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Chapter 24: Phillipi

But I did see my father cry in my sleep before Andelko woke me. My nights have been dreamless since the vision of a red planet steaming with mist and white shapes of horses moving between plumes of smoke. Until this one. I almost forgot the nightmare until then—when I saw Andelko’s contorted, leathery face.

Another thing I saw before opening my eyes—Kazimir locked in a cage, a cage locked in a tower, and a tower locked around a ring of fire.

I had no time to dwell on dreams.

I wonder why the dreamcatchers, then, didn’t catch them.

Andelko snapped his fingers. “It’s time now to move, I spotted our friend not fifteen leagues away. First thought it was an antelope.”

“What could he want?” I asked.

“Perhaps he is Jason’s or Anton’s spy, but perhaps he is just catchin’ some food. I wouldn’t go beggin’ in the dark, though.”

In the quiet cacophony of crickets, only I could hear Andelko’s breathing, but above all else, my heart.

It beat exponentially higher, and with each ringing in my ear, I could hear the knock of a gavel. The dream flashed. This was the last finish from the dream—first the sound of my heartbeat, then the syncopation of the gavel.

Your hearing is overdue, the words reverberated. Your hearing is overdue.

And the noises became louder and louder until I couldn’t hear anything. Blackness, freedom into the empty night. Freedom from thought. Freedom from self.

Andelko started back toward the cave. An unsurprising and unsurpassed number of travelers snored. The cave was shrouded in fog from festivities—fog like the early grey of dawn. It was worse fog than that which came after the ten day’s feast that stretched from mountain to mountain over the entire Land of Jewels.

Andelko knelt and took a flint and some moss, trying to ignite the group’s attention. Acacia, catching on to Andelko’s habits of waking people, decided to pound and pummel the dull glimmer of cavern wall with stones.

“What are you—?”

“Andelko, a fire will grab more unwanted attention than rocks, but your right, the better suggestion would be to sit atop these lazy bums.”

“Thinking like a pirate...”

“Now work like a pirate.” she jested gruffly. “And make some noise.”

“Um, hey, Borjio, how are you this evening?” Andelko said to Borjio as the other traveler shook his head out from under his fleece. Andelko could not muster him still so he shook Borjio’s fleece.

Acacia went on to the rest of the group who uttered some stirs, sighs, coughs, complaints, and moans.

It took balance of restraint and command to keep the group subdued enough as to not frighten or catch too much-unwanted attention from Milko. It takes much balance and restraint to set a trap.

Last, came Chiron and Circinus to their senses, although Acacia thought the unicorn should be first to wake and lead the group.

“Things were comfortable, and boring at ease, yet boiling under the surface which is the worst possible existence,” said Acacia. “I don’t desire to go back.”

“You are right and centered,” said Chiron, “but what’s boiling at home now?”

“You can’t mean because I left that everything has expired?”

“No, but certainly, it has changed.”

Then I knew I needed head back. Then I knew I needed to head forward. Too many directions! Too many instructions! How else was I supposed to know where to go besides Phillipi? The original course? The original plan? Yes, Phillipi!

The sky grew redder in morning when an abrupt hindrance to plans came from one of the guardian messengers of Medora. Kazimir had prepared for the easiest bypass from the town Acacia ran into early in the journey. Already, he was trained in maps and stars and seas and an apprentice to the heavens. He didn’t see himself as one to be brought to the highest thrones of heaven, so he never rested but never stopped climbing in studiousness.

Kazimir’s plan came—to stop Jason in his stupor and use his own weapons against him—to find the secret alchemy of his narcotic wine.

Andelko didn’t want to risk drawing attention to his voice in the dark although the dark wouldn’t be ashamed at the sight of him.

“There is something I must tell you, Acacia.”

“Oh, no...what is it? Whenever someone says, ‘there is something I must tell you’ you know what I must tell you?”

“No, but my something is more important.” Acacia’s eyes implored.

