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
24. Little Bird
“There she is!” Aravel exclaimed.
He pointed out over the bay, bouncing on his toes as the Dana blue sail of the Little Bird appeared billowed and snapped in the wind. The Little Bird looked a bit battered to Anwyn’s eyes but she didn’t have any obvious broken rails or torn sails. They must have made it to a safe enough cove or port before the hurricane hit. Anwyn could see Aunt Colleen on the bow, scanning the shore for the three of them.
Even at this distance Anwyn could see Aunt Colleen’s relief when she spotted Aravel waving wildly from the shore. She sagged, her head sagging as she leaned heavily on the rail. Anwyn grinned despite how shaky she felt. The pure relief of seeing that blue sail had Anwyn’s stomach fluttering and her knees shaking despite all the people around them.
The port was still a disaster, no surprise. Three days wasn’t long enough for much of anything to be done. Anwyn wasn’t sure they’d be able to dig anything out, honestly. The mud and silt that had been washed ashore had dried to the consistency of concrete. Teams of men were working to dig things out but she didn’t see much in the way of progress. Most of the men had grim, determined expressions that made Anwyn worry for them.
Honestly, Anwyn didn’t want to feel bad for them. She wanted to get back on the Little Bird and go home. Yes, they weren’t anywhere near done with this trip yet but Anwyn, for the first time since she started going to sea, wanted nothing more than home and her bunk and Caddie complaining about everything that had happened while she was gone.
“You’re not waving,” Aravel complained to Anwyn. “She’ll worry if she doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Ravi, we’re the only ones in Dana blue,” Anwyn said. She smiled at his frown. “Really, she can see us perfectly well. They’re not that far off shore anymore.”
“It is a good tailwind,” Aravel agreed. “I can’t wait to get back to my knitting. I should have brought it along but I really didn’t expect that Dorcia would be quite that irritating.”
“No one believed me,” Iola murmured behind Anwyn’s left shoulder. “I warned you all.”
Anwyn laughed, looking over her shoulder at Iola. For the first time since they’d arrived Iola’s eyes looked happy instead of dark with worry and frustration. That was a huge relief. It would be good to have Iola back to her normal self again. Aravel laughed and shrugged, swinging his kilts around his ankles by rocking forward and back on his toes.
The move drew the eyes of quite a few of the men. It took Anwyn a moment to realize that it was a vaguely sexual motion. Once she did Anwyn blushed brilliantly and smacked Aravel’s arm to make him stop.
“What?” Aravel asked, pouting at her while rubbing his arm.
“Stop that,” Anwyn complained. “That’s, that’s… that’s indecent!”
Both Iola and Aravel stared at Anwyn. After a second Iola started laughing while Aravel made a delighted squeaking noise before grabbing Anwyn for one of his strangling hugs. He giggled as Anwyn tried to struggle free, petting her hair as if she was years younger than she actually was.
“My little sister is growing up so fast,” Aravel sighed as if he was distressed. His laughter immediately after made the sigh into a complete lie.
“Oh, get off,” Anwyn grumbled at him. “Seriously, they were all staring at you.”
Anwyn had to struggle to get Aravel to let go. He clung to her as tenaciously as a rainbow shark that had caught a seal. Eventually he let go but it took elbowing Aravel in the stomach to do it. She dodged to the other side of Iola once free, determined not to be grabbed like that again.
It didn’t work. Aravel darted after her, laughing. His laughter, as always, seemed to be infectious because the men working on the debris below started laughing too. Iola didn’t do anything more than sigh and push both of them away. Anwyn tried to run down to the beach below even though it was tiny and would trap her even worse but Aravel caught her by the waist and lifted her right off her feet with the force of his hug.
“Ravi!” Anwyn yelled. “Put me down!”
“Not until I get my hug,” Aravel said in Archaelaosian. “I’m owed a hug without elbows to the stomach.”
Laughter erupted behind them. Anwyn started. She hadn’t realized that anyone other than the men below were paying attention to them. When she looked, Mellas was there, smiling despite the horrific bruising on his face, along with Philotheos, Spyros and Leander. A taller man who looked like an older version of Leander was there as well. He had one hand resting heavily on Spyros’ shoulder.
Even at a distance Anwyn could see how white Spyros’ father’s knuckles were. She squirmed until Aravel put her down. Spyros smiled at them but it was a tiny smile that disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. Anwyn straightened up and looked at Philotheos. He sighed so quietly that Anwyn doubted that anyone other than Iola and Aravel noticed it.
