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, as one of the dogs was closing in for the attack.
"Stop!" I screamed. They cannot hear me! The dog nipped at my ankle. My heart raced uncontrollably as I flung the stone at the dog's head. Crack! It collapsed there lifeless as the other black dog scampered away. There was one still left and I had no other weapons to my disposal. It barked relentlessly, as I raced to catch up with the chariot that was moving away.
"Please stop! There is a dog on the loose after me!" The chariot finally stopped. As the owner turned around, he witnessed the ferocious dog as its teeth sank into my ankle.
"Oww." I squealed as the pain left me limping. In desperation, I tried to turn around to kick the dog, only for the dog to knock me down, as I landed hard against the stone road. I scrambled desperately onto my knees, as I tried to push the dog off me…
"Get away from him!" screamed the man, as he jumped off his chariot and pulled out a bow and arrow. Swish. The arrow cut through the air, hitting the black hound in the leg before it could lung at my neck. The dogs squealed in pain as I tried to crawl away. As I scrambled with the little strength I had, the dog clamped down at the back of my tunic; holding me back from escaping. The fellow pulled out a black arrow from his sash as he quickly ran beside the dog. Just as the dog turned to face the man, he pierced the dog in the neck with his sheath. The dog slowly relinquished his grip, leaving the outer fringes of my tunic shredded and stained with red liquid. Now it would lie in its blood as it lay sprawled on the road lifeless.
"Thank you," I muttered softly to the man. "Is it dead?" I asked with heavy breaths.
"I do not know but I can help you onto my chariot." Out of pure adrenaline, he rushed to hoist me over his shoulder as he ran to his chariot. One of the dogs that had scampered away had suddenly returned and it was coming after us.
"There is another dog?" the man muttered under his breath.
As he scampered desperately to his chariot, he carefully hoisted me up as I clung onto the seat, where I painfully positioned myself upright. The man ran around to the other side of the chariot and jumped on, as the dog came following after us.
"Go!" the man shouted at the horse. As he whipped the reins, the horse began to speed off, leaving the dog behind in the dust. As the dog pursued us, it quickly tired and gave up. Meanwhile, I tore off pieces of my tunic to wrap around the bleeding wound around my ankle. I was safe for now I sighed…at least I thought so. As the driver looked back at me with his pitiful grayish eyes, I instantly recalled where those haunting eyes came from. It was the same man that offered me that strange oily concoction that promised to make the nightmares go away. I had taken the liquid faithfully until the day I ran off with Romeos. I was worried that one day the dreams would return. I was thinking that maybe I would wake up the moment I found myself in the prison, or when the vicious dog bit into my flesh. The problem was, I was still awake, as if this was one long nightmare. Unfortunately this was one I could not wake up from.
"How bad is the wound?" he asked worriedly, as he kept glancing back from his saddle.
"I had a few deep incisions from the bite. But I think I will be well," I said, as if I was unsure of myself. Just swallow the pain like I have been doing. Just endure.
"My, were those crazed dogs!" he muttered under his breath. "I was going to the fisherman's post, but I suppose I should take you home, Troy. I am certain they would want to know if you are alright."
"No. That will not be necessary. You can take me along," I uttered firmly.
"Oh… I suppose if that is alright with you. I would hate to inconvenience you," he replied sheepishly.
"You would be doing me a favor," I muttered.
"It would be my honor, Troy," he said flashing a smile. The man who had saved me was no other than Augustus.
"Thank you for saving my life," I said softly.
"You are welcome. I would want someone to help me in need."
"I have seen you before but I never really knew you or your background. I now know you are truly 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 his life as a sailor, it seemed to take my mind away from the pain I was feeling, even if it was only a temporary fix. Little did he realize his stories would change my world forever.
We had at last arrived at the shoreline where the fishermen boats lined the docks. From the chariot, I could see the foamy sea ebb in and out along the sandy shores, gently splashing against the sides of the wooden ships and boats. There seemed to be no beginning to the waves as my eyes drifted to the expanse beyond. A feeling of peace and awe seem to sweep over my troubled soul.
