Chapter 14: When Justice Cries
I jolted from the bed, gasping for air before crashing my head back into the pillows. My hands roved under my tunic only to find my skin smooth and cool to the touch. It was just a dream.
"What is the matter?" the slave girl asked. I could her feet shuffle to my side. "Tell me?" she pleaded as she sat beside me on the bed. She lifted my heavy head in her arms. I gazed blankly into the ceiling as she cradled my head. The words were at the tip of my tongue but I couldn't even make a sound.
I looked up at her with quivering lips. "I…I cannot…" I began.
"You cannot what?" she asked. Her voice seemed to absorb my own fear.
"I cannot go to the trial," I completed. My head drooped forward.
"You have to Troy. They want to hear from the victim. Please do it for yourself. You deserve to get justice," she said in a firm voice.
"Gaius is going to be there. I cannot face him." She gave me a baffled look.
"He is not the one you have to worry about. Another man was caught."
"Right. My imagination is getting the best of me," I sighed. She slowly released her hands around my shoulders as my body began to unwind from her gentle touch.
"By the way, what made you so anxious over Gaius being there?"
I paused momentarily before answering. "It is nothing. I just had a dream and he was in it, and it was eerie…I do not know why I am telling you this."
"Never mind I asked," she said sheepishly. "I hope you can get some rest," she said in a soothing tone.
"I hope so too," I muttered.
"Maybe you should take some sleeping medicine," she added. "Just a thought," she said before excusing herself. I looked at the small glistening bottle that lay on the nightstand. I pushed myself up to slowly reach for the bottle—
"Breakfast will be served," came the call from one of the slaves that worked in the kitchen. The call bellowed into the hallways where the bedrooms were. I was use to that call before, which was part of my daily routine that started my life. I finally dragged my tired body out of bed and shuffled my legs out my room. My mind though was still on the vivid dream I had. What if the person that was supposed to be convicted was in fact innocent? What if Gaius was the one that wrote the letter? What if Gaius was the one behind it all along! But that does not make sense. After all he tried to help with the investigation that could expose the guilty party…
"Troy, are you ready for the trial?" someone asked from behind me, just before entering the dining hall. I almost leapt from my skin.
"Yes," I said, heaving a sigh. It was only Apollus. "Why do you ask?" I asked.
"I am asking a simple question. You seem to be quite nervous. You have nothing to worry about. The sick individual cannot do anything to you," he replied. I must have come off more defensive than I realized.
"I know that Apollus. It is not him I am worried about," I said softly.
"What are you talking about?" Apollus inquired as we walked together through the garden colonnade. I pursed my lips.
"Everyone will be on your side. I know why you are acting like this…you had a dream did you?" He asked, plastering his signature smirk on his face. He acted like he solved a grand mystery.
"Why, yes and I suppose you know what goes on inside my dreams," I said in a mocking tone.
"Maybe you had a dream that the court jurors are scary and intimidating. I could be right, I could be wrong," he said with a tinge of doubt.
"It was not even that although that was a good presumption."
"Then what is it then?" I turned to glare at him.
"Why are you pushing on this idea to get inside my mind? It is not like you really even care anyways what I think or what I dream?"
"You are wrong…I do care," he muttered. "I can tell something is bothering you deep inside. I do not have to be very intelligent or a sorcerer to know that. If you do not want to talk about it that is fine. I will not push you. Just remember one thing. There is no one there that can intimidate you from telling the truth," Apollus said solemnly. I wish that was true. I let out a deep sigh. Apollus was such a good actor that it was so hard to tell when he was genuinely concerned. As he walked off with a solemn face to the dining hall I felt horrible inside for keeping these ugly deep-rooted feelings inside.
At breakfast before the trial, I tried to eat my meal in peace until father would ask me questions like, "So are you prepared for the trial?"
"I assume so."
"What do you mean; assume so? You should feel ready and eager to get through this and put this all behind you."
"Do you think it is plausible for someone else to write the letter?" I blurted. Both Apollus and Barbarius gave me surprised looks including father who was scratching his pronounced chin.
"Why are we even bringing this up? The man signed it with his signature, which happen to match. Where are you going with this suggestion?"
"I just thought that there could be someone else involved in the scheme."
"And who would that be?" He asked.
"Greetings to you all," came a familiar voice. As I looked up there he was; Gaius. Tell me I am dreaming again! I slumped down on the couch.
"Greetings Gaius. So nice that you could join us for the morning meal," father said as he got up to embrace the visitor.
