Chapter 20: Siljeca
When arriving upon Siljeca’s shore, the bay was too rocky to land. The vesper light was starting to fade, and it was getting harder to see the shore, but advantageously, it was harder for watchmen to spot the vessel. The ship bow crunched and scraped aground without the need of an anchor. A wind tossed the boat into shallower waters and everyone had to abandon ship. Acacia was afraid to plunge due to the array of splintered rocks between crags and monoliths, but she knew she had to abandon because the vessel wasn’t yet close enough to jump near land. As the ship leaned sideways, her grip on the line loosened from the jetsam and she fell off with the crash, not knowing where Chiron, Circinus, or even the captain was in the wreckage of pottery, supplies, and purple dyes. The tides continued to turn the ship over where she had landed but a rock monolith caught and splintered the starboard before it crushed Acacia at the stern.
The winds howled under the hollow of the fallen ship and drummed and whistled against the rocks. Acacia couldn’t hear the cries clearly. It might have been a mixture of whistles and cries, or even the wind, but out of the spray and jetsam on the horizon, a strange cloud flew near them. More of the shadowy clouds appeared, perhaps new kinds of sea dragons, but then she realized it was the rest of the armada. She swam under the fallen starboard and worked against the current while finding the rest of the crew floating on planks and barrels. Some made it to shore trying to free others from undercurrents. Acacia found the elderly women, perhaps a relative of Marko’s, and heaved her as much as she could to shore fighting her own sinking weight.
Once ashore, she surveyed the bay and rejoiced with the hope of armada with the other crew but no other boat or fishing vessel lay in sight of Siljeca. Everyone’s clothes were stained with purple. While the excitement and joy of their armada faded in her, she remembered her unfinished business with Kazimir. The storm had faded.
Before she could intervene and speak to Captain Marko, Andelko stood in front of her. “It has been a great adventure, adventures...um, but I must be off. And before you say anything, Marko has ordered me to head toward Philippi, but if you want more adventures go ahead of me. It has been a pleasure being your guide.”
Acacia tried to get his attention to stay. “I would—had I not obligations with my priest-friend, with Kazimir. I worry about him. Did you see the pale look on Captain Marko’s face last afternoon?”
“Indeed, I did think him strange and still strange to-day. If I can send a message to Kazimir, I have the right crew. As soon as the armada comes, I will reunite with my sailorgrooms and sailorwives... though I feel they have abandoned me.”
“I don’t mean to...frighten you,” Acacia said deliberately, “but I think Milko has been following me. I thought I saw a glimpse of him back in Medora. It seems not everyone wants to abandon us.”
“Then if he be eyein’ us, let him be spyin’ on our side. I can feel him inside of me and sometimes I feel he’s right beside me. Let him learn a thing or two from me, as I promised Milko.”
The shore ran along a rocky outcropping and the outcroppings of a city. Acacia bid Andelko come with him to explore the surroundings of Siljeca.
“Hey, Captain, we’re headed off,” Acacia spoke to Marko.
“We’re leaving. To explore the port’s outside defenses. Can’t I be with a friend?” she reasoned. “Especially, when our time might be shattered forever in the face of war.”
Marko gave her a puzzled and irritated look. “No one of my ranks chooses to be separated. We have lost all our supplies. You are staying.”
“Apologies captain, but we need time alone as we’ve had a rigorous journey. We will return.”
“You have my leave. Now leave. Bring back supplies.”
It hadn’t been an hour before a thick air came over the forest. The pines were taller than the highest point of the acropolis and they stood prouder than torches. Acacia did not feel comfortable by the silence of the forest, a silence she never heard on her seven-day journey. She grabbed her sheath hidden beneath her dye and dirt-stained robe and fumbled for the dagger. She rocked the dagger back and forth noticing the weight and examining its power when she noticed a word etched in: Marko. The guilt and forgetfulness weighed in her hands, but she decided it wasn’t high tide to head back and bring up her slip with the captain.
Could this be what he was ruffled about? I just realized no one would have, could have, taken it...
She turned away from shame and caught up with Andelko looking back at the glimmer of dawn beyond the trees and beyond the sea.
“The crew discussed sending half of our fleet back to Acropolis. I’m worried now. You haven’t seen me worried before, I know, but I’ll reassure you: I’m worried.” His eyes fluttered.
“Yes, Marko spoke with me alone about sending one half of our crew through Phillipi. It worries me that I know less than you.”
Andelko smiled and tried to hold back a laugh. “I know less about the waters, but I can teach anyone to swim. And he suggested the Philippi expedition turn back to Medora after breaking through the pass. There is another town passed Medora, the shanty-ville of Agora, but tha’ might be the only two blunders before everyone arrives in Acropolis.”
