Chapter 27: "Speechless"
Restlessness had settled in my bones, chasing my sleep away. It was time to finally go home…my real home. I had begun packing my belongings away one morning. Theseus was still slumbering away on the other bed in the same room we shared in his two-room apartment as I gingerly placed the bag of coins in the burlap sack. It was better if I left quietly. I hated goodbyes. It was easier this way. As I hurled the burlap sack around my left shoulder, my stomach gurgled in anger.
I will eat when I get out on the road. Just be quiet you!
You are leaving already?" yawned Theseus as he rubbed his eyes before placing his bare feet on the concrete floors. "And with hardly anything to eat might I add," he added with a glint in his eyes.
"I was hoping to start heading out now. It will be quite a walk. I did not want to announce my departure," I said softly.
"I wish you could have told me sooner. I could have given you at least a parting gift," he sighed.
"That is alright, Theseus. You did not have to give me a parting gift. After all I owed you for your hospitality these past few days."
"You do not owe me anything, remember? And besides you are a guest in my residence. Guests are always welcomed," he said extending his hands outward to the grainy walls that held his dwelling together.
"Thanks for everything. I greatly appreciate it… I never like this part; the goodbyes," I muttered.
"Do not think of it as goodbye but more like 'see you later," he waved.
I decided not to venture into my new apartment much to Theseus surprise. The appeal of having a place of my own suddenly did not sound so alluring anymore. There was still one place that called my name and I had made up my mind to return to my roots. It was an arduous walk through the bustling narrow streets; lugging my heavy baggage with every step. Most people seemed not to notice the expanded burlap sack compressing against my back as they carried on with their daily activities…except for a few. A group of boys clothed in dirty knee length tunics standing along the butcher shop kept pointing at me as if I was some spectacle. Thinking they were poking fun I continued walking on nonchalantly. Perhaps their parents had not taught them good manners. Just then the older boy out of the three blurted if I was a racer. I stopped in my tracks as the other boys rushed over to greet me with their hands caked in dirt and grime.
I saw their toothless grins staring up at me as I patiently tried to answer their questions about being a chariot racer. It all seemed to be happening in a blur. As I nodded my head to their childish rambling, I noticed a young man walking towards us. His light amber colored eyes seem to glow as he saw me. Immediately I awoke from my stupor as he continued staring at me as if he knew me… as if he could peer through my soul and reveal all the secrets I was hiding. However unlike the young boys, his look was not of admiration but of suspicion. The more he stared, the more uneasy I grew. Suddenly I wanted to become invisible again. I had to go. I parted with the boys giving them a hasty excuse before disappearing into the crowds. Somehow fame had lost its glimmer.
"Greetings Troy. Did you have an appointment?" Brutus answered cordially as I stood outside the entrance. I was so anxious about seeing my extended family that I had lost the words at the tip of my tongue.
"He does not need an appointment," Julian interrupted from behind. Brutus bowed his head as Julian came into view in the doorway.
"Troy. Nice to see you again," he exclaimed. I dropped my bag at the foot of the door as Julian reached out to hug me before letting me go to compose myself. As I reached out to grab my bags, Julian motioned for Brutus to take my bags.
"Where is he taking the bags?" I asked.
"To your new room," Julian smiled.
"Thanks. This may sound silly but I had already purchased an apartment," I laughed nervously.
"Why live on your own when you have family?" he exclaimed as we walked into the atrium together. His pristine features morphed from a look excitement to disappointment.
"I gave the decision much thought, Julian. That is why I decided not to see the landlord today to get my key. I came here instead," I replied sheepishly.
"Oh." Julian replied in a low tone. "Good. You made the right decision. Everyone will be happy to have you." We both took a seat on the atrium couch, as a slave offered to give us figs and diluted wine to drink.
"How is Menelaus doing?" I entreated.
"Not so good," he sighed. "He has not been eating his meals as of late and lately he just isolates himself in his room. It is not becoming of him at all and to be honest I worry a lot about him. He is still moping about past regrets. I am not certain why his estranged brother's death is having this effect on him when before he rarely talked about him?" Julian asked, shaking his head.
"It is because he meant everything to him," I replied sullenly, staring him directly in his eyes.
