Chapter 10: Egos Collide
"Good morning Barbarius."
Barbarius walked right past Apollus.
He cleared his throat. "I suppose your voyage with unlettered men made you more uncouth," Apollus muttered. Barbarius picked up his stride at a brisker pace. Apollus let out a loud sigh before continuing. "Let us make peace shall we. It does us no good ignoring each other if we are under the same roof. Let me start over. I was not very friendly towards you earlier." Barbarius stopped in his tracks before pivoting around. His coal-black eyes burned into the greenish brown orbs staring at him.
"What do you say Barbarius to the proposal that we clear the air between us? We are brothers right? We can be polite towards one another," Apollus offered with a weak grin.
"So you decided to play nice today?" Barbarius asked. "Really, what are you up to?"
"Nothing. You do not believe I can be nice," Apollus said, plastering a grin.
"I believe you can "pretend" to be nice. But let us be real and truthfully I do not believe the acting," he snapped.
"I am trying to make things right and you are being resistant to my efforts," Apollus retorted.
"Try apologizing for treating me rudely and putting the light on me at dinner to make me look bad. Admit that you hate the fact that the attention is not always on you. Maybe, just maybe we will get somewhere and I will actually believe your efforts are sincere."
"All right then! I admit it. I am sorry about the way I acted. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Barbarius replied with a grunt. "I should not have felt threatened by you, but father as well as everyone deserved to know the truth."
"Very well. Apology accepted. I doubted for a moment you would actually admit your error. We do not have to be friends after all; just brothers."
"Well both of us can agree we added to the tension. Truce?"
"Truce," Barbarius grumbled.
"Well, I forgot to say it earlier but welcome back." Barbarius just stood there stiffly. After staring at each other, Apollus initiated a hug with Barbarius following suit in stiff arm movements.
"As king maybe you can be my assistant," Apollus whispered as they hugged.
"Will see about that," Barbarius said coolly. "I am willing to play nice for as long as you want to play nice."
"As long as we are not trying to kill each other this will work," he said with a smirk.
Everybody was seated on plush couches around the square tables for breakfast. Father though seemed to be in a hurry to finish his bread.
"I wish you could stay with us a little longer father," I said, sighing.
He wiped his mouth. "I know. I have a lot of important things occupying my mind like running an island nation. Until this investigation is over, I will have another load that I must carry," he said briskly. "The council meeting should be starting soon, and I want you two to come with me," he said pointing to Apollus and Barbarius.
"What about me?" I asked.
"You still have your tutoring session with Anias remember? He will be coming shortly. But when the time comes, I may need you to testify what you know at the courts. That is when you have no need to hold back."
"We may have a dreamer in our midst," grandfather said with a glint in his eyes. "I believe everyone has a gift, which makes us special."
"If everyone had gifts then nobody would be special. That does not make sense grandfather," Apollus said, laughing.
"The fool laughs at wise sayings because he does not understand real wisdom. Everyone has something they are good at, which can be likened to gifts. However in the case of Troy, it took a fall for him to realize the potential he holds to not only adapt, but also to unravel the mysteries of the mind." The table went quiet after grandfather Miletus spoke. He spoke in a way that commanded attention with words that touched you deep to the marrow. They were assuring words of wisdom, which could not be bought at any price. I looked into his small greenish-brown eyes. They reminded me so much of Apollus' own except they revealed the ravages of time. Deep creases carved their way under both eyes as the skin sagged with age. The fine lines etched across his brow left his face in permanent deep thought. Although his hair was nearly all gray, they told the story of wisdom. I was beginning to treasure it more and more with each passing day. I hoped that I could be looked upon for wisdom.
The council was held in the lower chamber of the royal basilica of Apathia. Men of noble blood would sit in their stations in a circular room with steps leading down to the floor where the most important dignitaries sat.
