UKYA Day!

Today is UKYA Day. And I am a UK YA author. And being part of the UKYA community is a massive part of my life now – it’s my watercooler, it’s my office, it’s my after-work drinks, my Christmas party. Writing can be incredibly lonely, but thanks to the UKYA community, I feel as though I have colleagues. And those colleagues have become friends.

I thought a lot about what to write for my blog post today. Should I write about how grateful – and stunned – I am to have been welcomed so warmly into this community, and supported by other authors, bloggers, bookshops, publishing people and, of course, readers? Should I write another emotional post about what books mean to me, what stories mean to me? Should I use this opportunity to overshare a little more of my bizarro life?

I decided not to. I decided that today I’d do something with the thing that brought me into the UKYA community, which is of course, the book I wrote. What I’m about to share are some of the deleted scenes from the very first incarnation of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’m not going to give much context for them, suffice to say they never made it to the final version, for one reason or another, and I hope you enjoy them.

Happy UKYA Day!

**********************************************************************************      1)

‘I’ll take you back now, my lady,’ Lief says, turning to lead the way.

I shake my head, wanting to stay in the sunlight for a little longer.  ‘I am not quite ready.’

‘Dorin said I was to take you back.’

‘And so you will.  But I’d like a few more moments to finish my work.’

‘My lady, I must insist you come with me back to your rooms,’ he says.

For a moment I stare at him, both amused and annoyed at his attempt to command me.  It’s been a long time since someone, save the Queen, told me what I must do.  When he stares back at me, his eyebrows raised, I draw myself up to my full height, though my head would barely reach his shoulder if we were to stand back to back.  ‘Lief, I will finish my work.  Then we will return.  Let that be an end to it, please.’

I’m sure if he could he’d take my arm and pull me back inside, his lips are parted, his eyes flashing.  Then he lowers them and his head drops into a bow.

‘Yes, my lady.’

I can feel him brooding behind me and I deliberately take my time sketching the flower.  He moves around, pacing the pathway, transferring his weight from foot to foot, sighing occasionally.  Each time he reminds me he is there I rip the sheet I’m working on away and begin again.  When he huffs I spend five whole minutes drawing a single boom.  When he scuffles his boots in the stones I tilt my head and consider the scene before me, my head rested on my hand, my face the very image of contemplation, save for when I cannot stop myself from smiling.  It becomes a game, though one he doesn’t understand straight away, and for each sign of impatience he displays I level back at him a gesture of serenity.

He finally makes the connection between his own actions and mine and he stills.  For a time I draw, trying to faithfully render the flower, trying to mimic the delicate strokes of Merek’s drawings.  At last I have a picture I am not ashamed of and I gather my things and rise.  I don’t speak to Lief as I pass him, keeping my chin tilted upwards.

Lief’s footsteps are loud behind me, the stamp of an angry child, and I consider stopping abruptly, or wheeling around to catch him off guard.  It would be amusing to see him stumble away from me.  But I don’t know him well enough and, despite Dorin’s assurances of his swiftness, it could go badly wrong if I he didn’t stop when I did.

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2)

On the pretext of wanting to make sure things are set for Dorin’s return I make Lief take me down into their quarters.  My guards keep their quarters in the room below mine, at night they sleep in shifts, one on sentry duty before my door, the other asleep in the room below until it is time to change.  I’ve never been there before, never needed to with a guard outside my door at every moment but now it is just Lief and I make him show me Dorin’s bed, telling him order a new pillow, an additional blanket.

I try to hide my curiosity but I’m surprised that he seems to keep nothing personal on his side of the room.  Both men have a small stub of candle on the wooden chairs by their beds; Dorin’s also contains a small dagger, a rag he presumably uses to polish it, and a battered tin soldier.  But Lief, as yet, has done nothing to carve out the space and claim it as his own.

I think he might be embarrassed about my being here.  As I fuss with Dorin’s pillows I can feel his eyes resting on me, watching me.  The room is not untidy, in fact, it is too orderly.  Dorin and Lief’s room is crisp, the blankets folded back to reveal smooth mattresses, pillows plumped and clothes hidden neatly away.  When I had brothers they left a trail of devastation in their wake, dropped handkerchiefs, small toys made of matchsticks and horse chestnuts, apple peels and orange pips.  Though my guards are grown men, not boys, the neatness of the room is still a surprise.

‘You keep it well,’ I say to him.  ‘I had no idea men could be so neat.’

‘I haven’t used it much.’

‘Do you not miss your old home?’

‘No.’

‘Is Tregellan very different from here?’  I have been planning to ask him this since we started talking, hoping he’d tell me all about the land, give me some stories I can feast on when I’m alone.  I had hoped that he would have something Tregellian in his room that I could look at, but there’s nothing.

‘Not really,’ he says.

‘Will you tell me about it?’