“We are lucky the armada arrived early in Siljeca, but who has say over whether our party will arrive in Acropolis? Andelko, I’ve seen Agora; I’ve seen Medora. For once, Circinus and Chiron are finally out of earshot, so I tell you they are hostile toward unicorns in the cities; especially, Agora. I reason to believe Medora will be worse on our way back. And the journey won’t be so swift on foot. Before I met you on my seven-day’s journey, I spent half of this great land on foot.”
Andelko paused and gave her a strange look. Acacia could tell he was trying to be keen and trying to read into her. It made her uncomfortable and though she tried to conceal her discomfort, her eyes narrowed trying to read Andelko.
“What is that you have in your belt harness? I didn’t see you buy that in the lost city.”
“No... I haven’t. I must return it.” Andelko then chuckled, much to her annoyance. “By how much treasure Jason carries, I wouldn’t doubt he was once at the lost city.”
The lost city...that reminds me... did Jan find the lost city? If that lies on our way back...perhaps we will find it again. And perhaps Ondrea again...then Ondrea will find Jan... but Jan will certainly find me. Could that be where they were hiding the entire time? Is that why I ran into Milko?
As she foresaw the oncoming conflict, the thought of returning to Acropolis focused in her mind. It already felt like home, but neither the forest nor the sailors or storytellers spoke of Acropolis since the last major tide.
The judges from the corners of the world assembled in Domain with Judge Danika Percon Pierce as their chief: Borkoborna of Agora, Velibor of Medora, NaidaDoris of Siljeca, and MiricaMirza of Acropolis arrived with two escorts.
“We have received word from the firebird of Acropolis,” Pierce whispered after illuminating the wicks, “and he has found word with Kazimir. The high priests are sacrificing unicorn blood, but alas, these friends are rare, and soon every city-state beyond Acropolis will break the flesh of humans.”
NaidaDoris of Siljeca spoke. “I don’t comprehend. I have just arrived with my escorts after some barbarians planned to invade my village. And as judge, I will tear down any offenders of the unicorn blood and will tear down their rites.” She tapped her pointy slippers.
“But before we have any human conflict,” Borkoborna of Agora spoke, “we must plan to decide whether interceding between the conflict of wild unicorns and the acclimated animal is a plan we need to decide. My people, I have judged for two centuries, much longer than your grace, and still, we are in conflict. I’m at a segway: I want to stop my fellow barbarians once and for all, but I don’t want to exacerbate them.”
MiricaMirza listened intently in the far corner. Her hair reached to the floor and her face was concealed in a hood.
Then Velibor of Medora spoke. “The only way you can help us, Danika, is decide whether Domain, a waning but nonetheless rich capital, should aid our expense: the expenses Jason has needed for Medora festivale and Domain, the expenses of rehabilitating the unicorns, and the expense of our war—even in the case of possible war. I would aid Borkoborna in the reconstitution of Agora first.”
“And I will aid my citizens in moral growth,” Borkoborna added. The judges bowed heads in agreement.
MiricaMirza stood up and unveiled her hood. “I have received word from firebird also. Kazimir is looking for Acacia and the troops need to join her. We may need to decide and soon.”
Borkoborna stood up. “And who is Kazimir to decide for you? He is a young priestly in training!”
Judge Danika Pierce said nothing. MiricaMirza sat back in the corner unscathed.
NaidaDoris spoke, “I can’t tell you whether I’m human, but I can tell you: if we don’t enter a conflict, there will be more pirates invading my southern shore. I shall release my Kirin lion upon them.” She bowed her head in address. Despite her polyglot of piercings, she appeared regal.
MiricaMirza spoke again. “And we have greater conflicts to tie before more conflict. Secrets are hidden with the High Priests of Acropolis, and I suppose also your respected villages, but the High Priests just didn’t send Acacia off without a mission. And Danika sent us here for a mission.”
The judges asked to be dismissed and met privately in an adjacent study, but Danika, instead, asked them to stay.
Borkoborna argued, “I can’t listen to this, then, without the young priestly or Acacia. If Judge Pierce, Your Honor, wants us back in her world, she shall, if decided, lend her hand into our world.” He spoke as if she weren’t listening.
Velibor was about to speak, but cleared his throat, seemingly changing his mind. “Haven’t you heard the old maxim, the firebird isn’t the prophet, but the messenger? Then we shall find Kazimir and the elders!”
The room lay in silence.
“I have decided,” Judge Danika declared in silence. “Siljeca, Medora, Agora, and Acropolis must win over the wild unicorns and keep them on our side if we are to unite Domain with the Old World and if we are to unite the unicorn species and if we must endure more conflict, we must, and if we must bring back the old days of rulers, we shall, and not keep in our old ways.”