House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii
Marcus Lucius briefly flinched a bit, but long enough to raise suspicion. The old commander didn’t comment anything. It wasn’t necessary. Then, he added surprisingly:
-Julius didn’t tell me much about you.
Marcus Lucius was almost sure that the idea of pretending to be Maxentius was a complete flop. He was sure that the hint was a part of a series of checks to identify and confirm the real nature. Apparently, the puzzles of information that Cornelius had about Maxentius didn’t match.
-Everyone says it to me. – Marcus Lucius lied without batting an eye. – It’s the marriage, I guess.
Cornelius seemed to be relieved and somewhat happy about how the situation developed. Marcus Lucius judged that he was convincing enough. He couldn’t remember Maxentius at all. He saw a dead, bloody body dressed according the status of a noble, Roman man. There hadn’t been enough time to look at the details and then, Marcus Lucius was too injured. He had never spoken about Maxentius with Julia or Appius’s soldiers. It came to his mind only in the moment when Cornelius marked his hands. Marcus Lucius regretted that he didn’t take it into consideration. It could disturb the entire plan. After waiting a moment, Marcus Lucius had the feeling that Cornelius was all right. He couldn’t be sure about it, but his intuition that saved him from getting killed for years told him quietly to trust that Cornelius accepted the remark as being true.
Fortunately, the statement didn’t have any consequences. However, it was a bad sign and Marcus Lucius didn’t want to risk nothing else. With an unsettled look, he went through the main room of the house, a broad, stony lobby, and gazed at Octavian every now and then. They didn’t exchange a word, but they were both edgy.
Julia stepped into the room covered in a blanket and with question marks in her eyes.
-How did it go? – She asked and Octavian summarized the meeting with Cornelius.
She hardly remembered the uncle, who was in Britannia for years already. As far as she knew, Cornelius rather stayed in Londonium, where he could easily take a ship and travel to Rome anytime. Octavian explained to her that Maxentius was supposed to take the leadership in Eboracum and Cornelius was there only temporary. The last tribune in Eboracum was killed in fights with local warriors. Generally, it was a safe area, but every now and then, some dangerous groups from North Britannia attacked Southern Britannia. Eboracum and Deva were the last camps located at the farthest ends of the empire. They marked the border and were left at the mercy of the more or less peaceful attitude of Barbarians.
Julia shook her head, but nobody was able to understand what she really thought. As she heard the suggestion to prepare a dinner for her uncle, she stepped back two steps, as if her insecurity pushed her away from the place she stood in. She was more scared of her uncle coming into her house than the Barbarians that could attack any moment. Cornelius’s presence was more perceptible in that moment. However, she understood the solemnity. After a moment of consideration, she spoke quietly with a trembling voice:
-So, we’ll prepare the dinner. My uncle wasn’t present during the wedding, so he doesn’t know how Maxentius looked like.
-Still, his soldiers could recognize Marcus Lucius, because he looks similar to his father. Maximus spent many years in Britannia and it’s probable that one of Cornelius’s guards will find out about our masquerade.
Wearing a helmet in the lobby would raise too many questions. Additionally, nobody knew how to cover Marcus Lucius’s face. Bandages were allowed, but inconvenient. The creepiness of the situation couldn’t get worse in Julia’s eyes. She had to put her mask of political correctness on and behave properly.
-The only solution is having the dinner without Marcus Lucius. – Julia spoke aloud what nobody dared to say. – When he won’t be here, he won’t be recognized.
Octavian wasn’t convinced. Finally, Marcus Lucius was bandaged the same way he appeared at Cornelius’s. Octavian wasn’t sure whether the meeting was a good idea. Too many bad consequences could follow and Octavian wasn’t happy about it. He niggled:
-How do we explain it all to Cornelius?
-I simply say that the way up to here and today’s talk was too exhausting for my husband. It’s probable enough, isn’t it?
Marcus Lucius and Octavian kept silence. The first convinced man seemed to be Marcus Lucius.
-It is. If it won’t work, then we have to prepare an alternative plan. – Marcus Lucius said. – And don’t forget the wine. I send a slave to bring as much wine as possible. Cornelius’s glass should not get empty.
An air of nervousness and insecurity was around during the entire afternoon. Marcus Lucius didn’t agree to the plan until Julia asked him to trust her. He wasn’t sure whether she was right, but she insisted to follow her plan. Marcus Lucius was able to fight against the entire world, but he wasn’t able to start a fight with the girl. She had a strange kind of power that didn’t allow him to oppose her. He would stop her, if her arguments wouldn’t be powerful enough. Her short speech was logical and rational. There was no emotional issue. It was imposing.
-How good do you know your uncle? – He asked her.
-I don’t know him at all. I heard about him. My father told some stories, but nothing worth mentioning it. – She answered slowly and using all words with purpose.
She sounded strange as if she would be far, far away with her thoughts. Marcus Lucius didn’t intend to push her. She told him the truth and it was crucial. He left her alone. She didn’t notice it at first. As she brought up her father, she became nervous. She wasn’t sure what to think about him. She wanted to be sure that Julius had given her to Maxentius with good intentions and not knowing how awful man Maxentius was. Finally, it was her father, a person whom she used to trust and she used to look up to him as if he was a kind of god. His decision was confusing and Julia struggled internally.