I went to Bellator and I said, “Into whose hand have you
been delivering my letters?” He was surprised by the question
and so I explained that I wished to relieve him of the burden and
deliver them myself. This, I reasoned, would bring me one step closer
to learning their fate and explaining, perhaps, your lack of response.
He told me that he takes my letters to a man named Mordanticus,
who is a clerk at the Bureau of Imperial Correspondence in the Office
for the Territories of Asia Minor. “Where shall I find him?”
I asked. Bellator informed me that the office is guarded, and that
as a page without official business I would not likely gain admittance.
But he just as quickly offered to take me there in person, and arrange
for an introduction. I was very grateful to him and we set a time.
On the appointed day, we departed together and delved still deeper
into the complex of the palace – far and by into a distant
block of buildings I had yet to discover. Bellator announced himself
to the guards, who knew him by his familiar face, and called me
his page. Then into the office of Mordanticus we stepped and he
stood to greet us with a smile. He appraised me intently, and was
very forthright in his admiration of my beauty. I thanked him for
his compliment. Bellator then introduced me as the one who had been
sending the letters to Bithynia for these past several years. At
this, Mordanticus laughed very happily: “At last I meet the
prolific Antinous!” I explained to him that I had come to
request his permission to hand him directly my future dispatches,
and he was very agreeable to the idea. “Do you see, Bellator,
how efficiently the boy has cut you out of his process? He shall
make an excellent administrator one day!” And Bellator laughed
too, for there was no offense by it taken.
I studied this Mordanticus as he spoke and as he gestured. His face
was very wide, with a broad span of eyebrows that looked like the
wings of a hawk; small, piercing, and intimidating eyes that looked
like those of a hawk’s, and a long, thin nose that hooked
– dare I say it? – like a hawk’s. His hair was
shorn close to the scalp, and his lips were flat and thin across
the front of his face. There was a sinister quality to him, even
when he smiled. And yet shall a man be judged on the basis of what
he looks like? He was altogether agreeable: warm and affectionate,
happy to make my acquaintance, and quick to announce me to the guards
as one who should enjoy ready and unannounced admittance to his
office. I was delighted.
It occurred to me that Mordanticus was very likely an extremely
competent administrator. One who could play the part of determined
intimidator in order to get what he required, but who was nevertheless
a conscientious and committed civil servant, with pure and uncorrupted
ideals. I very quickly deemed him admirable, and felt proud to have
made his acquaintance. “Have you a letter for me now?”
he asked me. I told him that I did not, but would compose one soon
(and it is this one – which I intend to deliver to him tomorrow).
I asked him then what happens to my letters once he receives them
– and if he knew the name of the horseman who rides them to
Bithynia. At this he laughed, and explained to me: “All non-essential
dispatches sail once a week to Athens, and from there sail onward
to Byzantium. From the Bosphorus they are then galloped by horseback
to any number of destinations, including Claudiopolis. The journey
can take anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on a great
number of factors.”
I admit to feeling crestfallen at the news that my sleuthing would
thus end with Mordanticus. I had imagined that he would be able
to disclose to me the name of the riders who were coming and going
through those very stables in which I worked, such that I would
eventually be able to bypass even him and hand my letters to the
messengers directly. But I realize now how foolish this notion was:
the riders who dashed in and out of the palace were no doubt quite
local – sending dispatches between and among offices and Senators,
their activities encompassing only the nearest of the surrounding
magistracies. The Empire is far vaster, and its lines of communication
far more complex, than I had naively believed. Yet Mordanticus was
very kind to my discouragement. “We learn very quickly when
disaster strikes a transport, and I am pleased to tell you that
this office has enjoyed several years without incident. Thus I proclaim
to you with confidence that none of our dispatches have been lost
in a very long time. If, therefore, you fear that your letters are
not arriving, it is because, perhaps, those in Claudiopolis do not
know of your friend, or, sadly, that he chooses not to respond.
I can think of no other explanation.”
And so I am back to my beginning; unable to verify your receipt
of me and left in the flounder of uncertainty. Yet still I continue
to write. Am I not a fool?
Life in the stables is demanding, yet rewarding all the same. I
am settling quite comfortably into my role as Assistant to Anaxamenos.
My duties include polishing and cleaning the leathers, repairing
or ordering replacement pieces from the smiths or tanners, and helping
Anaxamenos to keep the inventory of supplies in good order. It is
an exhausting job, but one for which I am very grateful as it affords
me the opportunity to become familiar with the many beautiful horses
that make their home there. On rare yet welcome occasions, when
there is a brief respite in the work, Anaxamenos and I will take
a pair of old mares out for some exercise into the streets, and
it seems to me that they delight in the excursion as much as I enjoy
returning to the high saddle of a horse. O Lysicles! How I miss
our days together, riding North into the mountains and gazing from
their modest, verdant peaks into the hazy silence of the mighty
Euxine! Shall we ever again find such blissful company? My hope
and despair walk hand in hand in perfect emulation of that pair
of loving boys we were.
Hadrian comes into the stables about once a week in order to ride,
with his entourage, unto his country house in Tibur. From there,
they embark upon the chase, and I confess to being exceedingly envious
of the young Corinthus, whom I have begun to notice among the pack
of men that accompany the Emperor. Whenever Hadrian arrives at our
gate, he is greeted warmly and effusively by Florentius, who gives
report on the status of his office. Anaxamenos and I watch the Emperor
from afar, and I have noticed him looking in my direction, as though
checking to ensure that I am still present. He has not once since
my arrival here spoken to me, although it is clear when Florentius
turns to look at me that there is obviously some discussion between
them concerning my person. I am both thrilled and frightened by
the prospect that Hadrian is keeping a distant eye on my progress.
What can it mean? Does it bode well for my future – or ill?
I am at a loss to explain it, and must therefore only accept it
as a fact of my time here upon the Palatine.
There is little else to report. My first two months here have passed
in the flurry of learning a new and astonishingly detailed routine.
I have made good and solid first acquaintance, not only of the other
pages in my department, but also of some well-placed administrators
in the persons of Bellator and Mordanticus. And, what is perhaps
best of all: because I have arrived from the elementary school independently
of any others, I bring with me a clean and unknowable history. Occasionally
I will see the face of a boy whom I recognize from my earliest time
upon the Caelian – these are the ones who were chosen during
the inspection that Gryllus caused me to miss. Yet if they harbour
toward me any animosity, they no doubt recognize how foolish they
should be to express it aloud. For having been the exclusive choice
of Hadrian’s surprise visit, and with the awareness of it
rather generally dispersed, I am suddenly enjoying a certain freedom
to live without harrassment, for the distinction carries with it,
like an invisible shield of protection, the authenticity to demand
from the others a modicum of respect.
Thus I am cautiously optimistic that my life here may unfold in
ways more agreeable than I had imagined when still mired in the
midst of my cheerless days. I awake each dawn with the knowledge
that Hope now smiles upon me, and bids me dutifully unto my work.
All that is missing from my world, Lysicles, is you. Yet Hope, when
she comes, drops quietly through the roof from above. And though
she may begin in one particular chamber, she passes easily through
its walls and flies freely through the rooms of each man’s
palace. Thus I am happy to report that she has taken once again
to whispering your name as well, and has planted in my brain the
idea that I may very well be able to steer the course of my duties
toward a career in Bithynia. Would I not then find myself in the
best proximity at last to embrace you? Would that not be glorious?
I fall to sleep this night with the vision of your body beside me
and the taste of your salt upon the tip of my tongue. A.