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
18. Iola’s Family
Thecha Aesllas wound through thickets of bamboo that arched over their heads, rustling in the midday breeze. The stalks of bamboo were slender, about the width of Anwyn’s thumb, with a golden cast to the wood that Anwyn wasn’t used to. Between the golden leaves overhead, the brown grass and the trunks of the bamboo trees it felt as though they had walked into a gilded tunnel.
The road was still steep, still covered with fine gravel. Anwyn stuck to the sides of the road where the gravel had sunken into the earth. She had better traction there. Both Iola and Aravel walked in the middle of the road. Aravel’s head swiveled on his neck, taking in everything with a brilliant smile. Iola frowned at every turn of the road. Switchbacks in particular made her growl.
“How far?” Anwyn asked as they paused at the crook of a particularly tight switchback. She had no idea how a horse-drawn cart could make it down this road. It was so steep that she would have been terrified of going off the road and into the steep bamboo forest around them.
“It’s two switchbacks away,” Iola said, her voice coming out much deeper than normal. “The corner coming up and then at the bend of the next one.”
“Your family lives in such a pretty area,” Aravel said. “The bamboo is gorgeous.”
Iola growled at him. She glared at the bamboo as if she thought it would attack them at any moment. Aravel stared at her for a moment before turning to Anwyn with wide eyes. He also took several small nervous steps away from Iola. Up here, surrounded by plants and earth, the sound of the Ladies singing was a faraway thing but it was still there in the back of Anwyn’s mind.
“She didn’t want to come home, you know,” Anwyn said. “I don’t…”
Anwyn paused and rubbed her hands over her face. Just stopping had brought the Ladies voices into focus again. The world wobbled under Anwyn as something bright and excited shot through her mind. Power and tests and laughter mingled with the feeling of being deep in the dark zones away from light while the upper regions of the sea churned overhead.
Two pairs of hands grabbed Anwyn as her legs gave out. She panted, letting Aravel and Iola hold her. It was too much. It really was. She’d never had so many problems with this before but now she couldn’t stop hearing the Ladies no matter what she did. Her stomach roiled, abruptly settling when Anwyn dropped her hands to stare at the golden stalks of bamboo around them.
“Annie?” Aravel whispered.
“Can anyone hear us?” Anwyn asked. Even though she tried the strain was obvious in her voice.
“I doubt anyone is close enough to as long as you don’t yell,” Iola said. “Are you all right?”
“No,” Anwyn said. She smiled as Aravel pulled her into a hug but kept her eyes on Iola’s dark face. “No, I’m not. I can’t stop hearing them. It’s never been like this before and I don’t know what’s changed. They don’t even seem to be aware of me, Io. There’s no reason for it to be this hard!”
“You’re a woman now,” Iola said slowly. “What if your body’s maturation has caused the gift the Ladies gave you to mature, too?”
Anwyn whined. “I hate it when you make this much sense, Io.”
Both Aravel and Iola laughed at that. Neither of them made Anwyn get up right away. Aravel held her until Anwyn felt strong enough to push out of his arms. She still needed Iola’s hand to make it to her feet. Once she was standing she kept her grip on Iola’s hand. It seemed to help ground Anwyn, keeping her mind away from the Ladies and firmly in her own body.
The second switchback opened up on a tiny valley set in the curve of the hillside. Philotheos Decharas’ house sat in the curve of the hillside. It could have been carved out of the hillside itself given how perfectly it fit into the landscape. Small, only one story with the same heavy roof that extended over a wide porch, Iola’s childhood home had a lived-in feel that the buildings down in the port didn’t have.
Instead of pristine walls, the white walls of the house itself had been painted in bright geometric patterns. Someone had done a very bad mural of the Ladies on the end wall that faced up the road. In the space between the curve of the road and the house Philotheos and his wife had created a vegetable garden in raised beds. None of the beds had plants in them yet or perhaps they were too young to show like the shoots they’d seen down at the edge of town. Anwyn wasn’t sure.
“It’s cute,” Aravel exclaimed. “I wasn’t expecting something so small.”
“It’s only Father, Mother and me,” Iola said, still in the too-deep growl. “Only the two of them most of the time unless Spyros actually did come to stay with them.”
“Who’s Spyros?” Aravel asked.
