Chapter 11: Burning of Innocence
My bare feet pounded the cold marble in a frantic rhythm. I faltered at the doorway where two other slaves had gathered, petrified. I pushed past them towards the source of the loud clang of falling furniture and shouting that awoke me. Inside Apollus' room my brothers' heads swept the floor at my feet as they wrestled for control over the knife. Their feet banged against the fallen lampstand. I gasped at the sight of Barbarius pinning Apollus down, one hand clamped below his neck, the other one aiming the knife at my brother's throat. The orange flame licking the sheets illuminated the burning rage in his eyes.
"Get off him!" I exclaimed. His eyes, wild and distant, flitted to mines before they locked back on Apollus. The bed was catching fire.
I pointed to the bed. "Fire!" I shouted. He turned around to witness the flames sweeping over the bed. As he turned back around, Apollus' fist collided into his nose.
Apollus pushed him off before screaming, "My bed!"
"How did this happen?" I shouted. By now another slave finally peeled Barbarius away while another fanned the flames with a burlap sack. Barbarius staggered out. His tunic was stained with blood that oozed from his nose. I stepped out into the hallway, speechless.
"Quick we need pitchers of water!" Apollus shouted at the slave who was fanning the fire. Before he could leave his station a passing female slave scampered down the corridor.
"I can go get some water too," I muttered.
"Hurry back," Apollus demanded. I scurried down the hallway into the atrium where the impluvium pool resided. The same female slave that had tended to me spotted me as I searched the ledge for a jug.
"Here is a pitcher already with water," she said handing one to me. "There is more in the kitchen I can grab."
"Thanks." I quickly scurried back to the room where the fire was being contained. Apollus grabbed the pitcher from me, as he doused the fiery flames with a cool spray of water. Flames dimmed as more slaves came pouring in with pitchers full of water pumped from our indoor plumbing. Smoke filled the room, leaving the three of us gagging. Apollus stayed behind in the room directing the slaves who were made to finish the rest of the extinguishing and to save any valuables. Just then the young female slave returned with jugs to the other slaves inside the room. Apollus staggered out the room, covering his mouth with his sleeve. He sputtered a haggard cough before leaning against the corridor wall. His body slid down the wall to the floor. His head bobbled back and forth before twisting at a limp angle.
Barbarius knelt beside him. "Apollus?"
The only answer was an unintelligible murmur.
Barbarius cupped Apollus face to steady his wobbly head. "Sorry. You were right. I admit I was jealous. I did want to be king. I wanted to scare you, but not like this. I hate how you are looking at me. I hate that we fight. I hate that I lose my composure." Barbarius gently slapped his face. "Wake up. I know you are listening," Barbarius said. He then dragged Apollus' limp body across the floor away from the billowing smoke.
Apollus opened his eyes. "What, you do not want to kill me?" Apollus asked. "Kill me! That is what you wanted." His next words took on a dreary tone. "You can take out your revenge. Just like you always wanted."
My eyes grew wide. "Why do you two always have to fight? We are brothers. Brothers look after each other. They defend one another. They die for each other. I hate to be the one who has to watch this hatred go on. What happened to this family?" I exclaimed. All Barbarius could do was shrug his shoulders before responding, "I do not know either," in a nonchalant tone.
As Apollus snapped out of his stupor he looked up at Barbarius. "I thought we were brothers too. But that was a long time ago. Times have changed. You are not the same. I am not the same. This family is broken and there is nothing to fix it since the death of mother and you only just added to the flames," Apollus said sullenly.
Barbarius clenched his jaws. "Then I should just leave and never come back."
"Go. You were already dead to me," Apollus answered coldly. Barbarius stormed past grandfather who had just arrived to witness the disaster.
He ran his fingers through his white hair. "What happened?"
"A fire broke out," Apollus muttered. As grandfather asked Apollus further questions as to how the fire started, I followed Barbarius into his room.
"Wait!" I called out to him. "You cannot leave. Not now. I just finally had my big brother come back in my life."
"I am not welcomed here. I ruined everything," he shouted. He picked up a vase and hurled it across the room. It cracked the painted walls before smashing onto the ground.
"Please. I know what you did was horrible. You should not have acted that way to Apollus. It was cruel to do and it did not justify how he treated you—"
"Save it Troy if you came to lecture me!" he said sharply. He continued to scoop a pile of folded garments to stash into a sack.
"I am not here to judge you," I said exasperatedly. "I need a brother. You cannot keep leaving. You are running away from your life if you do this."
"You have Apollus. Go have fun with him."
"Yes he is my brother…but he is yours too. However no one could replace you. Somehow I think as different as you and I are; we have some things in common. We are easily misunderstood and we can sometimes let our emotions get the best of us. Underneath the stone exterior you put on, I see not a killer but a person who truly cares. Why else did you not kill him or let him die?" Barbarius continued to pack his belongings into the sack in silence.