"Oh I am not here to share a meal, but I just wanted to send my greetings before the trial. Hopefully all the statements are ready that are going to be used."
"Does Troy have a written statement of the events?"
"Well you could say that. I simply had the scribe record what Troy recounted to me. He will just go off that. There is not much to rehearse, as long as he does not make it seem like he is reading off a paper," father chuckled. He seemed to be in a light mood. I tried hard to hide my growing annoyance.
"Troy," father called while gesturing with his hand. "After you are done, I am going to show you the account that you said. Just stick to those words, go over it a few times and if you have any questions let me or your grandfather know." I nodded my head weakly. After I was done, I went into the tablinum with father to go over what I would say, even though it was all pre-scripted so there was not much room for adding anything else to the statement. As I reviewed it one more time to make sure everything sounded right, a knock came at the doorway. Perhaps it was father.
"Come in," I said. As I continued to read, a hand plopped on my shoulders. His fingers cold to the touch. I stumbled back, dropping the letter onto the desk. It was Gaius! What was he doing here? My heart was about to leap out my chest. The sight of his piercing gray eyes trained on me tightened my stomach into painful knots.
"How are you Troy? You seem uncomfortable. Is everything all right?" he asked in an innocent voice. I struggled just to nod. "Your father was wondering when you were done with the statement."
"I am done. I will give it to him directly," I said clearing my throat. I almost dashed out the room.
"Very well," he said softly. I pushed through the curtains to find father and grandfather in the atrium.
"Here father, the statement," I said. I quickly slipped it in his hands and headed to my room when I saw Apollus standing outside the doorway. What could he want?
"Why are you going to your room? We are about to leave any moment for the trial. Are you going to wear that tunic?"
I rolled my eyes. "No, I am going to change into a toga," I said flatly.
"Very well, just hurry though. You should have done that all this time." I brushed past him and crashed into my bed. I pinched myself trying to test if I was awake or still asleep. The pinch hurt so I must be in reality. The slave girl was on hand to help me into my new toga before I joined the others.
We made it to the civic courthouse while it was still morning. As everyone walked to their booths to sit, I saw Gaius make his way to his designated seat a row behind me off to the left. I put on my "calm" face as I recited in my mind how the trial would carry through. I was slightly relieved I was sitting next to family although Barbarius sat off by himself. I watched as father slowly walked down the aisle to his throne where he would sit to do the final judging. I watched in the corner of my eye as the convicted criminal was escorted by an armored guard to his seat across from me. He was a man that looked to be in his late thirties with short dark brown hair cropped around his ears and a chin full of coarse stubble. He looked at me with his pitiful grey eyes, a look that haunted my soul as he was seated on a bench in front of father. Once father took his seat it was the signal for everyone to be seated. The trial was ready to begin.
"We thought we lived in a realm of peace, but it was mere illusion some time earlier this year. Until justice goes forth through the land, peace cannot be achieved. Today we are here to witness the justice system carry out its duty to restore peace and order and to ensure that what happened to my sons Troy and Barbarius never happens again. Before any convictions are made, let us first hear from the briefings from the prosecutors." The prosecutor was a burly man, and although hairy on every other part of his body, his face was smooth like butter. He merely read the case aloud from his seat, telling who the case involved and summarizing the events that had transpired. It was then that the defendant was finally given a name. Herodius.
As evidence was called to be presented forth, Gaius got up from his seat and made his way to the front. I tried to ignore him as he passed right by. He stood to the side of father in the front as he presented the latest findings and accusations against the accused one. As he paced back and forth I noticed his quick glances in my direction as if he knew that deep down inside I knew he was the one in the wrong.
"You have the letter?" the prosecutor asked briskly, as Gaius was finishing his longwinded accusation.
"Yes. Yes I do," he said with a smile. He unraveled the delicate parchment as he handed it to the prosecutor's meaty hands.
"Who were the witnesses when the defendant wrote the letter?" The prosecutor asked.
"I was if you must ask," Gaius said with a confident smile.
"It has been noted that you first encountered the suspect not too far from his home as he was coming back from his place of work. Were you the only interrogator at the scene?"
"Yes." The prosecutor scratched his chin as he slowly looked up at Gaius.
"According to you, after the interrogation, did the defendant confess of his own doing or was this to extract an apology through him?"
"Well he was a tough fellow to break so other measures had to be taken."
"Let us hear from the defendant," the prosecutor said. The defendant was escorted to the box seat across from the prosecutor.
