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
28. Reporting In
The walk back towards the port was tense. Anwyn could feel her shoulders tightening as they moved from the narrow streets of the high streets down into the wider ones that lead towards the market. Whenever the streets widened the women guarding them shifted position so that by the time they turned one block before the market onto the broad street that led straight to the port Anwyn and Aravel were completely surrounded.
“This really is very kind of you,” Aravel chattered as they walked. His eyes were wide at the way the other women on the street got out of their way. “I truly appreciate it.”
“You bought two years of yarn production,” the shop keeper said with a chuckle. “The yarn is very precious, as expensive as Chinwenduese silk, the sort that shifts colors when it moves. One skein of yarn generally sells for as much as a bolt of the silk.”
Aravel gasped and stumbled so badly that both Anwyn and the shop keeper caught his elbows. He babbled something that mixed all the languages that he knew. Anwyn chuckled and patted Aravel’s back.
“We’re traders,” Anwyn told the shop keeper. “We know how much that’s really worth.”
“I am going to make the most beautifully worked and exquisite shawls ever out of this yarn,” Aravel whispered. “They’re going to be wedding presents for the next decade. Blessed Goddesses, I had no idea that the yarn was that special! I just wanted something to knit.”
“Wedding presents would be quite appropriate,” the shop keeper chuckled. “Many of our men use the yarn thus. It is also frequently used for gifts to the Goddesses.”
Aravel nodded as if he was seriously considering that too. He clutched the bundle of yarn to his chest, looking as though he was ready to fight to the death for his surprisingly precious yarn. If the shop keeper was telling the truth, which Anwyn thought she probably was since money had already changed hands, Aravel’s yarn might be the most precious thing that they bought on the whole journey.
The street ended at the waterfront. The women looked to Anwyn so she pointed at the Little Bird up at the end of the second pier. Anwyn wasn’t at all surprised to see that there was a Delbhana ship in port now. It looked as though they had to have arrived less than an hour after the Little Bird because it was sedately tied up, sails furled and crew absent. Suspiciously, it was docked right next to the Little Bird.
“That’s odd,” Aravel murmured when he spotted the Delbhana ship.
“No kidding,” Anwyn agreed.
“Why?” the shop keeper asked. “What is?”
“No harbor mistress worth her salt ever docks Dana ships next to Delbhana ones,” Anwyn explained. “It’s a sure invitation to brawls in the streets.”
The shop keeper’s eyes narrowed at that bit of news. She squared her shoulders, gesturing for her women to take them up the dock. Her friends or sisters, whatever they were, put on the sort of swagger that promised death and destruction to anyone who got in their way.
Every single sailor on the waterfront scrambled to get out of the way. By the time they marched up to the Little Bird’s gangplank, the harbor mistress arrived at a dead run. Surprisingly given her weight, she was sweaty and disheveled but not out of breath. Aunt Colleen was on her heels, cursing as she ran up.
“Anwyn, what in the Morrigan’s Name did you do?” Aunt Colleen bellowed.
“Wasn’t me,” Anwyn said with a shrug. “Ravi was so desperate for yarn that he bought two years’ worth of wool from the high mountain goats. The shop keeper decided to make sure that his purchase made it back to the ship.”
“Two… years?” Aunt Colleen gasped. She staggered and had to brace herself on one of the tie-off pilings. “Blessed Ragna, Tahira and Chin, Ravi!”
“Well,” Aravel whined, his bundle of yarn clutched to his chest, “I ran out of yarn and it’s beautiful and I didn’t spend my money on anything else. I’m going to make wedding presents out of it.”
The local sailors listening in from their ships and the dock all nodded as if that was a perfectly appropriate thing for Aravel to do. Even the harbor mistress looked as though she thought it was right and proper that they get an armed guard back to the ship. The women on duty on the Delbhana ship, though, glowered as if they thought it was obnoxious and inappropriate. There were far too many of them still on board for a proper visit to port.
“If you return to Azar and want more yarn in the future,” the shop keeper said to Aravel even though her eyes glanced over at Anwyn first, “come find my shop again. I would be glad to sell you more, little one.”
“Thank you!” Aravel said, his good mood instantly restored. “I hope that Gizem’s baby thrives.”
That made the shop keeper’s eyes wrinkle into a grin that didn’t spread down to her lips. She bowed, gesturing for her women to move aside so that Anwyn and Aravel could climb the gangplank. Aravel bowed so of course Anwyn did, too. She immediately shooed Aravel up the gangplank and onto the ship where Captain Helene stood with Flidais firmly by her side.
“Into the cabin with you,” Anwyn ordered. “Get that yarn somewhere safe, will you?”
Behind her the shop keeper laughed. Fortunately, she didn’t breathe a word about the escort really being prompted by Berrach’s pedophilia. Instead she bowed to Aunt Colleen and then swaggered back up the dock with her warrior friends/family escorting her as if she was a queen.
