Chapter 27: Breakout
Winds from the east scattered the burning embers of the crackling flames. I watched the embers float in the wind like dandelion seeds, as the wind carried them hither and thither until they would float back to the rubble below. Once on contact with dry papery material, new flames were born. You could hear the hungry flames lick up the dry matter; like a menace slowly creeping around us. There was another scent that pricked my senses before the overwhelming smell of sulfur overwhelmed me. I had learned the scent all too well… the smell of death! As the sun set below, I looked up weakly hoping the heavens could tell us the way to depart, but the stars would not give their light. A thick hazy gloom had concealed the starry heavens. I watched Romeos' calm countenance fall, as he saw his family's heirlooms hurled in the flames.
"No…why that?" Romeos muttered audibly. The old man seemed to pause in that moment, as if he heard Romeos in that dark night. It was so sudden, I did not even have time to clamp his mouth shut. I motioned with my hands that we had to hide out of sight and quick! We both held our breath as the man slowly turned around, while holding his torch out in front of him. We both crawled inside an upturned horse wagon, while gingerly stepping over twisted metal, while trying not to bang our head.
"We have to get out of here!" Romeos whispered as sweat dripped down his brow.
"I know. But we have to stay here…" The crackle of debris pierced the sound of the crackling flames. The man was heading closer…and closer. We both huddled tightly in the space; in silence; hoping, wishing, and praying he would pass us by.
"I thought I heard someone here," the man muttered; scratching his beard. He aimed his torch by one of the small openings of the overturned chariot we were hiding in. The heat of the flames could be felt on my skin as I buried my head in my arms, as Romeos followed suit.
"Anyone in there!" he yelled, as he kicked the wooden side where Romeos was crouched down. The old guard tried to push our wagon over. I felt my heart almost skip a beat, as my hands uncontrollably shook. As the wagon was slowly lifting up, it suddenly slammed back down. The old guard relinquished the wagon as he swatted the burning embers in his face. Before long, he reluctantly trudged on ahead moving away from the flames and smoke.
"Let them die there," I heard him grumble under his breath. Then the footsteps grew softer. Then an eerie silence followed…then the soft crackles grew louder. Where was the torch? It was getting warmer…and warmer… the wagon was on fire! With the little smoke that filled our little nook, I could see flames from above. We both tried to dive out the small opening, only to get stuck.
"Aw, my leg," Romeos hissed as his leg got caught under the broken wheel. I was almost pushed up alongside him, as I tried out to squeeze out the small opening. "You go first, Troy. Save yourself!"
"I am not leaving you," I said passionately. Romeos tried to scrunch his body back inside the fuming wagon, as I wiggled myself free. Pure adrenaline kicked in as I raced in to push all the debris away from his leg. I grabbed Romeos by the hand, and dragged him out to safety. Although he stood with a limp, we both managed to run up to the hill as fast as we could, in the opposite direction from the guard. Just as we were getting close to the gravel…
"Owww," I squealed, as I scraped my leg against a sharp metal flask. Blood quickly filled the wound, as I limped away to the plain gravel.
"Are you alright, Troy?" Romeos asked worriedly.
"I am fine," I lied. I tore off a small fringe off the cloak and wrapped it around the stinging wound. Vivid images of me cutting my arm filled my mind, as I wrapped the wound tighter with the piece of fabric. It reminded me of the sensation I had to feel pain; but now all I felt was guilt and shame; over my own self-destruction. I ran my hands through my hair as I allowed myself to catch my breath.
"We are almost there, Troy. I can still see the horse," Romeos said in hushed tones, in fear that the guard was still on patrol. As we quickly trudged up the hill, which was covered merely in sparse grass and moss; it was not long before we both grew tired, as the hill grew steeper and steeper. With the little energy I had, I crawled up using my hands to hold on to the dirt before it crumbled in my fingernails. As Romeos managed to climb up on top before me, he saw me struggle, as I tried to muster my energy to pull the weight of my body over to flat land.
"Here take my hand. I thought you might need a little lift," he said with a weak smile.
"Thanks," I said as I scrambled onto my knees, before slowly erecting myself upward. Romeos checked the coast to see if there was anyone. With his thumb up in the air, I knew it was safe to proceed. Surprisingly the horse was still tied to the tree. I watched as the horse continued to kick up dust with his hooves.
"I think it is time for us to depart," I said swiftly. We both managed to cling onto to the horse and away we went into the night. As we looked down by the seaside there was a grove of palm and date trees along the rock mass.
"We need to stay somewhere for the night," I remarked, before relinquishing a yawn.