"We had presumptuously declared a new era; an era of peace and prosperity. That has all been shattered. My son Troy as most of you know was attacked while riding his horse ten weeks ago. He was not too far from home when a deranged horseman went charging at him with a sword. In a frantic effort to get away he lost control of the horse and fell off leaving him half-dead. It is my intention to find out the menace who threatens the peace of the island. If you know anyone who rode on the King's pastures in a black horse around the 10th hour of the day, I would appreciate any reports to be brought to my attention. A large reward will be given to anyone whose tips lead to the arrest of the guilty trespasser." All eyes were on him as he slowly paced around the floor where grandfather, Apollus, Barbarius, Felix his right-hand man, and Gaius resided.
"Who of you can I trust? Who can I count on? That is a question I ask myself every day. For the sake of the investigation the island is on lockdown! No one is able to leave the island for any business venture until a prosecution has been made." A wave of murmurs rippled through the crowd as the king finally took his seat. A young nobleman who sat at the higher tier overlooking the floor abruptly stood up to speak.
"How long do you suppose this investigation would last? I know I am not the one who is behind the treasury of the island, but maintaining the wealth of the nation has always been a top priority."
All eyes fell on the man. The king rose from his seat. "Who are you to speak out on matters that do not pertain to you? This will last however long it takes for matters to be rectified. Until then we must maintain our own capital for the good of our own people," Father said casting an icy glare at the statesman who dare question him. The room grew quiet as Barbarius was next to command the floor.
The council continued on until the midday break for lunch and rest. As Barbarius strolled down the long corridors he would get awkward stares from other noblemen. The whispers became a nuisance. Like flies buzzing in his ears. He wished if they had to say something they would say it to his very face. As he reached the end of the corridor to escape their judgment—
"Greetings Barbarius. I am surprised to see you back," a statesman said, grinning. He nearly had to lift his striped toga to keep from tripping. He knew the family all too well.
"Yes I know," Barbarius said flatly.
"I loved the story you gave after your brother's speech, about the lessons you learned from your journey. So just how did you make it out alive?" he asked.
"Let us say I was a real good swimmer after being tossed over the deck. So why are you so interested?" Barbarius asked sharply.
"Just curious how you miraculously came back," he said with a wiry smile. "You are a fighter like they said."
"That is nice but I must be going," Barbarius said brusquely.
"Too bad you are no longer in line for the kingship," he said as Barbarius turned to walk in the opposite direction. "Your brother Apollus is an eloquent man, but he lacks the raw ambition you have."
"There is nothing I can do about it, so why dwell on it," he said with anger seeping in his voice.
"I am just saying. No need to get so heated up," he said placing a gangly hand on his shoulder. Barbarius moved away, letting the man's hand drop.
"He is a more refined than you are, your father speaks of. But I know there are great things ahead of you and I know deep down inside you do not want to settle for second best," he said with his voice lowering to a whisper. Then suddenly a military commander entered in from the foyer. The commander tried to contain his surprise over seeing Barbarius again. In a weak gesture, he bowed his head slightly in Barbarius' presence. Did he know he was not king? Then again did it really matter?
"Greetings your Excellency. Welcome back! Everyone missed you." Then turning to the man next to him he said, "Greetings to you as well Gaius Severus. It looks like you are back in good favor with the king."
"Same to you commander," Gaius said with a smile. As the military commander made his way back to the foyer with the other statesmen, Gaius turned his attention to Barbarius once more.
"So are you close to your brother?" Barbarius was at a loss of words. The question caught him off guard; as if he was jabbed in the gut without warning. What could he possibly say that would not add suspicion to their strained relationship? All Barbarius could do was shrug his shoulders, as if he did not know the answer to a throbbing question that he knew burning all along.
"What makes you ask that?" Barbarius asked.
"Just was wondering. You barely looked him in the eye when he gave his speech."
"So? Are we supposed to be the best of friends and share our feelings? How would you know anything?" He snapped. Gaius pursed his lips together. "I really do not want to have this conversation right now. You want to do some digging, figure out who was behind those men that tried to wipe me from existence and tried to fabricate a lie that the ship was lost at sea. Tell me who was the man that tried to hurt my youngest brother?" he asked. The rush of blood colored his cheeks red. He caught his hands forming into a fist before they went limp.
"I am sorry what happened. Truly I am. I want to be a part of this investigation. I want to help. Maybe we can work together on this," Gaius said growing serious. "I see you need some time to think about it. We would make a good team if we work together," he said.