"What about the investigation?" I asked.
"The king and his men are already on to it," he said softly. His sack was almost stuffed. I felt powerless to the situation. Was there anything I could say to convince him to stay?
"I turn sixteen in a matter of weeks. I want you to be there if nothing else as I celebrate my manhood. Would you stay around for that for your youngest brother?"
"Maybe. But I still need to remove myself from the situation. Perhaps I will stay at the family villa… at least until the tension dies down. We cannot stay under the same roof without killing each other, or at least trying to," he said regretfully. "I have to leave now. I do not want to hear anymore lectures from the "old man."
He told me to tell grandfather that he would stay there for some time, although he did not say as to when he would come back. While father was gone away at the palace in Apathia, work began right away on replacing Apollus old bed and replacing it with an even better one with a copper bed frame overlaid with gold. With the incense candles in his room it took only a day for the smell of dungy smoke to fade away. With so much pressure mounted on father, we all were on edge telling him what had happened a few nights back, although we told father that Barbarius needed his "space." A week after the fire, the news I had anticipated arrived at breakfast time.
"The criminal has come forward! The justice system does work swiftly," father said with a dry laugh.
"What?" I exclaimed. It was so much to take in. I felt a bit relieved yet still confused about why he would turn himself in.
"Gaius as you know, who played a notable part in the investigation, had stumbled across a man who matched the description. He followed the man and took him in for questioning. After a thorough interrogation, the man confessed to the incident. He even wrote a letter expressing his guilt."
"That is wonderful news. I suppose Gaius was a great help after all," Apollus remarked.
I smiled at the news. "So what happens to the fellow who is convicted?" I asked.
"Well, in your lesson with Anias you should learn that the convicted person will be put on trial. With evidence already mounted on him, and the confession he has already submitted he will be sentenced to the Hole. I paused for a moment. What was the Hole? I had only heard it a few times when Apollus or father would mention criminals who were sentenced to there. All I knew was that it was somewhere no one dared wanted to go yet remained a mystery to most people. Yet I could not help wonder why the man chose to chase me. Father's explanation was that he did it because he was an ill-tempered man who just did not like the king. I was told by father that the information is confidential and would only be discussed in the court. In the meanwhile, I yearned for more answers yet I kept finding new questions. The only escape from the questions was my instruction with my Greek tutor. During the noon break from my lessons I sauntered back into my room. While lounging on my bed, I reminisced through old class notes and notes about people and places in my past. Before long my eyes grew heavy with sleep.
The hot sun warmed the room, rousing my senses to awaken. Sounds of laughter spilled from outside the window. I rubbed my dry eyes. What was going on? It sounded like children laughing. I stared out the window. There were three boys chasing fireflies in the clearing in the thickets. They would jump up and scoop them in their jars, running with their jars wide open without a care in the world. They did not notice the darkness of the woods as the sun slowly began to set below the forest canopy. Soft whispers of the tall stranger they called father told them to abandon their jars. As the two older boys walked along empty-handed, the youngest one slipped away without notice to carry his jar secretly home behind his back. I watched as the scene unfolded in my room as the young boy suddenly appeared in my room.
"What are you doing in my room?" I questioned.
No answer. The little boy kept his back facing me as he carefully pulled out a golden key from his sash around his waist. He cautiously opened the wooden chest that stood on two wooden legs as it revealed where the other possessions lay hidden. As he carefully put the jar in the chest he took one long look at it before closing the door again. He slowly turned to stare at me, his brown eyes wide with wonder. He looked awfully familiar. It was as if he resembled a younger image of me. Then he disappeared.
Immediately after waking up, I glanced down at my neck to find my bulla still hanging around my neck. I was reminded in a few weeks I would lose my bulla and say goodbye to my childhood as I would step into manhood. After weeks of waiting, the day I anticipated had arrived. It was the day I was officially to be declared a man for all to see. For the past few weeks, grandfather and father would tell me the "procedure" and what it all meant, but deep down there was a small pebble of doubt, a doubt of whether I was truly ready. Nevertheless it was time. On that warm May morning, I was awoken by the beautiful songs of the songbirds. I pulled myself from the linen sheets, blinking away the beaming sunlight that bled through the window. Then a knock came at the door. Who is it?
"Troy, are you still in there?" It was father.
"Yes," I replied.
He stood underneath the doorway, his face calm and composed. "Just awoken I see. Well whenever you are ready I wanted you to have this new toga. I have your measurements already but I wanted you to try it on and let me know how it fits," father said in a mellow tone. With that he carefully hanged the toga on the metal hook on the wall.
"Breakfast will be ready soon," he announced before leaving. I walked over to feel the soft smooth fabric between my fingers. A slave came inside to help me into it.