“I’m surprised to see you up,” Anwyn said to Mellas. “You look like you’d be better off lying down.”
He sighed and made a vague gesture towards his face and then towards the sea. Or maybe it was towards the Little Bird because his eyes widened into a begging expression that made Anwyn snort.
“Oh no,” Anwyn said. “I’m not staying. I don’t care how much you want me to. I’ve got too much stuff that I want to see in this world to stay on one tiny little island where I’d be treated like a doll instead of a person.”
“She’s coming home with us,” Aravel declared.
He looped his arms around Anwyn’s neck, all but strangling her with the grip. Anwyn tugged at his arms until he let her neck go. Aravel annoyingly rested his hands on Anwyn’s shoulders as if he was determined to haul her away as soon as any of them reached for her but it was better than being choked. Spyros’ father jerked his chin at Anwyn, his thick brows pulled together in a frown.
“You actually understood that?” he asked.
“Well enough,” Anwyn said, trying to shrug Aravel’s hands off her shoulders and failing to Iola’s amusement. “Not hard to understand, really. Begging eyes are obvious and I know Aravel broke Mellas’ jaw because he wanted to keep me here and marry me to his son. Not that I would stand still for that. I’d have to knife someone if they tried it.”
Mellas sighed through his nose, the sound turning into a dispirited whine. It earned him a pat on the shoulder from Philotheos and a sympathetic smile from Spyros’ father but that was about it.
Leander’s smile was a bit brittle, the wrinkles around his eyes saying more about stress and frustration than about amusement. Anwyn’s eyes narrowed as Spyros winced at the strength of the grip on his shoulder. Anger at Spyros’ father for his overbearing nature flared. He didn’t need to be that domineering. Yes, he had the right to do it on Archaelaos but there was no reason for him to all but crush Spyros’ personality.
Anwyn glanced behind her to see how close the long boat was. To her surprise it was only a dozen or so yards from shore. She grinned at Aunt Colleen, standing in the bow of the long boat like she intended to run straight through the surf to get to them, before turning back to Philotheos and the others.
“Thanks for letting us stay with you during the hurricane, Philotheos,” Anwyn said. “Your wife’s awful but you were very kind.”
Philotheos barked a laugh, his stress disappearing into an honestly delighted grin. “You’re quite welcome. I must admit that I’ll be glad to have the lot of you gone. You were quite… disruptive.”
“I’m a daughter of chaos,” Anwyn said proudly enough that Mellas’ eyes wrinkled as if he wanted to grin. “That’s what I do. You,” she said, pointing at Mellas, “learn a little common sense, will you? The last thing you want to do is marry your son off to a woman who literally brings chaos everywhere she goes.”
Mellas shrugged and made an incoherent little noise that made Anwyn think that he’d tried to say something similar to ‘it was worth a try’.
“No, it really wasn’t worth it,” Anwyn said with a sad shake of her head. “Broken jaws are never worth it.”
Mellas nodded ruefully at that, waving at the long boat. He raised one eyebrow as if to ask if they were going to leave right away. Next he gestured towards the tree line with its bent and broken bamboo as if inviting them all back to his house for food or discussion or something.
“No, thank you,” Anwyn said, very aware that Spyros’ father had dropped his hand as he stared back and forth between Mellas and Anwyn for their odd conversation. “We’re not going to go back to your place for food or talk or anything else. Aunt Colleen probably wants us safe back on the ship as quickly as possible.”
“Annie?” Aravel asked.
“That’s actually very disturbing,” Aravel said as he waved at Mellas who didn’t have the grace to look embarrassed or ashamed. “I have no idea what he’s saying.”
“He’s not saying a word,” Anwyn snorted. “He’s just being entirely predictable about wanting to keep us here as long as he can.”
That made Mellas bark a laugh that almost dropped him to his knees. His eyes watered from the pain of jarring his jaw but Philotheos and Spyros’ father both grabbed his elbows, keeping him upright. Leander discretely pushed Spyros closer to Anwyn and Iola as if expecting Spyros to go with them.
It was a thought but not a very good one. Anwyn hadn’t spent much time with Spyros but she had seen enough of him to know that he wouldn’t be comfortable living in Aingeal or any other matriarchal society. What he needed was to live with a family that allowed him to be a quiet, sweet man instead of a bluff, argumentative one.
“Leander,” Anwyn said as she put on her biggest grin, the one that usually preceded her best fights.
“Anwyn,” Leander replied with his version of the same grin. It made his beard bristle so fiercely that his head looked twice as wide.
