QSFer Anya Josephs has a new Lesbian YA fantasy out: Queen of All.
The only interesting thing about fourteen-year-old Jena is other people. Her mother disappeared when she was a baby, and her best (and only) friend, Sisi, is not just the lost heir to a noble Numbered house, but also the Kingdom’s most famous beauty.
Jena herself is just awkward, anxious, and often alone: not exactly heroic material. But when a letter summons Sisi to the royal court, both girls find their own futures, and the Kingdom’s, in Jena’s hands.
Sisi, caught between the king and the crown prince, searches for a magical secret the Prince is willing to kill to keep. Jena can save her: but only if she is willing to let her go, maybe forever. It’s hard to do that when she’s in love with Sisi herself.
She pushes the Sending away for as long as she can. For days it haunts her, whispering to her in her dreams, standing behind her at the loom while the morning sun through the window turns her skin golden in its gentle light. It murmurs her name as she smears a thick layer of rich schmaltz onto her bread at breakfast, touches her shoulder with ghostly fingers as the baby nurses at her breast, follows her to the stream as she carries the washing down, calls her name aloud as she and her husband join together at night.
At first, she means to accept or ignore it. Others have been haunted before, and lived a number of happy years before the madness set in. Better to do that and let her life come to an almost-natural end than to hear what this voice has to say. Her man will bury and mourn her, and maybe, if she can hold on long enough, the baby will be old enough when her mind goes that it will remember her as something other than the sickly shadow that she will no doubt become in the end.
She’s ready to endure a whisper in the night, a face reflected in the stream, a disembodied rage bristling behind her. She’s ready to lose her mind in the fight to keep the life that, though destiny and her mother may have sent her to, she ultimately chose for herself. She should have known that would be only the start.
The great ruak arrives with a storm. She’s still unsure, even at her great age, if all the thunder and lightning is really necessary, or if it’s just for show. Her mother still keeps some secrets to herself. To yield them up would be to yield her power, and the great Adirialaina will never do that—not until the Goddess Herself comes to claim her.
Yet she doesn’t fear her mother’s might, even as the sky flashes sickly green with a bolt too powerful to be of any natural origin. She does not weep, or scream in frustration, or call out for mercy. She takes a single shuddering breath and goes inside from the garden to clean up for supper.
Her sister-in-law has made a rich dish of lentils and rice—mujadra, they call it, in their Common Tongue that is still so strange to her—and the whole kitchen smells of frying onions and braised herbs.
She washes her hands and sits at the table next to her husband. She’s quiet throughout the meal, but then, she’s often quiet. No one notices. And no one is much surprised when she urges them all to go to bed early.
“The storm will be bad. Best get some rest,” she says, and they take her advice, as they are wont to do.
A strange girl, but a clever one, they say about her. She knows things, and sure enough it’s best to listen.
If only they knew.
Her husband locks the cottage’s shaky door against the gusts of wind. She watches as the rest of the family goes into their bedrooms, shutting themselves away. She could do the same, she supposes, but a locked door is no refuge against what she knows is coming.
Instead, she hands the baby to its father and murmurs an excuse before ducking back into the main room of the house, quickly, matter-of-factly, as though she’s going to douse a pot left on the fire and not as though she’ll never see the little one again. The baby knows, though, its fat fist tangling in her hair before it settles its heavy head against its father’s chest and returns to sleep.
Its magical intuition is already powerful for a child not even a year old. The ruak in its tiny, perfect body will grow as it does. One day, it will be strong enough to shake the Earth.
She is proud to think of such a bright future for this child, for the only child she will ever have. She tries not to think of the suffering that the weight of destiny will demand from this soft and helpless babe. She does not yield the child up to her mother’s machinations, not in her own mind, though it was by Adirialaina’s will that it was conceived and born and will go on to save their people.
I will see you again, one day, she promises the child fiercely. She wonders if its ruak is already strong enough that it can hear the words of her mind. She hopes so. She hopes that the dream she cannot put into words will settle into the babe’s consciousness; that, somehow, it will remember this moment—not as an abandonment, but a temporary separation.
She strokes the baby’s dark hair and kisses her husband briefly, so that he won’t realize anything is wrong, and then she readies herself.
Of course, her mother still makes her wait. She sits down at the kitchen table as though she were anticipating a more ordinary type of family visit, and carefully does not allow herself even a quick glance at the empty door behind which her husband and child are now peacefully sleeping.
She knows she’ll never see them again. One last look will spare her nothing. It will not unwidow her husband, or give her child a mother’s love to remember. It will not let her keep her family. Nothing will.
When it arrives at last, at (for Adirialaina has never been accused of lacking a flair for the dramatic) the stroke of midnight, her mother’s voice comes in like a crack of thunder. It has been three long years since she heard her mother speak, but the power in that voice still makes all the little hairs on her arms stand at attention, makes her stomach churn, makes her jaw set with something like fury.
She knows what she has to do, Adirialaina’s voice tells her. She knows who she is. She has played this game long enough, and her part in it is finished.
She could rage at the unhearing sky. She could scream and wail out her grief until the timbers of the cottage shatter around her and break as her heart is breaking.
She could even refuse. That’s never happened before, and there’s no knowing what would come of it, but she could try, for the sake of her small family, her real family.
Instead, wearily, obediently, she walks out into the night. As the single lighted window of the cottage where she has spent the only two happy years of her long life disappears into the gloom of the night, over the heavy pounding rhythm of the storm, she hears the baby start to cry.
I am a lifelong reader, an emerging author, and a passionate teacher. I hold a BA from Columbia University and an MA from UCLA, both in English. Raised in North Carolina, I now live and work in New York City, where I teach foster youth pursuing college degrees. When not working or writing, I can be found seeing a lot of plays, reading doorstopper fantasy novels, or worshipping my cat, Sycorax.
I write widely in a variety of genres. My fiction can be found in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Mythaxis, The Green Briar Review, the Necronomicon Anthology, and forthcoming in the Broadkill Review. My non-fiction appears in SPARK, SoLaced, Prouud2BeMe, The Huffington Post, and Anti-Heroin Chic. I am also a published poet, in Poets Reading the News, and my plays have been performed by One Song Productions, NOMADS, and Powerhouse Theatre’s Apprentice Company. My debut novel, Queen of All, a fantasy for young adults, is forthcoming from Zenith Press.