Chapter 25: Two Edged Heart
I turned to face the young maiden, as she gingerly approached me.
"I believe you were looking for this," Cornelia said with a sweeping smile, as she placed the leather-bound codex on my desk where I sat.
"Thanks," I smiled back. "You did not have to do this," I said as I opened the cover.
"I wanted to. I wanted to make things right between us," she said softly. I dropped the book on the wooden desk, as I stared at her with a befuddled grin.
"It is okay Cornelia," I said. "You did no wrong; you did what you were supposed to do."
"I am not so convinced. I gave away your crate without your permission. And before then I tried to cheer you up when all you wanted was to be left alone. This is my way of apologizing," she sighed, as her shoulders shrank.
"Well, I accept your apology if that makes you feel better," I said with a weak smile. As I began to roll up the letter to read at another time_
"Who is that from?" Cornelia asked teasingly as her eyes scanned over my shoulder.
"It is a letter I got from a very good friend," I smiled. "You do not have to worry about it," I said reassuringly as I pushed the letter aside.
"Oh, from Romeos," she replied matter-of-fact.
"Um, not exactly," I sighed while scratching my hair. I watched as she bit her lower lip, as she looked away. "You seem a bit troubled," I inquired sheepishly.
"Um nothing, I just remembered I have to help Ophelia with the laundry. I must not keep her waiting," she replied swiftly. "It looks like you already got something special," she replied pushing her loose curls behind her ear. As she walked out the door, I could tell she was uncomfortable. It had dawned on me that she must have known who the letter was from. For a while I thought we were friends. What we had together was unheard of between slave and master; a friendship. Suddenly though I was beginning to think that I was something more to Cornelia than a friend; so much more!
"We must not dwell on what we do not possess. Rather we must build on what we have to create something new. The past is our guide but not our crutch. We reflect on it to remind us where we came from; to keep us grounded. It is our present that we must live in, and ultimately chart the paths for the future… Our world is dominated by the struggle for power; power that can consume us; choke us; until we are blinded."
I clung to grandfather's words as I sat in my desk engrossed in his words. It had occurred to me that I was so focused on what I did not have, that I failed to see what I did have in front of me. I was beginning to lose faith in ever gaining the memories that were lost. All I had to cling onto was the few memories that I regained. Once blurry, I now could recall vividly the last night where we played in the field of sparks; the field of dreams. Somehow even then I felt we were watched from afar…
"Are you coming for dinner?" a male slave called out in the doorway; disturbing me from my thoughts.
"Yes, just one minute," I muttered. I quickly closed the codex of grandfather's journal and laid it securely next to my clay jar of styluses. As I strolled into the summer triclinium, I was met by father's piercing eyes as he looked up from his wine to behold my presence.
"You are late," he said crisply, before swishing his wine in his silver cup. I reclined on the circular couch by Apollus and Barbarius, who were busily dining away. I gestured for the cupbearer to pour me a glass of wine, as I adjusted my toga. In the beginning, dinner was a silent affair; except for the occasional side glances and crisp words of, "Pass that please."
"This is the first dinner we seemed to have as a family," Apollus chimed at last with his usual smirk that seemed to never leave his full lips.
"Yes, yes it has," father sighed as he dissected his tender slab of veal. I watched Barbarius eat his food in silence; sucking away at his oysters. As I took turns sipping my wine, before nibbling on my bread; an awkward tension filled the air
"How did you enjoy the speech?" father inquired, as he sat up from his slouched posture.
"It was good," I said briskly, before sipping my wine again.
"Anything you liked?" father asked sternly.
"I thought all of it was quite commanding," I replied matter of fact. Father held the knife in his hand, as he stared blankly at me.
"I would think you would elaborate on a specific part," he said rolling his eyes. Apollus looked at me before looking at father. I sighed softly, as I could not escape this tirade of questions.
"Well, I appreciated the part on how we have to fight for what we treasure the most. After reading grandfather's diary I realize I need to fight for what I know is right. I need to stand for something," I swallowed. I watched as Apollus nodded his head, as if acknowledging my thoughtful answer.
"Yes, although we do have to take into effect the context of those words," father replied before stabbing the last piece of veal with his fork. Just then footsteps approached the doorway. I had instantly recognized the men. It was the Messenger, along with another guardsman that stood by one of our house servants.
"These men which to speak to you my lord," the servant replied meekly.
"Whatever it is, you can tell me right now in front of my family," father replied.
"We have news that may startle you my lord," the Messenger answered reluctantly.
"Well, spit it out," father replied impatiently.
