Chapter 21: When We had it All
I had keenly tuned to the rhythmic pattern of the metal hippo sandals of the horse that cladded against the cobblestone road before it was drowned by the passing of other chariots that passed by the busy streets that wound through Apathia. It was the three of us young men; sitting back in ease as we passed the poorer quarters of the city. I watched as the chariot whizzed past the curious faces that peeked out the top floors of the three story tenements stacked above the storefronts that lined the narrow streets.
"So I suppose this is the other side of town," I said softly, with my gaze drifting into the plastered cement buildings.
"Why yes it is. I used to not pay them any mind, when they would beg me for money, but now I cannot stop thinking about this stretch as I pass on my way to the rhetoric school, which is only a few city blocks from here when the cityscape changes from marble and stone," Julius sighed. There was a hint of sadness and apprehension of what laid ahead of him. "All my father wanted was for his sons to live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life."
"He always says that," Romeos piped in, who was sitting in the middle. I stared back at Romeos with a look of dismay.
"What? It is not like I do not want those things for myself Troy," he said with a smirk. "I just do not know what life has in store for me anymore. I used to be so certain. Well…at least you have a clear future Troy. Your life is laid out in front of you," he added as he extended his hand outward.
"I suppose so," I said nodding my head. "I wonder if we can create our own path," I said softly.
"Maybe; I wish," Romeos snorted. "What kind of path are we talking about," he uttered mysteriously.
"I do not know," I said trying not to laugh at Romeos' light-hearted nature. "I know I am supposed to be the mediator but sometimes I wonder if I am ready or if that is all I was called to do."
"What are you talking about? You would make an excellent mediator," Julius said with a smile.
"I have to agree with Julius. You always find yourself in the middle of things," Romeos slyly remarked. "And besides you are very insightful, Troy. The insight you have within you would be greatly needed at the council meetings."
"I suppose you are right," I said at last.
"Oh, the rhetoric school is down that corridor," Julius pointed out. As we neared a stop to the side of the stone building with several steps leading to the first floor, I watched as Julius meticulously gathered his scrolls together along with his writing utensils.
"Make our family name proud," Romeos said jokingly.
"I will try," Julius said, flashing a weak smile. As he was escorted out the chariot by our older driver he looked around before slowly ascending up the stairs. As he reached the top he looked down at both of us still in the chariot, as he disappeared into the arched doorway.
"I am surprised they still allow Julius into the rhetoric considering…um sorry that came out wrong," I mumbled apologetically.
"That is alright. I am not offended. We are not banned but we both were put on some stupid probation. The teachers watch you like hawks waiting for you to fall so they have an excuse to expel you. I hate always having to be around others that want you to fail because to them…you do not belong anymore into the exclusive group of elites, so I left before they could make me leave," he sighed. "Anyhow," he said enthusiastically, "Enough of my complaints, let us enjoy the moment. We are two young men in town with the island at our disposal."
"I agree with your statement," I said maturely. As we headed towards the civic hall which was across the public square where the Via Appia intersected…
"Wait what is going on in the public square?" Romeos blurted, as he pointed to a sizeable crowd assembled at the public square. "Um Vestus see if we can get through the crowds. I am curious to find out what is going on," Romeos uttered. As we drew closer, the wooden stakes were erected high up. Armored guards were nearby to maintain civil order. From the opposite side of the public square lay the judiciary court where men in their long flowing togas filed out with their chins raised for all to see, as they slowly descended down the wide set of steps.
"I kind of want to get closer to see if I know any of those men," Romeos mumbled.
"Do you think they will spot us?" I answered cautiously.
"I highly doubt it," Romeos said shrugging his shoulders.
"What is going on?" I muttered aloud. Our chariot eased in closer, as we came towards the fringe of a group of fifty-some men from all classes. Behind the nobles came a group of guards with their iron helmets as they escorted a man, who I imagined to be in his early thirties. All eyes were on the scrawny fellow who was clothed in a mere loin cloth with his sun tanned skin bearing the scars of many whips. Every step seemed painful as he took his last steps onto the wooden platform where the stake was erected. I watched as others pointed and stared at the spectacle, while others stood back with their arms crossed against their broad chests.