"I know what I have to do first," I said quietly to myself. I scooped my old tunic into my hands and left the room. I was thankful I no longer needed my walking stick. Hobbling on a stick all day was a not an image I wanted to present in front of everyone. I wandered past the atrium and into the annex where the family shrine resided. I removed the bulla off my neck and hanged it along my old tunic with its crimson border on the hook on the wall. I walked back into my room to try on my new white toga which draped over my shoulder loosely. After coming down to the round table for breakfast, I had not said a word as I adjusted my toga before I took a seat on the couch.
"How do you feel Troy being the new man in the house?" Apollus said with a smirk.
"A little nervous I suppose."
"It should go well with you, Troy. All of us have gone through what you are about to do: the procession to the forum, the sacrifice, and the dinner party," Apollus said, twirling his piece of bread in his hands.
"How does the new toga fit?" Father asked cupping his chin.
"It fits well. It is little loose though."
"Do not worry about it. It can be adjusted before we leave. Well do not get too comfortable on these couches. We have to make a man of you soon," he said with a smile that dimly cracked his rather serious face. After the few adjustments here and there to the toga, it was time to begin the procession as friends and family and important dignitaries waited outside our home to join in. Among those present was Romeos and Julius. They were overjoyed to see me walking again, let alone turning sixteen.
Romeos patted me on the back. "We have so much to catch up on while we proceed to the forum," Romeos exclaimed. "What else has happened since the last time I visited? I am sure some things have changed."
My next words hinted of nostalgia, "A lot has changed."
Just before Romeos could inquire further, Julius stuck his finger out to point at the crowd gathered by the road. "Is that your brother Barbarius?" Julius asked. A brief smile swept my face as he made his way through the growing crowd. The moment he saw me, his stoic face softened.
He extended a hand for me to shake. "Congratulations Troy," he said.
"Thanks. For a moment I thought you were not going to make it."
"I could not miss this event. I know Apollus hates my soul right now, but I should not let that get in the way of me being supportive for my little brother. I am proud of you. It looks like everything is looking up for you." Just as Apollus was making his way over to me he saw Barbarius and made a sour face before turning around.
"I will talk to you later," Barbarius said turning away.
It was a festive march as the horn players blew their horns and the chariot carrying father and the other dignitaries led the way. After a lengthy walk we had at last arrived to the grand Forum in the heart of Apathia. I was excited as I was escorted by father and grandfather to the marble Civic Hall with its Doric columns spanning across the main entrance. It was here I was told that all citizens had to be registered at, and that records of every citizen lay bound away. The record keeper officially pulled out the certificate for me to sign as an official grown citizen of the island. The crowd waiting below the steps cheered as I made it outside waving the parchment in the breeze.
"To the temple," Grandfather cheered as the crowd began towards the temple courtyard. Once we arrived, the priest of the temple of Artemis was already waiting by the altar. The goat's head dangled loosely over the edge, before a servant in a white robe centered the lifeless creature. Seeming satisfied with the presentation, the servant threw the torch he clutched into the bed of straw and mangled sticks that adorned the altar.
"Anything else you would like to sacrifice?" Father asked standing by my side.
"I think I have made all the sacrifices that I would need." I smiled.
"Let everyone remember the day that Troy became a man," father said with his commanding voice that bellowed into the crowd. "His sacrifice is going to be sent clear to the heavens. I do not say it often but I am truly proud of you son. I thought at one point you would not live to see the day, but you have defied the order of the doctor. You may not be as fast and as strong as your counterparts due to the injuries, but you have healed faster than anyone could have ever expected. For that you have exceeded my expectations and have truly deserved this occasion to celebrate a new start."
After he was done with his speech, the crowd burst into applause. A sea of smiling faces stared back at me. My name Troy was chanted by the masses. These people, who were mostly strangers to me, seemed genuinely happy for me. My name spilling from their lips breathed new life into me. I smiled along, absorbing the praise. I was happy but something was missing. As Apollus came forward in front of the party to say a few words I took my place at the front of the crowd. Romeos nudged my elbow. Oh I thought. Hopefully my face did not read boredom. I was anything but bored.
Romeos smirked before asking, "So how do you feel?"
"Great, I suppose," I said with a forced smile.
He nodded his head as if musing over my answer. "But it could be better right?" he asked cocking an eyebrow." I shrugged. "Do not fret. There is still the dinner party at your house remember. This is not over," he whispered. I could never get bored of Romeos with his usual playful demeanor. While Romeos turned his attention back on Apollus, my nose was overwhelmed by the smell of roasting meat, blending with the acrid smoke. Just when I was starting to pay attention to Apollus' words I felt a slight nudge from behind. I turned my head. It was him again! The young boy in my dream stared back at me from the side as he went under the tunic of one man and squeezed between people. It was distracting. Then he disappeared into the crowd. Romeos elbowed me again.
