The color of the sky on a cloudless day. Except the sky wasn't blue anymore. At least not today.
I breathed in the briny mist of seawater that filled my lungs only to expel a heavy sigh. The sea breeze that sent my thin tunic flapping reminded me that warmth was fleeting. So was my voyage as the ship glided closer to the sleepy boulders ready to greet us. Most people called the island we were approaching, Crete. I did not know anything about the island. Then again I did not know much of anything outside Aegea or the first fifteen years of my life at that. The only thing I knew about my new destination was that it was 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 riding accident 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 an intelligent and capable young 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 truth. 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 ensure 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. The flames were always hungry there. Always.
He tried to compose his trembling hands before thrusting the shredded parchment onto the marble floor in 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 window, disturbing his thoughts. As he adjusted his toga in the long elongated mirror that hung on the frescoed walls, a gentle 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?" the slave girl inquired. Her voice seemed so small in a bed chamber that was twice the size of her living space she shared with the other female slaves.
"Thanks for coming promptly Cornelia. I have a little mess for you to clean," he smiled, flashing teeth. He kicked the scraps of shredded parchment in her direction. Without haste she made her way over to the scattered pieces of what was once was a letter. As she knelt to pick up the pieces, a word struck her. It was the only name that she could recall from the fragment of foreign words.
"The letter looks different in shredded form does it not?" Apollus asked, hovering over her slender frame. She nodded in silence as she scooped up the parchment in her palms. "Somehow this letter of my brother 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. She was thankful her beige tunica masked her wobbly legs. Any minute from now and her legs would give out on her!
He raised an eyebrow. "You should not believe everything that you hear. How do you know if it true?"
"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."
His gaze wandered past her and through the open window overlooking the garden. "Let me tell you this. That boy may be 'alive' somewhere but here he is dead!"
Cornelia wrinkled her brow. "Whatever do you mean?"
"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?
He turned to face her. "I know you like him; my brother." Her heart thumped violently against the walls of 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. She raised her hands to wipe away the salty tears that stung her eyes, before shuffling her feet across the marble floor.
"Come back. 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.
"Um…what are you doing my lord?" she stammered.
"I am helping you to forget about him." He pressed his lips against her earlobe. "Forget he existed," he whispered. His warm breath tickled the senses inside of her. With her frozen in his arms, he stroked her curly side locks before running his thumb over her rosy cheeks now streaked with tears.
"Please do not hurt me," she pled.
His tone took a sharp edge. "I can do whatever I want with you! There is no need to question the prince or should I say future king," he whispered. 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 as more than just a 'good slave girl,' she realized that it would never work between them. But that did not mean she stopped caring about Troy. And now she realized his older brother knew too much and there was no telling what Apollus could do with such information. With tears clouding her vision, she could faintly make out the shiny doorjamb. If only she would have took Troy's offer to come with him she would not even be in this predicament! If she did not escape now there was no telling what Apollus would do to her.
"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 for the door, she could feel his cold hand grab her left shoulder and whirl her around.