Chapter 32: Trapped Home
Chiron carried Acacia and Kazimir up to Jason’s estate. The chilly early spring, Andelko wasn’t accustomed to, but neither was he to the new land. Acacia thought maybe Andelko’s wonder at this more advanced society would keep him behind, but instead, he looked around remarkably at the sky, trees, and house, more like a child than a complete alien collecting samples. It was as if something reminded Andelko of his belonging, something outside his cave or boat.
Judge Pierce gave Acacia permission to investigate Jason’s estate for evidence of thievery he had been hoarding. The judges of the lands and the Council of Elders collectively gave Acacia permission for a search and seizure with the keys to Jason’s estate but no directions so it was a greater risk, therefore, she brought Kazimir and Andelko along.
Had Judge Pierce been on my side then?
Andelko stood guard outside the gate that posted the entrance to the estate. Acacia and Kazimir stood on the backs of Chiron and Circinus to hobble over the cobblestone wall. The fall to the bottom shot Acacia’s foot and Kazimir’s hand.
Once Acacia and Kazimir had regained their ground, they tiptoed up the winding hill lined with poplars and topiaries. There was no need to run since the Droughts were away. Mrs. and Mr. Drought were moved to a luxury holding cell temporarily for the subpoena.
One-fourth of a mile up, the pair saw pavement lined with benches and hedge and topiary which seemed to grow. On the other side of the hedge, peculiar street lamps shaped like typical Victorian gentlemen with top hats gazed away from the house. The more they receded toward the home, the more numerous they became, and the more they seemed to be gazing at the party.
The pair moved forward, and with every step, every lamp head lit up. The cackle of the sprinkler turned on making Kazimir jump and Acacia gasp. Acacia held onto Kazimir, motioning him to run, dodging sprinklers, and avoiding the gaze of the lamps. They dodged patio furniture, flower beds, and a fountain until they reached a greenhouse. When they reached the greenhouse, Acacia looked around. The lamp heads were oriented in every which direction. The lamp heads were moving with their steps and their heads stopped when they stopped. Some heads were dimmer while others possessed a piercing glow.
It occurred to Acacia these were spies—either they were cameras with a control room or there was someone or some consciousness inside those lamps. Kazimir saw the fear in her eyes and followed her into the greenhouse. The dimly lit solar lacked any life. The pair settled down to catch their breath while Acacia looked for cameras, even ducking to see if the lamp heads turned off through the foggy, grimy glass.
Kazimir peeked timidly out the door. When he figured the lamp heads finally dimmed, he motioned for Acacia. Together they made a dash toward the first steps entering the house. The stoop seemed like the safest spot on the estate. The woods were teeming with gun wielders like Ondrea and anyone willing to enable a search party as long as there were still advocates for the Drought’s. When they thought they were a distance from the lamp posts, Kazimir tested the floorboards and Acacia fiddled with the lock. The court did not offer any of the Alexander’s leverage in searching for the deed whether they called it necessary invasion or necessary entry.
However, Acacia was tired of legal involvement and attention. The Land of Jewels gave her a break but not from much else and it wasn’t paid leave either. She fiddled with the lock some more and opened the first door slightly. A screen door was the next obstacle. She smelled something sulfuric the wider she opened the door. Kazimir came, peeked through the crack in the door. He held open the outer glass door while she pushed the screen.
A wire had already been tripped. At first, she didn’t see the clear fishing wire but followed it so she could draw nearer to the smell. The wire went into a hole in the wall which led to a room. With the key, Acacia tried to rattle the door to the first room but the key only opened the house. As the smell grew stronger, the pair turned around to hear a click. Surely someone hadn’t entered. Andelko would’ve come flapping and ranting with no regard to the strange objects of this world or its spies.
Good thing Andelko is watching the horses but has he been attacked?
Acacia clobbered the door latch but it stuck. They were locked in. Kazimir remembered to bring his scimitar just in case someone snuck in but he figured it also could be used as a way out. He jabbed and stabbed at the hollow door to the room that led to the mysterious smell. If they were locked in, going farther into the maze of rooms was their only puzzle to figure out.
After Kazimir carved a hole in the door, Acacia clamored in and followed the wire which led to a lever--which was attached to a siphon--which pumped a liquid whenever a door swung open. The sulfur smell didn’t aerate. The siphon pumped the clear liquid onto a conductor-type matchbox with a fuse. The lever lifted for one last time, revealing a lit fuse. The flame grew and grew from the wick on the matchbox.