Barbarius heaved a sigh. "I just need some time to think about it. I have to go," he said. His sharp gray eyes watched Barbarius as he slowly walked away from sight.
Meanwhile the investigation spilled over in the weeks ahead. I watched as the body guards, secured the perimeter of the house. They had already collected evidence of the coarse horse hair that was cut off but their work was far from completion. Barbarius eventually revealed the "whole" truth to father about what really happened on the ship. The truth that there was no storm that rocked the ship although there were high tides that morning. The fact that Barbarius refused to go along with the looting of gold and threatened to expose them. The fact that they tried to tie him up and throw him overboard. The fact that they wanted him dead.
I shuddered at the thought that someone was out there hunting us down. I remember Anias telling me about lions and how they would stalk their prey. Although he assured me you would never find a lion on Aegea, our enemy was doing the very same thing. Problem was nobody knew who the real enemy was. I was assured that as long as the guards and their newly trained guard dogs remained at our residence we were perfectly safe and there was no need to be worried. After a period of time of not having visitors, we were finally allowed to have company.
I was lounging on the couch in the atrium, staring at the rainwater that filled the pool. Then I heard Priscilla's soft voice from behind.
"Greetings Troy." Her voice was noticeably subdued.
"What brings you here? You came to see Apollus?"
"Not only him. I wanted to see how you were doing too," she replied meekly.
"So you did come to see him," I said, raising a brow. "It is obvious why he wants to see you. My brother will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants."
"I see where this is going. As charming as he is, I do not love him or anything. I just allowed him to flatter me because… I did it out of spite," she confessed.
"Oh because I forgot your name?" I said, smirking.
"Yes, that was it," she said with a bitter laugh. "But it is silly now, but he thinks now I feel the same way."
"Is he not what you want? He is the rich young future ruler, who has the dazzling good looks and who also knows how to swoon a woman." I cannot believe I managed to recite that without laughing.
"True. I should be happy, right?"
"But you are not happy," I said crossing my arms against my chest. Her smile quickly faded. Her face dropped.
"Something is wrong with me. I should be happily married already and here I am never satisfied at someone decent. My sister Lydia is married and is pregnant with her first child already. Her friend Helena is already married and my friend Athena recently got married and… what am I? I am starting to feel like a leftover," she said, forcing a laugh out her throat. I examined her powdered face closely. Behind the smile, I could see the hurt she was trying to hide behind those glassy eyes.
"You are not a leftover. You are so much more than a leftover. Do not ever think that. You are still valuable just being you. Besides you still have time to sort things through." I wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be all right. I knew all too well what it felt to feel worthless.
"Thanks," she said quickly wiping her eyes. "I do not know what came over me. I am letting my emotions get the best of me," she said with a sniffle. "But thanks for the kind words. You really know how to say the right things to lift someone's spirit." Her full lips parted into the widest grin I saw her wear. I swear her smile was infectious.
"Someone has to remind us that everything will be all right," I said. We shared a smile.
"Oh is this nice!" Apollus blurted. I had not noticed his silent entry into the atrium. Why was he home so early? "For a moment I thought you came to see Troy," Apollus said with a smirk. I rolled my eyes.
"Well there are other people in this house," Priscilla said briskly.
"I know love, but there is a special person for you here. Anyhow, I have a surprise for you Priscilla."
"Very well," she said with a bedazzled expression.
"Come with me," he said in a seductive voice.
"Can I come too?" I asked with a smirk.
"It is not for you Troy. Maybe when you find someone to give gifts to, you will understand why you do not want your brother sticking to your hip."
"I want to see this surprise."
"You might not appreciate it. It is not for you anyways. Why do you even care anyways?"
"I want to see how far you will go to get what you want," I said with a sour twang.
"You can show me right here at the atrium," Priscilla said, pointing down at the tiled floor. Apollus sighed before saying, "Very well, but stay right here. I have to grab something from my room." Once he left the room, Priscilla turned to me.
"What does he want to show me?" I merely shrugged my shoulders. I suppose both of us were in for a surprise. Moments later, he came back balancing a brass harp. I clearly forgot that Apollus played the harp. Not like he talked about this particular talent in earlier conversations we shared.
