Chapter 13: Revelations
"Troy." The sound of my name from his mouth, made my muscles tense, my eyes narrow into tight slits. Waiting to greet me from the side door was Apollus. His usual conceited smile was nowhere to be found.
"Where have you been? The hour is late." I walked right past him without saying a word.
He stood in front of me. "You are not going anywhere past me until you tell me what took you so long," he demanded.
"Why must I answer to you? Who made you my guardian?" I hissed.
"I did," he said. His mouth spread into a sardonic smile. "I am older, remember. I believe I have a right to look after my younger brother."
"Since when did you care what happens to me?" I spat.
"I know, I know. I have not been the best brother. But I was truly worried when you did not come back. It is not like you at all."
"Thanks for your concern," I said flatly, "but I am going to bed."
"So where did you go? I am certain you have a good explanation," he said grabbing my left arm.
"I do not wish to share," I said, wresting his unwanted hands around my bicep.
"Perhaps you will if I tell father."
"You better not tell him!" I warned.
"Not until you tell me where you were."
"Fine! I was in the forest watching the fireflies and I lost track of time and I fell asleep. Are you satisfied?"
"Oh, that is all?" he said raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. Now let me sleep."
I curled up in the sheets, trying to ignore the sun rays that bled through the window.
"You know you eventually have to wake up to face the day," the slave girl as if she was amused. I mumbled something unintelligible under my breath before burying my head into the squishy pillow.
"You had a rough night I suppose," she said softly. "Your breakfast is waiting for you. You do not want it to get cold." After a while I dragged myself out of bed and trudged to the dining table. Thankfully, father already left before I got there, so there was one less person to answer to, yet grandfather and Apollus were still reclining on the couch.
"So how are you Troy?" grandfather asked. "I did not see you yesterday evening."
"Oh I am doing well," I said clearing my throat. "I just stayed out too late in the forest haven by the seashore."
Grandfather nodded. "Yes you did stay quite late. Your father and I were worried where you snuck off to. We thought that you went to see Barbarius at the villa. Next time tell us before you go. Anything could have happened to you and we just cannot afford—"
"I know. I will not do that again," I cut in. "Sorry. I am sorry I wasted my time," I muttered.
"It looks like Barbarius has been a bad influence on you," Apollus said, laughing.
I scowled. "No! And speaking of such why do you have so much animosity against him?"
"Well, let us review shall we. He almost tried to kill me!" he snapped. "He is the one with the animosity, brother."
"I know that was wrong. Both of you were in the wrong. But he did try to help put out the fire and revive you when you got consumed by the smoke. Does he still sound like a killer to you or a person that had a change of heart that is trying to do what is right? Do not forget who tried to provoke him to the limit."
"Troy," grandfather interjected. "Let us not stir anymore contention. You brothers need to work out your problems or else," grandfather warned, before getting up from the plush couch. "Barbarius should be coming by to visit later today. You can either kill each other or discuss your grievances like civil men." Before he left the room I muttered, "I am not trying to stir contention. I found myself in the middle of it." I sighed before stuffing my face with a fresh slab of bread.
"I have to leave anyways to the forum. When I am king there are going to be some changes for certain," Apollus remarked. I merely rolled my eyes. With him out of the way, I could finish my breakfast alone in peace.
As the council men filed out the Augustus Basilica for the noon intermission, Apollus caught site of an old friend of his, who was slightly younger than Barbarius, making his way down the steps.
"Titus," he called out to him. His stern face broke into a weak smile before nodding to Apollus who was at the base of the steps.
"How are you Apollus?"
"I am doing well, and yourself?"
"Could not have been better," he said, his face glowing. "I wanted to tell you the good news sooner."
"What good news?" Apollus asked stupidly.
"That I am engaged to the daughter of Craetus; you know, Priscilla."
"Of course who did not know her," Apollus said with a weak smile.