"Gaius will not be executed tomorrow. It was reported that he died early this evening in his cell. Perhaps it was a suicide." I watched as Apollus nearly had to catch his lower jaw from dropping; while Barbarius dropped his fork against his plate.
"Did you make certain he has no life in him?" father asked with anxious eyes.
"Yes, there was no pulse found in him, my lord," the civil defense official replied.
"Where is his body?" Father asked suspiciously.
"It was disposed of in the 'valley' where the waste goes," he replied matter-of-fact.
"I would appreciate it, if I had been notified earlier. I wanted to see his body," father replied with a hint of dismay. "I wanted to make certain that the dog died!" he said coldly. "Well I do thank you for the information. I will have a word with you first thing in the morning," he said pointing to the civil defense official. All four men including the guard nodded in agreement.
"There are things about proper procedure that needs to be addressed but I will leave that for another day. However this is not the end but rather the beginning of a cleansing. I know his son is still out there. Our defense men are still on a manhunt for his son. Are there any new reports?" father questioned.
"As of right now, there have been no sightings of him on the island or within 10 miles around the island," the Messenger answered regretfully, as he shook his chestnut brown hair. "I am afraid he is long past detection of the patrol ships." Father pursed his lips as he tried to hide his disappointment.
"Well the patrol ships can continue to hunt his boat down. The search is over until I say it is over. But even if he escapes capture, he can never return to the island; at least not alive," he said icily. As father thanked the men and dismissed them I had no desire to finish the last of the few morsels on my plate. The words had hit me as I realized the finality of father's words. There was no 'returning.' It was not even an option. Barbarius was fortunate to come back when he did; although he was not a criminal and perhaps that did not apply to him. Still the thought kept me restless in my sheets before my eyelids grew heavy with sleep. I must be good. I must stay on his good side…
I did not want to watch, but father insisted I come. It was what you could say was the turning point in my development. After the morning meal the next day, I was gathering my wax tablets and scrolls together for my daily lesson with Anias which seemed like forever since we last studied together. However, today's lesson was shorter than usual.
"I believed we have covered the material on laws and mandates," Anias sighed as he rolled up the scrolls. "You have made remarkable progress Troy. I am really proud of how far you have come in your studies," he said as a smile escaped his shriveled lips.
"Thanks. I just wish father thought so too," I sighed.
"Your father knows you are excelling in your studies. I send him your progress reports. He in turns tells me what lessons I should focus on. He knows what you are capable of and that is why he pushes you," he said gesturing with his hands. "He is just worried about you at times," he sighed at last.
"Because I am not quite ready to fulfill my role as Mediator?" I shrugged.
"Well yes, in part. As a Mediator, you need to see things objectively and sometimes it is easy for emotion to cloud our good judgment. As your father brought to my attention, your mind is divided; your heart is divided, and your loyalty," he said in a grave tone. I sat there motionless, as his steady eyes continued to gaze at me with a worried expression. I felt as if those light brown eyes would undress my thoughts.
"I do not want you to be scared but embrace your role. You are almost there, but I think we need to take a trip to see how the justice system, which we have been studying about, works," he said with a wiry grin. "Do not worry about permission being granted to you. Your father grants full permission for you to leave the house. In fact he wants you to come," he said solemnly.
I was off to the left side with the dignitaries, as we stood distanced from the crowd of commoners, who out of curiosity, assembled in the public square outside the courthouse. An eerie silence fell amongst the crowds as the prisoners were led to the stake. They were all led along the neck by a metal chain held by the Executioner, who resembled a gladiator with his body armor cladded against his husky frame. The two prisoner's bare flesh merely trudged along, trying keep step as they reached the middle of the wooden platform.
"Any last words?" the Executioner asked mockingly.
"I want to see my family again," he said softly as he fought back the tears. His plea would go unheard as he was tied to the stake by three-fold cords. There was almost no fight left in him, as he awaited his fate. As his arms were tied above his head, one guard held the side of the long nail as the Executioner positioned his hammer. I could not bear to watch, as I briefly looked away. As I closed my eyes I heard the blood-curling scream followed by whimpering that drowned the sound of cracking bones. Moments later, as I looked up to behold the prisoner's head hang low, as the blood ran profusely down his hands, to his arms before drizzling down his bare tan chest and finally onto the wooden platform. Anias, who was to my right, looked at me with cautious eyes, as I rubbed my eyes. I had to show no emotion as the prisoner hung there; dying a painful death. His warning gaze reminded me to look up, as everyone was engrossed with the execution. As father walked up on the platform with a calm face; I could barely stand to look at him.