"It looks like Priscilla is coming after all," Romeos whispered.
"That is nice," I said flatly. As Romeos focused back on Apollus, I quickly looked over my shoulder to see if it was true. Where was she? Was this his way of playing with my mind? My mind was already playing games on me. I did not need any help!
Squeezing between a group of older women, Priscilla emerged with another young woman and what looked to be the lady's husband. Her lips stretched into a warm smile. "Sorry I am late Troy. I did not want to miss this important event." This day was now complete.
"How sweet! Priscilla came to see your celebration," Romeos cooed. I rolled my eyes.
"I did not know she would come," I whispered, shrugging.
Julius turned to the both of us and sighed. "People are staring at us. Let us save the conversation for another time," he whispered.
"Very well, brother," Romeos said plastering a smile. As the goat continued roasting, old memories slowly creeped into my head. Faint scenes of the three of us playing with fireflies resurfaced. The memories felt so fresh as if I was reliving it. I did not want to say goodbye to childhood yet, not when I was just remembering it. Soon the images in my head would dim, leaving me frustrated.
We made it back home before sundown, just in time for the dinner party to get underway. I was offered some of the finest wine which I was told was made from the choicest grapes in our family vineyard. A blend of spicy sweetness flooded my tongue before a series of oiled dishes arrived. The steady harmony of the stringed instruments accented by the airy sweetness of the flute sent my head swimming in euphoria. Somewhere in the medley Apollus strummed his fingers over the lyre which unlike the harp, rested comfortably on his lap.
A man with a stocky frame sauntered to recline at our table. "Congratulations Troy, I did not get a chance to tell you earlier." That must be Felix I noted to myself. The lad accompanying him favored his oval face and bright amber eyes, although his frame was slender.
"Thanks. I appreciate the kind words of praise," I said smiling.
He nodded. "My pleasure. By the way this is my youngest son, Marcus. You two once attended the Grammaticus together. Time certainly flies." I had no recollection of the young man although his easy smile made me relax. "This is your day. I am so happy that you can gain closure on the horrific events over three months ago."
"I am glad too," I replied.
A slave girl stepped in between us. "More figs?" she asked, staring at my half-eaten plate.
"I will converse with you later," Felix said raising his goblet towards me. I turned my attention to the server and responded with a simple nod.
Behind Marcus were the twins. Romeos was the first to spot me. "Mind if my brother and I recline here?" Romeos asked, grinning.
"Certainly," I said gesturing to the couch which would have them facing the frescos to rest their eyes on. "I was meaning to ask you fellows how has the rhetoric school been like?"
Romeos beamed. "It has been great thus far. There is so much to learn Troy."
I turned to his brother. "What about you Julius?"
"I would say the same. We get to have mock debates which can be interesting as well as mock trials. It is a shame you cannot come. Romeos always talks about how Troy would like it there." Just then Priscilla briefly walked past our table to find a seat at a nearby table.
"Speaking about liking someone being here…I saw you eyeing her Troy," Romeos remarked. My eyes must have given me a way. Oh well.
I smiled. "And so what if I did," I said, scooping up grapes to nibble on.
Romeos smirked. "Just saying it looks like she notices you." Julius cracked a smile.
"So maybe she does notice me, but that is all. It is not like I have a chance with someone like that." Romeos just sat there quietly as I continued to gulp down the rest of my wine. As the music continued well into the night, I could not help but keep thinking about her, but each time I wanted to say something, she was either talking to someone else. Then Barbarius came by to speak to her off to the side. I bowed my head in dismay as I continued sipping on my wine.
"She does not know I love her," I muttered under my breath.
"Is that you talking or the wine?" Romeos asked, raising a brow at me.
"I did not think you heard that and no it is not the wine talking," I muttered. I blushed. "I suppose it slipped my tongue."
"Well if you really feel this way about her, you should just come clean with it," Julius said.
"I cannot. It might not even work," I mumbled.
"Do something special for her, and then it would be harder for her to say no," Romeos said with a mischievous smile. Just then a stranger approached our table.
"Greetings Troy. Congratulations on being enlisted on the list of citizens."
I faltered. He looked familiar although I could not put a name to the face. Deciding he would end up revealing his name I went ahead and responded, "Thanks again. I might have seen you before. Your name must have slipped my mind."
"Gaius. The name is Gaius Severus. Your brothers might have told you I helped with the investigation," he said with his lips pursed together.
I nodded. "I am surprised you were able to get him to confess so easily."
"Well, I can pull some strings here and there." He flashed me a toothy grin. It was then I noticed his gray piercing eyes staring back at me. Then a sudden eerie feeling came over me. He walked off, leaving me speechless. The merriment of the wine had suddenly seemed to wear off.