"Even your brother knows her all too well. He tried to give me a firefly as an engagement gift to appease me for them spending too long of a time together. You would think something is between those two." Apollus face froze for a moment in shock.
"Um Apollus," he said waving a hand in his face.
"Oh yes. I was paying attention; go on," Apollus said, clamping his jaw shut.
"Anyways," he continued, "I do not think it is appropriate for your brother to be spending time with Priscilla."
"I apologize for whatever trouble Troy might have caused. I agree it is inappropriate," Apollus said softly.
"Glad we agree. Maybe when we get married you can be my right-hand man like you would make me your right-hand man when you take power in the future."
"Certainly," Apollus said.
"I will talk to you later," Titus said before going his separate way. Apollus tried to hide his emotions so well, but somehow he had a lapse.
I was in the study alone while Anias excused himself to ease nature. Beyond this space placed between the open atrium and the garden I enjoyed the pleasure of listening to the gentle sounds of trickling water from the fountain to the soft breeze that rustled through. Then out of nowhere a figure came barging in.
"Were you alone in the forest?" Apollus asked. I dropped the wax tablet on the table. "There is no need to lie anymore. Suspicions are swirling above."
"No," I confessed.
"So who else was with you that night?" I let out a huge sigh and looked to the ground. I was not going to escape his tirade today.
"Promise me you will not tell." In the back of my mind I seriously doubted Apollus' trustworthiness.
"If you do, I am going to tell father what you say about his officials behind his back." Considering Apollus liked to babble he occasionally would make unflattering commentaries about his "contemporaries." Nothing too scandalous, but I needed something to hang over him that would put him in an unfavorable light.
"Very well," Apollus sighed. "Just say it already," he demanded.
"It was a girl."
His eyes brightened. "What girl?"
"Why do you need to know?"
"Father! Troy has something to tell you!" Apollus shouted. By now several slaves from the garden stopped to stare at us from the archway. I rolled my eyes.
"If you want to know… it was Priscilla," I muttered under my breath. "Promise me you will not tell."
"I promise," he cooed. "What was she doing with you?" Apollus probed, his voice lowering to a whisper.
"We went to the beach and later watched the fireflies at night and then we accidently slept…"
"You what? You slept together!" Apollus exclaimed, his eyes bulging from its sockets.
"No, not like that… we… you know, fell asleep together," I stammered, my cheeks burning. "Honestly, you have to believe me that we watched fireflies together and fell asleep. Nothing else happened between us."
"I believe you. That you only watched fireflies," Apollus sneered. "You better hope Barbarius does not hear."
"That is why you cannot…" I faltered at the steps that stopped right outside the doorway from the atrium. I could see him through the curtains that were partly pulled back.
"I can explain Barbarius," I began.
"There is no need to," he snapped. "I would have expected that from Apollus, but… not you. I cannot even look at you the same," he said, shaking his head.
"It is not what you think." As he stormed off, I followed after him into the atrium.
"It does not matter anyways. She does not want any of us!" I blurted. He stopped in his track, his back turned to me. "She is engaged and there is nothing we could do about it. We just have to accept that reality," I said softly. It was me that was living in and out of a dream; a dream that felt so real you could feel it. I knew Barbarius felt the stab of those words, even if his proud face tried to hide the hurt he was feeling.
He spun around, glaring. "That is easier said than done, is it?" he retorted.
With that Barbarius stormed off into the right wing branching from the atrium where his bedroom was located. It felt like everything was caving in. This was all my fault. I left Apollus standing there. Did not bother to return to the study to finish my lesson with my tutor. Not even to acknowledge the slave girl. I staggered to my room before throwing myself onto the bed. I curled into the sheets, waiting for the grueling day to end.
"You have a visitor Troy," the slave called out to me a few hours later.
"Tell them I am not available to talk," I said pretending to be enthralled in my book the Iliad.
"It is your friend Romeos," she said sweetly. I rolled my eyes. I was not in the mood to talk to him either.
