Chapter 17: Medora
The bell tolled noon and by the timing of the new season, it would be about six hours before sunset. Andelko decided it best to blend in using their evening wear from the lost city. Acacia wore a gown the color of a sleeping dream-catcher, purple with pisanica patterns of Easter and a tunic-style torso. Her mask was an elaborate fixture of flames that engulfed her whole head. The swirls on her underskirt reminded her of the suns on Ara’s robe.
Andelko dressed as a musketeer with suns silk-printed on his cloak. His mask was of an earth spirit morphed into a black oak tree and his beard was twisted and braided to finish the mask.
They spent the day searching for Chiron and Circinus and with hours behind, still had they not succeeded. From crevice to crevice, Andelko and Acacia asked apothecaries, fellow sailors and guides, even messengers for knowledge of the unknown entrances, careful not to hint at their connection to the lost city. Hours in vain were naught as they discovered a wide promenade, and in the center, the foretold fountain. Circinus persisted as their one true guide.
Fountains and strings of lights softened the noisy atmosphere of the party in the pavilion. The night shone its own lights on the tall fountain with clarity and force, but Acacia could not let go of her spear. Andelko stood watch underneath the pavilion but kept his distance. He carefully tuned out the musical party behind him.
Every time a city-dweller exited the pavilion, Acacia jumped, but a sigh of relief came when thoughts of Chiron or Circinus protruded. Their feet spoke lighter than the masqueraders. However, the wait made her heart pound as heavy as the dancing of Medora.
Andelko saw a figure hunched behind Acacia.
Maybe it’s a spirit or costume, if not a unicorn.
The figure glowed white while stars and moons reflected in its eyes. Acacia sensed an unknown aura and turned around. A brute snort let her know it was Chiron.
“Circinus is on his way. He had some trouble with foreigners.”
“Foreigners, Chiron—in the land of Acropolis?”
Chiron’s effortful breaths signaled his truth.
What am I to do? Is he truly on his way? Acacia’s mind mustered questions, mostly anxious plans. “I will wait here in case it’s an ally. In another case, I will keep the stranger from advancing into Medora.”
“You will as I look out for him,” Chiron instructed. “Andelko do the same but remain hidden. Another high sailor lost is not what we need.”
All around there was wind, earth, water—the things keeping Acropolis alive, and the things given from the dead. Acacia remembered paraphrase from the book she read in her spare time on workings of the land, Stigmas and Honors of Our Nature, bought in the lost city. The forest has always been able to speak to the people and so the wind and earth spirits in the trees, but communication with human wind and earth spirits was not advised in the manuscript.
Can this be that Conrad still speaks to me...and I know I need his guidance?
It would be hard trusting an ancient, weather-worn book if it wasn’t for the signatures of every high priest, from every town, of the old provinces. She turned to a page in the Stigmas and Honors in the back chapter to find that the land had been mapped, but only mapped for the old provinces.
I don’t remember coming here. The sudden quandary took her mind off Conrad, yet there was too much on her mind to focus on the issue attentively.
From every alleyway, every glittering monastery and crevice of the valley, Acacia navigated the land, paying keen attention to each source of movement, every light. Medora spread out endlessly and neatly into a grid with no sign of tunnels or catacombs.
Andelko disappeared. Seen from the ridge of the town center, a lone figure careened through a far avenue. The person disappeared in and out of light. She readied her horned spear and crouched behind the fountain for the figure was fast and close.
Footsteps stopped and searched. The boots were light and hesitant, not proud, militant, or controlling. Light or not, their language was to be feared. Yet their language or movement was the one she recognized.
“Kazimir?” Acacia whispered over the gurgling and sloshing of the fountain.
Kazimir raced over the expanse of the square running into Andelko. The fear drained from Andelko’s face. Andelko grabbed Kazimir’s shoulder, but his terseness faded when he saw Kazimir’s robe.
“Brother? What brings you so late to the masked event?” Andelko welcomed the stranger in his robes.
Acacia shoved herself between Andelko and Kazimir. “We have too many worries, but I don’t want that to ruin our time.”
“I know,” Kazimir said and hugged her anxiously. His fear showed gauntly in the lantern light. “The longer we stay here, the more predicaments find us.”
