Chapter 6: Long Road Ahead
The March air was still cool and crisp. But around me the budding trees were slowly coming back to life. I sat propped on the saddle of a horse moving to its slow gentle stride. Soon the rhythm of its movement came to an abrupt halt. The whirling melodies of songbirds stopped. The pale blue sky was replaced by dark gray clouds. In front of me was a high stone wall climbing high above the treetops. I reached a dead end without realizing it.
"You knew the anger of the seas." The voice echoed. I steered the horse around only to find a black horse with its rider galloping straight towards me. My blood chilled. I scoured the side of the road which was lined with trees packed tightly together. I was trapped. I pulled out my sword bracing for the worst.
My eyes flew open and I was flat on my back. I wiped my brow, slicked with sweat, although the wool sheet splayed around me were cool. Just like my hands. I took a couple of deep breaths to calm my fluttering heart. I was safe in a warm bed. Nobody could hurt me here. And just in case they did… I fingered around my pillow, until my hand made contact with the cold sharp metal hiding underneath the feather-stuffed pillows. Footsteps converged. I reached for the sword.
"Troy." It was a familiar voice.
"Yes." The sword fell slipped off the bed and across from my grandfather's feet. He stooped down to pick it up but not with eying me warily.
"It belongs to me. It accidentally fell."
"Why are you sleeping with a sword Troy?"
"For protection. I asked the slave girl to put it underneath my pillow or by my bedside."
"Protection against what?" I bit my lip. "At least have it by your bedside, like on the lamp stand. You must be careful not to needlessly inflict wounds."
"I will be careful. I assume Apollus has been talking to you about me hurting myself," I said, frowning.
"No I have not heard such. I would hope such is not the case with my grandson." I bit my lip again until I tasted blood. "You look a little pale," he continued. "What is on your mind? Another bad dream?" He said, cocking an eyebrow.
"What if a dream is more than a dream?" I asked.
"What do you mean by that?" Grandfather asked, stroking his chin, which was covered in white stubble.
"What if something you dream about comes true." His brows furrowed.
"Have they come true?"
"Well one. I had a dream that it was stormy out at sea. These men were yelling for the winds to abate. The waves crashed against the boat causing the boat to sink. They were trying to hold on while others plunged to the depths below. Then it went under with me into the icy waters …" my voice faltered. I could barely look him in the eyes.
"When did you dream this? It was not this night was it?"
"I dreamed it a few weeks before the news from the messengers. I wished the dream was wrong. I wish I had not dreamt it at all. And now I am haunted by some obscured figure that taunts me in my dreams." Grandfather sat down at the edge of my cot.
His gaze was steady on me now. "But you did dream it for one reason or another. There was nothing you could have done. The ship disobeyed the order of the king and set sail despite reported warnings. You cannot bear the guilt over another man's defiance. Do not let your mind beat you over this. Guilt is a normal emotion for wrongdoing but there was no wrong on your part. Do not let it consume you. If you can forgive yourself maybe you will have peace of mind." He patted me on the crown.
"Thanks," I said softly. "Do you think these dreams I am having are mere coincidence or something else?" I looked up into his eyes.
"It is too early to tell. You are trying to make sense of your broken reality. You may have "lost" your memory, but not your insight." Perhaps the gods are trying to tell you something," he said, smiling. He face grew serious again. "Listen to it. You have something powerful that you possess. Maybe it is an accident or premonition, curse or gift. It depends on how you perceive it."
The rest of the day I tried to put the dream behind me. Soon it was time for the evening meal and I heard from grandfather that a guest was to be dinning with us. I wanted to sit at the table with everyone else but permission was denied by father. He would give a weak excuse of, "Oh, you are not well enough to sit up at the table." I was more than capable of sitting up! Not like I needed to sit up considering I would be lounging on the couch like everyone else. The real reason was I was too "injured" to be present. So while everyone was off to the dining area, I was confined to my room with the slave girl. Her cold, delicate hands cupped around my ankle before pulling my leg into a taut line.
"You have cold hands," I said matter-of-fact.
"Oh," she said softly. "I did not notice," she replied. She blushed.
"You know, I would just wish everyone would let me enjoy dinner with the guests. I wish someone could take me down there so I could escape this prison hole of a room."
"I could not carry you alone my Excellency," she said with a sigh.
"Forget I brought it to your ears."
"I could though have some other slaves put you on a cot if you like and carry you to the summer triclinium." I wrinkled my brow. Before I could ask she explained it was our private dining area, where we would often eat as a family during the warm months of summer. There were couches there for me to recline where I would be closer to the guests.
"It would be nice to eat with everyone else." Anything that would help take my mind off my injury would be appreciated.
"Hopefully your father would not be perturbed by the suggestion," she said sheepishly.
I shrugged. "He would not care anyways."
"Very well. I would love to see you happy again." She excused herself to ask some able-bodied slaves to find a makeshift cot to carry me to the other dining room. A moment later, the two male slaves came and lifted me and the cot and carried me down the hallway, past the garden, and into the dining room branching off from the garden. Before they entered through the room which was screened off by a curtain, we were stopped.
"What are you doing?" asked one of the doormen who wore a breastplate over his tunic.
"We are escorting the young prince to the summer triclinium. He personally requested it of our service," the younger of the two replied.