"Now I know you are a man of humble means and have worked as a fishermen selling what you can to make a living; an honest living. Is what the investigator says to your agreement?"
He did not say anything. Not even a nod of the head. Everyone in the room seemed to have held their breath.
"I am asking you a simple question?"
"Yes," the man replied softly.
"Very well. Is it true that the interrogator had to spend a long session with you to finally confess? What made you comply at last with his demand?"
"Fear," the man said in a shaky voice.
"Fear of what, if you must clarify before our ears."
"Fear of torture. Fear of losing my family. Fear of the inevitable," he said fighting back the tears as they welled up. "I do not know what he would do or anyone would do to them. I admit for their sake to take this folly on myself."
"Now he feels sorry," Apollus muttered. "Nobody should feel sorry for this man!" he muttered under his breath. I tried to wipe any trace of emotion from my face as I forced myself to listen to the rest of the proceeding. If I showed sympathy maybe, just maybe, it would take away the validity of my case.
"Well, let us hear from one of the victims of your sadistic ploy." The prosecutor turned to me. "Troy, can you make your way to the front?" My heart was racing. Droplets of perspiration formed at the crown of my forehead as I forced my stiff legs to rise before the prosecutor. All eyes were on me.
"Do you swear on the oath that what you say is truth and only the truth in the court of the high land?" The armored guard asked.
"Yes," I answered affirmatively.
"You can begin whenever you are ready Troy," said the prosecutor, as he looked up from his notes.
"I am ready. As some of you know I was a target of an assassin who wanted nothing more but to kill me. After the accident I wanted to believe what I was told, that it was an "accident" but it was not one." As I faltered my eyes met with Alexander who was sitting in the witness bench. "Although I may have suffered severe blows I have not lost all my recollection of the events leading up to the fall. All I remember is someone chasing me for almost no cause or provocation. I tried to escape by heading back to the south gate of our home. I could only catch a glimpse of the long face and the gray eyes that stared back at me. As I tried to escape, I tried to have the horse jump over the gate but the legs got tangled so I was thrown off the horse causing me injuries that could have sent me to my death. Revisiting those memories, I can recall a man in a black cloak riding a black horse."
I could feel it. The memories and now the emotions were flooding stronger than ever as they bled into my consciousness as I relived the horrible images. The few images I wish I could forget. I paused as I looked up from the paper. "I could not say at that point who really did try to cause me harm. Yet I was able to pick the one feature that would mark the one who would be the guilty one, for only a few possess them."
Gaius stared straight at me with his grey pupils piercing through me. I swallowed; hoping people were not staring at my knees knocking against each other. "All I know is that a sinister one resides in our midst but soon the truth will come to the surface," I said. My voice was clear and defiant now. After my part I quietly took my seat and watched as Alexander, who I had not seen in a while, was asked to stand and give his testimony of the event. I was surprised that a slave would be asked to take a witness stand. But he was the only other witness.
Afterwards, the court was dismissed for the mid-day break. I slipped off to one of the street vendors at the nearby marketplace to grab a piece of roasted duck to complement my fresh loaf of bread. As I finished paying the humble vendor owner, I felt a tap on the shoulder. I nearly dropped my bread as I turned around. It was only Alexander.
"You caught me off guard. I honestly thought you were someone else. Please do not do that again," I said, flushing.
"Sorry. I did not mean to frighten you my lord. I just have not seen you in a while, since your father banished me to forced labor hauling refuse to the waste disposal. It is hard to look at you without feeling this deep regret of knowing things could have been resolved sooner. I am truly sorry for everything I put you through. I understand if you do not wish to speak to me."
I looked up at him. "This is not your fault. You are not the problem. You helped save my life. You tried to elicit my memories of the event. You helped start the investigation. You helped give aid to my testimony. You never were the problem but someone else is," I said, sighing. "I do find it in my heart to forgive you for coming forth with the evidence late. It is better late than to never come at all."
"Welcome back everyone," the prosecutor began. "It is believed that new information to the case needs to be brought to the attention. There is still the growing evidence between the incident with Troy and his brother Barbarius who has in earlier private hearings has made known that some men on his boat the Athena have collaborated to throw him overboard. But again Barbarius will take the stand before all."
