When Anwyn heard her best friend cursing over a letter from home, she thought it would be nice to give her a hand. A quick trip to a new country to protect Iola from an unwelcome marriage would be a chance to have fun while doing a good deed.
But the trip revealed plots against the Dana that Anwyn could never have anticipated. The simple trip became a complicated political trial that threatened not just the family’s fortunes but Anwyn’s safety as well. Stopping the Delbhana’s plot might be the hardest thing Anwyn had ever done but failure wasn’t an option.
Storm over Archaelaos is an epic coming of age fantasy set on the matriarchal world of Muirin. People of all ages will enjoy this thrilling adventure.
Storm Over Archaelaos
By Meyari McFarland
“It’s not wise to sail the eastern side of Minoo at this time of year,” Captain Helene declared.
At least she tried to speak firmly. Her face was so swollen that her words came out slurred and muffled. Anwyn did her best not to wince. Truth be told, Captain Helene should still be in bed. Her left eye was so badly swollen that she couldn’t see out of it. The bruising extended all the way to her right eye, enveloping her rather flatter than before nose. The changed in the shape of her face was obvious even with the bandages and swelling. That extended down the left side of her face nearly to her jawline.
Over the last two days the swelling had slowly moved downwards, making her lips puffy and her cheeks swollen, too. Aunt Colleen had ordered Captain Helene to stay in bed the first two days. Now, on the morning of the third day, Captain Helene had snarled and dragged herself out of bed despite Aunt Colleen and Myrna’s exasperation.
“I agree,” Aunt Colleen said with an unrepentant shrug. “Unfortunately we don’t have much choice. The plan is to hit the southern tip of Minoo, go along the east shore and then hit Archaelaos. After that we’ll be heading through the straight to Azar. It’s a risk at this time of year but that can’t be helped.”
Captain Helene sat heavily. Her map table in the captain’s cabin was big and sturdy, bolted to the floor so that it wouldn’t shift during heavy seas. Her chair was bolted down too which was probably good given how hard she landed in it. Anwyn frowned at how hard she was breathing.
They didn’t have anything that would help with the pain Captain Helene had to be in. Anwyn didn’t think that she would take it, anyway. Dealing with the pain and continuing her duties as the Captain seemed to be a point of honor for Captain Helene. As stupid as it was, Anwyn didn’t blame her. She would have done the same thing in Captain Helene’s place and had when she had her broken ankle.
“It’s dangerous,” Captain Helene grumbled, one hand gingerly ghosting over the bandages on her nose.
“It is,” Aunt Colleen agreed. “Unavoidable but dangerous. The stretch between Nasrin and the southern islands of Minoo is where we have the most risk. We’ll head straight for the southern-most island. We can follow the chain of islands from Zemar Spit to Delbar Island, go round the tip of Simin Point and then hug the coastline until it’s time to cut across to Archaelaos. We won’t be too far away from a port if we follow that path.”
“South end of Delbar Island?” Anwyn asked, plotting out the route in her head and trying to remember all the dangers that she’d been told about. It wasn’t one that she’d sailed before. “Are there reefs to worry about?”
“Not until we round Simin Point,” Captain Helene said, tapping the map and tracing her finger along the east side of Minoo. “There are reefs all through here. Which is why I recommend that we take the west coast. It’s safer. Without even considering the hurricanes, it’s safer.”
Aunt Colleen sighed. It was that sigh that the entire family knew, the one that they all did when one of them got the wind up and decided that something had to be done. Anwyn groaned. Captain Helene’s one good eye widened and then clenched shut as she growled, one hand supporting her jaw. Myrna just shook her head sadly.
“What did she insist on?” Captain Helene snapped and then winced.
“You should lie down again,” Aunt Colleen said.
“What?” Captain Helene repeated, glaring as fiercely as possible. Given how swollen her face was it was a pretty impressive frown. “I’m not bunking down until you tell me, Colleen. This trip has already gone from bad to worse. Spit it out.”
This time Aunt Colleen made a face, one hand waving towards home as if they already knew what she was about to say. “Laoise is dealing with more Delbhana plots back home. This whole trip has turned into a counter-plot. I have specific people I need to meet with along the way. And no, I’m not telling you what I’m to say or do. If this works, there’s a good possibility that we’ll get the Delbhana to back off for at least a couple of years.”
