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Titus: The Aristocrat (Intrepid Men of God Book 8)

By Katheryn Maddox Haddad

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1 ~ I Am Titus

“My name is Titus Pomponius Brennius, and I am nine years old today.”
The boy stands next to a reflecting pool two man-lengths across both ways and surrounding the statue of Augustus Caesar who had died the year Titus had been born. His hands are at his side. His eyes do not waver from his father, Justus Brennius Antiochus.
“And?” his father prods.
“And the Titus Pomponius of Athens, philoso…philosopher, and writer of many books about our illus…illus…”
“Illustrious,” his mother, Kharis, prompts with her ever-present smile that brings out her single dimple.
“…illustrious Cicero, Plato, and other worthy philoso… philosophers and historians.” Titus risks reprimand from his father by glancing at his mother for a quick thank you.
“And?” Justus prods again, adjusting his purple-edged toga which often slips off his lap when sitting.
“And my ancestor, Brennius the Great, leader of the Gauls who dared invade Rome then settle from there all the way over to our Province of Galatia.”
“Well done, Titus.” Justus presents his son with a thin smile, stands tall, and brushes back a strand of blond hair from his forehead.
“Sit back down, husband. We have not heard our son recite his maternal heritage,” Kharis pronounces with sternness in her eyes and an abundant smile on her full lips.
“Well, hurry it up. We have things to do today to celebrate this young man’s birthday.”
Titus, still by the divine Augustus’ statue in the middle of the family courtyard, turns to face his mother. His hands remain at his side.
“And Sejanus, Dalmatian official musician of Apollo father of the Muses, with full Roman citizenship bestowed upon him by the illustri…ous Augustus Caesar.”
“Perfect,” Kharis says, standing at the same time as her husband.
Titus looks at his father. “May I have my birthday present now, sir?”
“Ha, ha. Such impatience,” Justus responds, putting an arm around his short and pleasantly-stout wife. “A gentleman and aristocrat displays patience and does not ask for his present.”
“Well, how long must I display my aristo…aristocrat patience, sir?”
“To teach you a lesson for being so impatient, you must recite your times tables, the twelve sons, and daughters of Apollo, the nine Muses, and the seven planets.”
“Justus!” Kharus objects.
“Now dear, the boy needs to learn.”
Parents re-seated, Titus works his way through his penance. For good measure, he ends with a bonus. “Our father God is Jupiter. The Greeks call him Zeus, but they don’t know anything. They aren’t smart like us Romans. Isn’t that right, Father?”
Justus rises and smiles. “That is indeed right.”
Kharis stands. “Now, we shall begin our celebrations with a song. Where is my lyre?” She looks down at the marble bench on which she had been sitting.
Titus looks at his mother and back at his father.
“Dear, why not save that part of the birthday celebration for our trip to the seacoast,” Justus intercedes.
“The seacoast? Really, Father? Is that my present?”
“Cornelius,” Justus calls out to his head steward and gatekeeper.
“Yes, sir. Everything is ready.”
Cornelius opens the gilded gate out of the family palatio. To one side is Lydia ready with Kharis’ stolla of blue. The maid lays it over Kharis’ white tunic and secures it with a ruby clasp on one shoulder to match the elegant scarlet trim at the neckline and hem.
Cornelius holds a small toga edged with the same purple as his elder’s. “Father, do I have to wear a toga? We’re just going to the seacoast.”
“You are an aristocrat. You must wear the symbol of your status in public. Once we arrive, you may take it off and play in the sand with just your tunic on.”
“When will I be able to wear the plain toga?”
“When you are fourteen. You will wear that one until you are considered a man and must earn the right to wear purple edging.”
“When will I be considered a man?” Titus asks.
Justus does not answer.
When they walk toward the stable gate, Titus notices the family litter with the crimson curtains has not been readied for them.
Justus helps his wife up onto her side saddled horse.
Titus looks around. “Well, I guess that means I will be riding behind you, Father.”
“No, that is not what it means,” Justus replies, his eyes stern and his thin lips even thinner.
Titus steps back against the stable wall. His eyelids fight off unmanly tears. “But it’s my birthday, and you promised I could go with you.”
“Darling, stop teasing the boy,” Kharis chides.
Brutus, the stable master, steps forward leading a saddled pony.
Titus’ eyes grow large at the sight.
“Well, mount your beast,” Justus says.
