Nelle defies her family to save the kingdom & princess she loves from a traitor’s poison SLEEPING BEAUTY w/ 100% more crossbows #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
My YA fantasy, SPUN, is a darkly funny 80,000 word adventure centered on a diverse cast of characters and a f/f feminist romance. It’s sure to appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine and C.J. Redwine.
Nelle, the miller’s daughter, dreams of taking over the family business. However, her plans to become the royal miller of Lointaine and win her independence are threatened when she’s attacked by a rejected suitor and her confidence disappears. Bebe, a mysterious stranger, repels the attack with a few well-placed shots from her crossbow. Nelle falls hard for her rescuer, but before she can discover if her feelings are returned, Nelle learns that Bebe is actually the Princess Aube—who, to Nelle’s dismay, is engaged to Prince Ehrhart in order to secure an alliance and sidestep a brewing war.
When Nelle learns of a plot to kill Aube, she rushes to help, even if it means watching the princess marry Ehrhart. Armed with her trusty crossbow, she defies her father’s wishes and risks their livelihood to sneak into the castle and save her beloved. Inside, everyone is succumbing to what looks like a resurgence of the terrible sleeping sickness that devastated the kingdom seventeen years ago. Nelle is terrified, until she realizes Ehrhart is poisoning everyone from the kitchen maids to the king in order to steal the throne and divide Lointaine up as spoils. Nelle must stay awake, escape the castle, and overthrow Ehrhart to save her family name, her love, and the entire kingdom.
I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. Most recently I've had a short story accepted into the upcoming anthology Dreams, Nightmares, Visions, Hallucinations from Transmundane Press. Thank you for considering my novel.
First Ten Pages:
“Roust yourself, Nelle! The cock's crowed an hour now. It won't do. People need to make their bread!” Marguerite Moulin shouted toward Nelle’s loft.
Nelle listened to her mama’s footsteps hurry away as she finished reading one more forbidden sentence aloud. “On the other hand, the miller might need to raise the runner stone; if the grain is milled too finely it will be unfit for baking.” Nelle whispered it three times, trying to commit the information to memory. Papa still wouldn’t let her do more than make deliveries at the mill, but when she finally convinced him, she needed to be ready.
She slammed the book shut, wrapped it carefully in a flour sack, and hopped down the ladder. After her deliveries were over she’d have to sneak the book back into her father’s office at the mill.
In the kitchen, her mother stood skimming cream off the milk in a large white pan. “Tom’s about to start his deliveries. Lay abed, you'll get behind. The sun waits for nobody. And on this of all days, Nellie. You know we can’t afford a late delivery at the castle, not with the heap of guests they have to feed. Here’s your lunch. Don't forget—”
“Okay, okay, I’ve already got my water skin, Mama. Thanks for lunch.” Nelle dropped a quick kiss on the back of her mother’s head where her dark hair was speckled with gray. “I'll go directly to the castle from Tabbott's and be back by supper.”
Her mama smiled and smoothed a stray lock of Nelle's thick dark hair behind her ear. “Okay, but don't lolly. We're having roast chicken tonight and only warm biscuits melt butter.”
Mama's cheek felt cool under Nelle’s lips. She snuck a pancake from a stack on the counter and burst into the barnyard at the side of the house. Moppet, their grizzled wolfhound, trotted over and nuzzled his cold nose into her hand. Though certainly he'd already been fed, Nelle handed him a sizable chunk of her pancake.
Midsummer sun swooped down hard on the little yard, and hurried her along to the barn. After a brief struggle with the barn door, she slipped into the dusty, cool interior, that smelled of beasts and grain. The dicky cart sat waiting for her with their donkey, Sally, already hitched to the small wagon. Nelle looked around in surprise. Tom, stuck his head in through the opposite barn door. Past her brother, she spied the big draft horse, Gus, hitched to the larger wagon.
Her brother grinned. “The usual? I’ll take the far farms and the western stops if you manage the town and castle, Needle. That is, if you think you can make it up the hill in time?” Tom teased her, using his pet name for her since she was little.
“I’ve only been doing it every day since I was thirteen. I’m not a skinny little child anymore.” Nelle stowed her lunch, water skin, and the illicit book under her seat in the dickey cart. She wedged them beside a long thin package wrapped in sacking. It was her companion on all deliveries and she gave it a quick pat for luck.
Tom tucked his books and fishing gear in the big wagon and waved as he pulled away.