"I am sorry for speaking so thoughtlessly. I forgot that was your grandfather who died a few months ago. I wish I could have met him," Julian sighed as he cast his gaze downward. "How was he?" he replied sheepishly.
"He was a kind-hearted. He commanded everyone's attention when he entered a room yet he was so approachable and wise. He was one of the few people that loved me unconditionally and I sorely miss him. Even now it still hurts talking about him," I said, clearing my throat.
"He sounds like an amazing man. I suppose he lived a good life before nature called," he uttered in a wistful tone. A rustle of a breeze could be heard up above in the opening in the ceiling before a chilling silence settled.
"He had a few more years in him. His last good years were stolen," I uttered bitterly.
"What did he die of?" Julian answered as he wrapped his fingers around his glass, cocked to his lips.
"Poison. He was murdered," I answered bluntly.
"What?!" he exclaimed, almost choking on his drink.
"It was an official of my father; Gaius. He and his son Maximus broke in during a dinner party at our home and poisoned one of the dishes and the drink cup my grandfather sipped out of." I watched as Julian's hand trembled as he placed the glass onto the lamp stand.
"Were they ever found out?"
"Well, Gaius was eventually thrown into prison for his crime, awaiting an execution. As for Maximus, word has it that he escaped. For all I know he is still out there, roaming around like a free man. I do not know what I would do if I saw him again," I muttered under my breath.
"If it was up to me I would make him pay dearly," he uttered sternly as he balled his right hand into a fist.
"I just hope I never have to see his face again," I answered coldly.
"Figs for the young gentleman?" called Claudia in a questioning tone as she strolled in front of us with a platter of juicy figs.
"Thanks for your service," Julius replied brusquely. I watched as Claudia tried to mask a frown.
"Is there anything else you want me to do?" she asked.
"Yes there is one thing. Tell my grandfather that Troy will be staying here from now on and that he needs to be eating his meals."
"I have tried sir, and the other slaves have tried to get him to eat with not much success. He says he lost his appetite. Perhaps you men may have more success," she sighed. I gave Julius the look.
"Alright," he sighed.
We ventured inside his room to find their grandmother Eunice sitting by his bedside stroking his downy gray hairs with her veiny hands. The silver strands that peppered her own woven locks seemed to shimmer in the light that shown through the only light from the half opened window. Her thin lips curved into a dim smile as she caught our faces entering the dimmed room. Even at her age her face had seemed to defy time.
Without a word, she lifted her thin frame from the side of the bed and walked over to us huddled by the clothes chest. She wasted no time as she wrapped her arms around Julian as she planted kisses on his cheek. Then she came after my cheeks. A whiff of lavender hit my nose as I was caught in her hearty embrace.
"Welcome home, Troy," she whispered in my ears.
"You are going to strangle the poor child," Menelaus chided from his bed. Eunice reluctantly let go as she stared back at Menelaus straightening his posture in the bed.
"Grandmother is everything alright?" Julian uttered as he observed her solemn face.
"Yes everything is alright. I made sure of it," she replied, plastering a reassuring grin.
"Well, did he eat his morning meal?" Julian asked. "I did not see him come down from his room these past two days. Claudia informed me he is still skipping his meals even though they would leave his food on the_"
"No need to worry about all that," she cut in placing her gangly finger against his lip. "I made certain that he ate this time," she winked.
"You know I do not like cold porridge," Menelaus hissed.
"Dearest, I am not going to watch and let my husband waste away to skin and bones. You need to eat!" she replied, putting her hands on her hips.
"You love me too much," he uttered. She shook her head from side to side, as she watched him hurl the clay bowl down on the ground. It cracked in half as the cold oats smeared all over the shiny floors.
"I will have one of the slave girls pick it up," she voiced calmly. "Oh, this is childish even for you," she muttered under her breath as a sigh escaped her lips. "I want you to live the rest of your days in peace, not pieces," she added in a vexed tone.
"How can you live in peace with yourself when you never got the chance to say I love you to your only brother? How can you have peace when you cannot go back and change the wrongs? How can you have peace when your last words were, 'I do not want to speak to you again!" he snapped. I lowered my head to the ground. It was as if he was speaking for me. All the words came stabbing me in the heart.
