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
The stay at Giti Island had been boring enough for Anwyn that she was grateful to see Archaelaos slowly rising out of the eastern sea. Everyone else on board other than Aravel had gotten drunk, had at least one encounter of thoroughly inappropriate sex or otherwise gotten into trouble. Iola had gotten into a fistfight with Berrach on the second day the left Berrach with a split lip, black eye and bloody nose. Iola ended up with a dislocated rib and a limp from the bruise on her calf but other than that she’d been fully victorious.
Anwyn knew the fight had been over her. Neither Berrach nor Iola would admit it but the looks they gave each other whenever Anwyn was around made it perfectly clear. Berrach glared like she wanted to take Iola’s head off, one hand resting on her sword. Iola had over the last couple of days spent an amazing amount of time visible given that she’d been hiding the rest of the trip. The vast majority of that time had been spent sharpening the knives she kept hidden under her clothes.
As soon as the sailor in the crow’s nest had called ‘land ho’ Iola had reappeared and the posturing had started up again. Anwyn sighed. If her wrist and shoulder didn’t still ache she would have already thumped Berrach just on general principles. The whole situation was irritating to say the least and alarming when Anwyn allowed herself to think about it.
“You going to say anything to them?” Aunt Colleen asked quietly. She grinned at Anwyn’s start of surprise. “You know it’s all about you.”
“First,” Anwyn said, “I’m thirteen, Aunt Colleen. No matter what Berrach thinks I’m nowhere near ready for anything like that. She’s six years older than me, maybe more. I didn’t ask. That’s ridiculous and illegal back home. Second, Iola’s my best friend and has been for years. Everyone knows that. If there’s a choice between the two it’s always going to be Iola. And third, I’m trying to figure out if I should break Berrach’s skull once I’m healed up or let Ravi burst into tears on her. Not sure which would be meaner.”
“Tears,” Aunt Colleen promptly replied. “It’d probably half break her.”
“Hmm, I may talk to Ravi later then,” Anwyn said. “You’ve been as quiet as Iola usually is since Giti Island. What’s up?”
Aunt Colleen sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. She stared out over the sea towards Archaelaos as if she expected pirates to sudden appear to attack them. Anwyn waited. The crew was up in the rigging other than Iola and Captain Helene had abandoned her post behind the wheel to shout at the women in the hold. Only Myrna was at the wheel and Anwyn was pretty sure she couldn’t hear them over the sound of the sails and orders being shouted back and forth up in the shrouds.
“We’re going to have to drop you three off and then come back,” Aunt Colleen murmured, leaning close enough that Anwyn could feel the heat of her body. “I’m close to figuring out the spy on board and we’ve got a surprise commission to carry to Minotappa. It’s a rush, medical supplies.”
Anwyn stared at her, the wind whipping her hair around her cheeks as the Little Bird tacked. The deck shifted under her feet, prompting all three of them to shift automatically to port. Overhead the women’s shouts and cheerful calls became distant and hollow, as if Anwyn heard them through a funnel. Instead the Ladies’ song abruptly filled her ears and mind, full of urgency and planning tinged with anticipation of something that felt like a storm.
Her knees nearly buckled. Aunt Colleen gripped Anwyn’s elbow, holding her up until Anwyn’s legs would hold her. They both glanced towards Myrna but her attention was on the second mate and a line that needed to be hauled tighter.
“What?” Aunt Colleen asked in a low voice.
“A… storm?” Anwyn murmured, gingerly shaking her head. “I think. I think it’s a storm coming in, a big one. Soon, like in a couple of days at most.”
“Lovely,” Aunt Colleen sighed. “You think the three of you will be safe on Archaelaos?”
“Io says her family will put us up while we work the deal,” Anwyn said. She wrapped one hand around the rail, determined not to show any weakness where people could see even if her stomach had started to roil as if they were in a storm already. “If you need to get medicine to people on Minotappa then do it, Aunt Colleen. We’re tough, all three of us. Besides, it’s just paperwork at this point. Permits and permissions and the like. You know how good Ravi is at that sort of thing. I’m along to keep Iola’s mom from being horrible more than anything else. Apparently she’s a horror to deal with, worse than Lady Etain or Siobhan.”
Aunt Colleen laughed. So did Myrna, glancing over her shoulder with bright, amused eyes before yelling at Berrach to get back to work. Anwyn took in a deep breath and let it out slow. The smile on Aunt Colleen’s face was tight so she had to be worried about what Myrna might have overheard too.
