When a fairytale shine hides a deadly curse, Ameryst will do anything to save her sister’s life, before she falls victim to it #pitprom #YA
In YA Fantasy THE BRAVEST OF THEM ALL, Syrendale citizens find their mate at the Maiden Night Ball, and sparks fly through the air each time a match is made. But at the age of eighteen, life for one daughter from each family holds a very different fate. The daughters selected as their family’s Maiden give themselves to the sea and transform into the noble creatures that guard Syrendale’s cliffs.
Ameryst has always longed to match, and is thrilled to learn her beloved younger sister Verabelle has been chosen as the family’s Maiden. But when a young man from the world outside calls the Maiden Night tradition into question, she finds a long-forgotten path to the shore in hopes of finding affirmation that the Maiden magic is real. That’s when she discovers the disturbing truth.
There is no transformation. Only bones and tarnished Maiden brooches litter the shore. Terrified, Ameryst hatches a plan to save her sister’s life. She will protect Verabelle, even if it means forgoing her chance at matching and leaving Syrendale forever. Or if it means sacrificing her own life to save her.
After timid, bookish Verabelle is pinned their family’s Maiden, she struggles to summon the bravery she will need to jump off Syrendale’s cliffs when her time comes. When Ameryst suddenly and without explanation disappears into the night, Verabelle is left searching for answers as to why. As Maiden Night approaches, Verabelle discovers an eerie connection between Syrendale and the world of one of the stories her father left behind before he died. A story of a world trapped under a curse, where a sacrifice of women’s lives is hidden under a fairytale sheen. When Ameryst returns and confirms her worst fears are true, Verabelle must find the courage she never thought she had. Because when Syrendale’s lies are laid bare, Verabelle might just be the only one who can save herself from the Maidens' macabre fate.
THE HAZEL WOOD meets THE GIVER with a hint of CARAVAL, my story combines the trials of love and sisterhood within a dark fairytale conflict and setting. It is told through the viewpoints of Ameryst and Verabelle, and is complete at 84,000 words. I hold a B.A. in Creative Writing, work as an instructional coach in urban schools, and am a wife and mother to three.
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First Ten Pages:
“Are you destined to be a Maiden,
Or to find your love so true?”
I was not destined to have adventures, but still I sought them. Made of ink pressed to paper, I had thousands of companions, and I joined them on journeys to distant places far outside the border of Syrendale’s wall. I stood beside them, unflinching, as they faced the trials of danger, through love found and lost, and as strength overcame their weakness. In these ways I had seen and experienced more than many through the pages of my books.
“What world are you lost in today, my dear Verabelle?” Iradella had entered my room without notice and plucked the book from my hands. She paged through it with false interest and placed a finger on her chin.
“Oooh, is this the one where a handsome prince comes to sweep away a helpless maiden, leading her to everlasting bliss? Oh my, Verabelle,” she said, her words sickly sweet, “you do prefer such fanciful tales.”
My muscles clenched and I grabbed to retrieve it. “Give me back my book.”
Iradella twirled away from me, her dress puffing out as she spun, her snow-white curls catching the light. “Not until you tell me how you want to style your hair.” I reached up and touched the wig I had remembered to place atop my own mousy strands and knew it sat askew, and that it was tangled from neglect. We all wore hair the color of snow when venturing outside our homes, but some of us embraced the tradition more tightly than others.
Before I could respond, Ameryst burst through the doorway and pursed her lips at our oldest sister.
“Iradella,” she said, her voice edged in irritation. “Give her back the book.” When Iradella didn’t move, Ameryst made a lunge for it. Iradella lifted my book high above her head, a sly smile on her perfectly polished face.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “We can’t let her go to The Pinning like this,” Iradella nodded towards me.
The Pinning. I had apparently lost track of the hour.
Ameryst looked me over and sighed in quiet agreement with our oldest sister. “We might still have time to do something.”
