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Chapter 10: Agora

The forest ascended with the sound of clacking hooves. There was much worry about the fluster they would cause in the new town, the first town Chiron demanded they pass through to find Jason. Despite their worries, the fluster descended into the everyday hustle and bustle of a merchant seaport without the everyday appearance of a small village. The travel companions loosened up, but something still made them uncomfortable. The plebeian town activities receded into the hum of villagers, and then into placid apathy as the companions started nearing the open iron-rod gate. The hushed hums of mercantilism then reached an eerie quiet which led the newly acquainted band to circle the gate in front of the courtyard. It seemed even the fountain came to a whisper; it seemed even the timber stood silent.

Some of the buildings had flat, red roofs, but most buildings were built from mass amounts of shell tapia and corals. The buildings climbed up a precipice where they formed strange hovels in the rock, but some buildings became more elaborate and were created from other sea material like whale bones. Other dwellings were fashioned out of worn sails, but the sails were brighter and more colorful than any exotic bazaar. On the precipice, the tallest building was rounded like a pantheon and many domed cloisters expanded from it in web patterns for miles.

“I can’t make any moves.” Acacia dared speak.

Circinus hummed, “I don’t know whether we should either.”

Therefore, Chiron led the expedition back into the descent of the forest.

“Travelers, I am getting old and despite my intimidating height, I can’t trust this town anymore. I hope my migratory days won’t come to an end, but if they do, I still trust Circinus. I don’t even trust the forest. The scented pine, the olive, the elderberry...”

Circinus halted. “Lord Chiron, I have too, aptly trusted the forest. It speaks to me but doesn’t lead me; it warns but does not guide as do you. I know you but even you do not know yourself well enough to trust the forest or our future, yet I know you do not fear it. Whether it be blind ignorance, I’m sure it’s well not, because our lives are still ahead as the future has taught us as much as the forest.”

If only the universities and courts were this wise...

“For sure the thickets are a viable witness, faithful friend, but something made you trust in it. You trusted the woodlands, but usually, you flee in known trouble. I have never fled from you all the years you were my highest messenger.”

“Then I will never flee even in this town yet unknown to me.”

Acacia gently waited for a pause in their farewells although she had been engaged in their conversation. “If it doesn’t sound too absurd, I am ready to go through the town as long as there is any semblance of a clear road or path.”

The stallions paced in a broken chain of thought. “Acacia.” She froze at the sound of her name. Her heart was the exception. “Circinus knows the right path, but we may need to find another entrance.” Chiron ruffled his silky beard. His voice began to gravel, like it was clawing for the ground. “We can jump the fence, but I doubt we can pick enough speed with the sharp climb to the village. Anyway, we would be cantering into the marketplace, destroying every small creature and causing them a ruckus.”

“That’s one way to place it,” she thought, “but we may be able to gain speed once we reach the top of this hill again, and we can still jump the fence to find the shortest way to that monastery.” The monastery sparkled white in the midday sun.

“I am old, and I recognize my own gait, but you are a warrior and a messenger. Maybe then I should appoint you my new trainer.”

Suddenly, Acacia thought nostalgically about her lead laden bow and arrow. The beauty should win me a battle if ever I need it. Grandmother Daphne handed it over for a reason. This might be the day as I hope it’s not.

“Chiron, Circinus and I will lead to the left of the gate and gallop to those groves of trees. If any danger arises, you are mighty strong, so it will be safer for you to hold back stance and fight out of hindsight.”

“I should think I will be the one in front to ward off oncoming attackers.” Chiron coughed then spit. Acacia ignored the foreign gesture.

“Yes, but we have all the weapons.”

“Do as you wish, young mare.”

Agora-atlantisia was too endless to veer around but too dangerous to pass through, but Acacia did what they had to do.

Without heed to warning or silence, they swiftly charged down the hill and veered left. They were met with a mob of speared fishermen and wild village dwellers. As Circinus hopped the railing, the citizens barely lanced enough spears to scratch his underbelly. Chiron was not so lucky. He continued to stay behind when a harpoon forced him to collapse. Circinus escaped first over the fence toward a narrow, cobble-paved street to allow Chiron headway but there were so many spears; Chiron could not trample and fight off the attackers. Acacia pulled Circinus’s mane back to see a stream of bright red come from beneath the feet of fifty mob men and women.

