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Chapter 26: Council of Questioning

Judge Danika, Mirza of Acropolis, Borna of Agora, Velibor of Medora, and Doris of Siljeca rode upon the wake of Siljeca’s shore. Velibor questioned the burned guards of Jason’s tower since it had been three days since Jason retreated. Without Kazimir and Daphne keeping guard over the tower, Jason knew or conjured a way to freedom. Kazimir would not have imprisoned Jason the same way he imprisoned the Alexanders but he felt it quicker to find Acacia if he forced Jason on their journey. Kazimir’s envoys, sent by the enchanted firebird, were scheduled to meet the Council of Elders anyway since hearing of Jason’s initial request to meet with Danika.

Kazimir, Daphne, the free Alexanders, and the envoys saw the ship in Siljeca before the Council of Elders met them, but what the elders saw first were metallic bodies of soldiers lining the shore. Some were upright. Some formed a fence extruding from the rocks. The guards on shore stood around the bodies like they were one of the fallen ones, or the fallen ones were one of them, somehow still half-living. Danika steered the ship no closer than the rocks could take her, seeing the mass of armored bodies as a railing. Danika waited for one, maybe two living eyes to glance in her direction. Not two, but many dead eyes pierced through the fog and through her like the protruding spears from the shore amidst the bodies and amidst the living guards.

And Marko stood before them.

Kazimir, Daphne, and the Alexanders were spying in the undergrowth not far from where Marko watched the shore before the Council of Elders arrived. Kazimir hunched into a ready crouch.

“What are these strange visitors!” Marko spat. Kazimir was too far in the brush to catch his fury.

Did he mean us or the envoy? Kazimir peeked through the trees and through the fog but no peek was more searing than Marko’s reproachful stare.

Kazimir thought, now there are guards living and dead encircling Siljeca? And this strange man has come to arrest me? A ship for fortification? But I must stay; I can’t go back!

Almost in answer to Kazimir’s silent plea, Daphne appeared from the undergrowth even more reproachful in her gait, look, and height than Marko. The captain had no time to sheath his dagger. Daphne caught him mid-fight.

“And I thought Agora was where you were stationed.”

“You are Daphne, aren’t you?” he quivered. Her long and steady grip gave him ample time to respond.

“Yes, and I am no more unless this land of sallies can pick itself up.” She raised his dagger still in his hand and peeled it out of his grip.

“Other strange visitors have appeared. They are tall, clean-shaven foreigners.”

“And I guess that makes me but I’m just as suspecting as you.”

Kazimir thought he heard Acacia resound from inside Daphne.

Aboard the ship, the elders anchored a rope around one monolith rock along with regular anchor. Danika hoisted a long plank over the haul for a walkway overarching the line of bodies and spears. The spears poked as far in any direction of shoreline and as far as the eye could see through fog. The elders filed carefully over rocks, weaving easily through the cage of spears.

The elders lined up on the shoreline against the spears making for a far more imposing fortitude.

When Marko returned facing the envoy, Danika announced, “You might know your way around but I don’t trust you can give any direction to where Jason is better than he.”

Marko replied, “State your business some more and I’d be glad but it can’t be good.”

Danika marched toward the outcropping of Siljeca but the guards were on the troupe in a flash.

Marko tucked his hands into his pockets. “I’ve met you before, back in Medora. This can’t be good.”

Kazimir could not watch Marko spindle around his words anymore. He ran ahead of Daphne despite cloying and grabbing from the other Alexander’s, telling him to stay back.

“Danika! Judge Danika!”

“And now my business has changed.” Kazimir ran into the elders, almost knocking them into spear tips but grabbed them closer.

“Acacia has not come back from her mission! We have the seal! The trial, it can begin!”

“Kazimir!” came an unexpected bark. It did not come from Danika as Kazimir had expected, but Daphne yet again coddling him.

Kazimir was so out-of-breath he realized he gave away too much.

“Daphne, our business is none of our business anymore. Jason simply suggested a meeting with the council of elders. We assure you it has more to do with Acropolis.”

Daphne, so unyielding, answered, “Fine son, I will follow with.”

Dozens of guards stationed around Siljeca then encroached on Daphne, Kazimir, and the Elders forcing them to their knees and bringing them to the new imprisonment. Spear points directed them to a tower on the citadel overlooking the sea, like the ancient, abandoned towers in the wildernesses except more embellished. The tower was inlaid with mosaics and jewels, very unlike a prisoner house.

Kazimir and the Alexander’s gaped at the insides, especially the ceiling that was covered in endless mosaic spirals that centered a dome-shaped skylight, but even more gaping was the prisoner.

Since seeing him they momentarily forgot about Daphne. Either she was taken into a more fortified keep in Siljeca or she acted upon her disappearing ways. Kazimir was already too frazzled to think more on it. He didn’t understand Daphne’s ways but she was faithful.

