Chapter 15: Blacklist!
The Black List.
The name itself stroke fear into any opponent that stood in the king's way. Reputations were tarnished, positions lost, and families subject to ruin. The only thing more dreaded than being on the blacklist was being sent to the Hole. I had often wondered what lied there, yet I dare not ask. All I knew was that it was somewhere prisoners were sent for punishment. For many that walked through the dark corridors of the pit of the cave they would never see the light of day. It was somewhere not too many people really knew about, yet would never want to go.
I tried to put the trial behind me and all the feelings that were embedded in me. Things will go back to usual I told myself. What was usual? I supposed it was the daily routine that dictated that after I awoke from a strange dream in which I caught myself catching my breath that I would rouse from the sheets, be helped into a new set of clothes, recline for the morning meal, study under my tutor and get bathed. I was well enough to attend the public baths in the afternoon to unwind from the daily worries and get some needed exercise to strengthen my muscles. I hoped to find the twins there since that was the only time I managed to see them in the day. Yet something was not quite right. I rarely saw them.
A week has passed since the trial. Like any other day, I arrived at the baths during the mid-afternoon break to begin my exercise regimen with Cornelius. He stood standing in the middle of the open palaestra, as thick and sturdy as a tree. I was reminded of his military background every time I watched him pick up a heavy weight with relative ease. I had just come back from the changing rooms, now donned in a light tunic that grazed my knees. I glanced at the wooden bench lining the perimeter of the courtyard only to find no weights.
I turned to a young male that was carrying my clothes. "Can you find me a medium-size weight?"
"Certainly my Majesty," he would say in a meek timid voice. I smiled to myself. I liked the fact that they insisted to address me in proper titles. The slave girl was starting to simply address me as "Troy" before she would correct herself. Since I knew her very well I told her to not bother correcting herself. As he scampered away I watched the flurry of activity unfold on the field.
Men of all ages and backgrounds engaged in different activities. Some weight-lifted. Some of the younger men including the young boys ran or played ball games, while others wrestled or boxed with bare knuckles. Then in the corner of my eye to the far right corner of the field, I saw Romeos, Julius and another young fellow accompanying them as they walked in from the other entrance across the colonnaded courtyard. For a brief moment, Romeos looked my direction, only to look quickly away. I sighed to myself thinking how awkward and distant our friendship had become. I watched quietly as they handed their clothes to their slaves as they got ready for their own exercise regimens. I wiped off the excess oil off my hands on the bench, as the slave brought the dumbbells for me to lift.
After a few repetitions, Cornelius approached me. The next task he wanted me to do was run along the footpath that surrounded that outlined the inner courtyard. Cornelius, stood back a few steps from the stone path, eager to see my progress as I ran around the track. As I ran past their group I noticed how they were busy in their own regimen of wrestling or boxing. Towards the second lap my legs began to feel nimble as the fatigue of my muscles began to catch up to me. Tired, I stopped just enough to make it to my starting point.
"Good attempt. I liked your effort to finish the laps. I know you have other exercises you still need to train on more. But your leg muscles need the most work," Cornelius said in a steady voice. I merely nodded as I tried to rub my leg which was throbbing.
"Are you well?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, I just need a moment to gather myself before I go onto the next routine," I said looking away. The muscular, lean figure who appeared intimidating simply nodded.
"Let me know when you are ready," he said. I nodded. As I leaned against a column I found myself across from Julius was grappling with another lad around their age. As I was about to take a seat by the bench, facing the field, I noticed a leather sack was propped next to Romeos. Now there is no seat for me to even sit.
Just as I was about to find another bench Romeos turned around with his curious big eyes staring up at me.
"Greetings, I was just looking for a seat, but I can find another one," I said.
"This was actually Silus' clothes in this sack. He wanted me to save his seat. But you can sit here."
"I can find somewhere else," I said looking down at my sandals.
"He is not sitting here at the moment is he?" I shrugged my shoulders and plopped down beside him, pushing his belongings closer to the edge.
"So Romeos, how have you faired these past few days? It seems like it has been awhile since we last spoken."
"I have been…fair I suppose," Romeos said stiffly.
"This is the first time all week that I saw you and Julius at the baths," I stated matter-of-fact.
"I know. I have had a lot of things on my mind lately. Anyways I would not want to shun you, regardless of what happened after the trial."
