Chapter 24: Lockdown!
It is time to say goodbye to the old era and welcome the start of a new one! It is time…"
Those words spoken by father would echo through me in the coming days. I could feel it inside that something was different behind the massive walls and columns that his presence was missing. I would visit his old room less and less, as I would finger through his old garments, his old belongings…any piece of grandfather that reminded me of him. One day as I walked inside his room, I peered inside one of his wooden trunks that lay by the foot of his former couch bed. There was a picture of grandfather painted not too long before he died. I could see the smile creeping through his composed face with a small white beard covering his lower chin. In that moment the memories of grandfather came rushing back from the time his hazel eyes watched above, as I awoke from my deep sleep. As I was spared from death, I watched him from above as he took his final rest… It was too much! I dropped the wooden plaque with his painted portrait back in the trunk as I wiped the salty tears that dripped down by cheeks.
"Troy. I thought I would find you hereee…" Apollus voice seemed to trail as he seen me wiping my tears away.
"I just want you to know that you are not alone…" I abruptly hugged him midsentence as he hugged back tightly.
"Thanks," I sniffled, as I tried to collect myself again. "I just wish I was always in control," I whimpered. Apollus face quivered as he tried to hold his composure.
"I know I have to be strong for you," he said as sorrow poured in his voice. I have to be perfect now," he moaned as tears streamed down his eyes. "But I can still feel pain…" as he choked on his words as the grief took over. There we were, both powerful men of the island, yet so vulnerable. I patted him on the back as we embraced for what felt like forever. Finally, he pulled away slowly to rub his watery eyes. As he slowly exhaled, he looked at me before his hazel eyes stared around grandfather's room.
"There are so many memories here that I just wish you could remember… I am sorry I should have not rubbed salt to injury," Apollus replied apologetically, as he looked at my saddened face.
"You did not mean to make me feel bad. I just wish that I could recall more about him. I just have a couple months' worth of memories while you and Barbarius can recall since early childhood."
"I am certain though, that those few months were packed with precious memories that will not leave you," Apollus said, as he rubbed his tear stained cheeks.
"How do I know I will not forget again? I just wish there was a way that I can somehow gain what I lost," I sighed deeply.
"They are not truly gone Troy. They are there inside you. I think grandfather was trying to tell you that only you can unlock the memories. I suppose that is what he meant by the 'key,' before he died," Apollus spoke softly.
"Are you saying the 'key' is supposed to be me?"
"I wish I could tell you for certain. He did not say but I suppose that would make sense after all. What I do know is that grandfather had much to impart, and that is why I think you deserve to have his journal." Apollus watched my bedazzled expression, as he slowly pulled the dusty codex from his sash that lay draped over his shoulder. I reached out to hold on to the leather bound cover, holding it tightly in my hands, so as to never let go.
"He was used to writing in scrolls but codices look like it might win appeal over the masses. I suppose times are changing," Apollus said with a warm grin that crept over his face. After I thanked Apollus I carried the codex to my room where I placed it in a small crate; hidden along with the record of Romeos' father. As I peeked inside the record, the door slowly swung open. I immediately dropped the scroll back in the crate as I stuffed the codex on top.
"What are you doing Troy?" father questioned with raised eyebrows.
"I am just putting away old scrolls away," I replied hastily. Father silently nodded.
"You seem to have quite a few. Anyhow it is unfortunate news that I received that they are missing a record or two in the civic hall's record department," father said coolly. "Do you know what I am referring to?" he questioned.
"I believe so," I replied coolly.
"Well then I believe you realize how important it is that those records be kept in their proper place and that tampering with records without authorized permission is a crime," he stated in an eerily calm voice. "I am not going to interrogate you…yet, but if you know about their whereabouts you need to let me know. In the meanwhile you are on lockdown!" he said sternly. I merely nodded as he turned his back to me and walked out my room. My heart was beating out my chest as I realized I still did not turn in the record and father's suspicions were growing. For him to approach me about some records told me he knew I was there. The old record keeper must have made mention of me! And now father was one step closer to finding it. As I watched his calm yet stern eyes, I knew he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted! -
I no longer felt like a free man, able to go and do as I please. I was still allowed to venture throughout our palace residence but not without the watchful gazes of the slaves or freed servants. Although most looked innocent and tried to mind their business doings their chores and inspections, I could never be certain if father was using them as his eyes around the palace. The punishment was not as cruel as I feared since I did not travel much anyways outside the residence, especially since grandfather's death left everyone sullen and withdrawn. Father would sometimes lock himself inside his room when he did not want to be bothered, which was becoming commonplace. Barbarius had taken up residence back at the villa, as his coping mechanism, to get away from the chaos, the noise…the pain. I too had tried to use this time to reflect on grandfather's old journal, his success and his downfalls all put together in words poetically expressed. I could hear his voice inside my head as I read through segments of his journal, trying to piece together who really was Miletus.