"No one can go back and change the times grandfather," Julian said shaking his head. "You always taught me that I even though I wrong someone and apologize it never undo the holes you left. But you also taught me that we would never know what was wrong unless we made mistakes," he voiced sullenly.
"You still remember that? You must have been around Julius' age?"
"I was seven, a year younger than Julius. But I still remember you telling me that," Julian stated calmly as he walked over to his grandfather's side.
"I am surprised you still remember that," he scoffed.
"I am surprised you forgot," he muttered. Eunice shot Julian a disapproving glare.
"What he meant to say was that your words had a lasting impression on him and that he wants to remind you of them," I uttered smoothly.
"Thank you Troy!" Julian replied briskly.
"Dear, even though you never got to say goodbye on a happy note, deep down inside you can have peace that he will not bring up all the negative fights you had. When my sister died ten years ago she knew I loved her. Even if she was too proud to say it, deep down inside her soul…she knew it too," she uttered wistfully.
"You are not the only one hurting from this tragedy," I said softly. "I do not want to lose you too. They need you… I need you," I said as I reached out to hold his dangling hand. His limp hands felt cold to my warm hands as his pulse slowly reverberated through my touch. His touch sent shivers down my spine as I took in heavy breaths.
"We will help each other," I breathed.
It was still surreal placing my sack onto the tiled floors of my new room. It was a slave quarter so it was not quite as big as I imagined it to be. The two slaves that slept there were made to room with the other slaves in the neighboring rooms bordering the colonnaded gardens. I no longer had to keep running. I was already at home. There was nothing left to chase but the demons from my past that kept me living in the moment. But for now I was happy that I was officially a part of the family but I was still anxious about seeing Julia again. She quietly made her way to the dinner table across from me. Every time I looked in her direction, she looked down at her plate; swirling her sliced veal with her fork. I looked away, pretending to listen to Julius as he rambled about his lessons. There was someone else coming to dinner; Menelaus! Everyone looked up at him with eager grins as Julius started clapping his hands. Menelaus looked around at the family including other extended family that had come over to recline with us for a meal. Slowly I watched his solemn face melt before my eyes. Everyone seemed to smile as he snuggled next to Eunice on the couches as she sucked on her plump olives. It was the first time I seen him smile that day.
"Well I am not dead, yet. Better join the living for a feast," he smiled, throwing his hands up in the air.
"That is the spirit!" Augustus replied heartily, as he raised his glass upward. Everyone, including young Julius raised his goblet to the air before taking sip. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The once somber table broke into lively conversation. Just then the porter sauntered in the dining hall.
"Master, someone is here. He would like to speak to Julia."
"Who is it?" Augustus inquired.
"A young man by the name of Clitus." He scrunched his brows at the name. My fork clanged against my plate.
"Ask him what the pressing matter is? She is reclining for dinner unless he wants to stay until afterwards to speak to her?"
"Would you like him to come inside? It is rather chilly and damp out," the slave uttered meekly.
"Let him in then," he answered brusquely. The slave bowed slightly before scurrying out the room.
"Why does he want to speak to you only?" Julian whispered to Julia.
"I don't know," she shrugged.
"Julia has a suitor," Julius teased. Julia shot her brother a disapproving glare. Well Julius figured it out the fastest in the room.
"Do you want to wait until after dinner?" her mother asked.
"No. I am about done. I might as well see what he wants."
"Brutus should be in the atrium, I presume," her father added as Julia got up from her lounging position on the couch.
"Clitus," Julia voiced in a startled tone. She had not quite figured out how to react to his abrupt arrival, and a wet one too! She watched as the water drizzled from his soggy tunic leaving a trail of water in his trodden path along the marble tiles.
"You remembered my name," he uttered softly.
"Why of course. You and Troy have stopped by rather often. Eventually I remember everyone's name," she smiled. Clitus nodded solemnly. "So, what made you come in the rain?" she asked, her tone turning serious. Clitus paused as drops of water slid down his soggy hair that clung to his temple and rushed down the side of his rosy cheeks.
"I came to clarify things between us... I mean about the letters," he replied before clearing his throat.
