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
“Wow,” Anwyn breathed as she surveyed the damage to the port, “that was really bad. Did the records office survive?”
Both Spyros and Philotheos stared at her with shocked expressions. Granted, they had cause. The hurricane had done a huge amount of damage. The first two streets of buildings at the port were gone. She could see piles of rubble poking out of the wash of water but that was it. The storm surge had washed out the supports for most of the buildings along the water line, shifting them or outright tearing them down. Anwyn wasn’t sure that the destruction was completely over. The skies were still gray and rain still fell in places though it wasn’t the solid downpour that it had been up until last night.
The fields that they’d passed through were a muddy swamp of debris and broken hulls of fishing boats now. It stank of seaweed and dying fish, nearly as badly as the pickled mackerel from Nahal. They’d stopped on the hill leading down to port, not because they wanted to survey the damage, but because the road was gone. It had been washed away by the wind driven rains and waves, leaving only destruction behind.
“You’re more worried about the records rather than the people?” Philotheos asked.
“Not really,” Anwyn said with a shrug. “If there aren’t records of who owns what how are people going to rebuild without getting in big battles?”
Philotheos waved one finger at Anwyn, his mouth open for a moment. Behind him Spyros’ eyes went wide with surprised comprehension. He nodded. Eventually Philotheos sighed and nodded as well.
“Point made,” Philotheos said. “To answer your question, the records were removed and taken to a secure place up in the hills, on a different road. So yes, they’re safe.”
“Good,” Anwyn said. “Next question is how long it’ll take to rebuild the port. This is a disaster.”
“Agreed,” Philotheos said. “Pelagio Mellas’ house should have survived mostly intact. We could go ask him.”
Anwyn groaned. Both Philotheos and Spyros grinned at her. The on and off rain came back again, hitting all of them with splatters of rain drops that quickly turned into a solid downpour. Spyros ignored it. Philotheos sighed and then apparently dismissed it from his mind so Anwyn did the same.
Iola slipped out of the bamboo surrounding them like a ghost, picking her way to Anwyn’s side. Her knees and hands were both muddy, along with a big patch of mud along her left thigh. She looked out over the ruined port with a sad expression.
“All the roads down to port were destroyed,” Iola said. “The back paths through the bamboo are mostly intact though there are a few mud slides in places. People should be able to get around for the most part. I met a couple of guys from the next town up. Their harbor is in better shape, but only because it was much smaller than Athllas Aertha.”
“The Little Bird going to be able to pick us up?” Anwyn asked.
Iola made a face, wobbling one had like a knife balanced on its tip. “Maybe. Depends on when they get here. We might have to scramble out to the tip of the cliff on the point and climb down to the beach there. Getting through this mess doesn’t look very likely anytime soon.”
Anwyn looked out at the destruction and sighed. Philotheos and his people would have a lot of work to do to rebuild their town but maybe it would be better once they were done. After all, they could relocate buildings, move them to safer locations. She snorted, amused at herself. Just like the people back home who persistently built their homes on the spring flood plains, there was no guarantee that Philotheos’ people would have more sense.
The big storm had happened. Someone was sure to decide that they wouldn’t need to worry about it in their lifetimes so why not rebuild exactly where they had been before? She’d seen it happen many times and Anwyn wasn’t even that old. Rather than say anything about that, Anwyn turned to Iola.
“Philotheos suggested going to talk to Mellas about getting out of here,” Anwyn said.
“We don’t need his help to leave,” Iola said so scornfully that Spyros flinched. “He’s an idiot.”
“Iola, that’s hardly polite,” Philotheos scolded her but he had to duck his head for a second to hide a grin when she glared at him. “True, but not polite.”
“An idiot with a broken jaw,” Anwyn said, laughing at the scandalized look Spyros threw her way. “Hey, it’s not the first face-breaking Ravi’s done on this trip. He broke Captain Helene’s face for being rude to him early on the journey.”
Finally, Spyros started smiling even though it was a shy, hesitant smile. He looked over Anwyn and Iola’s shoulders, eyes going wide. When Anwyn turned she saw a group of men pushing their way out of the bamboo forest. They were as muddy as Iola, with disgruntled frowns that were immediately turned on Anwyn. She raised an eyebrow, glancing over at Philotheos who had straightened up to stare back at the men menacingly.
