Peer Review by yapyapxy (Singapore)

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The Adventure Begins #romanticize

By: Princess Maria


    Village maids were not supposed to want swords. Village maids were not supposed to think about adventures and quests. And, most certainly, village maids were not supposed to read old scrolls stolen from the lord's manor instead of watching their father's flocks. But that was what Elyse was doing, even while one of her sheep found some thistles to munch on.
    Elyse did not look like a Hero, nor even a DID (a Damsel In Distress). A hero would have been a strong, burly young man, taller than every other man around him and able to swing a broadsword one-handed. Although Elyse was strong from being outdoors all day long, she was not burly, and she was not tall either. A DID would have been slender, with large blue eyes, rose-tinged cheeks, and golden hair swept up in a braid. Elyse, though not burly, was not very slender either (she was a bit plump), and her eyes were grey-green. Her cheeks were also more olive-tinged than rose-tinged, and typically freckled or sun-darkened. And her hair would never be blond—it had always been dark brown, and hung in a usually wind blown mass to her waist.
    Not that Elyse had ever wanted to be a DID. It was the hero part she was thinking about today, as she read about a dragon slaying, wondering whether she could do anything of the sort. She imagined charging at a dragon, longsword raised. She wanted to try it so badly. So she took her largest sheep, old Henry, and positioned him at the edge of the forest.
    "Cease your ravaging, withering serpent!" she cried, snatching up a stick and charging with a very man-like battle yell.
    Henry spooked and began to run for the woods, in a very un-dragonlike charge. Elyse, suddenly remembering her responsibility to watch over the sheep, saw at once that her father would be furious if she came home without his best ram. Dashing after the sheep, and grumbling under her breath at the pebbles and sticks digging into her bare feet, Elyse only just managed to keep Henry in sight.
    Trees seemed to pass her by, and she tore through thorny bushes without care, wondering whether her father would make her lose her supper that night when he found out her folly. So much for heroes, she decided. She would never be anything more than a village maid.
    Suddenly Henry was leaping a stream, clattering over the wet rocks to the other side, while the water rushed below him. Elyse went to follow, but her feet were not as sure as the ram's. Stubbing her toe on the first boulder, she slipped on the slick rocks and tumble into the shallow stream, while Henry bleated teasingly and headed off into the wood.
    "Help!" Elyse cried, more to hear her own voice than to actually expect aid. Her head went under for a moment, but she was a strong swimmer, so she wallowed to the surface, reminding herself that the stream was only waist-deep.
    Suddenly she heard sloshing from the other bank, and looked up, expecting it to be Henry. She couldn't see much through her blurred eyes, until long, strong arms reached around her and pulled her up from the creek bed, hoisting her towards the bank.
    "Liam!" she protested, pushing her friend away and stepping onto the bank herself. "I'm perfectly fine."
    "Well, then why did you scream for help? I would have stayed where I was and gotten that deer if you hadn't screamed," Liam asked irritably, following her out of the water and wringing out his tunic.
    "I was angry," Elyse said, crossing her arms, even though she shivered in the cool spring air. "Besides, I didn't know how high the stream was until I was in it."
    "Of course," Liam snorted, stepping onto a nearby rock and looking down at her suspiciously. "Funny to see you in the woods on a spring morning. I was just going to look for you after I got the deer; I thought your father had you with the sheep."
    "He did," Elyse admitted, "but I lost a ram."
    Liam rolled his eyes, but picked up his bow where he had left it in his dash to save her. He tossed her a cloak, and Elyse reluctantly took it.
    "Aren't you cold?" she asked, realizing that it was his cloak.
    "No. Hunters never get cold."
    "Of course. Goodbye, then."
    "No, I have time. I can help you find your ram," Liam said, before blushing, as if it was embarrassing to be caught helping a girl.
    Elyse didn't mind. Back when they were little children the two of them had played together. They would terrorize Elyse's little sisters with "dragons" made of wood and vines, and pretend to be heroes vanquishing evil together. But then, as Elyse grew to take on the sheep, and Liam to hunt for the lord, they were unable to see each other as often. Now it was a rare occasion when Liam could sneak off to the pastures to talk with Elyse. So she was more than a little pleased he would go with her to find the ram.
    They walked silently, neither knowing what to say. Elyse suddenly felt very self-conscious, even though she had known Liam for a long time. She suddenly realized how silly she looked: muddy, barefooted, long hair soaked and dripping down her back. Certainly nothing like the pale-cheeked, prim village girls who could snatch a boy with just a flirtatious blink of their eyes. Liam looked back at her, before suddenly flushing himself, turning back awkwardly. Elyse looked at the ground, wondering what had changed between them.
    "So, how did you lose the ram?" he called back, leaping over a fallen tree, before turning back and offering her a hand chivalrously.
    Elyse wondered at that as well; Liam knew she was perfectly capable of clambering over logs. Had they not run in these woods as little children? Shyness seemed to overtake her; she pretended not to see his hand, scrambling over the log easily and wondering what her mother would say if she knew her daughter was in the woods alone with a boy.
    "I—I was playing at quests," she said, hoping he would not think ill of her for that. Girls her age in the village thought of nothing but dresses and gossiping with their friends, not heroics. "Henry was the dragon...I think I must have frightened him."
