Hi! I already have some lovely and fabulous usual critiquers who know my work pretty well, but I'm looking for some outside eyes to give me their thoughts! Hopefully, that will be you! The following are some excerpts that outline the main relationship between two of my characters and give a general idea of their storyline. It's kind of choppy and there may be somethings that don't make sense (and that's because these scenes are more towards the end of the book) but, I'd love a critique.
Below is a quick description of each exerpt.
- The discovery of Mari's fake miscarriage. <– Note: Jer rarely ever calls Mari by her name, usually a pet name, please let me know if it sounds forced.
- Jer once he thinks Mari is dead… this is in third person, which I usually don't write in, but I haven't decided who's perspective to write it in yet.
- ROUGH ROUGH sketch of Mari finding out that Eline is dead.
- Ten years later, Jer finding Mari in hiding…. if I decide to keep Mari alive.
"1." Jerlorn –
I threw open the door so hard that the frame shook and yet the flurry of action did not falter. Maids were changing the bedsheets and drawing a bath, a swarm of them surrounded my wife.
She was standing, leaning heavily on Straivia. Her hair hung limp around her shoulders, her face gaunt and tears flowed steadily down her cheeks. Her hands rested on her belly just above the red stain that drenched the lower half of her shift. She looked up at me, her blue eyes wide with despair. She shook her head and my world fell away.
“Out,” I breathed and not a soul looked up from their tasks. I threw down my sword and its crash rose over the clamor, “I said, get out!”
The maid at the tub squeaked, “But your highness, the bath –”
“I can draw a bath,” I said.
Still, they stood and looked between me and Straivia.
“Now! Before I have you all hung!” The maid dropped her bucket and flew from the room, closely followed by all the others, until it was just Straivia.
“Leave. I will not ask again,” I said as I gently pried Marielle away from her. If she said anything more I did not hear her, she was not worth my focus.
Marielle did nothing but stare straight ahead of her, her hands slowly rubbing smooth circles on her barely showing belly.
I guided her to a chair beside the half-full bathtub. Wordlessly, I drew my dagger and cut her out of her shift, the blood on her legs making the fabric stick. Gently, I wiped away her blood with a nearby towel.
“Are you ready?” I asked, and she said nothing in response.
I swept her up easily and placed her in the tub. Then went to the fireplace and drew water from the fire heated pump. Again and again I poured the warm water over her shoulders until the tub was full. We said nothing as I bathed her. Small tasks were all that I could manage. Wash her back, her hair, her face.
Like you would a child, I pulled her from the bath and dried her. I brought her a new shift from the linen closet and only when it was in her hands did she come out of her stupor. She pulled it on slowly, her hands still trailing over her barely swollen belly.
The maids had finished making the bed before I threw them out, for the room looked just as it would have any other day. My bride gingerly slipped under the covers and after removing my soaked-through shirt, I slipped in after.
“May I?” I asked, reaching my arms out to her.
Slowly she nodded and let me gather her into my lap. She nestled her head just under my chin and her hair tickled my neck.
“I’m sorry,” She whispered as the tears began anew. “You – we were so excited.”
“No, Love,” I said as I kissed her head. “You have nothing to apologize for. This is not your doing, no one is to blame but the gods.”
Her voice was softer than I had ever heard it. “I – I feel as if I have failed you,”
“You haven’t. You could never fail me. If we never have a child, I will be happy to just be by your side. If you give me a gaggle of daughters, I will be lucky to see them grow to be like you.”
She put a gentle hand on my arm and ran her thumb over my wrist. We sat for a small eternity, the heavy silence only broken by the occasional shaky breath and a few notes of a lonely songbird. Her tears fell freely. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything but listen.
“The babe should have a name,” she whispered as the sky began to turn pink. “If I am to bury our child, it will with a name.”
I took her hand in mine, so small, the callouses of her childhood – long gone, and smoothed small circles into them. “I had given it some thought, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea now,” I said.
“Tell me,” she said. “Our child is with the gods now. We should give it the name it would have had regardless.”
“I was thinking if we had a girl, we would name her after you, only with a slight change. If we had a son, then change mine a little.”
She nodded against me. “I like that.”
“I was thinking of changing the M to an N,” I said.
I could almost feel her frowning. “Narielle? She would be called Nari [find if this needs to be italicized or in quotes] her entire life –” She caught herself. ‘Her entire life’ hung in the air, its cruel irony swinging like a noose in the wind.