Meanwhile, I needed to get the record back where it belonged! Who could I give it to in order to send it back? As much as Apollus was trying to be sympathetic towards me, his loyalty still lay with father. Perhaps I could disguise it and give it to Odydus, but he might ask too many questions, and deep down inside he had to answer to father as the house steward. Perhaps I could give it to someone father would easily overlook. One day as I was coming back to my room from taking a cool dip in our cold private baths on the left wing of the house I went straight for my crate to finish up reading grandfather's journal. As I gingerly looked under my bed, the crate was gone! Who took it? I angrily scoured on top of my desk that was covered in old wax tablets I used for my tutoring sessions.
"Who took it?" I muttered angrily, as I pushed the wax tablets off my desk only for it to shatter in many pieces.
"Troy? What are you doing?" I looked around to hear the soft voice from behind. It was Cornelia. I slowly turned around, as I watched her cower in fear by the doorway.
"I need to know who took the crate," I said trying to lower my tone, as I did not want to scare her anymore. "I am sorry about the mess, but someone took the crate underneath my bed. Who took it?" I inquired, although I was afraid I already knew the answer.
"I am so sorry. I saw it under your bed when I was cleaning. I was ordered to clean your room like I have always done and I was told to put things in their proper place. I put it in the office," she sighed.
"Did you take anything out?" I questioned.
"No. Why? Was there anything private that did not need to be disclosed?"
"Somewhat. I will explain things later," I said briskly. Without further explanation I darted to the office; hoping I could take it back before father beat me there. Just before I made it through the doorway…wham! I collided into another slave who was carrying a crate. The poor young lad could barely hold on, as the crate of scrolls and old relics tumbled out the flipped crate. Everything happened so quickly as he desperately scrambled to grab the contents of the crate as he stooped to grab the unraveling scrolls down the marble hallway.
"I am so sorry," I muttered. Out of guilt, I scooped down beside him to pick up the mess I had created.
"I insist I help," I muttered as I carefully looked through the scrolls before I placed them back in the crate. I still could not see the records. This must not be the crate!
"Thanks," the lad mumbled as he awkwardly fingered through his thick wavy mass of hair.
"It was the least I could do," I sighed as I assured him that he did nothing wrong. As I turned around to face the office doorway, father was standing with his arms crossed. He had beaten me to the office!
"What just happened here?" he questioned looking at the timid slave. "You shall be more careful when carrying important goods, is that understood?" father scolded.
"Yes my lord," the slave croaked.
"Good. After you put that crate in the office you can report back to Odydus. You can stay in your room because your meal will be given to someone else." The slave merely bowed his head as he dropped the crate onto one of the desks before departing.
"So Troy, I give you permission now to punish the slaves if they misbehave or make mistakes. The slaves need to fear you not be your friends," he said sternly.
"I know. You are right," I said softly.
"I just wish I could have taken a more active role in your development especially after your 'accident.' One of my deepest regrets is not being able to help mold you into the man you were to become. You are changing Troy; to someone I do not know very well. I feel as if I do not even know my own son anymore. I feel like you have something to hide and I wish that you could be honest with me," he sighed in frustration.
"I am sorry father. For everything," I said as I averted his steady gaze.
"Is this about the scrolls you were trying to hide?" father asked staring at me with his sharp brown eyes. His brows furrowed as he tried to study my uneasiness; detecting for the lie.
"Yes. I have nothing to hide anymore. You want the truth, I have the scrolls father; the ones for Diodecios. I took it." A huge weight lifted off my chest as I no longer had to keep hiding.
"What did you think you would gain from taking his record? You do not have the rights to it. So, you took it so you could prove Diodecios' innocence? Who coaxed you into this? Was this Romeos?" he said with a hint of anger slowly rising in his low tone.