“Murderers!” screeched the offenders. “Barbarians!” the accusations were loud but unclear.

Harpoons flew past Circinus’s head as Acacia ducked; he climbed the precipice, but they did not evade the attacks. Villagers from hidden alleyways and windows were already armed. There was no time to look back on Chiron. All of them wore strange war markings bearing intricate designs of folding arrows. The pair, however, did not find time to look carefully. One arrow protruding from an alleyway made Acacia’s head turn. The arrow came too soon and sliced off a bit of Acacia’s ear. Cries of the villagers soon faded into a pronounced ringing that comes only after stark silence.

Everyone became quiet again.

When muffled arrows flung and failed to dodge Circinus and Acacia, Circinus realized Chiron could not escape and they made leave back. Circinus brayed and tried to knock down the barricade of citizens as much as possible to help the wounded Chiron. There were broken bones and cries of agony, but it was a wicked agony. The agony which mattered was Chiron’s. He forced one last weak bray. The barricade was so thick it meant less to steer away. Back at the bottom of the precipice, Acacia made only one attempt at escape.

“Citizens! Tell me where I am and I will tell you who I am. Acacia, warrior anointed by Kazimir the Great, the Famulus! The Young High Priest of Acropolis!” Her new voice rang and the same eerie silence then shielded the lunacy, if just for one moment. No one laughed although she laughed inside. Acacia never thought she could address herself with so much respect, but far away from the bureaucracy, she held so much sway. Obviously, a foreigner had been in Agora before, perhaps to spread the rumor she and the unicorns were murderers. Whether or not rumors told Agora to fear them, something about their very appearance set them off besides their larrikin greetings. “Please, who is the priest of this town?”

A man with overalls, looking to be manufactured from an old curtain, with a navy sailor’s hat, had a plume in the middle of his crown; and his cap was folded in a similar fashion to the hats of Japanese soldiers. He held his headpiece, frowned, and then spoke.

“This town has no one in charge. We are in charge.”

“I’m afraid...that I don’t understand.”

“We have no leader. We have many leaders: the sailors, the merchants, but especially the priests. I am the high sailor.”

“Okay, that’s all I needed to figure out, first, but still, have I more questions. Who again is high priest?”

When the high sailor heard this, he shooed the buzzing village people away with his harpoon. “I have business matters to attend to, naves.” He looked at the travelers. “Have I more questions also,” sneered the sailor. “What makes you think you could be so tame around us brutes? I was sure you’d be thanking us.”

Acacia expected numbness to the shock. “Oh, no; I was not being kidnapped or pummeled by my friends! I have enough thanks!”

“Them unicorns. Brutes. Murderers and no more. No more are we to trust them.” He spoke with grit and bite but with authority, every word picking up vehemence.

Wrath outbid the fear and raged through the creases of every vein in her body, but she kept a diplomatic word. “Please. My friends, they are not murderers. You did what can’t be undone.”

Words gasped through Chiron’s bated breath: “I am old, but you must keep going. This town has much to learn.” Acacia caught his adage, but his words swayed in the wind.

Circinus edged closer and nuzzled his mane. If Chiron was stronger, he would have nuzzled Circinus back. There were days when the two were not so far apart. They were a greater match than equals. He was not sure if Chiron would live, but he knew running through the sun- beamed forest and rolling in the meadows was just a silly memory. Circinus knew Chiron was right and it’d be too soon to return to their homes in the coral caves of the unknown. It didn’t seem like Acacia had a place to belong to although her place felt unclear; no doubt it was too unseen and soon for her.

The High Sailor sighed. “I will bring Ara to him. She lives in the main temple.” His voice seemed deeper and more solemn. Acacia hadn’t known him very long, but his character changed in an instant. She recalled Chiron mentioning how the town was always on the itinerary for unicorn migration. She figured it must have drastically changed a short while before the onslaught of their war.

She missed Domain no matter how conniving its company.

The townspeople dispersed, some in frantic hiding, others to follow the high sailor up the precipice. Circinus boldly followed the sailor. Acacia stayed to watch over Chiron, but Chiron insisted, “I trust these people are ashamed enough to leave well enough alone. Go.”

