Chapter 9: Flash from the Past
A shrill cry roused me from the dream. It sounded like a bird. Whatever alarmed the winged creature lurked outside, waiting. I peered out the window placed above my bed hoping to spot the winged creature in the scattered trees. But instead a blanket of fog consumed the sky and trees. The dew from the evening rain still hung in the air I breathed. I rubbed my eyes wondering if I was still dreaming. I blinked again, only to find the heavens still shrouding the land. As ominous as it appeared I found myself entranced by its beauty.
Moments later the slave girl entered. I began my morning getting dressed into a new tunic while another slave who acted as a hairdresser tamed my curls with olive oil. When they appeared satisfied with their work they excused themselves from my company. Shortly after, feet shuffled in. Alexander's face brightened when he saw me. "Are you ready?"
"Whenever you are," I answered, rising to my feet. I limped alongside him, past the guard that hovered by the vestibule was the gateway between our home and what lay beyond. The fence seemed to emerge from the fog as we treaded the soggy field. By the time we arrived at the middle of the fence another slave gripped the reins of the two horses. The two horses seemed to greet us with their bobbing heads. They both stood taller than Alexander and me. I should be terrified of them by I was fascinated by their grace and beauty. These noble creatures were not scary in themselves. Just scary to ride.
"It is a little foggy out, but it is slowly starting to diminish. Let us make this quick," the handler said. He clearly had other tasks he would rather attend to.
The plan was simple. The horse handler would pretend to be me. He would start all the way by the lone juniper tree. The "dark rider" played by Alexander would start by the well I estimated to be about 30 paces back by the stone well. When Alexander waved a red cloth, the chase would begin.
"Where should I be in this?" I asked them.
Alexander hesitated before answering. "I think you should be stationed closer to the gate along the fence. Make sure the gate stays closed. If everything goes smoothly perhaps we can start getting some answers." I nodded. I could not contain my growing smile. But behind the smile was a growing unsettled feeling. This had to work. I honestly saw no other way.
I waited for them to gallop to their positions. Then an eerie silence settled. I twiddled my thumbs waiting. Through the dense fog it started with the low rumble of hooves pounding the earth. Escaping from the mist were two riders. The horse handler skillfully swerved the horse left and right as Alexander and his black horse bridged the gap between them. Instead of the handler, I saw myself on the saddle. Chills traveled down my back, leaving me numb.
"Open the gate! Someone is chasing me!"
I could hear the words echoing inside my head. I winced, at the faint image of me running away. I forced myself to pay attention back to the chase at the present. They were getting closer and closer…and closer. The horses were moving at speeds unmatched as the legs barely licked the grassy surface. Then I saw it in the corner of my eye…an outline of another horse amidst the fog that cloaked the horizon. Trying to take my mind off the diversion, I watched as the horse's robust legs began to charge in my direction. I cringed at the sight of my hands losing their grip on the reins as I slid off the back of the flailing horse. I smacked the ground, bounced off only to hit my head once more on the ground. I lied lifeless as Alexander scrambled to my body as the horse regained its balance. The horsemen by then had quickly galloped into the thickets to the west.
"We did it!" Alexander shouted, snapping me from my stupor. He pumped his fist in the air as the horse landed squarely on all four legs. The handler had made it on the other side of the fence. Unlike me, his jump was successful.
"Did it work Troy?" Alexander asked, slowing the horse.
I weakly gave a nod. I scoured the horizon to find the other horse but perhaps it was just a figment of my imagination.
"Did it work Troy?" I bit my lip. "I should have known this was a bad idea," Alexander said, shaking his head.
"Yes," I said, exhaling a breath. "I am just shaken up a little. All I remember that flashed up is the few moments of the chase to the actual fall. The horsemen headed in the direction of the thickets," I said pointing west, "Before I fell. But I am surprised a third horse appeared."
Alexander wrinkled his brows. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, my work here is done," the horse handler snorted as he dismissed himself.
"There was another horse in the distance as you fellows were riding. You honestly did not see or hear anyone else?"
Alexander shook his head. "That was not part of the plan. I did not see another horse but I might have heard some hooves in the distance. But I suppose we were not paying attention. Maybe it was one of the king's guards. No one is supposed to get near the palace except for the men of the king."
I nodded. That sounded like a reasonable explanation. "I am just being overly worried."
"Very well," he chuckled. "I am going to lead the horse back into the stable." I opened the gate to let him pass without having to jump the fence again. Once they disappeared inside the stable placed at the end of the fence, I heard the sound of hooves again. I looked up at the approaching horse. Unlike the first two it was a milky white. The rider was coming in the same direction Alexander took. The hood of his cloak fell over his eyes. No slave of ours was clothed like that. I looked around for the handler or Alexander but they were gone.
