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
17. Import Office
The inside of the Import Office was cool, dimly lit by the light coming through the wide windows. The building was surprisingly simple inside given the appearance of the outside. All the walls were lime-washed white, unadorned by paintings, tapestries or other decorations. There was no counter dividing the sole clerk from anyone entering. Instead there were bookshelves full of files and folios filling three quarters of the room. The path through them led straight back to the sole occupant of the office.
Doran Kalivas sat at a single desk towards the back of the room, writing something with fierce determination. He didn’t look up as they entered which gave them a wonderful view of the bald spot on the top of his head. Aravel looked at Doran, cocked his head and then grinned as if he approved somehow. Anwyn had no idea what he found so appealing about the older man.
“Excuse me,” Aravel all but sang as he walked down the narrow aisle between the bookshelves to Doran’s desk. “I need to make an appointment.”
“One moment,” Doran growled. He scribbled several more lines, checked what he’d written and then nodded decisively. “Almost done.”
“No rush,” Aravel said. “Well, not much of one. We think there’s a hurricane coming in but it’s not here yet.”
Doran’s head snapped up to stare at Aravel. Despite the bald spot Doran looked young, maybe twenty-five years old. His beard wasn’t as thick as the man on the docks. Instead of being allowed to grow bushy and uncontrolled, Doran’s beard was carefully trimmed and had been oiled so that it curled perfectly around his chin. The tips of his mustache had grown long enough that Doran had decided to curl them into a perfect little circle at each corner of his mouth.
“A hurricane?” Doran asked, standing up to go look out the window. “There’s no signs.”
“Actually, there are,” Aravel said. “The tide’s much more powerful than normal. It’s going out at a far faster rate than it should. It was bad enough that we had to take a long boat to shore rather than docking normally. Plus the birds are gone. Hadn’t you noticed?”
“Just that it was quiet,” Doran whispered. He frowned. “That’s… not certain.”
“Oh, I know,” Aravel said. “My little sister can hear the Ladies to a degree and they’re fussing over something big. It’s just logical to think that it’s a hurricane. A tidal wave would already be here given how long ago we first noticed the symptoms.”
Anwyn winced as Doran turned to stare at her with a complicated mixture of disdain and awe. He was a couple of inches taller than Aravel and clearly much larger around the middle as he turned back to his desk. The difference in size didn’t appear to bother Aravel at all. He just waited patiently as Doran sat back down, sorted his papers into order and then carefully put them into a plain brown leather folio.
“I should… notify people,” Doran said.
“I quite agree,” Aravel said. “But that wasn’t really why we’re here. I was hoping to make an appointment with Pelagio Mellas. I’m Dana Aravel and we’d like to talk to him about getting a permit to export pickled peppers to Tahirah.”
“Not you people again,” Doran complained.
“Yes, us again,” Aravel laughed. “We’re stubborn. Have to be to live up in Aingeal City. It snows ten months out of the year.”
“I have no idea what that would be like,” Doran said, blinking twice before shaking his head. “There are no appointments available for the next two months.”
“Wonderful!” Aravel exclaimed. “Which days and time are best for him? We’ll arrange to be here whenever he feels is appropriate.”
From Doran’s sour expression Anwyn had to assume that Aravel’s response was the exact opposite of what he’d wanted. He glared at Aravel, shuffling folios and restacking paperwork before huffing. His glare wasn’t at Anwyn or Aravel. It was straight over Anwyn’s shoulder at Iola.
“Will you explain that it’s not possible?” Doran snapped in Archaelaosian.
“No,” Iola replied flatly in Aingealese.
Her stark response startled Doran enough that he turned and looked at Aravel. The response looked completely instinctive in the same way that Anwyn’s scans for women outside had been instinctive. Aravel straightened up, putting on as stern of an expression as he could manage with his genial personality.
“Really, there’s no need to involve the girls,” Aravel huffed at him. “Iola’s here to visit her sick mother. That’s all. Annie’s here to keep me from being roped into an inappropriate marriage. I’m the one you have to talk to. And really, all I want is to set up an appointment with Mellas so that we can discuss exporting the pickled peppers. It should be a very advantageous deal for both sides.”
“He’s very busy,” Doran grumbled.
“I know,” Aravel said. “That’s why I want an appointment with him.”