“For me? He’s mine?” Titus replies, looking now up into the eyes of his father.
“If you don’t hurry, your mother and I are going to leave without you.”
Titus rushes to his new pony, rejects the assistance of Brutus, lifts a foot up to the stirrup, swings the other leg around, and sits tall and proud. He jumps back down and rushes to his father, laying his head on the man’s chest.
“Oh, Father. Thank you. Thank you. You are the best father in the whole world.”
“Don’t forget your mother. It was her idea.”
Titus hurries to Kharis on her mount, grabs her hand reaching down to him, and kisses it. “Oh, Mother. Thank you. Thank you.”
By now, Justus is headed out the stable gate and onto the street. His family follows up Vici Aegeus and turns right at the columned Cardo Maximus.
Titus sees his friend, Stephan, and calls out to him. “Look what I got for my birthday,” his single dimple like his mother’s flashing.
“Cease speaking, Titus. An aristocrat does not yell at people on the street. Further, I have warned you not to become too friendly with that potter. He is beneath us.”
They pass the Temple of Apollo on their right. When they arrive at the artificial waterfall, they turn left onto the equally columned Decumanus Maximus and follow it past the theater and agrarian market with its public forum. They make one last turn out the western gate of Antioch.
Following at a distance are Cornelius with a tent on the rump of his horse, and two light benches tied on each side. Lydia follows him with clothing and cooking supplies on her mount.
On the open highway, they cross the rest of their Gaulish Okondiani tribal territory, now known as the county of Pisidia and part of the greater Province of Galatia. Riding abreast, the three follow the Meander River through the valley with the snow-capped Sultan Mountains on their right.
Kharis can hold it in no longer. Inspired by the fresh air outside the city away from all its cooking and crafting fires and the fires of sacrifices to the gods, she opens her lips and sings to the world.
The strains of her exquisite voice fill the valley, and its melodies rise like the aromas of spring flowers to the mountains which echo them back.
“Uh, Son,” Justus announces as his wife sings, “look in your saddle bag.”
Titus, riding on his birthday pony between his parents, obeys. His hand touches something hard. He pulls out a lyre made of bronze, inlaid with mother of pearl.
“Another birthday present,” Titus squeals. “Oh, Father, thank you.”
“Again, it was your mother’s idea.”
“Oh, Mother,” Titus says turning in her direction. “Thank you,” he calls out above the strains of her refrain.
She winks and keeps on singing.
Titus wraps the reins of his pony around one of the four saddle horns and accompanies his mother on his birthday lyre. His father joins in with his base voice.
Before they know it, they have arrived at Nyssa in time for a noon-time meal. Both guards at the city gate recognize the Praetor of Antioch and salute him with fists to the heart followed by raised arms toward the magistrate.
The traveling party stops. Cornelius dismounts and walks forward, leading his horse. “My master’s family is in need of refreshment and a place to stay for the night. Please take us to whichever inn you recommend for us.”
The soldier turns and leads them into the city. As he marches, people stop along the street and stare, wondering why the Praetor of Antioch no less, is visiting them.
By now, Titus has put away his lyre and is following his father in the procession, his mother behind him, and Lydia behind them. He sits as straight and tall in his saddle as he can to make his father proud.
They arrive at an inn. The city guard knocks on the gate while Cornelius speaks to a stable hand who bows to Justus and takes the reins of his horse. Two more stable hands appear and take the reins of the other two mounts. The proprietor of the inn meets the three at the gate by the.
“Most Excellent sir, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you into my establishment. We have a private atrium for our honored guests. Please follow me.”
Well filled with cheeses, fresh grapes, bread, yogurt, and nectar of apricots, the family and two servants resume their journey toward the coast of the Aegean Sea.
The following day, they reach Tralles. Though the guards at the city gate do not recognize Justus, they understand the significance of the purple border on his toga and salute him.
“Where might my master’s family spend the night in your city?” Cornelius asks, once again having dismounted and walked ahead of the family to one of the guards.
The guard leads them to what Titus assumes is the finest inn within the city walls.
As people cheer the magistrate traveling into their city, Kharis leans toward Titus. “Every lip is cheering us. Both upper and lower,” she giggles.
Titus glances at his father to see if their untoward behavior has been detected. It has not. He grins in delight at his mother’s sense of humor, so different from his father’s rigidness.