"That does not look like Herodius," I whispered to Romeos.
"I think you are right. That might be Martus or some other prisoner held bondage. Perhaps it is not his turn today. I wish I had Julius' schedule of the executions," he sighed. "Those high-ranking officials like Marcelius and Felix must have just finished a tribunal or something of that nature for them to file out the courthouse at such a time. Were you supposed to be present?" I stared at him wide-eyed in shock and guilt.
"I did not know there was a tribunal," I said shaking my head.
"Well maybe you should not worry. After all if they wanted you there, they know where to find you," Romeos said with a smirk that crept up his full lips.
"Maybe we should ask the men if I was to be in attendance, although usually I am not called upon since I still have my tutoring sessions with Anias."
"It looks like it is over," Romeos said as he pointed to the nobles assembled at the bottom of the steps as they watched from behind, as an official read off the executions to take place in the week. We listened intently to the names until we heard "Herodius" called out. Moments later Gaius named was finally called.
"It looks like Gaius is about to meet his fate," Romeos snorted.
"I would want to see that," I responded cynically. One man instantly looked back at us with curious eyes and then I could see in his bluish-gray eyes he recognized us. He kept his cautious gaze at us as he walked towards a patrol guard clothed in metal armor.
"Come on I think it is best we get moving," I whispered to Romeos. Romeos seemed to sense the urgency laced in my voice as he silently nodded. He motioned for the driver to start heading out as we quickly slipped around the crowd to the civic hall a few blocks east. As we quickly sped off, my eyes were set ahead to our destination. It was the unspoken words that were sometimes the loudest. The slightest of glares held the power to condemn or love. I had sensed that perhaps my presence would spark inquiry. I had not fully realized it but father was tracking my whereabouts. In my mind I wanted to follow the rules but inward was this secret desire to rebel. As we treaded down the long block I could not help but notice wanted signs with the inscription: Maximus in big bold black ink.
"You can drop us off here Vestus," Romeos said as he dropped a few coins in the palms of Vestus' hands. "Meet us back here when the sun hits the mid-afternoon mark in the sky," Romeos said, before hopping off our bronze chariot.
"You do not think we are going to look really suspicious entering the civic hall looking for records?" Romeos asked with raised eyebrows.
"Well not if we are looking for information on the tribunal and those convicted of thievery," I remarked smartly. "Besides being the son of a king allows you many advantages," I said with a smirk.
"So let me make certain I am following the plan here. We are trying to find evidence that my father is innocent while trying to find any crewmembers who went with him and which ones are in a position to write a repeal letter."
"Precisely. Hopefully the repeal letter will remove the permanent blacklist off his records, clearing him once and for all."
The plan was set. We had strolled inside the first chamber of the civic hall. Memories from the time I came to register as an official citizen less than a month ago flashed in the back of my consciousness, as we walked together in the airy atrium of the civic hall with the high ceiling curving into an impressive dome above. My eyes danced around the frescoes of ancient legends that covered the circular room.
"I cannot believe I did not fully appreciate the beauty of these frescos," I muttered softly. "I bet they are full of stories."
"Of course, if you examine them long enough they teach us our history yet there is something always being added," Romeos added as he pointed to the scaffolds that lined the left wall. It was quiet…too quiet. The only ones in sight was an old man sitting at a desk in the middle of the room with a young guard standing by his desk.
"Back so soon! What brings you young men here," the old man said with his attentive hazel eyes, accompanied by a friendly smile that calmed the air.
"We are here to look up records for the tribunal," I answered with a steady gaze. He paused as he glanced over at my friend Romeos.
"You are admitted to the first chamber, but I am afraid I cannot grant access beyond that to your friend here," he said gingerly.
"Do not worry, he is with me. He is going to help me find it," I answered prudently.
"Oh really. You know one of our assistants would be happy to assist you," he said with a smile.
"I appreciate your offer but he will be all the help I need," I said reassuringly.
