Hello! My name is Julia Ember and I have the pleasure of hosting Amy McNulty on my blog for the Spring 2016 YASH! We are both very excited to be part of the pink team!
You can find a full listing of all the teams as well as further details about how to enter via Yash.rocks
Make sure you scroll all the way to the end so you don't miss this blog's special individual giveaway. I will highlight the special number in pink.
I am a debut author in 2016. My first book, Unicorn Tracks, will be released from Harmony Ink Press on April 21! When I'm not writing I also love riding horses, snuggling with my cats and talking incessantly about fan fiction and online gaming.
And now to introduce the featured author!
Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently writes professionally about everything from business marketing to anime. In her down time, you can find her crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings.
Her YASH bonus is this deleted scene from Nobody’s Goddess, the first book in The Never Veil Series. (Nobody’s Lady is Book Two.) In my original draft, Noll was twelve years old for much longer than just the prologue—probably about a quarter of the book. The Returning ceremony detailed in the beginning was for Vena and Elweard, two minor characters, instead of Jurij and Elfriede, two much more important characters. You can see some of the skeleton of the scene made it into the final version, though. Enjoy!
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Today the butcher and his family wore their finest. Today they would close early. There was a long-awaited Returning to attend to—two of the village’s most beloved figures, Elweard the tavern keeper and his wife Vena—really, the one who ran the tavern. A private couple they were not, and there had been much joking about how Elweard’s Returning had been delayed by a number of years, as it took a while for Vena to decide she loved her husband almost as much as she loved barking out orders he had no choice but to obey. Luckily for her, after she Returned to him, Elweard would still be devoted and smitten. But there was something to be said for the power a goddess had over her man before a Returning: he literally had no choice but to obey her commands.
Marden stopped pulling on the sign long enough to stand and wipe her brow. She looked over at us.
Darwyn moved to step forward. I grabbed his hand and pulled him back, as hard as I could. I wasn’t going to lose another friend.
“Good day, Noll!” called Marden. She noticed the wolf face boy standing next to me for the first time. “Oh, Darwyn, is that you?” she asked. “Help me carry this sign, would you?”
Darwyn ripped his hand free from mine and went to obey his goddess.
So there it was. I should have expected it. It struck them all, although I could never guess when. But sometime around our age, the boys’ voices cracked, shifting from high to deep and back again in a matter of a few words. The boys grew from little masked stray dogs lapping at my feet to wooden faces that forced me to crane upward to see them. And one day, at one moment, at some age, earlier for some and later for others, they took one look at a girl they’d probably seen thousands of times before and simply ceased to be. At least, they weren’t who I knew them to be.
And like all of the boys before him who had been the little elf queen’s retainer one day and a goddess worshipper the next, never again could I call that boy my friend.
In the great hall, all was quiet.
The two figures that drew everyone’s attention held hands and stared into each other’s eyes—or in Elweard’s case, the black holes covering his eyes. Since Elweard was often the master of such ceremonies, there was no one to narrate the occasion, but the two did not need words to convey the exchange of love that occurred between them. Moments passed. I could hardly hear a breath. Elweard ripped off his ceremonial Returning mask—the mask that looked like a simplified wooden rendition of an unmasked man’s dark face and pointed ears—and the two shared their first kiss, forever sealing their union.
The crowd exploded. Shrieks and cries echoed throughout the space, hurting my ears.
Unmasked men and women melted into each other’s arms. Mama and Papa were among them. “Aubree!” called Papa, devotion pouring into both syllables of Mama’s name, over and over between kisses. Gross. I looked away when they did that. Which was just about every moment they were together. Elfriede, my sister, stood up with them, clapping the whole time. No doubt she pictured herself at the center of this ceremony one day. She could have it. A little more than a year my elder, she was bound to find herself there sooner than I.
There were few who remained seated. Even some of the masked boys embraced the girls beside them. Those were the boys waiting for their goddesses to turn seventeen, no doubt. Love had already Returned to them, but their goddesses were not old enough to perform the Returning. I looked away sharply when I saw the wolf faced boy and the butcher’s daughter wound tightly around each other.
As he tried to stand from the spot on the floor next to me to join the celebration, Jurij felt my hand squeeze his tightly. He turned his snake face to meet mine and sat back down on the ground beside his owl mask papa and his sour-faced mama. I yearned to cast aside the snake mask and unearth the kitten I knew lay inside.
# (let us take this section break to note, the number you'll need is 75!)
“Half the village is here,” observed Master Tailor.
Half the village was not there. There were only a few hundred people at most. I bet everyone just wanted free drinks. When Mama or Papa let me have a taste of wine once, I spit it out. I didn’t know how anyone could drink such sour stuff.
After the Returning, everyone had filed up to the coupling to smile and pretend like they cared for the happiness of a man and goddess not their own. To celebrate, Elweard was offering free wine and ale.