"I will be back. I am going to see if there are any oils and bandages at this trade post alongside the road," Augustus replied in a warm tone as he ran off quickly into the small cobblestone building, which resembled a small cottage.
I looked down at the thin white cloth, which was soaked with blood. The sight of the blood suddenly filled me with anger; anger against my father. It was him that sent the dogs out; it was him who could care less if I died! A short while later, Augustus rushed back to the chariot to take off my tattered and bloody cloth. I was in his care as he poured the oils over my wounds and gently wrapped my ankle with the new wool cloth he had bought.
"Thanks for everything," I said at last.
"You are most welcome," he uttered softly. "Here is some baked fish and bread I bought earlier. I have no family to feed; 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 fish and slab of rye bread. I watched as Augustus shot me a surprised glance from the corner of his eyes.
"You certainly have an appetite," he replied sarcastically. "Anyhow it looks like evening is falling upon us," he replied as he stared at the warm orange glow of light that fluttered above the western clouds. "Your family is probably wondering about you at this moment."
"I suppose. Somewhere out there though, I would not have to answer to anyone. I need to find a way to board that boat," I said as I got up from the chariot.
"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 replied sternly as he got up from his seat. "Such a trip takes months of planning that you are doing out of the whim."
"I suppose so, but I can use the last of my silver coins to buy foodstuffs and other essentials at the trade post up the road. Whatever I do not have, the fisherman 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?"
"Well maybe I am running to something better. I really do not feel comfortable discussing this. I appreciate your help; really. I do not mean to sound ungrateful but I do not need to consult you. This is my choice. Not yours. So why does my decision concern you?" I said briskly as I tried to ease myself out the chariot.
"I suppose there is nothing I can say to you Timus…I mean Troy!"
"My name is Troy," I said rolling my eyes, as I limped away. "Who is Timus anyways?" I muttered.
"You reminded me of someone; that is all." I stopped in my tracks only to stare back at his serious expression. "I apologize for being too protective. I am not your father and will never be. You are a grown man."
"I remind you of whom?" I said softly.
"The son I lost."
"Woe. I am so sorry to hear that," I said shamefaced. "How old was he?"
"He was four when he died in the earthquake that shook this island. He likely 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 said softly.
"Sadly I lost her too. I lost my whole family that day. I am not here to lecture you. 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 sighed to myself as I looked out ahead to the sea. I felt sorry for Augustus. Even though I barely knew him, I felt connected to him as he did with me. I at least had a family…until today. Suddenly I found myself homeless, a wanderer in the land of no man. He 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. I had no home. I had to leave the island, the only world I had known.
Priscilla and Titus had strolled together on their walk together on the quiet road, leading to Titus' villa nestled high on the hilly cliffs by the seashore.
"Is not the weather lovely today?" Priscilla smiled up at Titus, as her side locks blew in the wind with the warm rays hitting their faces.
"I suppose," he mumbled. Priscilla wrinkled her brow at her fiancé's unenthusiastic response.
"I am just tired. I should be relieved the tribunal is over with," he sighed.
"I can imagine your relief. You have been away for all three days. It must have been really intense," she sighed. "Well I suppose, to get your mind off things, we can invite some of our friends for dinner. Perhaps we can invite the royal family," she smiled.
"I think they have other concerns weighing on their minds."
"What are you talking about? Is everything alright with the brothers?"
"I cannot say the same for Troy," he said whimsically.
"What do you mean?" Priscilla inquired with a frown.
"The reason I have been gone these past few days is because of this whole tribunal over Troy and Romeos."
"What are you trying to tell me?" Priscilla questioned as she rolled her eyes.
"He was in the middle of it; the whole scheme to break into the hole," Silus blurted. "I never suspected he would go that far," he sighed. Instantly, she froze in her tracks.
"Where is he?" she asked worriedly.