"I know it has been kind of distant between us. And as friends I want you to know that whatever is to happen to your father, I do not judge you in anyway." Romeos merely sat silently as his gaze averted to Julius who peeled himself from Silus' grip. His contender sat on the grass, his tongue hanging out his mouth, as he panted. He still looked hungry for another bout.
"I know," Romeos said, snapping me back to the conversation.
"Know what?" Julius asked, wiping the sweat dripping from his tussled mane.
"Never mind Julius," Romeos said with an exaggerated sigh. Julius glanced over at me and then back to Romeos. He crossed his arms against his chest as their friend came from behind.
"What is Troy doing in my seat?" he asked. That must be Silus.
"I told him he could sit here," Romeos explained.
"You can have your seat back," I said, getting up.
The lad glared my way. "I suppose my seat is not the last thing that is to get replaced," he sneered.
"What are you talking about?"
Silus began to snicker, while Julius bit his lip.
"You really do not know what has been going on in this domain? After all you should be the first one in the know of the decrees. You certainly are oblivious about what is really going on," he said with an edge to his voice.
"I am not trying to replace anyone. And if this is all about the blacklist, I know about it. You are right I am supposed to know about it first."
"So why is the name of my father or even the names of Romeos or Julius' father Diodecios on it?"
"I do not know the reason why they are on the list other than they were somehow connected to the fraudulent mishandling of funds to the treasury."
Julius shook his head vigorously. "My father had nothing to do with it. He is an honest man Troy," Julius protested.
"I do not know then," I said softly.
"I thought you would know that information?" Silus asked getting testy. I did not know Silus very well, but I knew we must have never been friends.
"It is confidential only my father would know that," I said while suppressing the irritation that was rising within me. "I have nothing to do with the list, so I am not the person you need to go after," I said briskly.
"We need to stop blaming Troy for the blacklist. He has said himself he has nothing to do with it," Romeos said getting defensive. "He already has a lot on his platter that he had to undergo these past few months. We should at least be supportive of him."
"Why? His position is always going to be higher than ours. Just face the reality Romeos. Our fathers are nobles but he is of the ruling class. Do we have to garner his sympathy too?"
"Well since he is at a higher position, you ought to respect him or else," Julius said grimly.
Silus blew a hot breath. "Now I have to curry favor with this weakling or I will probably end up on the blacklist!" Romeos rolled his eyes as Julius scratched his neck.
"I am not like that. I would not want to put you on the blacklist. I do not even have the authority anyways," I muttered. Silus took a few steps closer until he stood close enough that I could smell his stale warm breath, pressed on my burning cheeks.
"Are you certain that if I hit you?" he said, balling his fists, "That I will not make it on the list?" My eyes narrowed.
"Please do not test me!" I snapped.
"Or what Troy?" he said knocking his shoulder against mines. Romeos sprung from the bench.
"Just leave Troy alone Silus," Romeos said, pulling Silus' back.
"I am not going to do anything stupid, Romeos. Besides I just was "playing with his mind" to so see how angry he could get. Still weak," he said, laughing.
"I am not weak," I said in a low voice. I could not decide who I hated more right now; Gaius or Silus. At least Silus was my equal in terms of age and stature. I could not remember fighting anyone let alone being in fighting form. But for Silus I could make the exception. I just needed to build my strength up.
"I believe you, Troy. Although I would believe you more if you could battle with me on the mat like I showed Julius." I glanced at Julius who rolled his eyes.
"Well that was tense," Romeos blurted. "Why do we not change the topic, shall we?" Romeos said in a jovial voice. It never sounded so forced. Julius stood there with a blank expression while Silus muttered something unintelligible under his breath.
"He is not for us Romeos. This does not end well for us," Silus said, before backing away from me.
"I am so sorry what happened to your fathers. I never meant for this to happen. You have to believe me," I said. Julius sighed aloud while shaking his head.
"I do not know Troy," Julius said sadly. "This is something that even you cannot undo." Silus turned his back as he called out for Romeos and Julius to follow him to leave the gymnasium floor.
"Wait Romeos…Julius." They kept on walking.
"You did not buy into the talk of Silus have you?" I asked sourly. "I thought I had one good friend still left in this room." Romeos turned around to stare back at me.
