Chapter 29: Parting with the Enemy
Judge Danika took each judge from every town in for an emergency council.
“We suspect a traitor in her rightful place.” After a long pause and sideways glances, Danika continued, “Acacia is accused of taking from the treasury.”
“How can this ever possibly be when Mother watches over us!” spoke NaidaDoris.
“Yes, perhaps just once, we can suspect Mother?” Borkoborna asked sarcastically.
“Medora’s treasury was first taken but put toward feasting!” Velibor added. “Our weaponry was fed with feasts and spent on feasts. First given, now stolen upon our recent regret!”
Danika attended the masquerade dressed in secrecy the night of the feast. She nodded in solemnity, masking her nostalgia. “Oh, so Velibor, now it is stolen since it’s not going toward frivolity?”
“Danika, Acacia may never return,” NaidaDoris apologized with gravity. “Even Daphne is worried for her. I’ve never seen her worry.”
“Why, of course, she would be worried,” Borkoborna said bluntly, “but we can’t be worried! The only solution is to confront.”
MiricaMirza saddened. “Ah, but we can’t confront unless we have the weaponry, and I say, even if we shall, no weapon can ever confront this.”
“Then I propose we go to Mother, make her our weapon. In agreement, Council?”
“I cannot propose your agreement.”
“We haven’t cast our vote yet, and I must defend myself too—no one can ever gather any evidence if we don’t march to the dome. Mother has been overdue for a sacrifice.”
This outraged Mirza, “Separation of state is in order!” The fellow council members were petrified at her break of silent character. “We don’t have much evidence to go for another move on the playing board!”
“So, is evidence just to come by us? Acacia has been evading far long enough, even since she was last received in Medora,” Velibor spoke coyly.
“Then leave your posts once again, sisters and brothers; I hold mine.”
Danika knocked her gavel. “Then once again—I propose we find evidence. Stay here and guard the empty treasuries, say ‘nay,’ or brave the truth, say ‘aye.’”
Mirza flipped over a table after the consensus of the ultimatum. Secretly she regretted her turn of temper for she may have sooner flipped her vote around. She walked down a winding staircase of the council tower, once again in silence.
Jason arrived at Mother’s dome. Her nest should have been guarded since the happy incident but most villages were too ready preparing for war and too occupied with Jan.
He juggled between the thoughts of whether or not he should allow the Alexander’s into the nest. He prepared them in their short journey with know-how of the serpent-bird and weapons of wine and spells to battle their way in and out.
He struggled the more he juggled in his mind but his struggle strengthened with time when finally, he had to make the easiest decision, the one from the beginning: I let them enter in place of me. The modern weapons may be stolen with Acacia but we’ll be rewarded once Mother is raided clean. It didn’t take much to spy on them.
The Alexander’s found a wheezing noise coming from the tunnels. It took hours waiting outside the dome behind crags before that tortured whistling echoed ever so slightly and by then, the sky blushed a rosy twilight. Carefully they picked the tunnels for weapons they could find and they were tempted by the jewels and coins stolen from pirates to kings. Their imaginations wound in and out of all the treasure and what it could offer Domain: scholarships, advancement of the fishery, and recompense for Daphne’s staged funeral, and more adventures and nicer adventures. However, the Alexander’s and Jason took only what they could load.
Jason thought of all these things but mainly the war effort. What must come first, may it be.
Jason had led Kazimir and the Alexander’s to the den of Mother.
All Kazimir could think was, I hope this doesn’t turn up pointless.
Jason had said, “The Councils of Elders have ordered me into the den. And although I’m in exile, I promise to stop running around. I don’t know whose side they’re on sometimes but we need weapons, right? Not just for attack, but defense.”
Kazimir’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, seems I have to join my recruiters too.” He left out information about where and when he was meeting Acacia; he barely knew himself but as far as he knew, Jason and he were on opposite sides of the battlefield. Although he didn’t even know the full battle plan, the note from Marko, though charred (by being sent from Firebird and escaping the fire moat), was still inscribed with two words: Port Siljeca.
The tunnels leading into the den were still dark and damp but the tunnel careening to the right was lighter. “That’s where Mother must be,” Jason warned.