The next morning, they leave and continue up the highway.
“Did you know we are on one of the silk roads?” Justus says to Titus.
“What’s a silk road, Father?”
“Silk roads are scattered throughout the Roman empire and all lead from one place—China. Do you know the significance of China?”
Titus grins. “Of course, Father. Anyone can figure that out: China is where silk grows.”
“Well, in a way, yes. It is where the silkworms grow, and they spin silk threads to make their cocoons,” Justus explains.
“And where I get fabric for my finest stolas,” Kharis adds.
“Is the stola you’re wearing made from silk, Mother?”
“Indeed, it is.”
They ride in silence. Then, once again, his mother’s angelic voice. The voice of all the Muses blended into one. Melodic strains that float everywhere bounce playfully off the clouds overhead and swirl around in the glad heart of Titus. He pulls out his new birthday lyre and accompanies her.
That evening, they arrive at Magnesia, former Roman stronghold, and home of many of Antioch’s semi-noble equestrian ancestors. Their journey toward the Aegean Sea resumes.
“My father, Justinius, was a Tribune here when Magnesia was a fortress. When he retired, he was granted the land on which our servants grow flax in the valley outside of Antioch,” Justus explains.
“He built our house too, didn’t he, Father?”
“Yes, he did. I was born there. Too bad he died the year you were born. He did not live long enough to see you.”
“And grandmother died when Aunt Chloe was born.”
“I was just five then. I did not understand why my mother had to go away from me.” Justus is quiet for a long time.
The following day, they arrive at Ephesus on the Aegean coast and go to the finest inn within the city.
“First thing in the morning,” Kharis says with a yawn, “I want to visit the great Temple of Artemis. It is the largest temple in the world.”
“Do we have to?” Titus asks. “For my birthday?”
“The beach will still be there afterward,” Justus chides.
“It will still be there when you are an old man,” Kharis mumbles.
“When I am as old as Father?”
“Go to sleep,” Justus growls.
Titus closes his eyes. Then it is morning. He hears his father still snoring, jumps up, and tugs on his foot. “Get up, Father. Get up. Today is still my birthday.”
Justus sputters.
Kharis smiles, her eyes still closed. When she opens them, Titus is standing beside his parents’ bed with his lyre.
“So soon with the music?”
“I haven’t played anything yet,” Titus responds. “But I was about to.”
Kharis reaches over and kisses her husband on the cheek, then pinches his nose to interrupt his snoring. He sputters and opens his eyes.
“My dear, you had better not ever do that in public, or I’ll send you back to Dalmatia,” Justus announces, rubbing his eyes.
“I never lived in Dalmatia. I was born in Rome,” Kharis retorts.
“Well, your father was.”
“I know lots of words in Dardani, Mother’s tribe,” Titus announces. “Do you want to hear them?”
“No, not really,” Justus says, rising.
“Besides, it isn’t the language of just my tribe,” Kharis responds. “It is the language of all Dalmatia.”
Titus sits on the floor and counts with his fingers.
“What are you counting?” Kharis asks. “All the words you know in my native language?”
“No, all the languages I know. Well, I don’t know them, but I am learning. Let me see, Latin of course because everyone in our city speaks Latin. Then Greek because the great philosophers wrote in that language. And Gallic spoken by gr gr gr gr grandfather Brennius.” He sputters the gr’s in quick succession. “And Dalmatian.”
“Four, is that all?” Justus says, standing and tickling his son.
“Well, I’m only nine. Hmmm. I may add a fifth language.”
“What’s that?” Justus asks, picking up the boy and dangling him upside down by his ankles.
“Hebrew,” Titus chokes out between giggles. Justus sets him down. “Rabbi Oeneus says he’ll teach me Hebrew.”
“The language of the Jews?” his father asks with a frown. “They have a strange religion. Only one God and he is invisible, so no one knows what a statue of him would look like. Strange religion. Isn’t he the new rabbi in Antioch?”
“I just want to make you proud, Father.”
“Well, young man who knows four languages and dares to learn a fifth,” Kharis interrupts, “it is time to get dressed, eat something to break our fast, and go see the great Artemis of the Ephesians.”
As the sun rises full above the horizon, they leave the inn. Their horses have been saddled and are waiting for them. With the directions fresh in his mind, Justus leads his family half a mille to the agora, then turns right. They pass the theater which he estimates holds at least twenty-five thousand people. Half a mille north of that they pass the stadium and gymnasium academy. They guide their horses through the North Gate and turn right again. Immediately they see on a high hill overlooking the city the magnificent Temple of Artemis, though it is still another mille away.