"I am your friend Troy. It is just…" he ran his fingers through his damp hair, which was a habit I had not caught on before. "It is just really hard right now, with the tension going on and my father losing his position and his good name. I just do not know what to do when I see you and I am reminded I am being judged because I am the son of an offender. I would be in the wrong to speak to you."
"So now what is there to do? We just go back to being strangers?" I exclaimed.
"We are still friends; that remain the same. However I suppose it is best we separate from your company in public, until this silly blacklist fades away in distant memory," Romeos joked with a bitter twang to his voice. He walked away slowly to catch up to Julius and Silus who were leaving. I was confused, mad, and hurt how everything had transpired. I told Cornelius that I would not want to stay very long at the baths.
As my slave gathered my clean clothes from the laundryman at the baths, I waited patiently by the vaulted hallway that led to the changing rooms.
"So nice to see you Troy," a familiar voice called from behind. I swiveled around only to find Gaius, smiling. I took a step back. I kept silent.
"You seem a bit ruffled by my presence," Gaius said, maintaining his grin.
"I was not expecting you…sorry I thought you were someone else."
"You thought I was a loose felon out to get you," he said with a laugh. My stomach dropped.
"No," I said, steadying my voice.
"You always seem to be so… how should I say, tense around my presence. I am not going to hurt you if that is what you are thinking. I am harmless. See I do not bite," he said flashing a toothy grin. "Is that it?"
"No," I lied.
"Then what is it?"
I remained silent. His smile quickly vanished as his brows connected downward.
"I know what is wrong. You still do not trust me," he hissed. "I thought that you would be happy that I took it upon myself to help you with the investigation and the trial. I even made sure the man that wanted to bring you harm was brought to justice. Was not justice served?" he asked. Far from it.
"I am sorry the slave is waiting for me with my clean garments. I must be going," I said briskly. As I turned to meet the slave down the corridor, I felt a cold hand grab my wrist. I could feel my blood pulsating through the veins before yanking my hand away from his tight grip.
"You did not answer my question. Your slave can wait." His smooth voice turned harsh.
"I do not feel comfortable discussing this here," I said, briskly walking away.
"We can discuss this in private in my residence," he said, following me through the corridor.
"No. My father will be expecting me. Sorry, but I really need to go," I said trying to mask my fear.
"Is everything all right Master?" the slave asked who was waiting at the end of the hall.
"He is little scared that is all," Gaius answered. "I should be the one scared of your father and grandfather. After all they love to delete their opponents," he said in a mocking tone.
"He is just playing mind games," I muttered in a low voice to my slave as I scampered out the exit with him. "I am not feeling well."
"I know you are hiding something. I will get you talking…sooner or later," Gaius called from behind.
"It is not the first time—" I muttered under my breath.
"What was that?" Just then a young man with a similar countenance as Barbarius walked through the door, blocking my way.
"What are you discussing with the son of Acropolus?" the young man asked, stepping closer to his father.
"Oh we were discussing about fears and how one should overcome their vivid imaginations that causes such fear. Anyhow this is a rather awkward timing, Maximus. Say, I will discuss with you later about those briefings on the blacklist." He nodded at his father's words. It was enough time for me to run out and catch the chariot driver before he whisked away into the sunset. As I looked back at Gaius who was standing outside the entrance of the baths on that breezy evening, I knew that Gaius knew what I knew.
"So how was your day Troy?" grandfather asked while reclining on one of the ivory couches in the atrium.
"Good," I replied, plastering a fake grin on my face.
"Your father is having the slaves clean out the old rooms of the house."
"That is nice," I said before excusing myself to my room.
"Watch where you are going!" Apollus snapped when I accidentally bumped into him.
"Sorry, Apollus," I mumbled.
"You know that did not sound very sincere. Even I can fake a better apology than that," he said.
"I could care less at this moment," I retorted.
"What has gotten into you?" He exclaimed. I turned my back to him and stormed off. I felt his hand grab my wrist, spinning me around. I shoved him, almost causing him knock a statue over.
"What is your problem?" He snapped. He shoved me into the wall. My head rattled from the impact, causing my head to erupt in a piercing headache.
"Will you stop bothering me! Why is that so hard for you to understand?" I shouted. I stroked my nape, fingering for blood. "My head is killing me now," I muttered, "I should go smash your head against the wall!" I snapped, pushing him again. He caught his balance right before he collided against the opposite wall. His fists were balled as he marched up to me.