The drops and drips of the cavernous den matched their slowness of breath and footing. Mr. and Mrs. Alexander clutched each other while Kazimir allowed them to stand in the middle.
It came too quickly before they saw the craning neck; the elegant sculpture of a gooseneck appeared folded on itself with dimming rays shining above it.
The Alexander’s shivered but once they saw the array of straw, gold, and amulets lying before them, they weren’t told what to do.
“Just be careful not to wake her,” Jason cautioned.
Kazimir stood and watched while the Alexander’s picked and worked but he stared into space. Something had been occurring to him.
“Jason, I think I’ve read something about dens.”
“Sorry, Kazimir; I’ve explored all these walls...”
“No—I mean, we aren’t supposed to be here...”
“What do you mean?” He whispered in his ear.
“I mean let’s get out of here because this is sacrifice—priestesses sacrifice here.” He spoke slightly above a whisper as to not disturb Mother but also in case the Alexander’s picked up.
“They won’t sacrifice us! They aren’t here,” he spoke the same.
A slight ruffle of Mother’s feathers revealed Jason’s original intent. As she stirred, Jason ran. He exited the way he came. Jason dropped some picketed treasure but left with just enough offerings.
He dashed out of the tunnels but was careful enough to shout over his shoulder, “Don’t drop everything but leave!”
Kazimir grabbed the Alexander’s and led them out of the tunnels but he never kept his eye off Jason for one millisecond. It wasn’t Mother he was worried about. If Jason sped off too quickly the party would be left as sacrifice, another addition to the treasure. Kazimir caught the tail of Jason’s coat around the corner.
Maybe it wasn’t his original intent to leave us here, but the coward that he is, he wouldn’t even wait for us.
A horrible hissing noise erupted from behind. Mother knew her nest had been rearranged since the moment she went to bed.
Mr. Alexander had barely escaped the nip of the craning goose beak, coming through the tunnels like a snake but dusk greeted them again, and Jason was off again this time on a stallion which seemed to come out of nowhere.
Jason was courteous enough to accidentally leave behind a clue. When Kazimir picked up the fluttering parchment he didn’t recognize it—maybe it’s a wrapper—but it was painted in the most elaborate script, and maybe one he recognized. Kazimir tried to shout after Jan since Jan still might be of use and might find use with the parchment but it was no use since his pipes were exhausted trying to outrun a ginormous gizzard.
However, Kazimir didn’t need Jason’s help, but the help of the victims—the Alexander’s. He showed the calligraphy to Mr. and Mrs. Alexander but the lettering wasn’t Daphne’s.
Urgent Orders from the Firebirds and the Council of Elders:
The Port of Siljeca is sieged. Captain Marko rests in his bunker. We have joined your aide since this is no longer separate from the hearing and in which case the grounds will be held at N 54 degrees, W 30. Every town except Siljeca is ours and Acropolis is a neutral zone. Return our weapons and silver or the High Warrior does so. You will be rewarded.
Kazimir shook his head and quaked in his hands. He couldn’t look at Acacia’s parents.
“He needs to go,” Mr. Alexander started to protest but he stopped him mid-sentence, “No, let him go. It’s just—so many people I thought were on our side, but I guess it’s too late to turn.”
Mrs. Alexander advised, “It’s not our fault. And you’ve read it: Acropolis remains a neutral zone. You have your elders, you may not have Council, but it is easier to deal with a friend or enemy whom we have met.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Kazimir sighed, “As far as neutral zones go, that only means opening for another battleground.”
Mr. Alexander tried to intervene, “Daphne wants what’s best, at least always told us, but Acacia must be wherever we can find those coordinates and we must find her.”
Kazimir patted his astrolabe in the sling around his chest. “I’m equipped to handle the instrumentation but this will be a war of defense. No violence, you hear?”
“Then I guess,” Mr. Alexander thought, “Acacia’s new position will be tested and this defense will determine whether she can rule.”
Kazimir marveled at how the entire Alexander line was behind everything and especially Acacia’s parents and their quiet plans. Kazimir remembered, “Aha, these coordinates must be where Daphne is.” He set down his travel pack and pulled out a map, triangular instruments, and compasses.
What came after from all sides was inevitable—war, an ancient war put away but never forgotten, interfered by foreign invaders but at least acknowledged.