"The next execution shall take place shortly. Hopefully the execution was as tasteful as everyone anticipated. Let this prove that the justice system still works. Before there is peace, we must rid the land of evil and dissonance. Let this be a lesson to all those who seek to defy the rules and play traitor!" his cold calculated lines filled the spectators with fear and awe. His eyes scoured the hundreds of people assembled as his eyes drifted in my direction. I shuddered to think father could put an innocent man to death. I was trained and coaxed to believe my father was a good, fair, and noble man. But in those few seconds, I barely could recognize him. I did not see my father. I saw a monster. The feelings of confusion, shock, and fear quickly turned into anger. As the crowds chanted for the next execution I tried to excuse myself before one of the guards grabbed my left shoulder.
"The executions are not yet over," he whispered in an annoyed tone.
"I have to use the nearby latrines," I whispered briskly.
"Can you wait?"
"No!" I said trying to hide my irritation. I briskly pushed through the crowd as Apollus turned to behold I was leaving.
"Where are you going now?" Apollus whispered irritably. I did not care to hear what anyone had to say, as I ran off to the latrine, but there was someone following me…
The public latrine was a few blocks south, not too far from the baths. As I seen the sign above the arched doorway, I knew I had come to the right place. Smells of excrement and stale urine still hung over the air as I entered inside the dimmed room, where wooden seats with openings lined the stone walls. I sighed to myself as I realized no one else was in here but me. The smell of feces and the flashes of the fresh execution churned my stomach, as I leaned forward ready to vomit in the small opening in the seating. Nothing came out!
"I am just nauseas," I moaned as I pressed my hand against my head. "I cannot go back there," I snapped kicking the wooden benches. Just then one of the guards peeked inside the latrine.
"Are you well?" he asked with a nervous twang in his voice. I silently nodded as I told him I needed more time because my stomach was upset. Deep inside though, I was in turmoil. I was scared of father and at the same time; I was beginning to despise him. As I tried to take deep breaths to gather myself, I heard footsteps enter in. I turned to behold those same grayish-blue eyes of the mysterious stranger. He turned to stare at me, and for a second he seemed to know who I was before he plopped down to ease nature. I tried to run my hands and face with the cold water in the basins that lay in stone vessels in the middle of the room.
"Did you take that sleeping potion yet?" he joked whimsically. I slowly let the water seep through my hands as I paused to answer.
"Yes, I have taken it. Although I am scared it is still too good to be true," I muttered.
"Have you had a dream since?" he inquired. I stood there silently. I suppose I did not have any dreams; at least any I could recall.
"I suppose not," I uttered softly, as he got up from his crouching position.
"Good then. Hopefully you will be rid of those nightmares," he chuckled. My teeth clenched as he continued to play light of the situation.
"Anyhow I am assuming you were taking a break from the spectacle going on at the public square," he said as he leaned in to wash his hands at the basin I was using. I nodded my head silently.
"I only have time to watch one execution for my noon break. One of the runners is to be delivering me a message," he continued on casually.
"Do the runners work with the Messenger?" I asked cautiously.
"Most do. The Messenger needs others to send messages, but not all of them answer to him, although your father the King wishes to change that."
"Well I have a couple of messages that need to be delivered," I said lowering my voice to a whisper…
Dear Romeos and Julius,
I read the letter I received from Priscilla. I have mixed feelings about the letter but I wish not to delve into it. I wish I could speak to you face to face but I fear I cannot speak to you in person anymore, for fear of what my father will do if he discovered what I am doing. I hate to sign off on a friendship that has lasted through all odds and obstacles. I wish there was a way around the decree of my father but there are not many choices. For now we are bound by letters between distances.
I finally had a chance to read your letter. I can understand why you are so concerned over me. I have not been well for a while. As you know, I have been grieving over my grandfather. I did not mean to avoid anyone. I just needed some space to collect myself. I hate for you to see me like this because I did not want you to be overly worried. These past few days, I realized I have some unresolved emotions and I do not know quite how to sort them all. I want to tell you that I do not despise you for choosing Titus. I have tried to put that painful night behind me. I understand sometimes we do things so others can be happy even if that means forfeiting our own happiness. All I wanted was for you to be happy and if it is not me, then that is fine. I just want you to be with someone that makes you happy; someone that completes you; someone that appreciates you.