As soon as they were past Aunt Colleen hurried up the gangplank with the harbor mistress on her heels. They followed Anwyn and Aravel into his cabin, Aunt Colleen firmly shutting the door. She stared as Aravel reverently unwrapped his yarn, cooing as he stacked it by color on his bunk. The harbor mistress tapped her forehead three times, whispering little prayers that Anwyn only realized had to do with begging the Goddesses for similar wealth because of her new gift.
“He really spent that much money,” Aunt Colleen sighed.
“Well, the bargaining got cut short,” Anwyn said. “They’d been at it for about an hour and a half when I spotted Berrach walk by the end of the block with a Delbhana officer.”
“Which was a terrible pity because I’m pretty sure I could have bargained him into giving me a better price, Annie,” Aravel said. “The escort was more for Annie than me, frankly. The shop keeper didn’t like the thought of a child molester in her neighborhood. I think she had her relatives start hunting for Berrach and the Delbhana after we left.”
“We need her alive,” Aunt Colleen growled.
Aravel shrugged, completely unrepentant. When Aunt Colleen turned to glare at her Anwyn winced. There really wasn’t anything they could do about it now. Berrach would make it back to the ship or not. She was well and truly in the Goddess’ hands now.
The harbor mistress frowned at Anwyn. “You are certain that it was a Delbhana sailor with her?”
“Very,” Anwyn said. “They walked by not ten feet from me. I think the only reason they didn’t see me was that the alley was dark and I was sitting on the doorstep. It’s hot up in that district of town.”
“True,” the harbor mistress laughed, surprised. “And you are certain that she has molested children.”
“She tried to seduce me,” Anwyn said. “I’m thirteen. I got my first cycle barely fifteen days ago. And she did seduce our cabin girl. I can have her come in if you want but she’s… She’s trying to pretend that she’s fine, that nothing worth notice happened. Flidais is only eleven.”
Aunt Colleen glared at Anwyn when she mentioned Flidais’ age. It made the harbor mistress stiffen as her hands curled into pudgy claws. The run hadn’t made her breath catch but Anwyn’s words did. She shut her eyes, lips moving as she cursed or prayed or recited some mantra under her breath.
When she opened her eyes again there was death in them. Anwyn shivered and shifted up onto her toes even though she didn’t think that the harbor mistress was angry at her. Aunt Colleen reacted the same way, as did Aravel. His hand eased towards the hidden knife that Anwyn knew he usually kept strapped to his thigh under his kilt.
“You will be very lucky if she makes it back to the ship,” the harbor mistress said in the mildest, most threatening tone of voice that Anwyn had ever heard.
“I need her alive,” Aunt Colleen repeated. “If she dies before we get to at least Nasrin then Anwyn is the one who’ll die. Our clan might fall, too.”
“We can’t afford to have your clan fall,” the harbor mistress snapped. “Your family ships most of our goods in an out of port.”
“Exactly,” Aunt Colleen said sarcastically. “I need her alive to foil the Delbhana plot.”
“Is there anything inappropriate up in that area?” Anwyn asked. Both Aunt Colleen and the harbor mistress bristled at her. “Really. Brothels or gambling or something like that? None of the sailors are supposed to indulge in things like that. They’re actually supposed to stay close to the waterfront. Berrach shouldn’t have been up there in the first place.”
“Unless she was looking for you, Annie,” Aravel said.
Anwyn drew breath to huff at him for stating the obvious when Anwyn was trying to lay a trap that would pull Berrach even deeper into trouble but shouting echoed over the water outside. Aunt Colleen and the harbor mistress exchanged looks before running out on deck. Anwyn waved for Aravel to stay with his yarn. He nodded, going to the porthole to see if he could see what was going on from safety.
Outside, the entire waterfront was in chaos. High country women were shoving sailors back towards their ships. The Little Bird’s crew was among them, as were the Delbhana crew. Even local sailors were being chased out of the bars and restaurants along the waterfront and herded towards their ships.
The harbor mistress stomped down the gangplank furiously. She shoved her way through the crowd, sending sailors flying into the water twice when they didn’t get out of her way quickly enough. Even at that distance Anwyn could hear her shout at the high country women.
“Chin and Ragna curse your soul!” the harbor mistress bellowed. “What are you doing?”
“Women of low character were found in our streets,” the tallest high country woman declared so loudly that it echoed across the entire port.
She gestured. Berrach and the Delbhana officer Anwyn had spotted with her were dragged forwards. Both of their faces were bloody and bruised. Berrach looked as though she was concussed, barely standing upright between the two high country warriors holding her arms. The Delbhana officer had a visibly dislocated shoulder and an obviously broken nose.
“They came to our streets to look for boy children to molest,” the high country woman declared. As soon as she said it silence fell over the entire crowd. Every single one of the locals looked at the Little Bird and the Delbhana ship with hatred in their eyes.
“Then throw them back on their ships,” the harbor mistress said just as loudly. “I don’t want scum like that in my port. I was warned about you, Dana. I was warned that you were a traitor and worse than fermented goat droppings. You are never allowed back in Azar. I will send messages throughout the country, to all the ports, forbidding you from ever returning here lest you be decapitated for your crimes.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Berrach protested only to be punched so hard in the gut that she doubled over and retched.
