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Chapter 18: Escape and Escapades

The fleets came in three. Droves of trumpeters thrice blew from horns of young Kirin lions. The forest bustled with excitement with the hustle of sailors. The forest rustled, and winds calmed. A metallic light flashed and sprung out of the bushes.

Jason’s father pranced beneath her eyes and bared a scimitar. He knocked her off Circinus, tumbling her into the water. The moon showed the lucid change in Mr. Drought’s eyes. If only she could change him inside. If only she had not separated from the community. She felt sorry for those eyes if underneath them Mr. Drought was still the same.

The boat was too far. Anton edged closer. Something large and smooth bumped up behind her—the vessel.

The sailors dropped their anchors, rafts, and vessels bearing weapons while Chiron held the line for her. “We have him in our horns. Climb the vessel.” Chiron urged.

Acacia flipped around the anchor line and then dangled, falling into the wake. Circinus and Chiron staggered into the wake ready to catch her until Andelko and the crew pulled in the anchor carrying her. The rope gnawed at the deck. She grabbed onto her last chance of going north to escape Medora. Circinus and Chiron fended with Anton, clobbering and nipping at his hair.

Anton wasn’t the man she knew growing up. He always avoided showing emotion, often seeming cold, but often he surprised her. She wondered comically if Ondrea and he were related. He offered to help her at the fishery and would pass greeting in public. However, his greetings recently came to solemn nods, showing his polite hidden agenda. Anton seemed to have forgotten her altogether. Acacia percolated on this but put the worry off until she found a way to bring the unicorns back onto the fleet.

She looked around for another coil or anchor lying about the deck, so the unicorns could be hauled up. One, she found under the captain’s boot. Andelko created two lassoes, then the crew formed two groups to haul the unicorn cargo onboard.

With the vessel resting close to shore, Anton scrambled aboard out of sight. His face pointed with menace, he locked eyes with the unicorns.

With each shear of the scimitar and each clack of a hoof, the captain wavered. Chiron received a slash from mane to flank and gave the sheerest whinny and scream. She yanked the rope from underneath the captain’s boot knocking the captain onto his back. He grimaced as she stood anxiously with the rope. Careful not to break his spine, the captain reached for his cutlass and stretched toward it an inch at a time, throwing the present of defense at Acacia. She caught the cutlass.

Acacia forgot the captain and lassoed the rope with a loop wide enough to capture Circinus and Chiron and pull them back into the waters. The ship started to sail away as the unicorns started to tread far enough from Anton as possible and swim along with the slowly drifting ship.

Instead of the rope distancing them, Anton dove in after them.

Chiron and Circinus latched their hooves back onto the cargo plank, but they couldn’t support their own weight.

“These waters aren’t enchanted,” spoke Chiron with one last gulp.

Er, that’s a good thing, I guess, Acacia thought.

He either attempted to drink the brine or attempted to hide from Anton. Either his intentions, he disappeared all except for his hair and a trail of bubbles.

“Too soon you give up.” Circinus rose and clenched his teeth onto Chiron’s mane where it floated above the jetsam.

Chiron gasped in pain. “You won’t regret this.” His front hooves fit onto the beams of the plank. “It seems as if I’m drowning,” he warned. “I don’t have the strength or the practice to paddle.”

“So, it seems, Chiron; I will lift you. Your days are never done.” Acacia offered her hands in grasping Chiron’s horn. Circinus pushed Chiron forward. He grimaced. The shipmates became distracted from their own ordeals, but one heard the commotion.

Anton didn’t drown them but where could he have been?

“My-oh, my. What is that horse doing on my ship?” An old, scraggly woman with a spectacle appeared from below deck. “I’m getting ready for war.” She shouted, kicked the brine off her boot and saddled on her scaled armor. She scuttled over to the captain still lying on his back.

“I will stop that girl from climbing on me ship,” she spoke to the captain.

“No, Andelko sent her here,” he wheezed. “The forces are gathering.” Five other ships floated ahead of them and two more greeted them but turned around to see the melee. Anton drenched himself in the water, hanging off the port, hungry to grab the deck. If he mutinied their ship, then captured the five other ships, the whole fleet would be undone.

Anton could no longer be spotted. A net dangled off the other side of the haul, so Acacia directed her search under the tangle. No appearance. Other crew members appeared from below deck and raced to find him, but he wasn’t found on either side of the haul.

A trail of bubbles rose to the surface from over the net. A long and elegant horn appeared out of the deep and a shiny, dark body rose to meet the crew’s eyes. The rubbery body twice the size of two unicorns stared at those onboard with one bright, gem-like eye. Sprays of salt blinded the crew’s eyes and the speared porpoise sank. Acacia turned around just to see a glimpse.

The creature was a wonder and a distraction. It resembled a dolphin but was dark-skinned like a whale.

A new crew member was found aboard—dank and menacing. Chiron spread half of himself out of the water when he saw the beast, but the pull of the ship current was too strong to climb the plank. Chiron finally heaved himself out of the water and climbed the cargo plank with Circinus following.

Circinus stepped forward to meet the unexpected crewman, Anton.

“You’ve already met my extended family,” Circinus referred to the dark-bodied creature when Acacia mentioned the other horn rising out the water. Acacia helped usher Chiron away from the cargo board.

Suddenly Chiron’s horn flecked and gleamed with gold. Anton ignored Circinus and met his gaze with Chiron.

The old woman saw Chiron too and hurriedly carried the captain below deck cutting between unsuspecting passengers and Anton’s gaze. Acacia crowded behind Circinus. When she disappeared, Circinus neighed and stomped at Anton aiming to kick him overboard, but Anton dashed behind his hooves and underneath his legs then brandished his scimitar at Acacia. Chiron lay exhausted, nervously close to Anton, but he nipped the traitor from behind.

The Drought adjusted his footing then took a direct hit across Acacia’s chest. She winced but the stolen captain’s sword blocked the rest of the hit. She did not have time to grab for the firebird’s weapon. Anton kept his scimitar at a distance but continued to aim at her chest. When Andelko saw this, he forced the other crew to stand back, but they rioted and jeered.

Acacia let her guard down to aim at Anton’s legs. Anton hopped from leg to leg drifting slightly too far but keeping away from Chiron. Acacia played this game with him a few more times until she gave up the stalemate. With one last swing at his legs, Anton’s breeches tore open wide enough to see a mark of red slowly trickling.

Anton, having Acacia stunned enough to quit fighting, captured this advantage and jolted the scimitar tip at her side. With fire in her soul, Acacia made one shaky step, choked and whipped the captain’s blade at his neck. Anton stumbled into Chiron. With this, he woke the giant. Chiron swept the man aside and the body rolled down the cargo plank and into the deep.

After a good splash, he choked on the brine and yelled in hoarse gasps, “I have other ships to take command of.” The sea salt stung his wounds, but he swam swiftly toward other ships of the fleet. Soon enough, he was caught between their ship and the others.

“Beware the Aegean, human. Keener waters take their count.” Circinus called after Anton between Anton’s breaststrokes. He brayed with the sunrise blinding him and waved his mane at the fleets as a signal.

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