"Very well," he said. "Past this desk are three archways leading to different chambers. What you are looking for is in the first one," he said.
"Thank you," I said, as both Romeos and I scampered off inside.
"I thought you knew what you were doing?" Romeos questioned.
"I thought so too. For an assistant you are not much help," I muttered, as my eyes hungrily scoured the shelves of scrolls and codices.
"Oh wow, Troy is getting testy with me," he joked. "Look Troy we need to find it but we cannot stress about this or we will never find it. You have to believe me when I say that you have to lighten up sometimes," he said. "After all I am the one who has everything riding on my shoulders."
"You are right," I mumbled.
"What; I could not hear you," Romeos said teasingly.
"You are right," I grumbled. "But sometimes you have to be concerned. I am concerned about you taking this so lightly. This is not a joke this is serious. I know you try to pass everything off as if it is nothing but seriously this is not a joke."
"And I thought we were going to have fun in the process," Romeos said rolling his eyes. "You remind me more and more of Julius," he scoffed. "What happened to the time when Troy actually was letting go of his insecurities and fears and just enjoyed the moment?" he said wistfully.
"He died…and then he grew up after the accident," I said solemnly as I walked away. Romeos who was fiddling with a scroll in his hands placed the scroll away and looked back at me with a somber expression.
"Maybe we should split up and cover more ground that way," Romeos suggested meekly.
"I suppose that would work," I said softly. Romeos slowly strolled through the rows of bookshelves before disappearing off. I sighed to myself thinking that maybe Romeos and I were too different. I had a life, a plan ahead of me, whereas he was drifting through life… Then from the corner of my eye I saw it. The shelf labeled with numerals XIV: Voyages. I was seeking the list of the crew who accompanied Diodecios and there it was in front of me!
"Romeos, I found it," I exclaimed excitedly. Just then a passerby stopped to stare at me with a look of confusion. I blushed thinking what a fool I made of myself for talking aloud. I quickly traced the direction Romeos took but to no avail. Where was he? Annoyed and tired, I took a seat at a small wooden desk and checked the names of the crew. Each crewmember had their full name inscribed along with their age and station in life. But there was something else I noticed by their names…Xs by their names. Could it mean they were recently blacklisted? It made sense since Diodecios' name had an x by it. What were the records for men like Herodius or Diodecios? It must be stored away somewhere but it would not be found in this chamber but the inner chamber.
I took the scroll and slipped it in my sash, as I headed out a secret doorway that led me down a flight of stairs to the inner chamber. I really wished Romeos could have been here but I could not find him. The inner chamber was poorly lit with the exception of a few candles that lined the hallway. As I gingerly opened the doors another room full of scrolls awaited as I crept inside. This was where every record of every citizen lay hidden. The records were categorized by last name as I looked through the files of Diodecios and some of the names that stood out in the crew list. I was shocked to find out how much they contained including their marital status, their yearly wages, taxes, tributes and even their approval status if they worked for the kingship. It looked as if Diodecios' prior approval rating was quite high before the blacklisting but somehow his blacklist status was not quite updated. Perhaps there was still time before it was permanently added. As I carefully read through his records, I felt a cold finger tap my shoulder.
"Hello Troy," said the investigator. "I did not expect you to be here," he said with his hands across his chest. I nearly dropped the scroll as I tried to stop my hands from trembling.
"What brings you here Prince Troy?"
"I was looking for something but…" He beckoned with his eyes for me to continue.
"I was looking for records," I said softly.
"Oh. What kind of records are we dealing with?"
"The records on the voyage that took place last year on the Corinthian ship."
"I see…the same ship that Diodecios is on," he said looking down at the letters as my hands barely covered the scroll scrunched away to my side. "It looks like you are doing your own investigating. Impressive I might add," he said flashing a smile on his otherwise serious face. "So, what did you find?" he asked hastily.
"Well I found that the crew contained an assortment of men: ship builders, merchants, nobles, fishermen, even slaves. I read across the list and one of the crew members was Herodius; the same one that was convicted recently of attempted murder." I watched as the Investigator proudly nodded his face in agreement.