"Maybe we can camp out over there. Ooh there is a path leading down this hill," Romeos said pointing straight ahead. As we slowly descended, I discovered where all the trees lay. The narrow dirt path cut through the dense foliage of the untamed forest, as I crouched low to avoid getting hit by the swaying branches. The sound of a hooting owl filled me with awe, as I wondered where the owl lurked in the darkness. The branches seem to bow to us as they allowed us to pass through unscathed and into the coast.
Now how do we get through the wall of stones? The path seemed to abruptly end where a pile of boulders started. Romeos motioned for the horse to follow alongside the narrow path between the shrubs and the rock mass, to see if there was a break in the rocks. Finally we spotted a break in the rocks. The horse narrowly squeezed through, as it slushed against the sand. Then we saw a protruding rock face, covered in long mangled vines to the left.
"What is that? I never ventured this far out here along the coast," Romeos muttered aloud. Suddenly we heard a splash.
I looked below the horse's hooves as the horse was standing in a small tide pool just a few feet from the rock-face, where the sand met the soft tides of the sea. Was there a way around it? What appeared to be a cliff, extended a couple feet beyond where the rest of the tide line began. Curious we began to motion the horse to step into the water.
"I do not know about this, Romeos," I said cautiously, as the water quickly rose to the horse's ankles. "I think we should find a place to set up camp for now."
"Alright," Romeos grumbled as he pulled the reins, jolting the horse to a complete stop. I first stepped off the horse, as Romeos dropped the cloak for me to catch as I climbed down from the saddle.
"Are you coming down," I asked, looking up at Romeos.
"I am coming. I just wanted to check it out. In the meantime, you can collect some firewood so we can keep ourselves warm from the cool sea breeze and to cook whatever fish we might catch. I did not realize how long this plan would take. But if it gets too late to depart back, then at least we can hide out here for now," he said prudently.
"Okay. Fine," I said throwing my hands up, as I walked around the sandy shores picking up a few fallen twigs from trees hovering above the hill side. As I saw a piece of driftwood float towards the shore, my initial smile quickly turned into a frown, as I realized there was no way on earth we could get it to set on fire.
"Woe!" Romeos exclaimed.
"What now? What is wrong? Did you see something?" I said as I ran back to the rock face. I climbed over the mounds of stones and pebbles only for me to miss my step and fall into ankle deep water that streamed in from the sea. It did not occur to me in that moment, that I was actually exploring the mouth of a cave. The cold water chilled my feet as I trudged in the darkness for Romeos.
"Romeos," I uttered audibly. I could hear my voice slightly echo against the limestone walls as I finally bumped against the horse.
"Troy, I am right here, Romeos said as he jumped off the other side of the horse and came around to face my baffled expression. I only saw a glimmer of his face; which was illuminated by the tiny glimmer of moonlight.
"We are inside of an underwater cave," Romeos whispered excitedly. For that temporary moment, I forgot the fear I felt of almost falling off a horse, almost getting caught by authorities, escaping burning flames, and now almost losing my friend. I realized in this one day, I learned more about myself than when I first woke up.
"I never dreamt in a million years to be inside a cave; not even in my wildest dreams," I said as I gazed all around the statuesque pillars that rose alongside the stream of water that flowed through the middle. "This is what it must feel like; to be a kid," I uttered softly.
"I thought you would be scared of the dark," Romeos chuckled.
"Well we might still need some light at least, but after everything we have been through in this short while, I am not so scared anymore of the unknown." We softly talked amongst ourselves as we led the horse by rope, deeper and deeper inside the cave. As we stepped to the far left, which was a dry stony surface; it got darker and darker until I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I nearly bumped into Romeos, almost causing him to lose his footing.
"We need a torch," Romeos snickered.
"Of course, that was a silly idea of me to mention that when we were back there," I responded sarcastically.
"Do you have any wood you collected in that sling you are carrying?" Romeos asked.
"Just a few twigs I picked up. I do not know if they are dry enough."
"It will do," Romeos responded hastily as he nearly snatched them out my hands, as I reached for them in the pouch.
"You could say thanks," I said dryly.
"I am sorry. Where are my manners? Thanks," Romeos said whimsically. Romeos blindly knelt down to scramble to find bits of sharp flint. After running his hands through pebbles, his hand cut against a sharp flint rock.
"Ouch! I think we found our instrument," he muttered. I watched as he rubbed the twigs together vigorously before slicing the sharp flint against the top of the thickest twig. After the seventh attempt, I began to notice sparks fly. I backed away, trying to avoid the sparks from hitting my eyes. Finally I watched in amazement as the twigs crackled into a small glowing flame. A fire was born! It would guide us as our torch along the path, but as we trudged along, the ceiling grew too low for the horse to proceed. It was time to leave the horse behind, as the two of us continued on the journey.
