Hey everyone! The time is fast approaching for Jessa and the Lost Goddess to be born. Just as a reminder, this is the first novella in a companion series for Asta and the Barbarians which I'm calling Chosen by the Masters. Asta's story takes place mostly on the island of Holger, whose people are at war with the mainland natives. Jessa's story takes place on the mainland itself, which is actually called Trusul (pronounced "true-sule"). Yes, there will be a map included in the novella so get excited!
Jessa and the Lost Goddess will be available at all of your favorite online stores come April 5th. To celebrate this, I'm putting Asta and the Barbarians on sale for 99 cents April 4th-8th so you'll be able to grab two books for less than five bucks. Are you excited yet?
I've made significant progress on the second novella in this series this month alone and I will be sharing more news on this project next month. But, for now, I have to get you hyped about Jessa and the Lost Goddess. Now, some of you may already know this but some of you may not so I'm going to tell the story again.
Back in the day when I was still going to college (oh, geez, has it been six years already?!), I took multiple writing classes in order to complete my community college's Creative Writing Program. I had plans to take that certificate of completion and transfer to a university so that I could get a "real" writing degree but I decided to get married and have kids instead. I want to go back and actually get that degree just to say that I have one but I'm probably going to wait until I'm rich and famous because, you know, student loans are the worst.
Anyway, one of the classes I took was Introduction to Fiction which was a challenging blast I will always cherish. My teacher had us writing short stories every two weeks! For those of you who don't know me very well, this was an EXTREMELY difficult task because not only am I long-winded but I also come up with plotlines that usually take more than 100 pages to come to a fruitful conclusion. But I actually managed to create several short stories for this class that weren't half bad. One of those stories was Jessa's. Even after I "completed" it and submitted it for a grade (not to brag, but I got an A), I knew I had only scratched the surface of this story. There were so many areas I could expand upon and have a really fun time doing it. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of two other writing projects at the time, both of which had deadlines, so I had to put Jessa on the backburner. But not really. Any time I had writer's block for the other two stories, I would come back to Jessa's story and add a few pages to it. So, by the time I could fully devote myself to Jessa, I had the bulk of the novella completed. All I had to do was finish it up, get it edited, hire a cover artists, and bam! The book was done.
Thanks for hanging in there, you veteran fans who have been with me since I had the other blog. I actually posted the original short story on that other blog all those many moons ago because I was so proud of it. I kept most of those scenes but I added tons more Rowan and Jessa time, obviously. So, without further ado, here is an excerpt from Jessa and the Lost Goddess:
I cut my sausage into bite-sized pieces. My stomach growled and my mouth watered in anticipation but I forced my movements to be deliberate, graceful, ladylike. The prongs of my fork sank into the chunk of sausage. I lifted the utensil to my lips and closed them around the meat.
“Slowly now, Jessa,” my mother chided from one end of the table. “Goodness. One would think you were starved.”
I rolled my jaw at a snail’s pace, eyes downcast, annoyance frothing within. I am starved.
My mother leaned in her chair so that she could watch the new maid prepare the tea through the open kitchen door. She pursed her lips, no doubt concocting a list of things to criticize.
“Oh, the audacity of this man,” my father rumbled from the other end of the table. His tuft of brown hair stuck up from the top of the newspaper he read.
My mother sat up straight. “What man?”
“The young Lord Eckersley.” My father slapped the newspaper down on the table, revealing a round face and narrowed brown eyes. “He claims Anwyl is the cause of this mysterious disease killing off our people in droves. He’s placed an ad in the paper for any able-bodied man to join him in a quest to vanquish her.” A derisive snort. “The love goddess is a myth, a fairytale! And even if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t curse cities with illnesses.” The grumbling continued even as he chewed.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the young lord has incurred the wrath of the goddess,” my mother said with a sniff. “He’s rejected every lovely lady his mother has tried to marry him off to. If I were the love goddess, I would’ve struck him with an incurable disease for constantly snubbing my will.”
My heart palpitated within my chest. Memories like bubbles rising in the water began to blossom in my mind. Memories of a dream, too hazy to be completely remembered. A woman of unparalleled beauty. A misty hollow with overgrown grass and crooked trees. A journey that would change everything…
I kept my expression mild. “A quest, did you say, Father? That sounds exciting.”
“It’s codswallop! If anyone answers this call-to-arms it will be only out of respect for his father, or because some hot blooded firstborns need a quest in order to prove themselves worthy of independence. Not because anyone will believe this Anwyl nonsense.”
I placed another piece of sausage in my mouth and chewed slowly with my head bowed. My mind was racing.
“Any news on the war effort?” my mother asked, lifting her tea cup.
My father stopped sawing into his omelet to cast a worried glance my way. “Nothing worth repeating.”
“You’re done with breakfast, Jessa,” my mother said abruptly. “Go upstairs and change. I’ve set out a dress for you.”
No, I’m not done with breakfast! I managed to scoop up one more spoonful of eggs before the maid could collect my plate.