Iradella tossed my book to the floor where it slid into a corner and pointed to the bench at the foot of my bed. My cheeks grew hot, but I stayed silent. It wouldn’t have made a difference to complain. In the end, Iradella always got her way.
“After all, love,” she said. “We all know Syrendale women’s hair is perfectly white in any light!”
So few people saw us, and only the merchants employed by Lord Hagbarth himself interacted with the outside world, it was rumored that all those outside the wall believed our hair to simply grow the color of snow. To them, we were a pristine people in a far away kingdom. Some of the girls at school had wigs so expensive and of such a high quality they could claim it to be true. But the fat belly of the owner of the wig shop told a different tale. And however the tradition had started, we, all of us, whether rich or poor, willingly played the game.
Scowling, I fought the urge to scratch the itch produced by stiff netting and false hair pulled too tight and plaited with grey ribbon to match my dress. Iradella smiled, clearly pleased with herself at my reflection in the looking glass before flouncing back downstairs to wait with our mother.
The fate of a daughter in Syrendale rested on the outcome of today’s ceremony, held when a family’s eldest daughter reached the age of seventeen. The decision was made behind closed doors between the parents, who knew the girls best, and the Elders, who were trusted to be wise. We would not know who was chosen as our family’s Maiden until an Elder pinned the brooch upon the collar of one daughter’s dress only a short time from now. I counted on The Pinning to define me. To tell me who I was called to be. But I was also terrified. Terrified my call would ask too much of me. More than I was able to give.
Ameryst rested her hands on my shoulders. “Don’t be scared, Belle. I’m certain it’ll be me. I’m the one who runs headlong into any situation. Why would they doubt I’d take the noble leap when my time came?”
I tried to still the sound of my heart beating as it echoed in my ears. Ameryst was right. She was by far the boldest among us. She would be a good choice. But her voice betrayed uncertainty, and the words she spoke lacked the usual spirit behind them.
“I’m sure it won’t be Iradella.”
“No. I would think not,” Ameryst said. “She’s far too eager to match.”
“Well I’m eager to keep all of us here, in the same house. Like always.” I blinked back the tears I had been holding at bay for weeks, but they began to fall anyway. “I don’t want you to go away. Is becoming the Maiden what you truly want, Ameryst? Do you feel it as your call?”
“My dear, sweet baby sister. We don’t all shout our heartsong from the rooftops. For hearts are fragile things.” Ameryst wrapped her arms around me from behind and pressed her cheek close to my own, meeting my eyes in the reflection of the looking glass. “And we rise to the call we are given.” She wiped away the narrow stream of tears that wound their way down my cheeks. “Besides, the Maiden doesn’t give herself to the sea until the age of eighteen. We’ll still have years together. And, if it’s to be me, when the time comes for my transformation, you can visit me on the cliffs and know I am numbered among the noble creatures who keep you and all those we love safe.”
My sister’s warmth slipped away as she let go and turned me away from the looking glass and knelt so her face was level with mine. She tucked a curved finger underneath my chin. “Head held high now. This is your first chance to be seen by the boys’ parents. It won’t do to sniffle.”
I pressed my lips and brows together. A reminder we would be on display was not a comfort. The couples who had given birth to Syrendale’s sons would be in attendance at the hall. We had yet to see their young men, but today was the adult’s first opportunity to take stock of the ladies who would soon be eligible to match them.
“Girls!” My mother called. “It’s time.”
“Let’s go,” Ameryst pulled me up and smiled as though everything was certain to be fine.
I took a deep breath and forced my shoulders back as my chest expanded. I grabbed my book where it had been flung and tucked it into the front pocket of my dress before following Ameryst down the stairs. Whatever the outcome of today, I had another world to escape into the moment it was over.