Then in the distance we saw glimmers of an orange light in the seemingly endless darkness. With both of us filled with intrigued as to where the lights came from, we continued to follow the light source. Was there someone else here? All that could be heard was the sound of our sandals and the drops of water from the ceiling. There posted on the wall were two burning torches on each side of the cave walls. The stream that flowed along the riverbed had nearly dried up as we arrived at the end of the cave. There in front lay stone steps leading up to a door. We had reached the dead end.
"There is a plaque on the door with an inscription," Romeos said as he walked up the stone steps, while I stood below.
"It is in Greek," Romeos muttered audibly.
"What does it say?" I was relearning how to read and write Greek with my tutor whose native tongue was Greek. I though, still felt like a beginner, when most peers my age were already well-versed in a language I had lost the ability to speak.
"It says: 'You have arrived at the dead end,'. That is not very helpful," Romeos snorted. My heart chilled, as I realized this could only mean one thing. "Do you have the key, Troy? The door is locked."
"Do you even know where we are?" I questioned. Romeos turned the torch in my direction to note my somber expression.
"I am not quite sure but I want to find out. We made it this far; might as well as go all the way," he shrugged.
"Here is the key, or better yet I will open it for you since you are holding the torch and I would hate for you to drop it."
"That would be horrible," Romeos responded simply. As he watched me test out the different keys, Romeos began to tap his foot.
"Are you certain you know what key it is, or if that key is even on the chain?" Just as he was finished chattering away, I pulled out the last key. I watched as it slid right into the lock and with one turn opened the wooden door. Click! The sound was loud enough to silence Romeos as we both stepped inside. A brief scene of the guard dogs barking ferociously at the inmates filled my consciousness. I tried to push the ugly memory in the back of my consciousness; where my inner turmoil lies. I wanted to be brave for Romeos, to let him know I was not the same timid boy, who was afraid of taking chances, afraid of the unknown…afraid of living. I was braver… or so I thought. There we stood in the intersection of a circular dark corridor, with the only light being torches posted on the stone walls.
"This is no cave," Romeos said; his voice turning into a mere whisper in the stale air. "It looks like a dungeon…" It had occurred to Romeos at that instant that we were in fact inside the hole. Then behind us the lock behind us clicked, and then footsteps came approaching. Which way should we go?
"Now we are in so much trouble," I muttered under my breath.
"Not if we can outsmart them," Romeos muttered softly. I walked towards the wall listening for the direction of the steps.
"There is someone coming from the left," I whispered. I motioned for Romeos to follow me in the opposite direction as we ran down the corridor. Then we stumbled across an opened door.
"I wonder if we can find my father here," Romeos whispered. As I placed my hand on the doorknob, to my surprise the door was unlocked. What we thought was an exit was in fact an old supply room. We stared in wonder at the guard's uniforms, which hung neatly on the metal hooks.
"You know what I am thinking?" Romeos asked, with a mischievous smile.
"I know exactly what you are thinking," I shot back, with a smirk across my lips.
"This uniform looks too big on me," I laughed, as I completed the armor suit with a belt around my loins.
"It does not matter. You look fine," Romeos said suppressing a chuckle.
"You are just saying that because you are my friend. A very good friend; mischievous but good at heart," I replied.
"And you are one loyal friend. No matter what happens you will always have my support," Romeos said trying to sound all serious. Then we heard more footsteps are way. We both eyed the small opening in the door. The real guards were out; two to be exact. As they nonchalantly chatted amongst ourselves outside our door, we quietly snuck out the door, leaving the small torch to hang on one of the hooks in the dim room. Just as Romeos was ahead of me, I realized in that moment that the chain of keys I had may not work. We would need their keys. I brushed past one guard, and quickly snatched the key that dangled from his loins. I grabbed the key securely, as I began to walk away. Just then the guard turned around in my direction. Romeos, who was halfway down the hallway, motioned for me to make a run for it. Instead, I politely smiled at the guard, who eyed me up and down before whispering to his partner.
Once we were far from plain sight, Romeos patted me on the back.
"That was close, Troy. That was really bold of you. I am surprised he did not get suspicious," Romeos said in a mere whisper.
"I am surprised too," I said shrugging my shoulder. We both marched quietly down the hall and up the next flight of stairs. As we walked up the narrow staircase, there was a stench in the air I could not quite make out. As we approached the last step in what appeared to be an endless array of steps, we had reached the prison cells. We now were in the heart of the hole. Prison cells lined every side. It was almost how I had imagined the hole to be and more. As we walked along reading off the plaques above the head, some of the prisoners who were still awake eyed our every step, while some muttered curses under their breath.
