Chapter 26: "Finding Roots"
"As men we are quick to point out the differences amongst us and them. That somehow we are of more noble merit than the other. We will find when we step into the vastness of the cosmos that we are not as unique as we have previously thought. Sooner or later we will find out how similar we really are and find out how connected our souls are truly bound."
Similar words Miletus once uttered in a journal were being uttered by Menelaus. His tone was soothing yet rich with expression as if he brought the words back to life.
"I know this may be a shock to you," his voice seemed to echo amongst the empty spaces. Shock was an understatement. I could feel his breathing grow heavy as he tried to look into my eyes for understanding. Those greenish, golden orbs seemed to dance in the black blobs of his eyes, hoping to catch a trace of enthusiasm. None.
"I have to go," I said in strained voice.
"Are you going to wait for Julius at least? I thought you two had plans of some sort," he frowned.
"Julia, were you still going on that tour," Brutus blurted from behind. Julia face froze in suspension.
"What are you talking about?" Menelaus muttered.
"No, she is not going," I answered, my tone coming off brisker than I realized. "I am not going anymore," I muttered, as I eased myself from the couch. I could barely look at Julia anymore. I still liked her maybe even loved her. If Menelaus was in fact my grandfather's brother then Julia was my cousin, twice removed! Just then Claudia sauntered into the room. Her smile seemed to light up the room. She smiled in my direction before winking at Julia.
My heart sank. She knew already. I had to leave before I lost the little dignity I had left.
"Back so soon from Julia's home," Caetus cooed from the hallway as he stared at my somber stroll through the atrium. "How was it?" he implored with a smirk. I escaped a rather uncomfortable circumstance only to be taunted by Caetus. This was not my day!
"Nothing worth talking about," I replied brusquely.
Caetus wiped his dubious grin from his face. Just then Clitus came walking out the other end of the shadows of the tablinum; his steps clacking against the stone cold tiles.
"Clitus would you mind helping me with the horses? I know you are fast in removing those horse shoes," Caetus called out to him. Clitus did not miss a step as he turned his back to us in proceeded into the airy courtyard.
"What is his problem?!" Caetus muttered under his breath. He shook his head in disbelief at Clitus' insolence as he turned back to face me.
"That boy can be more stubborn than a mule when he wants to be. No wonder Deopolus said we can have him," he hissed. I bit my lip.
"Maybe you could talk to Clitus and see what is wrong. He usually talks to you before anyone else. Not even Claudius can get him to open his mouth," Caetus muttered.
"He is not going to want to talk to me if he is mad," I replied matter of fact.
"Well then if you do not want to talk to him then you help remove the horseshoes. I need to take my lunch before it gets cold. I barely had anything to eat this whole day."
"If its Rufus, I am not dealing with that horse. He likes Clitus better. Besides you can handle him," I muttered.
"I can handle him, but he is being extra finicky today. You know what Troy; I do not know why you or Clitus are even here in the first place if you are not going to help. I am doing all the chores," he replied briskly.
"Well you are the slave. That is your responsibility," I retorted in a cross tone.
"And we hire you for what? To be lazy?!" he snapped. His docile nature had abruptly come to an end and I was not in the mood for his mouth. Frustrated, I ambled into the courtyard looking to settle matters with Clitus. Up above, I could see Ofelia fussing with her hair as she stepped out into the 2nd story balcony. She seemed not to pay us any mind as she slipped back inside her chamber up above.
I looked ahead and saw Clitus tossing what looked like pebbles into the stone fountain nestled in the middle of the courtyard.
"Clitus," I uttered breaking the tense air. He continued tossing them…one by one.
"I know why you are mad. And you have every reason to be. But hear my words. I need your help to get Rufus to calm down so we can take his horse shoes off," I replied gingerly. Clitus continued tossing pebbles from his sling. It was almost as if he did not acknowledge my existence.
"Clitus can we be men about this for once and not play these silly games?" I grunted. He continued tossing pebbles until he reached his last one. He threw his pouch on the ground and forced himself to look at me.
