Chapter 20: Redemption
"I am just joking Romeos," I said swinging the knife in my hand nonchalantly. "I thought you could take a practical joke?"
"Maybe I do not know the difference between a joke from what is real anymore," he said sarcastically.
"Besides if I was to use a knife to test if I was in reality it would be in the dream anyways. You have no idea how it feels to always have someone to lurk in your dreams…waiting to strike. But if I have the knife I gain the power back to end the dream and wake up. The dream does not have a hold on me. Pain is what makes us feel alive anyways."
"That only works if you are certain you are in the dream and right now I am uncertain whether you can distinguish between the two. What if you wake up delusional and accidentally stab yourself because you thought you were still dreaming? The knife is going to cause real pain. Let me relay a message to you: This is reality; and you are speaking crazed talk," he said while gesturing wildly with his hands.
"Then what do you propose I do?" I said sharply. "I can handle the physical pain. I have dealt with it the time I woke up to reality," I snapped.
"I do not know…something that does not inflict injury to you," Romeos said exasperatedly. "If you are going to do this I cannot remain silent about it. Sorry," he said shaking his head profusely. "Please just give me the knife," he said lowering his tone. I stared at Romeos and I could see how scared he was…something I had not seen very often. With the knife dangling in one hand, I slowly aimed it away from my wrist as I quickly slipped it towards my right hip.
"Seriously Troy, I do not want you to hurt yourself. Maybe it is best you give me the knife. Please," he begged, as he tried to reach out to grab it. I beat him to it as I placed it in my sheath and took a few steps back.
"That will not be necessary. I promise I will not do anything foolish. It is going where it belongs, my sheath," I sighed. "Trust me," I said; searching his face for understanding.
"For a moment you had me scared. Please do not do that again. Ever! I am worried about you Troy. I hate to see you do something that is so destructive to your own soul. What possessed you in recent time that you have lost touch with your reality?"
"I do not know other than that I am crazy! You said so yourself. I am not normal, and have not been normal since the incident!" I said sourly. Romeos bit his lip as he watched my shoulders shrink in despair.
"Romeos there you are," his father exclaimed with a hint of enthusiasm. "I will need your assistance in writing out the financial reports and expenses for the household…Is everything alright?" Romeos took a long sigh as he briefly glanced at me and then his father.
"I am well. You do not have to worry about me," Romeos said flashing a warm grin back. I politely excused myself, as Romeos and his father were attending to business matters, because after all this was their office.
"Very soon, you will be managing your own household. I hope you make wiser choices than I did," Diodecios said to Romeos in a more somber tone.
"I do not know how else to say it but I have some unfortunate news,"-
As I tried to listen in, a slave approached, balancing a crate full of goods in his bulky arms.
"Do you have anywhere to be my lord?" the slave asked abruptly.
"Oh certainly, I was just leaving," I mumbled. I sauntered around the gardens on the way to my guest bedroom that lay adjacent to the garden. I could feel the cool breeze that would bring relief from the hot dry air of the summer afternoon. It was somehow calming to watch the servant girls stroll down the marble walkways, as they watered the rosebushes and the lilies that were potted in clay vessels. It seemed to take my mind off things. As my body sweltered in the heat I laid back down in the bed. My eyelids grew heavy, as I fought for my body to stay awake. I need to stay awake. I am tired…but I am scared my mind might driftttt…..
"Troy, what are you doing in my bed?"
"What?" I mumbled as my eyes weakly opened up to behold Romeos towering over me.
"This is my room, yours was the next door down. I suppose you like my bed better," he said dryly.
"I am so sorry," I said looking up at his rather serious face. Here I was sprawled in his bed; how awkward!
"You know what you can sleep here too if you want," he said letting out a dry laugh. "I suppose I should take the guest room. In that case let me remove my belongings into the other room," he said whimsically as he turned his back to me. I watched from the bed as Romeos examined and fiddled with the small bottles of expensive oils on top of his dresser as he tried to scoop up a small pouch of coins.
"Are those the new acro coins?" I exclaimed from behind.
"No. They are different currencies my father has collected from his travels. Mostly these are Roman denarius. He has been to several different places across the Mediterranean Sea. You would not believe how many different souvenirs he has gotten from his various travels," Romeos said as he pointed to the various assortments of oils in tiny cork bottles.
"I see," I said bobbing my head as my eyes scoured across the various souvenirs that Romeos had lined up neatly in a row in front of me. "I suppose those were obtained through fair trade," I said sheepishly.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Romeos said with a nervous laugh. I will have you know my father is a fair merchant who sets his prices fairly and bargains to get what he wants. He traveled with some of the best merchants of his class," Romeos said turning to stare at me.
"So did your father know the character of these men he would travel with on trade expeditions?"
"He thought he knew them. Some of them were his fellow comrades. It was not like he knew these were greedy thieves," Romeos said shaking his head.
"So he was completely unaware of the actions of the crew or that they had a taste for what did not belong to them?"