"Did not Troy write them?" she asked wrinkling her brow.
"Yes, but he was writing for me because…"
"You were my secret admirer all along?" She interrupted as her golden pupils widened. Clitus nodded with a weak smile snaking across his angled jawline.
"Wow um. I do not know what to say," she said, shaking her pinned locks profusely. "Why did you not say anything? Troy made it seem like he was the one that liked me and I was confused about the whole situation but it would never work anyways," she sighed.
"I was scared."
"You were scared of me?" Julia let out a high pitch laugh as she patted Clitus on his shoulders.
"I do not bite Clitus," she chuckled. "You are so funny, you know that?"
"What did you think about the letters?" he asked in a solemn tone. Julia's laughter died as she observed his facial muscles tighten.
"I am flattered. I am glad you were finally brave enough to come forward with this information. I know it must have been hard for you. The words were beautiful; really they were. But all of this is so sudden," she said shaking her head.
"Then we should get to know each other better. Over time," he replied softly as he extended his hand to clutch her shaking palms. His wet hands clasped tight to her sweaty palms as she looked up into his eyes. At the sight of his eyes she witnessed another side of Clitus she had not seen before. All the tenseness slowly melted and a calm settled over her.
"I would like that," she replied in an undertone.
"Julia," her father's voice bellowed from behind. Her heart skipped a beat. His footsteps were closing in.
"I have to go," Clitus muttered as he pulled away.
"Wait, it is still raining outside. You should stay," Julia entreated as she saw the drops fall from the opening up above. Each drop fell…one by one into the impluvium. Clitus quickly walked away towards the vestibule as the father came marching in. He took one last longing look at Julia before he disappeared into the cold rains.
"So what was that all about?" the father asked in a stern tone as he plopped his hands on her shoulder.
"He just wanted to wish our family well," she uttered, plastering a weak grin to appease her father. "He is a good young man," she continued softly. "He wants to be good friends with Julian, Troy, and I."
"He may be "nice" but I do not want you to be preoccupied by boys right now."
"I am fourteen, father. I am not a little girl anymore. Mother is constantly talking about marriage for me these days anyhow. Is it so wrong?"
"Look Julia. I know you are becoming a young woman. I just want what is best for you. Next year you will be ready to be handed in marriage to a well-suited groom. When the time comes you will know. It may be sooner than you think."
For so long I was looking for somewhere I could call my own. All this time I was chasing something but I never knew exactly what it was until now. I was chasing the blue away. Trying to find some way to redeem myself and find a place that wanted me… so I could be happy. I was done chasing something that seemed as elusive as a feather blowing in the wind. Maybe I could not change my path nor discard it but all I could do now was move forward before the world passed me by.
The days were growing shorter, the nights were getting colder…winter was approaching! I could feel the chill in the air when I would open my window and look out into the city waking up to the golden sun whisked in the milky clouds. In the coming weeks, I would adjust to the goings on of the household of Augustus. The morning meal was the time everyone would come together before each person scattered to their separate ways. Everyone seemed to have a purpose. Menelaus who was now a retired Roman general still would attend civic meetings regarding Rome's defenses in its Northern frontier. Meanwhile Augustus would spend his days split between the family's home in the city and their villa in the countryside. It was a race between cultivating the harvest before the frost would claim it. Julian was finishing his term in the rhetoric school while managing the family shop, which produced Roman artillery for Rome's soldiers. Young Julius was busy with his lessons with his Greek tutor which would last well into the afternoon.
That left me alone with the women of the house. Compared to the men, the women of the household had the easy side to things as they resided comfortably in the confines of the house. Eunice carefully kept her eyes on the family shrine as she managed the lower wing of the household. I watched my younger aunt as she sauntered about in her long stolla ordering the slaves around. I could not remember a time she had to lift anything heavier than a hand mirror! I watched from the sidelines, as Julia was being groomed by her mother. There were no more school or music lessons for her. Her only lesson for the day was on how to a beautiful wife. Her mother was already grooming her to be more "lady-like or an image of herself if you asked me. Although we would barely utter a word to the other, I could tell she was slowly changing but I did not know if it was for the better. Over the course of two weeks her innocent smile was replaced with a powdered face of solemnity. I missed her laughter, her youthful, unadulterated face that was so vibrant with life. I feared that the powder and jewels were slowly wearing her.
