ANTONY WAITED BY THE GREAT LION STATUE for nearly an hour before giving up. Julian wasn’t coming. He sat quietly on the stone bench that faced the azure sea, staring out at the brooding ocean and the waves that broke against the black sands. Seabirds circled overhead, crying out, every now and then diving into the water. A cool marine breeze that tasted of salt kissed his face, finally offering some relief from the day’s oppressive heat.
He picked up the basket of bread, cheese and grapes he’d brought for their lunch and prepared to leave.
“You waited.” Julian was walking toward him, his face transformed by his breathtaking smile. The brownish-gold curls of his hair bounced as he walked toward him, stunning against his tanned face. The young man’s physical beauty was enough to make up for his truancy, and Antony smiled back.
“I was about to leave.”
“Ah, you brought lunch. I’m famished.”
Antony held the basket away from him possessively. “You can’t have any of it. You’re being punished.”
“Give me a kiss,” Julian whispered.
“Where were you?”
“I’ll tell you. I have exciting news. But first….” Julian leaned forward, his lips meeting Antony’s in a gentle, but insistent, kiss.
Even if Antony had wanted to be angry at Julian, it was impossible. Julian’s lips were soft, his kiss exquisite—and as always, Antony found himself drifting away, lost in the sweetness of his kiss.
Julian finally pulled away, smiling. “Where should we go?”
“Let’s go down to the beach. See that grove of palm trees?” Antony pointed.
The young men fell in together, walking down the stone steps that led down to the beach.
“So? You have news?”
“Yes. Guess who sent for me today?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
Antony laughed at this. “You’re not serious.”
“I am. I translated for him this afternoon. And not only that. He wants me to move into the palace and be his personal translator.”
Antony fell silent.
Julian frowned. “What? You don’t seem happy for me.”
“You’re moving into the palace?”
Antony was staring down at the bright blue and green tiles that lined the steps, marveling at how beautiful they seemed in the afternoon sun. They almost seemed to sparkle, as though tiny bits of diamonds had been ground into them.
Julian stopped, turning and reaching down to tilt up his chin. “Nothing will change between us.”
“They say Prince Varro is the most handsome man ever born,” Antony replied. “Not only that, he’s some sort of magician. He’ll bewitch you….”
Julian laughed loudly at this. “Prince Varro? He’s a bit out of my league, don’t you think?”
“You’ll fall in love with one of the palace guards, or maybe a visiting dignitary.”
“Don’t tell me you’re jealous? Antony. You should know by now there’s no one else in the world for me but you.”
Antony smiled slightly at this, reassured by Julian’s words.
“Besides—you can come visit me at the palace! Tonight, even! Won’t that be something?”
“When are you going?”
“I’ve already started moving. The King says there are dignitaries coming and he wants me there as soon as possible.”
“What happened to the last translator?”
Julian shrugged. “I don’t know. This spot looks nice.” He pointed to a stretch of soft grass beneath a clump of palm trees.
Antony nodded, and they sat down in the shade beneath the trees to enjoy their picnic lunch. After a few moments of silence, Julian sighed. “What is it? Why so quiet? Are you still upset?”
“No,” Antony answered. “Well, yes. But not about your good fortune. I’m happy for you, Julian.”
“What is it then?”
The brown-haired youth turned away, staring out at the ocean. Something about the way the waves crashed against the shore was always comforting. But not today. He felt uneasy. “I’ve been having the dreams again.”
“The dreams? You mean—”
“Yes. I have them every night now.”
Julian fell silent for a moment. “Perhaps you should go to the oracle.”
Antony nodded. “Perhaps.” He’d been considering doing so for some time. It would ease his mind if she could tell him his dreams meant nothing. But he had put off going to see her because he feared she would confirm his visions. “But what if—”
Julian laughed. “Antony. Be reasonable. We live in the most magnificent, prosperous kingdom in the known world. Atlantis isn’t going to suddenly disappear. Your dreams—well, they probably do signify something. But not what you think they do.”
Antony tried to feel reassured by Julian’s words. Surely he was right. He would go and see the oracle, and she would help put his mind at ease.
Julian pushed the basket of food away and lay back on the ground, holding out his hand. “Come here.”
A sudden breeze sent blue delphinium blossoms wafting through the air, one of them catching in Julian’s golden locks. Antony smiled, reaching down to free it from his lover’s hair as he lay down beside him. “You’re so handsome, Julian,” he whispered.
