Chapter 22: All Falls Down
I was home at last; back on earth I had treaded…back where I belonged or so I thought. My heart raced inside, as the palace seemed to be moving further back from the road, as time seemed to stand still for me. I could hear the passing hooves in the distance, as I gingerly walked into the entrance. Inside I was greeted by the stern gazes of the guards, as they admitted me in. The anticipation built, as I slowly walked through the narrow vestibule, filled with beautiful frescoes of the island and its rich history, which I knew little about. As I peeked into the atrium, I looked to behold Apollus sitting on the marble throne erected across the pool of water.
"You finally came back to your senses," he said sharply. The words were sharp like knives, made to cut into my emotions. I ignored him, meeting his icy stare with annoyance, as I looked to the foyer behind the atrium where the staircase descended. There waiting for me was the slave girl, that tended to me, whose eyes watched me intently from the atrium. What did she want? Instantly she ran to embrace me warmly.
"We missed you, Troy. Where did you go?" she said with angst in her voice.
"I stayed with a friend. You do not have to worry about me. I was in good hands," I smiled to her reassuringly, as she was just slowly releasing her grip from her hands that wrapped around my lower back.
"Where is grandfather?" my tone turning brusquer.
"Miletus is in the upper chamber. He has been waiting for you," she said softly as she awkwardly drew her hands to her side. I ran past her, as I quickly made my way up the stairs. What was a mere flight of stairs felt like an eternity, as I managed a feat that I could not do more than a month ago. I felt stronger but only on the outside. As I made my way to the chamber, the servant girl followed me as I entered inside the room…nothing was in it but an empty bed, a small chest, with the rustling wind blowing the shutters of the windows.
"He is in the other room," the girl replied from behind. Flustered, I followed her impatiently as she led me to the correct room. There in the wide frame bed laid a sickly frail old man. I watched as he weakly turned his head around to see me. I was startled at how much he aged as his face resembled a wrinkled prune. I almost could not recognize him, as I reluctantly walked closer to his bedside where the nurses fluffed his pillow.
"Grandfather," I said weakly. "Can you hear me?" I said trying to maintain a stoic face. He merely nodded with a weak smile that dimmed his weathered face, as I placed my hand in his open palm. Just then footsteps entered in. I turned to meet the face of father and Barbarius for the first time since I ran off. Father pretended I did not exist as he walked by grandfather's bedside without saying a word. Barbarius looked my direction but stood off to the side with his arms crossed. I awkwardly let go of grandfather's hand as, I walked towards Barbarius.
"I am back. I heard he was not doing very well," I said in an undertone to Barbarius.
"You heard correct," Barbarius said crisply.
"What has happened since I left?" I inquired. Barbarius merely shrugged his shoulders.
"What do you mean 'this,'?" I said mocking his gesture.
"You should have been here sooner," Barbarius said coolly.
"I know. I wanted to, but_"
"But what?" Barbarius bluntly cut in.
"I was still mad at everyone for keeping the truth from me. I was scared to face everyone again after I stormed out. But I am here now to make things right. That is what matters," I said, with emotion seeping in my voice.
"Well you are here," Barbarius sighed. "I just hate to see a man you know all your life suffer."
"What is the poison doing to his body?" I questioned with a worried expression.
"It is killing him," Barbarius said sharply. "It is a slow but debilitating process. A few days he could stand and now he is confined to the bed. He lost use of his legs. He is digressing Troy. While you gain your strength he loses it," Barbarius said staring out the open window by the bed. I looked down in guilt knowing the truth of those words. "I made an appeasement offering to the gods but I am afraid fate has other plans," Barbarius said in his deep undertone voice.
"He needs to get his strength up at least," I stated.
"He lost his appetite. He refuses to eat," Barbarius replied matter-of-fact. "It is only a matter of time now," he replied with an eerie calmness to his voice.
"This is not fair that grandfather has to suffer like this," I muttered. "Why is Gaius trying to hurt us?" I said in exasperation. "What did our family do that was so bad to his family?" I implored to Barbarius. I looked in his dark brown eyes, searching for the answer to a question that lay burning inside.