My pounding chest echoed in my ears. I slipped behind the gate, shutting it tight behind me. But if he decided to jump over the fence there was no way I could outrun him.
He pulled the horse to a stop. "Troy."
I stood frozen in the grass. He knows my name.
"Who are you? What do you want?" I exclaimed. My feet felt uncoordinated as I staggered from the gate. No response. I dreaded the day I would ever meet the hooded figure that both enchanted and frightened me in my dreams. Now I stood face to face with my living nightmare. Before he could finish dismounting the horse, I was reaching into my sheath.
"I said who are you?" I exclaimed. I whipped out my sword.
"You know me. Put down your sword Troy unless you want a fight?" From his sheath came a slender sword twice the size of mines. He held it the sky, letting the pale light that escaped the clouds glint off its polished surface.
"Not unless you show yourself!" I said, scowling. He pulled off the hood. His face looked younger than I imagined although he appeared older by a few years. Those dark brown eyes set deep into his brows, studied me for any sudden movement. The intensity in his gaze softened, keeping me planted on solid ground. I stared back, mirroring his empty expression. Who was this young valiant man who stood before me? Was he the one that tried to chase me?
"I am your lost brother," he began in a low deep voice. I shook my head.
"You were lost at sea. They said you perished. Why must you tell a tale like that?"
"Those are lies. I cannot believe you would be so gullible to believe that nonsense."
I wrinkled my brow. "How do I know you really are my brother? Would a 'brother' play a cruel game on his brother?"
"The blood of our father Acropolus and our mother Helen pulses through both of our veins. I remembered when the midwife wrapped you in a blanket and I saw you wrapped there helpless in her arms. I remember when mother would read you stories at night to get you to sleep."
"You know of her?" I asked, gentling my voice.
"Yes." He almost spat the answer. "She loved you," he continued. "More than you would ever know. You were her favorite and you stuck to her side until the earth took her. We have been through times of play, to the earthquake, the period of restoration, and we saw each other undergo growing pains. I remembered when we were in this situation locked in a mock battle. I do not want to hurt you. If anything I want to protect you." I stood there stunned. I unhinged the gate, removing the barrier that stood between us.
"I hate to admit it but I miss you Troy." I was torn. I should be overjoyed that the rumors were untrue but to me he was just another stranger. I only wished I could remember half the things he told me. But I had one burning question I was dying to ask.
"You were not the one that was pursuing me then?" I asked.
"No! What are you talking about? I just came home today. I already told you that I would never want to hurt you. You should know that about me, even if you forgot everything else about me. But something is not the same with you." My cheeks burned with shame. I could not recognize my own brother even if he was staring me in the face. He was discovering just how lost and broken I truly was.
"I fell off a horse," I began. "When I awoke from a deep sleep I lost my memories. Besides my name, I only could remember a few simple truths and images. But with no story to make sense of them it just felt broken," I said. I cleared my throat. "When I saw you coming with the hood it reminded me of the person who was after me. Whoever it was I think they wanted me dead. But I know now it was never you." I dropped my sword. He looked at me quizzically for a moment. I pulled up my tunic to reveal the old scars on my legs.
A murmur escaped his lips. "I want to find out who was behind this cruel game!" He balled his hands into fists. "If I find out who did this to you I will—"
"Thanks, but we are far from finding a suspect," I interjected. "All I could make out was that he was wearing a black cloak like you are wearing. He had a long face similar to yours but gray eyes. I did not see the rest of his face," I admitted.
Alexander scampered over to meet me. "Is everything—" His jaw dropped. "Barbarius! You survived!" he exclaimed.
"I must tell the others," he said. We watched him scamper off.
"Welcome home brother." I reached for his hand. He clutched mines, feeling the warmth that it contained. Yet I could still see the look of pain etched in his brows after showing him the scars.
"I am better now. I learned to walk again. I am still the same Troy," I assured. Well mostly the same.
"I suppose," he said. "I promised to protect you and I was away. But I am here to stay now. No more running away," he said. We walked together as the mist dispersed.
As I entered the atrium I could hear Apollus ask, "Do you have my drink ready?"
A slave girl came sauntering into the atrium, a drink in hand. "Here you are my Excellency." Apollus gripped the goblet before cocking his head back to swallow.
Alexander rushed into the atrium after tending to the horses. "Your brother is in town. He made it after all." Apollus choked.
The female slave pounded against Apollus' back, forcing a mixture of wine and saliva to spray from his lips. I clamped my mouth to keep from laughing.
"This better not be a practical joke," he said, clutching his chest. The slave girl shook her head in protest. "But I will believe it when I see it," he hissed. He gripped the goblet, peering inside what remained of his drink.
"Greetings my brother." I recognized the voice instantly. So did Apollus. He lost his grip, letting the wine soak his toga before it clanged against the tiled floor. The first face he saw when he looked up was Barbarius standing there calmly. His face flushed, matching the stain that bled through his lap.