"Like the silly games you play?!" he replied in his usual soft tone although this time his words were laced with ice.
"What?!" I hissed, walking towards him.
"That is one of them," he answered quietly.
"What is one of the games?!" I muttered, stepping closer to face him.
"Playing innocent," he replied softly with a lace of malice. "I asked you to do a favor but you stab me in the back. So why would I do you a favor?" he questioned pointedly.
"Look I know what I did was wrong. I will make it up to you. I was meaning to give you half of my winning shares. I realized I had not kept up to my end of the bargain. If that will make you happy I will run to my room right now and give it you."
"Thanks but I do not need your money," he answered briskly. Since when?!
"That is not what you were saying a week ago when Deopolus was trying to repurchase you!" I retorted. "I hope your prize money comes soon because I am not giving you anything!" I snapped. Clitus continued staring at me. Usually his hazel eyes were elusive and blank but today they blazed with an intensity that burned through you. He was not ready to back down in this intense staring contest. One of us would have to blink.
"If you wanted her so badly you would have made it known to her instead of hiding behind me. But do not worry, I am getting out of your way," I spat. My eyes stung with hurt and anger brewing inside like a furnace. I left him to eat my words before I turned my back on him. I was leaving.
I found myself lugging my belongings with me to the baths. I had tried to unwind my stress soaking in the steamy baths. I wrapped the towel around my olive skin, speckled in moist droplets that clung to the fine hairs on my body. Even after I went to cool down I kept thinking about how something so good turned so bad. Why was Clitus being so resistant in my attempts of making amends? He was being so childish about it. If he was going to act like that I did not want to have much to do with him! Without much thought I had wandered into the palaestra, which was filled with men exercising or lounging about. The smell of oils seemed to mask the smells of perspiration that excreted out men's pores. Just then, I bumped into what looked like a bloated sand bag dangling by chains from the portico. What an awkward place for it to be. I had seen the punching bags before and Hyros had always told me those were one of his favorite exercise equipment.
Wham! I whacked the sack with my bare fists. That felt good. Really good! In most settings I was not an aggressive person compared to my peers but today was an exception. Now I knew why he enjoyed it so.
"Greetings Troy," he smiled. I broke contact with the heavy punching bag and glanced at Hyros warm smile in my direction.
"So Troy…are you not supposed to be wearing arm bands before you box?" he questioned.
"No one told me," I shrugged as I kept pummeling the bag.
"Looks like you never boxed before," he uttered, trying to suppress a laugh. I shot him an icy stare that made him shut up as I continued pounding the bag with a rain of blows.
"There is Troy!" Marius exclaimed cheerfully. "I was looking all over for you two," he smiled. As I looked to catch the direction of his voice the bag swung and knocked me against the temple, causing me to almost tumble backwards. I was losing my focus. I let out an angry breath as Marius came over to greet me. What was he so happy about?
"Careful Marius. Troy might punch you," Hyros replied looking at my annoyed expression. Marius just stood there, still smiling like an idiot.
"Hit Hyros. He deserves it," Marius chuckled, clapping his hands on his round paunch. I stared at him with blank eyes before dropping my balled fist to my side. I took a look at my scraped knuckles balled together before looking up at their faces.
"We are just poking fun. I am sorry I distracted you there," Marius said clearing his throat. I can get you some good bands for those knuckles," Marius replied sheepishly before scurrying off into one of the closets tucked away in the dingy changing rooms.
"What do you imagine this korykos to be?" Hyros questioned, pointing to the punching bag.
"You," I answered. Wham. With my right foot firmly planted on the sand, I left kicked the bag, causing it to spin wildly. I stepped back, careful not to get hit again by my silent opponent.
"You wish!" he snorted. "Of course if that was me I would fight back. Anyhow if you want I can hold the bag in place while you thrash it to bits," he smiled.