"It was my idea. Please do not blame him," I said with a vexed tone.
"You just solidified my decision. You are never allowed to speak to him! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes. But that is not fair."
"I do not care what you consider fair. I knew you were hiding something; I was just waiting for to confess it before I threw you into custody," he snapped. I shook my head in disbelief.
"Please. I am your son and I am scared to death…"
"Of what?" father asked in a cynical tone.
"I am scared of everything. I am scared of you. I am scared of what others think. I am scared of what I would do to myself," I said as my eyes watered at the time in my life I felt so low that it did not matter if I died. "I want to make things right so bad. I thought that I would tell you the truth instead of going behind your back. So I am sorry, I am sorry for my wrongs. I already feel punished enough. Please just hear me out," I begged. Father stood there; arms crossed against his chest with pursed lips. Just then a nobleman with a long flowing toga promenaded to father's side to utter something in an undertone to him.
"I have to head back for some business at the basilica for some duties," he replied stiffly. "I still have to fulfill my duties as king; my days of mourning are over. There is retribution to be delivered," he said in undertone as he adjusted the sleeves of his toga.
'Are the executions today?" I asked sheepishly.
"Not until tomorrow at noon. It was held off due to the death of your grandfather and the period of mourning," he muttered.
"Who is up for execution?" I asked softly.
"I suppose Herodius," father said nonchalantly.
"But even you know Gaius was behind it all."
"I do not have time for you to question me," he said sharply. "He may not have tried to kill you but Gaius has tried to use him as an accomplice and if you happened to check his record he was behind the market uprising last year. Every piece that works for Gaius will be removed one…by…one,' he said flicking his fingers. "And Troy your grace period from your recovery and you being my son is about to run out. My weakness is my own flesh and blood, but if you are not with me you are against me. It is about time for the public address. It needs to be given and for this one exception I want you to come today!"
Howls of men filled the air as the sound of leather whips cut through the air and into the backs of men. Over and over I could hear the groans and bitter cursing of men as they slumbered in their darkened cells, rattling their cell bars or sprawled against the hard limestone floors. The stench of death hung in the air as the Executioner walked along with the guard and his vicious dogs as he would peer down at his list before scouring the plaque above the set of bars. Every footstep echoed through the hall, as the prisoners anxiously gazed through the metal bars, praying it was not their turn to be 'deleod'. As he reached the end of the hallway, the executioner checked his list one more time before rechecking the plaque.
"Prisoner in cell XIV has been selected," he said in a deep tone with a smile that swept his vicious lips. The executioner slowly turned the bone shaped key as the prisoner shrank in the corner of his cell. His ribcage nearly poked out his tawny skin as he braced his bare chest for the teeth of the dogs that tore into him. As the prisoner tried to fight off the dogs that bit into his flesh, one of the dogs secured his teeth on his lower thigh as the guard twisted his arms and removed the chains off his ankles only to cup him with new ones around his neck. As he was dragged out the cell, yelling and whimpering, the gruesome cries sent chills down my spine as he was dragged; defeated into submission to his fate…
"Troy the speech is about to begin. You look a little pale," Apollus said as he patted me on the shoulder as we stood in the public square of Cyrene by the sundial. A large crowd had gathered as father was getting ready to give a speech. I stood in midst of Apollus and some of his young companions as they joked about the dreaded "hole."
"I am fine," I lied.
"Are you certain," Apollus asked with a worried tone. "You know they were only joking," Apollus exclaimed.
"Yes. I am fine. I just have a vivid imagination," I muttered. The casual talk of the torture churned my stomach and had sent vivid word pictures that haunted me.
"Did you take that sleep medicine? I told you not to skip your doses," Apollus lectured.
"Yes I have been taking it," I said growing slightly annoyed of his probing. Yet deep down inside it made me feel good inside he was looking out for my well-being. The low murmurs of the crowd quickly subsided as father took his position at the steps of the base of his own marble statue that loomed high above for the fowls to perch.