Inside the temple, the dome was ten times bigger than Circinus imagined the Halls of Distant Earth. Every square inch was covered in mosaic which glittered and made the sun shimmer. The end of the room was plainer with a single altar decorated with roses and gleaming white. In front of the altar stood a woman with hair the length of her voluptuous robe, decked in swirling embroideries of suns dyed in ice blue. She repeated mantras that reverberated through the entire palace.

Circinus was large, though not quite as large as Chiron, yet still light-footed to the point of walking on air. His heels quietly echoed unintentionally with each phrasing of the mantra. Then Ara finished her phrasing and turned around, releasing his expectations.

The high sailor hurried to leave, humbled by his intrusion.

“I hope you remember me. It has been a while.” A youthful glimmer shone through Ara’s deep and wide sapphire eyes. Acacia thought Ara looked her in the eye but then saw it was Circinus’s eyes. She was shorter than Daphne and more zephyrous, but something about her reminded Circinus of the long-lost queen.

“I’ve seen many seas, been through many coverts, but you do look familiar,” he said.

“Remember me? I healed your battle wounds,” and when no response came so much as a snort she added, “That was a brutal gash. I did what was best to help.” Her moon face shone with optimism. Her demeanor seemed foreign to Domain, and dangerously welcome to Acacia.

“Excuse me, I was rather territorial back then, but I hope you would see the same measure of change that has come over this town.”

Even Ara seemed enlightened by his playful, yet recently stoic grandeur. “Indeed, there exists a slight change. I believe it came after the war. It’s best to keep caution. What brings the sudden visit I am so pleased to share?” She turned skeptical. Ara poured some elixir which she gulped and threw the rest into the temple lanterns.

“I wouldn’t be so pleased. I do remember you now. Something about you has changed; something I hope is different than the change in those barbarians. Maybe I was so lost between life in this world and the next I didn’t realize who you were. You were my earthly savior.” Circinus dropped his front hooves and clenched them beneath his body and then bowed his mane in reverence.

“Suffering doesn’t come with due consequences, but that was just the beginning. I am thankful you are alive.” Ara echoed. Circinus rose to relinquish his courtliness. “But please, no, I am not even the savior of this town.” Circinus did not argue with this.

“There is something urgent; now I have a friend in pain,” he said. “Acacia, our messenger, is keeping watch over my chief, Chiron. Climb on my shoulders. His flank is pouring out blood like the river Styx!” Ara’s moon face darkened with red as she climbed onto his shoulders and Acacia followed, leading them both back. Circinus clacked his hooves and the whole monastery thundered at his leave.

Circinus and Ara knew there was no time and patience to correct the townspeople. As Circinus galloped down the precipice many a now frightened citizen slammed their shutters any moment he passed.

When they found Acacia, she had taken out her robe and used it to stop the blood, but the shaft of the spear was still sticking out. A few spectators were on guard but didn’t know how to react.

The way Chiron responded reminded Ara of her encounter with Circinus the first time they met in the first battle of the first unicorn war. The unicorn war was the first time she had the power to heal a unicorn. She dared not be thankful for her nostalgia at a time of misfortune and did not dare mention too much to Acacia.

Acacia had collapsed on Chiron, trying to comfort him in case he needed to make that other journey. Ara gently pulled her away and she blessed his wound using mantras. She sprinkled a few drops of fragrant oil from a flask and commanded Chiron’s suffering to leave.

“For he hasn’t finished his work,” she concluded. Her gaze was pointed toward an unseen heavenly body. Acacia had yet to interpret the beliefs of the wild, king-less kingdom yet something else caught her attention.

Remarkably, the shaft moved forward without a single movement from Chiron, and before Acacia could gasp, a lava flow of blood came with it. His flesh stained, white hair sunk in, leaving a pink mark—incarnadine—that rippled, swelled, and then was torn from existence to be replaced by a new, lustrous hide. Chiron was still unresponsive as if his impatient soul left before it was time.

“It’s time to rise, Chiron.” Ara commanded.

“We miss you greatly after such a short encounter,” Acacia whispered. Every time spent away from him, the more she understood him, and the more she understood him, the more she wanted him to be her partner.

An eyelid quivered and then his deep, glassy eye came alive. Under Ara’s presence, and not town aggressions, the town lay protected.

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