I just squeezed her tighter. “How about Nati. Natiselle.”
Mari looked down at her belly and rubbed small circles. “I like it. Natiselle,” she said as if rolling the sound of it over her tongue. “It sounds strong. And for a boy; Jer, Ber, Ger… No. I’ve always liked Jer. Change the last half?”
“Hmm.” I kissed the top of her head. “I’m glad you like my name. Though I never did like Lorn, I always thought it sounded so sad… Forlorn.”
She huffed slightly, “I doubt your parents were going for that. But how about Lan. Jerlan? No. That’s too soft for a King of War. Needs a hard sound.”
“Lat? Tal? Alt –”
“That one,” she said. “Jeralt, I like the sound of that.”
“Jeralt or Natiselle,” I breathed as I rested my hand on hers.
“Jer.” she whispered.
“Yes, Dear Heart?”
In a voice so soft, I almost couldn’t hear it, she said, “I know that they’re gone, but I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel any different…”
“I know, Dear Heart. I know.” Mox. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to curse all the gods above and below. To tear apart their gilded and brimstone palaces for their cruelty. I wanted to cut out Rionel’s tongue and feed it to Jessimae. Instead, I held my life to me. “I know nothing of children, only of death and – and that was a lot of blood. There is no way…” I couldn’t even bear to say the rest aloud.
“I don’t feel any different,” she said again, and my heart shattered.
“I know Love, I know,” I whispered into her hair.
She threaded her fingers with mine and we did not speak again. There was nothing left to say. All I could do was stroke her hair until her breathing evened out and she fell asleep.
After a time, I pulled away from her and left to the balcony overlooking our private yard. I slid along the rough stone wall and sat with my knees to my chin, like a child.
And I wept.
I don’t know how long I sat on our balcony, only that it did not feel like enough. And when I came back in, all I wanted to do was curl around my wife once more. Instead, I found Lady Uradavi. She was making My Heart stand while one of her nurses felt along her abdomen.
“It’s late. Whatever you have left can wait until the morning.” I said, trying desperately to keep the bite out of my tone. My head knew it was not Straivia’s fault, but my soul wanted to rip her limb from limb. She was the source of our pain.
“All due respect your Young Highness.” It was barely noticeable, but she stressed Young. “The Queen must be observed and we have let you stay longer than is safe.” She said, her voice cutting and just removed from accusatory.
“You dare –” Red tinged my vision.
But My Heart put her hand on my arm and shook her head. “Jer, I’m sure it is alright. I will see you in the morning.” She pulled me close and whispered. “Trust in expertise.”
“Fine,” I said as I enveloped her in my arms, memorizing the shape of her against me. “I’ll see you soon, Dear Heart.”
“Of course, Love.” She whispered and stood on her tip-toes to kiss me, gently. “All will be well, don’t worry.”
I kissed her head one last time, grabbed a robe, and left before I could change my mind. The moment I left our chambers, I saw Sol curled in a ball, snoring against the wall.
I nudged him with my foot.
He jolted awake, took one look at my toes, and glared up at me. “Get your disgusting, bare feet away from me.”
“Straivia threw me out of my chambers, apparently my presence isn’t healthy…” I spat.
Sol nodded and rubbed his eyes. “She told me the same. I’m supposed to just wait.” He chuckled bitterly. “I get the distinct feeling she just doesn’t want us near them, the witch.”
“What I want to know is how – how Erion came from someone so cold. Complete opposites those two.”
Sol yawned and stretched. “Because she didn’t raise him, we did. We all raised each other,”
“That’s particularly wise of you,” I said.
He snorted, “That’s because I’m quoting Eline, we were talking about it earlier.” He patted the stone next to him.
“Now sit down, it’s not like you have anywhere else to be.”
“Office, I need shoes,” I said as I wiggled my toes in Sol’s face.
He batted me aside. “Get shoes from your chambers, you loon.”
I made a face. “Uradavi.”
“Fair enough.” He said before calling for a guard. “Would you round up a maid for us? The great King of War requires boots, for his feet are cold.”
“You mean, the King of Coin is squeamish around toes.” I started for our offices, “Sol, I can get my own shoes.”
“If you would please, I require his counsel.” He waved his hand and the guard bowed smartly before turning on his heel and promptly leaving us.