"I know you are not going to have me stand here all day," Romeos called out.
"Very well, he can come in," I said gesturing with my hand.
"Greetings Troy," he said in his usual jovial voice. "It looks like you are enthralled in the Iliad. Lovely story." I raised the codex higher to block him from my sight.
"So how are you and Princess Priscilla?" he blurted. I dropped the book beneath my eye level so he can see them narrow.
"I do not want to talk about it," I said briskly.
"I knew I would get you talking," he said with a smirk. "Sorry I asked," he said, throwing his hands up. I turned my attention back to the book. "Well at least you tried to follow your heart. You have to feel somewhat satisfied that you poured your heart to her."
"Oh I followed my heart all right. And look where that ended up! I should have never listened to your stupid proposition!" I snapped.
"Easy now. Do not point all the blame on me because she found another prince. No one made you do it. I am sorry I told you to go do something instead of complain about it. You out of your own heartfelt desire wanted to be with her."
"I know," I said softly. "I did not know she was engaged and now I cannot even bare to face anyone." His jaw dropped.
"That is terrible. I sincerely did not know. I would never ever want to sabotage your chances of happiness," he said with a frown. Frowns were a rare thing for Romeos. When he frowned he no longer had that boyish charm I had come to expect from him. "Sometimes life is unfair. The people who truly are meant for one another never seem to be the ones that are together in the end."
"Maybe we were never meant for each other. I think all this time I was a piece in her little game. I just was an option when she was "confused," I said with a sour twang. "Anyways you came at a bad time. We are supposed to have a family discussion this evening after dinner."
"Is it about the trial coming up in a few days?" he asked. I responded with a shrug.
"Maybe that and other things. I just do not need any more distractions right now."
"I am sorry if I am a 'distraction.' I will tell my brother we can leave." Before Romeos could excuse himself, Julius – who was standing at the doorway – stepped into the room, dejected.
"I heard everything. I am so sorry Troy. My brother and I will not bother you if you insist."
"You twins are not a distraction. I did not mean it that way. I just have a lot of things on my mind." I put my book flat on the lamp stand and smiled at the two of them who looked so much alike yet were different in temperament. "Maybe in the near future you could have dinner with us. Or maybe you could host me. You two owe me big for the fool I made of myself," I said managing a half-smile.
"Whatever you say," Romeos said shrugging his shoulders while eyeing his brother. When they finally did leave, I realized it was too difficult to stay mad at them. Some things I just had to let go.
Not long afterwards, I was summoned to the dinner table. Dinner was awfully quiet with the exception of a few words spoken, mainly directed to the slaves to hand this or that. I hated the tension building at the table and the awkward silences that followed the short crisp words spoken by father.
"So you know the trial is coming up, Troy. I will need you to testify against the accused defendant. Tell them what you told me. I believe you have the courage to stand up against that scoundrel who confined you to the bed."
I nodded. "I am ready…but I have a question. Will I have to hear his testimony of the events?"
"There is no need to," father said shaking his head. "He already wrote the letter confessing everything."
"Oh. I just was wondering why I had to speak in front of the court if they are going to convict him anyways." Apollus gave me a perturbed look.
"You are missing the point," father said in a steady voice. He was trying to keep his voice calm yet I could detect a hint of agitation. "They still need to hear your testimony so the court can determine the magnitude of the damage and can properly access the crime for what it is worth so they sentence him for the maximum time for the crime. Is that understood?" Now he sounded too calm. I simply nodded.
"Anyhow you brothers need to support one another. I know you brothers have had your differences, but now is the time to put all those grievances behind. I know Barbarius you felt dejected that I chose your younger brother Apollus. Usually I would pick the oldest child or son in this case. It was a hard decision for me to make because I wanted to make you king, but I lost faith the day you left." Barbarius bowed his head low. "Apollus I want you to make Barbarius your right-hand man. There is only one position for king and that position has been taken," he said solemnly. He turned to Barbarius. "Will you support your brother?" Barbarius crossed his arms against his chest.