“What are women doing out here?” the shortest, burliest man asked.
“Seeing when we can get off the island,” Anwyn replied. She smirked at the way the man started and stared. “What? You can’t think I’m a native, not with this hair.”
“Women shouldn’t talk,” the man growled at her even though she could see his teeth flash in a grin.
“That’s stupid,” Anwyn drawled as she rolled up onto her toes and hooked her thumbs over her belt. “It’s men that should shut up. Not like they have a lot to offer.”
“Annie,” Iola groaned. “Must you pick a fight? There’s work to be done.”
“He started it,” Anwyn said.
She waved one hand at the shorter man who was visibly grinning at her now. He bounced on his toes as if delighted by Anwyn’s defiance of Archaelaosian convention. The men behind him looked as dismayed as Iola did so he was probably just a frustrated bored brawler like Anwyn.
“Besides, it’s been days since the last fight I got into,” Anwyn said, putting her hand over her chest. “I’ve been good.”
The shorter man started laughing, waving one thick-palmed hand at Anwyn while looking over his shoulder at his friends. “See? I’m right!”
“Right about what?” Anwyn asked.
“He thinks that you’re really a boy who pretends to be a girl,” one of the other men sighed.
Anwyn burst out laughing at that thought, shaking her head at the man. He looked startled and then confused by her response after a second. Iola snorted with amusement as well. It took a minute or so before Anwyn could get her laughter under control. By the point she did the man looked like he was thinking about being offended by her laughter.
“I was just thinking that you’d make a great Dana woman,” Anwyn said, grinning at the way he flushed. “No, really! We’re all short and have bad tempers and get in fights all the time. You’d fit right in. Well, other than the beard. That’s just not something you see in Aingeal. Our men don’t really have beards.”
“It’s not just Aravel?” Philotheos asked, obviously startled.
“No, not at all,” Anwyn said with a shrug. “Our men just don’t really grow beards. I mean, my father has one but it’s just on his chin and a bit of mustache. They really don’t start until middle age, frankly.”
All the men looked utterly dismayed by that. The shorter man raised a hand as if he wanted to stroke his beard protectively but when he saw his muddy hand he put it back down again. He shook his head at Anwyn, still wearing the upset expression.
“That’s an insult,” he said. “That a man would make a good woman.”
“Maybe to you,” Anwyn said, hooking her thumbs over her belt again. “But not to me. It’s one of the highest compliments I can give to say that someone would fit right into my family. We’re traders and brawlers and trouble makers. None of us do well with other people’s expectations.”
The short man’s friends all grinned suddenly. He turned bright red, looking out towards the port but his beard twitched as if he was trying not to grin and laugh out loud. Behind Anwyn, Philotheos started snickering while Spyros just laughed quietly. Even Iola made an amused noise.
The short man shrugged eventually as he looked side-long at Anwyn. “I might know something about that attitude.”
“Something, he says,” one of his friends laughed. “You damn near described him perfectly.”
Anwyn grinned. “So you got a creative way for three people to get out to a ship? Iola thought we could go down a cliff but I’d rather not if I don’t have to. I sprained my ankle not too long ago and I’d rather not risk reinjuring it if possible. I’m Anwyn, by the way.”
“Leander,” the short man said, turning to look squarely at the ruined port. “Well, you’re definitely not going to make it that way. Not unless you’re willing to slog through the mud and debris.”
“Not so much,” Anwyn said, coming over to stand by his side. Iola followed her, standing firmly by Anwyn’s side. “As short as I am I’d probably just sink in and never be found.”
Leander snickered and shook one hand dismissively. “No, you’d just float on top, you’re so little.”
They shared grins that had everything to do with being shorter than average. If there was one thing that Anwyn knew right down to her bones, it was that short people had similar attitudes across every culture she’d ever been to. There was something about having to fight to reach the shelves and always being overlooked and underestimated that made a person develop a defiant attitude about life.