"Maybe he overlooked their actions; so what? Why the sudden change of tone?" Romeos said sharply. "If I am reading on correctly I would say you are suspicious of my father. You said so yourself he was a noble man," Romeos said, as the smile had long diminished from his face.
"I just want to have a fair picture of what he is involved in. Please do not think that I view your father as a criminal or an accomplice. You have to understand I mean no harm," I pleaded. "I want to believe your father but…there is still unanswered questions…and people need to know where your father stands."
"You mean the investigator," Romeos mumbled while rolling his eyes. "I know he must have put you up to this but I thought my close friend would not fathom the idea to betray me," Romeos said in a vexed tone I had not heard before. "You know what; I have a change of mind. I want my room back!" he said with biting sarcasm.
"You can have your room back. I apologize for invading your space. I just cannot believe you would fathom to think I would do something like that. I just want to have the facts, but sorry I probed. If your father was really innocent there is no need to get so defensive," I snapped.
"I think I need to go," Romeos said running his hands through his hair. "This is just too much for one day. I do not need this," he mumbled softly.
"Look I am sorry…I just hate to see you mad at me," I sighed at last. "You know I stood by your side even when your so-called friends ignored you. I want to help your father. I really do…I really, really do. I am sorry…just please hear my words out," I sighed. "I thought nothing could offend you," I croaked as he opened the door.
"Honor is everything for me Troy. I would defend the honor of my father for any price. I suppose you really are trying to help. You are a good person who is trying to do the right things but…it is not enough," he said sadly as his shoulders sank. "My father as you know lost his livelihood and we no longer can keep up this "image," this "lifestyle" we have created. Since our family business is suffering I do not think we can afford the villa…and maybe even this place we call a home." My heart went out to my only friend as I watched his world crumble around him and I felt powerless to the outcome.—
I had joined the mother and father for lunch which consisted of slices of veal, salad covered in juicy olives, clusters of figs and pomegranates and rye bread that was somewhat hard to the touch. I had wondered if Romeos was going to join us, after all he lived here. The parents ate in silence with the exception of a few soft words that floated across the round table such as "Pass that please, or "How did you enjoy that?" in crisp words spoken in undertones. Finally Romeos strolled in the dining room with his toga draping off his left shoulder.
"Glad you could join us son," Diodecios said raising his glass of wine. Romeos smiled weakly at the gesture as he sat down silently next to his father, which was across from me.
"Here is your plate," a young slave girl said as she gently placed his platter in front of him. She walked away swiftly, as her long black braid swiveled back and forth.
"Thank you," Romeos said calmly as he slowly nibbled on his food.
"You are awfully quiet today. I know you did not expect the news from your father but—
"It is nothing mother. I just do not want to think about it," Romeos said calmly as he bit hard into his slices of cheese. I watched Romeos as he nibbled. I could tell the news was bothering him, although he tried to push it aside just like his food. Just as his parents were finishing up their lunch…
"Greetings," Julius said appearing at the doorway.
"You just came on time," Romeos remarked sarcastically.
"Oh well, maybe I will grab a bite of whatever is left," Julius shrugged.
"How was your day at the rhetoric?" his father asked with his hands folded in front on the table. As Julius passed by his mother she gently squeezed his hand with a look of worry in her eyes.
"We had another rigorous day of class with us discussing more on law and the upcoming trials that are to be taking place soon and their outcomes," Julius said matter-of-factly. "Oh wait…I remember seeing the stakes out at the public square on my way home. I think they might be starting the public executions soon," Julius said nonchalantly as he plopped down beside Romeos who was lounging comfortably on the couch.
"Did they have a list," his father inquired.
"Well my teacher read off some of the names. I think one was Martus, another Herodias, and I cannot remember the others," he sighed. My mind raced to one name: Herodius. It sounded all too familiar from the trial. Was that the same person who was accused of attempted murder?
"Was not Herodius the one convicted of trying to kill me?" I questioned with raised eyebrows.
"I suppose so," Diodecios said nodding his head. "I think I remember that man. He was such a hard-working man and a few times he would accompany me on our business travels as a fisherman. He was good at his profession and quite watchful. You needed someone to feed the crew while out at sea. However after the one "mission," he and others were no longer "fit" to leave the island," his father said solemnly. "It is shame what his fate is now," he said wistfully, as he neatly folded his white cloth that lay on his plate.
"But he is innocent, I would have thought that Gaius being caught trying to kill father and the confession letters proving to be his doing…I am confused," I muttered.
"Well considering law," Julius said clearing his throat. "There is probably something else he is charged for."
"What exactly; a false setup? Could he not get a retrial or something to prove his innocence?"
"In case you forgot Troy there is no "retrial," he said shaking his head slowly. "The charges still stand against him unless your father wanted to drop them. However there is still the sedition charge where he and other "common men" were protesting against the king…at least that is what I heard," he said confidently. I slumped there speechless. All the things Alexander the slave was telling me and the trial proceedings was all making sense now. It had occurred to me that once Herodius was tied to the civil unrest, he longer would join Diodecios and his men on his voyage and since then father was even stricter about who was permitted to leave the island; the only home they knew.