    Liam laughed, and it made Elyse smile for some reason. He turned back to look at her, walking backwards. "Remember when we would play knights? And your sisters would be the damsels in distress?"
    "Yes. And when you got your first bow, and you shot my father's sheep on accident."
    "And when we were up against those horrid butcher's boys, and you ran off and hid in the thorn bushes for hours after they routed me and were coming after you?"
    Elyse flushed at that. She had come home dirty and torn that day, and her mother had not been pleased. But she still treasured that memory, of a time when she was still a child, unworried by duties. She looked up to see Liam's calm grey eyes upon her, and she almost wished she could go back to that time, when she was childish and didn't have strange feelings playing at her heart.
    But these feelings were suddenly stopped by the distant bleating of a sheep, and Liam turned away to look forward. Elyse hastened after him as he ran; though she was not so long-legged, she was able to dodge through places that he couldn't, and keep up with him.
    "Look," Liam called, pointing to a thorny bush, much like the ones Elyse had hidden behind so many years ago. "Your ram."
    And indeed, there was Henry...but on closer notice the bush was against a wall. A tall, stony grey wall, crumbling from an ancient stone catapulted through it. Through a gaping hole in its side they could see a castle, a structure as old as the walls, mist swirling around its faded towers, which rose forebodingly into the sky.
    "Odd," Elyse spoke up. "I never heard of such a place in this forest."
    "Me neither," Liam said, forgetting Henry and stepping closer to the hole. Suddenly he shivered, almost involuntarily. "Looks abandoned."
    "Looks sinister," Elyse said, freeing Henry from his captivity. The sheep wisely set off back in the direction of home.
    "Looks like an adventure," Liam said, half-jokingly, turning back with a smile on his face.
    Elyse felt her heart beat faster; it was just like the old days. "What are you talking about?"
    Liam only laughed and leaped over the breach in the wall, running headlong into the murkiness towards the castle. Elyse, grumbling about boys' recklessness, followed. There could be nothing dangerous in the castle, certainly not. It looked as if it had been abandoned years ago. Nevertheless, cold prickles went down her neck, and she suddenly stopped, feeling the tenseness she had often felt at times, usually when she was in danger, whether imagined or real. The same tenseness she had felt in the butcher-boy battle.
    "Liam!" she cried, realizing now that she could see nothing in the dimness of the mist. "Liam, come back!"
    She could only hear her own breaths, and suddenly she was terrified, as if a darkness had rolled over her and stifled all hope and joy. She wanted to turn back, to cry out that it was only a game, that she was no hero to face the depths of evil, but something in her heart kept her moving forward.
    Suddenly Elyse smacked into something—someone, as a matter of fact, and nearly fell before he caught her. It was Liam, whose face mirrored her terror. Without words, he grabbed her hand and began sprinting back, nearly dragging her along in his haste. Elyse was in no less hurry, even as a horrendous screech let out from the deepest recesses of the castle, and an evil presence seemed to fly out over them. She barely kept herself from crying out, for the mind-twisting fear sweeping her body. Only Liam's presence behind her kept up her courage; if she had been alone she would have dissolved in a curled-up body of terror.
    Liam leaped the wall in one stride, somehow lifting Elyse behind him. They could not run anymore; he grabbed her and held her close, and they crouched behind the wall, both of them trembling as whatever it was surged in the castle's courtyard. Elyse was crying from fear, shaking, but trying not to make noise. Liam wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and when she glanced up she saw that he was just as much afraid, his damp eyes squeezed shut.
    They felt the seething menace of the being inside the castle pass; they looked up and trembled once more as a dark shape spilled over the walls, flying into the suddenly grey-black sky, sweeping over trees and shaking them, dissolving into the west. And yet, they still sat. Elyse could not move; Liam rocked back and forth with her, and they both tried to swallow the strange fear that had possessed their bodies.
    Finally, after what seemed like hours, the sun seemed to shine again, though dimmer than before. Elyse opened her eyes and looked up, her heaving breaths stilling. She realized the awkwardness of her position, and moved away, though she gripped Liam's hand as if it was a lifeline.
    "What was that?" she asked in a quavering voice.
    "I—I don't know," Liam replied, seeming to choke on his words as he looked up at the bleaker sky. "I—I think we were very foolish. I think we—we woke something up."
    "Some heroes," Elyse said, trying to smile, even though her body still shook in terror. "Imagine facing a real dragon..."
    "Don't even speak of it. I can't—I don't know what that was, but it made me more afraid than I've ever been before. I can't even—"
    Elyse gripped his hand tighter, and they embraced once more, drawing strength from each other after the fright. Elyse didn't care, then, what her mother would have thought—after all, they pulled away fairly awkwardly right after—and she didn't care that she wasn't like the other village girls, and she didn't care that she was barefooted and muddy and probably not very pretty at the moment. Liam looked at her in a way he had looked at her never before, and she realized she felt far more for him than friendship. But she said nothing, allowing him to help her up, leaning on him, and clutching his hand as they walked through the forest, their steps grimmer than before.
    "I think we should tell someone," Liam said, once they were over the creek and feeling braver. "I think something is very wrong."
    "Indeed, we'd better tell the lord—or maybe the King," Elyse agreed. "Something is in this land that is evil. And somehow we'll have to get rid of it."
    "A quest, then," Liam said, but the words no longer had the excitement to them. "Adventures."
    "If that was an adventure..."