“This can’t be true,” Acacia warned, “because you would never guess whom I’ve met, or what happened to them. Please, Kazimir, enjoy your time here as we wait for my new friends.”
Kazimir rushed Acacia inside the wide pavilion not afraid to be seen under the cover of the crowd. Their abruptness confused Andelko.
“I’d like to know so much about your apprenticeship in Acropolis.” Acacia questioned, “What news do you bring from home?” and in a whisper spoke, “of the other side?”
“I wanted to tell you sooner,” his face darkened as he took her hand to dance. “Of Conrad—they held a memorial mass for him.” His gall shuddered in fear, and in a quieter tone, “the entire city-state is searching for us. Your parents are trying best to cover it up, but I have an itch that some persons possess our whereabouts?”
“You mean—whereabouts of Acropolis?”
“I mean...yes.” Although Kazimir knew he kept the knowledge hidden too long, it was still an affront to Acacia to reveal it at the town masquerade. He wondered if she was appalled by him. Even if the appall was unlikely he still feared her just reaction.
“And further—we may have something to do with Conrad’s death.”
Andelko retraced his steps from the far side of the party.
“Acacia, what brings you here? May I share this dance?”
When he saw her hesitation, he added, “Who better to dance with and besides, I must go over some techniques.”
She nodded at Kazimir, and when she stood in front of Andelko, Acacia kept an eye on Kazimir until he fled to the far corner to meet fellow priests. “He never tires of his work, Andelko.”
“He never does.” The music sped up with the spirited tapping of drums and churning melodies of tamburitza, mandolin, and guitar. Andelko’s feet were light and kept tempo but they stepped in and out. The folk dances were hard to keep up with as the music told the story of the heart of the fearful land. The sailor twirled and whirled, bringing Acacia back to the Dominium jazz clubs. Andelko swung her over his shoulders and a wooden mountain flute joined the choir.
Costumes from the party were just as lively and inviting. Soon everyone jostled to the same dance and the music grew in intensity.
“Your training has just begun,” Andelko said giving her a kick in the knee.
The second kick she avoided, bending her back until her head touched the floor. Dancing and jolting continued until the pair reached the other side of tent and Acacia bumped into Kazimir. He glanced apologetically at his partner, a fellow high priest with a very high air about him.
His eyes turned toward Acacia, but she paid no attention. Andelko twirled her back giving a punch to her exposed side. She returned a discreet kick to his hindquarters. Proud of herself as she was, her dance fell out of rhythm. Andelko, noticing this, joined her in with the next gong of the largest wooden drum. The flutes flowed into another interlude before the music died.
The High Sailor Andelko and High Warrior Acacia stepped back from another while Acacia initiated a bow. She smiled admiringly at her teacher. Slowly, she walked toward him and then whacked him aside the skull (one of the moves Andelko taught her) but before she walked away, Acacia reached out her hand and Andelko warmly embraced the new custom. He shook her hand in wonderment.
He stared at his hand in wonder of the strange greeting but more in wonder of her quickly learned fighting dance. “You are ready for the unicorn war.”
The crowd whirled with shimmering gowns flecked in gold but something greater caught the crowd’s eye. An atypical bar fight continued behind the curtains. Acacia did not want to seem tempted by their struggle only to find her harassed by nosy pushes and shoves. So intently she listened, although to examine the foreigners and not the drama. She kept out of sight from the thickness of the crowd as well as from their violent approach.
Acacia peered out from the tent. Unmistakably, Jason and Ondrea stood there—in sudden silence and without bearings.
Lyre and harp joined the festivities. Acacia became careful not to attract Kazimir’s attention. The attention would startle him, and she did not want him to become entangled in another upheaval. Her upheaval, however, would attract the attention of the Medoran High Priest just as much as Kazimir.
She appeared out from the curtain and said, “I see you’re under the same spell as me with the music.” However, the blood on Jason’s face, especially her cousin Ondrea’s face stopped her words. Ondrea was always cold but somehow, they always got along; even Kazimir had it well with him. Jason and Ondrea stood in military coats arrayed in pins, emblems, and arms. Most of the arms had a man with a rifle standing atop the coat. Similar pins were worn by the veterans at the college for merit.
Ondrea marched toward her. “Enjoying the masquerade? I hope so. I prefer it here, when I’m in exile. Rather, I like it.”
“I haven’t come for you.”
