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
14. First Blood
“Do we really have to do this?” Anwyn complained.
Three days later and Anwyn finally felt like she might live. According to Iola, Aunt Colleen, Myrna and even Captain Helene her cycle was a little bit worse than most for cramps and bleeding but not substantially so. Aunt Colleen’s horror stories of her sister Bevin passing out because of the pain and that she had bled so much didn’t help at all.
“Yes, we do,” Aunt Colleen chuckled. “I know, I know. You don’t want to but it’s a rite of passage, Annie. Granted you’re young for it, but you’re a woman now. If you’re a fool with some boy on shore you could become a mother now. That’s a big change in your life and you deserve to have some sort of public acknowledgement of it.”
“It couldn’t have been more public if it tried,” Anwyn snarled. “The Goddesses themselves saw me get it!”
Aunt Colleen laughed as she pushed Anwyn out of their room and out onto the deck. No surprise, Aravel was nowhere to be seen. He’d been so hesitant about interacting with Anwyn that she worried about their mission to Archaelaos when she wasn’t cursing at her cramps. It really wasn’t appropriate for him to be there anyway. Men’s lack of cycles meant that they never participated in the old rites of passage. Anwyn had heard of some ceremonies for men and other genders in Chinwendu but she had no idea what they might celebrate.
Of course, she had no idea how they were going to do a proper celebration of womanhood on board the ship, either. They’d pulled out of port the day after Anwyn’s cycle started. The Delbhana warships had followed for a while, long enough that Aunt Colleen had cursed as she went to bed, but the next morning they’d been gone.
“This had better not be too embarrassing,” Anwyn growled as the sailors gathered on the deck and up in the rigging grinned at her. “I’m in the mood for breaking skulls.”
“Trust us,” Myrna laughed, “we all understand that feeling, Annie. Every single one of us has been exactly where you are.”
“Not me!” Flidais called from way up in the shrouds near the fore topsail. “I haven’t!”
“You’re supposed to be keeping Ravi company!” Myrna said, grinning up at Flidais.
“He said he wanted to be alone so I came out here,” Flidais replied with just as big of a grin. “I think he wanted to hide under that big knitted quilt he made so he didn’t have to think about Annie being a grown woman.”
Even Anwyn laughed at that, though her laugh was a little rueful. She would have to talk to Aravel later to make sure he was okay. His squeamishness or whatever it was holding him back was unlike him. Hopefully he’d get over it once Anwyn’s cycle was finally over.
Captain Helene smiled at Anwyn, stiff and formal but almost motherly in her nod of approval to Anwyn. The sheer strangeness of getting a smile out of Captain Helene snapped Anwyn’s spine fully erect and had her swallowing down comments that would absolutely start a fight.
“At home,” Captain Helene said in the booming voice she used to make sure the crew heard their orders, “we would have a great feast to mark Dana Anwyn’s adulthood. Unfortunately, we can’t do that here. We did take on some special goods prior to our departure from Badria for the occasion, though.”
“Oh no,” Anwyn groaned.
Aunt Colleen patted her back, grinning when Anwyn turned to stare at her. The second mate passed a cloth-wrapped bundle to Myrna who ceremoniously untied the string prior to holding it out to Captain Helene. The sheer formality of Captain Helene’s movements as she carefully opened the cloth wrapping had Anwyn’s stomach quivering nearly as badly as if she’d talked to the Ladies.
“The Dana Clan has been sailors since their very first days,” Captain Helene said. “Even before the Dana were a clan, they sailed the seas and built ships.”
“And got in fights and got chased out of ports and got called pirates,” Aunt Colleen agreed just loudly enough that the sailors laughed. She snorted and shrugged at Captain Helene’s glare.
“Few Dana women are truly women of the sea anymore,” Captain Helene continued with a huff of annoyance at the interruption. “In your great-grandmother’s day it was common for a Dana girl to grow up on a ship, get her first cycle on board and even give birth at sea. I don’t recommend that last, by the way.”
“No,” Anwyn whined. “Just no. Not going to do that anytime soon!”