"It is time for a new era. After suffering the loss of a great noble man, my father, I have come to realize that life and death hangs in the balance for us all. This is one of the last few monarchies of the Roman conquered world and we have yet to fight to hold on to what we treasure the most. Our unity and our resilience are our strengths that have helped us overcome adversities. However there is some amongst us that threaten the peace and prosperity of this great sovereign island. There are those amongst who do not look for the good of the republic and who threaten to tear down everything this island has worked to build. My father in his power tried his best to establish order and unity to the island nation. However his life has been cut short by the enemies underneath the rug. Before I pass on the kingship to Apollus my son," father proclaimed as he gestured over to Apollus. "There is unfinished business that needs to be taken care of. There are enemies amongst us, and until they are removed there will be no peace in this domain," father proclaimed; his words crisp and chilling. "It is time for cleansing. It is time for greater self-sufficiency within this island, as our resources have been firmly established. It is a time for prosperity. The time has begun for changes to be made!"
The crowd of hundreds pressed together erupted into applause as I looked at the nobles and the local shopkeepers clap in agreement. I clapped too; out of impulse as others stared around to see who would stop clapping first. I watched Barbarius dark eyes rove about as he clapped, before looking to his right where I stood. In that tense moment, our eyes met again in the crowd; those hauntingly beautiful blue eyes that captivated me when I first saw her. I saw Priscilla from afar as she too noticed my gaze and watched me as I stood on the circular steps that descended from the base of the grand statue. Although I swore I would never fall for her again, we kept crossing paths more often. Was it fate that was telling me something in that still somber air?
I tried to focus back on father's speech as he stood only a few yards away, prominently in front for all to see. I ought to be careful being distracted I warned myself, others are noticing. As father finished his speech, he gestured for Apollus to step forward, the crowd's eyes lay fixed on the young groomed future ruler, as he took his place in front of the people who he would one day rule. As the public address came to a close, the crowd lingered in the public square; yet it was eerily quiet except for a few whispers in the still air. As father waved off the crowd to dissemble I could not help noticing Priscilla's watchful gaze on me as she slowly made her way in the opposite direction; alone.
"What happened to Titus? Is he still being interrogated?" I whispered to Apollus as we made our way past the cluster of guards.
"Well they questioned him over Maximus, which I am not sure why since they are not friends," Apollus shrugged. "Any who they were looking for anyone connected to Maximus like his wife Athena, who did stay at their home I was told," Apollus said in hushed tones. "I suppose someone gave them a tip to check with Priscilla and Titus. I am assuming they got all the answers they needed out of him by now," he said briskly. I bit my lip as I slowly glanced over at Priscilla's direction. Did she know I was the one?
"Does she know who told the authorities?" I asked cautiously.
"I do not know Troy. You certainly are more inquisitive than usual," he whispered sharply. "Why would it matter to you anyways?" he said shrugging his shoulders.
"Everything," I sighed. I watched Apollus lips quiver into a frown.
"Troy is there something you are not telling me?" Apollus questioned.
"I told the Investigator where Athena was hiding. He kept probing for answers from me and the only way for him to be satisfied was by telling him to go ask Athena's friend Priscilla. I was not even thinking about it; I was just irritated," I sighed running my right hand through my thick curls.
"You did the right thing Troy. If she is a true friend she will understand why you took the action you did," Apollus uttered in a low undertone.
"I really hope you are right," as I gazed at the crowd of common men, as they dispersed back to the nearby noisy vendors of the marketplace.
"I need to report back to the basilica for the tribunal, but you can ride back home with one of the chariots being hitched at the horse stalls," Apollus pointed.
"I will meet you later," I said wistfully as I slowly turned around to find Priscilla hidden amongst the crowd. As I walked past Marcelius and the other high ranking officials of father, I would greet them silently with a polite smile to ease the tense air only for the smile to fade once out of their presence. I needed to speak to Priscilla to clear the awkward air between us. I had to make things right. There was no other way! I stepped out across the cobblestone pathway as I scanned for familiar faces along the booths…
"Watch out!" yelled an oncoming driver as the chariot rattled past merely inches from my left foot. I nearly stumbled back as I clutched my chest…that was close! The driver took another gaze back at me with a bedazzled expression before coming to an abrupt stop up ahead. With my heart still pumping vigorously I looked both sides before I dashed across the busy passage. Then I heard a familiar voice from behind.
"Are you well Troy?" Julius asked worriedly running to my side.
"I am well. It was a close call," I said trying to catch my breath.