"He was released from custody and sent home, at least for now."
"I have to go," Priscilla uttered softly.
"Where are you going?" Titus hissed, as Priscilla quickly walked in the opposite direction. Priscilla ignored him as she continued to pick up speed, holding her tunica up, as she quickly scampered off to the road that led back to the palace.
"Come back. I thought you were coming to dinner," Titus grumbled.
"Not right now," she said briskly. Titus threw his hands in the air, as he watched his future bride run off, leaving him alone.
"He is a traitor, Priscilla," he shouted, as he ran towards her. "You hear me. He has lost his mind. You should not worry about that failure!"
"It is not true!" Priscilla whimpered, as she ran off the road and into the fields. "I need to find out for myself," she hissed.
"Why are you acting like this? Oh, I know why… because you still have feelings for him!" he snapped.
"Leave me alone," Priscilla moaned.
"I am not letting you get away from me," he hissed as he grabbed her flailing arm and yanked her towards his chest. "Not until you tell me you still love me."
"You are hurting me!" she sobbed, as he she tried to pry both hands from his powerful grip.
"You need to tell me in my face if you still love me," he said as his intense eyes glistened with tears. His firm hands continued to pull her closer towards him, with every tug of resistance.
"I need space Titus. I am sorry but I do not love you," she whimpered. "Now please, just let me go!" she snapped. Stunned, he loosened his grip on both 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 to run off, leaving him alone and enraged…
I had gathered the last of my supplies from the nearby trade post in a burlap sack. I had used the last of the acros, which was deemed the official currency of the land. As I slowly walked back to the docks, the ship was about to depart from the dock, as the last few crates were brought on board.
"I wish you could come along," I said wistfully to Augustus, as we walked side by side.
"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 tideline.
"The crew could 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."
"The sea and I have a strange love hate relationship," he sighed. I furrowed my brow in deep thought as to what he meant.
"What made you retire as a sailor if you loved what you did?"
"I almost did not make it out alive the last trip. I was not supposed to live, not when all my fellow comrades perished. I was the lone survivor," he said wistfully. It had occurred to me in that moment that I was talking to the man who survived the recent shipwreck that happened earlier in the year, around the time of my near death experience. He was the only one that did not die, in a shipwreck that had haunted my dreams. 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 understand the sea can be dangerous, but I am willing to take that risk for freedom."
"I should have informed you that for every ship that leaves there is a crew list. Only slaves or exiles are allowed without being preapproved."
"I could apply for asylum." My mind raced back to the studies of the law I once 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 leave the island if you were not already sentenced to the hole. Even then you were not truly protected until you were at least ten miles off shore 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 loopholes 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 was able to get away without being captured and killed. I needed to write one letter to give to father, saying I would give up my rights just so I could escape a life of confinement. 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 male slave replied meekly.
"What is she doing here?" Apollus muttered softly under his breath. "Is she with someone?" he inquired cautiously, as he scratched his smooth chin.
"It looks like it is just her," replied the porter.
"You may let her in," Apollus said gesturing with his hands. Apollus sat back in his throne in the atrium across the glistening pool of water. Priscilla briskly promenaded inside; as her glossy blue eyes scoured the room.
"Priscilla. It has been awhile since we met. Please come closer," he beckoned with a smirk across his mischievous lips. Priscilla reluctantly walked a few steps closer, as she slowly wiped her eyes. "So what brings you to the palace?"
"Well, it has been awhile since I paid a visit. I wonder if everything is alright with you men," she sighed. Apollus watched her lips quiver as she spoke. He could sense that something was wrong.
"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 uttered smoothly. Priscilla bit her lip in dismay.
"How is Troy doing?" Apollus smirk quickly vanished from his lips; as he readjusted his slouching position on the throne he would call his own.
"Troy is not here," Apollus replied crisply.
"Where did he go?" Priscilla asked anxiously.
"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.
"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," she sighed.