The house could burn down! Any evidence could be destroyed! Any gift from Daphne, destroyed!
“Why would the Drought’s burn down their own legacy with any device?” Acacia demanded.
“Do we really know if this device could burn down the entire house or sections within the hidden deed? Could he really have the sense to make this puzzle that easy, I should say?” he stroked his beardless chin trying to sound casual.
“I don’t know about his sense but I don’t doubt it; I really wish Chiron or Circinus could fit inside this house though. They could stamp this flame out!”
With Acacia’s wish, Kazimir had an idea. He crawled out of the nearly vacant room containing a fireplace and cellophane-covered furniture hoping to find a bucket or tamper and wandered into the kitchen where he rummaged noisily. With every slight and accidental movement of the fishing wire, the clear liquid continued to drip. The lever teetered and creaked. Kazimir found a cooking pot, carefully fit through the new hole he had made in the door (to avoid tripping another alarm or trap) and covered the elongated flame. Over the matchbox, wood splinters and timbers started cracking from the ceiling and landed on the matchbox but Kazimir covered the flame in time. This further gave him the idea to look above the ceiling and find the output and input for the conductor and switch it off. He too decisively slashed the wire with his scimitar but this sent off a whole domino effect of triggers and clamors throughout the entire house. Kazimir’s pupils dilated and Acacia’s heart hammered.
The splinters that had been cracking from above caved in the ceiling completely. The blows flung Acacia sideways and into the furniture, but she landed by hitting her head.
“Kazimir, why did you do that? Andelko is going to leave his post! How will we follow the traps once they’re destroyed! They’re our only clues!”
“Are you sure the battle wasn’t your last test as new ruler! If we can get to the second floor we could still follow the wire!” Acacia was edgy but didn’t like the tone of Kazimir’s voice. It was the decision of chance so Acacia had no choice but to follow Kazimir’s impromptu instructions. They climbed outside Kazimir’s hole, hoping the room didn’t leave any smoke that would signal Andelko to leave his post. The stairs were, however, another slip to watch out for. The wire’s destruction trailed up the stairs. Perhaps there was no end to the wire and it tangled in circles like the cobwebs in the house.
They started following it toward designated chambers with designated areas: bureaus, cases, files, cabinets, drawers, and bookshelves. Kazimir thought he must have flung and filed through every book in the house—still, no hints. They had reached the caved-in room on the second floor and found more books, some with research, others pulp fiction. Acacia recognized one book, stopping Kazimir from flinging everything that consisted of paper on the floor—Stigmas and Honors of Our Nature: War and Unicorn Lore. At first, Kazimir thought it was a book he had to read for philosophy but Acacia remembered reading it all the way through. The edition looked much different—much older, but she remembered more than the cover. The book contained a map.
“We must keep it; I don’t care if it contains the deed. So, what if I lose Domain?” Acacia orated. “I never had it to begin with! But this map contains all the treasured knowledge of the Old World as I could gather after I bought it in the Unicorn City.”
“But what about your dream of reuniting our two homes, Domain and Acropolis?” Kazimir loudly protested, unabashed. “We have risked ourselves, promised the jury, and wrecked a whole home, the home of our old friend for nothing!” Even after this hysteria, Acacia guessed Jason’s actions were less personal to Kazimir than her. His sudden outburst was frightening not because Kazimir was intimidating but because it was outside his usual character, as if he had been hiding something all along.
“Daphne is counting on me—but she was never a good record-keeper (ask my parents) so why should Jason be a better record keeper? Why then, should I be?”
“Jason is too good a record-keeper! He keeps his pencils sharper than mine but he uses the end to stab you, Acacia! He was always too much to the point...too much to the axe...too much to the scimitar.” He let his fire cool down to offer Acacia any last words, and if not, allow himself room for apology.
“Kazimir, now I have an idea. But I’m afraid you have none. You’re too afraid to admit what you can’t know. What could be blunter than his record-keeping? Yes, we have already looked through all the files and cabinets but have we looked at really what’s inside the files and books? For instance, have we looked at a map?”
“Are you saying...it isn’t here?” He hesitated.
“You know I don’t know what I’m saying; only what I’m asking, but maybe the map knows.” Kazimir’s old smile mixed with his incredulous eyes.
Acacia flipped through the pages looking for a map of Acropolis and other cities. If the empire of Domain was once part of the Land of Jewels, as much the myths and histories in Domain’s lessons showed connection, the deed was hidden in the old map on one of the pages in the book. Daphne made it somewhat clear too she wanted Kazimir to find it when she entrusted part of the rights to the deed with him. Although the Land of Jewels seemed separate by dimension, somehow, they were physically connected; therefore, the intersection of the two worlds was reachable. The missing deed could have been on Ondrea’s property as previously thought or contained within the intersection of the two worlds, overlooked like Janus’s very private estate. Either way, they had to be close.