You did not have to tell me, but I can tell deep inside you are not happy. It is funny in your letter you reminded me of our conversation we had over a year ago; how you could tell I was not happy at the wedding. I think now I am reading you. I am reading your letter. But no matter how much I wish it, we are not meant to be. I offer the proposal to be good friends. I want the air to be cleared, so I am writing this to make that happen. I hope this letter travels to you soon. And do not worry; you are always on the right side. Titus has been cleared from the interrogation. As for Silus, as much as he annoys me, I want to forgive him. The cards lay in my hands as it were. I could press charges and put him back on the blacklist and make him miserable, but will that make me feel any better?
"I have a few messages I need delivered. Can you help me?" I asked Cornelia one day, as she was scouring the kitchen shelves for baskets.
"So now you want my help?" she asked sharply, as she rolled her eyes.
"What are you talking about?" I questioned, while crossing my arms in dismay.
"Well, I suppose when you need me I have to be at your feet but then you push me away anyways," she sighed angrily. "I am just confused by all these 'mixed' signals," she hissed.
"Look it is not good for you to question me right now. I am not trying to toy with your emotions. I did not think being nice was so wrong. You were more than a slave girl to my eyes. You have proven to be a friend during this difficult time. I never meant to take advantage of you; so I apologize. I heard you will be shopping with the other female slaves to the market near the runner's post. I have these messages that need to be sent to one of the runner's there. Because I love you as a friend, I will not hit or punish you for being insolent." She looked up at my eyes before sinking her head low.
"I am sorry. I did not mean to question you. I suppose I thought I could get away with it," she sighed. "But I am greatly mistaken," she said shaking her head.
"Will you send the letters or not?" I said crossing my hands across my chest. "I can always ask someone else but I trust you. As awkward as it is to give these letters in your possession, you are one of the few staff here I have come to trust and know to be dutiful.
"Thanks, I will try my best," she said softly, as I slowly handed her the letters. As she slowly walked away, I just had to show her that she was important; that she was valued.
"I never did thank you earlier. So thanks for saving my life. I do not know if I would still be alive if you had not found me in my room with the knife," I said wistfully, as she was just about to walk out the arched doorway. She stopped in her tracks with the basket swaying to a halt. She looked up and that same warm yet awkward grin crept across her face.
"You are most welcome. You are truly special, Troy. It is no wonder people are drawn to you. I was one of those people... Anyhow we need more people in this world like you. In an age where man conquers man we need ones like you that remind us what true humanity means," she said nostalgically.
Now I had to wait. Waiting seemed to be the hardest part. A week went by; still no reply. Did they receive the letters? Were they somehow intercepted? I tried to drown the questions in the back of my mind with my daily routine that revolved around my lessons with Anias. In our lessons together, I was timid about bringing up the recent execution for I had wanted to push that heart-wrenching memory in the back of my consciousness. Somehow it kept bothering me; no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, or push it aside.
"You have a letter, my lord," the porter announced. I looked up at the thin man with his tunic fitting loosely around his shoulders as he fiddled with the parcel in his hand. Finally a reply! But from whom?
"Thanks," I uttered as he placed the letter on my desk. Once he left, I quickly opened the letter to see who it was from.
After reading your letter, I was a bit confused. After reading it again, I think I got the 'message.' After all the things we have been through, you are saying it is best that we no longer remain friends. As much as it hurts me, if that is what you want, there is nothing I can do. I suppose the real reason is that you are scared about what your father will do. Admit it. However, I cannot blame you for taking this action. The air is filled with fear and distrust and the face of the enemy has suddenly blurred. I only wonder how much longer we can be friends. You and I know you can only be on one side. Will you choose to stay loyal to Julius and I and the rest of my family, or will you choose to believe your father's truth. I cannot speak badly of him, for fear someone else is reading this letter; for speaking bad against the king will send you to the hole. My only hope though is that you trust me and Julius. I mean you no harm Troy. I only wish you the best.
Signing off…Romeos and Julius
What have I done? I was not saying that we should not be friends. I had to send another letter to clarify matters.
Please do not disregard this letter. I realized you got the wrong message, so I am writing this to explain what I meant. I was not saying we should no longer be friends. You and Julius have been loyal and supportive from the beginning. It took a while for Julius to warm up to me but he is like a brother to me now, just like he is to you. I realized the weightiness of the situation we are surrounded by. I only said that to remind you that the blacklist is not over. However, even now, the blacklist does not matter to me; you are still a friend to me. Yes I admit, I was worried about what father may think, but I honestly do not care anymore. I am my own person and I am not breaking any laws. I wish there was some way I could help your family. I wish you and Julius the best. Send my greetings to the rest of your family.
As the last line of ink dried, Cornelia gingerly walked in to change my sheets.
