Roma Nova is not forgotten!

I had a message from a Roma Nova fan in distress the other day. He’s bought Double Identity (for which I thanked him). He said he was enjoying it immensely, but he fervently hoped this new book didn’t mean Roma Nova had disappeared like the Roman Empire itself.

I reassured him – a new Roma Nova story was in draft. In fact, it was the origin story, the time when Julia and Apulius met in AD 370 and about the great trek north in AD 395. He would meet Carina and Aurelia’s ancestors and the first of the Apulian rulers.

He breathed a sigh of relief.

Just as a reminder, here’s a little bit about it…

AD 370, Virunum, Roman Noricum

Julia Bacausa, passionate daughter of a local Celtic ruler, miserable and tense after a failed marriage and only half-divorced, can see no future life for herself.

Lucius Apulius, a bright young military tribune thrown out of a prestigious command that would have made his career. He’s posted to a backwater in the mountains of Noricum (Where? Even the tribune asks that).

We ‘met’ Julia and Apulius briefly in The Girl from the Market  but this was a mere dip into the late fourth century. Now I’m writing their full story. So who are they?

Lucius Apulius

Lucius Apulius

In his mid twenties, the son of an old senatorial family. Even though it’s late in the Roman Empire, he’s still trying to follow the cursus honorum, the sequential order of military and public administration posts to be held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. However, by the late fourth century, many traditional offices had been replaced by more pragmatic, administrative ones. But for now Apulius is making a success of his military career.

In fact, he’s a rising star on Count Theodosius’s staff, taking part in restoring order in Britannia and as a reward promised his own command in Western Britain – a big step for an ambitious tribune. But…

(You knew there was a ‘but’.)

[Apulius speaks] I’d been curious to see Dulcitius in person. Said to be an excellent soldier and a commander with a hard reputation, he’d been thrown out of the army by the late Emperor Julian. Why had Count Theodosius summoned him back? Dulcitius scanned the tent with his dark flashing eyes, nodding at two of the other officers. Then he stopped at me.

 ‘Aren’t you General Apulius’s son?’ Dulcitius growled and jabbed his finger at me.  ‘That pagan who crawled away from Samarra after Julian the Apostate’s death?’

The whole tent fell silent. Count Theodosius looked up from his dispatch. A secretary shuffled scrolls in the background. And all eyes focused on me. Christian eyes.

‘What exactly are you saying, Dulcitius?’ The count leaned back in this chair.

‘He’s from one of those useless aristo families that Diocletian chucked out.’

‘Maybe so, but he’s one of my most promising juniors who’s led several very successful sorties.’ The count turned to me. ‘Lucius?’

‘Sir, I’ve served the emperor for six years to the utmost of my ability, and completely loyally.’ I burned inside with fury at the new dux, but kept my eyes on Theodosius.

‘Ask him who he worships.’ Dulcitius looked at me malevolently.

Ah, problem. Even the careers of even the best were destroyed for not following the late empire’e official religion – Christianity – which is how Apulius ends up in a backwater like Noricum. He was lucky to still have a military job, even the second in command of a local auxiliary force.

Julia Bacausa

Julia Bacausa

Just twenty, daughter of a local Celtic leader and a mother ‘from the tribes’, fiery in appearance with flaming red hair and independent in nature. Hurt and disappointed by a failed marriage with the local bishop’s nephew, she is caught in the religious transition of the time and by her half-divorced status. Apulius first sees her when she’s not at her best – she’s been supervising a through household overhaul and had thrown on an old tunic that morning.

[Apulius speaks] Another bloody provincial semi-barbarian with a plait of red hair. She wore no jewellery; her belt was plain leather without a waist pouch and her tunic didn’t even cover her feet and ankles. A pert farm girl, or somebody’s household slave who had the nerve to measure me up like an equal. But she was worth looking at, I had to admit.

[Julia speaks after exchanging harsh words with him] I knew I’d been rude, but he could at least stop and let me apologise. He didn’t need to be so uncivil, even for a soldier. I hastened after him determined to make him hear me. Nobody turns his back and walks away from me.

When I caught up with him, I stretched my hand out and seized his arm. He instantly grabbed his sword pommel. The gladius was halfway out of the scabbard by the time he saw it was me. He released it, then looked as my hand on his forearm as if it were a viper about to bite.

‘How dare you touch me! Remove your hand or I’ll have you whipped.’ He looked at me as if I were the meanest drudge.

‘You can’t,’ I retorted. ‘You have no right.’

‘We’ll see about that.’ He went to raise his hand – to summon some of his men, I supposed – then he let his hand drop. His eyes gleamed and he looked down his Roman nose.

I caught my breath and tipped my chin up at him. I knew my face was flushed – I could feel the heat – but I was going to teach him a lesson. When he found out who he had insulted he’d be broken and sent back to Rome in disgrace. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly what his fate was going to be, but he prised my fingers off his arm. The hard skin on his hand chafed my softer one. My fingers were jammed together and started tingling. Before I could protest, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him. Gods, he was strong, vital. His arm slid round the back of my waist and he crushed me against his body. Solid, hard and unyielding. He smelt of horse, a day’s sweat and pine resin. His eyes narrowed then gleamed. His breath shortened.

I should have struggled, but I didn’t want to. His other hand gripped my buttock. I stared into his eyes and was lost.

Then, of course, Apulius finds out who she really is and she seizes the opportunity to pay him back in full …

Writing two such uncompromising characters who nevertheless are sensitive human beings smarting from life’s unfairnesses is pure joy. Despite the mass of research needed, I think this book is going to be a whole lot of fun.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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