Jason gesticulated the Alexander’s would remain on his side so he left on a boat the next morning with sole pursuit of Acacia, still oblivious of leaving the notice-warning how he received urgent orders from the firebirds and how the elders and council needed him.
The next morning, it could only be guessed he would have his desires in no time so he felt no remorse upon entering the Den. He had had no remorse upon leaving either, but for some reason, answering the letter spoke greater urgency than escaping the hold with treasures. That evening, he shared in no one’s remorse.
The morning after Kazimir and the Alexander’s have crossed acres of wilderness, Jason was already brought to court. Yes, they wanted Jason as an ally to unite the wild and cultivated unicorns but only if the stolen treasury were brought to justice. Acacia was brought to court because she was suspected of tampering with the vestry of Mother’s Den.
When Jason reached the battlegrounds only one elder was present although he expected an entire army. Mirza, clouded in a hood, showed him to a keep and once he tried to fight and nib, she chained him to the wall but released him once she sold him the plan as long as Jason promised to stay in the keep until Acacia arrived. They became allies and prisoners of each other. Acacia, on arrival, wanted to stay and demanded that her parents have time to find her.
“We have been trying to contact your parents for a while,” Judge Danika assuaged but then changed her demeanor. “It’s impossible, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t give me ‘I’m sorry!’ They must be on my tracks! Ask Daphne, ask the firebirds. Ask Milko...I know everyone has been following me this entire time; you don’t need to hide that from me.”
“Milko?” Danika examined. “It’s enough keeping track of you; my search parties can’t hunt you down. As for you, Jason, you did not lead her straight to Domain as I asked; therefore, further reason why you stand trial.”
Jason started to protest.
“Non, non, non, Jason.” Danika tsked. “Acacia has her trial too since she was found leaving the exact coordinates of Mother’s Den after the Port of Siljeca was completely staged in coup d’état.”
After Jason was brought to Council, he suavely tried to convince Mirza that Acacia stole the treasury but she was correct in standing her post and that no evidence was needed.
“I went on a mission to find Acacia’s parents as you’ve instructed. Who told me their whereabouts? Daphne, she led me straight to them,” he glared at Acacia. “And Daphne led me straight to Acacia as I saw her fleeing the den with bags lumped with gold.”
“If that was what it was,” Acacia interrupted. “I had not known the treasuries had been stolen before Andelko had told me and originally I have been opposed to the war but Andelko wanted to return the stolen items. It’s unfortunate that I was captured before I could explain but it seems you are more tied up with me than your belongings! Take them; Andelko and I have other weapons on our side.”
“So, you say you were going to return them but any normal person would have stolen the other offerings,” Jason continued.
“We might have but accepted the offerings given or ungiven except we didn’t have enough room in our packs. A bird attacked us.”
“Is that a confession?” Jason asked Judge Danika.
“And so, I say,” Acacia interrupted both of them, “that you could check them packs. We only took weapons; but whether we intended to take, with elders present, or not, then I have the right to say we needed weapons for more than mere offering. I didn’t know their rightful place. How long have I lived here? Four months?”
“We checked the packs,” Danika interceded. She was about to speak more but Acacia saw Andelko recede grimly back into one of the halls and recesses behind Danika where the judge followed Acacia’s gaze. “Andelko is a thief, Jason and Acacia. We have been trying to catch him for a while. Before I add you to my list, you are an important asset to this war whether you intended to be here or not.”
“I had every intention of being here!” Acacia rose higher with her emotions skyrocketing like pillars of flame. “It is my right. I never had the intention of going to war but I had to escape from all this bull...”
Danika shushed her in sudden empathy. “I had every intention of being here and with the same intentions, believe it or not, but remember your court language, young lady.”
“What I really must confess to you, Judge,” Acacia leaned forward, “is that I didn’t steal the treasury nor did Jason (though I wish it were so). Mother may have taken it. I am told she adores shiny things. And she is given offerings but I am told she likes to wander from the nest despite being seen as an enormous sight of terror. So, I am not blaming Jason, you, the Council of Elders, or the priestesses and priests in the land but a simpleton, rather formidable bird.” She gave a sly nod to Andelko.
With that last statement, Acacia won the first case and Jason once again kept his lies and secrets.