Acropolis

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Chapter 23: Sacrifices and Disguises


Kazimir was torn. He wanted to stay in the temple to dissuade the elders from sacrificing unicorn but he tarried long enough in the sanctuary.

Maybe if I find Jason, Acacia will find me. Trapped here, I move toward nothing. I am safe but useless.

What most irked him was that he heard news of the capture of Acacia’s parents and with Janus’s wine and spellful bedtime stories, they could easily lose their sense of control, mind, and therefore, the essence of life.

So, Daphne and Kazimir set off toward Agora with unicorn whistles. Catching a unicorn was rare for rarely did they trust people, especially high officials. Kazimir heard enough legends concerning unicorn capture, but the reasons for their appearance were ambiguous. He often drew doodles of them in his study and, least mentioned to Acacia, in class.

Jason swished and swirled a wine glass and held it up to Acacia’s mom and dad between the prison bars so their noses could breathe in the temptation.

“And if you ever do get thirsty, I have the perfect concoction for you,” Jason said, sniffing the last drop of wine.

The Alexander’s feared poison and slowly their vision became bleary, but slowly light returned to their eyes, or maybe it was the elixir running its course.

Acacia’s father objected. “We haven’t any water. Give us breadth or give us bread.” He gave Jason no choice.

Jason peered eerily at him through the shadows in the cell. His eyes were deep and his brow gouged out from his tired lids yet his bags were not the only shadows concealing him. Jason’s luminous dark hair was a beautiful sight but it became greasy and he looked like a diseased stray.

“Water is hard to come by. If you aren’t careful, some streams poison.” Jason reasoned. “Safety is within here until the war is concluded.”

Acacia and Andelko rested for the night. A few watch guards, “watchdogs” as Andelko called them, stood outside the cave. Acacia didn’t know what was inside the cave, except the flickering light of the campfire.

Although I was miles from home, if you could even measure it, I found familiarity in remembering our family bonfire tradition except I had a new family. From inside the cave, I could see flecks of jewel-like the caves on the edge of Unicorn City. And although there came a familiarity, I did not feel comfortable wiling away the hours with these strange folk (Day 28, Acct. 3 of Siljeca).

Jason spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, “Let me entertain you a tale, but there will be no need for stories once you find the truth. I will tell one. Acacia is far away, across the distant sea, locked up in fortune, but locked up by Daphne. I dare not leave you in battle, but you are safe here and I must fall through with her fortune and rescue Acacia. Kazimir rests with her, but unlike you, he doesn’t rest peacefully. This is exactly like the tale: a pirate and a gypsy follow adventure together but each is driven by fortune. Along the way, they fight with a sea of bandits who intend to take the fortune. They work with two evil rulers who are certain to stop their line but...not their fortune. And the rulers, working alongside the bandits, dress the pirate and gypsy up in a tower surrounded by fake fortune. See, what good is locked up in that tower? What good is the fortune? Ha, unfortunately—listen while you still have your wits—surrounding the tower is a setup of fierce fighting unicorn, and around the ring of unicorn surrounding the tower, is a ring of Kirin, and around the territory of Kirin, surrounds the sea. The tower is on an island, an island surrounded by sea creatures, some scaly, some slimy. The gypsy bribes the unicorns with fruit by wailing outside the tower windows, the unicorns bribe the Kirin with a game. The unicorns challenged the Kirin with their flesh in hopes of escape. While some horned horses escaped their duties with death, others escaped to the sea. Those who could swim did not drown in the torrential sea, and those survivors negotiated with the sea monsters a ride to shore. The survivors reached the shore in plans of finding sea warriors to save the prisoners.

However, the gypsy and the pirate could no longer wait. They all were afraid that no unicorn had ever survived. The leader of the guard, Chiron, told the pirate and gypsy that it would be seven to nine days before returning to the island with sea warriors to the rescue, but on the tenth day, the pirate and gypsy became weary. Even with all the fortune, they were not fed; even with their huge library, they could no longer think of anything else but escape. The gypsy watched the hours to plan the best time of escape but the pirate said ‘Nay, we cannot let our rescuers be assured by our own attempts.’ On the seventeenth day, the pirate became weary and said, ‘You are now right; I must honor my friends and find them.’ From that day on, neither the pirate nor gypsy was to be found so, best, friends, stay where you are.”