Suppressing a sigh, I decided that this was as good a place as any pass the night away. I sat down next to him and leaned against the wall. “There was no need for that.”
“Oh, come on now,” Sol said. “Neither of us should be alone tonight.”
Jerlon, under the guard of his most trusted men, fell into the first deep slumber since Marielle disappeared. He awoke two days later and spoke to no one. He simply dressed, readied his horse, and rode to the sea. His guards thought that he might ride straight into it and be claimed by the waves, but he only rode up to a humble fishing boat.
The boat was sturdily made with small living quarters and could be maneuvered by a single person. King Jerlon took off the heavy gold medallion, inlaid with the largest Deracose sapphire the fisherman had ever seen, and handed it over without a word.
He then stormed onto the boat, kicked off the gangway, and reeled in the ropes. The fisherman and the King's Guard stared after him with their mouths agape as the King of War readied to sail.
“Your Highness! There is a storm coming, please come back,” Priotor Anguius, the King’s High Guard, pleaded.
Jerlorn did not look up to the sky, nor did he stop. He simply continued pulling up the anchor.
“Sire, the seas are too rough to sail. I must insist!” Priotor was at a loss, torn between tackling his king and letting the man grieve.
Jerlorn did whisper something in reply, but the words were whisked away by the wind. [Let the sea take me to her, this is what he says, but IDK if I should leave it in]. The movement of his lips was so small that it looked as if the King had not said anything at all. There was nothing that Priotor so desperately needed. There were no words as to when he would be back, what should be done in the meantime, or who should take charge of his duties.
Priotor looked at the fisherman who was still staring at the King’s Deracosi Sapphire in awe and cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Sir, you understand you cannot keep that.”
“‘Course, but let a poor man dream for a bit.”
Lord Anguius motioned for the King’s purse and took out 25 Pravos, more than double what the boat was worth, and offered them to the fisherman. He gladly took all the coins and handed back the Medallion, although his gaze lingered on it for far longer than Lord Anguius liked.
"3" Erion - (Erion has just told her that she never miscarried)
She put a hand on her belly and looked at me with wide eyes, “You mean?”
She grabbed a book off the shelf and threw it at me.
I ducked just in time.
“How long have you known?” She hissed.
“I did all I – ” I stammered.
“How long Erion?” She roared.
“Almost a year.”
She started to pace. “You’re telling me that you knew of this for a year. A year. And the best solution you could come up with was to drug me and take me to the middle of nowhere?"
I could not speak, I just opened and closed my mouth looking for words.
Her lip curled. “Eline is right, you are an idiot.”
I couldn’t help but wince.
“What? Can’t handle being told the truth?" Her voice was cutting and cold. It was jarring. I had never heard such spite from her. "I guess it makes sense, you’ve always been a liar.”
“Eline is dead,” I said.
She froze. “What?”
Perhaps I should have softened the blow. Perhaps I should have spared her. She was right, I had been incredibly stupid, but I had sacrificed so much for her, I did not want for much. A 'thanks' would have sufficed. Perhaps I was bitter and I wanted her to feel some morsel of my guilt, my blame. “The entire Kingdom thinks you did it.”
She made for the door.
I grabbed her from behind and held her back.
“Let me go! I have to – I need to tell them. I – ” She struggled against me, kicking at the air. “Let go of me!” She screamed.
“You know I can’t do that.” My heart was breaking just as hers was.
She struggled for a moment more before she went limp. “Why? Why is she gone?”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice wobbled. “I don’t know.”
She began to shake, silent sobs wracking her body. “Please let go of me,” she whispered.
"4." Jerlorn -
I shook my head. “I haven’t been a king in over a decade.”
“You dare correct the Hyeon Ja?” An elderly man in flowing green robes started forward.
She held up a closed fist. “He is a treasured guest and meant no disrespect.”
She turned to me and stepped off her gilded throne. The rubies set in the twin phoenixes’ eyes sparkled and looked as if they might come alive. Her bare feet whispered on the carpeted floor. “Walk with me, Your Majesty.”
“You will always be a king," she said after a long moment.
I could not help but hang my head. “No, I let it fall through my fingers. I am undeserving of the title and the crown.” I couldn't help but scoff. “A fate of my own making.”
She smiled softly. “You mainlanders and your love of fate. I am the Hyeon Ja and even I don’t preoccupy my mind with fate.”
