SHROUDED GODDESS is a YA Fantasy.
I sneak into Aryeea’s bedroom as soon as the hallway empties. Harp notes and laughter drift in the air, from the night festivities downstairs. Eyes closed and ocher hands folded over her chest, my grandmother seems at peace. Her dark hair is still as black as mine. Tribal blood pumps strong in our veins, no matter what we do to hide our descent.
As she lies, resting on a bed brought from across the sea, I can almost believe Aryeea is dead. I've always known she wouldn't live forever, but the thought of not seeing her again isn't comforting. I'll even miss the snapped orders she gives me all day long. >>Four-syllable names pretty much always get shortened down to a nickname. Plus, this one is kinda rough on the tongue. Ar-y-ee-a. More on this to come.
"Sophie, stop viewing me and close the door. I’m not dead yet." Her bark wakes me from my reverie.
As always, I turn to do her bidding. "I thought you died without saying goodbye."
"I will, but not yet. And when I do, make sure they bury my wedding braid with me. Your grandfather might need a reminder when we meet on the other side. And your uncle won't even think of it when the time comes. Now come here, cunyataee." >>you don't even want to know what I thought she called Sophie, at first glance. This is a five-syllable word and even rougher than Gramma's name.
Last month, on my seventeenth birthday, I decided to stop reminding her I wasn't a little girl anymore. That I should be married by now doesn't matter. I'll never be cunyan to Aryeea. >>finally, a word that makes sense.
I sit next to her fragile frame. She is only half the baroness I knew in my childhood.
"I'm sending you on an errand outside the castle," she says. "Take Gavin."
I bite my lip. "We're not friends anymore." Ever since my brother drowned.
"Nonsense. If you ask, he'll go."
I doubt it. He hasn't talked to me in the last two years. "I can go into the village by myself."
"If I needed something from the village, I'd send a maid. Gavin can swim. I need you to wake up the goddess Ig."
My mouth opens and shuts. No sound comes out. I glance at the door to make sure it’s closed.
"It's time to face the water, cunyataee."
"But Uncle Hector won't agree." He has forbidden anyone from even mentioning the old lore. Losing Petro to the river only made Hector more determined to punish those who brought up the tribal myths.
"Which is why I'm sending you, not him. It's time the Peetanguara had a say in this land again. I've lost two barons-to-be since my husband died. My husband was his father's son when it came to the water goddess and Hector was carved from the same stone. Your father was more my side. He understood. And so should you." >> :(
Aryeea always had a rebellious nature. I don't know how she managed to convince my grandfather to a Peetanguara wedding. It went against everything he believed. Maybe he just catered to her whims to keep the tribes from revolting. The plantations need workmen who know the land, but the tribes only work with family. Not that the Carayba invaders have any trouble taking red wives to their bed. They left most of their women across the sea, so Peetangas will do just fine over here. >>None of this is relevant right now. What we need to know is why the water goddess needs waking and why it's dangerous/forbidden/whatever.
"I don't want to upset Uncle Hector." I'm tired of his threats. When grandfather died, my father received the seat. But he died soon after. My brother was too young at the time and the tribes wanted nothing to do with Hector and his Carayba wife. The Peetanguara still considered Aryeea their ruler, which is why she stayed in power these last five years. >>Also not relevant
She pats my hand. "The only reason Hector hasn't married you to Victor is because I'm still alive. Who knows how many days I have left? I don't want to leave you to their mercy when I'm gone." >>How is this relevant to the water goddess?
"Do you even know how to wake up the water goddess?" I whisper. The last Peetanguara council was killed during the invasion, when Aryeea was a cunyataee.
"You've heard all the stories. You know all the songs. I'm sure you'll figure it out." >>Well, I guess waking Ig isn't all that important or difficult...
"I'll think about it."
"No. You leave tonight."
"You ask too much of me. I'll get in trouble with Uncle Hector."
She smacks me on the head, but not strong enough to topple me off the bed. "Fine. I'll tell Father Malta he can marry you to Victor tomorrow."
Tears sting my eyes, but crying will only make her follow through with the threat. "It's late and the gates are closed." >>whining doesn't make for a sympathetic main character
"You don't need the gate. What's the name of this hill?"
"Igjameh." >> :(((
"And what does the name mean?" she asks in a condescending tone.
I take the word apart. "Ig means water." I struggle to remember my Peetanguara lessons from years ago. "Hidden water? Because the Angappi stream flows from inside it?"