Soon though, the smiles returned. One day after spending time with her older brother at the family business, I excused myself to use the indoor latrine. As I walked through the chilly courtyards, I saw Julia smiling to herself as she held a fresh plucked lily in her hand.
"Someone looks happy today," I remarked in an undertone as I walked past her. Her smile faded as she twisted her neck to face me, clutching the plant against her bosom.
"Oh. Thanks," she replied softly. I kept my eyes on her as she quickly withdrew the lily to her right hip. Why was she acting so nervous around her own cousin?
"Is that from the courtyard?" I asked, attempting to break the awkward tension.
"Um no. It was from a friend of yours," she replied sheepishly. "Please do not be mad," she sighed.
"Now why would I be mad about that?" I asked, folding my arms against my chest.
"Never mind. This is rather silly I brought this up in the first place."
"Is that from Clitus?" I asked, my voice coming off hollow. She shook her head sheepishly yes.
"I knew it!" I muttered.
"Troy," she pleaded.
"I am not mad…really I am not mad. I am just wondering when you took a liking to him. All this time you barely could remember the poor fellow's name," I laughed dryly.
"He is just being friendly. He is a really nice fellow once you get to know him." Silence.
"When did he come by the residence?" I began again.
"Just a moment ago. He likes to stop at the same time. I am surprised he avoided my mother's presence so far. She has eyes like an eagle," she replied as her eyes shifted around the edge for the faintest sounds.
"You mean he is secretly seeing you?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"Not so loud!" she hushed. "I do not want mother to overreact."
"How long has this been going on?"
"Just um a few days. Please do not judge me. We have not done anything improper."
"I trust that you are not a loose person but…"
"But what?" she frowned.
"How were you able to hide this with all the guards and nosy slaves like Claudia hovering around? You think they are not aware?"
"Brutus my personal guard already knows about Clitus. I told him. I informed him that Clitus is always welcome and that he needs not special permission. I know when Clitus comes and I meet him at the doorway. After all he is your trusted friend," she smiled. He was my friend. I watched as Julia studied my uneasy face.
"You are still friends are you?" she asked, raising her arched eyebrows.
"We 'use' to be friends," I corrected. "And now ever since the whole 'situation' everything has been awkward between even us."
"How can it not be? Look, I needed time. You needed time to process these feelings. This is been confusing for me too because I am starting to experience things I did not think I could feel before. It scares me, honestly."
"What is so funny Troy?" she asked. I supposed my emotions were showing again. Perhaps that smirk was more noticeable than I realized.
"I am just allowing myself to be silly. I agree feelings can be scary," I said growing serious again. "I just wish things were not so complicated," I sighed, heaving a hot breath. She stood facing me, close enough to hear my heavy breath flows. Close enough to study my flustered face. Julia merely shook her head as she tried to suppress a smile from parting her lips.
"I still love you though… as my cousin," she teased. I blushed. Perhaps we could still be friends?
"I understand. I can live with that. I just hope Clitus is not some distant cousin of us," I joked. Julia pressed her palm against her mouth to keep from laughing.
"Troy!" Clitus answered in a low tone. Julia sucked in her breath as her face grew somber. Hiding underneath the shade of the portico, he stood stalking us from afar. Julia bit her lip as she turned around to face Clitus'. We both froze in the garden, shivering from the hostile air as his sharp eyes glared in our direction.
"I thought you were leaving?" she asked, gripping her shawl over her bare smooth skin.
"What is Troy doing here?" he asked crossly. Instantly my jaws tightened at his icy tone.
"Troy lives here now. He has been for the past two weeks," she replied calmly. I watched as Clitus jaw dropped.
"It is not what you think Clitus," I uttered coolly as I backed away from Julia. "She is my cousin far removed. It would never work between us," I replied softly. "You can have her. She is yours for the taking," I said raising my hands in surrender fashion. I watched as Clitus' eyes bulged, as if they were going to pop out his socket. He was speechless.