“Any possibility of getting Siobhan kicked out of town for good?” Anwyn asked so brightly that even Captain Helene grinned at her.
“Keep dreaming, Annie,” Aunt Colleen chuckled.
“I heard that she’s engaged to Prince Toryn,” Myrna commented.
Anwyn stared at Myrna, horrified. Siobhan marrying the crown prince would be a horror. She had always taken advantage of her family’s power. If she ended up on the throne it was sure to be a disaster for the entire country. Anwyn knew that it would lead to severe restrictions for the Dana Clan and their trading partners. Worse still, Siobhan was sure to target Anwyn and Cadfael personally.
“No?” Anwyn asked. “Not really?”
“I’m afraid so, Annie,” Aunt Colleen said with a gentle pat on her shoulder that was anything but reassuring. “By the time we get home it should already be done. I don’t think that there’s anything to be done about it. Prince Toryn is too closely related to Sinead. If the Delbhana are to keep the throne in their hands they need to marry him off to Siobhan. No one else is the right age, available or appropriate.”
“We’re doomed,” Anwyn whined, dropping her face into her hands.
Myrna’s long, hearty sigh seemed to agree with Anwyn. Neither Aunt Colleen nor Captain Helene said anything one way or the other. Instead Captain Helene tapped the map sharply, the impact of her nail ringing in the quiet room. Anwyn dropped her hands, staring at Badria Peninsula, projecting from the side of Minoo like an unexpected erection.
“We head to Archaelaos here?” Captain Helene asked.
“No, we go all the way up to Giti Island and then cut across,” Aunt Colleen explained, tracing the coastline of Minoo up to the long, narrow outline of Giti before cutting across to Archaelaos’ equally long, narrow shape.”
Myrna groaned. “Through the worst of the reefs? Can’t we hit that on the way back?”
“Unfortunately not,” Aunt Colleen said. “I have… stops to make between Badria and Giti. Several of them.”
She held up both hands to ward off both Captain Helene and Myrna’s glares. Anwyn wished that she’d spent a bit more time with Great-Aunt Gail picking her mind about the seas in this area of the world. No one knew as much as she did about Minoo, Azar and their seas. Dimly, in the back of her mind, Anwyn remembered Great-Aunt Gail telling stories about nearly crashing on the hidden reefs around Badria Peninsula.
“Is this…?” Anwyn paused when the older women glared at her. “Is this where Great-Aunt Gail almost sank that one time? When she was running rum from Aingeal to Una?”
Aunt Colleen groaned. “Yes, it is. But she was in a ship three times this size and she was being chased. We’re not being chased.”
“Yet.” Captain Helene only raised one eyebrow at Aunt Colleen’s glare.
“We’re also not likely to run aground unless we’re idiots and sail through at low tide,” Aunt Colleen continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “There are ports all up the coast. We’ll be fine. And no, we are not going to discuss alternate routes. Remember who owns the damn ship!”
She stomped out of Captain Helene’s office, shoving the door so hard that it banged against the wall. Anwyn grimaced as she followed her aunt. There wasn’t much for her to say to Captain Helene or Myrna and she had a thousand questions for Aunt Colleen.
Outside, the wind had picked up a bit. They still had half an hour or so before they could cast off and head back out to sea. Across the port the Delbhana ship’s crew was busy swabbing the deck and coiling rope. Anwyn had to assume that they were staying in port for another day or two. If they were getting ready to go they’d have been up in the shrouds making sure the sails were ready.
Aunt Colleen hadn’t gone to the bow or, apparently, to their quarters. Anwyn looked around and eventually spotted her up in the crow’s nest with her telescope. Little Flidais was with her, taking notes on a little pad of paper just like the ones Anwyn used to carry when she was training in the warehouse.
“See anything?” Anwyn called as she scrambled up the shrouds towards them.
The crow’s nest was small enough that Anwyn didn’t bother climbing over the rail to join them. She stayed perched on the shrouds, enjoying the quiet swaying of the ship as it shifted with the waves rolling in from the sea.
Gulls cried mournfully overhead, drifting on the breeze only to clip their wings and dive into the water below. On shore, Anwyn could see carts rolling along the streets, men shopping, women running their shops. She smiled. The world always looked better from the crow’s nest.
