Chapter 29: "Runaway"
I made a choice. I ran. I ran faster than I ever did; down the road heading to the town of Apathia. In front of me was a chariot up ahead. If only I could catch up to it then maybe the driver might intervene. Just then one of the dogs closed in for the attack. Its teeth nipped my bare ankles.
I yelped in pain as the dog continued gnawing at my heel. I stumbled forward, catching myself before falling over. I could not afford to fall. Not now. Just when it stood on its hind leg, poised to attack, I kicked it between the eyes. I did not have time to stop and see if I killed it. All I knew was that I still had two vicious dogs closing in.
I waved at the driver. "Stop! I need help!" I exclaimed. The chariot slowed. He motioned for me to jump while it was still moving. Without hesitation, I lunged myself forward, making a loud thud upon landing. I looked up in horror to find the 2nd dog launching itself inside, catching my dangling legs with its teeth. I thrashed and kicked, forcing the dog to relinquish his bite. Just when I poised my leg to kick the dog, it lunged for my throat. Its teeth only grazed the neckline of my tunic. I shoved the dog off me before it could clamp its jaws on my collar. It was me against a vicious dog but I was not prepared to die. Not like this. I wrestled with the dog, before landing a punch to its jaw. As the chariot swerved to the right, I lost my footing, toppling over the dog.
Through the growls I could make out the driver's shout. "Get off him you filthy mutt!" The dog forced its way back on top. I held my hands out, shielding my face from his gnashing teeth. Then without warning the dog made a loud squeal before going limp on top of me. A blade found its way plunged into its skull. I pushed the dead weight off the chariot, letting the beast collapse in a heap on the road. I silently thanked the stranger for his brave actions, but there was still one dog left pursuing the chariot as the horses sped up. The driver gave me his last arrow. Although my mind was still cloudy over what happened I knew what I had to do to end it all. As I drew my hand back to lunge the arrow in his skull, the dog stopped in its track. The rabid look in its eyes softened as if the dog somehow remembered me. I shuddered at the thought that the beloved dog I once owned was trained to kill me. I dropped the arrow.
Turning my attention to my wounds, I rocked my throbbing ankle, now oozing with blood. I tore a fringe of my tunic to stop the flow of blood. However even wrapping the wound proved to be agonizing.
The driver looked over his shoulder, catching me wincing as I finished wrapping the bite marks. Those pitiful gray eyes lingered at my blood-stained tunic. His face looked awfully familiar. Then it dawned on me that was the same man that offered me that strange oily concoction that promised to make the nightmares go away. Augustus. I remembered taking the medicine faithfully until the day I ran off with Romeos. The fear that the dreams would return was a strong motivator but now I no longer had it. I wished that maybe I would wake up the moment I found myself in the prison, or when the vicious dog bit my flesh. But the problem was, I was still awake. The horrible turn of events became one long nightmare I could not wake up from.
"How bad is the wound?" he asked.
"I have some deep incisions from the bite. But I think it could have been worse," I said. Just swallow the pain like I have been doing I told myself.
"My, were those crazed dogs! I wonder what possessed them?" he muttered under his breath. I already knew the answer but I remained silent. "I was going to the fisherman's post," he continued, "but I suppose I should take you home to recover. I am certain they would want to know if you are well."
"No. That will not be necessary. You can take me along," I uttered stiffly.
"Oh… I suppose if that is sounds good to you. I would hate to inconvenience you."
"You would be doing me a favor," I muttered.
"It would be my honor, Prince Troy," he said flashing me a smile. He knew exactly who I was. But he did not know I was recently stripped of that title and I planned to keep it that way.
"Thank you for saving my life," I said softly.
"You are most welcome. I would want someone to help me in need."
"I have seen you before but I never really knew you or your background. However I do know you are a good man."