I tried to keep my tone light and conversational. It must have been a decade since the last time I needed pleasantries. “I was wondering about that, the Hyeon Ja? Forgive my ignorance, but is that not your name?”
She laughed and patted my arm. “Yes. I am only one incarnation. We are all Hyeon Ja.” She gracefully swept her hand at paintings lining the great hall. I had assumed that the walls, which held rows upon rows of women, were of the noble families.
“The name my mother gave me was Yun Mi, but I am and will always be Hyeon Ja.”
“I knew that your people selected the monarch as a child from the people. The monks found you, yes?”
The wind blew gently and set the banner hanging from her headdress aflutter. “When the Hyeon Ja leaves her earthly body behind, her spirit ascends to the stars where it reconvenes with the universe. Then her deeds and edicts are judged. Did she correctly interpret the future and guide her people? If so, her spirit is reincarnated in the body of an eight-year-old girl. During the time of awakening, the universe presents visions of the future to the girl, from the reincarnation to her eventual death. Then she is found by the monks, usually by her parents seeing the signs.”
Her manner was so soft. And kind. And even though she couldn’t have been more than five or so years older than me, there was an ancient grace about her. It was easy to see why Marielle would have formed such a strong bond with her.
“You see the future?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Saw the future. It was like a dream. A dream I am always looking to return to. Hence the meditation. It is what my name roughly translates to, in your tongue: Wise Future.”
“A tall order for an eight-year-old,” I said in a half-hearted attempt a humor.
“Eh,” She shrugged. “Or repetitive for an immortal.” She laughed again. “Sometimes I am grateful that I don’t remember my past lives. Otherwise, could you imagine how bored I would be? Other times I wish I could pull from millennia of experience.”
“I stand corrected.”
“No nonbelief? No arguments?” She asked, a singular perfectly manicured eyebrow quirking upward.
My turn to smile at her. “I believe that my soul will be judged and I will enter one of the seven heavens or three hells when I die. I also believe in several gods, one of which has a penchant for ripping out the tongues of evil-doers… which is more inconceivable?”
She laughed aloud, this one heartier than her polite chuckles before. “You and Queen Marielle are a perfect pair.”
I froze midstep. Did she really not know? I knew Oalbe was secluded, but she must have had her spies or merchants with news. Oalbe had trading partners. “'Were', you mean.”
“No,” she said as she kept walking.
Did she mean as in our souls? Did she think that because she was a reincarnation that Marielle was one as well?
“Hyeon Ja, Marielle is dead. She died over ten years ago.” I said to her back.
She motioned over her shoulder as she turned a corner. “Come along.”
I jogged after her. She was moving quickly now, gliding in a way that should have been impossible with the grandeur of her robes and her headdress.
“What are you talking about?” All pretense of diplomacy had left.
“Fate. A ridiculous notion.” She shook her head. “The future isn’t carved in marble. It is a stream. It moves across the seasons, it carves into the rock, it can be diverted with enough force of will.”
“Don’t change the subject. We were talking about my Bride.”
“Queen Marielle was the tangent. We were talking about fate.” She turned again and started ascending a flight of stairs. “Patience and I will answer your questions.”
My heart thundered in my ears. I didn’t dare hope. I saw her. I saw her bloated fingers. I saw her ruined throat. I should turn away and return to the sea. I never should have stepped ashore.
But I couldn’t. I had to know.
Her hurried pace did nothing to the cadence of her voice, she still sounded serene - like an infuriatingly calm pond. “You will always be a King of War. The responsibilities may have been stolen from you, but no one can steal your purpose from you- unless you let them.”
I would indulge her. “I fail to see the difference.”
“Purpose, responsibilities, fate… they are all different." She held up a single finger. "Fate – a path through life that is predetermined and inescapable. A lie that takes the agency of choice away from the individual. It gives it to higher powers. But no power is either willing or capable of taking away your choices.” She turned down a hall that looked like private chambers and help up a second finger. “Responsibilities – tasks that must be done. But can be done by anyone.” And then finally, she held up a third. “Purpose – the reason for existence. A knife is made to cut. A nightingale is made to sing. A man for all his complexities and abilities is cursed to spend his life searching for his true purpose or blessed - depending on a certain point of view. A man can choose to pursue his purpose or to take the easy path let others decide for him.”
“And what of women?”
She looked at me sideways, “I speak in the sense of humanity.”