Acacia’s father answered with a pleading eye, “Please, while away our hours with a happy ending. Either that or bring me more wine.” His voice became dry.

Jason answered, “Oh, please do, help yourself.” He tipped the glass between the cell bars while some swished and splashed and dripped upon the father’s chin.

The mother seemed unlikely to notice this, so parched and dizzy from travel and travails.

“Oh, Jason, I am fatigued and sore! Is he the only one that needs quenching?”

“Calm yourself,” Jason reasoned, “Assuredly you will be satisfied. Am I not a good host?”

The mother failed to answer but answered in gulping of every last liquid.

Kazimir set off on an Arabian horse and retraced the path Acacia followed through the wilderness. The last the messengers saw, Acacia was headed for Siljeca. He didn’t know his plan, not until I find Acacia. Perhaps Jason took her too—perhaps Anton Drought caught up with Marko and his sea legs. Perhaps I am not too late. I have been cowering in my study too long—distracted by right from right.

Every aspen, every breaking of the shore, every clawing of the wind, became a blur to Kazimir. The horse huffed and snorted harder, but Kazimir seemed to be the one losing his breath. With a map and little time, Kazimir’s journey took less than seven days.

On the fifth day upon arriving in Siljeca, Kazimir thought, well this is not what it looked like in my mind. He imagined a desert arena with scattered whalebone yurts and hovels. He hadn’t expected a city to be so hidden, to be so vibrant. Legions with long spears surrounded the port town at different stations. Some paced back and forth between hovels and villas; others stared attentively forward, while others crouched with their spears aimed at Kazimir.

Kazimir called for Marko. No answer. A few legions from afar looked side to side. Others ran after him. Kazimir retreated into the forest. From the break in trees, he could see the legions return to their posts but they searched about, perhaps finding him. The ones who have been attentive but not ready then marched forward in Kazimir’s direction.

He gasped. He regretted the gasp. Never had he been so fearful in his life. Never since first encountering Acropolis. But no, I wasn’t afraid for myself, Kazimir rethought.

I was in awe of its wonder. Confused. Perhaps I was afraid because of...because...Acacia went missing. Or perhaps I’m reassuring myself to rid fear. Beads of sweat began to form like the ripples of the ocean on the crease in his temple.

He swiftly turned his attention back to the oncoming legions. Kazimir hated being confused more than anyone Acacia knew, but he couldn’t piece together Siljeca.

Why Siljeca? Do not run and fear me, Acacia. You’ll be led to court but you are leading to the unknown...do I still know you?

He wanted to steer his Arabian horse even further into the brush but the legions came so near that he didn’t want them to hear so he crouched in a bush. His horse remained standing, pretending to be a normal, wild stallion grazing. The legion looked from left to right not three feet away. The tip of his speared protruded through a hole in the bush.

It had been long enough in Daphne’s land that Acacia no longer just missed Daphne—she missed everyone—her family, even the townspeople, Mr. Mallard, even Jason.

Andelko gave her the strangest comfort. Around the campfire, the stories started to ease the atmosphere. The fire, or maybe it was the tales, gave the sailors a warm glow. The graffiti of constellations and unicorns on the cave walls gave the shelter a homey decor next to the glittering pockets of gems and semi-precious stones.