"It is a long story," Julia said cracking a smile across her porcelain complexion. "I like Troy, but not in that way. I hope you are not still mad at him," she said, her smile slowly fading.
"I think I have to go," I replied softly as I turned my back to him. Julia tugged at my upper bicep, forcing me to face Clitus as he approached closer.
"I wish you would believe me, Clitus. I am really sorry that I led Julia to believe I was her admirer because I really did admire her charm. I admit it. But I realized I did something really hurtful and now I have been walking around avoiding both of you, when I all want to do is just put all this silly folly behind me. If you wish not to speak to me that is your decision. You have every right to hate me like you do."
"I do not hate you Troy," he muttered. "I do not want to be mad at you anymore. I was just mad because it made me think I would never be good enough for anyone."
"You are good enough for me," Julia protested as she placed a hand on his bare shoulders. I watched as Clitus' shoulders eased.
"You are rich. Why would you want an ex-slave?" he asked looking past her and towards the trickling water bubbling from the cherubic fountain behind us.
"I do not see a slave. I see you. I see a champion. I see a quiet strength in you. I see someone that wants to be accepted. You really are special. Both of you. I am glad you both saved me that day, because I met two special people," she uttered wistfully.
"Thanks," we both seemed to say at the same time. I looked at Clitus and then at Julia who seem to be tickled by us.
"We will always have your backing," I smiled. "Whatever you decide, I support you."
"Julia!" her mother called in an assertive tone. Julia quickly dropped her hands to her side. I watched as Clitus looked around the courtyard like a frightened sheep, searching for the nearest exit.
"Go!" Julia murmured. Just as Clitus tried to sneak out one of the archways he almost ran headlong into the mother as she was coming out the hallway!
"Heavens to Zeus! What are you doing at our residence?" she gasped, placing her hand on her chest.
"Mother, you know Clitus," Julia blushed.
"I do. I suppose you are here to see Julia. Tell me young man, what do you think of my daughter?" she asked pointedly. Clitus stood there frozen in suspension.
"She is nice," he sputtered.
"Is that all?" she replied, staring him in the eye.
"Mother," Julia moaned.
"Not now Julia," he mother sharply cut in. "I want to hear him speak. Speak sir," she clapped.
"She is lovely," he replied more firmly. The mother let out a feign smile before her facial features tightened again.
"What are your intentions with my daughter? Surely you did not entice her to engage in disgraceful folly?" she replied in a sharp tone. Clitus adamantly shook his head no.
"We are just friends, mother. Sorry I did not tell you. I was afraid of what you would think."
"Like what? My daughter is secretly talking to a slave boy?"
"He is a chariot racer like me," I piped in standing next to Julia. The mother twisted her mouth into a sour frown. That just made it worse!
"My daughter thinks you two are friends? Is that correct?" she asked in a calmer tone, placing her painted hands on her narrow waist. Clitus nodded.
"Please do not mistake me for being rude. I apologize if I came off rather brash. I do not want you to get misguided intentions about my daughter. We are saving her for someone special. Someone that could afford her a 'secure' future," she emphasized. "She is a beautiful girl as you are no doubt aware. But I think it would be best if you stopped coming here. The other members of this house might mistake you for a possible suitor. We do not want them to get wrong impressions now do we?" she replied smartly before plastering a forced grin. I watched as Julia's lips twisted into a scowl. It was becoming more apparent Julia did not like her mother. I watched Clitus' lips quiver as the mother stared him down with her beady eyes. Without a word he stormed off into the hallway. No smiles. No farewells. Nothing. But I suppose there was nothing left to be said.
While the mother decided to have a little "talk" with Julia it was a convenient time for me to escape to the latrine to 'ease nature.' By the time I came back into the garden, only the slaves remained, watering what was left of the potted plants. Where was Julia? Just then I saw Claudia coming in the garden.
"Where is Julia?" I asked.
"I am not certain. I suppose she went to her room. I hope everything is well with her," she answered, her smile diminishing. "She usually says a greeting to me every time she sees me. Did I do anything to upset her?" Claudia sighed.
"I doubt it. I think I know why though," I answered softly. I quickly paced to Julia's room with urgency in every step. As I entered the room to console her…she was gone!