Chapter 28: War and Unicorn Lore
The band regrouped with Marko’s sailors under mixed circumstances. The war that once was between the unicorns breached the human world and the Alexander dynasty was at stake. Andelko poured a pot of cold water over the fire. He felt hopeful to see the sun make its ascent once more. The campers were quiet except for their nervous energy, but Acacia remained close to Andelko in case good energy rubbed off him. Chiron and Circinus seemed to shut down around the other travelers more so than last night. Acacia felt like someone was watching her, but with reassurance; and this made all the difference, no matter the lack of slumber she received overnight.
Captain Marko came to check up on them and break the demanding silence. She did not think she would ever be joyous to see him again after his quarrel, either sparked by fear or jealousy. Acacia hoped he was not a conceited fellow, for if he was, she would have glowing embarrassment forever garnering or giving his respect.
She wanted to be in charge of her own family disputes, her own war of inheritance, and be the one to take care of Chiron or Circinus no matter how trying to be alone and out of the human world.
Marko broke her train of silence with disturbing news.
“Words, my campers. Have word! Something came to me in the middle of the night. Janus heads away from Medora. Move quicker! Make haste! He is ready for Acropolis and I hope you are too.”
Acacia did not want to stir trouble, but after hearing this, she needed a word with Marko.
“Captain, we are not ready. First, tell of your news.”
Marko replied, “Janus heads away from Medora. His troops are making new alliances with the wild unicorns and they will soon breach Acropolis.”
“Then, this is why we are not ready. Second, tell me where this news came from and I will tell you mine.”
“My guards and sailors spoke to Kazimir in Acropolis. We must continue through Medora, stopping in Agora for resupply if there is no rioting, and reach Acropolis.”
Really? Overnight? There’s something you are hiding from me.
Acacia kept her arms crossed. “And if we don’t reach Acropolis in time? We barely had hope of reaching Medora again. I know Janus decided to stay and raise rebellion there but it doesn’t make sense to turn around.”
“It makes sense when you are Captain. Even if you have to make alliances on the way, it doesn’t hurt to resupply.” Acacia tried hard to restrain herself.
“Just tell me if your orders came from Daphne.”
Marko scratched his beard. “Well, I’m afraid not.” He did not want to be the insane, scurvy-ridden creature of a Captain, but whether or not he told Acacia the truth he feared she would not trust him.
“Well, alright, but I’m sure maybe you haven’t heard of the firebird.” She then took the crimson swirled feather out of her satchel. “Proof!”
“Proof? Tell me about this proof,” he laughed, sounding like a priggish version of Kazimir.
She began slowly, afraid of some trap, but more driven to disprove his doubts. “The firebird came in the middle of the night. He came from the flame. Kazimir is worried, it said. The priestess in training, my friend, does not wish the old ways return to unicorn sacrifices. The high priestess and priests expect of him to capture and kill my creatures whether it’s for war, retribution, healing, or what, I don’t know.”
The sun rose in Marko’s eyes. He urged Acacia away from the campers where they could discuss in the shade. Some of the travelers have already eyed them in suspicion.
Acacia continued in pace. “Does this mean we can still fight the war, for our creatures, if we pass through Phillipi? Then again, I don’t want to go up against the high priests and priestesses, even as High Warrior. It seems proper to return to Acropolis, even home, whether or not we do capture Jan. I should think I should finish my training, or, at least, begin it.”
The thoughtful expression on Marko was a long shot. He rubbed his beard, maybe finding the right words or coming up with a clever retort.
“I should tell you more about the Pass.”
Acacia’s expression grew hard but curious.