"Let us keep circling around. Your father must be here somewhere," I remarked softly to Romeos who was growing more and more anxious by the minute. I forced myself not to look at the prisoners, but I could not help but scan their faces; hoping that one of them was Diodecios. One skinny prisoner with a shorn head clung to the bars as we past his cell.
"You bastards!" he hissed. "I wish you die a terrible death."
"You need to be quiet," Romeos warned in a serious tone.
"Make me! I am used to the beatings. All you can do is kill me. I just want to be deleod," he whined. The words stabbed my heart like a sharp sword. I had the power in my hand to release someone. Only one could be chosen to be released. While one man triumphed in the opportunity for freedom, many more perished, forgotten and unloved.
"Romeos, is that you, a voice called from behind. We both stopped to stare, only to behold Diodecios!
"Father," Romeos uttered softly, with his lips quivering in the still air. Romeos ran to the bars where his father was. I watched as Romeos hands slowly reached out to hold his father's hands through the bars that divided them. I watched as Romeos tried to bite back the tears, as he reunited with his father. I almost could not recognize him, as his head was shaven and he was dressed in a mere tunic that grazed his knees.
"You should not be here son or you Troy for that matter," he said shaking his head. "I appreciate you coming to see me but…"
"I missed you," Romeos blurted. I do not care if I go one day, three days, a week, a month, a year even without you, I still miss you. You do not belong here."
"We came to free you. You deserve at least a fair trial," I said at last.
"Thanks for believing in me; both of you. Even when the world turned its back on me, you never doubted me, so I thank you for you young men to risk your own necks for me. You do realize the consequences if you let me go, and I get caught," his father sighed. Just as I was fiddling with the keys, as to see which one would work, the same old voice from the inmate next door called out.
"Why do you not release me? I have been in this torment for fifteen miserable years. That is not fair," he yelled. We ignored him as I kept testing the keys out. As I tried the 2nd to the last key, the bone key finally seemed to fit…
"You men are not real guards, to let that prisoner go like that," the inmate hissed.
"Hush," Romeos muttered. As the lock clicked open…
"They are releasing a prisoner!" the inmate shouted. Just then a rush of steps could be heard around the corner.
"Hurry!" Romeos muttered.
"I cannot move," the father moaned. His ankles were shackled to the floor. I desperately scrambled to shove any key into the lock.
"I do not know which one," I said in a strained tone.
"They are coming!" Romeos hissed. I fumbled with the keys, as the keys clanged against the ground. My nerves were getting the best of me. It seemed to happen all so fast, as the guards stormed in around the corner.
"We have to leave," I whimpered as I left the keys and ran with Romeos reluctantly following behind.
"What is going on?" the guard shouted, his voice bellowing throughout the hallway. "This prisoner is not set to be released. Who are you men?" We did not stop to answer as we ran off.
"They are not real ones," the inmate laughed scornfully.
"Get those imposters!" The chief guard snapped, as the two guards besides him chased after us.
"You are not going anywhere, my friend," the chief guard snapped, as he looked at Diodecios, who had by now scampered back to the cell in defeat.
"If it was not for that idiot, we could have finally freed my father from this torture chamber!" Romeos snapped. "I hate leaving him here."
"We do not have a choice," I said, breathing heavily as we ran towards the stairway. Adrenaline rushed through my veins, as we raced down the stairs with the guards closely pursuing behind us.
"Who do you dogs think you are?" one of the guard yelled. I ignored the biting remark as I neared the last ten steps. As their hand reached out to grab me, I jumped. My feet landed hard against the stone floor as Romeos took a leap of faith with me. We are almost close to the exit, I told myself as we went around the other corridor, trying to find the exit. My heart kept beating faster, and faster. Where was the exit? All the bravery I thought I had, quickly turned into panic.
"Over here," Romeos exclaimed. The guard saw Romeos shadow as he turned the corner, starting up the chase to the exit. As we raced closer and closer to the door, a sigh of relief swept across me. We were almost there…
"Noooo!" Romeos muttered under his breath. As I looked behind us, the guards were slowly closing in on us. As I ran towards the door in full force, I scrambled to open the door. To my horror the door was double-chained! I rammed the keys one by one, failed! Romeos out of frustration kicked the door, but it refused to budge. We were trapped!
"Brace yourself, Troy," Romeos remarked sadly. I pulled the hood of the cloak over my face; so I could not see them take away my dignity…