"I will tell you what I know in the hallway," Barbarius whispered to me, as Apollus stepped inside the room with his friend Titus who came to pay his final respects. As we walked a few doors away from the bed chamber, Barbarius heaved a heavy sigh.
"It is better if grandfather told you, although I hate to bother him at such an inconvenient time. I hate talking about these things," he grunted. "All I am going to say is this started with Gaius' father." I nodded my head in silence as I tried to piece together this brewing feud in my mind. I wanted to ask more, but something told me to hold off on the questions. We both walked in quietly into the room.
"I wish you men all the best," Titus responded in a rather meek tone as his eyes rose to see Barbarius and I enter in again.
"Thanks for your well wishes," Barbarius responded in a muffled tone.
"Where is your wife…uh I mean fiancé?" Apollus asked with a chuckle.
"She is here somewhere," he said shrugging his shoulders. "Any who I came to show my support like any good friend would."
"You have been a good friend to Barbarius and me," Apollus said laying a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks for coming," Apollus said with a smile.
"Excuse me, can we have a word with your friend?" a voice from the doorway called. It was a guard clad in military armament along with the Messenger.
"Who me?" Titus responded dumbfounded. The guard shook his head yes. Father turned around with his arms crossed as Titus walked out with a look of bewilderment.
"What is going on?" Apollus exclaimed. "He is not in trouble is he?" Apollus shot at the guard.
"He is not in trouble. We just would like to ask him a few questions. That is all."
"About what?" Apollus said shrugging his shoulder.
"Let the guard and the Messenger do their job Apollus," father answered from behind in a calm yet cold tone.
"I thought I was the future king. They should answer to me," Apollus said irritably as the three men disappeared down the hall.
"You are not yet king. When you are king then you can make the call," father whispered in his ear in a harsh tone. Apollus made a scowl at father, something I rarely seen him do. He had always tried to play favorites as I liked to call it; always siding with father. But for the first time I could see that Apollus was not in agreement. I watched as a suppressed smirk briefly escaped Barbarius lips as father had put Apollus in his place.
"I am still king in this dominion and I am not letting anyone challenge that. Apollus you need to know your limits and Troy…" he said pointing a finger in my face. "You are playing on dangerous waters. You want to go behind my back and eat with traitors. You are not leaving out of this vicinity unless you are given my explicit consent. Troy Acertius do you understand?" he spoke in a quiet yet threatening tone. Here he stood only a few inches away from my face. I could clearly see the veins protruding from his forehead as his face reddened; something I had not witnessed or could not remember witnessing before.
"Yes," I swallowed.
"Good!" he hissed. "You are a bad influence on him Barbarius," father muttered as he stormed out the room. Barbarius clenched his jaws at the mention of his name. I held my breath as the air suddenly tightened around me. We all glanced to the other, not knowing what to say or what to do. Then Apollus took the floor.
"All this stress of Troy running away is making father stressed. And to make it worse you stayed over Romeos' house knowing his father's shoddy reputation."
"Well before this all happened, he had a very high approval rating. You always think the worst in people but you never see the good. And besides I am not the only one causing father vexation."
"I really do not think attacking Troy is going to solve anything," Barbarius muttered.
"And who are you to talk about attacking anyone. Like father said he probably got his rogue behavior from you!"
"I did not encourage him to run off. Troy is a grown man and he is old enough to make his own decisions for better or worse," Barbarius snarled. "Do not put this on me," Barbarius said stepping closer to Apollus' face. "Understand," he breathed in his face.
"I am just stating what I observe. What are you going to do, hit me? Kill me? I would love to see you try so I could have you locked up in the hole!"
"No. You are not even worth it," he snarled through his teeth.
"Seriously I hate to be the mediator in this but Apollus, enough trying to provoke Barbarius. You know what happened last time, and you still play with fire? Barbarius thanks for standing up for me but I can take it from here," I said at last.
Then in a moment to ease the tension, one of the servants meekly approached us that grandfather wanted us to come by his bedside. All three of us brothers meekly walked to his bedside with eyes yearning for approval from the only figure that showed us what affection was. As we saw the tears that filled his eyes, it melted whatever we thought was worth fighting for.
"Come here my grandsons," he said in a more raspy tone as we huddled in closer.
