Chapter 10 : "Lost and Found"

Why did Barbarius leave? The Tribute was not officially over. Then again, someone could ask me the same question. It dawned on me that Barbarius could have been overwhelmed by the event. Someone or something must have set him off and put him in a sour mood, forcing him to retreat, alone. Maybe we had more things in common than I thought.

Grandfather asked Apollus if Barbarius was with friends. It made sense considering Barbarius was good friends with Titus. However, Apollus assured us that after the interlude he accompanied Titus, but Barbarius never joined them. My eyes scoured the crowd for the Aurelius brothers. I knew him to be in good graces, especially with the two older brothers. The last time I ventured back to the Baths—which was only once since my initial encounter with Romeos—he was pummeling the punching bag while one of them steadied it. For a fleeting moment, I saw the three Aurelius brothers walk alongside each other to our right. The middle brother gave a slight nod in our direction before they disappeared behind some older Council members. But Barbarius was nowhere to be seen. I suggested to Apollus that Barbarius was probably half-way home by now. He stared at me for a moment before giving his head a slow shake.

His gaze shifted from me to the ground. "I suppose you are right, Troy."

I wanted to believe he was home. And part of me wanted Apollus to believe me for once. But I could tell from his eyes he was not convinced. I shoved the pestering thought aside and fixed my attention on my younger cousins, taking turns stroking the back of Shabby before the dog leaned in to plant a slimy tongue on the younger girl's forehead, sending her squealing.

I started in their direction when grandfather's low but firm voice froze me, "I think we should check on your brother." I faltered at the sight of father coming in our direction. His angular jaws clenched together into a scowl. His gaze locked on the three of us as if mother's relatives did not exist by the tomb.

"Where is Barbarius?" my father asked. I looked up at grandfather who then turned his head to Apollus.

Apollus stepped forward from our trio. "I think he left, father."

Father let out an audible sigh. "Do I have to watch you all like children so you do not run off telling no one? Did he run off to the villa too?" he asked with an edge to his voice.

His words seemed aimed at me under the guise of expressing his disappointment at Barbarius.

"Maybe he went home," I suggested under my breath.

My father's dark eyes narrowed into tight slits. He looked at me for a moment as if he wanted to scold me. His quivering lips clamped shut when Felix, his top advisor, sauntered beside him.

"My excellency. Pardon my interruption but word has it that Gaius is sending the ships today."

"I would like them to ground the ships." I looked at my aunt, who seemed a bit stunned at the news. It meant she, her family, my other aunt, and their family could stay longer. Although I doubted it was because father wanted to heal old wounds, I was secretly happy they could stay a little longer.

Felix raised a brow before smoothing a crease in his toga. "You would have to summon the Messenger and hope he catch the sailors before they set sail," he countered.

Father turned to Felix, "So let it be done." Felix frowned before turning back to the Council. Father shifted his attention back to us.

"Apollus, could you check the villa? I want to speak to your brother," father ordered.

Apollus furrowed his brow. "What about the rest of the Tribute?"

"It ends now."

While the crowds thinned at the Field of Souls, Apollus departed to the villa. I volunteered to go home with grandfather to check if Barbarius made it back to our residence. It was the least I could do to redeem myself at my fall from grace.

He is just at home; I told myself. But unlike my disappearance, there was a sense of urgency in finding his whereabouts. Now I worried. But I gave one long wistful look at Shabby. It would pain me to part with him.

"Can he come too?" I asked grandfather.

He could come up with a hundred reasons to say no. He opened his mouth, but Shabby was already rushing towards me. He looked up at me with his glassy brown eyes and I knew I could not say no to him.

I knelt to stroke him behind the ears and whispered, "You are coming with me, Shabby."

I looked back to find the youngest boy waving. The smile on his face wiped away. This is not goodbye, I wanted to say. I would see them again soon. Together with Shabby trotting behind grandfather and me, we made our way past acquaintances who nodded or wished us condolences. Though I hardly knew half their names, I felt honored.

I could see the chariot in the grass where Alexander stationed it when someone called me from behind. I spun around to find Romeos again.

"Are you leaving now?" he asked.

"Yes. Did the couriers not tell everyone that the Tribute has ended?"

He shook his head. "That is beside the point, though. I want to apologize for what happened earlier with you and Silus." My brows rose and fell. Why was he apologizing for Silus? It was not his fault that Silus was a spiteful boy.

"Look, I have to go," I said. "No need to apologize."

"Hear my words. Please."