Julian rolled onto his side, spreading Antony’s thighs with his knees. Then he kissed him, his tongue warm and sweet in his mouth, taking Antony to a place he wanted to be, far from the cares of his world.
“Antony,” Julian whispered, slipping a hand under his tunic. “What would you like? Shall I love you with my mouth?”
Smiling, Julian lifted the boy’s tunic and untied his loincloth, freeing his already erect organ. Antony gasped when his warm hand encircled him. He closed his eyes, groaning when he next felt Julian’s tongue. His lover’s mouth closed around him and he cried out, thrusting deep into its glorious depths.
ANTONY STOOD OUTSIDE THE SHRINE of the oracle for some moments, hesitating. The entrance was flanked by two statues, one of a sphinx and the other of Apollon. He’d never stepped foot in the temple and was not anxious to do so. But just as he began to back away, he heard a voice from within.
“Come inside, young Antony.”
Startled, the boy continued to stand, instinctively reaching for his amulet, which hung around his neck on a long leather thong.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” the voice continued.
Summoning up his courage, Antony stepped inside the dark entrance, peering around a bit apprehensively. At first he could see nothing. He heard what sounded like running water—perhaps a fountain?
His gaze moved to the flickering flames that surrounded Athia. She sat on a stone throne, her chambers lit only by the oil lamps embedded in the walls.
“You come because of your dreams,” she announced.
“Yes,” Antony replied. “Can you tell me what they mean?”
The boy slowly walked toward her, gazing up at her in awe. She seemed beautiful, but for one defect—she was missing an eye. Where the eye had been only a sunken socket remained. Antony swallowed. It was said that the oracle had plucked out her own eye for the gift of prophecy.
“Why did you come to me, young Antony?” she asked, gently.
“I told you,” Antony stammered. “My dreams.” “They are your dreams, not mine.” “But…you’re the oracle. I thought—”
“You thought that I would give them a different interpretation?”
“Yes,” Antony admitted.
“Then you come to escape the truth, not to find it.”
“Then…then are you saying,” he whispered, “that my dreams are prophetic?”
“Why do you ask me questions, young Antony, when you already know the answers?”
Antony fell silent, his brow furrowed. “Then shouldn’t we tell people? Warn them?”
Athia laughed. “Do they listen to those who already stand in the public squares, warning that the end of the world is near?”
“No,” the boy sighed. “But they would listen to you, Priestess.”
“One cannot cheat Fate.”
“Then what’s the point of an oracle?” he demanded.
“An oracle sees that which will be. She—or he—cannot change destiny.”
“But,” he argued, “I could leave Atlantis this very night. Wouldn’t that be changing my destiny?”
“If you manage to escape the fate of Atlantis, it is because you were destined to do so.”
Antony thought about this for a moment. “Can you see my destiny, Priestess?”
“It is better,” she answered, “to let destiny unfold as it will.”
“You won’t tell me?”
“I will tell you if that is your genuine desire. But do you really want to know how your life will end?”
The dark-haired boy blinked, falling silent.
“Go, Young Dreamer. Your lover is waiting for you.” She smiled, turning to look directly at him.
Antony shivered, unable to bear her direct gaze. He turned and left, brooding over the oracle’s words. As he passed out of the temple, he squinted, the sunlight blinding him. He shaded his eyes with his hand, looking toward the ocean. The sun was low now, hovering above the sea. It was early in the evening; Julian had said to come to his new rooms after sunset, but Antony couldn’t wait.
He made his way through the streets and up the countless steps to the palace at the top of the city. When he reached the top, he turned and looked down at the sprawling metropolis beneath him.
The tops of the buildings shone gold, bronze, and turquoise. Everywhere immense statues rose above the surrounding structures, magnificently painted in bright colors—red, orange, and sunflower-yellow.
He continued on to the palace, his gaze moving up the massive blue pillars that lined the structure to the gargoyles that perched at the rooftop, just beneath the colossal golden dome. This was the closest he had ever come to the famous palace of the Atlantis king, and as he approached, he instinctively slowed his pace.
“Halt,” one of the guards commanded, blocking his path with a spear. “What is your purpose?”
“I’ve come to visit Julian Heronius.”
“Papers,” the guard demanded, holding out his hand. Antony handed him the scroll that Julian had given him a few hours before. It bore the king’s seal and allowed him access to the palace.
The guard examined the document and then handed it back to him, moving aside to let him pass.
“Where do I go?” Antony asked, standing uncertainly.