Jason whispered to Ondrea, “I must handle this,” or so he seemed to whisper.
“I haven’t come for you either. Give the fruit back to the Acropolian temple before Medora has to hear about it.”
“May I have this word with my cousin in confinement?” Ondrea asked Jan. Acacia crossed her arms and lip.
“As long as it doesn’t escape me,” Jason bargained.
Acacia smiled, “Surely it won’t.”
They began their walk down the hilly path to a quiet cove around a dry fountain. They continued behind the trees to a round sitting area sharing one lamppost. Smoke of distant bonfires sent their spirit to the quiet fountain.
“Have you arrived with anyone?”
“Yes, I have, but they aren’t the ones looking for you. I’d really need to go home but the search parties continue to sniff us out.”
“What do they want with me?”
“They want more with me. Ask yourself and all troubles will be in the past. The fruit of Transfiguration was eaten, you hid the fruit—but it belongs with me.”
“Only for our safety did I hide the fruit and if someone else finds it we are to die.”
“Someone like Jason who has power over the connection or existence of our worlds? Someone like Jason who takes in the fruit and instead, let’s himself die? Or let’s everyone die?”
“Acacia, it isn’t the matter at present—for if anyone possesses it—there ensues a struggle of the powers, which, if not kept in check, exceeds all the wars, and if anyone should possess it, you would be wise to choose Jason.”
“The fruit belongs at the temple and need be there since the beginning of time...Ondrea...Ondrea?”
When she paused confusion or frustration spoke for Ondrea.
Acacia mildly interrogated. “You’ve been here sometime longer than I have. Haven’t you heard of the unicorn war?”
“It is but rumors yet, I receive appointment from Medora to become General, High Warrior of Medora. One must prepare for the end of days,” Ondrea beamed.
“Then as High Warrior to one another,” she whispered. “You must hand over our will until the Transfiguration fruit is in its proper place. The first fruit, may it be safe with the spirit that guards it. It’s not safe in time of war. I don’t know exactly what might happen but that’s a chance I’m not willing to take.”
Ondrea preceded, “High Warrior? But you haven’t had the experience. It takes training past the barriers of Domain to receive the rite. You’re in an unmovable position.” Frustration and jealousy dug deep into her cousin like a nail.
“Well, I have not received the position by position of the stars, by my grandmother’s, or by any others’—by my grandmother’s, yes, but only by her generosity.”
“What an exemplary grandmother your side has lucked out on.” His words sounded as if he spent too much time around Jason. “If only my grandmother didn’t retire as High Priestess from Dominium Church.” Acacia struck her palm on her hilt in hearing this.
Cutting your tongue out is something I never imagined doing to you. Maybe I’m looking too far into his words, but if I don’t act now...later I will strike more viciously.
Like Jason, he was always careening his words.
A noise from a far-off grove forced Ondrea to stand and Acacia to ignore him. He forgot about further word with Jason and unsheathed his scimitar.
“Hear there the foreigners from our town—either to save me from exile... or possess me.” His cold manner broke into soft despair of not being trusted. He wanted to help Jason and hold on to him as much as Acacia but Milko flitted out of the corner of their eyes, either a shadow or a spy.
Acacia stood behind Ondrea but was ready to sprint. She left Andelko at the party, so he could coordinate fleets with lay sailors, but she sprang back. The High Priest of Medora listened attentively so Acacia did not distract his austerities but Andelko stared at her in gaunt attention when she reentered the pavilion.
“Go find Jason! And remember to bring him to me.”
“In the heat of discussion?”
“I need his help. Search parties! Go!”
When Acacia ran to the same spot where she met Jason, he vanished, with Andelko in his stead, ready. The missing boy, now a man, left her, left her cousin, and left Milko—maybe he left with Milko?
“Andelko, Jason is gone, gone again, perhaps I betrayed him but he can’t have the fruit. No, no, no, he hid with Milko. No, he conspires by himself. No, he took to the search parties!”
“Don’t worry, the fleets are coming.” Andelko gave assurance but it sounded more like a warning.
“And so, my town and kin are coming. No time to reach for your spyglass.” Acacia wove Andelko back into the crowd. Above the noise, the sounds of lawyers, policeman, and Droughts soon drowned the party as they approached swiftly from the brush.