Augustus tried his best to make me feel at ease as we journeyed along the road. As he told me stories of his past adventures out at sea before he retired from his life as a sailor, it seemed to take my mind away from the pain I was feeling, even if it was only temporary. Little did he realize his stories would change the course of my life.
We had at last arrived at the shoreline where the fishing boats bobbled along the docks. From the chariot, I could see the foamy sea splashing against the sides of the wooden boats as the tides rushed the shore before retreating. There seemed to be no beginning to the waves as my eyes drifted to the blue-gray expanse beyond. Observing the rhythmic ebb and flow of the sea seemed to bring a measure of peace that I sorely lacked.
Augustus voice snapped me back to present. "I will be back. I am going to see if there are any oils and bandages at this trade post along the road." He left to go inside the stone building, leaving me behind in the chariot.
I looked down at the strip of fabric, now dyed a deep maroon. The sight of the blood brought waves of fresh anger against my father. It was him that ordered the dogs to be released. It was him who wanted me dead. The man I thought was my father had become dead to me. Moments later Augustus returned with a handful of cloth and some ointments. I was in his care as he poured the oils over my wounds and gently wrapped my ankle with clean cloth he bought.
"Thanks you," I mouthed.
"My pleasure," he said gently. "Here is some baked fish and bread I bought earlier. It has been years since I had to care for anyone else. You could have the extra foodstuff to keep your strength up from the blood loss." As we both sat down in the chariot, I gobbled away at the cooked fish and slab of freshly baked bread. I watched as Augustus stole glances of me while I stuffed my mouth.
"You certainly have an appetite," he said. I continued eating, but this time taking slower bites. "Nonetheless it looks like evening is falling upon us," he added. I looked out at the direction of his distant gaze. Sunlight bled through the fluffy clouds, showering the blue sky with hints of gold. Evening never looked so beautiful. "Your family must be wondering about you at this moment." His comment caught me off guard.
My voice tightened. "I suppose. Somewhere out there though, there is a place for me."
Augustus gave me an incredulous grin. "You cannot be serious. Have you even traveled outside the confines of the island? It takes experienced men who know the seas very well," he said, rising from his seat on the chariot. "Such a trip takes months of planning not to mention resources."
"I am serious. I can use some of my coins to buy foodstuffs and other essentials at the trade post. Whatever I do not have, the crew can supply. All I know is that there is something better out there waiting for me."
"What are you running away from? A comfortable life? A life where your life is planned out for greatness in the island only for you to throw it away?"
"Maybe I am running to something better. Look I did not ask for your approval. I appreciate your help. Truly I am. But this is my choice. Not yours. So why does my decision concern you?"
"I suppose there is nothing I can say to you Timus—I mean Troy," he corrected.
I rolled my eyes, before scooting my stiff legs to the edge of the chariot. "Who is Timus anyways?" I muttered.
"You reminded me of someone; that is all." I sat frozen. "I apologize for being overly protective. I am not your father and will never be. You are a grown man."
I turned to face him. "I remind you of whom?" I asked.
"The son I lost."
"I am so sorry to hear that," I said in a rueful voice. I felt horrible for the way I talked to him. I must have sounded like an ungrateful runt. My voice softened at my next words, "How old was he?"
"He was four when he died in the earthquake that shook this island. He would have been around your age if he were still alive. He was so full of life, but also stubborn like you."
"How did your wife cope with the loss?" I asked.
"Sadly I lost her too. I lost my whole family that day." I bowed my head. "I am not here to lecture you," he continued. "If you want to go and see what is out there, I will not stop you. You just need to ask yourself what is your reason for leaving." I felt sorry for Augustus. Even though I barely knew him, I felt connected to him as he did with me. At least I had a family…until today. Now I found myself homeless, a wanderer in the land. Augustus had meant me well, but I had already made up my mind. If I stayed here, I would have no life. I had no family to turn to. Neither did I have a home. I had to leave the island, the only world I had known.
Priscilla and Titus strolled together on the winding road, hugging the cliff's edge. Ahead the road would stop at Titus' villa in the pastures.
