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Now then, onto today's critique. Thank you to Kelly for sending it in!
Mostly, she didn't want to see, but, even knowing what was about to happen, she couldn't help looking through the worn floorboards above.
Crouched in the small space below the kitchens, Mairi held the children tightly in the folds of her dress. “Quiet,” she mouthed at them. Silently, she prayed they would understand. She tried to cover their faces, to bury them in her dirty linen apron so they wouldn't see their mother above. If she was right, no child should see this.
Desperate words came from above. “No, please... No!” The last word came out as a strangled scream. Trembling, the children stayed quiet.
There were two men upstairs. Men who clearly didn't belong here. What about them makes it so clear they do not belong? They had ridden over the hill with the morning sun. Two small dots moving purposefully closer, closer still. An eerie stillness had come over Lady Valencia I love her name! as she waited quietly for their arrival. Mairi was almost positive her mistress not only knew who they were, but why they came. As the men closed the distance to the house, any doubts Mairi might have had about their purpose faded.
The heavy brown cloaks draped securely around their shoulders wore the dust of many days travel. Their sun darkened faces were set, steeled against the task before them. Deftly leaping off his horse, the taller of the men strode toward Lady Valencia. The first rays of sunlight mingled in her hair as she stood on the steps.
Such an ambiguous question, but she didn't ask what he was referring to. There could be only one reason he was here. Loathing boiled unfettered just bellow the surface of his shrewd eyes. And fear, there was definitely fear. She could see it easily on the second man. It all but radiated off him.
“It was the only way,” she said sadly.
“Check inside, make sure there are no others. It ends here,” the tall man said over his shoulder. His partner was still sitting uneasily on his small bay mare. At the barked command he slowly slid to the ground.
The tall one turned back to Lady Valencia. “You would risk all of us, for what? This?” Is he supposed to be gesturing at something here? I understand you are being intentionally vague but this becomes a bit confusing. We can't see what's happening unless you show us. Anger made his voice hard (anger hardened his voice - shows us, don't tell us (cliche, I know) ) as he grabbed her by her hair, dragging her inside. She followed best she could, half standing, half stumbling. Releasing her, he shoved her to the floor near the ancient hearth. He looked up as his partner's footsteps echoed up the stone steps and into the front hall.
“She's alone.” He wouldn't meet her eyes. “The others must have gone with Oren.”
Hearing his name, a small sob escaped from her lips. Whose lips? Mairi or Valencia?
“I think I saw stables out back, check them. We'll need fresh horses. I'll be along” His cold eyes bore into hers while the other man made his way out. “Did they tell you what would happen if you came?” Came where? Doesn't she live there? He pulled a small steel dagger from a fold in his cloak. Good suspenseful ending.
This is an interesting way to start a book. It leaves you with questions which leads you to want to keep reading. You should be careful not to be too vague, though. When you don't explain anything suspense is lost to confusion which isn't nearly as strong a driving force for a book. You don't want to give everything away, but give enough away to keep it interesting.
The only other big suggestion I have is to try to make it more clear who something is referring to. It can get a little confusing between Mairi and Valencia at times.
Whelp, that's it for me. What do you all think? Feel free to share thoughts in the comments! And thanks again Kelly for sharing and good luck with Cornerstone!