I motioned for my grandfather and Shabby to wait by the chariot.

"I should have defended you," Romeos continued. "But I kept silent. I am not staying silent anymore. Silus is my friend, but if he is in the wrong, he needs to know it. Especially if he hurt my friend." I ran my fingers through my curls before stroking my cheeks. For a moment I was speechless. He was calling me a friend. There was no need to question his loyalty or dismiss his sincere apology. He saved me from making a spectacle of myself in front of the Council. If anything, I owed him.

I did not know if words were enough to express my gratitude, but I breathed a "thank you" before we parted ways. For the first time in my life, I had a genuine friend.

Alexander drove us back to our domus. A part of me was relieved the Tribute ended, but part of me wished things would have ended differently. That maybe my mother's relatives could accompany us back home to light incense and eat a meal together. But with everyone worried about Barbarius that looked less and less likely now. The only good thing that came of this day was finding Shabby, alive and well. During the ride, he hopped in my lap as I stroked his golden fur. His touch calmed me and for a moment I could feel something I had not experienced in a long time. Peace. Then the chariot came to an abrupt halt.

We were home.

Alexander assisted grandfather as he stepped off the chariot. Then it was my turn. Even though I did not need the extra help to come off a chariot, I did not resist. After the way I treated him, he still wanted to be kind, even though he had every reason not to be. For a slave, he acted more civil than people of higher stations. If there were two things he deserved, it was respect and dignity.

Alexander kept the dog with him outside while grandfather and I stepped foot inside the domus. We asked an older male slave in the atrium who was dusting a naked marble statue if he saw Barbarius. He shook his head. Then one of Barbarius' assistants who helped dressed and groom him came forward with a piece of parchment dangling from his left hand.

"What is this?" Grandfather asked.

"My lord, a letter." He showed him the letterhead greeting. That was probably all he read. Most slaves could not read in our household. But a few like Anias and Odydus were educated.

Grandfather snatched the letter before devouring the words.

"What does it say?" I asked.

Grandfather opened his mouth to read the letter in full.

Greetings to my beloved family,

I left this letter behind in case you do not find me. I will be going away for a little while. Please do not bemoan over me for I am well and safe. I have never had the courage until now to make this bold move. I love you father, even though you pushed me. You saw something in me I did not think I possessed. I will miss Apollus for your cynical humor, and for being my loyal comrade. I will miss you too, Troy. You are one of the most kind-hearted person I know. I hope you always stay pure at heart.

For where I am going, I cannot quite say. After eighteen years, it is time for me to explore the unknown world beyond Aegea. I need this time to discover myself because I do not feel I am quite ready. I know out there are exceptional Greek thinkers whom I can study from to the vast knowledge in the libraries from Athens to Alexandria. I do not know when I am coming back. Think of this as part of my training father.


The parchment went limp in his hand. He cleared his throat before staring me in the eye. "He ran away," he mouthed. He closed his eyes and took another deep breath. "If you were your brother, where would you go?"

If it was me, I would be in the villa. But the problem was, Barbarius was not me. His sights were beyond the island. That could be anywhere in the Grecian peninsula or any land that surrounded the Great Sea. But the only way he was leaving the island was… by boat!

"Boarding a boat!" I answered. "I have to go now."

"Do you even know the way to the ports in Cyrene?" grandfather asked. "It takes over an hour to trek across the other end of the island by horse and carriage."

"I believe so. Remember when you took me to see the shipyard when I was twelve? Because I do. I can navigate my way through Cyrene." I turned to the vestibule, the last passage between the atrium and the outside when grandfather gripped my left arm.

"Troy! I cannot have you run off again. Not again!"

"I am sorry for running away last night without telling you or father. But this time I am not running away. I am running to someone. Just like you ran looking for me today."

The creases in his brows softened. "Then I will run with you."

Alexander was not expecting to find us asking to get the chariot ready again. Before the horses turned to face the road, Shabby jumped into the open side of the chariot, crashing into my legs. There was no use telling him no. He was coming too.

Since Alexander was not familiar with the path, grandfather instructed him on where to go after leaving the fringes of Apathia. If anyone knew his way around the island, it was grandfather. His early life was something he never spoke about. The part he shared started in his early 20s. Before twenty-five, he was already a self-proclaimed king. He designed the grand causeway to the lighthouse that became a symbol of Cyrene. He orchestrated massive building projects from Apathia to Cyrene. Every marble building was a legacy of his greatness. He was living history. The same legacy my father assumed when grandfather fell gravely ill shortly after I was born. Whatever father did was finish what my grandfather started.