"I have a song I want you to hear. It was something I have been working on for a while. I hope you like it," he said, tossing her a bashful smile. This smile looked different than the conceited ones he often wore. I suppose Apollus was full of surprises today. Priscilla plopped down next to me on the white couch while Apollus sat on the other side of Priscilla. As much as I thought this was a desperate attempt to flatter Priscilla I was curious to hear just how good of a harpist he was. Once his deft fingers fluttered over the strings, I got my answer.
"Apollus is that you playing…" Barbarius stopped in his tracks as he entered the atrium from the opposite side. I watched him linger by the curtains that screened the tablinum. Every now and then when I would glance back in his direction I would catch him gazing at Priscilla. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to interrupt, but the music took his breath away. Meanwhile beside me, Priscilla bobbed her head, letting her plaited knot sitting on her crown sway to the rhythm of the music.
"What gods could create such beauty fair and divine? I look into your soul and see myself inside you. I melt before you to tell you what lies in my heart." His smooth voice meshed well with the euphoric notes. Before the song was over her olive cheeks were bright pink. Barbarius took one last glance before disappearing behind the curtains. Priscilla quickly turned to hear the footsteps only to see the rustle of the curtains. Moments later the song came to a stop.
"So what did you think about the song I composed?" Apollus asked. He could hardly contain his grin.
"Oh. It was beautiful. Such a nice song. Really lovely," she gushed.
"You know who it is speaking of?" he said scooting closer to her. Suddenly I felt uncomfortable where the scene would lead.
"I know you wrote it for me. No man has ever written a song for me. You are very persuasive to entice me," she said, laughing.
"Is it working?" he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Well kind of."
"I ought to leave you young people alone. Enjoy," I said, getting up from my seat.
"What can I say? I am charming, a skilled harpist, and appealing to the eyes." His hand rested on her bare shoulder.
"You are very handsome in appearance," she remarked with a smirk.
"I know. We would look good together," he smirked, showcasing his dimples.
"Is there anything else you are good at?" She asked with a laugh.
"Let me show you," he whispered. He leaned in to kiss—
"Um Apollus," she gasped, peeling her lips from his—
"Greetings Apollus!" Barbarius announced. "So nice to see your lady friend. I expected you to come help me with the investigation briefing. But it looks like you are doing your own inspecting." Apollus' face turned from shock to anger in a split moment.
"I think I should go," Priscilla said, biting her lip.
"No you can stay!" Apollus said with an edge to his voice. It was a showdown between the two rivals, as the air had suddenly become extremely tense.
"Look Barbarius, now is a bad time for you to come interrupting like a child. I do not need you on my back. I am not a child anymore," Apollus sulked.
"I could not tell! Anyways there are more important things that must be done. Gaius, the former member of the council has agreed he would take it upon himself to help with the investigation and he might have a lead."
"That is great Barbarius. Honestly, we all need some closure to this case. That is what everyone has been talking about. I cannot even leave the house without a guard following me. It is getting quite tiresome."
"We are all affected by this. The whole island is on lockdown until this is over. I need us to work together for once."
"Why not work with Gaius? He is your new comrade. I am not certain though whether he is of a good character though."
"Who are you to make that judgment? I do not fully put my confidence in him yet, but he is willing to help so I could not refuse the kind offer. Who knows maybe the two events might be linked. What if the same people that wanted me dead wanted Troy dead too?"
"Wait a moment. These are two separate unrelated events. You are starting to scare me with your suspicions," Apollus scoffed, waving him off.
"He was right," Barbarius muttered aloud. "You really do not care. And you are too blinded by your own arrogance to see it," he snapped. Barbarius stormed out the atrium, disappearing behind the red curtains.
"I am sorry you had to hear all this," I told Priscilla.
"No maybe I needed to know what was going on. So this was not a 'horse accident' after all?" she asked shaking her head.
I shook my head. "Someone was chasing me. Whoever it was they wanted me dead," I replied.
"But how did you know it was really someone chasing you? Were there eyewitnesses?"
"Priscilla it is best that you are not tangled in these private affairs," Apollus interjected.