The lazy slouch will probably bang off early to the stream for reading and fishing. She rolled her eyes and led Sally out of the yard. When they were little, Nelle paddled after her big brother as he wore a triangle path between the stream, woods, and town lending library.
Out in the street, the cobbler’s apprentice raised his hand as she passed. “Better get a move on, Nelle. The roads are fair clogged this morning.”
A dozen steps later a second man, a local tinker named Bernard, winked at her. “Wait till you see the castle road, Nellie.”
“Moulins like a challenge!” Nelle called over her shoulder, hurrying away before Bernard could talk her ear off. She wasn’t that late, but she wasn’t early, either. If she brought in her flour late on such and important day Mistress Jamison would cut down the castle’s flour order with the Moulins to a pittance and their hopes of earning the royal seal would be gone.
However, Nelle didn’t get far before someone called her name again. After that, the greetings didn’t let up. As a child, Nelle had assumed she and Tom drew such attention because their father, John Moulin, owned a local mill. Everyone ate bread. They were famous. When she was seven Tom called her out for being a dunce.
He had placed a finger between the pages of his book to mark his spot and looked at her with pity. “Do you see many other kids about, Needle? Listen, nobody likes to talk about it, but you know our older sister Katie?”
“The one who died?” She’d whispered, fearful and hopeful that Tom might finally tell her what had happened.
The echoes from the past faded into the morning sunshine as the dark bent of Nelle’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted. Her best friend, Annie, had caught up with her. A heavy basket of plums perched on Annie’s narrow hip. “Morning, Nellie. Bit late today, aren’t we?”
“Bloody hell, not you, too.” Nelle picked up her pace, but Annie followed suit.
The little blonde woman huffed. “I’m just saying, you won’t have time to chat with Charles if you’re hurrying off to the castle.”
“You know plain well I don’t want to chat, or do anything else, with Charles Eaves. He’s mean as a gibbet, and just as hard.” Nelle stepped over a large pile of dung already drawing flies.
“Nelle Moulin!” Annie clucked her tongue. “Hard to catch is all well and good—”
“I don’t want to be caught!” Nelle interrupted.
Annie went on as though Nelle hadn’t spoken. “—but men are liable to have their minds changed by anything that tents their trousers. This town is fair dripping with Eaves.”
“Or someone married to an Eaves. Though that part’s still a mystery. All the Eaves’ being varying degrees of unpleasant.” Nelle brushed a fly from Sally’s face.
Annie, whose cousin was married to the baker, Augustus Eaves, narrowed her large eyes. “Be that as it may, there are lots of them, and every one of them wants flour.”
Nelle scoffed. “Like I care a fig for what an Eaves thinks.”
Inside, however, Nelle wasn’t so confident. So far the Eaves’ all bought flour from her father, but things not always need be so. Three years ago, the largest mill in the kingdom and the former royal supplier, had burned down. Now, every miller in Lointaine was scrambling to fill the void. Annie didn't know everything, though. She was sweet, but she was a bit of a loose lipped know-it-all when her man Walter got her tipsy.
Nelle hurried to change the subject. “How’s Walter?”
Annie took a deep breath and launched into a kiss-by-kiss account of Walter’s latest attempts at courting. It was far more than Nelle wanted to know about any man. She had no fear of getting into trouble with the young men about, not for her own part anyway. Though by seventeen she’d had a few offers, there wasn’t anything about them that tempted Nelle. Her own Mama had been fourteen when she’d grown heavy with Katie, but it was much more than that. Nelle liked children fine, she just couldn’t countenance the way you grew one. This might spell trouble for her in the future, but she was still young enough that it didn’t matter so much.
Annie and Nelle made plans to meet at the midsummer festival later in the week, and parted ways when Nelle stopped for her first delivery. After emerging from the baker’s, Nelle was jostled by the flood of traffic pouring down the high street of Lointaine. She’d never seen anything like it. Navigating the streets demanded all her attention, but Sally knew the way well and Nelle’s first few deliveries were uneventful. Usually, most days were uneventful, but she tried not to dwell on it. At least the celebration at the castle promised a little excitement.
Once past the blacksmith's and tailor’s, Nelle had to stop to let a long entourage of high-walled carriages pass. She chafed at the delay and hurried on to The Knight's Inn. Though, only out-towners and the inn's owner, Dave Tabbott, called it that. A knight had stayed there once upon a time, but it was over a hundred years ago. Everyone had called it Tabbott's, before and since. The people of Lointaine knew the history of their own folk, without room for change.
