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
“This better not take as long as it did in Minoo,” Aunt Colleen grumbled as they tied up to the dock in Nasrin.
They’d gotten the exact same slip as on the way out. As when they’d headed out, there was a Delbhana ship on a different dock. This one was one of the big warships rather than an overly decorated freighter. It looked fast and sleek, heavy on the sails and agile in the water.
“Three days for filling out paperwork was a bit much,” Anwyn agreed. Her eyes were on the Delbhana crew that silently watched everything the Little Bird’s crew did. “Edeen Pembroke won’t make us fill out a million reports, will he?”
“I certainly hope not,” Aunt Colleen sighed as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. “I’ve done enough paperwork on this damn trip to last me for years.”
Her eyes weren’t on the Delbhana. She watched Captain Helene and Flidais move across the deck as if they were joined at the hip. Ever since Azar, Captain Helene had kept Flidais by her side. Anwyn was fairly certain that she’d set up a bunk for Flidais in her cabin so that the girl wouldn’t have to sleep with the rest of the crew. It seemed to have helped. Flidais’ smile had dimmed over the trip but it was coming back as they got closer to home.
The rest of the crew was just as protective of Flidais. No one allowed her down into the hold alone. The Little Bird was too small to have Berrach’s cell out of sight and hearing. Anyone who went down the stairs to the hold walked right past her. Anwyn had stopped going down there two days out of Azar. Listening to Berrach plead her innocence turned Anwyn’s stomach.
“She really was a spy?” Anwyn murmured to Aunt Colleen. “It’s not just that she was a pervert. She was spying too?”
“Yes,” Aunt Colleen said. Her hand settled on Anwyn’s shoulder, squeezing just hard enough to hurt but not so hard to bruise. “Once Flidais confessed to what Berrach did with her the rest of the crew came to me with tales of things they’d seen Berrach do. Apparently she’s been spying on us for several years, Annie. This isn’t new. It isn’t even directed primarily at you, at least until this trip. I’m pretty sure her orders were to target you so that the Delbhana could get you arrested on perversion charges.”
Anwyn raised her eyebrow at that. Given everything that had happened over the trip she could believe that. Something about it was a lie, something about the arrest part of it, but Anwyn couldn’t tell what. Her new sense of people’s emotions said that where was a lie but not what it was. Aunt Colleen glared at her, daring Anwyn to contradict her. Her glare intensified as Anwyn opened her mouth but neither of them got the chance to say anything.
A man’s voice hailing them made both Anwyn and Aunt Colleen start. Anwyn blinked, shocked to see the harbor master, Edeen Pembroke, standing on the dock in his blindingly bright yellow and green plaid kilt. He had a shawl of the same plaid wrapped around his shoulders and a thoroughly proper bonnet in the same fabric that complete hid the fact that he was going bald. His son Miles stood behind him, one hand supporting his father’s elbow.
“Edeen Pembroke,” Aunt Colleen called back as she stared at him standing on the dock. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you down here.”
“I was already here for business so I decided to visit when I saw your ship coming in,” Pembroke said.
He waited politely as the sailors scrambled to get the gangplank down. They all waited to begin unloading as he made his slow, painful way up the gangplank. Miles walked close behind him, hands held out to catch his father if he fell. That didn’t happen, thankfully. Pembroke sighed gratefully once he was on the deck.
“Flidais, get the harbor master a stool,” Captain Helene said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Flidais said. She ran into Captain Helene’s office and came back with a folding stool moments later. She also had one of the cushions that Aravel had made for Captain Helene out of old sail material and cast off rags. “Here you go, sir.”
“Thank you, child,” Pembroke said as he gratefully sat, his cane held in front of him so that he could lean on it as he needed to. “You’re later than I expected. The Flying Queen came through port three days ago.”
“You would not believe how much paperwork there was in Minoo,” Aunt Colleen groaned. “I swear, the only country on the planet worse for paperwork is Chinwendu. Three days of interviews and examinations. Three days of forms and reports and stacks upon stacks of paperwork. They made every single person on board give a written deposition, Pembroke. Most of the sailors are barely literate!”
Her little rant carried over the water. That was immediately obvious from the smug expressions on the Delbhana warship’s crew. Anwyn frowned at the number of warriors on the deck of their ship. She would have thought that they were getting ready to attack at any moment.
