Chapter 8: "Lost and Found"
Quick jabs of pain traveled up my arm. My eyelids fluttered open before exhaling a panicked-breath.
Their beady eyes stared at me before hopping off into the sand. I flailed my arms sending the pack of seagulls scattering.
"Where is everyone?" I muttered, brushing the sand and feathers off my bare arms and tunic.
The pinching sensation was replaced with panic. They left me. With my mind still in a daze, I scrambled to my feet, glancing around at the beach before its edges disappeared beneath the waves. Above the sea-line, dawn was breaking. Wasting no time, I plodded through the sand and up the hill where the domus was perched. I circled around to the front door to knock. No one answered at first. I knocked again. Still no answer.
"They are not coming," I muttered aloud. Then suddenly the door peeked open and the porter peered out.
"May I ask what brings your presence?"
"I was looking for my family. I was not certain if any one of them spent the night. I am Troy." The porter swung the door wide open.
"Does Maxis know you?" he asked. Did he not recognize me from last night?
"Certainly. He invited my family to his wedding ceremony." The porter looked over his shoulder at the approaching steps. Moments later Maxis came to the door with a toga draped over his shoulder. He greeted me with a nod.
"We were not expecting more company so soon," he said, swallowing a yawn. "There is a dinner party later on though. Would you like to come back later?"
"Thanks for the kind offer but I should be getting back," I said softly.
"Why did you not go back with your family last night?" Maxis asked, scratching his short matted locks.
"I got left behind," I said with an uneasy grin.
"And your family does not know you are here?" His voice which was drowsy before turned stern. I simply nodded.
"Well you can reside as a guest in my house however long you need to stay," he said at last.
"I do not mean to intrude."
"Oh no that is fine," he said, his tone lightening. "You are not the only guest here. Make yourself at home." I walked into the atrium where the bed was still out. Maxis allowed me to wash my face at the shallow pool in the atrium while he went to fetch a slave to find a clean tunic brought from the fuller the other day. After getting dressed, I excused myself to ease nature at the family's indoor latrine. Emerging from the latrine was the pleasant aroma of flowers and herbs blooming in the garden. Behind the line of marble columns enclosing the courtyard was Priscilla who was talking to Lydia. It was not long before Lydia disappeared into the right wing of the house. Now it was just me and Priscilla in the courtyard. I followed her movements with my eyes as she lingered in the colonnaded garden. She stooped down to gather some pink flowers to add to her wreath. She then tucked her loose black hair behind her ears as she cupped her hands to get a drink from the fountain. I should be going. She might think I am stalking her. As I made my way to the doorway leading back to the tablinum she called out, "Is that you Maxis?"
I stopped in my tracks keeping my back to her.
"You are not Maxis. Troy, what brings you here?" she asked. I turned around.
"I was lost."
"So is that your excuse?" she asked teasingly.
"Well no. I fell asleep on the beach. Everyone left me behind. I stumbled back over here to this place because it was close by."
"Oh. I wish you could stay, but your family must be worried about you. I know they must be looking all over for you," she said walking towards me.
"Oh I guess."
Both eyebrows went up. "Of course they are going to look for you. Anything could have happened to you. You are the third son of the king and anyone could have kidnapped you or something."
"Like they would care," I muttered. She frowned.
"Every family cares about their own," she said in her wispy voice.
"Then how come they did not bother to see where I went, or even bother to look that I was on the beach?"
"They probably did not know you would have ventured off there. Who would have been there?"
"Oh I do not know— Barbarius!"
"Maybe he just did not see you."
"That is the problem right there. No one sees me. I am just there."
"Breakfast for all," called Felix, who was coming from the tablinum. At the entrance of the courtyard he stopped to stare at me before switching his gaze to Priscilla.
"I wonder who you came to see," he said with a wiry smile.
After breakfast, I managed to get ready for another day at the Grammaticus. A slave of Maxis offered to escort me to school and afterwards they would make arrangements to send me home. When I walked into class, I was greeted by weird stares by some, but I ignored them. After another day of reciting literature, class was dismissed for lunch. Before I was halfway to the door Romeos stopped me.
"Glad to see you back today." I wrinkled my brow.
"What are you talking about? I am usually here except the day of the wedding."
"We thought you went missing," he said in hushed tones. "Our father received a letter from your father this morning asking if you were staying with our family."
"Oh, I was staying with the bride and groom."
"So…how was it?"
"I had a comfortable time," I replied with a shrug.
"Was not Lydia's sister staying with them?"
A smirk lit up Romeos' face.
"Are you going to return there after school?" He asked with a glint in his eyes.
"I should stay, but my mind tells me that I should go back if my family is truly looking for me... By the way, how come you are talking to me now? I thought you would just be talking to Julius and Silus?" I said, walking beside him.
