Greek and Roman-Chapter V: The Boys
FOR the next few days, Titus was a total wreck. He had paced up and down his room, sending servants after servants to check on Flora. They all came back with the same answer:
“Senator Manilus would not let us in. All he says is that if you keep keeping this up, he’ll be either flattered that you care so much about his daughter or you’ve been acting completely irrational and should be arrested.”
“Oh, but I am crazy,” Titus said. One look from the servants showed him that he had said the wrong thing. “I meant that this strange feeling keeps bugging at me. I can’t help but know how she fares. Can you tell me what it means, Lampon?”
Lampon only smiled. “I think it is your father you should be talking to.”
And so, Titus did and his father also smiled. “Ah son, it is called love. You feel as if you are an older brother to Flora. You care for her as you should to Zoe.”
Or more, Titus wondered. “Which I don’t,” he added.
“True,” Antonius continued. “Now, I want to understand something. Understand?”
Titus nodded. “Good,” said Antonius. “Please understand this. If you would want to marry Flora in the future, that is impossible.”
Impossible? Titus gasped. “B-But why? Not that I would want to anyway,” he said quickly “But why is it impossible?”
Antonius sighed. “Just because I make a satisfying amount of money doesn’t mean I can promise Manilus enough money for his daughter. And besides, she’s already been promised to Lucius. And she also doesn't know about it,” Antonius quickly regretted those words as soon as they left his mouth.
“Lucius!” Titus exclaimed with terror. “That slimy, rude, proud brat? How could Manilus be so stupid!"
“Now, now Titus that is no way to talk about people,” Antonius said firmly. “I’m sorry I told you but I beg you, please be kind to your cousin. He’s actually real sensible boy; or so his father says.” Antonius paused to stare humorlessly at Titus. “Titus, I need you understand these things. They’re not just family matters. They’re Roman.”
* * *
THE next day, Titus once again sent out a servant to check up on Flora. The servant was too happy to inform that Manilus had actually replied another answer.
“He said that Flora is well and will be ready to enjoy the rest of your visit to Rome with you this afternoon.”
“But why did it take so long?” Titus asked.
“Because,” the servant explained, “a boy's heart is proud and man’s hard. But a feminine heart can break easier than a clay pot in a children’s playground. It means that since Mistress Flora is a young lady, she probably couldn’t take in the awesome and gruesomeness of the Colosseum.”
Titus paused to think. “That makes sense. You are dismissed.”
The servant was exiting the room when Titus suddenly called him back. “Where shall the two of us meet?”
“In the garden in exactly one hour.”
“Great,” Titus said with a smile. “I’ll be ready by then.”
* * *
AN hour had gone by, and Titus was sitting on the same stone bench in the garden as Flora had done several days before. He only had to wait for a few minutes before Flora was presented before him. She’s so pretty, he awed.
Flora strolled over to him in her normal manner and sat next to him. She dismissed the servant and whispered:
“Have you missed me?”
Titus shook his head. “Not at all.”
Flora pulled slightly away in shock. “Really?”
“Of course not, you naïve little sack of sass,” Titus said with a grin.
Flora shook her finger at him. “You naughty little boy.” She leaned closer again.
“Anyway, I need to tell you something important.” She leaned even closer.
“Something I can’t even tell my father.”
“What?” Titus whispered.
Flora shifted a little. “Well, I’ve found out a little bit about the Christians.” She quickly added, “Not that I’m one of them,” after seeing the uncomfortable look on Titus’s face. “It’s just that I’ve learned a little of their belief and why they do what they do. Like the reason why they give out food for the hungry is because their leader used to do the same in Jerusalem.”
“Whatever. Anyhow, this Jesus was supposed to be the Deliverer of the Jews from us Romans.” Flora continued. “They even were going to make Him their king. But He had run into trouble with the Jewish officials and was put to death. Do you know how?”
Titus shook his head.
“By dying on like a real criminal: being crucified!”
Titus gasped. “I’ve never seen one but I’ve heard of them; they’re supposed to be gruesome and shameful. No wonder these Christians are ridiculed!” Flora held up her hand.
“Let me finish,” she said. “His followers say that three days after His death, He was supernaturally raised from the dead. Can you believe it, Titus? Raised from the dead! And so, His faithful disciples went out into the city, telling everyone of His resurrection. Some said they sounded insane.
“The Jewish officials furiously sought to persecute all of the Christians, driving most of them out of the country; that’s how they came to Rome.”