Apollus took a deep breath before responding. "I was not expecting you to come back," he said quietly. He whipped his head around to catch the female slave still fumbling with the goblet. "Quick, clean these horrible stains off me!" he snapped. She left the room for a damp cloth. Apollus looked down at his toga and then at Barbarius with a look of disgust.
"It is not like I made you drop it," Barbarius said in a calm tone.
"What are you doing here?" Apollus asked with a hint of malice in his words. I watched from my seat on the couch before turning my attention to Barbarius.
"I am sorry about what happened to your toga. You have plenty you can choose from to change into," Barbarius said.
Apollus diverted his glare from Barbarius to the curtains. "Where is the rag?" Apollus snarled. As soon as the words left his mouth the female had returned with another male slave, rags in hand. "Why are you even here?" Apollus muttered.
"I came because this is my home," Barbarius replied.
"Well get ready for some changes. I am king now. And in my choosing I could banish you again. If that is what you want?" he asked with a dark grin.
"I am not here to start trouble, Apollus," he said sternly.
"Too late! I need to go change into some new clothes." He sucked in a breath as the slaves took turns wiping down his toga. Yet the wine had already left its mark.
Barbarius rolled his eyes. "Oh what happened to 'how are you Barbarius' or 'so nice to see you again?' Let us throw a feast to celebrate!" I think a feast was the last thing Apollus wanted right now. A hush fell over the room. Before the slaves could finish, Apollus had stormed off into the left wing of the house.
The painful silence was broken when grandfather finally arrived. Both men hugged and kissed. Shortly afterwards, father entered the room. For a fleeting moment I watched his dark eyes light up. He stood at a distance, observing the young tall man that stood before him. He looked him up and down as if making sure he was not still dreaming. Barbarius rose from his seat to face him.
Father stepped closer, lips quivering. "Why did you not tell anyone you were coming home, let alone alive?"
"I did not want to make a big hassle over it. I knew you would tell your men and everyone would surround me with questions. I just wanted to come in peace."
"So you finally came to your senses," father said, folding his arms across his chest. His fleeting smile had long vanished. "You left a hole in my heart that could not be replaced. And now you just appear as if from thin air." He faltered, groping for the words for all the mixed emotions I imagined was flowing through him. "But nevertheless you are my son, and I could not deny my own offspring, at least not my firstborn." He pulled him into a heart embrace. "Thanks for coming home!" he whispered, patting his back. They held each other tight with either one not wanting to be the first to let go. My lips curved upwards at the reunion between father and son. His greatest wish had come finally come true. But deep inside, I yearned for father to light up with joy when I entered the room. The way he did with Barbarius.
"We need to celebrate the occasion. Tell the neighbors the good news," father announced to the passing slaves that stopped to watch.
Around the table, father, grandfather Miletus, and one of the high ranking officials reclined on one couch while I sat between Apollus and Barbarius on the adjacent couch.
"The prodigal son has returned," father announced, raising his goblet. Apollus was the last one to raise his cup forward, as if he was surrendering out of defeat. Dinner especially for festive occasions would always introduce me to a new dish to try. It always started light. This time the dish consisted of a standard ration of leafy vegetables, eggs, oysters, and a cluster of juicy grapes. It was clear that already the first round of drinks was lifting everyone's spirits except Apollus. Between bites of my salad I would watch him pluck one grape at a time before sucking the juice out of them.
Between the lively chatter, I heard that the main course was ready. Before the cook came balancing the silver platter with the "centerpiece" I quietly inquired what new food would be served next. Grandfather's answer was simple. "Stuffed pig."
I tore into the sizzling tender flesh, letting the spices spread over my tongue. Everyone waited to devour their sliced portion of the pig before resuming the conversation.
"So how did you make it out alive? We had heard about a shipwreck several months ago. You were on the boat were you?" Grandfather asked, wiping his mouth. Barbarius scratched his chiseled jaw as he gulped down his meat.
"Luck and sheer will to survive. If there was one thing I learned was to never trust anyone. People will do anything to survive and I am not an exception to that rule."
"How did you get back?" Father inquired.
"I came home using a small fishing boat I bought with the last few coins I had left. With the map I had borrowed from a Greek sailor and using the stars I found my way back here again."
Apollus finally broke his silence. "So why did you decide to come back now?"
"I already explained myself."
"Not really. Your answers are quite ambiguous. We still do not know why you really left in the first place," Apollus said.
"He just came back Apollus. We should not bombard him with questions. At least not so soon," I piped in. Apollus rolled his eyes.
"I think this whole family has a right to know. Would you not agree Barbarius?" Apollus continued, smirking.
"I do not need to explain myself to you or anyone."