A figure at the end of the pavilion shouted, “Your court appearance is due!”
Acacia turned to Andelko, “Get out of here and secure Chiron. I’ll tame Circinus.”
“There’s nowhere for us to go!” Andelko shouted over the subtle changes in decibel and the subtle shiftiness in the crowd.
“There’s nowhere for us to stay! I do not want Ondrea or my family to get hurt but I know what they’re after. I trust more Ondrea, but I don’t trust quickly.”
“Explain this to me later.”
Acacia nodded in agreement but spoke louder. “I’m explaining this to you now. Your fleet is coming tonight, no?”
“Soon this moon—they travel every fortnight and come before sunrise.”
“Agreed, we will reach the fleet. Now follow Circinus. We will meet your fleet before midnight.”
Jason pushed the crowd in pursuit of the raiders. Acacia and Andelko hopped on their steeds and flew into the moonlight while the swirls and patterns of the Medoran masquerade dissolved. Familiar voices rose over the crowd and from stragglers in the woods—town sailors, the lawyers, and even the Alexander’s. But Jan stood out the most. It was no use finding him anymore. His voice strung out with agony, actual loneliness, and for the first time, vulnerability. The villagers needed to take him out of exile, bring him to Domain, and forever end his reign.
The cavalcade raced the villagers to the shore. Stolen horses were swiftly approaching, and they were fatigued but the unicorns overtook the cavalcade’s pace. Voices of the forest rushed through their hair and critters, spirits, nymphs, and beings poked out of their hiding with the rush of the oncoming winds. However much they tried, no one could out-due the pace of the wind and instead of the rush coming from the sea, it breached from behind.
Jason’s voice rang out in increasing agony and fear. “Come with me as they take us away! You belong here...and I will never see you again.”
Acacia could not but think however much he was wrong. She whipped her gaze back to the sea where a crest shimmered through the trees. The fleet did not appear close. Jan and his army were yards behind.
Please, Daphne. Andelko whispered quiet enough to keep his thought.
“Acacia, come with me; Conrad’s body is unearthed! Grave robbers have come!” Finally, she saw him in the glow of moonlight as quickly as it faded behind the clouds.
Her response came slowly. The Medoran raiders and Domain search parties faltered behind in fear of the awakened forest but Jan stood close enough to hear the stringent pain in Acacia’s throat. “Conrad is with me, inside, forever. I don’t know who you are anymore.”
“I’m sorry; I don’t care about the case anymore. It has taken my identity. I mean—I do, there is just more at stake...Conrad, who has eaten the poison fruit. The fruit can’t be in anyone else’s hands aside from the appointed mayor’s, as in you. But the graverobbers took it!”
“After what happened to Conrad you want me to take the fruit? You generously accepted my will. Leave me in Dalmatia, the Aegean, or Acropolis as a hermit.”
Tears swelled Acacia’s throat with the ebb and flow of the increasing tide, but her words only showed bitterness. The moon came nearer, and she could not take back her words. Tiny oars gliding beneath kites appeared in the northeast. She could leave it all behind. Prepare to make war with bands of pirates or prepare to make allies. She could sail to the northeast to meet the Kirin and become experienced like Daphne in war and refuge.
Jason once more tried to capture Acacia’s attention. “I’m sorry, I don’t trust Daphne. It occurred to me that Conrad broke her curse and left us in our curses. We were the only ones warned. She took her secret too far. Take me, I don’t know why she’s after me in my exile but take me. I beg you to take me.”
“Jason, I can’t take you where I’m going. Keep my cousin company. He lies somewhere, bleeding. I would take you, but I believe in what Conrad did, trying to save us. He didn’t know the consequences, but Daphne must not hide behind her secret either. Her powers are beyond anyone. I will meet her on this wild goose chase for the fruit. If only she had it, but now I must chase her. I’ve found you. Now I must go.”
Jason nodded. “Conrad—then, if he is her priestly sacrifice, I accept.” He ended with disdain and turned back to Medora. “Good Tidings.”
Acacia was not finished. “Jason, Daphne’s secrets aren’t important to her. She needs a successor and co-rulers, and that system disheartens us all, but it’s important.” Jason warmed up and saddened at her sudden reassurance.
Jason continued to leave, catching up with the search parties, and with him the treasury of the fruit, and the mother of their worlds.