“I’ll have to consult the schedule,” Doran said, looking off to the left with the shiftiest expression Anwyn had ever seen on a man’s face.
“That’s fine,” Aravel said, smiling brightly. “I’ll wait.”
Anwyn swallowed against the lump that formed in her throat. The tension in the room between Doran’s absolute reluctance to help them and Aravel’s cheerful determination not to give up had her head swimming and her stomach roiling as bad as Caddie’s when he was at sea. She put on hand on a bookshelf, doing her best not to show how horrible she actually felt. Showing weakness right now wasn’t something Anwyn wanted to do.
Unfortunately, Doran’s eyes flicked straight to her as soon as she leaned on the shelf. Anwyn glared at him despite her growing headache, despite her rebellious stomach, despite their mission. There was no way that she was going to let this petty little man see that she felt sick.
“What’s wrong with her?” Doran asked Aravel.
“Well, talking to the Ladies isn’t easy,” Aravel said with a casual shrug. “It tires Annie out and makes her feel ill for a little while.”
“I-ill…” Doran breathed.
He stared at Anwyn again, mouth dropped open to show yellowed teeth that sat crooked in his mouth. This time his eyes held nothing but awe. Anwyn bristled at him, her shoulders rising of their own accord.
“Stop that!” Anwyn ordered. “Stop it right now! I’m not some sort of religious icon you can stare at! Just give us a damned appointment and let us go away, will you?”
Doran snorted. “What do they sound like?”
“The Ladies?” Anwyn asked. She sighed at his suspicious nod, looking around automatically to make sure no one else could hear them. If it got them their appointment then maybe it would be okay. “It’s… hard. The sound of their voices is a lot like swimming while wave dancers are around, the way the water quivers. And their bodies change color, flash lights. That all has meaning, adds to the actual words they speak in the same way our hands add emphasis when we talk.”
She paused, grateful for Iola’s hand on her back and the relative cool of the Import Office. “It’s not the voices that are hard, though. They talk right into your head, sending words and images and thoughts. And…”
Doran had gone perfectly still, his eyes wide and mouth slightly open so that she could just see the crooked tip of his front teeth. Aravel looked equally curious. His expression was sympathetic, concerned and proud all at once, poorly hidden behind his mask of curiosity.
“What?” Doran whispered.
“They love us,” Anwyn whispered because this wasn’t something she’d ever really talked about. “They really do. I mean, they think we’re all children, toddlers, but they do think we’re wonderful precocious kids who have a lot of potential. It bothers them that talking to them makes me so sick. They’re always apologetic about it when they realize what they’ve done. I try not to talk to them, not to listen but they’re worrying so hard about the storm coming in that I keep overhearing it.”
Doran let out a forceful breath that was just a bit too quick to qualify as a sigh. He sat back in his chair, staring at Anwyn for a long moment before turning to Aravel with puzzlement in his eyes. Aravel cocked his head, silently asking what Doran was confused about.
“The scriptures say that the Ladies love us,” Doran admitted, running one finger over his carefully curled mustache, “but they don’t talk about that. About getting sick.”
“It could just be Annie,” Aravel said. “She first talked to the Ladies when she was very young. That could be why.”
“No, it’s something that happens when people can hear and see them clearly,” Anwyn disagreed. “They’ve said so before. I don’t… You really need to tell people about the hurricane. It’s big and it’s going to cause damage if people aren’t warned.”
Doran nodded slowly, standing. He took the stack of folios on his desk and held them to his chest. “Where will you be staying?”
“My father’s house,” Iola said. “Philotheos Decharas, up the hill on Thecha Aesllas.”
“I’ll talk to Mellas, see what he says,” Doran said with a nod that he knew who Iola was talking for. “I don’t… I’m not supposed to allow appointments for outsiders. There are fees to be paid.”
“We’ll pay them,” Aravel said, smiling at him with enough delight that Doran snorted. “Really, that’s not a problem at all. I do think we should let Annie go lie down for a bit but that’s okay. We’ll check back with you before we leave if we don’t hear from you.”
His determined enthusiasm prompted a defeated sigh from Doran. “You never give up, do you?”
“No, we don’t,” Aravel laughed. “If I don’t succeed then one of my uncles will come. And if he fails then a different one and one after that and one after that. You really don’t want to work your way up to my Great-Uncle Jarmon. He’s the oldest man in the family and he hates sea travel anymore. Makes his joints ache. But he will come if he has to. Simpler just to let us get the permit and then negotiate direct with the pepper growers.”