The guard pointed down a long pillar-lined corridor. “To the end of the corridor. Turn right. The Translator’s quarters are the eleventh doorway on your right.”
Antony nodded, walking into the palace with a sense of excitement. He was in some sort of covered outdoor area. To his left, an open courtyard housed an exquisite garden, filled with statues and fountains. A peacock blocked his path and he smiled, admiring its beauty before stepping around it.
There were guards everywhere, standing as still as the countless statues that adorned the corridor and the courtyard. He reached the end of the pillar-lined pavilion and then turned, carefully counting the arched doorways until he came to the eleventh door.
There was a small effigy of a parrot engraved at the side of the door, exactly like the one stamped on his scroll. He smiled. The Translator’s quarters.
He started to knock on the door and then hesitated, frowning. He could hear sounds coming from within. And they were not the sort of sounds he expected to hear coming from Julian’s room.
They were sounds of lovemaking.
At first Antony thought he most have miscounted the doorways. He went back and counted again, staring at the parrot on the seal and then the one carved on the wall by the door. But perhaps the guard was mistaken. Perhaps the other translator was still there. Perhaps—
“Gods help me,” Julian groaned. “That’s lovely!”
Instantly recognizing his voice, Antony pushed the door open violently, admitting himself into the room.
Julian was lying on his back, being serviced by a naked youth. They both turned to him, surprised.
“Antony!” Julian exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. The young boy continued to lay on his stomach, looking up at him curiously, a small smile tugging at his lips.
“You’re…you’re early,” Julian stammered.
“So, there will never be anyone in the world for you but me?” he replied bitterly.
“This is nothing,” Julian pleaded, attempting to wrap a sheet around his waist. “Just a trivial—they sent him to me. Sort of a welcome gift. It was a momentary lapse. I—”
Antony turned and stormed from the room, his eyes stinging with tears. He hardly knew where he was going. He was so hurt—and angry—that he could hardly keep his senses about him.
“Antony!” Julian called. “Please!”
The boy continued to stride, wiping his tears with his arm. He began to run, suddenly finding himself lost in an endless labyrinth of corridors and gardens.
The next thing he knew there was a mighty crash. Antony was on the floor, surrounded by shards of porcelain. A round tray rolled along the marble floor and then spun around furiously, finally coming to rest at his feet.
“Imbecile!” a man yelled. “Haven’t you any eyes?”
Antony only remained sitting, trying to keep the tears from flooding his face. His nose and eyes stung, and his throat was tight. He couldn’t speak.
“I’ll have your neck for this!”
“Leave him be, Drusus,” came a firm, but gentle voice.
“But the vase is broken—”
“That is not all that’s broken.”
Antony stared down at the shattered vase, mortified. He attempted to pick up the pieces, and then was distracted by the bright red wet blotches of paint that kept hitting the floor. Then he realized it was his own blood.
“You’re hurt.” The stranger with the kind voice crouched down next to him, taking Antony’s hand and pressing a cloth to it.
Choking back his tears, Antony looked up into the eyes of the man that tended him—gentle eyes, like those of an old friend.
“I’ll pay for it,” he whispered.
“Nonsense. Let’s get this gash taken care of.”
The man helped him to his feet and then Antony realized how tall he was. He towered over him, looking down at him with a slight smile. Antony stared back, his heart beating a little faster. In all his life, he had never seen a man quite so handsome as the one who stood before him, examining his hand.
The stranger had dark hair, held back from his face by some sort of tie, but Antony could see that it was longer than most men chose to keep their hair. His eyes were pale green and shone with intelligence and compassion.
“You won’t need stitches,” he remarked, after a moment. “But we need to clean you up.”
“Are you a physician?”
The man smiled. “I’m interested in medicine and healing, you might say. But no, I am not a physician.”
“Then, I must beg your leave,” Antony whispered, his voice wavering. He was afraid he would burst into tears, and he already felt humiliated enough, as it was.
“He is not worth your tears, whoever he is.”
Antony braved a look into the stranger’s eyes. “Thank you for your kindness,” he murmured, pulling his hand away and rushing back the way he came.
“Drusus,” the man commanded. “See that he finds his way out.”
“Yes, my Prince,” the guard replied.
Prince Varro turned to retreat to the gardens when something on the corridor floor caught his eye. He picked it up, examining it. Some sort of amulet, it seemed. Smiling, he put it in his pocket. Perhaps the sweet, tear-stained boy would come back in search of it. Or perhaps he should craft a spell, to be sure that he did.