"They are still my friends. They were the first ones out the door to go to the pubs. I brought my lunch today. But why can I not talk to my friend once in a while. I realized that Silus does not like you but that does not matter to me anymore."
"I do not know what I did to offend him. What did I do to receive the rebuff?"
"He has the notion that you try to curry favor with the teacher, giving you an unfair advantage."
"I never asked for special consideration. I try to do my best at my studies just like everyone else. But despite his contempt for me I am not going to speak ill of him. After all he is your friend."
"We knew each other since childhood, Troy. He has been a good friend, but sometimes he does not adjust to new things very well. But I suppose I needed to widen my outlook on who I call a friend and include others in my circle of friends."
Together we stepped outside the dingy storefront that housed the schoolroom and into the bright rays of the afternoon sun. For the first time I had someone besides a dog to stand by my side. I knew from that moment on that Romeos was a true friend.
I wish I could have stayed for dinner with Priscilla and the new couple. Even Romeos invited me to dinner with his family. But I declined all invitations. It was best I start heading back before it got too late. The horse was waiting for me with a small chariot attached to it outside the storefront.
"We need to hurry before it gets dark out," called Maxis' slave driver. I paused to look at the dark storm clouds hanging low over the gray sky. The winds were gentle but steady. The last sliver of sunlight disappeared behind a thick cluster of clouds. A storm was coming.
"I think we will need a tarp over the chariot," I told the slave.
"We can use this," he said pointing to a rolled sheet of canvas propped against the seat. The slave fastened the square tarp over the four corners of the chariot. The cover would barely shield the slave driver but it would have to do for now.
We rode against the brisk breeze that grew stronger with the passing of each city block. Soft spatters pelted the tarp in a rhythmic melody. Soon the pelting grew louder and faster until the melody became a collective clamor of raindrops thundering against the tarp. I gazed up at the tarp which was sagging from the mounting water. Any moment now the tarp would rip open, drenching me with water.
"Are we almost there yet?" I asked. I almost had to shout through the pouring rain.
I looked out the open sides, feeling the cool spray of water against my face. The once busy streets behind us were deserted. The grand obelisks and Arch that marked the city limits was shrinking from view us as we traveled down the lone road into open pastures dotted with villas. The horse's quick stride slowed as its hooves slushed around a giant puddle. Then the horse jerked to a stop.
The slave yanked the reins. "Move already. Do not stop on us now!" he snapped. Why was it not moving?
I looked over the side. To my horror, the wheel was stuck in the gully on the side of the road. The slave had no choice but to brave the downpour. He dropped down beside the wheel and throwing his weight behind the wheel, pushed the axel. Each time the wheel lifted it sank deeper into the mud.
After a few failed attempts he wiped his brow before heaving a sigh. It would be nightfall by the time I got home! He got behind the rear of the chariot, hoping to stir the horse to begin moving. The horse kicked his front legs before thumping back onto the stone road. The young horse looked like it was ready to free itself from the burden that weighed it down. I had to do something. Anything.
I jumped out the back of the chariot, landing hard on my feet. The slave looked up from his squatted position as if he was shocked to see I came out the safety of the chariot. He blinked off the water running down his pale face.
"See if you can help me push the chariot from the back, Troy." I nodded as I went towards the back. With the water blinding my vision, I felt around the wooden chariot until I got a good grip. I pushed as hard as I could from the back while the slave tried to pry the wheel from the mud.
"I need you to push harder."
"I am trying," I said between gritted teeth. I pushed against the back side of the chariot until the chariot creaked with movement. It was moving slowly, but moving nonetheless. The slave got up from his crouched position to direct the horse to veer left in an attempt to swerve the chariot back onto the road. The horse obliged, dragging the chariot against the muddy puddle that bled over the side of the road. Then I heard a loud snap. The back wheel on the right popped off, tipping the chariot off kilter. I wanted to scream.
"I am so sorry," the slave said in a rueful voice. His big eyes pleaded with mines. I did not know what look had registered on my face. I just knew I was frustrated, wet, and cold. As soon as I stepped foot to take cover from the relentless rain, the chariot began tipping over. I jumped off just before the chariot flipped over on its side, yanking the horse backwards a few steps. The slave rushed over to hoist the chariot upright but the chariot would be dangerously imbalanced. I watched him lift the chariot now slathered with mud as I shivered in the rain. There were no tools on hand to fix the wheel. Any efforts to push the chariot back on the road were futile. The rains remained steady as the sky darkened with time. After waiting in the cold rain, I crouched underneath the overturned chariot. Staying dry was a losing battle. Perhaps I was better off walking home.
Da thump. Da thump. Da thump.
It was soft at first, drowned by the sound of falling rain. Then the clattering became louder. It was a chariot. The first chariot for at least a mile stretch.