However, the band of burglars reasoned even if they had found the deed on Ondrea’s property before the trial, even the jury wasn’t likely to coalesce with them; in fact, Judge Danika was more likely to side with Acacia than the majority of townspeople who said she left for Daphne and left their town to rot.
And thus, the trial had begun without any clue as to what Daphne really meant by “find the deed.” Had she meant the seal, a magic fruit, or something far vaguer and more metaphorical?
Probably, thought Acacia, but her metaphors usually come with something attached. A journey, a duty, or maybe it is only a metaphor but metaphor sounds too much like a lie.
When they left Jason’s estate, they found Andelko in the same spot and Kazimir showed him Jason’s copy of Unicorn Lore. Acacia tried to convince Andelko to enroll at Domain Private to sniff out more treachery but to no avail. Thankfully he was to attend the fall festival, held by Domain every year in honor of the town’s discovery and thanksgiving, and mercifully, he was to attend the last court hearing. This was the second to final victory and the celebrations needed preparing.
April 22, 2:33 P.M.
Court convened late. Acacia sat in the very back with the jurors, more uncomfortable with early stage fright than the start of questioning. Kazimir’s elders, and even Ara, as foreign witnesses, were shaking. The back seat of a school bus was a pew Acacia always tried to avoid with Kazimir through grade school but the back seat suddenly seemed comforting, where nerves were drained by chatter and warm buzz, and occasional angry outbursts, but none too reproachful. The mutual nerves were strengthening. In fact, Acacia thought she had been too unnervingly calm with Kazimir during his outburst. Judge Danika was the driver and the elders in the back pews were students in the New World.
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander entered in suits and stripes, combed-back hair, and careful attempts to conceal their shoddy and sunken appearance. Mrs. Alexander looked like she hadn’t eaten in weeks and Mr. Alexander was unshaven. Both were fatigued and eaten by their emotions as if moths were swimming in their stomachs.
Acacia and Ara scooted together. The court was probably the last time they would have seen each other, and although they have only met under high circumstance, Acacia felt an instant bond not even out of pity for the persecuted high priestess.
Danika finally knocked her gavel. She knocked more than necessary as if to ensure good fortune. The noise made Acacia flinch but it rapt her out of her mind. Her full attention was on those piercing eyes, full cheeks, and narrow chin. Danika’s voice boomed as if she couldn’t stand to have any less than full attention and leadership her entire life. This might not have been Danika’s final nerve, but the audience was afraid it was their last judgment from their skittish murmurs and agitated growls.
The Alexander parents seemed fitter to sit in the front row. Since Ara was covered in bandages and bruises, the Alexander’s looked the symbol of formality. One of her eyes was swollen shut and her skin was splotchy with red and purple bruises and burns. Acacia and Daphne made sure the Alexander’s had been far enough away from battle, but not so far as the cries were concealed from them. They had been locked in Siljeca’s tower and has escaped. Keeping her parents safe though locked up was the only mutual trade between the council to keep Acacia innocent and Janus locked up stalling the war.
Martyrs had tried stalling the war to no avail. Ara admitted her naïve invincibility and ignorance of the other martyrs. The martyrs worked exclusively so no spies could discover the battle locale or no treason could be suspected.
The court would have trouble separating the events of the other realm and the deeds of Jason and Anton. Jason’s lawyer was most determined to compartmentalize. He wanted to prove first, not Jason’s innocence, but his determination. The lawyer wanted to prove fault, apart from intentions. The Drought’s lawyer constantly fished for interference and motive from the Alexander’s part from losing the church after Daphne’s supposed death to badgering over the embarrassment of their lowered town rank.
Acacia’s mother finally admitted to the family in the pews, including the Fiore’s, “I have been lost since the moment Daphne opened the world to me. The more I know, the less...and yet I know we’ve decided before any influence that we wanted this will kept in the family. I accepted Jason’s generosity until we were well off and had found mother’s documents but he hasn’t just used us...he’s misused us,” Mrs. Alexander scoffed in bewilderment after her own firm deliberation. “Daphne used parts of the will as a test, parts my grandmother couldn’t have mended but must amend to include whoever I want, that being Conrad too, by the wish of my daughter.” Mrs. Alexander looked admiringly over at her daughter.