"Anything else on Diodecios?" he said as his eyebrows furrowed in impatience.
"Nothing new that you may already know about," I said casually. I watched as his lips quivered into a frown.
"What did his sons show you? Anything else, maybe something that was out of place?" he questioned.
"Well one did show me different currencies and different oils… but nothing too suspect," I said prudently.
"Anything else we might have 'overlooked'?" I shook my head no.
"I made you my spy and that is the best you come up with," he grumbled. We had an agreement and you barely impressed me with what you know. Time is running out and we still cannot find Maximus. I am certain you seen the wanted posters. If we can get a hold of his wife maybe she could lead us in the right direction. So if you were his wife Athena, who would you turn to?" he inquired.
"Family and friends of course," I muttered.
"She is not with family, we checked already," he said briskly. "Do you know a friend of hers where she is staying at Troy and please do not lie," he said sharply.
"I do not know," I said trying to remain calm.
"You know she would be with a friend, do you?"
"Yes I suppose. Try asking Priscilla," I blurted irritably.
"Very well, I was thinking the other young maiden but that will do thanks. See that was not so hard was it. But I had to extract it from you," he hissed. Before he turned around, he patted me on the back. "Well done, for a moment I was losing trust in you," he whispered before walking off. I stood their blankly as he ran into a scriber to update the records. I had to get out of here and find Romeos. As I walked out the chamber and into the dark hallway…
"Romeos is that you?" I muttered before nearly running into him.
"Yes it is I. What was that all about?" he questioned suspiciously.
"What are you talking about?"
"When you were talking to the investigator and he was saying you were his spy. I am really confused right now."
"You heard the whole conversation?" He nodded slowly.
"You know I would not betray you like that. I am not his spy but I cannot risk being on the wrong side of the law either. I have a lot at stake."
"I understand…thanks for being loyal. Not just to me but my family. It means a lot to me Troy. However I must add we are already going behind the back of your father."
"I know but he does not have to know if we return the record quickly.
"I hope you are right. Find anything interesting?"
"I will tell you more when we depart from the inner chamber but I discovered that_"
"Troy! Are you here?" a breathless voice without a face echoed from the dimmed hallways behind.
"Hurry up, you have to take the scroll and go," I muttered. I quickly scrunched the scroll into Romeos loin purse.
"What do you expect me to do with this," Romeos responded hastily.
"Just keep it in your possession for now," I whispered, "There is no time." With that Romeos scampered off quickly down the corner just as the Messenger loomed around the hallway and into view in the dimmed passageway.
"I have urgent news from the king and I was told you were here?" What now?
"What is that you wish to speak to me about," I said calmly as I straightened to face the Messenger.
"It is news about your grandfather. He wishes to see you as soon as possible."
"That is fine. I was in the middle of something I can come by there later _"
"I hate to tell you this but your grandfather does not have much longer left!" he bluntly cut in. "He wishes to speak to you one last time, for he does not know how much time he has left." My lower jaw dropped at the news. I ran my hands through my curly hair, thinking this must be a dream.
"I thought he was recovering, are you certain that is his state?" I asked anxiously as I fiddled with my wrists.
"I am afraid so. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. I am so sorry; there is nothing the physician can do Troy. I am so sorry. All I can say is whatever you want to say to him you need to do it while there is still time." I nodded solemnly as I bit my lip at the news.
"Excuse me I have to go," I said brushing past him, as I ran down the hallway, up the stairs and into the first chamber. My mind was in a blur as my body was set in motion. Blood pulsing through my veins and the drive to make amends pushed all other thoughts and voices aside as the Messenger tried to follow me. I ran through the atrium, past a group of nobles checking in at the desk that lay in the middle of the grand foyer as I wanted to get away from it all. As I dashed out the main entrance I scampered around the corner of the civic hall and into the narrow alley.
"Wait Troy! Where are you going? Is someone chasing you?" Romeos called out as he was standing at the entrance of the alley.
"I have to go. I am sorry," I said hastily as I sprinted down the alley.