“Let Captain know that I don’t see any signs of cloud or storm, Flidais,” Aunt Colleen said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Flidais said. “Right away, ma’am.”
She tucked her notebook away in a pocket, grinning as Anwyn shifted to the side so that she could scramble past her. Anwyn swung over the rail, looking at her aunt for a moment. The tension was there, somewhat hidden but visible in the deeper wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. It was a silly thought but Anwyn could almost swear that Aunt Colleen had more gray hair at her temples than she had before they’d set out on this voyage.
“How much trouble are the Delbhana causing?” Anwyn asked so quietly that the words couldn’t carry.
“A lot,” Aunt Colleen replied just as quietly. Her voice barely carried over the sound of the gulls and the breeze in Anwyn’s ears.
“Are they going to shut us down?” Anwyn asked.
“They don’t have the power to do that.” Aunt Colleen snorted. “Not yet, anyway. No, it’s all legal battles and power plays at court. The Delbhana always forget that there’s more to life than court. They forget that the people can rise up.”
“They forget that people care,” Anwyn agreed.
“Whatever you do,” Aunt Colleen said, her eyes dark with worry, “don’t get in any fights, Annie. Protect Ravi and Iola but no brawls this trip. I can spin a web for Ravi punching Helene. She did have it coming and the whole crew agrees on that. I can’t if it’s you.”
“All right,” Anwyn said, her stomach roiling nearly as badly as if she’d just spent an hour talking to the Ladies. “I’ll do my best to be discrete about everything. You want me to, quietly, listen in to the Ladies for anything about storms.”
Aunt Colleen nodded, a lot of the worry fading with that offer. “Tell me privately if you hear anything. Or Ravi. Nobody on board really listens to Ravi’s babbling. Just… no fights.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Anwyn said.
They both looked down as Captain Helene came out of the door to the officer quarters leaning on Myrna’s shoulder. From the pinched expression, bright sunlight wasn’t something she wanted to deal with. Aunt Colleen patted Anwyn’s shoulder before swinging over the rail to climb down the shrouds. Anwyn stayed put.
Instead of paying attention to whatever Aunt Colleen and Captain Helene said, Anwyn stared out to sea. This was the first time she’d gone to sea and not felt as though the troubles from home had been left behind. It was a strange and somewhat scary feeling.
Most of the time, Anwyn felt free when she was on board a ship. Whatever happened at home, you were cut loose once you’d sailed away from shore. No messages, no orders other than the ones you carried with you; there was no contact until you got back home. This trip was different. Instead of leaving everything at home, somehow they’d brought all the politics and worries with them when they left Aingeal Port. Anwyn jerked as a thought occurred to her.
Aunt Colleen was keeping secrets. She wasn’t just keeping them on shore. Even while she was on board she held her tongue. The only reason she had to do that was if one of the crew members, or maybe Captain Helene herself given her horrible treatment of Ravi, was a Delbhana spy.
“By the Morrigan’s Black Hounds,” Anwyn groaned, staring up at the gulls so that no one below could see her expression.
The note Aunt Colleen had given to Pembroke had to be some sort of plot. What sort of plot, Anwyn had no idea, but it had to be a plot. Since the Delbhana were going to carry it back to Aingeal, it might be misdirection or a secret message hidden in invisible ink. Or maybe there was something coded into the message itself.
So many stops along the way wasn’t normal either. Most of the trips Anwyn had been on hadn’t been so intense. You stopped along the way, yes, but only in places where there was a valid business or resupply reason. Risking the reefs past Badria Peninsula made no sense unless it was all for political reasons and none for business ones.
“I hate politics,” Anwyn grumbled as she looked back down at the deck. Captain Helene was on her way back into her quarters, hopefully to rest, while Myrna climbed the stairs to the wheel. Below, in the hold, Anwyn glimpsed Iola for a moment. Her expression was wary and guarded as she slipped back into the shadows under the deck.
Anwyn sighed as she swung over the rail and back onto the shrouds. Like it or not, it looked like this trip would be more a matter of charting a path through the political storm coming their way than arranging a deal in Archaelaos. She’d just have to do her best to follow Aunt Colleen’s instructions while keeping Aravel safe.
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