Up to this point, it baffled me why Barbarius was running away. He was father's favorite. Deep down everyone knew it, including him. He epitomized everything father deemed as strength. He did not have to bear the burden of being the runt of the family. Nor to be ridiculed and mocked for just breathing. Maybe that is why father and grandfather were worried at the first sign of his disappearance. Even in his absence, he captivated everyone's attention while I fought to be heard in my father's presence. He had everything lined at his feet only to jeopardize his chance at the throne.

As the chariot rattled against every crack and bump in the road, I looked at every stray passerby from the lone vinedresser tending to their vineyards to the passing chariots that jostled past. No signs of him here in the vastness between the two cities.

"Do you remember why you fought as children?" grandfather asked after he shared his observations about Barbarius. The question seemed to jar me from the swaying as the chariot picked up speed.

I stroked Shabby who could not sit still, "I think the reason we always fought was to see who was greater."

"What did you want to be when you grew up?"

I shrugged. "King." When I was little, I joked about wanting to be king. I soon realized my chances of ever being king were slim. Two of my brothers would have to give up the throne or die first. As I got older, I realized that being a king was more than wearing a crown or barking orders. It was so much more than that.

"Everything we thought we knew flipped on its head. Or maybe we were too blind to see the signs," Grandfather said. His words seemed to drift where his eyes wandered to. I gazed at the path his eyes wandered, but only saw the crest of the mountain that loomed northwest of our location. Perhaps he was looking beyond to the sea that the mountain obstructed.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He eyed me for a moment before answering, "Have you noticed your brother growing distant?"

I shook my head. Barbarius was more reserved than Apollus. He was never one to openly share anything. Why was this anything new?

Grandfather continued, "I did. He is a young man of few words, but I felt everything changed after the wedding. He said all the right things when I pulled him over one time to ask how his meeting with the Council or his lengthy discussions with the Diplomat. I wish I would have asked the difficult questions."

I looked at grandfather's drooping eyes. A mixture of sadness and regret colored his expression. I held his hand. "And you will be able to ask those difficult questions once we find him."

It was late afternoon when we reached Cyrene, and the streets were teeming with merchants and patrons alike. The aroma of cinnamon teased my nostrils before catching a whiff of black pepper from the nearby spice markets. I sneezed, causing Shabby to flatten from my spray of spit. Any moment we would reach the port where all the major ships were housed. A part of me wondered if Barbarius was brave enough to board the ship headed to a place he never been before. Back at home, there would be one less person vying for father's love and attention. The thought hung over me before Shabby distracted me by barking.

I looked out and peaking between the white-washed homes was the foamy sea. Behind the homes were cliffs. In front of the market square were tiered steps descending to the shore. The rest of the trek would be on foot. I looked at grandfather as he was being helped out the chariot. Those 50-some steps would be easier coming down than up. But he smiled at me and reminded me did not come all the way here to sit in a chariot.

I told Shabby to sit with Alexander and wait for us to return. As much as I wanted him beside me, I could not risk him running around in the shipyard. I was about to lose my brother. I could not afford to lose Shabby too.

Grandfather and I made it down the flight of stone steps before taking a quick inventory of the shipyards. Boats of all sizes from fishing boats that would only fit two grown men to enormous cargo vessels bobbed with the waves. I almost ran when I saw the last boat veering into the sea. I left my grandfather behind as I pumped my legs, willing them to go faster.

Maybe I could catch him before he left for good.

"Wait!" I called out. A group of men mending nets swung their necks to stare, but I was already too far ahead to hear what they said. Ahead of me by the wooden planks that jutted into the sea was a familiar face. His stormy gray eyes seemed to match the seas.


He was debating with a stout man with a nasal voice. Then another man scampered over to the two men with a scroll hanging out from a sling strung over his shoulder. He looked to be a courier or messenger.

I froze, giving grandfather enough time to catch up to me. Together we approached the men who were debating about orders given.

"The King wanted those ships grounded!" the courier snapped.

"Why must he wait at the last moment to change directions? Favorable trade winds are blowing. The time to sail is now," he said in a calm but firm voice.

"The king's son is missing," the courier answered.

Gaius went quiet for a moment. He scratched his smooth chin before fighting back a laugh. "Why would he be boarding a ship?"

I blurted, "Because he announced he was leaving the island!" Gaius and the rest of the men went quiet.