“I’ll go let Ravi know that we’ll be on our own for a few days,” Anwyn said.
“Better you than me,” Aunt Colleen said. “I don’t want to be the one to tell him that he has to leave that monster blanket of his behind. I swear it’s twice the size of his bunk now.”
Anwyn snickered and nodded. The last time she’d been in Aravel’s room the supply of yarn had dwindled to a bundle the size of her chest. She still had no idea exactly what he intended to do with it once he was done but it was huge and colorful and it had kept him from getting into trouble flirting with the sailors.
Navigating the stairs down to the main deck was a struggle, not that Anwyn let it show. She headed back into the crew quarters, knocking on Aravel’s door and then slipping inside before he said anything. He looked up from his knitting, frowning when he saw Anwyn’s expression.
“Come lie down,” Aravel ordered. “Seriously, Annie. I thought you weren’t going to talk to the Ladies.”
“Flash of it,” Anwyn said. “Wasn’t deliberate. They were talking loud and I overheard more than I should have.”
She let Aravel tug her down onto his bunk. The blanket was warm, heavily textured with crisscrossing patches of color, under her cheek. He gently ran his fingers over Anwyn’s forehead, soothing the nausea and headache. Anwyn thought she smelled faint traces of pickled mackerel from the blanket but she wasn’t going to say that to Aravel.
“We’re going to be alone on Archaelaos,” Anwyn murmured. Aravel’s fingers paused for a moment before resuming their gentle strokes. “Aunt Colleen’s got an emergency medical supply run to make to Minotappa. She’ll head over there and come right back for us. I think there’s a hurricane inbound so it might be more than a couple of days.”
“Great,” Aravel sighed. “Well, we’ll deal with it. Has Iola calmed down yet?”
“Nope,” Anwyn chuckled, rolling so that she could smirk up at Aravel. “I think you should burst into tears about your darling little sister getting seduced by a much older woman. Berrach won’t back off and I don’t want to piss Captain Helene off by breaking her skull when there’s so much going on.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Aravel exclaimed, his eyes dancing with laughter. “Has my darling little sister finally learned discretion?”
“Don’t push your luck,” Anwyn growled at him.
Aravel cackled. She glared at him only to have Aravel grab her for a hug when she sat up. Anwyn smacked his side but it only made Aravel laugh harder. It took some concerted squirming and grumbles but she managed to get out of the hug eventually. As soon as she was free Aravel put on his most innocent expression, batting his eyes at her.
“I don’t believe a bit of that,” Anwyn snapped at him.
“Yes, but do you feel better?” Aravel asked, dropping the innocent look.
“Then my work here is done!” Aravel exclaimed. “I’ll talk to Berrach before we hit shore or at least once we get back on board depending on Aunt Colleen’s lectures. Give me a hand packing, Annie?”
It took about an hour for Aravel to have all of his things organized properly both in his trunk and in the bag he’d brought. For some reason he’d brought a large satchel along for spare clothes, as if he’d thought that they might have to stay away from the ship. Anwyn had no idea why he would have as the plan had been to stay on board the whole time while they were on Archaelaos.
“Did you expect this?” Anwyn asked once Aravel was done perfectly folding and positioning everything. The long delay had helped calm her stomach and head enormously. “Staying over this way, I mean.”
“Not really, no,” Aravel said. He shrugged. “I expected that I’d need it for presents for everyone. I do have another spare bag for you and Iola to share if you want.”
“Give,” Anwyn sighed. “Doubt Io needs it but I do.”
Packing two pairs of spare underwear, a spare shirt, some socks and a spare shirt took only a few seconds. Anwyn threw in her notes on Archaelaosian and her journal. She’d mostly ignored the journal this trip, not wanting to commit something to paper that might be used against her when they got home. But keeping notes on what she learned of the language and culture of Archaelaos would certainly be useful for whichever of her aunts, sisters or cousins came back so it made sense to bring it.
“We’re almost there,” Iola said, slipping into Anwyn’s room with barely a sound other than her voice. “You ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Anwyn sighed. “Aunt Colleen talk to you?”
“I knew already,” Iola said. She smiled wryly at Anwyn’s stare. “I was there when the doctor all but begged Captain Helene to carry the shipment.”