"Thanks. Since when do you want to do me a favor?" I questioned, placing my hands on my hips which were only girded in loincloth.
"I thought you could use a helping hand. You look like you have a lot weighing in that head of yours," he answered, his smile slowly vanishing. After taking a few minutes to catch my breath, I took another jab at the bag. I pulled my balled fist as I felt the skins of my knuckles peel back to reveal reddish bruises. Somehow I had gotten so numb to the pain. I stopped.
"You had enough?" Hyros implored. "I thought you wanted to go a couple of rounds with me," he said flashing his teeth. I looked away.
"Your knuckles took the brunt of that beating. Marius is taking an awfully long time getting those leather thongs to wrap around your hands. He probably wandered by the food carts," he uttered whimsically. I cracked a weak smile before it disappeared from my sweat-stained face.
"Finally I got you to smile. So how are you feeling?" he asked.
"To be honest I do not know what to feel these days," I sighed. Hyros gave me an exaggerated confused expression.
"What is so complicated about how you feel?" he shrugged.
"What if you liked someone but you found out…I mean a friend found out that someone he likes was related to him. Is that normal?"
"Woe. You like your cousin?!" he exclaimed incredulously.
"No… I said my friend liked his cousin," I corrected.
"Well your friend is a little unconventional. I suppose it is normal for a man and a woman who spend time together to develop feelings for each other. You just hope you are not related. That would be the talk of town," he snorted. "By the way Troy, is this a first cousin or a second cousin we are talking about?"
"Um… a second cousin. Does it matter?"
"Yes! I do not know what your 'people' did but in the civilized world that is distasteful. You could get away with it if you so desire but the family more than likely will not approve if they found out and I doubt your family would approve either. If it was a third cousin and she looked like a goddess maybe I would not care," he laughed. "By the way where is this question coming from? Nobody asks such a question from out of the wind. I will not judge you Troy. I am the last one to judge anyone on sinning," he said shaking his head. I felt my cheeks flush red.
"I feel stupid about the whole thing. And even telling you was stupid. I suppose that was a mistake too. Go ahead you can laugh how silly I am for liking my cousin," I replied sourly.
"Troy. You cannot always help how you feel about someone. These things happen. I am assuming you just found out after the feelings already began blossoming. But in the end you decide though whether you act on your feelings or not."
"That was the most insightful thing you have ever said. Thanks for not ridiculing me. You are more clever than I give you credit," I said relinquishing a small grin.
"Thanks for the compliment. I am clever but that lie was not so clever, Troy. It did not take much for me to figure it out where you were going with this. I was not conceived yesterday," he laughed. "I need to teach you how to lie better," he chuckled.
"Hello, it looks like the leather thongs were all taken. But these cloths might do," Marius blurted from behind. "Did I miss something?" Marius said wrinkling his brow as he saw Hyros trying to wipe his grin.
"Just an accidental case of incest," Hyros blurted.
"What?!" Marius wheezed, as he tried to hold his laughter down his throat. I rolled my eyes as Marius' cheeks swelled, ready to burst with laughter.
"So how is your business?" I blurted, trying to change the subject. Hyros tried to pat Marius on his hairy back to calm his case of the giggles.
"It is going well. We purchased the open floor space for the business and hope to get things set up quickly," he answered swiftly.
"What exactly is the nature of the business?" I questioned.
"Oh some fun things. I will tell you more in private," Hyros answered with a smirk.
"Can I come over to your residence this evening?"
"I thought you were staying with Claudius?" Hyros asked with wrinkled brows.
"Things did not work out as planned. I was hoping your apartment had an extra room?" Marius began plucking his chest hairs as Hyros bit his lip.
"We were having company over," Hyros answered sheepishly.
"Forget I asked then," I sighed, rolling my eyes.
"By the way, where does Theseus stay again?" I asked. He was my only other option.
"I thought you would never ask," Hyros smiled.