“How many years have they been married?” asked Mama. She was keeping me from running off by ripping her fingers through my hair, claiming she was trying to untangle the knots. She was not too happy to have me show up for the Returning in my finest clothing, torn and muddied. But it was either embark on a quest to defeat an old, loony crone who wants to squeeze you to death, cause the ground to shake by looking at the castle forbidden to all women, and get an earful from some mean old quarry workers and Papa—or spend all morning with Mama and Elfriede as they brushed their golden hair and wove it into braids to sit delicately against their temples in contrast to their pale oak skin. So, you know, I chose the old crone.
Papa had one arm around Mama’s shoulder and the other stuck firmly across the front of her waist. It was rather annoying that every time Mama ripped through a particularly stubborn knot, my head bounced back and brushed his arm.
“A few,” said Papa. “I know Vena’s at least five and twenty.”
Jurij made a choking sound. I wondered if he was gasping behind his slithery mask. “So it’s not too late for you, Papa!”
Master Tailor laughed. “Your mother’s a bit older than five and twenty, sweetheart. But don’t tell her I told you that.”
My gaze turned toward Mistress Tailor. She stood across the room at the table with the glasses of wine, drinking first one and then another. No one spoke to her. There was some shame in what she did, after all.
She would not Return love to her husband.
The ‘magic’ that possessed the men of our village led them to live for love. And love every man did—if by ‘love,’ you meant obsession. Worship. Viewing a woman as his goddess. A man only loved one woman. And every woman always got her one man, even if she had to wait years for him to be born and grow old enough to love her. Or even if he was born years before her, and he had to wait for her to grow old enough for him to see it.
Women were not forced by nature to love. When we loved, we did so of our own will.
But even so, that meant a woman only had three choices: love at once, learn to love or never love at all.
There was no room for love to be given where it was not wanted.
The women who fell in love with their men early on could perform the Returning before they got married. Papa and Mama boasted that they loved one another before Mama turned seventeen, and it was on the dawn of Mama’s seventeenth birthday that they had their Returning and Papa threw away his mask. They got married that afternoon, as Papa was a year older.
The women who chose to learn to love married their men because they knew that no one else would ever love them. If they wanted to have a family or even the smallest hope of knowing love, they had to marry their man. Of course, it was expected that one day, they would perform the Returning. That’s what Vena did. But some women took so long, people began to wonder if they would ever perform the Returning. What were they waiting for? No other man would ever love them. They ought to be ashamed. Mistress Tailor did not have many friends.
The women who never loved doomed their men forever. Few that they were, the husbandless goddesses occupied themselves with trade or hobby, unable to even grant their men a loveless marriage. They fared far better than the men who loved them. These men withered away, pining for their goddesses from afar, masked to all women not of blood relation, masked by choice to other men because they found no energy to remove their coverings, torn as they were forever from their goddesses. They formed a small commune near the crop fields on the western outskirts of the village, doing no good for anyone and barely summoning the will to eat or drink. No adult liked to speak of them, and we were not to interact with them, but the other children and I had no qualms about spying on the men who lived there. They were funny when you didn’t have to worry about living there yourself. Well, I found them funny. Elfriede would have rather I told her about the monsters I pretended to battle with my friends than the actual monsters who walked among the living in the commune.
Mama patted the top of my head. Perhaps she had given up on the idea that she could ever tame the wild tresses that grew there.
“Elfriede is outside with her friends,” explained Mama. “Why don’t you go join them?”
“Let’s go, Jurij,” I said, reaching out to grab his hand.
As I spoke, Jurij’s mama appeared behind him. One grunt from her was all either of us needed to know that Jurij was going nowhere with me just now.
“Jurij needs to change his mask,” said Mistress Tailor. If words could stab, she needed only a few to leave you dead. “Come with us, Coll,” she barked. Master Tailor dropped his mug on the ground and lined up behind Mistress Tailor and Jurij. Mistress Tailor’s eyes fell upon the shattered mug on the ground and winced, and then the family turned to leave.
Mistress Tailor sighed. “Say farewell to the Carvers, Coll.”
Master Tailor did not turn to face us. “Farewell to the Carvers, Coll!”
Jurij and I giggled. Mama rapped me quickly on the back of the head.
Mistress Tailor shook her head. “Let’s go, Coll.” By then, her words were less lethal and much more tired.
The family retreated. I watched Jurij go, trailing helplessly after his much-faster mama.
Sometimes I wished I was Jurij’s goddess, just so I could get him to obey me. But I wouldn’t have wanted all of that kissing. Yuck.
Before they exited out the great hall door, a small crowd of girls broke through the crowd from outside. Jurij stood still, wrenching his mama’s arm backward as he did. He did not respond to her cry of pain or the lecture forming soundlessly on her grim mouth.
As Elfriede passed him, the summer breeze with the wavy gold hair she shared with our mama broke into a smile. The smile was not for the small, pathetic boy wearing the ill-fitted snake mask. It was not the only smile among the small group of girls or among the many unmasked in the great hall.
But for my dearest, my last and most special friend of all, the smile was the way he vanished, doomed to live or die by the choice of the little girl who wore it.
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