“He was supposed to be my husband,” Iola replied.
Anwyn stared at Iola for long enough that her cheeks went red. Next to them, Aravel made a startled little noise as if he couldn’t comprehend anything like that. Honestly, Anwyn couldn’t either. Iola married to man and settled down in a house that wasn’t right on the ocean made no sense at all.
Iola shook her head at them, squeezing Anwyn’s fingers. The tight set of her mouth discouraged Anwyn from asking any questions about this Spyros. As curious as Anwyn was it really didn’t matter. If he was still a part of Iola’s family’s life then she’d meet him soon enough. Apparently Aravel felt the same way.
He pointed at the house. “Should we go ahead and knock?”
“Might as well,” Iola grumbled. “Can’t believe Mother is still trying to lure me home.”
Anwyn glanced off towards the left, down towards the port. To her surprise there was a gap in the trees that let her see all the way down to the ocean. Off in the distance was a tiny sail in bright Dana blue that had to be the Little Bird. It had already almost disappeared behind the curve of the world.
Disturbingly, there was a smudge of clouds on the horizon. Anwyn stopped and stared at the clouds, prompting both Iola and Aravel to stop and stare too. Iola’s hand clenched around Anwyn’s. Aravel put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing just a hair too hard.
“That’s a big storm,” Aravel whispered.
“No, it’s not a storm,” Iola disagreed. “The clouds extend too far, Ravi. It’s got to be a hurricane. A really big hurricane.”
“They’re so low on the horizon,” Anwyn murmured. She struggled to keep her mind away from the Ladies’ minds, away from their conversation. “Io, it’s going to be a monster storm. Normally they’d be higher. We’re only just seeing the outermost edges of the storm as it curves above the horizon. The rest of it has to be darker and bigger.”
Aravel made a horrified noise. “It’s already bigger than any hurricane I’ve ever seen, Annie.”
Anwyn nodded. She tugged Iola’s hand, drawing her through the raised beds towards Philotheos’ house. There were tiny shoots starting to come up in some of the beds but most were dry earth waiting for the rains to come back. Ravi was practically on her heels, muttering worried sounding incoherent words under his breath.
Iola took a deep breath and knocked soundly on the door. They all jumped as someone male bellowed ‘coming!’ inside. Anwyn could just barely hear two voices through the big windows’ shutters but she couldn’t make out what was said. When the door opened Anwyn automatically took a step back. For some reason she’d expected Iola’s father to look just like her. He didn’t.
“I-Iola!” Philotheos Decharas said, staring at her with stunned amazement. “I can’t believe this. What are you doing home?”
Philotheos was easily six feet tall with graying hair and a distinctly bushy beard that had more gray than black in it. His skin was sun-darkened like Iola’s. It was hard to tell through the beard but Anwyn thought that he beamed at seeing his daughter standing in front of him. He pushed the door open so widely that Anwyn could see into the interior of the house, grabbing Iola for a hug that, surprisingly, made Iola sigh and lean into his arms.
“Mother sent a letter saying that she was very ill, Daddy,” Iola muttered into his shoulder. Her words barely carried to Anwyn’s ears. “I asked Anwyn if I could come and visit and she said sure.”
“Anwyn, eh?” Philotheos said.
His eyes were very intent as he studied Anwyn, taking in not only her pale skin and flaming red hair but also how she swayed and the way Aravel cupped her elbow so that she wouldn’t collapse. When Anwyn raised her chin defiantly, Philotheos’ eyes wrinkled at the corners as if he was suppressing a smile.
“Well, come in,” Philotheos said. “Come in, all of you. Your mother is ill again, Iola. It’s the pneumonia again, but she’s no more or less ill than she’s been several times before. I think she just wanted you to come visit us.”
Iola groaned, rolling her eyes as she stepped back to Anwyn’s side. She caught Anwyn’s other elbow, breathing a tiny laugh at how Anwyn glared at her for the physical support. Philotheos caught the whole exchange. This time he did smile, white teeth flashing behind his bushy beard.
The interior of the house was bright from the sunlight pouring in the windows. Unlike the twisted corridors and small rooms back in Aingeal, Philotheos’ house was nearly one huge room. There were two doors off to the left that probably led to bedrooms. Anwyn could see another door that led out back to what she had to assume was an outdoor kitchen. Everything else inside was open, without walls.