Leander looked over at Spyros who winced and shivered as if afraid that he was about to get hit. His reaction made Anwyn frown. He’d calmed down a lot since Anwyn had suggested the adoption thing but all of that was gone now. She looked at Iola who shrugged, nodding at Leander.
“Leander is Spyros’ older brother,” Iola said. “Second of the five sons.”
“Oh,” Anwyn said. “Huh. Not much of a resemblance.”
“I take after our father,” Leander said, smiling broadly enough that Anwyn could see his teeth through his thick black beard. “Spyros takes after our mom. It’s gotten him bullied a lot.”
“That I could tell,” Anwyn said. “My twin brother’s a lot like that. Always makes me want to crack people’s skulls.”
“Damn right,” Leander grunted, nodding. “People are stupid. Just glad that you made it through the storm all right, Spyros. Mother fussed the whole time, worried that you’d gotten caught out. We kept telling her you had to be over at Philotheos’ but you know how she gets.”
This time when Anwyn glanced over at Spyros he was blushing and smiling instead of wincing and fearful. That was an improvement. It did make her wonder whether or not her adoption idea would work. If Spyros’ mother was that protective she might not be willing to let her youngest son go.
Of course, Anwyn reminded herself a moment later, it was really the father that mattered on Archaelaos. If Spyros’ father was willing then that was probably all that mattered. A mother’s love wouldn’t matter very much here. It felt strange to Anwyn but that was how life worked here.
“What about your father?” Anwyn asked Leander. “Was he worried?”
Leander hummed, absolutely not meeting Anwyn’s eyes. He looked out over the devastated port instead, rocking on his toes. The sheer avoidance in his non-response told Anwyn enough that she didn’t need a proper answer. Behind Leander, the other men looked equally determined not to answer her question. That was a real answer.
“You know,” Leander said, pointing towards the remnants of the pier that Anwyn had sat on to talk to the Ladies, “we could just build a temporary pier to get to that one. It’s the one that’s survived the storm the best.”
“You guys going to be able to dig all this out?” Anwyn asked.
“Yeah, there are dredges,” Leander sighed. “It’ll probably take a couple of years before the port’s back to normal but we can do it.”
Anwyn nodded. “I just hope people are smart. They shouldn’t build right on the water again.”
“You are young,” Leander said, rolling his eyes. “Of course they’ll be stupid. Closest to the water gets the best money from the sailors. So they’ll build in the danger zone again and again. That’s just the way it is. Not like the town leaders will forbid them to do it. That would make too much sense.”
Anwyn nodded even though Iola, Philotheos, Spyros and Leander’s friends all sighed as if they’d heard that particular speech too many times. She pointed at the curve of the bay beyond the port proper. The debris had mostly washed directly into the curve of the bay, shoving itself into the place where the town had been.
Beyond that curve the hills were steeper but still not cliffs like some that they’d passed on the way in. There was a tiny spit of beach that Anwyn could just see from where they stood. It looked like rocky gravel but the hill might be passable if the three of them scrambled down carefully.
“Think we could get down to the shore over there?” Anwyn asked. “Just up at the very edge of the bay. It looks like there’s some beach we could use to land a long boat.”
“…Maybe,” Leander said as he shielded his eyes to see better. “Yeah, that might work. We can take a slog over and look, if you want.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Anwyn said, grinning at him. “Might as well check it out. It could be a temporary place to land shipments that come in, at least until you get the debris here moved out.”
Leander nodded, grinning right back at Anwyn. “Let’s. Still think you’re more of a boy than a girl.”
“Pfft, I still think you’ve got a very womanly attitude about life,” Anwyn said. She stuck her tongue out at Leander when he huffed in offense. “You insult me. I insult you.”
That made Leander and his friends laugh. It seemed to be enough to calm all of them down though Anwyn was very aware of the way Leander and his friends deferred to Iola, acting as though she was too fragile and weak to make the journey without assistance. She blocked them by taking Iola’s assistance at every turn. It really would be nice to get off Archaelaos. Anwyn was almost even ready to deal with Berrach’s crush. Compared to the topsy-turvy way of life on Archaelaos, that would be a simple thing to deal with.
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