“So you wouldn’t say that women’s purpose is to continue life?”
“Why would I?" She did not seem offended, just genuinely curious. "It’s not my purpose.”
“It may be some’s choice to make motherhood their sole purpose. Others may have more than one purpose. I am the Hyeon Ja. That is my purpose.”
I could not contain my incredulity. “But don’t you want children?”
“Why would I? My people are my children.” She nodded out the window, towards the city in the distance. “Why would I burden a child with having a mother who cannot love them more than the people. The child would have no inheritance after I leave this body. They would have no place in the temple.”
Mox. How many twists and turns did this temple have?
“Do you?” She asked. “You have not claimed any child as your own.”
More than anything in the world. There is nothing that I wouldn’t give up to hold my child in my arms. “Once,” I whispered. “A long time ago.”
Finally, we stopped in front of a wooden door. It was different than the other doors in the temple - they were made of a light tan wood. This one was a deep brown and carved with an ornate woodland scene. It reminded me of home.
“What will you choose? To let the lie of fate prevail or make your own purpose?” The Hyeon Ja said softly.
The on the lowest branch of one of the trees was a bird. A nightingale.
I pushed open the door. It was like I was suddenly transported back home. There was a sitting room with fine furniture placed just so. I saw her handiwork everywhere. In the gentile slope of the feet of the lounge, in the delicate petals on the roses carved into the side table. A rug depicting the Strician ocean view ran along the corridor, the carpet lush under my bare feet. The walls were Deracosi Blue.
It couldn't be true. What kind of cruel joke was this?
I turned to accuse the Hyeon Ja, but she was no longer there. She had slipped away as silently as a breeze.
There was a rushing sound that drowned out everything else. The scent of vanilla hung delicately in the air. A smell that I had missed. A smell that brought back a lifetime of memories. I felt nothing as my thoughts took over me entirely.
She wouldn’t have just disappeared. She had to be dead. She wouldn’t have just left me. She promised.
I saw her body. I saw the ring on her swollen finger.
I walked down the corridor.
I had searched for so long, hoping against all hope that I could find her. I had wished and prayed to every god and goddess, mine and all the others. But if she had been here the whole time… If she had left me thinking the worst…
Would I rather realize the cruelty of my Marielle or mourn her death?
I pushed open the last door. It was so well taken care of that it didn’t make a sound.
And there, sitting on the windowsill, in a billowy Deracosi Blue gown, the same style as the Hyeon Ja’s, was my Bride.
Her hair, as dark as a raven’s wing, was in a simple braid down her back. Even facing away from me, I could tell it was unmistakably My Heart.
The world paused for a moment. The air hung still and I swear by the gods, I could count the specks of dust that sparkled in the sunlight around her. For an eternal moment, I was a painting, forever marveling at the ghost of My Bride. Then, it slammed back into place. The scene dissolved and I was hit by the full force of reality.
I couldn’t stop myself. I fell to the ground in gut wrenching sobs.
She whipped around and for the first time in a decade, I stared back into the depths of my own personal Strician Ocean. I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning in her.
She mouthed something and flew to me, falling to the ground before me. She put her hands on my cheeks, her fingers brushing along my beard.
“I mourned you,” I whispered in between sobs. “I mourned you.”
“I know, Jer, I know,” She breathed, tears running down her cheeks. “I tried to find you after. I tried.”
“You left. I searched for you.” Air could not fill me. I could not find purchase; all I could do was gasp between words. “You promised me. You swore to me.”
She was older now. The whispers of wrinkles were starting to form at the edges of her eyes. “I know, Jer, I know.”
Lies. I was lost. She was here, right in front of me. I found her, and now I was lost. “You left. You promised. You would search the world for me.”
That roof so long ago. She had promised me that she would search the end of the world for me.
“Please, forgive me. I tried.” She was so steady. Tears streamed down her face, but she did not gasp, she did not shudder. She was resigned and a part of me hated her for it.
A part of me wanted to pull her to me and never let go. I wanted to feel her against me again. I wanted to rest my cheek against her forehead. I wanted to feel her heartbeat against my chest.
She reached out to brush away my tears. “Once I regained my strength. I tried. I swear it. But you were never on land.” She felt the same. My skin knew the memory of her so well, I melted into her touch. “I ran out of money. I could only search for you for so long. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I felt her touch and yet, she was leagues away. “I gave up my kingsdom for you,” I breathed.