It was time to right the wrongs. The first person I wanted to see was Theseus. He was the first person I met on this journey that showed loving-kindness to me. I was forever indebted to him. I walked against the blustery November air as I took in the looming concrete and mortar structures and makeshift shops huddled together along the winding roads. As I reached the brick-cladded building, I held my breath. I knocked, not knowing who would come to the door. A young lad opened the door. Perhaps I was at the wrong place?
"Excuse me; does a man by the name of Theseus reside in this building?"
"I don't know," the boy said shaking his shoulders. His woolen tunic was marred in dark stains.
"Is this the metal shop?" I asked. The boy nodded his face which was covered in freckles.
"This must be it," I said shaking my head.
"There are a few living spaces on the second and third floors. Perhaps he may stay there." I nodded and thanked the boy although as I walked up the flight of stairs I was taken to hallway leading to more doors. Which one was it? Just then one of the doorknobs began to twitch and turn before the wooden door finally creaked open. It was Theseus.
"Troy! I thought I heard footsteps so I thought you might have been the Messenger. What are you doing here?" he exclaimed with a befuddled expression.
"I came to visit," I replied in an undertone.
"It look you like came for more than just a visit," he exclaimed scratching his tussled hair at the burlap sack I had tossed over my shoulder. "Please come in," he replied. I stepped inside, adjusting to the dim lighting of his residence on the third floor. The only light came from a small window placed high on the northern wall.
"I am glad you came to see me. I was not expecting you but I appreciate guests nonetheless. I am assuming Hyros told you where I resided." I nodded in agreement of his words as I plopped my large sack next to his couch.
"I have no slaves to cater to me. Cannot afford that quite yet but I am content for now. Do you want anything to drink?" he implored.
"Certainly. I will take whatever you have," I shrugged. Theseus disappeared into the interior room outside the central space of the atrium. Moments later he returned with a glazed clay cup filled to the brim with diluted wine. Without a word he watched me gulp the drink down in almost one sitting.
"Thanks for your hospitality," I replied at last, placing the cup down on the lampstand in front of the couch. He plopped down beside me on the only couch he owned.
"So how is everything faring with you? I heard you are a chariot racer now," Theseus began with a sweeping smile. "Must feel great does it not?"
"It was an indescribable feeling being on the track. I never thought I would win," I uttered nostalgically.
"You had the willpower all along Troy. I am amazed how you already making your mark on the world. So where do you go from here?"
"I don't know. I suppose I have not given it much thought. I should probably look for a place I can rent or I can call my own," I uttered wistfully. "But none of this would be possible without your help," I said pulling my bag of coins inside my big burlap sack.
"Troy you did not have to…"
"I wanted to," I said as I poured the coins onto to the nightstand.
"Thanks. Is this for the boat fare? I think you gave me far too much back," he uttered as he tried to scoop the coins in his hands before they slid off the edge of the wooden surface.
"I forgot the amount. Besides you could use the rest for anything you like, including for your family. I know you are saving whatever coins you get," I smiled weakly.
"Thanks so you so much Troy. I almost forgot about your fare. I really appreciate this. I will tell my children that I came to know a fellow crewmember that became the next greatest chariot racer of Rome and who happened to be very gracious," he grinned. "I can just picture Milos' face when I bring him back a present," he uttered longingly.
"You really miss them, do you," I uttered softly, trying not to let the emotion seep through my tone.
"Very much so. It is hard being so far without your family for a long time. I never quite get used to it. I have tried to save up a decent earning from my embargo despite the setbacks but somehow I just feel…empty when you do not have anyone to share it with. But I hope that when I return home in the spring, I could bring the whole family to Rome and we can start our lives here; together," he voiced fervently. "They were the reason why I made all the sacrifices that I did. I love them more than I love myself." His solemn expression gave way to a growing smile. His face was radiating with joy; a joy that seemed so elusive for me. I had the money to live where I wanted now. Buy whatever food or drink I wanted. To bathe as I pleased. I was happy about not scraping at the bottom. I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity for greatness. But there was more to gain; but what?