They all laughed though it quickly died as Captain Helene held up a beautifully simple vest made of Dana fabric. It had every sign of Aravel’s sewing work on it, from the slightly crooked stitches to the faintly puckered fabric where the seam curved over the bust. Aravel had never mastered sewing the way Cadfael and Gavin did. Knitting was Aravel’s favorite craft.
All along the collar of the vest where rough stitches that didn’t look a thing like proper sewing. They were red and green, blue and yellow. Bits of thread that formed large hasty ‘x’ shapes combined with uneven stripes slashing down the length of the collar. All the sailors smiled and straightened up as Anwyn took the vest from Captain Helene.
“We all worked on it,” Captain Helene explained more gently than Anwyn had ever heard. “Most of us are not the best at sewing. We can do it. Any sailor must have the skill for sails and repairs. But it is not something we do perfectly.
“Traditionally, a girl who comes of age at sea will spend her life on the sea or near it,” Captain Helene explained slowly, one hand still touching the ornamented collar, her thumb rubbing over one ‘x’ done in white thread. “When I came of age I was sixteen and we were three weeks off Ingeborg. I’ve spent no more than a month on shore ever since and I’ve never regretted it.”
Anwyn stared up at Captain Helene. A gentle sort of humor, wry, self-depreciating, hung in Captain Helene’s twisted smile. Her mostly healed cheekbone made the smile warp oddly but even with that Anwyn didn’t see the hostility she was used to.
“Women are always tied to the sea,” Captain Helene continued so quietly that only Anwyn and Aunt Colleen could hear her. “We share the sea’s tides, follow its moods. It’s our blessing from the Goddesses, our gift from the Ladies. All laughter and teasing aside, Dana Anwyn, be grateful that you have such a tie to the sea. She will always bear you home and take you where you need to be.”
Words stuck in Anwyn’s throat as Captain Helene let the vest go. Anwyn clutched it to her chest, smiling and nodding to the others while cursing inwardly at her unfamiliarly volatile emotions. Myrna’s smile was gentle as she came over with the bundle. This time when Captain Helene turned and took something from it, her eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Every young woman needs a sign after she’s reached her adulthood,” Captain Helene said. “The crew chose this one specifically for you.”
“We thought it was appropriate,” Myrna said, wagging her eyebrows.
“What?” Anwyn asked warily enough that the crew laughed and hooted.
Captain Helene put a small pendant in Anwyn’s hand. She joined in the laughter as Anwyn turned brilliantly red. The little pendant was shaped like a woman’s private parts, carved out of red coral. It was nearly as long as Awnyn’s thumb and far too detailed for her comfort. Anwyn was tempted to throw the damn thing at Myrna but Aunt Colleen plucked it out of her hand and threaded it onto a leather cord that she pulled from a pocket.
“Aunt Colleen!” Anwyn complained as she ceremoniously tied the pendant around Anwyn’s neck.
“It’s appropriate,” Aunt Colleen said, ruffling Anwyn’s hair. “Could be worse. Mine was a pendant carved like a man’s erect penis and testicles. Still have it. Makes my husband laugh every time he sees it.”
“That’s worse,” Anwyn said as she immediately tucked the thing into her shirt.
“When we get to shore at Giti Island,” Captain Helene announced loudly enough that the laughing sailors around them quieted to listen, “we will be spending three days prior to sailing onwards to Archaelaos. Perhaps you can have your first experience there while everyone has leave.”
The delighted cheers of the sailors drowned out Anwyn’s horrified squawk. She wasn’t interested in doing anything of the sort but she didn’t get the chance to say it. Captain Helene stepped back and the sailors surged forward to help Anwyn take off her coat and vest so that she could put the new vest on. In the process of putting her coat back on, no less than four women pulled the pendant back out of her shirt despite Anwyn stuffing it right back in.
“Be glad to be that first,” Berrach whispered as she patted Anwyn’s back only to disappear out into the crowd of sailors.
Flidais had clambered down out of the shrouds to pass out little cups of rum and buns made with the red jelly filling that Minoo cooked to celebrate a girl’s womanhood. Anwyn took her cup of run, swallowing it fast and then holding it out for a refill that Flidais giggled over. The bun was sweet enough that Anwyn thought her teeth were going to fall out. Sips of the rum helped her choke it down.