The sea breeze sent her black locks flapping against her face. She looked up at Titus, grinning. "Do you wish every day could be like today?" she asked.
"I suppose," he mumbled. Priscilla wrinkled her brow at his words. He sighed at the sight of her frown. "I am just tired. I should be relieved the tribunal is over with."
"I can imagine your relief. You were away for these three days. It sounded rather intense," she remarked. "To ease your mind, I propose we invite some of our friends for a celebratory dinner. Perhaps we can even invite the royal family," she added.
"I think they have other concerns weighing on their minds."
"What are you talking about? Is everything well with the brothers?"
"I cannot say the same for Troy."
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"The reason I have been gone these past few days is because of this lengthy tribunal over Troy and Romeos."
She rolled her eyes. "What are you trying to tell me?"
"He was in the middle of it; the whole scheme to break into the Hole," Silus blurted. "I never suspected he would do such a thing." Priscilla stopped, dead in her tracks.
Her voice trembled. "Where is he?" she asked.
"He was released from custody and sent home."
"I have to go," Priscilla whispered. She scampered off in the opposite direction.
"Where are you going?" Titus hissed. Priscilla ignored him as she picked up speed, holding her tunica up as she ran. "Come back. I thought you wanted to plan a dinner!" Titus snapped.
She whipped her neck around. "Not right now." Titus threw his hands in the air, as he watched her descend into the fields when a chariot came rattling past the narrow road.
"Priscilla listen to me. He is a traitor!" he shouted. When he saw she was refusing to stop he pursued her. "You hear me. He lost his mind. You should not worry about that failure!"
"It is not true!" Priscilla retorted. "I need to find out for myself!"
"Why are you acting like this? Oh wait I know why… because you still have feelings for him!" he snapped.
"Leave me alone!" Priscilla whimpered.
He grabbed her flailing arm, pulling her towards his chest. "I am not letting you get away from me. Not until you tell me you are still committed to this union!"
He grabbed both arms, tightening his grip on them until she winced. "You are hurting me!" she sobbed.
His eyes hardened. "You need to tell me in my face that you do not love him." His steady arms yanked her towards him before she could wiggle herself free.
Tears spilled from her blue eyes. "I cannot do that," she sniffled. "You have to let me go. I do not love you. Sorry," she whimpered. "Now please, just let me go!" she snapped. Stunned, he loosened his grip on her arms as she fled with tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.
"You love him, do you? You are making a big mistake!" he shouted. Priscilla continued running down the road, leaving him sulking in the fields.
I gathered the last of my supplies from the nearby trade post and wrapped them in a burlap sack. As I limped toward the docks, the last few amphorae were loaded onto the ship. This vessel easily towered over the tiny fishing boats that bobbled alongside it. That was the ship I was boarding.
I turned to Augustus who accompanied me. "I wish you could come along," I said wistfully.
"I am afraid my time with the sea has come and gone like the waves you see," he said pointing to the waves that splashed against the shore.
"The crew would appreciate your experience. And I would not mind the many stories you have to share of the different lands you visited and all the different people you have met."
He sighed. "The sea and I have a strange love hate relationship."
"What made you retire as a sailor if you loved what you did?"
"I almost did not make it out alive on the last trip. I was not supposed to live, not after dozens of my fellow comrades perished. I was the lone survivor," he said in a wistful tone. It dawned on me that I was talking to the man who survived the shipwreck that occurred earlier this year. He was the only exception that stormy night.
"How did you make it out alive?"
"Some say the gods had shown mercy on me, others called it luck. I called it resilience. I stayed afloat on a piece of the ship that still floated and held on for dear life. As exciting as it was to go out at sea as a young man like yourself, you must recognize the power it contains. That is why I worry about your departure."