Message to Readers

So...this is like what I thought of. I was hung up on this vs. just writing about modern life and how I would want my perfect life to be. However, I concluded that it would be cooler to be in a Middle-Earth type setting than boring America...maybe not as safe and predictable though!

I am going to bed; I think I'm giving myself nightmares about spooky castles.

Peer Review

The first paragraph describing how village maids were supposed to behave was interesting! I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the story flowed and I enjoyed the slight romantic tension. ;)

I would like to know more about the world of that time: the culture, for instance, of how against the norm is it for a girl to be with a boy alone? Would Elyse be the only one rebelling against such a patriarchal system? I like how the world building was smoothly done and I never felt overwhelmed with all the information and details. In fact, I think you could afford to add more details, perhaps about the traditional roles boys were supposed to live out; when did Liam stop playing with her? Did he initially resist against what others told him to do as he matured? How did others around them grow into the roles they were supposed to adopt in society? I'd really love to know! Perhaps if you ever develop this story, you can about how to incorporate the magic element – how in-tune with magic is their world?

Reviewer Comments

An interesting premise that promises magic, romance, and adventure! You clearly have a knack for show-not-tell and I'd love to see more of it when it comes to Elyse and Liam's relationship. The story set up also reminded me of Pixar's Brave, and Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain and Princess Eilonwy, so I'm wondering (just a little challenge for you) how would your protagonist stand apart from theirs? ((psst this question would be more important if you are ever thinking of publishing a book))

I really like how the writing was really easy to read – it felt like I flew through their mishaps! I enjoyed getting to know Elyse (and even Henry) and would love to hear more about this world. I like how you intersperse a little humour in Elyse's day-to-day life; it's not easy to get laughter from a reader!

Not much major criticisms! I'm actually fairly impressed heheh I think I can see your writing style shining through – hence why I picked on the many "suddenlys" hahah I think you could push yourself to experiment with different words and even sentence structures to bring out the changes in rhythm and scene.

Wishing you all the best in your writing endeavours; I hope this review helped you! May you keep writing and adventuring :D