Anwyn slowly edged her way out of the crowd, dodging three more offers of being first plus two recommendations of good brothels where she could sample being with a man. Setting her back against the wall of the crew quarters helped enormously. Finishing off her second cup of rum helped even more. Warmth spread through Anwyn’s belly, relaxing her enough that she looked at the pendant. It was well made and the crew obviously meant nothing by it but Anwyn couldn’t help but blush as she tucked it back into her shirt.
“Archaelaos doesn’t have anything like this,” Iola murmured as she settled next to Anwyn, a proper meat bun in each hand. “Not sweet. Nice and savory.”
“Thank you,” Anwyn said as she took one. “Do the men have ceremonies like this?”
“Mm, I think so,” Iola said around a bite of her bun. “Women aren’t allowed to attend and men don’t talk about it. It’s considered secret and sacred.”
Anwyn sighed, staring at her bun before taking a bite. It was rich and full of the sort of spicy sauce that made your lips and tongue burn. “…I don’t feel any different.”
“You’re not,” Iola said. She shrugged and smiled that tiny little smile that always made Anwyn’s heart beat faster. “Your body is maturing but you’re still you, Annie. You always will be. The only difference is that if you play with a man now and allow him to penetrate you, there’s a possibility you’ll get pregnant. That’s all.”
The sheer thought of it made Anwyn cringe. Years ago, when both of their legs were broken, Aunt Kennis had told her that there was nothing at all wrong with choosing not to get married to a man. Mother had said the same thing several times, usually after one of Anwyn’s battles with one or another of the neighbor girls. Great-Uncle Jarmon had flatly told Anwyn two months before they left on this trip that he rather expected that she’d end up married to another woman someday.
“I can’t… imagine doing that,” Anwyn admitted. “With a guy, I mean.”
Iola shrugged. “I can’t imagine doing it at all. I’ve never been interested in sex.”
“Really?” Anwyn asked. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought that she might have forced Iola into something she didn’t want.
“Mm-hmm,” Iola said so calmly that Anwyn blushed at her level gaze. “It’s all right, I suppose. I have had sex. I just never feel any attraction to people. The actual experience is generally pleasurable but it’s not one I seek out. You’re fine, Annie. Quit fussing and eat your bun. There’s years before you’ll need to settle down. Enjoy the trip and do what needs to be done.”
One of the oldest sailors started singing up by the bow. It was an old sea chantey about a woman’s tie to the sea, each verse ending with a bit about a woman’s moods being like a storm. Anwyn sighed, letting her head thump back against the wall. Iola chuckled.
“How long before my moods go back to normal?” Anwyn asked.
“A few days,” Iola said. “I usually feel myself again about three or four days in. The real question is how often you’ll have your cycles. I have them about four times a year but I work harder thank you do and eat less. At home a well fed woman can have her cycles every twenty-eight to thirty days.”
Anwyn stared at her, whining in horror. Around them the sailors sang. A couple of women, Berrach included, started dancing. Their heels pounded against the deck like drum beats to match the little flute that Flidais pulled out. Iola grinned suddenly, laughing so quietly that it was nothing more than her shoulders shaking.
“You’ll survive, Annie,” Iola laughed. “You’ll survive. We all do.”
“I’m not sure I want to if it happens that often,” Anwyn complained.
She took a big bite of her bun, glaring at the dancing, singing, laughing women. Rite of passage or not, Anwyn would have preferred not to have started her cycles at all. It was just one more thing on this trip that pushed her past what she knew and was comfortable with.
Iola shrugged, her dark eyes amused. She turned back to the crowd, one toe tapping against the deck as she slowly ate her bun. Anwyn watched Iola’s jaw as she chewed. Even though Iola was the same, it felt like everything had changed between them. The whole world had changed somehow over the last few weeks.
The certainty and clarity that Anwyn had felt when she proposed this trip had dissolved into worries, confusion and physical changes that Anwyn wasn’t at all sure she could deal with. Unfortunately, it seemed like the only way to handle it all was to forge straight through like a long boat powering through the surf to get out to sea.
At least she had Iola at her side and Ravi and Aunt Colleen at her back. Anwyn was pretty sure that she could make it through everything that came her way as long as she didn’t have to do it alone.
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