"No." I could hear the utensils clang all at once against the plates. "I cannot support someone who is only looking for the good of himself. A leader looks for the good of all. Sorry." Here we go again, I sighed in my head.
"What do you have to say to that Apollus?" father said, staring directly into his eyes.
"What? He is turning you against me. I am more than qualified as a leader. He is the one that is unpredictable. One moment he is as rigid as a statute and the next moment he turns into a monster engulfed in rage. I do not need him anyways," Apollus said.
"But Barbarius does make a valid point," grandfather said quietly. "I just hope that you can put others first when you have to make the toughest decisions." Apollus sat with a crossed expression as he swiveled the chopped veal around his plate.
"I am capable of it. It is just hard to…can we just change the conversation," Apollus said with a loud sigh.
"Well, I guess that is where we will leave the discussion," father uttered.
"That was barely a discussion," Barbarius snorted. "Not like I cared to talk anyways."
"What a surprise," Apollus muttered under his breath.
"Are you still threatened by me? You have the kingship. You got what you wanted."
"Not until father changes his mind. You were his favorite son and unless you are really blind—" father waved his hand in front of Apollus face to silence him.
"That is enough!" He said sternly. Argument was officially over.
I was left divided. I was happy that tempers did not boil over like the last time, yet nothing felt resolved. I just looked at my food as I swished it around and tore off small bites of my fish. After the serving of dessert, which was honey cake, I yearned for an answer to the dysfunction of my family but I was afraid I would not find the answer anytime soon. After the dinner table was cleared everyone went to their own corner of our domus. I for my part wandered off to the quiet tablinum which was designated as the family study. It was not uncommon to find father writing in a scroll before storing away his legal documents. I looked up at the marble busts of father and grandfather that sat at the wall ledges above my head. I tiptoed inside, careful to not cause any of the statues to shutter. I listened for footsteps. There was none. I wanted to put away the Iliad back in the bookshelf. I meticulously look through the wooden shelves of sealed scrolls and codices as I searched for a place to put it so I would remember where to look next time. As my hand dug around the top shelf, I felt a small wooden box behind a scroll. What was this?
I pulled out the box in wonderment as to why I had not stumbled upon it earlier. I gingerly carried the box onto the writing desk so I could look some more. There was a small paper-bound codex inside. I blew the dust off it and peered inside trying to see what it all contained. It was broken up into small entries. I looked carefully at the signature of the dated entries: Helen Acertius. This belonged to my mother! I clutched the precious brown leather book in my hand. I flipped through the pages hurriedly to the beginning.
"Dear journal, I am so happy for the baby to be coming any day. These few years that we were married will finally be consummated with the arrival of our precious child. I believe he is a boy though we are debating on naming him Maximus or after his father."
"She must be talking about Barbarius," I said, smiling. I sat down at the chair to read on. I wonder why they chose the name Barbarius. Anyhow I stumbled upon another page, hoping to find the answer.
"I feel the contractions already and I am only in my 28th week! It feels too soon to have this baby. I am afraid to tell Acropolus, I do not want to burden him with this information. I would like to speak face to face with the family physician. This is my first pregnancy and I am anxious as to how this works." In eagerness I kept reading on up to the day of the delivery.
"I am happy that soon a weight will be lifted from me. I am strictly bedridden now. All I am concerned with is the health of the baby. I lay awake to behold this miracle boy arrive any moment..." Then the remainder of the page was ripped out along with a few other pages. Suddenly I did not care if I find out how they picked out my oldest brother's name.
"Why would mother rip out pages in her diary," I muttered. I looked at the following pages where it picked up.