“I wasn’t always a pirate. When I was a young lad, I roamed with caravans.”

“With sea gypsies?”

“Yes, if that’s what you like to call them. I roamed freely amongst the creatures. I despondently obeyed my parents and when I did, I still would go wailing about on the neck of a sea creature. Even in the dark, everything is startin’ ta look familiar ta me now, even my memories. I had a wild time, but I craved wilder. I took the wrong turn into the woods and one day...I became a pirate.”

“You mean?”

“I’ve been pirated. Kidnapped. I don’t know what you call it, but then I never saw my parents again. I used up all my wits fighting back, gnawing, chewing, spitting, but the threats and lashes were much worse. I’m not sure where I came to—a fortress of whalebone it looks like—but I hope that destination is no longer in the itinerary.”

“That town...”

“It’s a city, very pretty but once you get to know it, kinda ugly.”

“I know it. I know! Not all ugly...its name...Agora?”

For the first time, Andelko’s eyes drooped into a hardened sadness.

He is perhaps harder to read than Conrad was.

Acacia had so many questions but instead, Andelko affirmed, “Let’s leave.”

It was back under the dark coverlets of early dawn.

Acacia was impossible to catch, thought Kazimir, but Jason has already captured her parents and they could help us prevent Jan from ensuing battle, ruling the unicorns, overruling Domain, and no—what will I expect upon return home?

Kazimir had returned to Daphne who waited closely in the bushes when he caught the attention of the legions with the prankish throw of his spear. The legions gladly led him to Daphne who frightfully recruited him for the rescue of Acacia’s parents.

Kazimir, led by Daphne, advanced toward Medora’s center near midnight. The air became even cooler as the pair opened a latch in the street farthest away from guards and lights. A few lights could be seen between the trees that guarded each side of the stone pavement leading away from the city. It neared a dead-end maybe dead for centuries.

The descent into the cool clay earth was a step to reaching the guard tunnels of Jason’s dungeon. Kazimir’s sadistic hope was that Jason would find something more challenging and less dispensing than narcotics and stories to distract himself.

Yet those victims soon shall forget his tortuous tales and sleepy wines. I fear they want more. They are slaves to his desires and their own.

Kazimir waited for Daphne to stop and stamp out a hollow in the compact ground.

And another thought occurred to me, “Daphne,” Kazimir spoke, “why do you not do even a little to stop the war, or I should say, have you ever tried to— ”

“Become involved? The wild unicorns and the cultivated ones have been at it for centuries and should I if I should be so flattered by your question, be involved in something I don’t have power to control? If I should, then I would concentrate on human matters, like extracting Jason. His union with my country is what I tried for, but Jason needs union with his father, son.”

“Then we should bring back the old rulers to unravel this tangle?”

They had been wandering the city tunnels and catacombs for hours. Daphne knocked on dirt with her walking stick. Below their knees was the echo of air, a hollow thud.

Acacia felt a pop of pain in her head, perhaps from lack of food, perhaps from growing realization. “I want Kazimir to find me, yet I don’t want Jason to imprison me.”

“It’s here or now. Decide,” Andelko sighed. “Do you want to find your cousin?”

“A war is behind me, a war is awaiting ahead of me, I can’t decide. I want Kazimir to find me but that could mean I’m close to Jason. This is the best and worst of it all.”

“Then draw.” Andelko drudged forward without looking back, an indication to follow.

Acacia became hurt and angry with the new Andelko, or maybe this was the way he always was or is.

“Do I want to die by the hands of friends or enemies?” Acacia shouted firmly.

Andelko immediately halted. “I may not be your wisest unicorn, but I sure say you will die at the hands of anybody you will protect.”

“But they may not choose to protect me and I don’t have the power to choose sides.”

“Aw, but you do so every hour. With me or not?”

“I realize I have been thinking out loud. How dangerous of me.”

