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
20. Calling the Ladies
It took a few moments for one of the men to run off for her bucket. Anwyn ignored Mellas. He and his group of men were unimportant now. Philotheos was unimportant other than as Iola’s father and someone she probably would be spending a good bit of time around. The only one that mattered to Anwyn was Iola and the rising voices of the Ladies out under the water.
“Are you sure about this?” Iola asked quietly in Aingealese. “Is it necessary?”
“Seems like it,” Anwyn sighed. “Really, that hurricane is huge, Io. They need to understand it and they won’t listen to me. It’s to save people’s lives, right?”
Iola sighed, nodding grimly. “How sick are you going to be?”
“Like Caddie in a gale but worse,” Anwyn said. Her smile was so wry that it was painful. “Can’t be helped. Talking directly to them always makes me ill and I’m already down a couple of notches from the eavesdropping and the rainbow shark. You might have to carry me home.”
That got a snort out of Iola. She nodded, less grimly this time. One of the men, taller with sun-bleached hair and a closely trimmed beard that looked about Iola’s age, came back with her bucket. Apparently Iola knew him because her eyes narrowed enough that Anwyn halfway expected fists to start flying.
She took the bucket and strode out to the end of the closest pier. It was crowded closer in but at the end the slips were empty, leaving Anwyn with a half dozen yards of free space for the Ladies. The men followed along behind her and Iola, gossip rising and falling like the waves washing against the pier.
The water level was far lower than normal. Anwyn could see the normal high water mark on the dark wood of the pier. Below that, barnacles clung to the pilings, exposed as the water crept out to sea. She shook her head. Really, how could they do anything but take the storm seriously? Everything around them shouted that it was going to be horrific.
“Water’s falling,” Anwyn commented. “Birds are gone. Bet if you checked the barometer the pressure would be dropping so fast that it’d scare you. And they think it’s an average storm.”
“It’s only because you’re a woman,” Iola agreed. “This is making my skin crawl, Annie. Hurry up so we can get inland.”
“You got it,” Anwyn said.
Mellas started to say something angry sounding behind them. Anwyn ignored him, sitting on the end of the dock with her feet dangling towards the water a yard below. She let her mind shift outwards towards the voices of the Ladies even though her stomach felt as though it was filled with molten lead.
Light and emotion filled Anwyn’s mind like an ocean wave sucking her down under the surface and dragging her away. There were so many Ladies out there. Not a handful or even a dozen. There were hundreds of Ladies talking together, gossiping, working their strange magic or science or whatever it was they did as they streamed towards the deep water off Archaelaos’ coast.
She could see the city hidden deep under the surface of the ocean, crystalline spires towering over clusters of smaller crystals that formed caves and hollows, streets and squares. It was dark but not really. Light flashed and danced off the Ladies’ skin. It flickered through the crystals. Strange fish swam through the water like birds flying through the air, their bodies translucent and light-filled as well.
“Annie? Annie, can you hear them?”
Iola’s voice seemed to come from a thousand miles away. Anwyn turned and looked at her, struggling with how strange it was that the water didn’t support her body and fill her lungs. She didn’t have enough limbs. The ones she did have were too stiff, much too rigid with the bones that lined her body.
“There are so many,” Anwyn said.
“Try to talk to just one,” Iola said at the same moment the Ladies finally took notice of her in their minds.
“Chaos-daughter!” one of the Ladies closer to land exclaimed.
Several more joined in her excitement, crooning something that felt comforting even though it made Anwyn’s already touchy stomach churn. She could feel them swimming closer so fast that the water churned around them. Iola said something else, head turned so towards Philotheos and Mellas so Anwyn assumed that it was to them instead of her.
None of them mattered. What mattered was the joy of the group of Ladies as they zoomed into the port. They drew the water with them so that it surged up and up until it brushed against Anwyn’s boots. She looked down, smiling when one of the Ladies waved at her under the surface of the water.
It had been long enough since Anwyn saw a Lady face to face that she’d forgotten just how disturbing they really looked. Instead of a human torso with a fish tail as most people thought, the Lady had a huge bulbous head with eyes the size of saucers. Her nose was nearly as big as Anwyn’s head and squishy, flexing with each breath. Instead of a mouth like Anwyn’s, the Lady’s mouth was a round hole filled with tiny needle-like teeth. Below her head dangled tentacles that looked similar in function to a shark’s tentacles but without the long grabbers.
As Anwyn watched the water stilled and smoothed until it was as flat and clear as glass. Mellas said something choked that Anwyn ignored in favor of setting her weight on her feet, on the impossibly hard surface of the water. She stood, smiling as the Ladies laughed underneath her.
“Rare chaos-daughter,” the first Lady chuckled.