Titus nodded his head slowly. “Ah… It is interesting, you know. They looked so brave, so bold and–”
“So peaceful,” Flora breathed. “When Justin was cornered by the lion, I think I even saw a smile on his face as he quietly whispered, ‘LORD, I come into your hands. I shall let your will be done, so I can see your face’… And then, the lion had his meal.” Flora once again burst into tears. Titus quietly sat on the stone bench, feeling drawn towards her to show her comfort, but also awkward because he couldn’t understand her pain.
“Flora,” he said after she had cried,“May I ask you a personal question?”
Flora suddenly jerked her head, wiped her tears and placed a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. She seemed to be blushing. “Well, sure.”
Titus breathed a deep sigh and looked at Flora. She had a straight face, but when he looked into those deep, dark, lovely chestnut eyes, he could detect a smile of radiance.
Titus blinked. “Why are you so emotional about the Christian?” he said rapidly. He saw the disappointment in Flora’s eyes. What could she want to hear?
Flora played with the sleeve of her tunic before she answered. “I don’t know. I guess because I’ve known some of them all my life.”
“Yes. Lydia, one of the women, was my nurse maid. Cornelia was our cook and Kaila was our Egyptian slave girl. The rest were servants or hired persons of different senators. Justin… He was a close friend, a dear friend, to me and Marcus… I’m only glad that Marcus doesn’t know about Justin’s death. He’d probably die if he knew. That’s why I haven’t told him or to my father that I knew Justin.”
Flora sighed. “He was so kind. He was like a brother, and really close brother. Whenever Marcus and his friends would pick on me, Justin would always defend for me He’d always call me ‘My Little Flower’.” Flora smiled. “Yes, indeed. ‘My Little Flower’…” Flora turned towards Titus. “Would you call me that, Titus? Please?”
Titus took her hand. He felt her warm palm, and her soft, smooth fingers on his. He smiled. “Don’t worry. I will.”
Titus looked at a pair of blossoms. “My Little Flower.”
* * *
FOR the rest of the day, Titus and Flora had traveled around the marketplace, buying food, nuts and spices. They kept walking, until Flora suddenly started shouting and waving her arms at a group of random boys.
“Marcus! Yoohoo! Marcus! Quintus! Drusus! Guys, over here!”
A boy— who was similar looking to Flora except he was a little taller than her and was handsome and not pretty—walked out of the crowd. He was accompanied with two other boys. The red-head, Titus guessed, must have been Quintus and the blonde was entitled as Drusus by default.
Marcus said, “Hi, Sis.”
Flora smiled at her brother. “How come you’re out so early? It’s probably three in the afternoon!”
“Because Hippo Hippias through his back out this morning, trying to demonstrate how soldiers march in the army.” Marcus grinned. Then, he eyed Titus. “And this is your friend who got Hippias riled up? I awkwardly admit that you do look very similar to Lucius.” Marcus looked around nervously. “We just ditched the brat in the crowd. I hope he doesn’t catch up–”
“Hello! Fellow student and peers, where are you?” came an angered voice from within the crowd.
“Oh Lovely Venus, it’s Lucius!” cried Quintus with woe He pulled the collar of his toga over his head so its appearance resembled that of a hood.
“Come on,” Marcus said with excitement, “There’s barker’s shop a few streets down. I think we can make it!”
Flora looked at Titus, a beam of a smile escaping her pure lips. “Well? What are you waiting for? Let’s go!” She and the other boys darted down the street ahead of them. Titus smiled.
“Don’t wait up!” he called.
Titus had to admit that Flora and the boys seemed fast at first. But I know I can go faster, he reminded himself. He remembered the time he won his first race at the Academy. It was him against Arius and Gaius. They were a bit older, but Titus knew he could beat them. He had started by the Large Tree where they always started they races. The sun had been shining and the Aegean Sea’s salted air was blowing in full gusts of cool breezes.
Antonius had stood by, his hand in the air. “Runners, take your marks. Get ready… Set.. Go!” His hand went down, sending Titus and the other runners off. Titus had pumped his legs as hard as he could, praying to Hermes and Iris, the Messengers of the gods, to give him strength to uphold the race. It had been tough, it had been hard, but he had made it. Titus could still remember the pride in his father’s eyes. I’ll have to run just as fast now! Titus pumped even harder, sending the ends of his toga in the air. In a matter of minutes, he had already caught up with them.
“Wow, Titus. You’re really good at running,” Marcus commented.
“Indeed,” Quintus agreed.