"I want to know who would try to hurt Troy and I would think you would want to know too," she said, jolting up from the couch. "Nice song," she said dryly. "I need to make my way back home." As she walked through the vestibule towards the two leaf door, a guard blocked her way.
"Excuse me my lady. I have some questions I am asking all the guests." Priscilla stood there, frozen. "Do you recall seeing a black horse with a rider dressed in a black cloak on the second lunar month late evening? The rider is described as having a long face, a full-grown man with gray eyes according to the source," he said pointing back at me. Priscilla looked back at me then at the guard looming over her.
"No, I do not remember seeing anyone around with that description."
"I thought that since you like to frequent the residence of the king…" he began.
"No," she said shaking her head. "I did not even visit here until much later."
"Very well," he said eyeing her. "You can go." Priscilla tried to hide her annoyance. I looked at her sadly thinking that somehow Apollus was right. She was innocent and did not need to be tangled in the investigation but then again it would be her problem and everyone else's.
At dinner, father had not made it back yet but grandfather was present. After the main course was of spiced sausages and venison was served, grandfather had presented Apollus a signet ring. It was the ring in which all the kings would wear; the same one Barbarius was supposed to receive before he ran off. As Apollus bragged and flashed the ring in the light, I could see Barbarius eyes sharpen like the knife he was holding.
Barbarius clanged his cup against the table, silencing Apollus' chatter. "I am happy that you got what you wanted Apollus. I realized I have made my share of mistakes and I am truly sorry for ever letting you down grandfather as well as father. Now that I am here, I want to do what is right and that means accepting the responsibility that rightfully belongs to the firstborn. I promise I will try to lead this investigation if I have to, and one day I can garner your trust to take back what was rightfully mine."
Apollus dropped his knife. "I knew you wanted to take the kingship away from me all along!" he snapped. "You just admitted it now! You are jealous of me. I know, what can I say? I am a skilled speaker and can command a crowd. But you cannot have it. You are not fit to be king. Remember you lost that right."
"You are not even qualified. All you think about is yourself. Your head is inflated with arrogance." Barbarius retorted. I rolled my eyes. Here we go again.
"Please, let not the hunger for power consume you. It is an ugly thing I am witnessing; the animosity between brothers," grandfather said shaking his head in dismay.
"Tell me I deserve the signet ring," Barbarius said, raising his voice. "Father told me himself he would have chosen me but you happened to be crowned just before I arrived. Oh wait you are not even crowned yet!" he scoffed.
"It was announced I would be the successor. He is not taking back his word, unless you want father to be made a liar!"
"Enough already!" grandfather snapped, glaring at Apollus and Barbarius.
"He started this whole drama by even coming here. I wish they would have carried it out!"
Barbarius jumped from his seat, reached over the table, and sent Apollus' plate flying off the table. One of the female slaves gasped as the dish came hit the couch before splattering sauce and half-eaten meat on the floor.
Apollus looked down at his lap where he found his remaining dinner slathered on his toga. "You are a coward!" Apollus shouted. "Where are you going?" he taunted. Barbarius stormed out the room before Apollus could take a swing. I almost thought Barbarius was going to tear the curtains down, which would give us full view of the garden. I glanced over at Apollus who was still seething. "You really made him mad."
"Who cares? He had no reason to act like an animal!" he snapped.
"You did not make it any better," grandfather scolded. "Tell me you did not mean what you just told your brother," grandfather said, glaring at Apollus.
"Why of course I did not mean it grandfather. Did you really think my heart turned to stone?" Grandfather let out a loud sigh.
"I hate to see what has become of you. This can only lead to more ugliness unless you two resolve your differences." With that grandfather dismissed himself from the table as the slaves cleaned up the spilled morsels. Suddenly dessert lost its appeal.
This was bad. No. Bad was an understatement. I had never seen either of my brothers this angry before. At least that I could recall. At the pit of my stomach I knew the animosity was far from over.
After dinner I retreated to my room. There in the dark space I could escape from the chaos at dinner and drift into sleep. Maybe tonight I would have a peaceful dream. Instead I was awoken by a loud bump in the night.