Chapter 8: Perfect Strangers
It was a warm April morning. I could hear spring even from the songbirds singing back and forth to each other in the trees to the swarming things flying in and out the window. It was also a time for closure. After a week of re-learning how to walk it was time to visit the same spot that forever changed my world. I asked father to bring the person that saved my life. I learned that he was my former body slave. That his name was Alexander. He had to be somewhere in his mid-twenties. He was not much different than the other house slaves except that his skin was a rich bronze. It would take months of toiling in the hot sun to achieve that complexion. Although he was taken aback by my request, he agreed to take me to the spot he found me.
Since I still walked with a slight limp, a slave that was a skilled woodcarver fastened a walking stick for me. Between my stick and Alexander's sturdy frame sticking close to my side, I had nothing to fear. My eyes squinted at the bright sunlight the moment I stepped out. For the first time I could smell firsthand the raw smell of earth and vegetation that the breeze carried. My feet hobbled through the tall blades of grass, letting them tickle my bare calves. I seemed to have no trouble finding the uneven groves hidden in the lush stalks. The field felt oddly familiar. Then Alexander who was a step ahead of me stopped suddenly. I pressed my weight against the stick, silently thanking him for stopping along the fence.
He turned to me. "This is it, Troy. This is where I found you," he said before clearing his throat.
After all these weeks I finally knew I had a chance of getting a real answer to a burning question. "Why did the horse lose control?"
"The horse must have been frightened by either something or someone. I heard you say that someone was chasing you just as you were approaching the gate. It happened so quick that I did not even see the horse or its rider. Just heard a jumble of hooves." I closed my eyes. In the blackness a pair of gray eyes glowed. As light penetrated the darkness, contours of a long face emerged. A man's face. A panicked breath escaped my throat leaving me breathless.
He rested a hand on my shoulder. "Is everything well, Master? You look pale. It was as if you were in a trance." I shook my head. I was far from well.
"What is it?" he asked. How could I articulate what had just happened? The face I thought I saw mirrored the one I dreamt. How was this happening? "We can leave this place if it is too much bad memories here," he continued, snapping me from my stupor.
I shook my head. "I thought that maybe I could draw some closure," I began. "I thought that maybe the memories would come flooding back. However all I got is more unanswered questions. But what I am beginning to think is that this was no accident. Someone was after me. The dreams—"
"Never mind. Just forget I mentioned it," I said hastily. "I just want closure. And you cannot bring it." I slowly followed the wooden fence.
"Where are you going?" he called.
"Nowhere. I am just taking a walk. I do not need you to follow me. I am capable now of walking on my own." He threw his hands in the air, as he shouted, "Just do not venture too far out." I continued treading down the lumpy ground with my walking stick. I tried to recall if the same pastures were the one in my dreams. The scenery seemed so familiar as if I had treaded the same grounds before but the little thickets here stretched miles apart. Not like the cluster that encircled me in the dream. As the fence led me back to the cobblestone road, I saw several cypress trees planted rooted along the road. It all looked as it did in an earlier dream. Then the sound of hooves came thumping against the stone road. I felt my stomach twist into knots. Was I in another dream? Maybe the figure was after me. I squinted to look to see who was coming down the road. It was a lone chariot. As it came closer, I snuck behind one of the cypress trees. Then the chariot came to a stop in front of our spacious home. The driver came to a complete stop before helping a young lady down the chariot. Her pristine face was still fresh with youth. She had to be around my age I assumed. But what was she doing here? Especially a girl girded in a colorful garment with sparkly earrings dangling from her lobes. I saw her speak briefly to the driver before walking along the edge of the road. She walked about, bent down, and picked herself up in a repetitious manner.
"What is she doing?" I muttered. She quickly turned towards my direction. Why did I have to talk? Then it hit me. She must be looking for something. I emerged from the tree only to kick a hard rock against the tree. I stooped down to discover this was no rock. It appeared to be a blue gem attached to a silver necklace. I scooped it in my palm, examining the gem closely to the light. Perhaps she was looking for this. I tried to step back onto the grass when our eyes met. Her pale blue eyes gazed into mines, unflinching. A breeze cloaked her face with flowing black locks. Should I be cautious? Apollus had one time said that women that wore their hair down were harlots. However she had the remaining hair tied back at the nape.
Curious, I stepped away from the tree with my right hand balled into a fist where the necklace hid.
"Greetings Troy. It has been a long time since we saw each other." My mouth went dry. She knew me. "How are you?" she continued, unfazed. It was highly unlikely harlots would know my name I reasoned, let alone be here…right?
"Fair I suppose." I faltered. "Have we met before?" I asked with a nervous grin. I tightened my grip on the walking stick, as my knees began to shake.