Borjio, or Borj, one of the followers who did not flee to Siljeca after the first attack, had eyes that glimmered like the cave as he told this tale: “Forty beached whales, as I thought they were, but sand whales were they really, blocked the shores. Too many a-tsunami hath come. Too many a-ruckus. People going left and right, not knowing right from right. Not until the sand whales breached! Ah,” he paused to take a swirl of hookah. The smoke rose and mixed with the fire ash. “They tried to move the whales. Sometimes it took forty armada ships to sail them away. Yet not one would budge and upon them—as some are still alive to this-day—they became annoyed and started their own ruckus, but it wasn’t much flapping those fins. So, the sea became angry for them.” Borj imitated a beached whale flapping its arms. The travelers, or family, let out some giggles. “And then forty days hath come. They turned their attention from the tsunami to budge the creatures but the clouds did not turn from them. Some beachcombers still did not capture the hint. These are creatures of the land and sea. When finally, the tsunamis came—they didn’t have enough warning—many sailors drowned, but I will not darken my tale. However, those closest to shore did drown. But later, those drowned were saved by the sand whales, and these whales have multiple flippers and antennae, Acacia,” he nodded to her in case of her whale ignorance, “and by their enormous size, they took away most of the brunt of the tsunami while also rescuing others when it was too late. Yet the sand whales weren’t too happy, for the villagers only wanted them when tragedy struck, but they were happy to teach a lesson in saving lives and the villagers knew the ways of creatures from then on. See, you can’t judge the sight of others until you get to know their ways.”

Acacia clapped with the others but her smile turned into a frown.

I wondered: did I know their intentions?

Then it was suddenly Acacia’s turn to tell a tale. “You told us it was a family tradition,” remarked Borjio.

Andelko turned his smile toward her.

“Well, I’m not very good at remembering jokes or stories, but I’m suddenly becoming interested in a myth in Lit. class I take at the local college.” She was much more interested in listening to the rogues from the Land of Jewels to make up a story.

She was met with many unanticipated, confused glances.

“I am continuing a broader education back home as apprentice, I guess you would say, and anyway, my tutor, my professor, headmaster—whatever you call him,” she was now getting impatient with her own speech, “is really off-the-wall. I mean—sometimes he gets off topic, sometimes, I mean always, like I am now. But anyway, he recently told us the myth of Hyas and I can’t help wondering it’s very similar to the tales of this land—whatever you call this place.”

“The Land of Jewels.” Borjio’s eyes and words glimmered. Acacia jumped to the myth.

“Hyas was a hunter, skilled in archery, but also a spirit of the forest. She would wander from tree to tree, town to town in search of food for she was not a very good fisher. She was also very well respected in battle and the wood nymphs certainly respected her. Until one day, she wondered too far, and some lion creature, perhaps it was a Kirin, mauled her with one swipe of a paw. This came too soon since all the bulls and lion and sheep and sea creatures mourned at the passing. However, something miraculous occurred upon Hyas’s death. She evaporated and flew to the heavens and now she makes it rain but also those that were closest to her weep with her. Yet we rejoice at her brave passing and this is why you may feel mixed emotions when it’s dreary outside. Perhaps Hyas still lives far away with her family. Maybe she’s a constellation. See that triangle in the sky and that wavy line for a body? I don’t think it looks like a body but you can see it.”

The travelers bowed their heads in silence and for a moment, Acacia thought she said something wrong. Instead, the travelers clapped.

“Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Andelko murmured.

“If I had a happier tale to remember I would, but I just can’t keep my mind out of the court case.”

“Acacia, this might have to wait until we’re out-of-ear.”

Then Acacia directed the attention toward Borjio, “The Land of Jewels, Borjio. Why do they call it such?” her curiosity outpaced her caution.

“Because of the pockets hidden in the mountain that glitter and gleam, they call this ‘The Land of Jewels’, however, no one ‘as ever called it since, and since the old rulers and everything became disrepair’d and since the priests had to take over. They’re holdin’ the land up but I mean, in a good way. It’s just the peoples have to change. The rulers only had good intentions but none more. Aye, aye.”

“Be glad we are in the age of imagination,” said one Siljecan sea gypsy. “Soon we will find the age of truth. Both will battle but one cannot live without the other. It’s a contradiction, really, that any should die. Has anyone studied the constellations?”

I’m living in a folktale but never the truth. Shall we be truly regretful when the other age comes? Acacia always thought that a good story had some truth to it but was also necessary. She couldn’t imagine how disenchanted she would feel if Daphne left out her bonfire fairytales.