“You’d still make an incredible Dana,” Anwyn told him, laughing as Spyros’ father choked.
“And you’d still make an incredible boy,” Leander laughed.
They both laughed. If Leander was female Anwyn would have grabbed him for a back slapping hug that was more about wrestling than it was about affection. As it was, neither of them made that move. They just grinned at each other and then shrugged.
Anwyn heard the long boat crunching slide through the surf and into the gravel of the beach. Aunt Colleen said something low-voiced to the women rowing the boat. Behind Leander, Spyros’ father straightened up, already reaching out for Spyros as if he wasn’t about to let Spyros out of his reach for a long time.
“Spy,” Anwyn said, gesturing for him to come closer.
He started at the nickname but stepped closer, then closer still when Anwyn gestured again. “Yes?”
Anwyn caught his shirt, pulling him down. At the same time she went up on her toes and cocked her head just enough that their lips met perfectly. It was awkward, knocking their mouths together so hard that it hurt Anwyn’s lip but it still made Leander gasp with shock. Spyros’ hands landed on Anwyn’s chest, started off and then settled on her hips.
He tried to tug free but Anwyn kept him there until the kiss somehow transmuted from an awkward attempt to intimidate Spyros’ father into a surprisingly good kiss that compared very nicely with the ones Anwyn had gotten from Iola on their way here. Spyros’ lips softened, warmed. His hands squeezed her hips in just the right way to make a fire light in Anwyn’s gut. She chuckled, slowly letting Spyros’ lips go.
“Annie!” Aravel squawked.
“Don’t tell them anything,” Anwyn whispered so quietly that only Spyros could hear her. “I’m serious. Don’t tell them anything at all, especially that father of yours. If you’re associated with chaos it might help you get out of his house and into Philotheos’. Best I can do, I’m afraid.”
Spyros laughed, breathless and shocked. “Ah, thank you.” His eyes were filled with amusement and a surprising degree of understanding of what Anwyn had been going for.
“No!” Aunt Colleen growled as she struggled up the hill to their sides. “Annie, you are not bringing him home with us, damn it!”
“No, no, not that,” Anwyn said, letting Spyros’ shirt go with a little pat against his chest that made him blush brightly, finally. “Just saying goodbye. Spy was nice during the hurricane.”
Aunt Colleen glared so fiercely at Spyros that he skittered backwards and ran into Leander. It was a fierce enough glare that Leander’s eyes were wide and Spyros’ father looked like he was halfway tempted to reach for his weapons. Mellas perked up, attempting to smile despite the mess of bruises and swelling that stood in for a face for him.
“What happened to him?” Aunt Colleen asked. She glared at Anwyn, obviously convinced that it was her fault.
“Me,” Aravel said cheerfully.
“…Ravi broke his face,” Aunt Colleen said after a moment of shocked surprise. “All right. Annie’s kissing boys and Ravi’s getting in fights. The world capsized on me and no one told me about it.”
Anwyn laughed. She winked at Spyros who, surprisingly, laughed and bowed back at her. “Let’s get back to the ship, Aunt Colleen. We got the permit despite the hurricane so we’re good to go.”
Aunt Colleen’s glower turned into a delighted smile. She nodded and then firmly pointed towards the water’s edge, ordering them to go first. Anwyn didn’t argue it. Instead she headed down the hill, scrambling on the wet grass until she reached the gravel below. The men working on cleaning up the debris shouted and waved to Anwyn. She waved back once she was safely in the long boat.
Next was Aravel, carefully holding his kilt and petticoats up so that they wouldn’t get wet. He had his bag of clothes slung over his shoulder. Iola and Aunt Colleen came last. They shoved the long boat back out into the surf, one on either side of the long boat with Iola’s and Anwyn’s bags of clothes in their hands. As soon as the keel of the long boat cleared the gravel Aunt Colleen swung inside. A few paces later Iola followed suit.
The sailors grinned and immediately started rowing for shore despite the men cheering and waving to Anwyn. She waved back, making shooing gestures that they should get back to work. That prompted a wave of laughter and louder cheering that was answered by the shouts of the women on the Little Bird, not that they had any idea why the men were cheering. Anwyn wasn’t sure she knew why they were cheering either.
All through it, Spyros stood on the hill where they’d left him, Leander on one side and Philotheos on the other. His father stood a couple of paces further back, supporting Mellas who even at that distance looked as though he was begging for them to come back with his eyes.
“Thank the Ladies and all the Goddesses we’re out of there,” Anwyn sighed. “I’m so ready to go home.”
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