Silently, Danika asked the Droughts to leave the courtroom after the issued subpoena. Acacia wasn’t anticipating it, no one was—rather, she anticipated prison or heavy fines and rather she would have preferred them for Jason, but she was experiencing mixed feelings and didn’t know whether to think her anticipation was well deserved.
But surely it could be worse after all the lives he’s cost.
Acacia didn’t expect to feel the exhausted and loud disappointment she strained to keep under control as her head thumped into her lap and palms. A subpoena meant more deliberations, more paperwork, and more hearings. Surely magic, traveling, and college didn’t have to be about this?
Before Danika knocked her gavel, either for recess or dismissal, Daphne rose. Acacia buried her head in her hands and lap again. Daphne’s rule-breaking, order-breaking, and structure collapsing personality could cost the court case! This, Acacia had always admired, more so than her conservative parents had shown in their determination to live the quiet life while continuing Daphne’s legacy in hiding from the outside world.
“Danika, do I have permission to speak?” Danika almost gave Daphne the you-are-rightful-queen-and-you-are-technically-above-me-but-somewhat-below-me look of approval.
“You have permission after recess.” She nodded curtly.
“Rise, Daphne,” Danika announced almost as if she were the queen, and as a matter-of-fact, she had been queen of the court. The dust and sun sifted in-between the slats of the blinds and put an unusual spotlight across Daphne’s face.
This gave Daphne warm confidence to speak. “If Acacia, Andelko, and Kazimir, aren’t allowed to give a combined statement I must state one thing: the events at the end of my battle should have determined everything. You and your judges decided to stay out of the blood and stour and...and...that’s fine. I should have kept my family out of the battle.” Danika narrowed her eyes impatiently. “But I’ll have known that the last events capping off the battle have everything to do with this case,” she spoke faster than usual. “I’m trying to say that I gave the seal, what should have been the inheritance if it doesn’t count for the deed; it claims the deed—missing or otherwise—and also, of course, claims the will. No matter where the deed hides. Whether it exists or not. The living flesh of the deed, as we have mentioned, is written.”
“I have overlooked battle with my judges as I have a duty to diplomacy in your region but your laws have been outmoded.” Danika’s charcoal hair and sooty eyeliner gave her a severe appearance as she leaned forward, swooping on Daphne like a falcon, “And your seal means nothing to a will in Domain, although I wish I could change the fact, and let’s keep the legalities on track. This isn’t an election; this isn’t a manipulative scheme to control mayors, is it? I have controlled the Drought’s outburst only so you will have room to conjure up more evidence! Do I look old enough to remember your heyday?”
The jury flipped their heads from judge to queen in an attempt to catch what went wrong and when.
And with this, Daphne boomed in her wise but demure contralto, “I have given up everything all because I was young! Do not tell me what to remember in my heyday.” Acacia tremored. Every line on Grandmother’s cheek creased with rage. Domain slowly seemed to age her again. Suddenly Acacia shot out of the pew. Above her head, she revealed what she had been withholding all along.
She took a breath. Her arms shot up in the air holding a small chest—the velvet-decked box containing the fruit, the seal. “I found it!” She panted.
At her sudden outburst, her cheeks flushed red like they so often did when standing up in front of the class. “I found it!” for no other words less humiliating could say the same.
“This is my deed, my will...I promise...I can settle. I can pay for Domain Private. I—uh—can’t guarantee Jason will ever be in office or—ever be responsible enough for unicorn husbandry,” Chiron and Circinus snorted in succinct agreement behind her head, “but I guarantee I am the rightful executor of my grandmother’s will, if you would just let her sign additional paperwork...have a private meeting with a lawyer, she and I can return home to the jeweled land, I think...after college. Yes...I’ve done some studying here of political science...” she continued ignoring the fact that Danika Pierce also studied political science at Domain. Acacia added gruffly in what she thought was a whisper, “So...uh give us the flipping paperwork.” She pounded her fist by her side, hoping nobody had noticed.
Acacia coughed after her mom gave her a sharp look but the jury and solemn elders did not seem to notice.
One more final trial would decide everything. Jason was brought to final trial and the new mayor was announced, the gypsy queen, Acacia. Acacia, with the devising of bringing the long-torn countries of Domain and Acropolis together, was busy building a renewed empire. She wanted Daphne to take charge of Domain, once more, with Jason sent far into exile with his father. But she couldn’t avoid him since the coronation meant she was mayor of Domain and the Land of Jewels. The coronation meant a long juggling match, especially through college.