"I almost thought he hit you," Julius said with an anxious expression; so different from his calm and collected demeanor. "I am so glad you are alright," he said patting me on the shoulder.
"Thanks for your concern, but I have to be going," I sighed.
"Wait I have to ask if you ever returned the record," he inquired. I slowly averted my eyes downward in shame.
"You lost it?"
"What is worse than losing it?" he said nervously.
"My father has gained hold of it from me before I was able to gain access…" my voice trailed as I realized the driver of the chariot was approaching.
"I am so sorry my Excellency. Please forgive me I did not know it was you," the man spoke with a strong Greek accent.
"I was also in the wrong. I did not look up to see you coming," I sighed at the man.
"I still feel bad, but it looks you did not sustain any injuries," he said as his light brown eyes inspected me from head to toe.
"May you go in peace," I smiled weakly at the man after he bowed slightly to me. Once he left I gestured for Julius to meet me in the alley between two stone buildings that marked the edge of the market. Without questioning Julius quickly followed me past a family to the narrow, yet dimmed passage.
"I hate having to hide but I suppose we have no choice," Julius muttered.
"Listen carefully. We cannot be seen in public. It is too dangerous. I need to know if I can trust you," I said at last.
"Certainly," he said nodding his head. "I was thinking to ask you the same question. Romeos would like to…I mean we would like know how you are doing since the funeral," Julius sighed.
"I am doing better. It has been a hard week," I said softly.
"I can only imagine. I suppose your worries are too big for our petty concerns," he said wistfully. "I suppose the plan is over," he said looking up at the sky.
"It is not over," I said staring at him.
"Troy, we tried to ask the councilmen, one of them agreed but ultimately the king has the final say to approve the request to be "cleared." The only way I can live normally is to start over," he said.
"What do you mean by 'starting over?" I asked with a hint of apprehension.
"I do not know…changing my name I suppose, obtaining a new record, but it comes at a cost," he sighed. "I hate the fact that things are not fair in this domain, but I suppose I should not complain or otherwise someone will tell on me," he hissed. "I am sorry I should not have ranted like this. Please do not tell anyone I mentioned all this," he implored.
"I am not going to tell on you. I agree with you it is not fair. I do not understand why my father is refusing to give your father a chance or even to speak to you and Romeos. I try so hard to abide by the rules and it still does not work," I muttered angrily.
"I am scared Troy that one day some armored men are going to come and take my father away and there is nothing I can do about it," he said as he swallowed the pain that welled in his throat. "Maybe I should just ahead and go to the civic hall and start over."
"You do not have to do that!" I exclaimed.
"What other choice do I have?" he said exasperatedly. "I do not want to disown my family any more than you do," he sighed in defeat. Just then I heard the low muffled voices of some of the guards stationed around the shops we were by.
"I think I should leave," Julius said staring at me with his dark brows furrowed in worried. "Here is a letter I got from Priscilla," he said as he quickly scrunched the parchment in my hand.
"Oh. Thanks. I will correspond through letters to you as well," I whispered. Julius nodded as he scampered off to the opposite end of the narrow alley.
I cautiously peeked out the alley_
"Troy there you are," a guardsmen said as he dropped his firm hands on my shoulders. I looked up at his stern oval face, as I sighed in relief Julius was not caught.
"The chariot is waiting to take you back home," he said briskly. I nodded politely as he and another broad shouldered guard escorted me to the chariot. As the reins were hitched to the horse we were set for departure. Once at home I made my way to the confines of my room to open up the parchment. Curiosity won over apprehension, as I finally unraveled the rolled up parchment…
I know we have not spoken in a while. I am so sorry for not sending my condolence to your family. I wanted to speak to you face to face, but somehow it was not meant to be. This letter will suffice for now as it will hopefully go where I cannot go. I am so sorry for your recent loss. My family and I are truly grieved over the loss of your grandfather. I wish you all the best in these difficult times. As for me there is so much I would like to tell you but I know you have your own concerns pressed on you. If you are reading this I want you to know that I still care about your well-being. I hope there are no ill feelings even in this tense time. I know it has been a bit distant between us for obvious reasons. It seems harder to trust others these days but I hope you can still trust me…"
"Greetings Troy," came the soft yet nervous voice from the doorway. "I believe I have something for you…"