We walked in silence through the cobbled streets, past row upon row of stone cottages with ivy creeping up the walls and curling around the doorframes and windows. Our family joined with the dozens of others whose eldest daughter made them eligible for The Pinning today. My mother walked in front of me, her dress hanging loosely on her narrow frame. My dress, a hand-me-down from my two older sisters, had required a meticulous search for buttons to replace the originals which had come unstitched and fallen victim to a dustpan or a cobweb-ridden corner. Though she was a gifted seamstress, things had been difficult for my mother in the years since Father passed, and she saw to the needs of her daughters before tending to her own.
The sound of shoes clacking on the cobblestones echoed against the buildings and filled the otherwise quiet spaces between us as we approached the town square, the dividing line between the homes of the families who gave birth to daughters and the families who gave birth to sons. At its head, almost aglow in golden sunlight, stood the formidable Town Hall, a building which, as a child, I liked to imagine was a castle. Sculpted dragons guarded its corners and three spires reached to the clouds in an attempt to prick the sky. The face of a giant clock looked ever eastward to the lawn, Syrendale’s most expansive park and curated garden, dotted with the twisting branches of ancient trees. The site of the Maiden Night Ball. The far edge of the park ended at the Syrendale cliffs, beyond which was an endless and shimmering sea.
Inside the hall, Iradella gasped as she looked up, her eyes wide with a level of wonder I knew reflected my own. Elaborate columns framed the spaces between corridors extending in all directions, and in front of us a grand spiral staircase spun upward toward a domed ceiling, painted in a background of midnight blue and hundreds upon hundreds of bright and brilliant sparks. I had not yet seen the sparks that flew above lovers’ heads on Maiden Night, but I had seen pictures in the stories from our land. The ceiling made me feel as though I was in a moment frozen in time, the sparks mid-burst, contrasting the dark sky beyond. We followed the flow of people around the back of the stairs, our faces to the heavens.
The dim lighting of backstage offered us the ability to observe each other and otherwise shuffle our feet. My mother smiled and squeezed my hand before tucking a strand that had broken loose from my snowy braid back into place. All the daughters wore their most sensible dresses. Iradella had begged our mother to add just a thin trim of lace to her sleeves. This was an important event, but, as my mother had so often reminded Iradella in the days leading up to The Pinning, it was not a party.
Some of the families present accompanied only one daughter. These were the families who had lost a child to sickness, or who could not afford multiple mouths to feed. Those families had only raised a daughter in order to satisfy their requirement to provide Syrendale with a Maiden. One year from now, when the girls turned eighteen, their parents would return home in relief at Maiden Night’s end, knowing their stomachs would each day be just a little bit fuller and that they had made their contribution. The daughters from those families knew from an early age what their destiny would hold, while I, on the other hand, counted on the result of the ceremony to tell me who I was meant to be.
The drape on the side of the stage opened without warning and the stage master, an aged man composed of innumerable points and angles, ushered us into rows behind the deep blue curtain separating us from the rest of the auditorium. Ameryst was placed in the middle between myself and Iradella. Our mother took position behind us. Once settled, the seven Elders of Syrendale moved directly in front of our family, followed by Syrendale’s ruler, Lord Hagbarth himself, at the very front and center. He wore a black velvet coat and tails lined with silk, the sea blue shine of which I could just see when he billowed the coat out behind him like a cape. He did not look back at Syrendale’s daughters.
The curtain parted just enough to allow Lord Hagbarth and the Elders to walk through, and as it closed behind them a hush fell over the room.
“We have gathered today to participate in one of the most solemn of Syrendale traditions,” Lord Hagbarth began, his voice confident and crisp, reaching even to where we stood behind the curtain. “The time has come for each of these families to select their choice for Maiden.
“The women they designate as Maiden will hold the greatest honor of all Syrendale’s children. To take the leap off our hallowed cliffs at the age of eighteen, and to transform into the noble creatures, the Sea Maidens, who ever guard Syrendale’s shores. Their responsibility is great, and their bravery unmatched. Each family, which will soon stand before you, has made their choice as to which of their daughters shall hold this highest honor. From today on, those designated as the Maiden shall wear the Maiden Brooch as a sign they are set apart and destined for that purpose.” He paused, allowing the drama of the moment to build to completion. “And now, the newest daughters of Syrendale.”