“None of that now,” my mother said. “We’re watching your waistline, remember?”
I swallowed my eggs and, in a voice barely louder than a whisper, said, “Yes, Mother.”
I rose, bid my parents good morning, and left the dining room with all the grace I could muster despite my frustration. Taking slow and deliberate steps, I traveled the length of the foyer to the grand staircase. More maids bustled along the hall of the second story, straightening the elaborate portraits of my forefathers, dusting the end tables, washing the windows, and collecting the rugs from the hardwood floor. The drapes had been taken to the laundry room; the windows, now unobstructed, showcased the seaport city of Sorsen. Through the glass, the competitive calls of newspaper boys joined the clopping of horse hooves and the sharp calling of seagulls.
A genuine smile tugged at my lips. On crisp, sunny mornings like this, when my older brother had lived under the same roof as me, I would drag him out of his stuffy room and force him to take a walk with me in the park. Perhaps after I was finished at the bridal shop, I could surprise him at his house…
Gilha, my personal maidservant, waited for me in the bedroom with a corset and a hoopskirt that could’ve been utilized in a torture chamber.
“Apologies, my lady,” Gilha murmured as she tightened the laces. “Your mother’s orders.”
She was old enough to be my aunt, with graying brown hair and a face lined with smile wrinkles. She was one of the kindest people I’d ever known.
“My mother…is going to…kill me.” I gripped the posts on either side of my bed and leaned forward, fighting for breath.
Gilha hmmed sympathetically and loosened the laces slightly. “Perhaps that’s enough for today.”
“Thank you.” I took a moment to acclimate to the restricting corset, taking short, quick breaths. When my head had stopped spinning, I straightened up and stepped away from the bed.
Gilha wrapped the hoopskirt with the outrageous bustle around my waist and proceeded to tug the dress over everything. When she was finished, I was clothed in velvet layers the same yellow shade as butter. The dress’ neckline cut down my sternum in a V, with ruffles along the sides and a black bow beneath the bust. (Not that I needed anything drawing more attention to my breasts; they were already larger than the average young lady’s). The sleeves went down to my wrists and also sported black bows. The bodice, like the neckline, forced my torso into a strict V shape. The skirt flared at my hips, like water overflowing from a bucket.
“You look beautiful, my lady,” Gilha said, fluffing the skirt.
“The dress is beautiful,” I murmured. “And much too fine for a visit to the bridal shop.”
Gilha pursed her lips to the side, giving a stern look through the mirror. “You’d look beautiful in rags and you know it. Can you blame your mother for wanting to show you off?”
I scoffed. “Mother is proud of many things. I’m not one of them.”
“And yet she smiles whenever someone compliments your curvaceous figure.” She cupped my chin in her hand, appraising it with a twinkle in her eye. “You’re more beautiful than all the flat, petite little flowers in this city and don’t you forget it.”
Dear friend, I thought, smiling, you always know just what to say.
Gilha released my chin. “Now, how should I do your hair for this afternoon?”
I locked my knees in place, straightened my spine, and made fists at my sides even as the bridal shop swayed around me. I stood on the pedestal, staring at myself in the mirror. White lace with a floral pattern had been laid over satin to create a simple but beautiful wedding gown that flowed gracefully down my body and accentuated my curves.
I think I’m going to be sick. Sweat accumulated under my arms and around my neck. Oh, gods, I’m not ready for this.
Mrs. Lamberton clapped her hands together and brought them to her mouth, which was pulled up in a smile. “It’s perfect.”
Elise and Kamila nodded, gushing appreciatively from their seats. They had been my friends since childhood and yet they couldn’t see the plea for help I was projecting through my widened eyes.
“Do you think it should be taken in a bit at the hem?” the seamstress asked, her brow quirked indecisively.
“Maybe just a pinch.” Mrs. Lamberton came to inspect the hem for herself. Her hair was pinned on the top of her head in a pile of silver, making her an inch or so taller than everyone. The perfumes that had been used to wash those tresses wafted up to smother me.
I suppressed a cough.
Mrs. Lamberton looked up at me. “Are you quite well, Ms. Copeland?”
“Yes.” I cleared my throat and schooled my mouth into what I hoped was a demure smile. “Just a little flustered.”
“All women are, so close to their wedding day.” Mrs. Lamberton took my hand in both of hers. They were dry as paper and just as soft. They offered me no comfort. “Don’t you worry, my dear. I’ll make sure everything goes according to plan.”
“Thank you,” I said.
The seamstress and Mrs. Lamberton continued discussing the dress, circling me like a pair of sharks.
Elise and Kamila offered compliments and suggestions like good bridesmaids, but they mostly twittered among themselves, gossiping about the groomsmen or reminiscing on other weddings they’d attended.
“Oh, I can’t wait until I get married,” Elisa said with a sigh. “You’re so lucky, Jess.”
“I need some air.” I stepped off the pedestal and retreated to the changing room before anyone could object.