"You are going to miss the chariot if you go that way," Romeos said chasing after me. Just as Romeos was pursuing me, I could hear the soft sounds of the hooves behind us as I ran breathlessly down the alley what seemed to be an eternity.
"I think Vestus is looking for us! We have to go back now if you want to escape," Romeos said as he lunged forward to grab my arm. I pulled away only to take a few steps before crouching down to regain my breath.
"Come on, we have to head this way. I do not see anyone coming! What are you running from?" he asked with a dumbfounded expression.
"Please tell me…I am dreaming. Please tell me I am dreaming all this," I said breathlessly.
"What? No this is reality. Please do not tell me you thought…show me your wrists!" he demanded with his tone sounding more worried than angry.
"I do not have time for this, I have to go home," I moaned.
"Since when are you in a rush to go home? I know my place was not that horrible." Romeos snorted. "What about the plan, remember? What about you being safe and not cutting yourself?"
"It does not matter anymore," I said exasperatedly. "Look there is an emergency I have to attend to. I am sorry." Before I could turn around Romeos grabbed my wrists to examine it. His eyes gazed across the dimmed scratches that ran across my wrists.
"Are you happy now?" I said brusquely.
"I just wanted to be certain!" he said as he loosened his grip. Just then Romeos turned around only for the sound of hooves to pick up again. The chariot was leaving!
"Wait for us," Romeos shouted as we both dashed down the alley to catch the driver only for him to speed off.
"Come back!" shouted Romeos as he madly flailed his arms in the air. I trudged behind feeling the wear and tear of my ligaments in my legs. With the chariot a block away, Romeos desperately weaved through the crowds of people assembled near the civic square as our chariot driver did not see us. He sped faster until out of sight. In pure exhaustion, Romeos gave up throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. With his chest still heaving in and out he looked back at me with a look of dismay.
"I am sorry. This is all my fault. I really did need that chariot ride too," I said regretfully. Romeos remained silent with pursed lips.
"I suppose we have to walk home," he said heaving a long sigh.
"I really need to get home and I spoiled our opportunity," I said with my head bowed low.
"Well that is okay. At least for me I have less of a distance to walk back…" he stopped to pause to see the pain written across my face.
"I forgive you Troy. I am not angry at you. I am upset at you but not angry…is that it? Please tell me what is wrong at least," he begged with a weak smile.
"My grandfather is very sick and I am afraid he is not going to make it past the night," I replied in a strained tone.
"Oh, um sorry to hear that. I did not know it was that serious! I told you we could just take the chariot and then we could have dropped you home."
"I know. I feel stupid. Something just took over all logic," I whimpered. "I feel so stupid! Why did I not listen to go back and wait?"
"You are not stupid! You are intelligent and intuitive and sometimes overly serious, but not stupid," he said softly. "Vestus should have waited; it is not becoming to just speed off just because we did not show up exactly on time. That is the last time we pay him for his services," Romeos spat. "You have to get home where you belong so we could either walk or see if a kind stranger will take us back. Does that sound like a plan?" he asked. I nodded my head slowly in agreement.
"I know everything seems dire but maybe there is hope beyond the horizon. Maybe not all is lost," Romeos said reassuringly.
"How do you know?" I asked sullenly with my head hanged low, as I avoided the direct glare of the afternoon sun.
"Because I just know," Romeos responded simply. "Now by the way, I am thinking is your house closer to Via Appia or Octavius?" I paused in hesitation. Via Appia was said to be the road that took you everywhere around the island. The island was too small to get lost in, at least for most people.
"I think Via Appia. It would be better if I had a map," I murmured.
"We do not need maps," Romeos scoffed. "We can just retrace our steps back to the intersection where the public square hosted the executions because the Via Appia runs diagonally from it.
"Whatever you say," I said softly.
"Cheer up Troy. I know you want to be all serious in temperament, but someone has to see the bright side of things." As we turned around to head towards the public square_
"Sleeping potion for sell! Quenches the night terrors," called a man donned in a beige tunic by the roadside." Instinctively I turned to behold a man as he shook the small glass bottle and held it in the air for onlookers who merely turned their noses at him.