"Still writing those letters I see," she replied whimsically with her back turned to me as she pulled out new sheets from her other basket.
"Actually I am done," I replied smartly.
"If you do not mind me asking, who are these letters addressed to? The last letter you wrote, you left out the inscription on the outside of the leather parcel," she said as she turned to face me. "I know I cannot read, but I know what an inscription would look like," she said sheepishly.
"Well, this one goes to a friend or friends I should say."
"Priscilla?" she asked shrugging her shoulders.
"Actually, Romeos and Julius," I chuckled. "Do not worry she did not respond to my last letter. I can tell you are not too fond of her, and I understand," I said matter of fact.
"I am over it, Troy. She can send you letters if she wishes to. I am just a slave girl, and it is time for me to accept that fact," she sighed. "Anyways about the inscription, I am certain it must be hard for the runners to know who to give it to. How would they know whom to send it to? Please do not get mad at me for asking," she said, as I watched her put on her innocent doe-eyed expression.
"It is there. It is just marked very indiscriminately. It is really a good idea; especially if you are worried the Messenger will get too nosy. Considering he is a busy man, I do not want to bother him with private messages," I shrugged.
"That is quite clever," she nodded. "I am assuming you want me to go to the runner's post today."
"If you would be so kind," I said letting out a weak smile.
"Very well," she replied swiftly as I folded the parchment and put it inside the leather case.
"Take care. I trust you," I said as my voice lowered to a whisper…
As I went about my daily routine with my lessons with Anias and learning about my role, I would secretly receive the letters from the runners, who would then give it to Cornelia. As I pretended to go along with the justice proceedings and new regulations Apollus and father shared with me at dinner, my heart was somewhere else. It made me feel good I could please both sides. Romeos had written back saying he appreciated my loyalty even though it would come at a cost. He said "if I only knew even half the truth, I would truly understand his growing dissent with the kingdom." After two weeks of writing back, one question still remained unanswered. How did Silus' father become cleared when others were not so fortunate? I would have to wait to find the answer to a question that continued to gnaw at me. But I would never receive the letter.
While I played the 'good' son role, I tried to silence the nagging voice that told me I was a hypocrite. I only did it to gain my family's confidence that I was still on the right side; even though I was not so certain anymore. Was Cornelia right? Was I merely taking advantage of her kindness? Was I putting her life needlessly at risk? But she willingly complied with my requests. Then again she was a slave; she had too! My only hope was that she remain blameless.
After being on 'lockdown,' I was finally granted some freedom by father, who deemed that I had finally learned my 'lesson.' After hours of tedious lessons being locked in my room, I was granted riding lessons to release pent up energy and gain more confidence riding horses alone. As I held on tight to the reigns, I watched as the light blue sky became filled with clouds across the horizon. The scene across the milky sky was a sight all too familiar. I closed my eyes as the scenes of Romeos and me prancing off on our new steeds in the late winter morning, rushed in my consciousness. Was this a memory I was experiencing? It was hard to decipher whether I was inventing scenes in my mind or if this was a real memory? Whatever it was; I felt excitement and awe race through my bones. Maybe, there was a chance I can go back and follow the trail of memories. But then I saw in the distance, a male figure running from the distance. My heart stopped as I steered the horse to start heading back. I was safe…at least I thought I was. Curiosity won over as I looked back and recognized the frantic figure that was approaching me… It was Romeos. What was he doing?
"Romeos what brings you here?" I called out anxiously, as I awkwardly pulled the long reins to turn the horse around. Breathless, he fell down on his knees with his head low to the ground.
"My father…my father," he mumbled, as he shook his damp bangs that swept across his forehead.
"What happened?" I implored; as I tried to slowly come down from the horse; one step at a time.
"They arrested him! While Julius and I were staying at the villa for the night, my mother told me that father was arrested and taken somewhere I do not know. Your father thinks he works for Gaius and his son; and he wants to get rid of him. We are staying at the villa until your father buys it out. I know I should not be here, but I wanted to tell you face to face," he said looking intensely at me with anguish in his voice. "I need to find him, Troy. I fear he may have landed in the_"
"Do not think it," I said shaking my head.
"It is hard not to, Troy. This is not right and you know it! I need to find where he is being held!"
"What do you want me to do? My father refuses to listen to me; even though I swear to him your father's innocence.
"I do not know why I ran all the way here, to tell you this, when you cannot help me anyways. I wasted my time," he said running his hands through his hair. "You cannot help me. I have to do this on my own," he said sourly.
"Wait!" I called out to him, as he turned his back to me. "Maybe I can help…"