"I am sorry, but you started this so I finished it," he mouthed.
"Oh I really believe your apology," I hissed.
"This is not about me. You are the one going rogue like Barbarius. That is why he moved back to the country villa. You are not acting like yourself. But if you want me to stay out of your life, I will gladly do that. I already have cut off ties with Barbarius and I can cut off ties with you too…" his voice trailed as he saw me slide down the wall.
"What is wrong now? You look a little pale there, brother. You are starting to worry me."
"I am tired," I mumbled. "I tried to suppress it but I cannot do this anymore, or I am going to explode," I said a low voice.
"What are you talking about? You are not making sense. Seriously what is wrong? I want to know…you are still my brother." I took a deep breath to slow my racing heart.
"This is about Gaius," I said, my balled fists trembled. Apollus knelt down to my level.
"What about Gaius?"
"I believe he is the one that was supposed to be sentenced to the Hole, not Herodius." I watched as Apollus raised his brows in disbelief.
"Troy that is a serious accusation you are making of an official. Are you certain it is not just in your head?"
"No," I said, giving my head a shake. "The boat trip; the same boat that Barbarius was on was sponsored by Gaius. I saw the record filed away in the office."
"But that does not necessarily mean that he told those men to kill Barbarius." He pursed his lips together. "By the way why have I not seen that document before?"
"I will show you where I found it." He offered me a hand. I took it, lifting my crumpled form off the floor. Together we quickly paced the hallway and back into the open space of the atrium. No sign of grandfather. He must be in the opposite wing of the house so as not to be alarmed by my outburst. Then we pulled the curtains back to step into the tablinum. As we scoured the shelves, footsteps from outside could be heard.
"I thought you knew where it was?" Apollus questioned.
"It was on this top shelf. Father must have moved it somewhere."
"Someone is coming!" Apollus hissed.
"What is going on?" grandfather asked. Apollus and I both looked at each other as if we were just caught in a crime scene.
"This is the doing of Troy. I simply came because he wanted to show me some document," Apollus said with his hands raised in surrender fashion.
"What document? You know certain things are for private viewing—"
"Including the diary of mother, the blacklist that Diodecios found himself on, or the document that said that Gaius sponsored the ship in which Barbarius was overthrown on!" I snapped. Grandfather let out a loud sigh as he shook his long face.
"Where are you going with this Troy?"
"Everything is supposed to be off limits, but the truth about what really is going is contained here and I have the right to know. What I am saying is that Gaius is not the trusted one he makes himself to be and that the blacklist, the trial, and everything else is a sham!"
Grandfather folded his arms against his chest. "Are you saying that Gaius should be on the blacklist for being a part of the fraudulent handling of the treasury?"
"Yes, but something even worse…" I watched as grandfather ran his hands through his silvery hair.
"So he was the one behind the cloak that tried to kill you; the same one that tried to get Barbarius killed? Is that what you are saying?"
"Yes, you have to believe me. I know everyone thinks it is all in my head. Yes I dreamt that Gaius would stab me in the back and that is why I have been in fear this whole time of speaking up but deep inside he realized that I know he is in the wrong. I cannot keep silent anymore. Something bad is going to happen."
"I did not think he was going to seek revenge; not like this," grandfather said regretfully.
"What are you talking about?" I said with worry creeping in my voice. "You and father caused him some misfortune that he wants to kill us, because that would explain his little tirade."
"What exactly did he say?" Apollus interjected.
"That father and grandfather are the ones that he should be afraid of because they delete their opponents. Is that true grandfather?"
"With any ruler Troy, there are always enemies; someone that threatens your power. So yes you do delete your opponents whether you kill them, send them to the Hole, or destroy their legacy in the making. Is it ethical? You be the judge but that is what had to be done. I will admit that when I was younger there were things I wish I could take back. Apollus this is directed to you but really to all of you. Be careful that you do not let too much power corrupt your mind. The more you have, the more you have to lose, which is not something you cannot afford. In the end I choose to relinquish my power to your father. Now I have the rest of my days to reflect on my accomplishments and regrets. I wish you boys could learn from my mistakes and that of your father before it takes over your head and destroys your heart. And Troy…"
"Yes," I answered.
