treat Nerva as an inferior, but as a peer. It showed in the sound of Marcus Lucius’s voice as he said:

-You should wash yourself. When you come back here, tell Octavian, we’re ready to go.

Nerva nodded. Before he left the wagon, he gave Marcus Lucius and Julia their letters from Appius. Julia didn’t read her letter immediately. She held the paper cautiously, gently. She stared at it for a while. In the meanwhile, Marcus Lucius had scanned his message. It wasn’t long. Appius wasn’t a person using a lot of words. Then, Marcus Lucius kneaded the paper powerfully. Apparently, he didn’t have to read it twice to brand the information in his mind.

After a couple of minutes, Nerva re-appeared, with the same insecurity in his eyes, but without dust and sweat on his face. Julia didn’t notice his stunned, perplexed state of mind, because he stood straight and proudly like a typical soldier, who shows discipline and respect.

-Take two blankets from over there. – Marcus Lucius ordered while showing at a plain dresser in the room. – You are allowed to rest. Lie down and sleep.

Nerva thanked him without words, with a simple nod. He followed Marcus Lucius’s orders and the minute, he laid down, he immediately fell asleep. He snored loudly, blustering. In the silence of the room with limited light and space, Julia had to laugh about the sound of snoring. She tried to control herself, but she wasn’t able to hold back the quiet laughter. For the very first time Marcus Lucius heard her laugh. It was cheerful, simply pleasant. He had to laugh a little, too. It was a bit painful, but he wasn’t able to stop himself, either.

They sat next to each other on less comfortable pillows. Marcus Lucius wondered how she could sit here for so long without complaining. As a girl from a noble family, she used to stay in more comfortable places. He wondered why she never uttered a word of objection, even rudimentarily. Marcus Lucius was a soldier and familiar with very limited, basic conditions. He had spent some nights in the fields, without any linen, simply lying on the solid ground. Once, when he was wounded, he had spent some time on a wooden board without any comfort. He knew what discomfort felt like.

Julia didn’t give the impression of having had a similar experience of inconvenience or incommodity. Still, she didn’t complain at all. He respected her for this attitude. She wasn’t one of the cheeky little misses Marcus Lucius knew from some parties organised by his mother and the Roman elite and where he was supposed to find his future wife. Nobody expected that he would choose a girl from an unknown, socially worthless family. It didn’t fit into the concept. Not only his mother was singled out by his decision. What Marcus Lucius didn’t know, the whole society isolated Decima, because she wasn’t part of it. The aristocrats perceived her as a virus, like a small infectious agent with the ability to replicate inside the living cells of any kind of organism. They wanted to stay immune and didn’t invite Decima to any event. They avoided her on the streets and other public places. Decima didn’t tend to enter this strange world either, so the both existed apart. Marcus Lucius didn’t have any idea about it. He never had the time or even will to analyse it. Decima never complained. And his mother never told him anything, either, as if already talking about Decima would spread or activate a kind of virus.