I looked Gaius in the eyes without blinking. Just like Priscilla, I was gazing into his soul, searching for his secrets. For a fleeting moment, the corner of his lips turned upward before they straightened.

Grandfather stepped beside me, "Have any of you men saw Barbarius?" The courier and the stout fellow next to him shook their heads in unison. Gaius mirrored their movements before adding a shrug.

For someone who wielded great authority over sea travel, he seemed careless as to the going-on of who came and went. Not like my brother's disappearance mattered to him. Alexander was right. All he saw was probably gold. If my brother's safety was of no concern, there was no telling what he could do to get what he wanted.

"Of all people Gaius, you should know who boards those ships," I said, pointing at the ship being carried by the waves. My tone must have taken a brisk turn because grandfather glanced at me then Gaius then back at me.

"Troy," Gaius began, half-laughing. "Who is teaching you manners? Your words are accusatory but with no substantial basis!"

I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks. Before I could say something, grandfather stepped forward. "Excuse my grandson's abrupt question. He is being trained from the very best, both at home and at the Grammaticus. And one day he will advise men as old as me. Regardless of its delivery, his question is valid and deserves an answer."

Gaius let out an exasperated sigh. "I do not have eyes in the back of my head! There are men stationed at the docks before I get here. If people sneak onboard, that is out of my hands."

I kept my eye on him, unflinching. "Is there a substantial basis for that assessment?" I countered. Grandfather placed a hand on my shoulder. His side glance was a warning. From childhood it was ingrained to watch your tongue before elders and those with positions, but it was becoming harder to respect someone when there was no trust or honor behind the name.

Grandfather's next words to Gaius were firm but low. "Explain your defense to the King." The courier and the other stout man excused themselves, leaving Gaius fidgeting, alone.

Breaking the uncomfortable silence was a bark. Followed by another one in rapid succession.

My heart sunk. He must have escaped. I spun around to find Shabby running toward me with Alexander on his heels, lurching forward.

"Excuse me," I said. Grandfather heaved a sigh. Shabby ran past me and towards the boat drifting into the sea. I followed him as he jumped on the causeway leading to the lighthouse.

"Why could you not stay still for one moment?" I hissed.

Alexander threw his hands up while I chased Shabby down the paved causeway. Perhaps it was the flock of birds nesting on the base of the lighthouse that excited him. Or maybe it was something else.

I looked up at the vessel as we ran alongside it. A wide berth of sea separated us from the boat that was being pulled deeper into the open sea. A person peered over the edge of the boat. I could not make out the face, but I already feared the worse. He was on that boat.

"Stop the boat!" I called. I kept running until I reached the end of the causeway. A flock of seagulls ascended to the sky in all directions. Shabby barked at the boat before a remaining seagull scampered away to the edge of the rock mass. Before the words left my throat, he lunged for the bird. The bird flew away only for the dog to slip into the water instead. Without thinking, I jumped in after him. I scooped him in my arms when a wave crashed over our heads.

"Troy!" Between the rushing waves, I could make out the faint cries of Alexander amidst the roar of the sea. I swam towards the rock mass, only for a wave to shove me deeper in the blue. I knew how to swim, but I was warned about the deadly undercurrents from times past. And now they threatened to pull me under. I fought to stay above the waves while I swam parallel to the causeway. I pushed Shabby close to my chest as I waded back to the rock mass. Alexander yelled for me to give him his hand. Once our bodies smacked the black boulders, I hoisted Shabby over my shoulders. Alexander reached out to grab a fistful of fur before hoisting him over. I clung to the rock mass, waiting for my turn.

Grandfather reached for my hand as I sputtered out digested water. I held on, but my hands were slipping. With Shabby safe on the causeway, Alexander teamed with Grandfather to hoist me over the edge. My knee grazed the sharp contours of the rock, before collapsing into a heap on the ground.

Alexander who was taller than me never looked so small with his shrunken posture. He could hardly look grandfather and me in the eye. "I'm s-sorry. I tried to restrain him," he stammered in Latin. He tore the fringe of his tunic. Before I could ask what he was doing, he wrapped it around my knee, dying the white fabric a deep shade of crimson.

"Troy, what were you thinking risking your life for that dog?" grandfather exclaimed. "I know you have grown attached to the dog, but it is untrained. You could have been killed!"

"He knew!" I spat.

"Knew what?" Grandfather asked.

"That something was wrong. That my brother is on board," I said, pointing to the ship. Grandfather shook his head. He glanced back at the ship before steadying his weight on Alexander.