‘Forgive me, my lady, but I’d rather not talk about it.’

He hurries me from the room as soon as he can, back to my pretty prison, and I return to my screen and gazing out of the window.

 

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3)

‘Do you feel better now?’ Merek asks as we walk briskly through the knot garden, trying to keep the chill at bay.  The seasons are changing rapidly, the smokiness of autumn is in the air, the leaves on the ornamental trees beginning to turn tawny and gold under the sullen sky.   Rowan berries are bright scarlet on the trees that line the walkway.  The winter will be harsh, even by Lormere’s standards and I hope Tregellan has a warmer climate.

‘Better?’

‘After last night, and this morning I suppose.’

My cheeks flush and he smiles.  ‘You did not embarrass yourself, if that’s what you think.  Mother said that on the whole she believed you handled it with grace, considering what a shock it must have been.’

‘Yes,’ I turn to look at the small hedges that line the pathway.  ‘It was a revelation.’

‘I did mean what I said.  I do want to make you happy.  You’ve saved me, you see.’

‘I know.’

‘Do you?’ he stops and takes my clasped hands in his and I fight the urge to pull away.  ‘I don’t believe you do, Twylla, but I will show you my gratitude every day for as long as we both live.  I owe you so much, and I will repay it.  Anything you want, ask and you shall have it.  Nothing is too good for you now.’

I shake my head and he tugs my hands again.

‘I mean it, Twylla.  I do.’

‘I know, Merek.  It’s still a lot to take in.’

‘But good?’ he asks earnestly.

‘For so long,’ I begin, ‘for so long I have been pulled one way or another and always told what I am to be and what I will become.’

‘I know,’ he soothes, misunderstanding me.  ‘It was the same for me.  But you and I can make things our way now, we will rule and no one can tell us what we may and may not do.  We are the keys to each other’s freedom.  No more will you have to do anything other than what you desire.’

How am I to stay angry at him, to despise him as Lief so clearly does, when he thinks we are saving each other?  He means to offer me the world and I cannot tell him I do not want his world, that this is just another in a long line of roles I am told I will fulfil.

‘You’re too good,’ I say and I mean it.

‘I don’t believe anyone has ever thought of me as good before,’ he smiles.  He steps away and I watch him bend and examine the flowers.  He’s so different here with me in the gardens.  He smiles and the smile reaches his eyes, he jokes and is earnest and kind.

A cold tap to my nose makes me look up and a second raindrop falls onto my forehead.  I drop my head and then the heavens open.  Merek and I look at each other, rain soaking us before he grabs my hand and begins to run, pulling me back towards the castle, my cloak flaring behind me like a pennant.  I fumble to raise the hood but we’re moving too fast, the rain drenching us in a matter of moments, the white of Merek’s tunic turning transparent under its weight as we race through the garden, up the stairs and into the hall.

When I look at Merek he’s laughing, his face full of joy, his dark curls dripping onto his face.

‘Mother would be furious,’ he grins.  ‘How undignified of us to be caught in a rainstorm.’

‘We had very little warning.’

‘We ought to have known, Twylla.  We ought to have been able to command the sky to cease immediately.  What kind of rulers will we be?’

I smile back at him.  ‘Very damp ones.’

‘If I were the rain I would chose to fall on you, queen or not,’ his smile is wide and I blush at his flattery, until a forced cough makes me turn.

Lief stands there, his face white and blank as he stares at my hand, still in Merek’s.  Worse than that is the Queen’s face; she is staring at me with naked hatred and I grip Merek’s hand tighter.

‘There you are,’ she says coldly.  ‘I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to send the dogs to find you.’

She makes to attempt to mask the threat there and my throat tightens as she continues.

‘It would be a terrible pity if Twylla also caught a chill and I had suspected the weather would turn.  Had you not fled the solar I might have told you.’

‘We’re fine, Mother,’ Merek says, his smile wiped from his face as he shakes his head, showering his mother in droplets from his hair.

‘And yet you look soaked through.’

We all look at Merek’s chest, the taut lines of his body visible through the material that clings to him and again my skin fills with heat.

‘I can find a dry tunic, I’m sure.’

‘Have some brandy, see to it the girl does as well,’ the Queen replies coldly before turning on her heel and leaving us.

Merek watches her go with a smirk on his face before turning back to where Lief has edged to my side.  I watch as Merek and Lief stare at each other, watch as a shadow passes over Merek’s face before he lets go of my hand.

‘We should change,’ he says to me, reaching out to undo my cloak.  He bundles it up and thrusts it into Lief’s unprepared arms as he passes.  ‘Dry this,’ he commands.  ‘Twylla, I’ll see you in the solar shortly.’

Then he is gone, leaving me with my furious lover.

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4)

The cell door is thrown open and one of the guards firmly takes my arm.

