Chapter 22: The Alexander Choice
Kazimir kept his tone to a minimal. Last time, a priest whiplashed him for refusing to use poultice from the horn of slayed youngling unicorn.
Ivovan sounded hoarse as if he had not slept in a day. “You don’t have to wait to see Acacia return. Janus has captured Acacia’s parents and they are heading away from Medora. Medora has fallen. Soon they will reach Acropolis. He sends out more hunting parties for unicorn. Domain, sorry, can’t be united. Your training might, however, prove otherwise.”
Kazimir wanted to know where he acquired the message, but he set that worry aside for now. His eyebrows furrowed in anger, confusion, or fear, but less for himself for he thought, I am already gone.
“I have someone here for you.” By Ivovan’s tone, Kazimir did not know whom to expect. Ivovan seemed bizarrely collected.
However, it was too late for Kazimir to collect his thought. He saw a long, sea-worn robe, crinkled eyes, and wispy silvery-blonde hair.
Jason paced the main hall of the Medoran temple. With each pace, with each clench of fist, his rage boiled over. He could no longer contain the jealousy, horrific memories of his exile, and unexpressed wrath. Jason’s father was exiled many times, but Domain kept it a secret, although from Acropolis, nothing kept secret. Eventually, Jason and other members of his family were exiled so many times that Daphne became mayor of Domain until her recently assumed death.
It is better to hide who I am than be who I am. What has Daphne done to me? Why won’t Acacia take my hand? Is she clueless beyond the point of denial?
Why, of course. I deserve this, so why doesn’t Daphne? If I must think this way, my thoughts will deepen. Acacia will come to an end.
His desires turned to envy. Ondrea watched him with reserve. “What rests on your mind, Jason?”
Jason composed himself once more. He had not seen Ondrea come through the temple entryway. Ondrea opened his eyes with concern.
“Go to your room, Ondrea. Leave me at bay.”
“I haven’t come to serve you, Jason. I have come to help.”
Jason tore at his scalp and once again straightened his back. Ondrea said, “If Acacia hasn’t found out already, it will be of no use. She has realized too many truths.”
Jason sighed. “I’m afraid you are right, but you are of no counsel.” Jason gave him a reassuring smile, but Ondrea broke this façade.
In a firmer voice, Ondrea said, “I know you have the prisoners. Release them.”
Jason walked up to his friend. “Then I release my throne. You speak with extreme bias. They are as much my family as yours. And why should that matter once they have turned their backs?” He hissed.
Ondrea admitted to himself that Jason was right. Family was not the only thing that bonded them. As Jan tried to storm off, Ondrea caught a corner of his breastplate.
“I do not release you. I choose my side whether I’m on one or not. It would be the right thing to do. How will it benefit us to keep them? Please, what more do they know?”
Jason spoke, “They may know where Acacia is or many other secrets other than plain gossip.”
The possibility tore at Ondrea. He worried for his cousin. “I admit; the Alexander’s have kept a lot from us, including a fortune.”
“Then tomorrow we raid Acropolis. Forget Agora. If we can somehow manage to evade them, then we would have spared us many warriors. If we succeed, I release the prisoners. Gather your unicorns and go.”
Jason waited for Ondrea to respond but with nothing, he ran off to his chamber quietly, careful not to wake the high priests.
Ondrea still was not fond of the idea of keeping the prisoners even if Jason didn’t torture them. Ondrea did not feel certain about a high warrior ruling from Acropolis, but all he lived for was that Acacia inherited the fortune. Her inheritance was his. He dreamed of Daphne. Ondrea heard of her return, but it seemed unfair, perhaps cruel, that she had not shown up, especially in the city-state that needed it most. Medora, a once crawling city, rotted like Domain.
In an age past, Domain was a city of explorers, but something happened that led the boats to be washed ashore as skeletons. Was this a part of today’s age or yesterday’s beginning? He knew the Alexander’s kept too many secrets but he couldn’t place the fault on anyone.
Ondrea remembered an Acropolian nursery rhyme Daphne taught him:
I’ll knit me a sweater,
Of tries, trial, and ties,
It will be done with the drum
He was grateful to be studying at Domain Private College but still relished in childhood charms. Ondrea hoped the college would not shut down. Daphne used to sing-song the rhyme to him whenever he had to complete a chore or if he was going through a rough patch at school.
I must go back, but first I must see Daphne.
Ondrea had forgotten of the fruit of which Acacia had spoken. If the fruit, the first fruit of Acropolis, had been lost or stolen, any one of the rulers or inheritors could have taken it, or worse, taken a bite out of it. He wondered if Jan still kept the fruit.
One more reason to seek Daphne.
He forgot about the fruit, but Ondrea knew the poisoning was the source of all their problems. He missed Conrad but Conrad also had a vital role in keeping Domain Private College alive until the papers came in. Domain Private College, in turn, kept the economy of the fishing village alive.
Until the papers came in.
Judge Danika had ruled Conrad’s death as a suicide, without further inspection of the fruit. Conrad’s parents or the search parties, or jurors could have taken the fruit, but he knew the safest thing at the time was giving the fruit to Jan who had full knowledge of its power.
He knew he had to seek Daphne before the battle, which he no longer chose to fight. Ondrea knew he had to seek Daphne before seeking peace or Acacia. What others sought, he did not. He had to do all of these tasks before returning to Domain.
Ondrea wondered how he would feel and less about what would happen if Jan ate the fruit tomorrow.
More relieved that the fight is over but discontented.
Daphne entered Kazimir’s chamber. Kazimir drew his sword. It was not the welcome he expected either.
“Put away your scimitar, Kazimir,” Daphne spoke in a still, but surprising voice.
“I should try. You know where Jason is and you do nothing to stop the sacrifices. I will one day be a ruler, but I can’t bring back every old way.”
Daphne nodded. “Kazimir, you are beyond my control.” She laughed, “And Acropolis is beyond mine. I never desired the old ways. It is nobler, at times, to step down when you realize your weaknesses.”
Kazimir slowly let down his scimitar but no further did he hide the blade.
“Daphne, I realize who you passed the torch to, and truly, I am grateful to see you, but we must not wait around. Out there, somewhere, Acacia struggles against Jan Drought, she hangs around ruffian...”
“And I am finally pleased with her.”
Daphne’s words stabbed Kazimir. “Finally?”
“Finally, I have waited too long. I can’t be pleased with her unless I am pleased with myself. She has found faith in Acropolis, has realized her duty.” Daphne sat down and bowed her head in despair.
“I am confused...you are alive, aren’t you? Mrs. Alexander, I can’t figure out why you must pass the torch and release your throne. Be pleased. There are many who were pleased with you, but this behavior, this turn, can’t be trusted.”
“I am too weak to fight; I have fought too long.”
Kazimir tried to wake her out of her despair. “You can fight even if I have to fight for you. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Daphne reached into her satchel and pulled out something resembling a crown with soft, supple skin and a tapered end.
Kazimir did not know whether to sound infuriated or astonished. “You have kept it from me for so long—actually, I am honored. But, I must bring it back to Acacia. It’s her seal.”
“You keep it here, Kazimir. Once brought to Acacia, Jan could thieve it. Give it to her when she has found us. Actually, no—don’t give it to her yet. She still has to prove herself.”
“Daphne! What more could she prove? If there’s anybody I can trust it’s her. I don’t know what she does out in that wilderness, and I haven’t heard from her, but what could I prove?”
“You could prove to be the first executor.”
“Not together!” Kazimir corrected his tone as if to seem more embarrassed or humbled than rude. “I have found my place in the temple.” Or so he thought.