"Are you okay?" he asked catching a slight frown sweep across my face.
"I am well; just tired from the walk," I said plastering a grin. Somehow the only time I felt a sliver of happiness was watching others enjoying life while I looked on.
After having dinner with Theseus who chatted about the rest of the former crew, he showed me a small room I could sleep in. Taking one of his own straw mattresses he placed it onto the ground with a clean white sheet for me to lay my head for the night. While he yearned for his family I ran from the last vestige of a family I had left. Despite my expressed intent that I was staying with him until I could find a place of my own I kept thinking about Menelaus and how rude I must have seemed when I walked off. I thought of Julian and how he yearned for something that seemed 'frivolous' in the eyes of his parents. I thought about precocious Julius and what he would say next. I hated to think of Julia because suddenly my feelings were invalid. It left me feeling embarrassed, ashamed, flustered… guilty. How could I show my face there again? But there was so many unanswered questions waiting to be answered. Menelaus was the last one that held the key.
I spent my days scouring the streets looking for a new place to call home. Each building seemed to tower over the next as I edged closer to the center of the city. The buildings varied with the people with shades ranging from pale white to deep shades of mahogany. My eyes roved hungrily across the streetscape, studying the sturdy structures rise above the narrow streets. Above the storefronts lay flats stacked on top of another. As I walked down the streets, I could see curious heads peek out the small windows on the top floors. After a full day of touring the buildings, I was exhausted. As I walked from the baths to Theseus place, I found myself going down a familiar path…
"Troy." I immediately recognized the innocent voice from anywhere. I twisted my neck to see Julius tossing a shiny marble in one hand outside their family home with another young lad. His face lit up when he saw me.
"Greetings Julius. Good seeing you again," I replied, clearing my throat.
"Same here. For a moment I thought you were not coming back. I thought you forgot about us," he replied sullenly.
"No. I could not forget about you Julius. I just wanted to give your family some space. That is all," I shrugged.
"Why? We are family now? You used to come over almost every day and that was before you found out we were related," he replied smartly. I bit my lip.
"You are right," I uttered softly. "I had no idea I was that missed," I snorted.
"You were missed to me," he uttered, his big brown eyes staring right at me.
"Julius, what did I tell you about talking to strang…?" Menelaus' voice trailed as he stepped out the front entrance of his home and caught sight of Julius on the side of the street.
"Troy is not a stranger," Julius protested in a small voice. His brows rose in confusion.
"Oh, I am sorry," he muttered clearing his throat. "My apologies Troy," he said staring down at the dusty streets ahead. "I did not see you clearly at first," he replied swiftly.
"No, it is I that should be apologizing to you. I should not have walked out the house without saying a word to anyone. It was very rude of me. And I hope that you can forgive me." Menelaus paused for a moment as if he was unsure of whether I was worthy of forgiveness.
"Please grandfather. Troy wanted to give us space," Julius blurted aloud. By now the other young lad who was around his age had scampered across the street at the calls of his slave attendant.
"Julius, I think it is time to retire inside the house. You do not want to be out in the cold," he replied coolly. Julius bowed his head and shuffled his feet inside the house. Then Menelaus eyes turned on me.
"So what brings you here again? My granddaughter?" he asked, crossing his arms against his chest.
"No. I came to apologize to you. After all we are family," I smiled weakly.
"What happened to your family back in Aegea?" he replied briskly.
"They rejected me," I said lowering my head in shame.
"Why would they do such a thing?!" he asked. His tone sounded more confused than angry.
"Because…I disappointed them. I would rather not talk about it. At least now I can pursue my own course and not answer to anyone but myself." Menelaus nodded his head slowly as if digesting the words I had uttered.
"Are you happier now?" he questioned. His eyes were cemented on me. I could feel the heat from his stare.
"Maybe…no," I sighed. "I thought if I could forget my past and start over, everything would be alright," I said slowly facing his narrowed eyes.