"A chariot!" The slave shouted. He waved his hands to and fro. My eyes glinted with hope.
"We need help; we have no tools to fix the wheel." The rhythmic motion of hooves continued without missing a beat. It was not stopping!
"Wait!" yelled the slave. A man dressed in a toga looked out the tarp and simply shook his head before the chariot trudged along.
"Can you give us a ride? We are stranded. Please." The chariot continued to pick up speed.
"Why is he not stopping?" I asked. Frowning, the slave shook his head. I was afraid I knew the reason.
"Would he have stopped if he recognized I was the son of the king?" I muttered.
"I do not know if anyone else is coming out in this storm," the slave said solemnly. I leaned against the chariot while the rain slowed to a trickle. We were stranded with no other people in sight. There were only two choices. Stay here and get soaked even more or go home. I chose home. Suddenly I heard a bark in the distance before it faded. Was I delusional? Just false hope I assumed. But I heard the sound of hooves. I froze, twisting my head to the direction of the noise. Through the soft drizzle, I could see the chariot coming closer and closer from the opposite direction.
"Wait," I said flailing my arms in the air. With the slave left behind I ran to the approaching chariot. My clothes clung to my skin, weighing each step I took.
"Stop! Please." The chariot slowed. I stopped to catch my breath.
"Troy?" I knew that firm yet steady voice. It was father.
"Get inside quick," he said. When I hopped inside, there was Shabby sitting on the seat. I stroked his ears while he leaned in to lick my face.
"I am so relieved you are all right," father said with a sigh.
"I am now." As the chariot picked up speed, I looked behind to see Maxis' slave growing smaller and smaller in the distance.
"Stop the chariot!"
"Why, what is wrong?"
"Maxis' slave is stranded. I rode with him to find you. I cannot leave him." Father heaved a sigh.
"Halt," he ordered our slave driver. I got out the chariot and ran over to where the slave was stationed, who was still tinkering with the wheel. He looked up.
"Thank you. You did not have to do this," the slave said.
"I wanted to," I said, smiling. "Come on. Let me take you back with us."
"Thanks father for coming for me. I was worried you… forgot about me."
"I did not forget about you," he said turning to face me. "You are still my son; my youngest. I promised your mother I would always look after you boys. I will keep my vow." He rested a hand on my shoulder. "We never meant to leave you. We did not know where you went during the wedding party."
"I had left to go to the beach and then I fell asleep."
"You cannot keep wandering off. It is dangerous. When we left that night, your grandfather and I assumed you were riding with your brothers and they must have assumed you were with us. I was worried something happened to you. As much as it pains me there is still evil in the world. Please do not wander off without telling anyone," he said. His voice low and grave.
"I promise," I said, nodding. However there was still a question lingering in the back of my mind. "How did you find me?"
"This dog of yours found you," father said with a half-smile.
I was grateful to see the familiar sight of home again. However our chariot driver would have to make another trip in the rain to return the slave to his master. With a wool blanket draped over my shoulders, father and I scampered into the safety of the domus.
Our sandals squeaked against the mosaic tiles until I arrived at the atrium. Alexander who was coming from the left wing of the atrium stopped to stare.
"You are back Troy; and wet."
"Yes. That fact has not escaped my notice," I said, shaking the water out my hair. Father flashed me a frown.
"I will bring you a new set of clothes right away," he said. I merely nodded. In the meanwhile I eased myself onto the couch facing the hearth. The heat emanated from the burning coals, warming my chilled hands. As I slouched on the couch I slowly began to relax and forget the troubles from earlier…
"Barbarius is gone!" Apollus exclaimed rushing into the atrium.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Father said raising his voice.
"He is gone. He left this letter in his room," he said, holding out the folded parchment.
"What does it say?" Father inquired.
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 that I did not think I possessed. I will miss Apollus for your cynical humor, and for being my comrade. I will miss you too Troy. You are still my youngest brother and 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 some of the Greek thinkers whom I can study from in the vastness of knowledge held 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. Farewell.
"Barbarius" Maximus Acertius
"Can I see that letter Apollus?" Father asked. Apollus handed him the letter.
Father tore the letter in two, crumbled it up, and threw it in the fire.
"He got inside his head," father muttered as he walked away with a look of disdain. I sat there in a stupor. We were so different. Even as children we were never that close, but I was saddened by the news. Why would he leave so abruptly? What prompted the hasty move? Who got 'inside his mind?' What about the diplomat who also left today? Did Barbarius accompany him? Just when I had arrived home my world was flipped upside down. Just then Grandfather entered from the tablinum.
"I assume you heard the news," I said softly. He nodded.