Archaelaos loomed over the Little Bird when Anwyn stepped outside of the officer quarters. The island was a long tall ridge of mountains and broad valleys that extended beyond sight to the north. There was a smaller island just to the west of Archaelaos that Iola had said was considered holy. No one lived on it.
That seemed a little odd to Anwyn. Both islands were covered by golden bamboo and grass that had turned yellow in the winter’s dry season. Anwyn looked back at the holy island, frowning. It was brown rather than gold with few trees at all. She nudged Iola, jerking her chin at the holy island.
“Does that one have any springs?” Anwyn asked.
“No, none,” Iola said. “The only water comes from storms.”
Anwyn nodded once. That explained it. Iola laughed, shoulder-bumping Anwyn and grinning when Anwyn laughed too. Behind them someone dropped something heavy. When Anwyn turned Berrach was scrambling to pick up a thick coil of rope before its perfect wrap unwound into a tangled mess.
“Berrach!” Captain Helene bellowed. “You’re not here to fuck, woman! Keep your eyes on your duties, not the scenery.”
“Scenery might land on her head sometime soon if she keeps this up,” Anwyn grumbled.
“Please do,” Iola said. She smiled as though Berrach scrambling with the rope was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “I think I’d appreciate seeing your particular methods of problem solving applied to this one.”
“Well, I have been thinking of having Ravi cry at her,” Anwyn said. She grinned as wickedly as possible as Iola’s jaw dropped. “I am trying not to cause trouble, you know. Getting into fights with the crew is trouble.”
“The Morrigan may come again if you behave this wall all the way through the trip, Annie,” Iola snorted. “You aren’t this good at self-control usually.”
“Oh, shut up,” Anwyn grumbled at her, cheeks flaming.
The Little Bird swung around the southern tip of Archaelaos, heading for a port just past the tip of the island. She spotted buildings along the shore and further up among the trees. They were low blocky things with flat roofs and wide windows that had big shutters over them. It didn’t look as though the windows had glass in them but that wouldn’t be a good idea this close to the equator.
Catching cool breezes was far more important this far north. Anwyn was pretty sure that no one here had ever seen snow. They passed a couple of little fishing boats. Everyone in the boats was male. Anwyn stared down at the fishers, a little awed that men could do such hard labor. None of the men back home would have had the endurance or strength to do it.
Once again Anwyn heard the Ladies under the surface of the water but their voices didn’t intrude in the same way as before. It felt like eavesdropping on a conversation between adults, full of discussion that Anwyn couldn’t quite comprehend about something that she’d never been told about. The half-heard conversation once again sounded like storms and waves churning the depths. Anwyn swayed, unable to focus her eyes as she instinctively tried to understand what the distant passing Ladies were saying.
“Focus,” Iola murmured. She poked Anwyn in the ribs, pulling her back from the Ladies voice to reality.
“Sorry,” Anwyn muttered. She shook her head as Aunt Colleen and Aravel came up to join them at the bow.
“Now, I don’t want you seducing the women, Ravi,” Aunt Colleen said. “I know you’re bored on this trip but Archaelaos has some very backwards ideas about who gets to sire women’s children and I won’t have you getting trapped into a marriage to some local girl.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Aravel said so brightly that Anwyn sighed. He couldn’t actually be listening, not when he replied that way and didn’t meet Aunt Colleen’s eyes.
“Dana Aravel!” Aunt Colleen snapped. She grabbed Aravel’s chin, making him look at her. “No seducing the girls. I mean it. We’re going to be gone for several days, maybe a full week. I don’t want to come back and find that you’ve been forced to marry someone, understood?”
“I understand!” Aravel said, blushing violently at the sheer number of people staring at them. All the sailors close to the bow stared at him, even the ones up in the shrouds. “Really, I do, Aunt Colleen. It’s not a big deal. There’s no need for me to do the flirt until someone starts talking thing.”
Aunt Colleen sighed as she turned to Anwyn and Iola. “Keep him out of trouble.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Anwyn said.
“Do my very best,” Iola sighed. “Though he’ll be the one keeping us out of trouble.”
Aravel’s horrified expression was perfectly matched by Aunt Colleen dropping her face into her hands and groaning. The idea was terrifying. Anwyn had spent most of her life following Aravel around and beating down anyone who caused him problems. Switching their roles promised to be a huge disaster, worse than any that had happened so far on the trip.
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