Doran rolled his eyes and shook his head. He flapped one hand at them to get out of his office. Anwyn headed for the door gratefully. Iola kept a firm hand on Anwyn’s back, steadying her enough that she didn’t feel as though she might collapse at any moment. Once outside Anwyn sighed. They really needed chairs or benches on their porches in Archaelaos. Sitting down would have been very nice.
Aravel followed them, accompanied by Doran. He stayed silent as Doran half-bowed to Anwyn and then scurried up the street with his armful of folios. Only after Doran slipped into a building four doors up did Aravel chuckle. His cheerful smile turned into a triumphant smirk that prompted Anwyn to raise an eyebrow at him.
“That went well,” Aravel said. “Which way to your family’s house, Iola?”
“Back a block and then up towards the hills,” Iola said.
“It did?” Anwyn asked. “Really. We still don’t have an appointment or a permit, Ravi.”
“True but he’s conceded that he’ll go talk to Pelagio Mellas about making one,” Aravel said. “That’s progress. Granted, we’ll probably have to come back and pester him some more but the hurricane and your abilities seem to have opened the door for us. Just needs a bit more work and we’ll be good to go.”
Anwyn shook her head at him, immediately regretting it. The world swooped around her as if she was swimming through the air faster than even the swiftest of gulls. She felt Iola grab one elbow while Aravel grabbed the other. Touching them snapped her back into her head, drawing her out of the head of the passing Lady she’d accidentally eavesdropped on.
“This is way worse than normal, Annie,” Aravel said. His grip was gentle but supportive enough that she didn’t fall over. “You don’t usually get sucked into their minds quite so much.”
“I know,” Anwyn complained. “Let’s get further from the ocean, okay? Maybe that will help. I really don’t feel that good right now.”
“This way,” Iola murmured. “Father’s house about a mile from shore. Hopefully that will be far enough.”
Anwyn had no idea if it would. She’d never had this much trouble controlling her ability to talk to the Ladies before. It happened when she wanted it to, not at any other times. But now she seemed to be hearing them whether she intended to or not, seeing things that they saw without any ability to block them out.
It was new and different and Anwyn wished that she knew exactly what had changed to make this happened. They headed up the block, turning right one door before the building that Doran had entered. This alley was even more narrow than the first one but it opened up onto a wide unpaved street covered with fine gravel that looked like it had come from a river somewhere. Instead of simple gray bits of stone, this street had tiny river rocks in all the colors of the rainbow.
Three blocks later the buildings stopped. They walked out into fields that climbed up the side of a steep hill, each one terraced so that the hillside didn’t wash away. Anwyn paused to catch her breath. Even if it was embarrassing to admit that she felt terrible, it would be worse to try and climb that road before she was ready for it.
Ahead of them were hardwood trees with shiny evergreen leaves the size of her head mixed with patches of frothy bamboo that had gone golden over the winter. Neither Iola nor Aravel commented on Anwyn’s delay. Aravel looked around curiously, staring at the tiny shoots coming up out of the ground while Iola just watched Anwyn, silent, patient.
“All right,” Anwyn said. “I think I’m ready for this.”
“I’m not,” Iola sighed. “But we might as well go. Waiting isn’t going to improve things once we get there.”
“So do I admit that you two are sort of flirting at being lovers?” Aravel asked as they started walking again. “Or would that make things worse with your parents?”
Iola made a strangled noise of horror. Anwyn spluttered and blushed so violently that she felt like her face was burning. Neither of their responses dented Aravel’s naughty grin. He laughed, swinging his hands like a little boy who’d just gotten a treat.
“Don’t you dare!” Anwyn hissed at him. “I mean it, Ravi. Just don’t!”
“But Annie,” Aravel protested, his bottom lip quivering with amusement instead of hurt feelings. “The two of you are so cute together!”
He laughed and ran a few paces ahead of them so that Anwyn couldn’t tackle him or smack his arm or anything. Anwyn went after him only to stumble to a slower walk a few paces later. Her stomach just wasn’t going to let her run right now. Behind them Iola laughed quietly. When Anwyn looked her expression wasn’t so nervous or frightened so maybe Aravel’s teasing had done some good.
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