They had a big round table that looked sturdy enough to hold four or five of Anwyn’s aunts as they brawled. The chairs around it, six total, were equally solid. Anwyn suspected that they were imported as they were obviously not made out of bamboo. In fact, the wood looked to be oak which she was pretty sure didn’t grow on Archaelaos.
“Did you get ill on the way here?” Philotheos asked Anwyn politely enough in Aingealese that she only grimaced at him.
“Sort of,” Anwyn said. “I tangled with a rainbow shark off the tip of Minoo. Managed to spear it’s tentacle but it partially dislocated my shoulder, sprained my ankle and I strained my wrist. Not to mention the cracked ribs.”
“Which isn’t at all why she’s so pale now,” Iola said. “Father, there’s a huge hurricane coming in. The clouds are just coming up over the horizon and it’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen here or abroad.”
“How bad?” Philotheos asked, straightening up with enough alarm on his face that Anwyn forced herself to push the Ladies’ voices aside along with her nausea.
Anwyn stood, leading the way back outside. When she pointed at the storm out on the horizon Philotheos frowned. He didn’t seem to immediately realize just how bad it was. Of course, Anwyn wouldn’t have either if she hadn’t had the Ladies talking about how huge it was for ages.
She shook her head, swayed and nearly fell. Both Iola and Philotheos caught her. It made Anwyn growl because she actually needed their support to get her legs back underneath her. By the time she could stand on her own Philotheos looked as though he wanted to shove her into a bed and feed her hot soup or something.
“You’re sure it’s safe to tell him?” Anwyn asked.
“People who can hear the Ladies are worshiped here, Annie,” Iola said. “It’s okay. Father wouldn’t turn you into the Delbhana either way. They’re not popular here.”
“She can hear…?” Philotheos asked, his eyes going so wide that he abruptly looked years younger.
Anwyn nodded. “That’s why I’m so sick right now. Hearing them knocks me flat. They’ve been talking for days about a huge storm coming in and all the things they’re going to learn from it. We told Doran Kalivas about it. He said he’d tell other people.”
Philotheos breathed a little laugh. He shook his head. Even with the bushy beard Anwyn could tell that his expression was wry and not even slightly amused. Aravel hovered behind them, both hands clutched to his chest as if he desperately wanted to pull Anwyn into his arms but didn’t quite dare interrupt them as they talked.
“That was a waste of time,” Philotheos said. “Doran won’t breathe a word to anyone else. He’s terrified of losing his job if he so much as peeps where Pelagio Mellas can hear it.”
“Great,” Anwyn groaned. “Does that mean I have to hike all the way back down the hill to find Mellas myself?”
“I can take you straight to him,” Philotheos said. “We’re not exactly friends but he’ll listen to me on something like this. Especially if you’re willing to do something to show him that you actually can hear the Ladies.”
Anwyn winced at that thought. She could certainly do something. The Ladies always came when she called to them. It would be easy enough for her to call them and ask them to show everyone on Archaelaos just how bad the storm would be. And given how material and protective the Ladies tended to be they’d very likely be happy to explain just how big the storm was.
It would help save lives. There was a good possibility that Philotheos’ introduction now would help Anwyn and Aravel get the appointment they wanted later. By passing Doran would certainly help, especially if he was as bad as Philotheos said. Anwyn sighed and straightened up enough that Philotheos let go. Iola didn’t.
“All right,” Anwyn declared. “Let’s head back down. Ravi, stay here. See about taking care of Io’s mom or cook dinner or something.”
“You’ll make sure she’s okay?” Aravel asked Iola.
“I’ll make sure she gets back here safe, no matter how sick she is afterwards,” Iola told Aravel. “You’ll be perfectly safe inside, Ravi. The kitchen is out back.”
Aravel nodded, relaxing enough that his normal smile came back. Philotheos blinked at how much happier Aravel was at getting to stay but he appeared to shrug it off as Anwyn frowned up at him. He stood a little taller, staring down into Anwyn’s eyes as if he could see just how much this was going to hurt her.
“Let’s go,” Anwyn said. “The sooner everyone knows what’s coming the better they’ll be able to prepare.”
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