"Your brother will return. Young men usually act foolishly," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Your heads are still growing, and you have not quite reached the in-betweens of the scale. In other words I am trying to say stability. He will make his way just like I did at his age." Grandfather took a seat next to me, who seemed to be not bothered that I left half of the couch damp.
"I also have news of my own. I am leaving for a business venture," he began. My heart sank. First Barbarius and now grandfather! Could this day get any worse? He must have sensed my disappointment because he said next, "Before I go I have gifts for you two. I was hoping to give one to Barbarius before he left. But he had other plans," he said in a cool tone. "Maybe I might find your brother along the way," he said wistfully before straightening his posture. I trusted Barbarius would never leave for selfish gain. Whatever his reasons he would return to the home that we shared.
He clapped his hands and a male slave materialized behind the curtains that screened the tablinum from the atrium. In his hands was a bow and quiver filled with black-tipped arrows. Apollus flashed a toothy grin. Then a young female sauntered to us with a box. Curls bounced from each side of her oval face as she handed Grandfather the small wooden box that fit in her small palms.
"Here open it," he instructed, handing it over to me.
"This is not more of that sleeping medicine. I have had enough of those," I said, cracking a grin. He shook his head. I slowly opened the lid to find a small golden locket. I picked it up and placed it in the palm of my hands. While I examined it, I saw from the corner of my eyes Apollus admiring his new bow and arrows.
"Is there anything else?" I asked.
"No." What would I do with a small locket?
"Thanks," I said, trying not to sound ungrateful. "I know this came from the heart."
"Why yes, but it also came from your mother. It is a family heirloom."
"Oh... How did you…I mean why me? Why not Barbarius or Apollus?"
"Your mother wanted you to have it. It was lost after the quake, but it was retrieved after the cleanup. I kept it safe all these years in the treasury. Now that you are older and will appreciate it you can have it; as a piece of your mother. When I opened the small locket, it contained a tiny painted picture of mother with a small child in her arms. My eyes blurred with tears. This was more than I could ever ask for.
"My pleasure. I hope it gives you strength you need in the coming days when you must face insurmountable challenges."
After getting dried I went to my room where a fresh change of outer garments sat folded on my bed. After getting dressed, I slipped the locket over my neck before leaving for the garden. There were so many memories contained between the potted flowers that bloomed in vibrant hues of red, blue, pink. I often played here with my brothers. As boys we would run around, trampling whatever flowers got in our way. I never paid attention when Mother was naming them. I wish I did now. Most of the flower beds were already in full bloom. Even the single lily I saved from the Field of Souls as it basked in its new clay pot. It reminded me that even in the saddest of memories something new and beautiful can grow.
One cluster of flowers sat nestled beside the clay pot. They were late bloomers, but today its pink petals had opened, ready to catch the sunlight. With the evening sun reflecting off the droplets, it looked even more beautiful in the orange-tinged sky. I held the locket up to the sunlight to see the golden chain sparkle. While it dangled from my fingertips, something wonderful happened. It changed to a copper color. When I scooped it back into my palms it changed back. There were some questions that I had no answers to. Yet in that moment I felt something. Serenity. But the quiet in the garden was soon replaced with the light tapping against the tiled walkway. Only one person or thing rather walked with that same playful rhythm. Shabby trotted over to me with his tail wagging and tongue hanging out.
"It is not for you Shabby." I smiled. I slipped it inside my tunic next to where my bulla hung.
"You and Romeos are my loyal friends," I said. I dropped down to his eye-level. "You always seem to know where to find me," I said stroking his head. "I do not know what the future lays or where I will be a day, a week, a month, or a year from now. But I hope I can grow into the person that I was meant to be."
His dark eyes stared out into the blue sea ahead. Along the port you could hear men shouting and tugging on the tethered ropes as the boat bobbled with the waves.
"Are you ready to explore the world Barbarius?" called a voice from behind.
"Any last regrets?"
"Not yet," he said firmly. His gaze drifted from the short sailor and into the foamy sea ahead. Barbarius walked up the slanted ramp and onto the boat. Already on board, two men were sitting on the deck playing a game of Roman chess. One of them was Gaius. It was a game of strategy in which the object of the game is to take out the piece of the opponent by surrounding their pieces between two of your color pieces.
"Gaius it is your move," his companion said tapping his fingernails against his thighs. Gaius scratched his chin in deep thought.
"You know sometimes if you do not get what you want you start small, and then take out the big piece. Either way you still fall in my trap." Gaius moved his piece back and surrounded his opponent's piece and knocked it out the way.
"That was a cheap move," the other man snapped. His fingers reached into his sheath—
"Careful now," he said in a smooth voice. "Do not get heated over this. I have more things to get heated over. It is just a game, right?" he said with a grin. The sailor took his position by the stern.
"If we catch the trade wind from the south we can get there in no time to catch up to the diplomat. Full speed ahead to Rome!"