She strikes me again, this time making me stand. "The goddess Ig will drown you if you don't wise up. The elders always said the Carayba invaders built this fortress where her temple used to be. Start at the river."
I straighten my dress, making sure the bows on the lacing are knotted twice. "You won't take no for an answer, will you?"
"Not unless I'm dead."
Attempting and failing will be easier than arguing. I kiss her cheek instead of smothering her with a pillow. She might as well have asked me for the moon. Climbing to the snowy peak of Mount Ybaca might have been a more reasonable request. >>Given that Sophie pretty much just pats Gramma on the head and goes about her business, it looks like nobody takes Gramma seriously despite what was said earlier about her. So why hasn't Sophie been married off, and why would that be a problem?
"Don't die before I get back," I say. >>Gramma seems to be in good health, so what's the worry?
"Then hurry. And don't forget Gavin."
I halt with my hand on the doorknob. Will he even talk to me? It will break my heart again if he shuns me. "I'm staying inside the great wall. Why do I need him?"
"You never know what hides in dark corners. A man comes in handy sometimes. It's better to have one who looks up to you than down."
I have no idea where she gets half the things she says. I was only taller than Gavin until he turned sixteen, three years before me. And he hasn't looked at me at all in these last two years. >>so he's already shunning her...?
"I'll ask him." I always do as she says. >>She keeps saying this, but her (lack of) actions speak louder.
"And I'll distract Hector."
I don't realize what she means until I open the door. Aryeea starts screaming his name. I slip into an alcove as people rush up the stairs to answer her cries.
"Where is my son? You're all keeping him from me. Can't a mother even say goodbye?"
Uncle Hector takes his time. When he finally enters her room, most of his cronies are already there--just in case he needs witnesses to support his claim to the Barony. Not that the word of any of these Carayba baronets will have much weight with the tribes. Hector made the mistake of marrying for the wrong alliances. >>Why is Sophie still here? More proof she isn't taking this seriously.
His voice betrays his impatience. "Lady Mother, you're not dying. It's indigestion. Either put your hair up and come downstairs, or quiet down and sleep off whatever ails you."
"So good to hear you're not desperate for my title," Aryeea scoffs.
Their bickering continues, but I’m out of earshot, on my way down the wood steps. I avoid eye contact with all the drunken guests in the dining hall, but an arm hooks my waist before I reach the kitchens.
The pale white skin gives Victor away before his voice does. "Where do you think you're going, cousin?"
His lips are the same height as my ears and his whispered words raise the hairs on the back of my neck. I hate it when he calls me cousin, which is probably why he does it so often. >>just wanted to note that this is a nicely creepy image of him whispering against her neck
"Grandmother asked for water," I say.
"You're not her maid, you know."
Sour wine exudes from his breath and turns my stomach. If he stays this close, I'll lose my dinner. But that’s the least of my worries when Victor is around.
"Let me go. She's sick. She could be dying."
He wraps another arm around me. "The old hag wouldn't die even if we asked her to live forever." His fingers climb up the lacing on the left side of my dress with the agility of a golden lion tamarin. I tug on his arms, but that just makes his grasp on my breast tighter. "If you don't want to be social, cousin, I can think of many other things we could do."
I don't want his hand under my skirt again. The long dresses worn by Carayba women offer more coverage than the feathers and leaves common in tribal garb, but it is still not enough to protect me from Victor. Aryeea is too busy to save me this time. I look wildly around the room. Twenty people, but no friendly face. The other half of the so-called nobility is still upstairs. Not that any of those baronets would help me either. Their loyalty lies with my uncle, which is why they keep their daughters away from Victor. I’m not so lucky.
>>First, let's talk about names. You have a fair number of Greek/Latin-esque names here -- Sophie, Hector, Victor -- and then you throw in some alphabet soup like Igjameh and Peetanguara. And Gavin, which is a perfectly good name but doesn't fit in either. These words come from different universes. They sound like a jumble and it's distracting to have to stop and figure out how to pronounce something.
>>Second, I think this needs less irrelevant world-building and more drama. The most interesting problem (IMO) you've laid out here is that the goddess needs to be awakened. There are lots of relevant things you could have told the readers: why she's asleep, what it will take to wake her, how dangerous this is, why she needs to wake up, what she'll do once awake... you didn't tell us any of those things.
Are local politics and Sophie's marital status important to the goddess? Or is the goddess irrelevant? Is Gramma nuts? (that could be interesting) I have no idea, by the end of this.
>>Third, an odd detail. If the Carayba are invaders, why are they lower-ranked than the natives? (Barons outrank baronets)