“Phillipi was once home to the old capitol castle, said to be the oldest recorded and navigated land in all the land. Nonetheless, it did not last eternity. At least the Old Rulers didn’t, who were seated there. Anyway, the Old Rulers kept their power on low, to a humble secret. But little did they know that their creations that sprang out of mud and dune would exploit them. But, little did they know that once their wilderness had overtaken itself, the creatures would follow their own ways, get in all sorts of their own troubles, and finally, drive the Old Rulers away. One of the famed creatures that led the rebellion was the unicorn. They were told never to fall into the orchard to eat the original fruit that gave birth to all wilderness, all plants, creatures, and things that would spring out o’ the mud. If they did, slowly, they would go extinct. Then, so, the world would go extinct. Ever truly, unicorns are far from the evilest, but most remorseful, yea, by far.”
“Yea, Chiron once told me a story like that. Why didn’t the Old Rulers take charge? Gladly, the unicorns are only remorseful, but why subject them to remorse at all? How cruel.”
“Why, it would be far worse subjecting them to knowledge. You subject someone to knowledge, you subject them to power. You don’t want that kind of responsibility. Is it selfish? Perhaps, but as Captain, I see mayhap the rulers were only protecting their crew. But now you know. This knowledge is sure to bring you happiness whether you brought it on or not.”
“In due time, but first, tell me. What should I expect in Phillipi?”
“Expect the best and the worse. Be careful with explaining to my crew. Be careful, and if you do explain it, careful how you say it. Kirin, ferocious lion-dragons with saber claws and sea monsters and monsters of land, from the depths of the damp earth. Rogue robbers that pretend to be sailors just like us. But that’s as far as my knowledge.” He shrugged.
An instant flashed over the thought of Conrad’s death. The image of his limp body freed of burden from financial expulsion, pale but peaceful, was branded in her. Then his body vanished like her memory, never to be seen again.
I know for sure he has been poisoned. But why? Who could have been after him?
Jason seemed like the obvious answer, but more and more she learned to doubt people.
Daphne flipped her seaweed and shell curls, handing the fruit to Kazimir.
“More are after me. You should protect it.”
“No one is after you but, yes, you are needed,” Kazimir spoke softly.
“Precisely, but my job is to protect this treasure.” She patted Kazimir on the back. Kazimir was so shocked with admiration, he almost dropped his fez.
Did she really mean me? If only Acacia were here to take my place.
This contrast of glorifying emotions, however, brought dim reminders of the past.
Jason only did what his father told him, walking to Ondrea’s plot with the key, to the cellar, to the underground treasury, through the passageway, and finding the secret of Acropolis before Daphne gave him time; but he was repeatedly exiled with his father for repeatedly disobeying Daphne. Acacia’s grandmother, in turn, felt sorry for Jan, but Jan already plotted to take Daphne’s mayoral seat.
Daphne could have given Jason what he wanted, but I never understood her ways. Yet, Daphne could not have turned back to Acropolis to rule. She never had a co-ruler. How stingy her father must have been to force her to marry a demanding elitist like Anton Drought! No wonder she wanted to come to our country! Or was there another king someone had in mind? A Grandfather Drought?
Acacia set forth on Chiron with Circinus in the lead. Andelko swung his arms back and forth, already dreading the walk.
If only I could find a unicorn, but Jan has driven them all away.
Acacia hoped to find the firebird again. She still wasn’t sure if Captain Marko believed her firebird fiasco, but she readily believed his warnings of Phillipi. The silent rush of the forest once again captured Acacia. It spoke to her in indescribable feelings and rustling of branches. She realized that there were countless urchins and varmints no one knew existed and she will never know existed no matter how long she studied at Domain.
It would be a while before the crew said anything. No one would take their eyes outside the forest.
Then, Andelko, fearing the silence, began singing:
“Oh, Hohum, hohum
And a bottle of rum,
It will all be over with the beat of the drum,
With a tonic of spells,
Peace will be released
With the thrum of the bells.”
And the crew toasted, “And a bottle of rum!”
Acacia did not know how to respond, but Andelko romped, “And all that is past does not last!” He tipped over his flask and shrugged to signify that it was empty.