“I met some of your people up in Aingeal, in the city there,” Anwyn said as she walked out onto the water with the men’s shouts echoing behind her. “I was very young, only seven. I sang for them and they for me.”
“Ah,” the Lady breathed, eyes widening and needle-like teeth grinding in her mouth. “Dana Anwyn. Known-loved-studied one.”
The other Ladies cooed, approval coming so strongly from them that Anwyn’s head swam for a moment. She looked up towards the horizon at the storm clouds rolling ever closer. Anwyn nodded towards it before looking down at the Ladies once more.
“It’s a big storm,” Anwyn commented.
“Thousand year occurrence!” one of the other Ladies exclaimed with such delight that Anwyn laughed. “Power-study-vacation-joy opportunity is great.”
“You can go deep though,” Anwyn said. “Up here, we can’t. The…” she had to pause because there was no way to say ‘men’ in her mind. “The ones without wombs doubt the intensity of the storm. They would like to see, to know, hear, just how bad it will be. Can you show them?”
It took a moment for the Ladies to parse what she’d said. Anwyn could feel them picking their way through her words for the meaning. ‘Ones without wombs’ took them a very long time to work out. She felt them scan the people watching, somehow reaching through their bodies to discover what a womb was first and then how some humans could be without them.
“Dimorphism!” the Lady who had been so excited by the power of the coming storm exclaimed. “Differentiation of sexual function. Odd.”
“Recorded historically,” another Lady commented dismissively. She felt older to Anwyn as though the excited one was her age while the other was her mother’s age. “Genetic enhancement through sexual reproduction, pair bond emphasis. Irrelevant to situation, study later.”
“No, actually that’s quite relevant,” Anwyn said. She winced as the attention of all the Ladies landed back on her. The nausea increased dramatically when more than one paid attention to her. “Our cultures differ depending on which sexual function is valued. At home wombs are valued. Here, those without wombs are valued. Because I have a womb they won’t listen as strongly as if they would if I didn’t.”
“…deviant development,” the older Lady whispered.
“Well, yeah, I think so, too,” Anwyn said, snorting as she eased her way back to the dock and sat down. “But it works okay for them. I don’t know enough about their culture to know if it’s really messed up or not. I just got here today.”
The Ladies turned to each other, talking amongst themselves. Anwyn felt as though she could breathe again, as if the air was the right thickness and viscosity once more. She sagged, grateful that both Iola and Philotheos caught her and kept her from toppling over. That would have been embarrassing.
“What did they say?” Mellas asked.
“They think male dominated culture is ‘deviant’,” Anwyn said. She snorted at his outraged expression. “Hey, they don’t have males. You can’t be surprised that they’d think a culture dominated by people who are, to them, freaks would be deviant. You feel the same way about female dominated cultures. It’s natural.”
The older Lady swam over and curled one tentacle around the tip of Anwyn’s boot. Philotheos gasped and backed off abruptly, leaving Iola to support Anwyn’s weight. He whispered something so awed that Mellas craned his neck to see. Once he saw it, Mellas started praying loudly. He was joined by all the other men even though they couldn’t see what the Lady had done. The Lady ignored all of them, focusing entirely on Anwyn.
Somehow her touch helped calm Anwyn’s stomach. It was as though the contact screened everyone else out, leaving Anwyn alone in her head with just the one Lady’s mind pressing against her.
“I gotta learn how to do that,” Anwyn said, wagging one finger at the Lady. “That’s enormously helpful.”
The Lady laughed. She did it again, letting Anwyn see how she made a mental screen that wrapped around the two of them, blocking out the input from everyone else. Anwyn nodded slowly as she tried to duplicate the effect, not at all sure that it would work. After all, she was only human and the Lady was a Lady.
“Chaos-daughter skills possess-previous time gifted,” the Lady said, squeezing Anwyn’s toe gently. “Confidence required only, practice improvement over time.”
“Right,” Anwyn said.
She tried it again, this time with a more conviction that it would work. If the Lady said that Anwyn had the ability to do it already then she had the ability to do it already, even if Anwyn hadn’t realized it. This time it seemed to work. Anwyn wrapped the screen around her mind, keeping everything out. The Lady said something approving but all Anwyn got was a faint sense of a smile and clapping hands.
“That was helpful,” Anwyn said as she dropped it. “Very helpful. With so many of you around I’ve been struggling to keep you all out.”
“Apologies given all intent and actual,” the Lady said sadly. “Presence of chaos-daughter not noted previous time. Shielding increase implemented now time forward, duration implicit to chaos-daughter duration time-place current.”
“Thank you,” Anwyn said. She was reasonably certain that was the appropriate response. “About the hurricane?”