The first floor of the tower emptied into a dais which held a king in robes and daggers. His eyes and robes were full of jewel but his limbs were chained to a throne.

Janus, his appearance was both astonishing in splendor and rags. Kazimir hoped desperately he wouldn’t become chained anywhere near him.

“You’ve taken our families and now where have you taken the treasury?” Kazimir demanded. “Not only our treasury but the weapons and retribution from the militaries.”

“I haven’t taken it anywhere. It belongs with Mother—

“Mother?” Kazimir yelled. “Do not accuse Mrs. Alexander ...”

“No, do hear me out; Mother is the name of the Serpent of the Mound. Mother is particularly fond of shiny things as are her soon-to-hatch hatchlings. If you’re wondering about Mother like we should, Acacia took it to Mother, the serpentine bird that lives on the edge of Phillipi, but it’s too late to catch up now. My spies saw them—I mean her and a scraggly looking fellow—leaving the Mound so too late to play wild goose chase. Sooner she would catch up with you but do everyone in Acropolis a favor and complete the mission she was sent for, the mission you have already completed. Fix her mistake and visit Mother who hoards the weapons. Much more silver you will find she has already hoarded that I suggest taking for compensation. Yes, some pence go to you as a reward if you find it but only if we are free.”

“Then why do we talk of such unrealistic nonsense before plans of freedom? You know, Jan—you know you don’t owe me anything. How long have we known each other? Yet I can’t shake your lie. Your bones are way too weak and locked-up for weary update on Acacia’s whereabouts. She is far gone but I don’t doubt Mother exists.”

“I am far gone but I have spies and messengers. Yet I have time and strength in reserve and so do they. How do we catch their lies? If you wouldn’t mind working with me...”

“How do I know of your lies?”

Jason looked puzzled. “How do you? Ah!” he sounded somewhat surprised. “It was you that took the seal! Not too long ago I saw you on campus and thought you could do better but you are forgiven if I take you to the Serpent of the Mound whom they call Mother.” Jason left no choice.

Seeing as the guards bolted Daphne and Kazimir along with the Alexander’s in their newest prison, Kazimir bowed his head in guilty or fearful obeisance because then was the best time to discuss escape strategy with or without Jason.

Kazimir thought he saw Daphne led to the prison, but nowhere was she seen. They must’ve taken her away. But where? Did she escape on her own? They may have needed her for envoy. Her disappearing acts are getting really annoying.

A realization dawned on everyone. They were prisoner with Jason and Daphne was taken away to be more useful.

“I blame you for many things but never the thousand year’s cold war of the unicorns. Never for Conrad’s death. Never Acacia’s disappearance but we can’t call you innocent in court. Neither can I call you guilty.” Kazimir thought it was a gamble but Daphne didn’t object and the Alexander’s agreed to go anywhere leading closest to Acacia. After the guards have left, it was safe to discuss any means of travel and any hints of escape.

“You must have been right, Jan-son, when you said it was best we stay put.” Mr. Alexander wondered.

Mrs. Alexander looked at him warily, “Unless you have a plan.” Mrs. Alexander lost all respect for Jason as a neighbor but she thought him the most cunning captor. Always, had he done so well in school but always there was some awkwardness about him, but she took it with a pinch, because all adolescents seemed off-kilter and besides, Jason brought together community and appeared vitally complementary to her daughter. He was complex but orderly, but more complementary was his order. However, under order were complications and more awkwardness and the awkwardness turned into harsher vibes and so the vibes turned into mutual distrust. Mrs. Alexander realized she completely overlooked Jan, and in doing so, neglected him, and in misjudging his relationship, she neglected Acacia.

If I didn’t try so hard pleasing everyone for her, I would have pleased her. No one can please this monster in sheep’s clothing.

“But there is something in order after we make plans of escape,” Jason interjected. “You still haven’t denied the seal, our fruit.”

“I haven’t because it does not need defense. I’m not uncomfortable, Jason, because I’m not lying.” Kazimir knew he was lying but Jason needed not only a game of mismatched knowledge but mismatched wits. He abhorred lying but if only meant for protection then Kazimir was not afraid. His lips quivered, his eyebrows wavered, but nothing confused his friends more than overly expressing his emotions. His face was an open book but even when he wasn’t deep in thought, usually his face lied even to himself. His weakness was his strength.

“Then I will thankfully take you to Mother. Perhaps she has the seal. I can’t say whether it belongs to me or Daphne; that is only for you to decide.”

Kazimir did not tell him whether he or Daphne had the seal even though Kazimir was just as relieved as his companions to hear this; however, Mr. Alexander thought coarsely about Jason’s warning, it’s best to stay put.

As the Alexander’s discussed more detail about escape plans, Kazimir remembered the now distant news from Ivovan.

It might be more beneficial to have retaken Acacia’s parents early instead of defending Acropolis, but last Ivovan said was that Medora has fallen. If war is where we’re headed, then hopefully we have only two cities to take back and the rest only to defend...that is, if Jan is on our side. Sides might be safer than friends at this point.