"If he really is on that ship, then I will never get to ask those difficult questions," he sighed. The three of us men stood staring at the ship as if in a stupor. This felt more like a dream than reality. I stood there, dripping wet, while my brother's old tunic clung to my skin. The fuller gave it to me this morning, not knowing that was the last visible piece of him I would have left. I hobbled back to the shore with a heavy heart.

The ride back was quiet. Quiet was nice when I was studying or looking for an escape from the mindless chatter at a dinner party. But this was uncomfortable in more ways than one as I shifted in my seat as puddles formed at my feet. I knew I could never keep the dog, but I would have far worse problems waiting for me than that. How would I explain why I was wet? How would I explain that my brother was not coming home today?

The three of us trudged into the atrium of our home. Waiting for us on the other end of the vestibule passage was my family, including my extended relatives. Some sat on the backless couches while others stood, eyeing us. Among them, Odydus and Anias stood in the middle. Though they were not family in the flesh, I was reminded these hired men earned their spot as beloved household members.

Grandfather broke the news, while Cornelia rushed to fetch a towel to dry me.

"He left us," he stated with finality. I singled out my father's expression in the middle of the room. His face darkened. Apollus, who stood beside him, locked eyes with me before flitting his gaze to his feet. I knew he had a thousand questions, but he kept his mouth shut while father fired off questions.

"Why did nobody stop him? Where did he get the idea to run off like this on all days of the year? Why?"

I let grandfather do the speaking. Then he motioned to me. My hands quivered with my brother's letter. I brought it on the trek. Thankfully, I left it behind in the chariot to stay dry. I handed it to the porter who passed it to father. He read the letter with ravenous eyes. When he got to the end, I heard a loud rip. He handed it back to the porter, now in two halves.

"Dispose of it!" he ordered. The porter went without question.

I bit my lip. If father or anyone of us truly read the letter, we would find some answers. That Barbarius did not feel ready to be King. But he still had years of training and guidance to go. Nobody was asking him to become king today.

Father dismissed himself as he stormed behind the curtains screening the tablinum. I looked at my aunts and uncles with worry etched in their brows. Our young cousins close in age whispered to one another. I saw Apollus shake his head.

"I cannot believe he would give away his right as heir," Apollus said.

I looked up at him. "Maybe the pressure was too much," I answered. "Remember, we always used to admire the way he could climb a tree, swim, run, hurl a javelin, handle a sword, fight bare-handed, and still keep up with his studies." Apollus nodded, although his brownish-green orbs held no glimmer. "Maybe he was tired of being perfect."

"I suppose you are right. But it still does not explain everything or why you are wet," he added.

I bit down on my lip. "I would rather not talk about it now."

I sat by the hearth with its warm embers giving off a warm glow to the nearby altar. They gave me a clean change of clothes to wear while my clothes hung to dry. It was relaxing sitting here watching the orange glow from the flames. I sat at the stool, letting my head bob and jerk at odd intervals when footsteps scampered towards me. My eyes flew open to find my young male cousin gazing up at me.

He could hardly contain his grin. "What happened to you?"

"I fell in the water trying to save my dog. It is the same dog you and your siblings played with at the Tribute Memorial," I reminded. He nodded.

"Where is he? I want to pet him."

"I think Alexander took him to the stable until he figures out what ought to be one with him."

"Can I keep him?" he asked. I looked at my cousin's big, light brown eyes. How I remember when I was his age. So bright and full of childish wonder before growing up sucked the joy out of life.

"Um," I stammered. "He is a permanent guest here." I was being rash with my tongue. Grandfather did not say I could never have him, but he expressed his displeasure after the latest incident. Asking my father to keep the dog here at our property while he mourned his son would never go over well. Trying to control the dog would be a harder task than I realized.

I overheard his older sister talking to their mother about spending the night here before venturing back home. The young boy begged his mother to find the dog because he would never see the dog again. Tears streamed down his rosy cheeks while his mother tried to shush him. I hated to see him cry.

It was hard to sleep. I spent half the night tossing and turning in my linen sheets, which replaced the wool sheets from cooler nights. It was amazing how time had flown. In a few weeks, I would celebrate my 15th birthday. But it would be bittersweet. As much as I envied my brother, I missed him.

It was odd seeing our small unit joined with my mother's large family for the last morning meal. I wished it was a more festive occasion. But how could it be after celebrating the life of my dead mother only to lose a brother on the same day? Only the children seemed to enjoy themselves.