Pembroke’s chuckle carried just as well. He shook his head, smiling at Aunt Colleen. Even with the petticoats supporting his kilt Anwyn could see the way he gingerly shifted his legs as if they were killing him. Miles saw it too, touching his father’s shoulder with one hand.
“It is Minoo,” Pembroke said, patting Miles’ hand gently without looking at him. “I created special forms and reports for the Minooan sailors who come through here. They seemed bereft without something to fill out and report on.”
“I can believe that,” Aunt Colleen chuckled. “The whole culture lives for their paperwork.”
“I did have some questions about the incident in Azar,” Pembroke said in a voice that made it clear he was done with pleasantries. Now it was time to get to work. “The information I got from the Flying Queen was… inconclusive.”
“Sure it was,” Aunt Colleen murmured sarcastically under her breath before raising her voice. “Our information isn’t inconclusive at all. They here to take Berrach to trial?”
She jerked her chin at the Delbhana warship. The warriors on the deck all stiffened, hands dropping to their weapons even though they were moored to a completely different dock. They would have had to run down the dock, along the sea front and then up the Little Bird’s dock to actually attack. The two ships were too far apart for them to swing over on ropes.
“That was their plan,” Pembroke said, nodding once.
“We can bring her up right away,” Captain Helene declared. “The sooner she’s off my ship the better.”
Aunt Colleen’s firm nod of agreement made Pembroke’s eyes go wide for a moment. He cocked his head slightly and then frowned at the way Flidais curled closer to Captain Helene’s side. When he glanced over at Anwyn there was puzzlement in his eyes, as if he’d expected Anwyn to be the frightened, traumatized one.
She raised her chin defiantly but the sheer thought of Berrach and all she’d done made Anwyn cross her arms over her chest protectively. That response made both Miles and Pembroke’s eyes widen, this time for a long enough moment that the Delbhana warriors started fidgeting.
“What exactly has she done to make you so eager to get rid of her?” Pembroke asked.
“She molested our cabin girl, Flidais,” Captain Helene said.
She spoke in the sort of booming, clear voice that would carry across the water all the way to the farthest dock and possibly up a couple of streets in town. The port had gone quiet enough that Anwyn could hear ever slap of waves against the pilings, every rustle of the seagulls’ wings as they flew overhead.
“And?” Pembroke asked.
“And abused half the younger women on the crew,” Captain Helene declared. “She stole from the ship stores, gambled when in port, purchased the services of dramatically underage prostitutes despite my policies and spied on the Dana family for the Delbhana. Not well, as no one can find any proof of her reporting anything effective, but at the very least she was in their pay when she signed onto the Little Bird and she has continued to take money from them this entire time.”
“What did she do to you, Dana Anwyn?” Pembroke asked as if it was a foregone conclusion that she was involved somehow.
Iola shifted out from behind Myrna, her eyes full of warning that didn’t escape her lips. Aunt Colleen’s shoulders tightened. Even Captain Helene stiffened in anticipation of what Anwyn would say.
This was the key, Anwyn realized. Everything that had been strange on this journey had centered around her. The Delbhana plot, Aunt Colleen’s revelation that they always gossiped about what Anwyn was up to, even Berrach’s seduction were all part and parcel of a huge plot that had somehow gotten centered entirely on her. She was the key to blocking the Delbhana for the next few years but only in the strangest of ways.
It wasn’t what Anwyn had done on this trip that would block the plot. What mattered was that the Delbhana had been so desperate to attack her that they’d hurt many other people. They’d hired a pedophile gambler who molested children while in their hire.
What mattered, Anwyn realized as her head swam with the fierce curiosity coming from Pembroke, the worry from Aunt Colleen and the desperate fear coming from the Delbhana ship, was that Anwyn was not the center of this mess.
“She didn’t do anything to me,” Anwyn said in her best approximation of Captain Helene’s booming voice. “She flirted a lot but she did that with everyone. The only time she laid hands on me was to haul me back on board the ship after I speared a rainbow shark that attacked the ship. None of this has anything to do with me, Edeen Pembroke. I think she just saw another cute young girl she could seduce. I do look a lot younger than I am, after all. I didn’t even know she was a spy until after Aunt Colleen put the pieces together on the way back to Minoo.”
Her voice echoed over the water, startling the seagulls drifting on the water’s surface into flight. They screeched overhead but their voices weren’t half as loud as the captain of the Delbhana warship. She slammed a fist into the quarterdeck rail, her glare obvious even at that distance.