"I want you to know that I am proud of you; all of you. Your father is stressed right now. He has many burdens to carry. Soon though Barbarius_"
"You mean me?" Apollus questioned with a hint of worry in his voice.
"Oh I am sorry; you have to carry the burdens just like I once carried the burden of many men on my back."
"That explains why he is harsher than usual," Apollus replied smartly. Grandfather weakly nodded.
"Why is father so…rigid and cold," I said tasting the words that already slipped out my mouth. I felt free; I said what I felt and I meant it! "You are the opposite of father," I exclaimed to grandfather. The old man let out a weak smile before straightening his head on the pillow.
"You mean how I am more warm and affectionate than he is? That is something I had to learn. I was not always like this. I remember my father came from the military and I hated how rigid he was, and I promised I never would be so serious. However when I had your father, he was my only son. My wife had numerous miscarriages until she finally died from childbirth. I had high expectations for your father and wanted him to be the best at everything and to show no weakness," he sighed. "I suppose we default to what we know at times. It was not until after Barbarius was born that I really decided to become the father I never was and always wanted to be." His words struck a chord inside. Finally everything was slowly making sense.
"I have made many mistakes some I have told and others I kept to myself. But before I leave this earth I want to lay bare my sins so hades does not consume me in anger. You deserve to know the truth," he said with his hazel eyes glaring into mines. "I suppose it is fate finally catching up to me."
"What are you talking about; you do not deserve this," I exclaimed passionately.
"I do," he said with sorry eyes. "It all stemmed to one fateful night with Gaius' father. The animosity goes back many years ago. His father was a fellow peer to me. We were both young generals. We were sent on a mission to the island of Crete for diplomatic purposes. However stormy seas blew us off track and we got shipwrecked on a strange island. We both were young adventurous men so we decided to explore the island. We found some of the greatest treasures that a man can find. We promised we would share the wealth. Then we discovered we were not the only ones on the island. There were seafaring natives who were Greeks who intermarried with Roman travelers. That is where I also find my future wife.
Any who there was no real governor or any formal government presiding so I saw it as a chance to start over from the military, make a name for myself and take charge. Gaius' father whose name was Denius had a different direction for the island, so that became a source for contention. I wanted power; and I saw the island as my domain. It was this drive for power that led me to suspicions that he was trying to take all the power or take all the gold and go back to Rome and live off it. We thought we could co-rule together but it became almost a competition of who was more competent or who would make the final decisions. Finally one night, while he was asleep…I ki…" grandfather broke into sobs as the tears rolled down his cheeks. My heart almost skipped a beat as I could not fathom the man in the bed was a murderer. I watched as Apollus bowed his head low.
"I am not proud of it. And that is why I warned you men not to be consumed by power that it blinds you. Please promise me you will not let it consume you…not just you Apollus but all of you," he said in a stronger tone.
"We promise," we mumbled simultaneously.
"Promise me again you will learn to treat each other as comrades, as civic partners, as brothers," he said with tears streaming profusely.
After dinner, which was rather somber and dreary, all of us made it back to grandfather's chamber. Before he left the earth he said he promised he would give us his blessing. As the priest stood by Barbarius, Apollus and I along with father stood by grandfather, as he squeezed each of our hands tightly.
"To Apollus, may you hold your title with honor and except the kingship," grandfather said weakly. The servant girl handed the wreath intertwined with olive leaves, as it was placed on Apollus' head.
"To you Barbarius, may you be his successor in case anything happen. Please be the right hand man for your brother."
"I do not know," Barbarius said softly. Father paused in shock at what he was hearing. "I wanted the kingship but I know I erred…badly," Barbarius sighed. "I will do my best, just for you," Barbarius said in his shaky voice.
"To you Troy, I am already looking at the mediator and third in succession. I love you all." Father stepped by his father's bedside as he squeezed his hands tightly, as he tried to compose himself. "You still have dreams?" grandfather rambled as his head bobbed back in forth.
"Yes," I said sniffling.
"Good. They are the key…"
"Key to what?" I said, trying to hold in the tears.
"Insi…" he said, as his crumpled hands folded to his heart.
"My heart," I said in an undertone. I watched desperately as he slowly closed his eyes. His lips folded in an eerie smile that sent chills, as I saw the color slowly drain from his face.