"So did all this civil unrest happened last year? Why are they acting now?"
"Well when it first happened, the instigators of it all were punished right away. Depending on the role they played they either were sent to the "hole" or were executed at the public square outside the court yards. The rest must have been blacklisted and put on house arrest like myself," Diodecios said with a glint of sadness in his eyes. "Any who he was on the last trip we went to when the diplomat from Rome came; preceding the protest. You boys remember right?" Both Romeos and Julius nodded in unison. "He seemed to be an honest man who did not work for selfish gain. When the report was made of the treasury brought in, I suppose one of the recorders wrote down the amount we were supposed to give of our earnings and valuables to the king as a tribute. At the moment it seemed to match with what we had. However now they are saying a small amount is missing and they refuse to sleep until they get it back," Diodecios stated.
"If only they could find that little piece of the loot back, then maybe we could finally be cleared from this all," Romeos blurted whimsically.
"Who do you think would have it?" I questioned.
"Perhaps it is hidden," Romeos said mysteriously. I shrugged at the mere suggestion as the slaves filed in to clear the table of the glass plates and silverware.
"Almost like buried treasure," Julius said with a hint of intrigue in his eyes.
"Perhaps," Romeos said softly.
"Enough of this talk of buried treasure! You young men should be worried about what is to happen for us; our future. I do not want you to get carried away into thinking that is the only thing that will give us our lives back," the mother said in a snippy tone as her light brown eyes set in her brow in frustration.
"I know dear, all of us want our life back the way it was before. Before the night raids, before the blacklist, before my business was boycotted, before the stares and ridicule by colleagues..." the father glared over at Julius. "Thank you for not giving up," he said softly.
"It is hard sometimes, especially now that I am alone. My teacher is not the friendliest towards me, and my fellow associates…even Silus and I am not close anymore. Sometimes I find that I doubt myself and how strong I am," he said looking down at the table before glancing at Romeos. "I miss you Romeos. It is not the same without you," Julius said nostalgically.
"You see me at lunch time such as today," Romeos shrugged casually.
"But it is not the same. But I suppose I will continue on to make a name for myself."
"Our name is tarnished unless you got a new name," Romeos joked. Julius bit his lip nervously.
"What would it take to clear your name just like the father of Silus?" I asked the father.
"Oh you mean Marcus Auretus. Ah…he must have had a witness either testify or send in a repeal proving his innocence. It depends on the governing branch based on your records. Unfortunately, it has to be anonymous, and they cannot have blood ties to you."
"What if someone from your crew or one of the other fellows could sign the repeal?" Most of them are blacklisted and I supposed the others refused or did not want to be bothered with the process." I glanced back at Romeos who had a curious smirk on his face while Julius sat blankly.
"Thanks though for your concern Troy. I know you mean no harm to my family. I only wish them the best," he smiled as he slowly roused himself from off the soft plush couch with his wife following behind as they left from the other side of the dining area.
"I might have to start heading back," Julius grumbled, as he nibbled on the last of the grapes he was given to eat.
"I wonder why your father could not ask someone to write him a repeal letter," I wondered aloud.
"He would not do that," Julius snorted.
"Our father has too much pride to ask his sons to get a repeal letter from someone. He would not approve of the suggestion," Romeos sighed. "However he does not have to know we went behind his back," Romeos said with a smirk creeping in his face.
"Exactly," I replied with a grin that swept across my face.
"Oh the cleverness of you," Julius chuckled.
"Why thanks. After all this was an original idea," Romeos said whimsically.
"I wonder who you would pick," Julius said straightening himself upright.
"It depends on who was on the short trip with father last year when he left right after the diplomat left. I think I remember some of their names, but the official files would likely be kept in the civic hall," Romeos answered.
"Well I will leave you fellows to dwell on that thought. I have to seriously start heading back," he said as he got up from the couch.
"I am so bored in this prison you call a home," Romeos moaned. "Why should I be confined here? I am coming with you."
"I thought you did not want to attend the rhetoric school?"
"I know. I am not going but I need to venture out and get some fresh air. After all I am not under house arrest."
'What about the stares?" Julius replied.
"I do not care anymore," Romeos said shrugging his shoulders.
"What about returning to the rhetoric school then?" Julius said with his pursed lips, as the brothers strolled together past the dining room. Romeos shot an annoyed glance at Julius.
"I am not going to start an argument; not now anyways," Julius sighed in defeat. As the two walked side by side together I followed them as they strolled through the gardens and into the atrium space.
"Wait!" They both stopped to stare back at me.
"Wherever you go, I am going with you," I said at last. "We need to go to the civic hall." Romeos let out a smile.
"We are going to rule the day. And Troy we are going to have fun doing it!"