I bit down on my lip. He did not need to tell me more about how dangerous sea travel could be. He was a living example of how dangerous the sea could be. Yet he was unaware of the danger that loomed over my head if I remained on the island. "I understand the sea can be dangerous, but I am willing to take that risk for freedom."
He nodded slowly. "I should have informed you that for every ship that leaves there is a composed list of the crew. Only accompanying slaves or exiles are allowed without being preapproved."
"I could apply for asylum." My mind raced back to the studies of law I had with Anias. Not everyone was granted asylum. There was no real 'safe haven' on the island. If you were marked as blacklisted, you could apply to be exiled unless you were sentenced to the Hole or Death. Even then you were not truly protected until you were at least ten miles offshore from the island. For those that would choose it, you could never return home. All traces of your records would be wiped out. It was one of the few exceptions Maximus was able to abuse as he no doubt snuck onto a ship and then claimed he was seeking asylum. It was the only other way he must have got away without being captured and killed. But I knew that after my trial this concession would soon close. I needed to write one last letter to give to father, saying I would give up my rights to be exiled. It was only then I would be free.
"Who is at the door, porter?" Apollus inquired.
"It is a young woman by the name of Priscilla," the porter replied.
"What is she doing here?" Apollus muttered softly under his breath. "Is she with someone?" he inquired cautiously, as he scratched his smooth chin.
"She came alone," replied the porter.
"You may let her in," Apollus said gesturing with his hands. Apollus sat back in his newly erected throne in the atrium, seated at the head of the glistening pool. Priscilla made her way inside before locking gazes with Apollus.
His greenish-brown eyes glinted with twisted satisfaction. "Priscilla. It has been awhile since we met." He smirked. "Please come closer," he beckoned with his hands. Priscilla reluctantly shuffled across the marble floor. "So what brings you to the palace?"
"I came to see if everything was well with you men," she said in a wispy voice. Apollus watched her lips quiver as she spoke.
"Why of course everything is well with Barbarius and I, although I do not know if that is the same for you. Why the troubled face?" He asked. Priscilla bit down on her lip.
"How is Troy doing?" She blurted.
His smirk vanished. He sat up straight, his fists clutching the armrests.
"Troy is not here," he answered sternly.
"Where did he go?" Priscilla asked.
"I am not exactly certain of his whereabouts. He likes to run away in case you were not aware of that. But do not worry. We are going to find him so we can bring him home," Apollus smiled, flashing his teeth.
She sighed. "Where do you think he went? I wanted to tell him something and I never got the chance to tell him earlier. I was hoping he received a letter…but I suppose he did not get it."
"Like I said before, I do not know. He has been so unpredictable these days," Apollus said, throwing his hands up. "By the way, why are you not with Titus? Is everything well with you two?"
"Do I always have to be with him to prove we are engaged?" Priscilla hissed.
"Well, no. There is no need to be so defensive. However, do you not think Titus might be a little jealous since you are here looking for Troy and you are talking to me, considering we used to have something together?" Apollus asked.
"We never had anything together. That was all pretend," she responded briskly.
"Well, if you are looking for Troy you are wasting your time," he hissed. "He does not love you. He does not even love his own family or himself."
She shook her head. "How could you say that?
"Because he is a traitor to his family and nation!"
She ran his fingernails over her plaited hair. So what Titus told her was true after all.
"Look Priscilla, Troy is not all that noble like you think. He almost had me fooled too. Never mind Troy. Forget about him. We could have had something together Priscilla," he said, walking away from the throne. "You could have been mines but you rejected me and the wonderful life you could have had with me as a future king," he added. He leaned into her ear. "I suppose you always have eyes for different men, so you would have brought shame to me anyways. No matter how good a man is to you, you will never be satisfied!" he whispered.
Priscilla backed away. "I have to go. Clearly, I am wasting my time here," she said bitterly.
"Porter, please escort this young woman to the door," Apollus ordered. As she turned around to leave, she refused to let him see the tears that flowed…
The ship remained anchored in the docks, as it bobbed in the sea. I had just finished the letter to give to Augustus, so when the ship departed he could have the letter delivered to father by means of a Messenger that according to Augustus frequented the trade post.
