Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: SHROUDED GODDESS
Word Count: 81,000
Themes: Brazilian history and culture
First 500 words:
Only Uncle Hector would hang a man then go fishing.
The giant jatoba tree, where the noose is set, shades the corpse but doesn’t protect it from the heat. Winter is more merciful than our hellish summer, but only slightly. Noon is fast approaching, and the stench of emptied bowels permeates the village like early morning fog. I press an arm over my nose and quicken my pace to the bakery ahead. At least there is some advantage to being forced to wear long sleeves in warm weather.
Vultures circle the cloudless sky above the tree, but not even they dare to defy Uncle Hector. Why does Aryeea insist I fetch flour? I glance over my shoulder at the fortress’s four-story tower spiked on the Igjommi Hill. The fluttering white cloth, billowing like a sail in the valley breeze, can only be her skirt. My grandmother on the balcony, watching me as if I’d go anywhere other than where she sends me.
I enter the bakery and shut the door behind me. The warm scent of dough overwhelms the heat. Steps approach from an inside room, and the baker’s rosy face beams at me as he ambles through the doorway.
“Lady Sophia.” He wipes his hands on his tunic. “What do you like today?”
I’d like someone to cut down that man and bury him before he rots. But if I voice the request, the baker will feel obliged to carry out the order. No need to tempt another hanging.
“The baroness would like manioc flour.” I use Aryeea’s title in case I’m overheard.
“She make beejoo?” There must be no one around if he’s using the Peetanguara word for biscuit.
I nod, although my grandmother’s version is more like a cake and soaked in honey from the king’s land across the sea. Cane sugar isn’t sweet enough some days. “Aryeea’s hanging day tradition.”
The smile flees the baker’s face. “I send it with Gavin.”
My eyes prickle and I adjust my hair bun, digging a pin into my scalp to ease the pain in my chest. “I can wait.”
His turn to nod, though I’m not sure for whom the baker thinks I’m waiting. Neither do I if I’m honest.
He returns from the back room with a sack the size of his head. “You take this. I send more later.”
With Gavin? Instead of asking, I hug the cotton sack full of manioc flour tight to my breast. The coarse meal shifts within the constraints of the cloth, as do my insides against my skin. I can’t think of Gavin. Not when I might find myself wed to my cousin Victor tomorrow. Bile burns my throat, but it has nothing to do with the stench permeating the village.
The blinding light outside the bakery directs my gaze to the shade of the jatoba, where the man still hangs in his soiled breeches. The darkness of his swollen hands contrasts with the unnatural paleness of his bare chest.