The crew responded in varying amens. Chiron and Circinus snorted in approval. Acacia instead thought about how glad she was to be going toward the perpetual Phillipi instead of invading Siljeca. She no longer held to her decision. Ever since arriving in Siljeca, they kept out of sight and slightly out of earshot, and none of the townspeople bothered them.
I guess if it ever came to invasion, Marko would be there to defend Siljeca.
The crew continued up a winding hill that was bare on top, and she could see farther than any one of Marko’s fleet could sail. The sea was calm and stretched to infinity. She said goodbye to the glittering city she left behind. Siljeca, she decided, would be the place to retire.
The party stopped and admired their last point of respite, but Circinus made them press on. The land lay dark in front of them. Then a rustle came from the underbrush. It sounded like the rustle of the sea waving goodbye, or perhaps a nymph, or commonplace rodent. Yet the rustle was too concentrated and abrasive to be the sea or a small creature.
A unicorn, perhaps?
An arrow fleeted over their heads. It sped closest to Acacia.
“Ambush!” Andelko yelled.
“No, Andelko, you’ll give away”—then another arrow sped out of nowhere.
It came from a different position. This time, it flew with fire. It set blaze to the brush at the other side of the road.
The travelers dropped their packs and ran frantically in all directions. Some ran back to Siljeca. Others stood to fight.
“Shall we fight or defend?” Acacia asked her teacher, the High Sailor, and only one brave enough to hide in the forest and not flee to port.
She thought Andelko was being irrational, but she ran toward the forest to defend him. Acacia careened Chiron toward Andelko. She slipped off Chiron, and then remembered he was too close and had to stay back.
“Chiron, move out! Gather the travelers”—something caught Acacia’s shoulder blade.
She brushed it off to find sticky coating on her hands. Acacia staggered back and crashed into Andelko. Another arrow snagged Andelko and he staggered toward the ground.
Acacia had no time to pluck out the missile that had sailed through her. She could barely move. Instead she reached back with her good hand into her quiver and strained to pull back her bow which she bought in the underground unicorn city. However, the tension in her shoulder did nothing to stop the blood. The arrow barely hit her armor but it hit her skin.
Only two travelers stayed cowering beneath rock or plotting an attack, but the attackers revealed themselves first.
Acacia leaned against Andelko on the ground but the attackers pulled him up. Acacia started to get dizzy so instead of aiming her bow, she stood up between Andelko and the attackers, aiming with her forceful gaze. She could see a red swell flow down Andelko’s leg.
She took out her knife, the same one she used to warn off Andelko in his stupor. She didn’t have to tell Chiron to stagger back. There were three attackers, but only two stood in the open.
The tallest tried to snatch her arm, but she slit his wrist and to no avail. His wrist was covered in a leather cuff, but nonetheless, he stepped back.
She lifted her bow again. “What are you, and who would you like to be? I’d like to save my bow, you skewered piece of skin.”
“We will be whatever you call us if you save us,” spoke the tallest, “then all the more reason for our suspicions.”
“Well, we were just about to leave without harm until this...who hides in the brush?” Acacia asked. “Yes, the last trooper.”
The shorter one forced Andelko back onto the ground, kicking him in the jaw. Andelko lost movement in his mouth, and no more could he defend with words.
The blood did not stop moving down Acacia’s toga-dress, but with one last movement, she shot her bow at the shortest raider. The shot grazed him on the shoulder. It seemed merciless, and the shot, too close, but both attackers ducked and sped back to the forest, perhaps to find the rest of the travelers that cowered away.
She was out of breath. Barely out of Siljeca, and they had their first attack. Acacia told Andelko they should turn around to warn the others. Perhaps the travelers thought it best to warn Marko—if the captain needed warnings.
I wondered for days about our attackers. Did they really intend to harm us? How were they sent? I wondered about them as long as I wandered the brush but Andelko and I pressed ahead. Further fights might lie behind, all of us agreed.