“We don’t hire spies!” the Delbhana captain bellowed. “This is Dana plot to discredit us!”
“Obviously not,” Captain Helene bellowed back. “You hire cheats, thieves and perverts!”
The entire Delbhana crew shouted at that. Pembroke sighed, resting his chin on the handle of his cane as the Little Bird’s crew joined in the shouting match. Most of it was incoherent threats to beat the other side bloody if they got too close but a couple of the Delbhana sailors shouted something about liars.
“I’m not a liar!” Flidais screamed so loudly that her voice pierced the chaos.
She sounded so young, so hurt and frightened, that the entire Little Bird crew went quiet. The sudden silence from their side startled the Delbhana crew into quieting down too. Pembroke straightened up and waved for Flidais to come over. Captain Helene came with her, one hand resting on Flidais’ shoulder.
“I don’t believe they mean you, child,” Pembroke said in a loud enough voice to carry even though his expression was gentle and kind.
“Anwyn wasn’t molested,” Flidais exclaimed, glaring past him at the Delbhana ship. “I was. Berrach never touched Anwyn, not once. Anwyn saved me. She figured out what was going on and got Captain Helene to protect me. They’re calling me a liar, not Anwyn.”
“Me too,” said Onora, the next youngest sailor on board who’d never spoken so loudly in all the time Anwyn had been on the Little Bird. “Renny actually left the Little Bird to get away from Berrach. They want to blame Anwyn for everything but she isn’t even involved in this. Berrach preyed on us, not her. Anwyn is the one who saved us all from Berrach. Don’t blame her for Berrach’s evil. She’s a pervert, a liar and a cheat.”
The muttering over on the Delbhana warship died down into a sickened silence that Anwyn could feel with ease. She could almost see their plans falling to pieces around them. Pembroke looked at Flidais, then at Onora. He scanned the other sailors on the Little Bird, picking out each of the young women who Berrach had preyed on with ease. None of them looked away but a few blushed, ashamed of being so obvious.
He patted Flidais’ arm, squeezing her elbow. Flidais hiccupped as she tried not to cry. That was apparently too much for Miles because he knelt down and offered a hug to Flidais. She flung herself into his arms, shaking from the effort of suppressing her sobs. Pembroke sighed, set his cane and then hauled himself upright. Anwyn immediately moved to make sure he wouldn’t fall, earning a smile from him.
“You truly wish to turn her over to the Delbhana?” Pembroke asked.
“Yes,” Aunt Colleen and Captain Helene said as one.
“We don’t have a proper brig,” Captain Helene explained after Aunt Colleen nodded for her to go ahead. “Everyone going into the hold has to listen to her whine and complain about having been framed. The woman is shameless and unrepentant. She refuses to accept any responsibility for her actions and blames everyone other than herself for what she’s done. She feels no guilt for abusing the younger sailors on board. She even dared to brag about it to my face.”
Miles patted Flidais’ back. She sniffled and pulled back, scrubbing the tears away before going and standing by Captain Helene’s side. There was muttering from the other ships surrounding the Little Bird but no one spoke up, not even the Delbhana. Pembroke nodded.
“Captain Siofra,” Pembroke called. “Are you willing to officially take custody of the prisoner? I will be required to send guards along with her by Nasrin law to ensure that she is safely delivered to the proper authorities in Aingeal. I can choose a different ship if you are not willing to carry her.”
Captain Siofra’s shoulders visibly hunched but she straightened up after a moment and nodded. “We are willing. She will be delivered to the Guard in Aingeal City without delay.”
“Thank you,” Captain Helene said, her gratitude obvious on her face and in her voice. “Having her on the ship has tempted all of us towards murder.”
Anwyn didn’t allow herself to sag as Pembroke nodded his approval. Myrna and Iola went below. They reappeared a few moments later with Berrach between them. She had a new bruise on her face and her hands were tightly lashed behind her back but she walked between them willingly enough.
Captain Siofra sent a troop of six soldiers around to take custody of Berrach. Anwyn watched from the bow, Flidais’ arms wrapped around her waist. The other sailors who’d been taken advantage of clustered behind them, watching silently as Berrach was passed over and then dragged away.
“It’s over,” Anwyn whispered to Flidais. “It’s over. Now we can go home.”
“Thank all the Goddesses,” Flidais whispered back. “And thank you, too, Anwyn.”
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