But our relatives shared in our silent grief. They shared their well-wishes. Expressed their apologies for letting old wounds keep them from seeing us. Their presence was enough to make me feel I was not alone. Far from it. This house I lived in started feeling like a home again.

The children were dismissed from the table by the time father came. He was not in the mood for drink or food, but he plopped between Apollus and me.

"We thought you would not join us," Apollus said. "I know this must be a hard time for you."

He heaved a sigh. "It is. It is like waking up to a nightmare. But I apologize for being rude to not just you but the rest of the guests," he said, extending his arms in a sweeping gesture. "I want you sons of mine to know that I hold you in high esteem. I do not intend to push you away."

Apollus and I nodded. Father turned to Apollus first. "Can I count on you if that day has to come?"

Apollus nodded.

Father bowed his head. "Good. I cannot afford to lose you." I turned away.

"Troy." I looked up. The name rolling from my father's tongue was low. Almost like a whisper.

"I want you to know you are forbidden to run off without my permission. I cannot afford to lose you like I did your brother. I promised your mother I would keep all of you safe. You were her last born. I take that oath seriously."

I bobbed my head.

"I have something for you." He got up to leave. A moment later someone tapped me on the shoulder as I finished the last of my sweet wine.

It was him again. My young cousin staring at me, but this time he brought Shabby to the dining hall. I gasped. Apollus almost spit his drink.

"Can I play with him one last time?" he asked.

"You may. In fact, it does not have to be your last time. You can have him."

His eyes bulged from their sockets. "You mean it?"

I gave a rueful smile before. "I do. You love the dog as much as I do. Who am I to deprive you of it?" His father stood up from the adjoining table. "Of course, your father has the final say," I added.

The boy turned to his father to plead with his father. His father's stoic face broke into a grin.

"Yes. We will take it. We have plenty of land for the dog to roam about. How much do we owe you?" he asked me.

I stroked him behind the ears for what may be the last time. "Nothing."

He thanked me for the selfless gesture. And I thanked him for finding him a suitable home before my uncle escorted his son and the dog out of the dining hall. I would miss Shabby. But hopefully, this would encourage more visits between the two sides. Just as the rest of the adults exited the dining hall. I was left alone in the dining hall except for the cooks and cleaners who emptied the tables. I had a sinking feeling father had forgotten his word. I got up and went to the garden where I found grandfather. He was directing the slaves on the flower arrangements. I would imagine that would be the job of my late mother. But he would assume that humble role.

I looked down at the last patch of flowers. Even the ones that were late to bloom finally bloomed.

I looked up at grandfather who caught me eyeing the patch.

"I suppose some flowers bloom when they are ready," he began. "I think it is very fitting," he said, basking in the sunlight pouring in from above.

"You seemed to be rather happy about all this," I remarked.

"I lost sleep too, but I have to remind myself your brother will find his way back. I was a young man too once," he said, cracking a smile. He turned serious again. "I want him back as much as you do, but I cannot hold on to him forever. I trust he will come to his senses. That is what I have been praying to the gods for."

Grandfather was handling the loss better than I thought he would. But he was no stranger to loss. He lost his wife. He lost children my father would never grow up with. And yesterday he lost his grandson to the sea. But despite life's bitterness, he still radiated joy. I suppose it one of his best-kept secrets. I hoped I would learn it too one day.

Father came into the garden, winded. He exclaimed that he thought I was still in the dining hall. Father smoothed his toga before walking towards me. His fist opened to reveal a golden locket dangling from the end of a necklace. Inside was a tiny portrait of a woman holding a baby. I instantly knew who this must be.

I looked up from the locket now glistening in the sunlight. "Thank you!" I hung it over my neck, right alongside my bulla. "Where did you find this?" I asked.

"I found it in an old storage room. I thought I lost it until I found it yesterday. And then I thought of you and the bond your mother shared. I wanted to give this to you yesterday morning, but I did not see you before we left for the Field of Souls. During the Tribute Memorial, your absence still upset me, so I held on to it until now."

My voice cracked. "Thank you for everything." I ran up to hug him. He stood there stunned, not knowing what to do. But then he hugged back.

Perhaps Barbarius' disappearance shook him to the core. No matter what he was feeling inside, I needed him to be present. But I knew the world weighed on his shoulders. And that this moment may not last. But I would treasure it and never let it go. Life was about seizing moments like this. Barbarius had chosen to live life on his terms, whether or not we liked it. I was not brave enough like he was to go beyond the realm of the island. All these years I lived, but now I had to find a life. And today I was going to start living.