"How funny that you say that," she said, laughing aloud. I sighed in relief. "But the reason I am here is because I am looking for a necklace I lost when I came to a dinner party your family was hosting. I looked everywhere at home but with no luck. It must be here," she said.
"You lost this necklace." I opened my palm to reveal the necklace. Her full lips curved into a grin.
"How did you know…thanks? This means a lot to me."
"Anytime," I said grinning. I watched her as she pushed her hair back before securing the necklace around her neck. She caught me stealing side glances at her. I looked away.
"You seem rather happy to see me. You look at me with fresh eyes."
"What do you mean?" I said suppressing a smirk.
"You are looking at me as if this was the first time you seen me. I know it has been awhile but not that long," she said.
"What makes you say that?" She rolled her eyes.
"You never looked at me like that before." I could not understand what she was talking about, let alone remember who I was even speaking to.
"You seemed to not notice me for most of my sister's wedding last year. Remember that?" she asked matching my smirk.
"Oh yes, I remember," I said, nodding.
"Oh really?" she said eyeing me intently while nodding her head. "Remember what we talked about that evening?"
"Um well…we talked about a lot of things about life." I scratched my mind, looking for anything I might have said. Nothing came up.
"I do not remember the conversation," I sighed. She bit her lip.
"You remember my name right?"
"Um…Helen," I guessed. Her lips quivered into a frown.
"I was joking," I blurted.
"You forgot," she said crossly.
"Sorry. Do not take it personally. So much has happened these past few months and since the accident—"
"You can save the explanation. There were many other people there and I was not that important."
"No, you got it wrong."
"I suppose a year really makes a difference," she said coolly. She turned her back to me. I had to say something. Anything.
"To be honest, I do not remember much of anything or anyone. My memories of not just you but the people I love are mostly gone. But I will not forget that someone like you gave me the time of day." She stopped in her tracks to stare back at me. I waited for a response. Even a simple smile. But all I got was cold silence. Just then Apollus came galloping down the road on his steed. He pulled up in front of her chariot.
"Why hello Priscilla," he said before dismounting from the horse.
"Oh you remember my name!" she exclaimed.
"Of course I remember! How could I forget a face like yours?" He said looking in my direction. My heart sank. Apollus moved closer to Priscilla to wrap an arm around her.
"You seem quite happy to be in my presence."
"Why certainly," Apollus said, gazing into her eyes. "Who could forget an exotic beauty like you," he whispered. I watched Priscilla squirm as his warm breath tickled her ear.
"Come along with me. I want to show you our lovely home and some of our new furnishings we added."
With an arm snaked around her waist, together they proceeded indoors. I stood on the side of the road, dejected. It was a chance meeting that only happened once. There that stood before me was a beautiful girl who stopped to notice a crippled like myself. For the moment, I forgot I was lame. All I could see was her warm smile and piercing blue eyes that rivaled the sky.
"She was just a stranger…a perfect stranger," I muttered. I slowly hobbled inside only to pass by Priscilla and Apollus chattering together on the couch on my way to my room.
"Now that I am to be the future king, you could be my future princess. No. Queen," he corrected. She laughed.
I ignored the two and went straight to my bedroom. I plopped onto the bed, staring blankly at the low ceiling. Just then the slave girl pranced in.
"I heard you had a chance to go outside for the first time. How was it your Excellency?"
"It was nice," I said dryly. She merely nodded.
"I am glad you had a nice time. You surely do not need my assistance as much. I must tell your grandfather the good news for he has just arrived."
I nodded. She must have sensed my apathy because her smile vanished before leaving the room. I was alone again, although I had grown quite accustomed to it. I tried to forget about what happened but I could not set aside those piercing eyes softening at the sight of me only for them to harden. Stop thinking about her. I looked at the sealed scroll collecting dust on the lampstand. My tutor had left the scroll inscribed with countless poems, which were mostly in Greek. Although I struggled to read the Greek I needed something to distract myself. But it was not long before I got a knock that jolted me from the stanzas.
"Troy." I looked up from the scroll and saw Priscilla standing under the doorway.
"Priscilla? What are you doing here?" I said, placing the scroll back on the lampstand.
"Your grandfather said you were taking visitors. One of the slaves directed me here," she said sheepishly. "I heard about your horse riding accident. I realized you must not have fully recovered when I saw the walking stick but I did not know about your memory loss. I heard from your grandfather. I told him your grandson did not remember me and he confirmed your plight to my ears."
"Well now you know. You seemed to have no trouble accepting his truth."
"I know. Sorry. I should have trusted you."
I nodded. "Welcome to my reality," I said, extending my arms as if I could touch the walls that enclosed me. "Anyhow I understand why you were mad at me earlier. I should have remembered you."