‘Is it time?’ I ask, ashamed of the tremor in my voice.

They do not respond, leading me out from the cell, out of the dungeons, towards the main door.  Their faces are grim, as if they have no taste for the task they must perform but will do it nevertheless.  The light outside is dim, dawn light, and I know it’s time and my heart thuds violently beneath my ribs.  I am not sure if my legs will hold me for much longer.  I won’t be able to run.

We do not go out of the main doors, turning to the south instead and I speak again.

‘Where are you taking me?’

Again there is no reply, just the relentless passage through the castle.  The corridors are empty of people, all of the doors are closed and there is no one to ask, no one to see my fear, or shame.  I realise everyone must assembled, that the Queen does mean to bring the court to watch.  I wonder if the maids have already been into my solar to divide my things between them.

We walk through the abandoned Great Hall, the large fireplace empty of flames, the candles in their sconces unlit.  Up the stairs towards the royal solar and fear fills me again.  Why am I being taken there, what can the Queen or Merek have left to say to me?

The solar is empty and the guards march me towards the window.  For a second I am convinced that they will make me sing, one last time, but the guards push me down onto a chair.  My hands are pulled behind my back and tied and then they lift the chair and carry it to the window.  Far below, a hasty gallows has been erected on the lawn outside the castle and I see the sun fading over the forest on the horizon.  Sunset.  Not sunrise.

Immediately I begin to struggle, to try and tip the chair.

‘His majesty says you are to watch.  He will talk with you afterwards.’

‘No,’ I say and then I am screaming it at the top of voice, over and over, no, no, no, I will not watch and they cannot make me.  I will close my eyes and I will turn my face and I will rip my soul out of my body if that is what I must do but I will not watch him be hanged, I will not watch them take his life in front of me.

Is this his idea of kindness, to spare us the dogs but to hang him in front of me?  ‘Tell him I’ll marry him,’ I beg the guards.  ‘Tell him now, tell him I’ll do anything to not see this, to stop this, please, I beg you.  Fetch the Prince – the King! Fetch Merek! Merek! Merek please!’

My pleas fall on deaf ears and the guards remain at my side as I weep and struggle.  Then there is a boom from below, the sound of a drum beating slowly.  My heart adjusts to beat in time with it, each drumbeat a heartbeat, each thud a second of life that Lief has left.  And though I swore I wouldn’t look, when the drums begin I cannot tear my eyes away.  The view is obscured by the side of the tower, I can see only the steps that lead up to the gallows and part of the crossbeam, but I can see the executioner standing to the side, his face hooded, his arms bare and meaty.

This cannot be.  It cannot be.  But it is and there he is, being led out, a white hood over his head, clad in a long white shift that covers him head to foot.  He stumbles and I lean forward but his guards right him and they continue the slow march to his death.  They aid him up the steps and I see the executioner step forward and take his shoulders, guiding him out of my sight.

The drums beat faster, as does my heart and I cannot stop watching, hoping for a miracle, a bolt of lightning from the Gods to strike the executioner dead and burn the rope that is surely draped around Lief’s neck now.

There are three sharp drum beats, and silence, and then the executioner steps back.  I see a barrel spinning off to the right, rolling off of the gallows onto the grass and then there is nothing.  After a moment, the executioner turns away, removing his hood and taking a swig from a tankard he had left on the side of the gallows.

It is done.

I am numb.  I thought I would scream, I thought I would feel it when his soul flew out of his body, I had thought to hear the crack of my heart as it broke when he died.  But there is nothing and I slump in the chair.  The guards untie me, skittering away from me in case I lash out at them once I have my freedom.  I do not have the energy to lash out at them, or rage at them.  Instead I sit, my eyes closed, his face imprinted on my eyelids; the wide, toothy smile that meant he was teasing, his bright green eyes, soft in the light of early morning, blazing when he came to my bed that night.  All gone.

When I am alone, I stand and brace my arms against the side of the window, pressing my face against the cool glass.  I cannot see Lief, I do not know if they have cut him down or whether they have left him there for the crows.  I don’t know why they hanged him nor why I’m here.  I don’t want to be here.  I wonder how much it would hurt, to die falling from this tower.  It would be a slap in the face to the Queen and I would not have to endure another moment here knowing he is in the world no longer.

The door opens behind me before I have time to test my resolve, but I do not turn.  I do not want to see Merek now.  I thought we had reached an understanding, come to a place where we respected each other.

‘Twylla,’ he says, shutting the door softly behind him.

I shake my head in irritation.

‘Twylla,’ another voice says, a voice I’d not thought to hear ever again. I turn sharply.

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I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world that almost was. Massive, massive thanks to the ever-extraordinary Lucy Powrie, for organising today, and all of the UKYA chats. She works endlessly and tirelessly to promote and celebrate UKYA and there would be no UKYA community without her.

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