"Are you coming aboard, Augustus?" shouted a fellow sailor as he spotted him in the crowd of men who assembled on the beach. "The ship is about to depart, but we are short one man, for the other fellow sailor had to leave abruptly because the Messenger sent word that his wife went into labor pains."
Augustus flicked his hand in the air. "You men go on without me. I already told you my days at sea are over. I already have had my share of adventure. You men will be all right. May the gods grant you a safe voyage," he said. The sailor let out a loud sigh.
"I suppose we cannot delay anymore," the captain said. "We will have to make due with one less soul."
"Maybe you do not have to," I blurted. The captain eyed me as I made my way through the group of sailors.
"What are you suggesting?" he scoffed.
"I want to go with you and your crew," I replied firmly. "You need another man, and I can fill that role." The other sailors snickered at me. It was bad enough I was the youngest one present. How would any of them take me seriously?
The captain's voice broke through the snickers. "Have you ever set sail before, lad?"
"No, but I would like to. I will learn anything. I will do anything you say. I will do my best not to fail you. I just want to be given a chance to accompany you men."
A stocky man that stood beside me snorted at me. "This is absurd. He will be a liability to us!" Then I will be a mere passenger then if that makes you happy!
"Hush! Let me make the final decision!" the captain hissed. "What is your name, lad?" he asked in a wary tone. My heart jumped into my throat. How would he respond if he knew who I really was? My best disguise was a shaved head and a ripped tunic. But even if I lied, I could not guarantee that others would not recognize me as the King's son.
I faltered before answering. "Troy." The captain wrinkled his brow as he took a moment to inspect me. I stood rigidly in the scrutiny of his dark brown eyes. Finally his eyes dropped to the crumpled parchment in his hands.
"Well Troy, this boat is bound to the island nation of Crete. From there some may be departing to Rome for business," the captain stated. The mention of Rome sent a spark through me. I heard about that grand city through Barbarius and later in my studies with Anias. It represented the heart of a powerful republic. New worlds order that we shielded ourselves from. "Are you prepared for the journey?"
I grinned. "I am ready for anything."
"He has my support," Augustus blurted from behind. The captain stared at Augustus before looking at me.
"Welcome to the crew," the captain smiled as he reached over to pat my shorn head.
"All aboard!" the captain shouted. A rush of feet clamored over the ramp providing direct access to the ship. I followed behind, trying to hide my limp. "Release the anchors," he ordered. The men quickly went to work, ripping the anchors from the bedrock. As the last anchor was pulled up, other men made their way tugging at the system of ropes to adjust the rectangular sail fastened to the mast. From the beach, Augustus stood waving with the other families of the crew as they cheered and waved to their loved ones onboard. Unlike the crew, I was not allowed to return. I was leaving my family and friends behind on the island, the only home I knew. The sea of faces grew smaller and less distinct as we drifted deeper into the sea.
I could not imagine the turmoil Romeos was going through as he awaited his public execution. How would Julius ever cope with the inevitable fate that awaited his twin brother and beloved friend? I shuddered to think of the execution that would soon take place because it was too painful for words to even describe. So my thoughts shifted to Cornelia, who was no doubt going about her daily routine. It was a life where choices were made for you from the moment you awoke. Perhaps she was right. There was something greater than me, something I could not even see.
"You are going to miss the sunset. It is a beautiful sight to see when you are out at sea," one of the sailors remarked from behind. I simply nodded, telling him I would be certain to watch the heavens.
Despite the pain there was something beautiful still left to hold onto. Whether father received the letter or not was out of my hands now. To the east was the island, which had become a green gem floating in the sea. Ahead of me was the setting sun, the direction we were going. I was exploring the unknown world and I had no idea of what to expect. All I knew was that I was finally free.