"We are excited for the arrival of our hoped for son. This time there is no uncertainty for my stomach is bigger in circumference. I want to please Acropolus; I would do anything to see him happy." I am confused I thought that the first few pages were devoted to Barbarius. Was she simply rewriting it? Or maybe now she is talking about Apollus. But what is she talking about "this time," as if their wish had not happened the first time. Then I heard footsteps closing in. I have to hide this now! I quickly put the journal back in the box and scurried over to the bookshelf to cram the box back on the top shelf behind one of the scrolls.
"What are you doing here?" Father asked with raised brows.
"Um…well I had to put my book away on the shelf.
"You mean the Iliad?"
"Why of course. Anias is having me read it all." Father looked at me with cautious eyes as he glanced around the room looking to see if everything was in order. Then his eyes landed back on me.
"You like this room, eh?" Father asked. I nodded.
"It is quiet. Besides my room it takes me away from all the noise. I can escape into solitude and be alone with my thoughts." Father merely nodded as he checked the shelf where I stuffed the box.
"This looks sloppy. I could have sworn that this was arranged better." Then he turned to me. "Are you doing your own investigating in these shelves? Some things are free to access while others like on the top shelf are off limits."
"I am your son though. You do not have to hide anything from me," I said plastering a smile.
"Yes, but some things are far too confidential. You need not worry about them. Anyhow you have a trial to be worried about. Focus on that and your school work." Father then sat down at the desk and pulled out a letter to examine it from its leather case.
"Is that the letter the defendant wrote," I said looking over his shoulder.
"Yes and you are not supposed to be looking at it," he said briskly. "Anyhow it is a bit odd that the handwriting looks awfully familiar," he muttered under his breath. He then glanced back at me with a look of annoyance.
"I am sorry. If you want me to leave I understand. I just do not always have to be shielded like a child. I am a man now. I feel like there is a wall between us. I just want there to be no secrets between us," I sighed.
"You are right. But I still see you as my youngest son, and you are still so fragile. It is my duty to protect you. When the time is ready, I will inform you of the details of everything." As I slowly walked out the room, father pulled out what appeared to be the other letter; the same one given to him explaining Barbarius "disappearance."
As the days to the trial grew closer, suspicions were only mounting. The handwriting on the letter was too similar to the confession letter. The letter was written by the same person! Perhaps the same person that was trying to get rid of Barbarius was after me, by why? Was I the intended target or someone else! I wanted to educate myself on the legal system which Anias my Greek tutor was delighted to teach me. I was so consumed by the approaching trial the next day that I pushed aside the diary entries I had stumbled across a few days earlier. Late one evening I wondered back into the tablinum; this time to look for clues as to the day Barbarius went missing.
In the shelves I found the briefings from father of who left the island according to one of the sentinels stationed at the ports. Barbarius was missing after the diplomat had set sail with some other men that I did not know the names of. One of the names that stuck out was Gaius. However he was not on the boat with Barbarius; although Gaius had sponsored the trip.
"Did Gaius know that these were fraudulent men, who were greedy and were really looking to fill their own pockets?" I muttered.
"Greeting Troy." The voice chilled my blood. "You are quite the curious one I see," Gaius said appearing at the doorway. I was frozen in terror, barely able to scrunch the scroll back inside the shelf without him noticing.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, steadying my voice.
"I came to talk to your father and you about the trial and how it should proceed. So…what do you know?" he asked. His tone more serious this time.
"I know that my brother was never lost at sea; it was all a lie. The letter that was issued to my father was a mere cover-up. I believe the same person that tried to kill Barbarius was after me." Gaius nodded his head slowly.
"I see," he said, nodding his head slowly. "You seem to have some of this figured out. By the way what documents were you looking at?" he probed, walking closer to me.
"Nothing important," I muttered. He grabbed the scroll that was dangling from my shaking hands.
"Never mind I should be going," I said turning my back to him.
"You should be careful, Troy. You might want to watch your back."
"What do you mean by that—" Before I could turn around the knife was already making its entry into my back—