"We do have a right to know," father said sternly. "Anything could have happened to you. A lot of things changed when you were gone. I began to doubt if I could ever rely on you to take up the great responsibility that you were to inherit. "
"I know. And I am sorry I ran off. I wanted to see what was beyond this tiny island of Aegea. There is a bigger world out there that I was forbidden to see, but I got a chance to see it with my own eyes. I was scared of responsibility, worried that I would fail you. So I left. But now I realized I could not run from it. This is my destiny, here ruling as king."
Father gazed at Barbarius. "You really hurt this family on levels you do not know. I never taught you to be a coward," he said briskly. "I just need some time to absorb this all in," father said before gulping down the last of his wine. An awkward silence followed as everyone quietly dined. The official that was dinning with us quietly dismissed himself. Then one of the guards clad in a silver breastplate over his tunic entered through the curtains. A scroll was in his hands.
"My lord, I need to speak to you about the security report regarding the incident on the second month of the twenty-sixth day of the year." Father got up from his seat and walked over to the officer.
"What kind of investigation is going on?" Apollus asked, stitching his brows downwards.
"How do you not know? Someone was pursuing Troy," Barbarius exclaimed.
"What? There was someone chasing you?" Apollus asked turning his attention to me. "How can you be certain of this? I thought you could not remember anything prior to the accident?"
"There was someone chasing me that day. That is what I do know. These past weeks I had dreams someone was chasing me and finally today I could recall some of the events when two of the slaves reenacted what could have happened."
"Did it bring back most of your memories?" grandfather asked. Sadly, I shook my head.
"What if it was merely an accident or a joke?" Apollus asked.
"This is not to be taken lightly," grandfather warned. "I remember you telling me you had nightmares…but I guess those nightmares were real."
"It looks like Troy and the slave have carried out their own little investigation," father said staring back at me. "The guard has informed me that one of the slaves came forward to knowing about the incident. The whole truth. Maybe this is mere speculation but I am not taking chances!" Father said, his voice resonating into the room.
"What happened to Alexander?" I probed.
"Do not worry about that dog. Am I the last one to know about all this? Who is to say that the scoundrel who did this to you has already tried to escape the island? As for Alexander he is to pay for not coming forward with this information sooner." Father turned his back to the table to resume business with the guard.
"Inform the other guards that nobody is to leave the island until I figure out what is happening in my domain!" he demanded.
"My lord, what about those who had scheduled business venture in Corinth? Are they not pre-approved by you?"
"Cancel it!" he said sharply. "Send word to the Messenger. The island is on lockdown!" A hush fell over the room. What started as a festive evening turned sour. After dessert was served, I could already sense Apollus itching to leave the table. He was already finishing up his honey cake.
"We need to speak to you Troy," father said. His sharp eyes fixed squarely on me. "Tell me what you can remember. Tell me what you told the slave boy," he said with a sour twang to his words.
After my own interrogation, one thing became clear. The investigation was in full motion. After the slaves scurried in to clear the table, Barbarius walked around the corridor, examining the colorful frescos that graced the wall. He lived here before but it was as if he was examining them with fresh eyes. I lurked behind following the path he took along the dark halls. For me I was still trying to relearn the stories behind the imagery.
"So how did it feel to travel out to sea?" I asked.
He turned around. "It was nice," he shrugged.
"Just nice?" I exclaimed raising an eyebrow.
"What do you want me to say? That the people I went with were nothing more than bandits looking for gold and I refused to go along with it anymore."
"Why did you go with them then?"
"Were you not the one that said 'we should not bombard Barbarius with a lot of questions?' " He mimicked.
I bit down on my lip. "Sorry. But Apollus is right. No one really knew what happened to you. I do not mean to pry in your affairs. I am rather curious though. But everyone is curious about what happened to you."
"I really do not want to talk about it." His tone turned dark.
"If something was or is going," I corrected, "you would tell father or me, would you? You saw how father interrogated me about the incident. All I told him was that it was some man in a black cloak with gray eyes that fled towards the thickets. It was as if a weight was lifted off of me by coming clean with my suspicions."
"I can handle myself. I did back then and I could do it now. It is you I am worried about." His hardened eyes softened.
"All I can say is to never ignore that voice inside. You and I know something is not right," I said shaking my head.
He responded with silence.
"What are you two discussing amongst yourselves?" father asked from behind. We both turned around.
"Oh nothing," Barbarius lied with a composed face.
"So how is my son doing? Are you thinking of leaving again?" Barbarius shook his head. "Apollus was recently announced as the next successor. I hope you did not take it personal."
Barbarius bit his lip before responding. "If that is what the council has decided."
"If you would have come sooner, you would have been the one," he whispered in his ear before stepping back.
"Good night boys," he said in a low voice. As Barbarius and I turned around to go to our separate bedrooms—
"Barbarius." The shadows cloaked father's face. "You and I need to talk about your excursion."