The gypsy ring-leader answered, “If ever that age comes, we are still in denial, but we never lie—we get creative.”

“What do you propose we do? How do I find my band again? You don’t mean to kidnap me...do you?” Acacia was becoming amused with the ploys the land and its people played on her.

“Our plan was to save you. Your band will join us at battle. Our weapon—the Kirin.”

“The Kirin?” She hesitated but the thought of the weapon, being her, became frantic. “I’ve heard that name before, only spoken in danger.”

“The Kirin, we must ride and you must learn. It has a dragon’s tail, a lion’s head, stands three men tall, and has legs and belly of armor.”

Acacia imagined the Kirin like some sort of furry reptile or wing-less griffin. Her eyes shifted, trying to make sense of description.

“Yes, I spoke of them in the Hyas tale.”

When all travelers have gone to slumber, Andelko awoke Acacia.

“Acacia,” he whispered hoarsely in her ear. “Arise and shine.”

Acacia moved once but no more after muttering something incoherent.

“What? Never mind waking up: you waking up means you disturb the others.”

She muttered again.

Andelko waited until Acacia stopped moving and then carefully lifted her outside the cave and to an adjacent grove of dreamcatchers. When, suddenly, Andelko recognized the narcotic plant and his mistake, he lifted her out of the soft bosk and shook her awake. Acacia stood with a start and before anything was said, Andelko clasped his hand over her mouth.

This campfire, and not the first fire I spoke to Andelko at, I truly felt distrustful of him. My unicorn fellows were not awake to back me up. But fear truly faded when I realized how much rest was lost. I should have beat that alarm clock named Andelko.

“Now, you don’t just go snooping in the night and grabbing people when I have home to be worried about being awake too early.”

“Listen,” and this time he sounded more serious than usual and I was more afraid, but not of him, and for the first time, for him. “I am deeply sorry for awakening you but don’t wake the firebird until he gets the worm.”

“Then where’s my worm? Actually, do you have food?”

“Shh...now listen, remember how I wanted to speak to you about the court case?”

“Andelko, really, I’m not evading my duty. The Land of Jewels...Acropolis, is my case, my people, our people...”

“Shh...I need to know when the old judge came.”

“What?”

And then I saw it. The mysterious boy, whom I lost, and never knew that I missed, the one I most feared—Milko, a dark shadow lurking in an even darker shadow. The shadows have answers and intrigue.

“Is that—?” Acacia said.

“In fact, yes.”

But after the moon peeked out of the lacing of canopy, he was gone.

“Strange...”

“Watch for spies,” Andelko instructed.

“Andelko, the only time he ever lied was in adult form. With his master.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“We shall move camp!” Acacia realized her voice sped an octave too high.

“Acacia, we can’t leave. He’ll follow us. When my sailors rise, we need an escape route.”

From the high window in the cell, Mrs. Alexander could see a ray of moonlight penetrating the floor.

“Any plan of escape?” spoke Acacia’s father. Mrs. Alexander still wore a cloche, gloves, and heels but her face was covered in streaks of tears and her upper arms were covered in blood from Janus’s whip. Mr. Alexander still wore a peacoat and loafers but his face was grimy and neck and arms covered in blood and bruises although he could conceal them. He had streaks of tears going down his cheeks also.

My father told me the story afterward. I had never seen my father cry, but I shouldn’t have wont for seeing his sadness. Maybe a part of me wanted him to appear dehumanized so I would have to help because before, I couldn’t help him in my broadest array of pain. I have felt worse pain before but I didn’t want to return, yet if I had heard of his suffering then, I would have led him back to Domain by fooling Jason into escorting me to court as an ally. In thinking this, perhaps I justify too much of myself, but I’m only one hand. From here, I can’t see the future and don’t want to if it involves tortured faces. I don’t want to see all the world, all the suffering. But that’s what being a ruler is? Helping the broad populace. Sometimes we can only help ourselves.

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