In a few heartbeats, the children had reached the baker’s shop. They all took in a deep breath of the scented and warmth of the smell of bread.
“Mmm. Well won’t you smell the fragrance?” Flora said with pleasure. She walked over to the window were the baker was working. “Excuse me sir,” she said.
“Yes, what do would like, little girl?” the baker friendly.
“My friends and I would like some honey cakes, please,” Flora replied.
The baker went to the back of the shop to bake the requested items. Flora gave the baker a coin in which had the face of Augustus on it. In about a half an hour, the sweet treats were baked and the children leisurely sat on the cobblestone road, eating contently.
As Titus bit into the honey cake, he saw a figure running towards them from the corner of his eye. Uh-oh, Titus panicked. Lucius had finally overtaken them and he did not look happy.
“Ah-hah!” Lucius exclaimed, panting, “I knew I could a catch up to you dupes.” Lucius paused as he had reached the despaired children who sat in a semi-circle along the sidewalk. Lucius was breathing hard and sweat and perspiration ran down his forehead as rain on a cracked building.
“Hi... Lucius,” Marcus forced a smile.
“Oh,” Lucius turned looked downward upon Marcus. “Hello, Marco Maniac,” Lucius spat. “How’s Quintus the Queer and Drusus the Dumbbell? Still following this leader ‘wanna be’ and his self-serving sister–”
“Hey, you take that back!” barked Titus and Marcus together. They both shot off the ground with their fists clenched in a defensive manner.
“And what will you do, Greek?” Lucius hissed, looking at Titus. “Call on your insignificant gods?”
“No,” Titus gritted his teeth. “I’ll only pound your face until it’s broken into pieces. Oh yeah, I just remembered, your face is already distorted!”
Lucius growled and lunged at Titus. He grabbed Titus by the shoulders of his toga, flinging him to the ground. The half Greek half Roman’s body flew fast to the street floor. Lucius grinned and considered that this battle would be over as quick as it began.
But he was wrong.
Titus was prepared for this since at the Academy the boys did this all the time. In fact Titus was probably the best wrestler in his age group, thanks to his father’s teachings of wrestling. Titus swiftly broke his fall by rolling over in midair; making his legs trip Lucius, sending him on the ground in Titus'sreplace!
The brat was surprised at the quick technique and Titus could surely see it in his shocked eyes. And then, less than a heartbeat, the shock was turned into hatred and embarrassment. He used his unused legs and feet, trying to kick Titus off of him. Titus thought he could handle what was coming. What Titus didn’t know was that Lucius’s sandals were leather sharp. The leather nipped his chest, sending a sliver of pain.
Titus cried in pain, giving Lucius enough courage to go full force. Titus flew off of Lucius’s feet; his legs planted themselves on the ground. Whew, that was close, Titus thought smugly. But he became unbalanced and Titus fell on the street floor. Lucius stood over him, his arms ready to swing.
“Farewell, Greek,” Lucius swung his arms with aim and assurance. Titus thought he’d have to endure the rest of the Roman visit with a black eye or broken nose. And then, an abrupt idea popped in his head. He speedily swerved leg, knocking Lucius off his feet. His body slammed on the walkway. Lucius cried in pain, tried to get up with his hands, but fell.
Titus was up, breathing hard; awaiting for Lucius’s poundings. However when Lucius stood up from the street, he gave Titus a dirty look, looked at the children spectators and ran (or can you say limped) up the street in which he had come.
Marcus walked up Titus. He was smile was as a ray from the sun. “Remarkable! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone, slave or freeman, ever stand up to Lucius,” Marcus smirked, “Or give him a pounding.”
“Indeed,” Flora agreed, walking up to Titus. She stood beside him and looked at him with worry. “But look at your clothes, your hair. And oh, your arm! Your arm is bleeding very much. I’d better take you home.”
“I’ll go with you,” Marcus said.
“We’ll come with you,” Quintus said, gesturing towards Drusus and himself.
“Sure,” said. Titus
As they walked towards Senator Manilus’s mansion, Marcus stated, “I still can’t believe you beat Lucius in such swift moves. Can you teach me some of those moves? Where did you learn them?”
“At the Academy in Athens,” Titus answered as they walked by Forum. “As soon as I get some new clothes, I’ll tell about the time a won a race at the—”
“PEOPLE! PEOPLE! Slaves, Romans and freemen; please come and observe one of the greatest trials in the decade. Outlawed Christian Claudius Publius Vinicius, judged by Senator Flavius Tullius Andronicus.”
“Uncle Flavius!” Titus whispered.