I watched as Barbarius calmly took the stand and recounted the events that happened the night they tried to bound his limbs. The men were believed to have had escaped into the mainland of Italy and blended with the surrounding citizens there. The things driving the expeditions were gold and other precious metals. They would do anything to get their hands on even if it meant stealing. According to Barbarius it was not only just "poor fishermen" that were apart of these expeditions but men of noble rank. I had begun to wonder if the ship that had crashed not long after I was in a deep sleep was under the same guise to "fill the treasury." As names were read off the list of those connected of being a part of those greedy expeditions, I looked and saw men from the crowd being called down to the front benches to await their fates. I looked around worriedly at Romeos father Diodecios was called down to the front.
Gaius cleared his throat before continuing, "I think it would be fitting for the defendant to read his letter as his way of officially confessing." Herodius shook his head vigorously in disagreement.
"Very well I will read it for the defendant.
"You see I have chosen a way out to make a better life for my family, who mean the world to me. I wanted a better life for them since the fishing profits have fallen low in recent times so I needed the money. I despised the king and everything that the wealthy, corrupt Acertius family stand for, who has fixed us to stay low at the bottom. He imposed taxes on exports, which makes it harder to sell my fish to other markets as I once was able to do. I was there to watch as the king executed those men, some of whom were my fellow comrades and brothers, who were charged with protesting over the taxes. Someone needs to show the king that he is not invincible. I want him to know that. That is why I did it." The prosecutor took the letter and compared it with the new letter Gaius had handed him earlier.
"So this second part obviously confirms you had those men to ambush the firstborn of the king did you? This is in your handwriting," the prosecutor said turning to the defendant. The man shook his head.
"I knew nothing of this second part," he exclaimed. "I knew nothing of this … I cannot agree to a crime of which I do not know," he rasped.
"Enough of the lies," father snapped. "Have the jury make their final deliberation in the chamber." With that the jury of twelve was called to the back chamber to make its deliberation. I was scared of what would become of Romeos' father as I watched his pale face sink to his shoulders. Hours turned into eternity in my mind.
Finally the jury entered back in from the rear chamber.
"We the jury find the defendant guilty," they said in unison.
"Without further questioning, Herodius Auritus has been charged with attempted murder of Troy and Barbarius. For those called to the front there will be a private judicial meeting held midweek at the upper chamber of the Basilica. There will be some changes made. The black list has already been made and it is time for the basilica to be cleaned," father said; his words crisp and final. Starting from the front row, men burst into clapping. Herodius received his final sentence to the hole where he would face an impending execution. The applause spread to our rows as I too clapped. The wave of fervor was contagious.
As we made our way outside the courtroom, a growing crowd of curious citizens who were not allowed into the courthouse watched to see the convicted criminal take his "walk of shame." As he made his way through the crowd first, we followed, escorted by armored guards.
"He is innocent I say. He is innocent," a woman cried out from the crowd. People stepped aside, exposing the woman who dare make such a statement. Tears streamed down her rosy cheeks.
"He is guilty!" one male onlooker countered. "It was said he wrote the confession letter."
"This was all a set-up. He only did it to protect us; his wife and beloved children. He is innocent—"
"This woman will not shut her mouth," the guard next to me growled.
"Gaius is the one that is supposed to be in the hole!" She snapped. Her face, now beet-red, burst into a loud sob. Then without warning she ran towards the chariot where father was mounting. One of the guards yanked her by the arms.
"Gaius tortured him. He is the real villain. He is the murder—"One of the guards clamped her mouth. Every other word was a muzzled blur. The murmurs from the crowd were growing louder.
"Remove that crazed woman!" Father ordered.
"Hurry Troy. Get inside the chariot!" the guard said, shoving me to step inside. He lifted me up to the top step as I scooted next to Apollus. Guards poured in from the courtyard and neighboring street corners to bring order to the restless crowd. The lady bit and clawed the guard until she was able to wrest free. She did not get too far along before another guard violently yanked her flapping stolla, sending her tumbling. She dug her fingernails into the uneven paved stones as they dragged her by the feet off the road.
"I want justice!" she wailed. A shrill cry leapt from her throat as two more guards closed in.
"Troy, are you all right?" Apollus asked calmly as if nothing had just happened. "I would not want to look back at the lady as she makes a fool of herself," he said. "You do not want to encourage her attention-seeking behavior." I nodded before peeling my gaze away from her bloodied face.
"I am so happy justice was served," grandfather said with a sigh. I forced a smile before her blood-curling scream rang in my ears. Just show no emotions like Barbarius and father and everyone else in the chariot. Just pretend that I do not want to die a thousand deaths right now. Just pretend my emotions do not matter. Just try to live a lie.
That was the day when justice cried.