The curtains parted with a flourish and Lord Hagbarth and the Elders stepped aside. My sisters and I now stood at the front of a cavernous auditorium facing the crowd, a mass of murmurs and moving shadows beyond the glare of the stage lights. I swallowed, but found my throat dry as a bone, and I clutched Ameryst’s hand as my eyes blinked in an attempt to find focus. My free hand moved to where my book rested in the pocket of my dress and I pressed against it, wishing I were home, the pages of my story washed in sunlight from the window and hidden away from these eyes I could not see beyond the lights and these people I did not know.
On a black velvet tray in the hands of Lord Hagbarth now sparkled row upon row of The Brooch of The Maiden. Each identical, the snow white silhouette of the profile of a young woman raised up above a jet black background. Ornate, winding silver tendrils formed the border of the brooch, each ending in a silver flower, at the center of which was a clear and sparkling precious stone. Partially visible behind the woman and atop the background was a thin and curving silver letter M. Underneath the M, in small and scrolling print, was a number. A number a clerk would record on a list, tying the brooch indelibly to the Maiden’s name.
After the crowd again quieted, each Elder removed a pin from the tray and approached the families standing in the front, including mine. Their shining shoes clapped against the planks of the stage floor and echoed across the hall.
My chest rose and fell in a series of shallow breaths. My nostrils froze in a permanent flare. I stole a glance at my sisters. A smile played at the edge of Iradella’s lips and her hands remained at her sides. I wasn’t surprised, for she relished any moment she could be on display. Ameryst’s face was filled with more conviction than pleasure and her grip on my hand was solid. She had prepared well for this moment. Far better than I.
“And which daughter shall have the designation in your family to be the noble Maiden?” asked the Elder before us. Bile crept up in my throat and my stomach turned with a fury. The moment was here.
My mother shuffled behind me. My eyes were on Ameryst as she held her breath and braced herself for the weight of two hands upon her shoulders, signaling she had been our family’s choice.
Instead, I felt weight on my own shoulders and an increased pressure on my right hand. My body turned to ice. Ameryst’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped a moment before she thought better and pressed her lips shut. I turned back to see pride exuding from my mother’s face.
It wasn’t meant to be me. Ameryst said it wasn’t going to be me. For so long I had wanted to know my call. But now, I wished I could go back to before. Before the heat of these lights. Before the sweat on the back of my neck. Before my mind froze on the image my body, falling through the air. Before knowing my family’s honor depended on my fall.
The Elder leaned in as he secured the heavy pin and spoke to me, his warm breath hitting my ear.
“Maidens are noble. Maidens are brave. It is you who is called to keep Syrendale safe.”
He lifted his eyes to our mother. “Congratulations, Mrs. Chetworth. We look forward to the day when Verabelle receives the ultimate honor and takes the noble leap.”
One daughter from each family, now bearing the insignia of the Maiden, stepped forward to the edge of the stage and the shadowed figures beyond the lights applauded for us all.
“Ameryst?” I lifted my eyes and whispered to my sister. “Do they really think I’m brave?”
My sister drew her arm around me and pulled my body close. “Oh yes,” she whispered back, her eyes trained on the roar of the crowd. “You must be the bravest.”
And I wondered how many of those standing with me, how many who had gone before me and wore the pin felt the same turning in their stomach the moment they were chosen. The moment they realized they would have rather had a choice. But we donned our precious wigs and covered our fear with plastered smiling faces as we stared down a life planned out for us. Our endings, already written. Our stories, carved in stone. I looked down at the brooch, lifting my fingers to it and running them along the raised contours of the profile of the snow white woman and the letter that now marked my fate.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,