"No…please tell me."
"I love…" he croaked; his lips quivered in the still air until he gave up fighting for air. As I softly shook him to awake, a cold hand was placed on my shoulder.
"He is gone Troy. There is no need to wake him," father said softly as he bowed his head low.
"Tell me I am dreaming. Tell me this is not real. Tell me he will wake up," I cried out angrily.
"We cannot tell you that," Apollus said sadly.
"I am going to my room," I said at last, as I ran to my room downstairs, and crashed into my bed and buried my head in the pillows so I could finally wake up….
Everything in the room was in a blur. As I blinked my eyes again I saw across my bedside a mahogany chest, as my eyes whizzed past the writing desk covered in scrolls and ink quills and styluses. I studied my surroundings, feeling for what seemed ordinary that reminded me this was reality. As I slowly walked towards grandfather's bed chamber in the upper level of the palace, I carefully opened the door…grandfather was gone! The empty bed lay by the windowsill as the warm sun shone through the opened shutters.
"Where did they move grandfather?" I murmured. As I quickly made my way downstairs I went past the colonnaded gardens; taking in a whiff of rosemary herbs and sage as I promenaded the tile walkway. Then across the room I saw Priscilla coming in from the other side of the garden. What was she doing here? Titus should have been released by the authorities by now. As I stood frozen in my spot by the nymph statue, she spotted me across the room as she slowly approached me.
"Troy," she called.
"Priscilla, what are you doing here?"
"I came to pay my condolences to your family after the funeral," she replied softly.
"What are you talking about? He is resting although I am afraid he passed away last night."
"Well they already had the funeral," she replied with a raised eyebrow. "I am surprised you missed your grandfather's funeral," she asked with worry in her voice. "That is why I came here," she said softly. "I assumed I could find you here. I am worried about you." A deep wave of guilt rippled through me. I had slept my life away!
"Yes everyone is worried about me," I muttered. "Where is Titus?" I questioned, trying to shift the focus on me.
"He is fine. He left the funeral early to talk to your father before departing home."
"Why did you not go with him?" I questioned coolly.
"We had a fight. I do not want to go into it other than that for the first time in my life, I feel I am making the biggest mistake of my life," she said with deep sadness in her clear blue eyes.
"Well I thought he was who you wanted. I thought you were 'happy' with the upcoming wedding and the well-wishes," I replied.
"I thought so too and then I realized that I was living a lie. I am not happy; everything was just for pretend. I do not even love him," she said regretfully.
"I am sorry to hear that," I said pursing my lips. "Hopefully you find who you are looking for. In the meantime you still have time to figure these things out."
"I already have," she said staring right at me. I looked at her as my eyes widened at her response as she took a few steps closer to me.
"You have?" I questioned. "So who did you decide?" Without warning she placed her hand on my chest, as her delicate hands felt my heart beating fast. She quickly leaned in and pressed her soft lips against mines. This was wrong but it felt so right! My lips were pulled in as I kissed back tenderly. As I closed my eyes to enjoy the moment I opened them only to find myself staring right at Titus as he walked in with anger and hurt in his eyes. I immediately pulled my lips from hers, as I felt my heart skip a beat.
"So this is why you did not make it to the funeral," he snarled as we quickly let go of each other, with Priscilla looking down in humiliation. "First your father's aid has me interrogated like I am a criminal and now you steal my bride to be!" he yelled with his nostrils flared.
"I am sorry, I did not initiate this," I pleaded.
"It was my fault. Do not do anything stupid," Priscilla said in a vexed tone.
"You are the stupid one you harlot!" he screamed. Wham! He slapped her cold across the face with her delicate hands cupping her face.
"You should not treat her like trash!" I snapped. "That is why she left you!" I hissed.
"You are not in a position to tell me what to do!" he hollered as he scrambled around his loins. I saw in the corner of my eye as he reached for his dagger.
"Stop!" she screamed with tears in her eyes, as I backed away in horror.