"Like I said before, I do not know. He has been so unpredictable these days," Apollus said, as he rolled his eyes. "By the way, why are you not with Titus? Is everything alright?"
"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 replied sarcastically.
"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."
"How could you say that? I find it hard to believe that Troy broke into the prison and released a prisoner."
"Well, what you just said is what happened." Another wave of shock rippled through her, as she ran her fingernails through her braided up-do.
"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 as he walked closer to her. "You could have been mines but you rejected me and the wonderful life you could have had with me as a future king," he said sharply. "I suppose you always have eyes for different men, so you probably would have brought shame to me anyways. No matter how good a man is to you, you will never be satisfied; will you?" he whispered harshly in her ears.
"I have to go. Clearly, I am wasting my time here," Priscilla responded sourly.
"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 began to flow…
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 nearby Messenger.
"Are you coming aboard, Augustus," shouted a fellow sailor as he spotted Augustus in the crowd of men and women who had assembled on the beach. "The ship is about to depart, but we are short one man, for the other fellow sailor had to leave of short notice because his wife went into labor pains."
"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 alright. May the gods grant you a safe voyage," he said with a warm smile. The sailor let out a sigh as he muttered something to the captain of the crew.
"I suppose we cannot delay anymore," the captain sighed. "We will have to make due with one less soul."
"Maybe you do not have to," I replied abruptly. The captain looked up from his conversation with the young sailor to behold me as I took a step towards the plank that connected the pier to the boat that bobbed with the restless waves.
"What are you suggesting?" he replied matter of fact.
"I want to go with you and your crew," I replied firmly. "You need an extra man, I can be that one." I heard the snickers of the other sailors as they scoffed at the idea. Suddenly I felt small in his eyes; as if I was just a joke.
"Have you ever set sail before, lad?" the captain asked briskly.
"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."
"This is absurd. He will be a liability to us," hissed the young sailor who stood with his arms crossed against his stocky frame.
"Hush! Let me make the final decision!" the captain hissed, as he beckoned me to come onboard the ship.
"What is your name, lad?" he asked in a cautious tone. My heart raced inside as he would find out that I was Acropolus' son. How would he respond if he knew?
"I am Troy," I responded meekly. The captain wrinkled his brow as he took a moment to "inspect me." I stood rigidly as his light brown eyes scanned my countenance before he finally looked down at the parchment crumpled in his fist.
"What is the family name you answer to?" he asked, as he slowly unrolled the parchment. "You can tell me the truth."
"Acertius." The other sailors looked on awkwardly as the captain gave a slight bow in my honor.
"This boat is bound to the island nation of Crete. From there some may be departing to Rome for business excursions," the captain stated. "Are you prepared to join the crew these next few months?"
"I am ready for anything," I said with a smile.
"He has my support," Augustus blurted confidently. The captain stared below at Augustus as he gave his final salute.
"Welcome to the crew," the captain smiled as he patted my shorn head.
"All aboard!" the captain shouted. "Release the anchors," he ordered. The men quickly went to work, ripping the anchors from the bedrock. As the last anchor was pulled up, the wooden vessel, with its triangular mast blowing in the warm breeze, slowly glided on the white capped waves. I watched Augustus wave on the beach with the other families of the crew as they cheered and waved to their loved ones. 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 until it became a blur, as we drifted deeper into the sea.
What would become of Romeos as his life hung in the balance? 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. I could not help but think about Cornelia, as she went about her daily routine; a life marked 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. To the east lay the island, as it grew smaller and smaller until it was a mere speck; a green gem in the midst of the glossy sea.
"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 would not miss it for anything," I remarked in an undertone, as he walked away to the western deck. Whether father received the letter was out of my hands now. The past was now behind me as I turned my back to the east, and faced the west; the direction the ship was going. The vessel slowly glided closer and closer to the sunset, although the two would never meet, no matter how hard the crew rowed the rudders. We were exploring the unknown world; a world waiting to be explored yet filled with uncertainties. All I knew was that I was finally free.