Circinus gently added, “I will think for us. Chiron has grown weaker in health but we need to reach Phillipi to recruit wild unicorns for our army. The cultivated ones are too controlled to think for themselves. I’m afraid, and sorry, that we must choose sides, Daughter.”

Acacia made the silent decision to follow Andelko and Circinus with the rising sun for she did not trust the wilderness alone.

“I know your parents rest safe if they remain in the prison at all, but they must be in better shape than my parents were last time I saw them or after I saw them.”

“If it makes you feel any better, Andelko, I can’t go back. It might be a trap.”

“Do you feel safer here?”

“I’m not certain...”

“Then follow me.”

Acacia was reluctant to follow. The travelers already had sped East since the delay. The delay was not blamed on Acacia’s indecision but the weighty circumstance. Acacia thought Andelko was the easiest person to talk with and share anything with but he was yet too new an encounter for Acacia to tread easily on her words. He could set off a snare in temper that not even he was aware possessing.

Then an emptying fear came in the pit of my stomach.

“Do you think you can do me a tiny favor?” Andelko questioned carefully.

“No, I don’t think I can, and what if I do?”

That wasn’t fear falling on me. That was rising anger. That sensation you get when you know what someone is going to say, ask, or think all too well. Maybe it’s skepticism.

“You are my compatriots...and so I’m choosing you...”

And the anger dropped with fear. I didn’t anticipate those exact words.

“I know I am chosen for many things and not out of choice. Please hold your compliments too. They startle me.” Acacia agreed.

“I have been known to startle but I don’t think it’s because I’m a scary, snarling pirate. You are chosen to do me a favor of going into the Serpent of the Mound.”

“I have helped you find your crew and now you abandon me—us! You can’t use me. When was I supposed to know about any favors?” After she said this, she remembered the entire time his aid in finding Jan to no avail. She didn’t want to be taken advantage of by a rogue.

“Here me: Serpent is what we call her but we must find out who she really is. It has a craning neck the color of the earth and it sleeps in the mound ta guard her nest and she is soon ta be mother. It won’t be long before the eggs hatch. No pirate nor commoner nor I have been able to sneak into the nest. We can distract her with shiny things but Mother likes to guard her nest with tinsels and treasures. I can help you, but I say no one ever has ’abled capture.”

“Capture of tinsels and treasures! Why this isn’t why I came for you, Grandmother’s, or anyone else’s escapades for! I don’t think anyone would be very pleased back home if I became involved in a war, especially with unicorns. I was supposed to go to college, not join the special services. And if the unicorns do become united, one will always be against us because we were, once a time ago, against them.”

“Very true points and I gave up my rants, but what if I tell you the treasures of Medora were raided?”

“Medora deserves every right to those treasures but you know they all came with the help of Jason’s fundraising skills if you’d call it that.” Acacia looked at the ground, momentarily distracted from thought, grinding her toe into the dry earth.

“And what if I tell you that if the unicorns were united, perhaps some would slowly realize the errors of their ways or the errors of their masters’ ways? They were fed what they grew up on, the cultivated ones, and no more. You can’t blame them, and I don’t blame you for being cautious, but what have I done that’s ever so cautious? Even through your fire, you keep level. But jump into this, please—I need your help raiding Mother because she has been framed. Mother is very dangerous, no doubt, but she knows no error. Someone put the armory and weapons, not just from Medora, but from every village we had passed, in her guard.”

Acacia finally looked into his eyes. “If it’s not Jason, then I don’t know who it is.”

“I still don’t know.”

This made me smirk.

“Well, we can try. I’m the only one that’s ever been able to hone wild unicorns, that is.” Acacia suddenly hated the name “unicorn.” Chiron and Circinus were within hearing distance and she hoped they didn’t take offense to her crude, animalistic terminology.

Acacia wrapped her arm around Andelko’s neck and shoulders in one last goodbye embrace and they were off.

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