He tried to put away his pining as he focused on the important details of the escape. Mrs. Alexander fought with Mr. Alexander before they bickered with Jan until Jan, for once, looked defenseless yet still determined.

Kazimir wanted to climb in and strategize but he was too focused on finding an exit point. He scanned the tower trying to find a door, window, or latch but all the windows were high and glassed. Double stairs led to a second story for jumping out. He ran up the stairs while Jason gestured and jingled in chains.

Finally, Jason caught his eye and looked with desperation on how Mrs. and Mr. Alexander followed him freely.

I shouldn’t trust them but how could I not? Leaving me locked in chains would only cause more harm.

Kazimir opened a door to a vacant room and saw that three windows were accessible but the drop from outside did not look promising.

Mrs. and Mr. Alexander pounded down the ancient steps startling Jason.

Mrs. Alexander requested Jason’s chains be unbound to use as rope to climb from the windows.

Mr. Alexander countered. “That will never be enough. Mr. Marley won’t accept that and what tools do you have? I suggest finding some, especially wood to make fire. There must be some twigs lying around here. Either a); we sit here till death do we part, b); we burn down the tower or c); we melt his chains...”

Mrs. Alexander retorted, “Ah I see: we burn ourselves and especially the chained one. But what happens when time chains us? The guards will be coming for rounds as you said before and that will be either an opportunity for escape or for them to toughen our chains.”

“Yes, I did agree with Jason on that point and I admit that he is right and that I’m unsure but there is more we can work through with this. I’m worried too, as distracted as Kazimir becomes.” Mr. Alexander did not want to sound rude but he became the tense parent under pressure.

“I wonder if Kazimir was listening when we strategized about distracting the guards. This tower is too small and fortified for guards within these walls but outside, our words aren’t sealed.”

Mr. Alexander rebound, “They will never mess with our plan. We don’t have one.”

Mrs. Alexander walked over to Jason with an epiphany. “You can tell a mighty good bonfire tale, make a fine party finer, and find good wine, but best of all, you can make good wine and make a story from it, but it doesn’t stop there—afterwards, we would be celebrating.”

“What are you getting at?” Jason asked mildly and demurely.

“Have you not ever tried distracting guards with your wine?”

“If this is about my secret potion it’s Father’s secret and I won’t tell you, but if this is about stories, that might buy some distraction.”

“You don’t need to tell us anything. My husband and the other parents in town were always impressed with your recipes for mystery. Now the mystery is how to find the key. I remember clearly many evil chimes jangling from the pockets of the guards.”

At the finish of her sentence, Kazimir came bounding down two steps at a time, a habit he never grew out of since he was a child.

“Mother Alexander, anyone can come up with a story if we--they have a problem. I had too many problems in my head lately and from your plan, a story we need is one that would coax the guards two stories up to the windows and away from the entrance.”

“So, we can throw them over the edge?” Jason questioned with deviance.

“No, so we can climb out of this mess,” Kazimir said as flatly as possible.

“What you are asking for is a trance. Your imaginations can climb higher and so I am asking for your help. Contribute to my story.”

Amidst all the silly suggestions presented earlier such as tripping up the guards with feet and chains and using the force of bare hands to knock them out, subtle force seemed the answer. Jason’s chains were tied to the ground and even the grounded ends of the chains had keyholes in the clamps to easily pick but tripping the guards up with story seemed passive-aggressive and subvert.

Still, no story was stranger than when Daphne vanished.

“Mr., Mrs. Alexander, you haven’t said a word about Daphne, the one who saved your life? Why do you thank me?”

“I never understood Mother’s ways,” Mrs. Alexander responded. “I know I’ve stated it enough but when I was younger, I would always ask too many questions and she never was an angry person but that’s when she became mad, not with fiery anger, but cold spite. I asked stupid questions, truthfully, like where were you last night? To supervise the fishery? Why do I work here? I’m too young and it wasn’t just the tone of my questions, but the answers. She gave no answer, not a simple nod, more like a rigid daze...”

Mr. Alexander interceded, “And when I tried to ask her anything about the woman I was marrying, that’s when she made sense. ‘Why don’t you ask her yourself?’ she said.”

“Then why don’t we play on that!” Jason struck brilliantly. Mr. Alexander looked from his wife to Jason in confusion but he continued without pause. “Why don’t we make a story up about Daphne? But it doesn’t have to be story! Too many questions! Too many questions we will ask.”

Kazimir raised a brow. “Too many questions about Daphne?”

Jason answered, “Either that or we ask the guards to give us a tour of the tower, all the winding rooms stacked like bookcases, all the vacant bathrooms, etc. But you said the plan was too simple.”

“I did, you’re right, but we could use a backup.”

“Good, because it won’t be long before you are chained,” Jason said darkly.

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