‘Will you row back to the shipyard, or tie her up here and come up the house with me.’ Valeria asked Dorus afterwards. She lay in the circle of his arms, with her head lolling in the pocket of his shoulder.
His chest heaved against her back and he cushioned his chin on her dishevelled hair. ‘I still have some things to do at the yard. A delivery of timber needs inspected.’ He said this reluctantly, by way of an answer, which hinted that he’d rather spend the day with her. For a few moments, Valeria let the sense of contentment his inference afforded warm her inwardly. Dorus spoke into the silence and she noted a troubled undertone to his words.
‘You were out early today.’
Angling her head, Valeria looked up at him. Dorus answered her questioning look with a simple, ‘I missed you.’
She narrowed her eyes a little, her lips curving into a pleased smirk, and put a hand up to his face.
‘I’ll wake you tomorrow then if you like. But I do hate to disturb you when you are still asleep. You don’t like being woken up.’
Dorus gave her a gentle squeeze, ‘If it’s you doing the waking, I’ll get used to it.’
‘What is it you find out there each morning?’ Valeria asked him with sudden pointedness. Taken a little aback, Dorus did not answer at once, he had no wish to spoil her good mood by making her worry. Then after some consideration he said:
‘A sense of home maybe. Ships and boats have always been more of home to me than anything I ever had on land. Until I met you.’ The last sentiment was added quickly, to reassure her. Valeria’s eyes continued to search his, asking him with that peculiar perception of hers not to hold back. Dorus was quite amazed by her ability to break through his defences. Was he that easy to read? Or had the return of the nightmare shaken him more than he knew?
‘I don’t dream out there.’ He explained. Dorus met her gaze frankly, ‘My dream came back.’
Valeria tried to hide her surprise but she turned around in his arms nonetheless, concerned.
‘The one about Drepanum?’
He held her gaze for a moment longer and then squinted into the distance, ‘Yes. Just the same. Completely unreal, nothing like it really was, or should have been,’ he gave a snort ‘there wasn’t even a handful of ships operating the corvus at Drepanum.’
Sinking back against his chest, Valeria became thoughtful, absently letting her hand fall and latch onto his neck. There wasn’t allot she could say. It had taken months after he had been removed from command for Dorus to tell Valeria what happened at Drepanum, by way of explaining his dismissal and his nightmare.
How the Roman fleet had been trapped against the Sicilian shore south of the city and mercilessly battered by faster, better trained Punic ships until most were sunk or else grounded by their officers in order to escape the slaughter, while a handful broke out and escaped to sea.
‘What could make the dream return now?’ She asked, ‘It’s been years.’
Dorus was unsettled by her concern and brushed it off to dispel the cloud that seemed to be settling over them, ‘Only priests and seers know the riddles of dreams, Valeria. Come we should be going.’
Valeria’s expression made a very subtle change, then she sighed and gave his hands a few slaps with her palms and he released her.
‘Very well.’ She chirped, standing up, and brushing the now dried sand from her arms and clothes, ‘I must get back too.’
Dorus rose, and picked up a battered, wide brimmed Thessalian hat that he liked to wear. He pressed his lips to her forehead, pricking her skin with his short beard, wordlessly telling her he loved her. After a long moment they parted, ‘Don’t drive your sister too mad, now,’ he told her with mock severity.
‘No promises!’ She called over her shoulder as she sauntered away.