"What do you plan for the future, son?" he replied in a milder tone.
"I don't know. Maybe compete for the Blues and find a nice place to live in the city."
"That sounds good in theory. What happens though when you crash and fall? Then what?" he fired back. Ouch. He just smashed my plan to pieces. Then again I did not have much of a plan. My mind raced back to one person…. Octavius. He tried so hard to smile and joke but he was good at pretending too. But I knew he secretly resented his wretched condition. While I healed miraculously from my fall earlier in the spring, he never seemed to recuperate fully. He was slowly fading into the past. Even Cato was vanishing into oblivion.
Silence. I hated the way he was looking at me.
"I will let you digest those words," he replied briskly. A self-satisfied smile swept across his face before his lips straightened into a straight line. I knew the answer…I was just scared of the truth.
Without a word, Menelaus finally beckoned for me to come inside. I clasped my cold hands together as I felt a rush of warm air hit me as I sauntered into the atrium, trailing Menelaus' draping toga that seemed to sweep the marble floors.
He led me into the corners of the atrium where each pillar stood proudly. Next to the statuesque pillars were statues carved from marble. They were strong men; flaunting their masculine bodies, which only years of training could achieve. He then pointed to the busts that lined the wall of the hallway extending behind the atrium. I took in the sights of the marble busts sitting on the wooden shelves along the frescoed walls, staring me down with their hollow eyes.
"This is your history," he finally spoke. "You will never know what way to go if you do not know where you even came from," he uttered sternly. "I understand. You are young. I was young once too," he smiled faintly, revealing the creases under his tired eyes. "Your grandfather too was once a young man. And when I see you, I think of him and how much you remind me of him.
I remember the day we decided to join the Roman army like it was yesterday. While we fought for this empire we gained citizenship. After a brigade of fighting we decided we were going to take another route instead. We ended up getting caught in a bad storm and ended up shipwrecked on an island we had never been to. Before this, Miletus was already growing weary of the army and had begun to resent his commanders. So when we landed on the island he was not as eager as I to return to our posts. He yearned for greatness. We all did. He chose a different route, I chose my way. But from what you told me, it seems like he did find greatness. He did something that he loved. But he also touched just as many lives I could imagine," he voiced softly.
"How come he never spoke of you," I replied. My voice was cracking.
"I left the island with both of us upset at the other. I thought he would have been over that grudge by now," he snorted with a mix of bitterness. "My biggest regret is that I never told him that I was sorry," he replied in a sober tone.
"If you ever go back to Aegea tell him I am sorry. Tell him I met you," he implored. For the first time his hazel eyes lit up but I could not reciprocate the joy no matter how much I tried to fake it. "Are you planning on going back?" he asked, with raised eyebrows. I was too numb to talk.
"You are not going back are you?" he asked with disappointment dripping from his tongue. I shook my head no. Suddenly I felt a lump well in the back of my throat as the room grew eerily quiet.
"I am sss-so sorry, I can't," I croaked.
"Grandfather, can Marcus come over for dinner?" Julius blurted from behind us.
"Not now Julius, this is a bad time. Can you see that you are being rude?!" the grandfather snapped. Julius wide smile shifted into a frown as he saw both of our solemn faces. His grandmother who was standing at the edge of the courtyard apologetically beckoned Julius to come with her.
"I am sorry about the rude interruption, but I want to know how he is doing. I have not heard from him in over twenty years. Surely you have not lost your tongue," he replied. Irritation glazed his words.
I stood there trembling. Salty tears began welling in my eyes as I fought their march past my long eyelashes. I watched him close his eyes, before cursing under his breath.
He knew. He placed his hand over his chest before running those same coarse hands over his silvery hair.
"He is not around is he?" he replied solemnly. Pain gripped every word as his breathing grew heavy and labor some. I shook my head no before dropping it down in shame.
"I am s-ssorry," I stammered, fighting back the tears that overwhelmed me. I could not bear to stand and watch his heart break in a thousand pieces.