When they arrive, a man assumed to be the high priest walks with quick steps out to them, followed by three younger priests. He holds up both arms to greet Justus.
“The goddess told me you were coming. How right she was. Welcome, Most Excellent Magistrate. Welcome. These men will help you off your horses and tie them safely to the trees in our adjacent grove. Your servants are welcome to join them.”
The temple dignitary waits for the three distinguished strangers to dismount. “My name is Alexander,” the high priest announces. “Follow me.”
As the trio walks up the forty-eight steps, they stare at the hundred and twenty columns holding up the roof of the holy place.
Once at the top of the steps and on the portico, the high priest stops and turns. It is my understanding that you, sir, are the Flamin of Apollo, and your wife the Flaminica of Apollo in Antioch. Have I heard correctly?”
“Yes, you have,” Justus replies without smiling.
“In that case, we will be most happy to allow you inside the Temple of our Mother to gaze upon her greatness.”
Alexander turns and leads them between the columns, each of which Justus estimates to be a full man length in thickness.
Once inside, Titus stretches his neck to see the top of the grand marble statue.
“Whoa,” Titus mumbles.
“Shhhh,” both parents respond in unison.
“On her head is a crown representing the city walls of Ephesus whom she protects,” the high priest explains. “Her many breasts represent her as the Mother of all living things. We are, of course, honored by her presence among us and her protection. You may stay as long as you like,” Alexander concludes. “I must leave you now. It is time for the incense offering.”
“How can I have two mothers?” Titus whispers.
“She is your spiritual mother, and I am your physical mother,” Kharis replies.
They stand in silence, stretching their necks and straining their eyes to see the crowned head nearly touching the arched ceiling high above. In the silence, they try to absorb all that is the essence of the Mother Superior.
“At least, that’s what I have been told,” Kharis whispers. “Two mothers? How is it possible?”
Justus takes his wife’s hand and squeezes it in warning. She remains quiet.
“Father,” Titus says, interrupting the silence. “Can we go see the water now before my birthday runs out? I have demon…demonstrated aristocratic patience.”
Justus looks down at his little boy. “That you have, Son,” he says, turning to leave.
They walk back out between the columns and pause at the portico.
“Look at that,” Kharis says.
The city of Ephesus spreads out below them with its colonnaded streets leading through the center of the city and all the way down Arcadian Way to the harbor.
“It’s full of ships,” Titus says. “Where am I going to swim?”
“I believe that’s the Cayster River beside the harbor. Perhaps we can go there,” Kharis replies.
At the bottom of the high steps, the three are brought their horses. They work their way back into the city. When they arrive at the theater perched on the side of Mount Pion, they turn west and continue down Arcadian Way and beside the river.
The seagulls are busy flying and perching and squawking. The smell of sea salt fills the air. The breeze flows through their hair. At last, they arrive at a grassy place beside the river and stop.
Cornelius hurries over to his mistress and helps her down from her mount. He returns to maid Lydia and helps her down.
Before anyone realizes, Titus has thrown off his toga and waded into the water in his short tunic. As soon as the water is deep enough, he dives into it, then turns on his back. “Look, Father. Look at me, Mother. I’m swimming.”
By the time the parents have taken off their toga and stola, a blanket and two ivory benches have been set in place. They clasp hands and take their seats.
“We did well, didn’t we?” Kharis says.
“Indeed, we did,” Justus replies. “The gods have been good to us.”
Lydia brings them goblets of apricot nectar.
“Which ones?” Kharis asks. “Apollos, Augustus, Jupiter? I sometimes get confused. My people in Dalmatia have one set of gods. The Greeks have another set of gods. The Romans another. And the Jews just one God. Are they all the same gods or different gods in different heavens? Are they all combined into one God? Could the Jews be right?”
“Look, Mother. Look what I found,” Titus says rushing up the beach toward his parents. He hands her a seashell.
“Oh, thank you, Son,” she says.
“Did you see me chase the seagulls, Father? I almost caught one. Are you proud of me, Father?”
Lydia takes a smaller goblet of nectar to her young master.
He sits in front of his parents and gulps it down.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” he says. “If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget it. Never.”

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