"Well that goes against the word we heard from the mouth of the king that he is to stay inside his room." While the other slave insisted that the doormen ask the King, I listened in to the conversation spilling out from the billowing curtains.
"It is nice you could make it to the dinner party Marcelius. You have already made polite talk with Apollus?"
"Why indeed I have. He is a gifted young man and a real charmer. He has a way with words that the philosophers would call masterful."
"Yes, that is the one I have," father said. I could envision father beaming as he spoke. "Anyhow it is already obvious who is going to be the successor. He is the oldest living son who is competent both physically and mentally for the position. But he will have my blessing officially tonight." What about me? Since I was the invalid one I did not count. I heard enough.
"You can take me back to my room. I am sorry for all the trouble I caused," I told one of the slaves.
My food was waiting for me in my room, fresh and steaming on a silver platter, but I was not hungry. I lost my appetite.
"What about regaining your strength?" the cook asked.
"What is the point of it? I am not leaving this bed anytime soon if at all." I stared at the food for a moment before pushing it aside on the small table propped by my bed. I could tell the cook was disappointed but he tried to hide it with a smile and said that I might change my mind. As soon as he left, my stomach answered with a loud gurgle. I may not have wanted to eat but my stomach had a mind of its own. About an hour later another slave came to check if I ate. I tried to stuff a few plump figs in my mouth and wrapped the rest of the food in a cloth like I was saving it. Even though I knew it was going to the wicker basket designated for "undesirables" or refuse. Why did I even want to come for dinner? I would not have eaten much anyways. What was the point of my existence anyways? I lied in bed, staring at the ceiling until a knock disturbed my disquieting thoughts.
"Troy." It was a man's voice, gentle and light. Was I dreaming again? I turned my head to the direction of the voice. A young man stood by the slave girl. He had to be no older than I was.
"Do I know you? You look familiar," I started. My eyes narrowed at the sight of the young lad dressed in a long toga. His brown eyes mirrored mines although his glinted with enthusiasm.
"Very funny Troy." He laughed. "You almost fooled me with that practical joke."
"You got me. I do know you after all," I said. I managed to fake my best smile.
"Romeos is the name. In case you forgot," he added with a weak grin. I could feel my cheeks reddening in guilt. I was a bad liar.
"In all seriousness, I was worried about you. Considering you were the first one to worry between the two of us, you know this is serious," he said, grinning. When he saw his humor was not reciprocated he continued, this time growing serious. "I have not seen you at the Grammaticus or at any of the events. Even the banquet for your brother. I assumed you would not miss such an important event."
"I was confined to my bed," I said simply.
"I see," he said nodding. "I had no idea until recently what happened to you. I know you have been through a lot this past year. Your oldest brother just disappeared from the map; your family gave up your dog." I had a dog? When was that? "You fell off a horse," he continued. "And you took a nasty tumble and then you must have lost your mind—" I cleared my throat, stopping him midsentence.
"Sorry, Troy. I went too far again. By the way you are looking at me right now I am not making you feel any better by taking light of the situation. I should have known by now you are highly sensitive."
"What are you doing here?" I asked briskly.
"I came to lift your spirits." You are failing miserably so far I thought. "I am being serious now. What I meant to say is that no matter what obstacle life throws your way you will continue fighting. That you will not give up. I do not know everything that you have undergone but I do know that nothing is impossible, unless you tell your mind that and your body believes your mind." He made it sound so easy. It was easy to spew advice when he was not the one stuck in a bed to sleep, eat, stretch, or urinate in a chamber pot.
"So I should tell my mind I am going to get up and take a walk outside and the gods would grant that request?" I asked, feeling myself get testy.
"I cannot promise that," Romeos snorted. "It will take time. Miracles do not take place over night. But what will make your recovery quicker is if you do not always feel sorry for yourself," he said with an edge to his voice. He must have realized his words stung me because his face softened. "I will see you later, Troy. I truly hope you get better. I missed you," he said before dismissing himself.
The slave girl tossed me a look of sympathy. "I know your friend Romeos did not mean you any harm."
"I know," I said.
The slave girl nodded before taking the wicker basket to be emptied. It was just me and my thoughts again. I kept thinking about what this "friend" was telling me. The more I thought about it the more I realized he was right. It was easier to wallow in self-pity. Especially when the odds seemed against me. But I could not give up. I refused to live like this forever.
I pulled my tunic over my chest to examine the skin over my ribs. The redness had dulled, returning my skin to its natural olive hue. Out of curiosity I started stretching my legs. It was comparable to moving stiff branches. A shooting pain traveled up my leg before sending my leg pummeling the cot. I tried to lift my left leg again. With one arm under it, I slowly lifted my shaky leg so that it rose slightly above my chest. During my exercise on the bed, one of the slaves walked in on my little session. I caught him observing my leg movements as he tidied my room.
"You have come a long way. If you keep doing that you will have your legs moving in a matter of time. Who knows maybe you will walk again," he said with a smile. "We can help rehabilitate your legs, but it will not be easy."
"I am ready to take the next step. I know recovery will be a long road ahead, but I am not giving up yet. Not without a fight," I said, grinning.
Nothing is impossible unless we tell ourselves long enough that our body believes our mind.
That was my new favorite expression.