"It does not even matter anymore. It was rather silly of me to get offended. I came here because—"
"You feel sorry for me?"
"Not just that. To apologize how I acted. I hope you can forgive me. I just want you to feel better."
"Apology accepted. Life is too short to dwell on trivial grievances. Besides I already feel better," I said. My face brightened with a sweeping smile. She smiled back, nodding.
"Let us start over shall we." She placed a hand on her bosom. "My name is Priscilla, the daughter of Craetus." She seemed to glide across the floor before stopping at my bedside. I looked up at her smiling face.
"And my name is Troy Acertius, the son of Acropolus."
"Nice to meet you stranger. Hopefully we will not be strangers anymore," she said, extending a hand to me. I latched on, encasing her small hand into mines. I looked up again, hoping to catch one last look at her before she faded into a distant memory. I never wanted to forget. Not anymore.
"I must be leaving," she said trying to peel her hand away. Blood rushed to my cheeks. I must have squeezed her hand a little too hard. I was already scaring her away. "But I have a feeling we will cross paths again. It was nice getting reacquainted," she said, holding back a giggle.
"Same as well," I gushed. As she left, I said to myself, "I promise I will not forget you." Moments later another knock came at my door. Did she come back?
"Troy. Oh there you are?" Alexander called out. Oh I sighed inward.
"Sorry Troy that I did not report the incident to your father," he said, bowing his head. I had seen that look before. One word conjured forth. Guilt.
"What are you talking about? You must have informed father the day I fell."
"No not that," he said shaking his head. "I was afraid to think of what he would do to me or anyone else in that case."
"But he should know it was not your fault. It was someone else that petrified the horse. You tried to open the gate…right?"
"I know but I was afraid to tell him what I really thought happened," he looked over his shoulder to making sure nobody could hear us, "I believe someone was pursuing you. After I rescued you, I found this," he said in a low voice. He reached into a money purse around his loins. It was a bundle of smooth dark hair. The color almost matched Priscilla's. I wrinkled my brow. Where was he going with this? He swallowed. "This was from the horse. I did not want to cause more worry with speculation I could not prove. So I merely told him the horse went crazy and you fell off." My jaw dropped.
"You knew all along… and you thought you were doing me a favor by not telling the whole truth. So someone was after me, and they managed to slip away and nothing is done about it!" I said feeling my voice rise. "Whatever happened to justice for all the time lost wasting away in this bed? What if they come back?" I mouthed. I turned my head away from him, shaking.
"I did not want to spur undue speculation. There was a time not too long before your injury that men were charged with sedition. They paid a heavy price but I believe they were innocent. But I realized now I could not live with the idea that there could be really someone out there ready to harm you or the rest of my master's household." What act of sedition? My head was still reeling from the revelation.
I turned to look at his face. He could hardly look me in the eyes as his lips trembled. He had saved me only to have concealed what really happened. But I could not stay mad at him. He was the reason my heart still beat. "What do you suppose we do?" I said steadying my voice. "Would not what I say be more "speculation?" Besides I cannot remember what transpired before the fall, just dreams…the memories are gone," I said wistfully.
"If we could reconstruct the scene maybe it could elicit some of your memories up to the time of the fall."
"How? I hardly remember the details."
"We could start by what you think happened and I could fill in the rest when I ran to open the gate. You and I believe someone riding a horse chased you to the gate. What really happened is that the horse rammed against the swinging gate, causing the horse to lose balance. You slid off. And besides you might be able to fill in the details with your imagination. I just informed one of the guards, who works for your father that more security is needed within a one mile radius of the residence. But we cannot point fingers until we know for certain. All we can do is try to see what could have happened and hopefully get an investigation going." I thought long and hard about the proposal. It then dawned on me that maybe my dreams might have held the key to finding the truth of what really happened all along. Perhaps the gods everyone spoke of were trying to tell me something.
"So you really think this will work? It sounds clever but dangerous," I said. "Could we not just tell father what we think happened?"
"Yes. But do you want to see if you could ignite something inside your head to unearth those buried memories?" It took me a moment to realize the enormity of the proposal. For me it opened not only the possibility of finding out what happened that fateful night but the last fifteen years of my life.
"I want to," I began "but I am terrified of horses though. What if I fall again?"
"You do not have to ride Troy. There is a plenty time for riding when you feel ready. For now you can just watch. Besides no one actually has to fall off a horse. We can just do the supposed chase and then the horse jumping over the gate," he assured.
I could hardly contain my growing excitement. "That is the best plan I heard so far. It certainly overrules hitting my head against a rock," I said, chuckling.
"I cannot guarantee it will work," he added.
"We have to try," I begged. "There is not much to lose, right?" He nodded. "So who are the participants?" I asked, smirking.