Nelle headed for the loading yard at the back of the inn, down an alley behind the buildings on the main street. The yard appeared empty, but when she hopped down a large, meaty hand clamped onto the back of the cart. Nelle gritted her teeth. Charles Eaves delighted in taking her unexpected, like a snake striking.
His voice was soft. “Why, Nelle Moulin, bright as the sunshine this morning, aren’t you?”
“Good morning.” Practice kept distaste out of her voice.
Charles took two long strides toward Sally's bridle and grabbed hold, using his large fingers to stroke the animal's head. His hard blue eyes fixed onto Nelle's bodice, and it was clear from the slow way he pawed at the curves of Sally's cheeks that his mind was imagining choicer bits under his grasp. The donkey was too dumb to move away. Sally stretched her neck up and whickered at Charles' pockets for a treat. Heat from the rising sun brought a small trickle of sweat between Nelle’s shoulder blades, but she didn't move.
Charles offered a bit of grass to Sally. “Bit late this morning, Nelle. I hope nothing disturbed your beauty sleep last night.”
Nelle narrowed her eyes. She didn’t like him thinking of where she lived and where she slept, up in the loft. It made her come over cold despite the bright sun. “Not a bit. I just offered Mama some help this morning. You know how hard she works, what with my being gone all day and nobody to help out at home.”
Charles flushed a little ruddy around his collar.
She grabbed the first bag of flour, choosing the largest on purpose. Delivering for her father’s mill was hard work and Nelle had the strength that came from lifting fifty pound sacks of flour and grain daily. “I'll bring these round to the kitchens.” Nelle hoped this would move the man out of her path. She didn't have time to waste sparring with Charles.
But he only stood there with his hands still exploring Sally's head and neck. His blond hair was cropped close to his head except for a longer shock on top he swept to the side. Sally, seeing no more food on the horizon, had lost interest, and blew about in the dirt at her feet.
Finally, he moved. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Nelle.” Charles grabbed two bags and hoisted them to his wide shoulders.
Nelle was so surprised at the sudden apology that the cat caught her tongue and sat on it. She nodded, and followed him to the kitchen door.
A blast of warmth wavered in the air around the open door along with the clink of dishes from inside. The cook, Gordie, yelled something fierce at one of the under servants before he noticed them standing in the door. “Nelle! I'm down to my last cup. We’ve laid on a few more visitors than usual, well-wishers for up at the castle who must have missed their invitations in the post. I don't suppose you've anything to spare this morning?”
Nelle often carried extra bags as customers sometimes changed their orders at the last minute, but the larger delivery to the castle today meant she only had a few.
“I have a fifty and three tens, a couple of fives. How much do you need, Gordie?” Nelle took the small slate she used for accounting from the pocket of her apron.
Gordie blew out a gust of air that ruffled his thin mustache as he considered Nelle's offer. “I guess I'll have the fifty and one of the tens. Just put 'em up with the rest.”
As they unloaded the flour Nelle tried to avoid Charles, but despite her best efforts he managed to be behind her whenever she turned or directly in her path as she crossed from kitchen to cart so that she had to squeeze by him. As a result, the delivery took twice as long as usual. Nelle eyed the swiftly rising sun warily, feeling desperate to head for the castle road.
When she was finally ready to leave, Nelle led Sally away quickly, but Charles ran in front of her.
“Nelle, are you going to the midsummer festival?” He stepped closer, using Sally to mask his movements. Charles grabbed Nelle’s hand to stop her leaving. “Unless you’d like to see me tonight?”
She flushed with anger and ripped her hand out of his grip. Luckily, she was saved from saying anything she couldn’t take back by the arrival of the wagon from Wermer’s breweries.
The drivers, Dickie and Bert, waved at them as their wagon trundled past. “Oy, Charlie, how about a hand, lad? You're sure to get a bit of something to wet your whistle with us. Flour only leaves you stiff and dry.” Raucous laughter bounced off the high walls of the inn yard, like a murder of crows hopping around their dinner.
Charles followed the beer wagon, his pale cheeks now blotchy and red, before throwing her a glance over his shoulder. “I’ll see you later, Nelle.”
“I deliver to Tabbott’s everyday.” Nimbly, Nelle mounted the cart and clicked at Sally. They were both eager to be gone.