“That one is mine,” Captain Helene called. “Thank you for the proof of her crimes, Ladies. She will not come back again. I promise you that. The Delbhana I cannot vouch for.”
Captain Helene strode over, Flidais on her heels as if she was afraid to be more than arms’ reach from the captain. Aunt Colleen nudged Anwyn, jerking her chin towards Flidais. Anwyn frowned, hesitating. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea to charge in when the Azar women were so furious.
“Get Flidais back on the ship,” Aunt Colleen murmured in an undertone. “And try not to make the situation any worse. We can’t let the Delbhana get murdered here, Annie.”
“Will do,” Anwyn said.
She ran down the gangplank, through the crowd of sailors and reached Flidais and Captain Helene’s side just as Captain Helene prodded Berrach with one foot. Flidais gasped and flung her arms around Anwyn’s waist, clinging to her as soon as she saw her. The Delbhana captain strode over, glaring at Anwyn as if she was to blame for everything. In her mind, Anwyn could tell, she was.
“Come on, Flidais,” Anwyn said. “Back on the ship. Let the grown-ups deal with this.”
Flidais nodded but she didn’t budge even when Anwyn tugged at her.
“The child?” the hill woman asked.
“Berrach molested her,” Anwyn said. “Tried to get me but I’m sort of involved with my best friend, Iola. She was creepy but no touching happened for me.”
“They claimed to be looking for boys,” the hill woman said, glaring death at Berrach who groaned as she struggled to stand up again. “That is bad enough. To molest girls is even worse.”
“Didn’t,” Berrach moaned. “Didn’t!”
“Be quiet, you traitor,” Captain Helene snarled. She gestured to Myrna. “Get this bitch back on board and throw her in the brig. I won’t allow her to pollute your port any longer, harbor mistress. Had I known before we landed I would have thrown her in the brig earlier.”
Both the harbor mistress and the hill woman snorted, glaring as Berrach was dragged away by several Little Bird sailors. They gave her a few hits and then looked the other way as the local sailors snarled, hit and threw things at Berrach as well. The Delbhana captain, one Anwyn didn’t recognize, took a deep breath.
“My woman wouldn’t do that,” she declared.
“She was the one who stated that they were looking for a boy,” the hill woman said. Her voice went cold as the ice this country never saw. “She repeated it several times.”
“You will get that shit off my dock,” the harbor mistress snapped. “If she ever returns to Azar she will be killed out of hand and every Delbhana ship will be forbidden access to Azar for all time. The only reason I do not demand that they both be killed is that Aingeal is a country of law. I will hear if they are not properly punished.”
Anwyn stiffened as the Delbhana captain turned to stare at her, as if she was the one doing all of this. She could almost see the thoughts tripping in the woman’s head. ‘If only we’d gotten access to her, if only we’d caught her away from the ship, if only Berrach had succeeded in getting to her…’
“You leave Flidais out of this!” Anwyn huffed at her, tightening her grip on Flidias’ shoulders. “She was the victim in this, not the cause of it all.”
“You…” The Delbhana captain’s eyes snapped down to Flidais who was absolutely rigid in Anwyn’s arms. The hill women snarled around them, glaring down at Berrach and the Delbhana officer.
The Delbhana officer who’d been with Berrach went white. She opened her mouth to protest but the warrior women surrounding her bashed her so hard that she collapsed to the dock in a heap. Her captain went white as well, staring at the young woman as if she’d just had her own throat cut.
“It’s all falling apart.”
The whisper of thought came to Anwyn from the Delbhana captain, not as loudly as something one of the Ladies might say but still distinct enough to allow Anwyn to hear it.
“She wouldn’t do that,” the Delbhana captain whispered.
“Do you doubt my word?” the hill woman asked.
Every Azar woman on the docks pulled their knives. Anwyn picked Flidais up and backed off with her, not at all upset when several Dana sailors all but picked her up too. They retreated until they were at the base of the gangplank, close enough to hear what the Delbhana captain said but not close enough to see her. Too many tall women stood between Anwyn and her.
“Of course not!” the Delbhana captain declared but it was too slow and not at all confident. “I don’t doubt what you heard at all. She’s just… She’s of the Delbhana bloodline. She’s royal. She… I can’t believe that she would do that.”
The horror and disbelief seemed to appease the Azar women somewhat. Anwyn still pulled Flidais up onto the Little Bird so that they could stand next to Aunt Colleen as Captain Helene slow, majestically strode back to the gangplank. None of the Azar women paid her any mind other than to get out of her way. Their focus was entirely on the Delbhana, the harbor mistress and the hill woman.
Captain Helene pushed the Little Bird’s sailors ahead of her, ensuring that everyone was on board and accounted for before she strode up the plan. As soon as they were all on board she gestured for the gangplank to be pulled up.
“Time to head home?” Anwyn asked, her voice carrying far more effectively than she expected with the silent stare-down going on at the other end of the dock.
“As soon as the tide turns, yes,” Captain Helene agreed. “Make ready to sail, girls. We’ve scum to deliver to justice and a shipment to deliver.”
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