"I will tell you want you need to know, but not now. Not like this. I have come to realize as well as your father that you are not a little boy anymore, and that you can handle the truth. Your dreams have proved to be more of a blessing than we would have ever imagined, and only time will reveal the workings of the unknown."
Grandfather Miletus words would have profound effect on me, in ways he could not have imagined. I wished life was simple. Now it was marred with power struggles, preparing for my political future that was laid before me, friendships and complicated affairs of the heart. I was reminded every time I went to the baths that things were different. The blacklist ensured that. As I was leaving the steam room one day I noticed Romeos, Julius and Silus were walking towards me down the corridor leading to the cold baths. Julius kept his eyes focused in front as he mumbled softly to Romeos who for a brief moment looked back at me with an uneasy gaze.
"So who made it on the black list today?" Silus slyly remarked as he nudged my left shoulder as he walked past. I continued to ignore him. Like a pestering fly maybe he will go away.
"I know you will make sure Priscilla does not make it on there. I heard you tried to fool with my cousin." I marched towards him, ready to squash.
"Please leave her out of this! Nothing happened between us and nothing ever will," I snapped.
"I would like to believe your tale Troy," he laughed scornfully.
"Come on Silus, there is no need to pick a fight," Julius said, trying to nudge Silus to keep moving.
"There is not much to lose is there. Who could stop me?" he taunted.
"You have so much to lose than you think." We all turned around to see the tall, sinewy, young lad standing behind us. His face was still young although he looked a few years older than us. I assumed he had to be at least Barbarius' age if not older. "What do have to prove acting like a bully? That you are an insecure little boy?" He said with a wiry smile. The young man looked awfully familiar although I could not remember who he was.
"You do not know anything about me," Silus said saucily. As he slowly trudged off in retreat I looked up at the young man who was smirking.
"Thanks for defending me. You did not have to do that," I said softly.
"You are most welcome," he said. "I am assuming you know those fellows." I nodded.
"You barely know me. Why are you being so nice to me?" The fellow simply chuckled before growing serious again.
"Is it so wrong to help someone in need? I know how it feels for people to look through you; when the people you once knew turn their backs on you."
"Well I was never close to Silus," I assured. "Yet I used to be…I mean am friends with the twins… at least Romeos."
"I am surprised he did not defend you. I thought you men were closer than that?" He remarked. I sighed realizing he knew too much.
I simply shrugged. What else was there to say?
"Well look, I do not mean to meddle in your affairs. Just was taking note. Anyhow some friends of mine are going to spend the evening, including my wife Athena, at the finest theater at Apathia and we were looking for someone to complete our group of six. You have been to the play from last month have you?"
"No. I often do not get a chance to go out much," I said feeling sorry for myself.
"You could join our group of friends. They should not mind being in company with you. You are a dignitary and seem mature for your age might I add." Here someone of Barbarius' age group was inviting me to a Greek play. I had read many of them in my study with Anias but I never went… or at least could not recall seeing any of the plays.
"Thank you for the kind offer, but—"
"But what? You cannot stay late?"
"Well, my father might get worried about who I associate with and how long I stay out."
"That is understandable even though you are a full-grown man that can make his own decisions. If you cannot come that is fine too," he said coolly before walking off. I followed him as he met up with two other young men, although I could not make out their names.
"I am just about to finish up my stay here," the one young man said who had curls pressed against his scalp. As they exited out the side entrance, I followed the group as they went around to the women's entrance to the baths, where a small-framed girl, who was not much older than I, stood waiting. Her eyes spotted me as she seen me trailing behind their group.
"Oh look Maximus. Is that Acertius' youngest son Troy?" she asked to her husband in a condescending tone. Embarrassed I awkwardly waved to her and the rest of them.
"Were you not going home right after the baths?" he asked, puzzled.
"I changed my mind. You are right. I should be able to make my own decisions. As long as I tell someone I am going out for the evening, they do not need to worry about me. So where should we assemble before the play?" I asked eagerly.
"I knew you would change your mind," the young man said with a smirk. "We will first grab a small meal at the market place near the forum before heading to the circular theater."
"So who is the sixth person?" I muttered aloud as I mounted onto the chariot with them.
"Oh they will meet up with us later," he said, with a smirk. His voice sounded too familiar. His small sharp eyes reflected a green color. The same green eyes that belonged to a man I saw next to Gaius a few days ago. I swallowed the lump that clung to my throat. He was Gaius' son!