The shade under the trees was a relief after the sun of the open road. However, this was the fourth time she’d had to pull off into the grass. It was getting old. Large carriages, some with as many as six horses, kept forcing her to take shelter at the side of the road while they blew past. At this rate, it might be faster to walk the flour up the hill herself. Nelle took a long draw from the waterskin in her cart, then dragged Sally into a break in the traffic.
Five minutes later, the tell-tale clopping of hooves brought Nelle’s head around.
“Horse piss. Not again.”
With an aggrieved sigh, Nelle led Sally off the road. This time she wasn't alone, though. A small group of merchants sat under a cluster of nearby oaks. In the center of the group sat Edgar Wermer, her father's oldest friend and owner of a large brewery.
He waved her over. “Come on, Nellie, might as well stop with us a minute while yonder overdressed, pompous beggars rip up the hill.”
Nelle steered Sally under the trees where the donkey whiffed about in the grass for crab apples. Nelle settled onto a large rock, but before she could open her waterskin Edgar stuffed a small pewter mug into her hands. The fizzy scent of hard cider made her mouth water. Wermer’s was famous for its ales, beers, and spirits, though Nelle didn’t have much taste for those. The truth was, after her sister’s death, Nelle wasn’t supposed to take drink from anywhere except her family’s own well. She loved cider, however, as Edgar well knew.
His dark eyes and skin crinkled as he smiled. “Not much call for it up at the castle, so there’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Thanks, Edgar.” She drank deeply, and let the cool, heady buzz dance in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. She was breaking her mother’s most important rule, but nobody had ever proved that tainted water was the source of the illness that had killed her sister, along with half the kingdom. Besides, Edgar was a family friend and had never had an issue with his breweries.
From the shade of the trees Nelle scanned the road. Three huge carriages rushed past and a dozen mounted soldiers thundered in their dusty wake. Nelle swore inwardly and squashed down her frustration at the passage of time she didn’t have. She tried to distract herself with the familiar faces around her. A wine merchant, a handful of farm delivery men, and some musicians chatted about the enormous celebration at the castle and how wonderful it was for their businesses.
Humphrey, a dairy delivery man, removed his pipe from his mouth and smiled. He was a stooped older gentleman who drove a special cart more like a walking closet with special ventilation grilles, and shelves lined with fresh hay. “Second load of butters and cheeses today alone! Why I’ve not had this much custom since the princess’ christening. That was the first time I’d smiled since the sleeping sickness took away my Sara.” Humphrey’s smile faltered.
The group stayed quiet for just a moment too long, before one of the musicians shouted, “Give thanks now, as tomorrow might be nothing but the tarnished underside of today’s shining platter!” The men laughed and they didn’t stop until their mirth built into a harsh frenzy.
Nelle didn’t join in. She shifted uncomfortably on her rock and gazed at the steep ridges of the surrounding valley. It was always like this when the people of Lointaine gathered. She heard her younger self asking Tom, again. The one who died? Two years before Nelle’s birth, a terrible sleeping sickness had swept old and young alike from the land. Her older sister Katie was one of the first victims. Even up at the palace they'd lost the young prince and princess.
Nelle shivered at the idea of that terrible time. Never having seen it herself, it was usually a bit thrilling to pull out these dark stories and look inside them at her pleasure. Their kingdom had suffered a great loss, and its pall seemed to settle over everything since. Nobody had ever given them an answer. Not the priests, and not the doctors. Neither the hedge witches, nor the oldest legends could account for the sight of lively sons and daughters lying down to sleep never to wake again. Their bodies wasting into skeletons, their souls lost wandering who knew where?
All of this had passed Nelle by. She wasn’t even born when the sleeping sickness slaughtered the townspeople, killed her older sister, and left Lointaine a creaking carcass of survivors. The men beside her had fallen quiet again. The silence stretched around them, took shape and unfurled its dark cloak before slipping away into the trees beside the clearing.
Edgar cut into Nelle’s musings. “I’m off to meet with the master of the king’s cellars. There’s a fresh crop of dandies dropping by every hour up there ahead of the big announcement. Nobody wants to feel the snub of being left out. Word is, the prince arrives today.”
Nelle, only listening to Edgar with one ear, finally spied an opening on the road. “Thanks for the drink, but I can’t keep stopping, I’m late enough as it is!” She hurried over to Sally and grabbed the reins. When she turned Edgar stood in her path.
He glanced at the others over Sally’s brown neck. “A quick word, Nellie. Do you still carry a dirk with you on your rounds?”
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,