“Duration womb-less dominated culture time-place current?” the Lady asked. It wasn’t at all a casual question. The other Ladies looked equally intent but they didn’t say anything that got through the shield around Anwyn and the older Lady.
“Mellas?” Anwyn asked, raising her voice to be heard over the prayers. “How long have men ruled Archaelaos? Roughly.”
“Ah, since our society’s founding almost two thousand years ago,” Mellas said, waving at the men to hush. “That was when we moved to Archaelaos, after the schism with the Church of Azar.”
Anwyn looked back at the Lady whose eyes had gone very wide. Her skin had gone ink-black. It felt like shock to Anwyn, coupled with a little bit of horror. She leaned over, clinging to Iola’s hand so that she wouldn’t topple face first into the hard surface of the water, so that she could gently touch the Lady’s tentacle.
“Are you okay?” Anwyn asked.
“Long duration deviation,” the Lady whispered.
“Yeah,” Anwyn agreed. “Women who don’t fit do get to leave. Iola left. She works with my family now.”
That seemed to reassure the Lady. She looked at Iola who gasped and quivered despite the firm grip she had on Anwyn’s hand and belt. The Lady nodded, letting Anwyn’s foot go. Her tentacle hovered over Anwyn’s foot for a long few seconds. As she waited, the screen keeping the Ladies’ voices out of Anwyn’s head faded.
As soon as the voices got to be too much Anwyn winced and wrapped her own screen around her mind. She didn’t make it thick like the walls of the buildings here. Instead she made it more like a reed fence, blocking the worst out but letting Anwyn hear the Ladies closest to her.
She got a strong sense of approval for that, rather like what the Dana family tutors did when one of the little kids got something exactly right on the first try. Anwyn grinned and shrugged, leaning against Iola’s side. The Lady retreated back under the unnaturally calm surface of the water, waving to Anwyn and Iola.
“They’re leaving?” Mellas asked leaning over Anwyn and Iola to get a better look at the Ladies.
“Don’t think so,” Anwyn said. “Just getting a little room.”
Anwyn didn’t bother looking at Mellas. Her stomach hadn’t revolted utterly yet but Anwyn was pretty sure that once she stopped focusing on the Ladies, once she pushed them entirely out of her mind, she was going to be violently ill. It felt as though the Ladies were somehow suppressing the nausea. That was something that she really would have to figure out how to replicate. Someday when she wasn’t exhausted, hurting and dealing with new languages, cultures and people.
The Ladies formed a circle, stretching their tentacles out like arms so that they could ‘hold hands’. As soon as they did the water above them began the glow. Images slowly drifted upwards, first Archaelaos as if seen by a bird, then the view from the end of the dock where Anwyn stood. Their image showed the entire harbor and the buildings along the shore, the trees and bamboo on the hill behind town.
Then the storm rolled in over the image. Their image of Archaelaos shrank until it was about the size of Anwyn’s thumb. The hurricane was so large that it covered twice the width of the dock with columns of clouds that stretched up into the sky higher than Iola could reach while standing on her tiptoes. Anwyn could see lightning sparking throughout the cloudy image, bright violent bolts that were terrifying in their intensity.
As Mellas cursed in Aingealese, Archaelaosian and Minooan, the image of the island grew until they could see rain and wind battering the buildings. Window shutters were torn off, becoming projectiles that smashed through roofs and embedded in walls. Several roofs were torn off entirely despite their weight. The storm surge went up past the buildings and into the fields behind town, flooding and washing away the tender shoots that were growing there.
The Ladies showed one day, then a dark and terrifying night, a second day that included an eerie calm for the eye of the hurricane, and then another night that was even worse than the previous one. By the time they started the third day in their image it was obvious that the storm was lessening in intensity but the rain still came down in sheets and the wind was as bad as any Anwyn had ever seen. It took until the fourth day for the weather in their image to calm enough that it looked something like normal. By that point the little village looked as though it had been flattened.
“Thank you,” Anwyn called to the Ladies. “Hopefully that will get through to them.”
The Ladies laughed, all of them sending warm feelings of approval and amusement to Anwyn. The younger one who had been so excited darted over to pat the toe of Anwyn’s boot. She darted back, her skin cycling red-yellow-green as she waved goodbye. The others waved as well, their skin showing similar colors if not the same intense brightness.
“Bye,” Anwyn called. “Have fun in the deeps!”
They disappeared under the water, leaving behind a trail of violently churning bubbles. Anwyn smiled, grabbed the bucket and then turned her mental shield into something more like a brick wall.
“That’s that,” Anwyn told Mellas and Philotheos as she wrapped the shield back around her mind. “Do with it what you will.”
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