"Come on Troy we have to go," Romeos said in a less jovial tone than usual. I ignored him as I took a few steps closer to see what the fuss was about.
"Sleeping potion to cure all ails and worries," the guy sang harmoniously. This sounded too good to be true.
"Do not tell me you bought into that talk," Romeos said rolling his eyes in annoyance.
"Who said I am buying it?" I shot back with a smirk.
"Excuse me sir," I said meekly. His narrow grayish blue eyes widened in amusement at a potential customer, as he was beginning to load his crate into his chariot.
"Do you think he recognizes us?" Romeos whispered.
"I am not certain," I whispered back. "However he has a chariot. Maybe he could give us a ride," I suggested in an undertone.
"I do not know if I trust the fellow. He seems a little weird," Romeos joked.
"Right now I do not care," I said sternly.
"How can I help you young men?" the man asked as he took a step closer, revealing a receded hairline as beads of sweat hung from his forehead.
"We need a ride back to my home on the outskirts of Apathia. It is past the stone tower that marks the town's limit."
"Very well what are the exact coordinates to your residence," he inquired.
"Um…" Just then Romeos yanked my arm to pull me to the side.
"Are you seriously going to tell that man you live in the palace so he can see where you stay?"
"Yes. Why is that so scary? Most people probably know where we reside."
"Well I mean do you want him to know you are the son of Acropolus? What if he wants to take advantage of you? For all we know he could try to inflict harm."
"Are you joking Romeos?" I asked with a crossed expression.
"No. I am being serious now. For once I am being the intuitive one. Besides you want me to be serious, right?"
"And I am being serious that I need to get home unless you want to walk all the way home."
"I could leave you to ride with the strange man by yourself and I can simply walk. Besides he would be going out of his way to drop you off to only come all the way back and drop me off."
"Are you fellows done whispering?" the man asked with a smirk. "I am leaving shop early and will be taking the Via Appia route back home. It sounds like our paths might cross. I could give you men a ride if you need to. I think I know where you are heading to. But before you do, it would be nice if you could buy something."
"Well I do not know you very well although you do seem nice, but I suppose we could walk," I said letting out an uneasy smile.
"Oh okay. I was just teasing that you had to buy something," he chuckled. "Are you certain? It is quite a walk," he added. "You men look too noble to be walking such a distance."
"I have walked a longer distance," Romeos said with a defiant smirk. Just then in the corner of my eyes, I saw one of the attendants walking with the scribe from the civic hall heading in our direction.
"Perhaps we could take that offer," I said swiftly. The man smiled revealing his wrinkles that creased his forehead.
"I hope this is the right thing we are doing," Romeos murmured. "I suppose we cannot afford to be selective at a time like this." Without hesitation we quickly got inside the chariot which was covered by a white tarp. I could barely see through it except dark shadows of men who walked across the street. We both held our breath as the chariot began moving past the obscured shadows of men. "I think you should have this scroll. It looks less incriminating if you possess it," Romeos whispered as he discreetly handed it to me. "Once we leave the vicinity I will have to get dropped off at the corner and head home."
"I do not think that would be wise Romeos. They might have seen you come with me," I said in hushed tones.
"I have clean hands," he said while opening his palms. "Um excuse me sir, I do not think I obtained your name," Romeos blurted.
"Oh the name is Augustus," the man replied without looking back.
"Augustus my friend, if you can let me off at that corner that would be nice." Augustus merely nodded as he steadied the horse to come to a stop.
"I will do my part and ask," Romeos said before hopping off the chariot. "Thanks for the ride Augustus," Romeos said politely before disappearing in the growing throng of the marketplace. I sighed as I refocused my gaze over at the bottle that stuck out the crate on the seat.
"It looks like you are curious about that eh? What would it take to convince you to buy it?" the man said with a wiry grin as he whipped the horses to start moving.
"If it could take away the nightmare that has become my reality," I said wistfully.
"Do you mind if we take a quick detour?" the man replied.
"Um, you are still taking me home right?" I asked worriedly as my voice quivered in the still air…