The color of the sky on a cloudless day. Except the sky wasn't blue anymore. At least not today.
I inhaled the warm air that filled my lungs only to expel a heavy sigh. The sea breeze that ruffled my thin tunic reminded me that warmth was only temporary. So was my voyage as the vessel grew closer to the sleepy boulders ready to greet our ship. Most people called the island we were approaching, Crete. I called it my Asylum. My face should swell with joy right now. I was about to taste freedom after being confined for weeks on this boat. Nobody could hurt me here. But I kept thinking about the family I disappointed. The friends I was leaving behind. Even my best friend's last letter before he took his final breaths on the stake. His last words flooded my mind as I waited for impact.
Greetings from Romeos to Troy,
I will cut the salutations short because I am running out of time. I know you are scared. And if you are reading this maybe you will know you are not the only one. If I could turn back time I would go to the time before your fall this past winter. It was a more innocent time then. We both had our hopes set to attend the rhetoric school together but things did not work out as planned. Now I will never be admitted but maybe you have a chance next year. You are intelligent and capable man. You do not have the cloak of the blacklist hanging over your head.
But you and I know that times are changing. It has not been the same since the time of your injury. I tried to ignore it, to belittle it, even laugh it off but I am afraid that even I cannot escape the inevitable fact. The island is not the same place I knew it to be when I was a boy. This fear is sweeping the island like a plague. I can feel it. In this world where the face of the enemy is blurring you are one of the few people left that I can trust besides Julius and my parents. It saddens me to think this may be my last letter I send to you Troy. I wish things were different because something bad is going to happen. I can just sense it. I hoped there was some way you could fix it but perhaps that is foolish thinking on my part. For now I will try my best to make sure this letter does not end up in the wrong hands. I wonder how long we can keep up this pretense_
"Not long enough," Apollus sang. His voice held a bitter twang as he ripped the letter in a thousand little pieces. It was the last letter he found that belonged to Troy. It was the last document that still bore his name. How did he miss this letter in the countless letters and documents that belonged to Troy? Everything else that ever belonged to him…. burned. Even the name was forbidden. The only place it resided was in the smoldering embers with only his legacy billowing from the dusty smoke that rose from the valley day and night without rest. The flames were always hungry there. Always!
He tried to compose his trembling hand as he thrust the shredded parchment onto the marble floor of his room. His hazel eyes closed shut before heaving a hot breath. Why would his youngest brother do something so devastating to the family name? This was more shameful than when his older brother Barbarius took off to the 'outside' world over a year ago. Eventually he would come crawling back but things would never be the same. How could they? The tables had turned. Now he was king.
Suddenly a gusty breeze barraged through the opening in the window, disturbing his thoughts. As he adjusted his toga in the long elongated mirror that hung on the frescoed walls, a soft voice perturbed the rustling of the soft fabric between his fingers.
"My lord Apollus, your brother Barbarius told me you wanted to see me for something. Is there anything you need help with?" Cornelia inquired sheepishly. Her voice seemed so small in a bed chamber that was twice the size of her living space.
"Thanks for coming promptly. I have a little mess for you to clean," he smiled, flashing teeth. He kicked the scraps of shredded parchment in her direction with his sandals. Without haste she made her way over to the scattered pieces of what was once was a letter. As she knelt down to pick up the pieces of parchment, a word struck her. It was the only name that she could recall from the midst of foreign words.
"The letter looks different in shredded form does it not?" Apollus asked, cowering over her small frame. She nodded in silence as she scooped up the parchment in her palms. "Somehow this letter of Troy's seemed to have escaped my notice. I wonder how it could have been missed," he replied coolly. She pressed her lips together. Her hands quivered as she tried to pick herself off the cold tiles.
"He still alive is he?" she asked. Her voice trembled with each word. She was dying to know.
"What do you know about his whereabouts?" Apollus questioned, his tone turning suspicious.
"I heard that Troy had found asylum in Crete, which is where he fled to," she said fidgeting with her beige tunica that masked her wobbly legs. Any minute from now and her legs would give out on her!
"You should not believe everything that you hear. How do you know if it true?" He said, raising an eyebrow at her.
"Well that is why I wanted to hear it from you. I thought that since you are his brother you would have known the latest news."
"Let me tell you this. Troy may be 'alive' somewhere but here he is dead!" He died the day he ran away.
"Whatever do you mean?" she asked as she wrinkled her brow at such a thought.
"When he made the choice that day to leave and not take responsibility for his insolent actions, he made his choice to be wiped clean from the records. It is almost as if he does not exist anymore."
"How could you forget your own flesh and blood?" she thought aloud. Instantly she brought her hands to her mouth, realizing her thoughts had oozed out her lips audibly enough for Apollus to hear. Oh, how she was so good at keeping her tongue in line before. How could she make such a careless and dangerous mistake!
"I know you like him; my brother." Her heart raced inside her chest as she felt the enormity of a secret being uncovered, leaving her bare and naked. "It is funny that you still have feelings for him. You are not the only one caught in his spell," he continued in a low tone. "What is even funnier is that you never had eyes for me. Not that I would ever be caught in an affair with you… at least not in public," he snickered. He watched as she slowly raised her hands to wipe away her salty tears, before shuffling her feet across the marble floor.
"I do not want to see my slave girl cry," he uttered smoothly. As she slowly turned around to face him, he slyly slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her body towards his chest.
"Um…what are you doing my lord?" she asked shakily.
"I am helping you to forget about him. Forget he existed," he whispered in her ears; his warm breath tickled the senses inside of her, as he tried to stroke her curly side locks before running his thumb over her rosy cheeks, catching the tears as they oozed out.
"Please do not hurt me," she pled.
"I can do whatever I want with you! There is no need to question the prince or should I say future king," he whispered bitterly in her face. Cornelia bit her lip in dismay. After all she was just a slave who did not even possess her own soul. She already knew that Apollus was watchful but she underestimated how much he had gathered between her and Troy. As much as she wanted him to notice her so badly as more than just a 'good slave,' she realized that it would never work between them. But that did not mean she stopped caring about Troy. And now she realized he knew too much and there was no telling what Apollus could do with such information.
"So I am assuming that you would do anything under Troy's persuasion. By the way, who told you those rumors?" I have to go she thought. As she reached the doorway leading out of his bedroom, she could feel his cold hand grab her left shoulder and whirl her around…