"I knew you were not over her. I should have trusted my gut. There is going to be another funeral today," he snarled. As I scrambled to grab my sword around my loin belt he quickly lunged towards my heart…
I awoke back in my bed, covered in sweat. I studied the room, checking to make certain everything was in "order." What was order? It looked exactly like the dream from before! I scrambled around my bedside looking for the knife…
"Troy!" the slave girl screamed as she saw a pool of blood on my bed with blood splatters on the floor. "Oh my god," she gasped as she saw me shaking profusely as I dropped the knife in my hands.
"You need help!" she wailed with tears filling up her golden eyes. "I am going to grab some cloth. I am coming back. Please hold on for me," she whimpered. In a short while she was back with bundles of cloth rolled up in a wooden spindle.
"How did this happen?" she cried out. I weakly shrugged my shoulder, as I pulled out my left arm in front of me as the blood oozed out the cuts that covered my lowered arm.
"Troy, did you cut yourself?" she implored as she vigorously grabbed my left hand to examine my arm before quickly unrolling the cloth to wrap around my wound. Her hands were coated in my blood as she grabbed my arm before I tipped over.
"Sit on the side of the bed while I do this," I weakly nodded yes as she escorted me to my bed a few steps away.
"Troy, listen to me. Everything will be alright," she whimpered as she dabbed my opened gashes cloth coated with oils and honey with that soaked up the blood like a sponge.
"I want to wake up," I muttered softly.
"What are you talking about?" she asked in exasperation. "Why would you try to hurt yourself?"
"I wanted to…" I paused. A flood of guilt, sadness, shame, filled the numbness from inside. "I wanted to feel something. I wanted to wake up from this bad dream," I said trying to stifle the emotion in my voice. The slave girl shook her head in disbelief as she continued to tighten the bandages.
"Is grandfather gone?" I asked sheepishly. The slave girl sadly shook her head yes as a tear rolled down her cheek. Another wave of emotion hit me as the guilt took over.
"It felt so real…the dream. I thought that I had missed grandfather's funeral. I never thought I could sleep my life away. How could I forget about the one person who has shown unconditional love and support," I said shaking my head.
"It was just a dream. The funeral has not taken place yet," she said soothingly.
"I still feel horrible and these unresolved feelings are not making it better…"
"What unresolved feelings," the slave girl asked as she sat right next to me on the bed.
"I do not know why I am telling you this but…I had a dream that I had missed grandfather's funeral and Priscilla had just came back from it to visit me," I sighed.
"Oh…so what happened next," she inquired.
"Well Priscilla had a fight with Titus and she was a bit distraught. I tried to tell her it was alright if things were not well between them and she said 'I already found what I am looking for' and she kissed me just out of impulse. Then Titus walked in and tried to stab me," I said at last.
"Did you like the kiss?" she asked. I paused in hesitation at such a question. Of all the questions she could have asked she had to ask that! The question seemed to jab me from nowhere as I faltered to answer.
"Yes, I suppose. Part of me knew it was wrong but part of me liked it and wanted it to continue," I said letting out a weak smile before cringing at the stinging pain that raced up my right arm, as she finished up tightening the oiled cloths.
"I suppose that girl has a spell on you," she said rolling her eyes. I weakly sighed as I clenched my teeth in pain. "But I am really worried about you Troy. I know you must be feeling so many different emotions right now; I cannot possibly understand. But I do know one thing and that is you can make it through this difficult time. Just find those who are there for you that will help you get through this. This is overwhelming even for me. I helped you when you were recovering from the horse accident and now this. I do not know how much I can see you suffer like this. I suppose I need to get the nurse in to have a look at you," she said sadly as she got up to leave from my side. Out of impulse I grabbed her wrist, forcing her to stop in her tracks. She looked at me with a look of confusion and pity as she stared into my glossy brown eyes.
"I need to tell the nurses that you are hurt. I only told Odydus that I needed bandages from him. I do not think you need my services for the moment," she said as she subtly tried to pry her hand free from my tight grip.
"I need you," I said softly.
"Um you do…I do not know what to say. Why me…I am a mere slave; without a name," she said placing one of her hands to her chest.
"It does not matter. You were always there for me from the moment I awoke to this strange world. I need you now more than ever. I just wish I could have known the name behind my caregiver," I asked looking in her beaming eyes.
"I thought you would never ask," she asked with a smirk as I slowly released her wrist.
"My name is Cor_"
"What is going on in here?" Apollus barged in…