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Here’s the first chapter of March of the Huldra by Ascanius. I previously gave him a few comments on the Showcase Forum on Mythic Scribes.
“Watch boy.” A withered hand jerked Endren around. “Tis no time to laugh an’ play.”
I like this much better than the first version.
Endren tried pulling away from the graying man. It was like his shoulder had become part of the city’s grey immobile stones.
Consider “to pull” instead of “pulling.”
Be consistent with your spelling. You use both “grey” and “gray.” Also, be careful about overusing words. Consider not using one of those descriptors.
I think you need “go” here. Otherwise, this just isn’t clear.
“Stop.” The man said.
“The man said” is a speech tag. The correct punctuation is: “Stop,” the man said.
Endren spared one last glance over his shoulder.
I’m not sure why he’s sparing a glance over his shoulder as the phrasing doesn’t make contextual sense to me. Consider: Endren glanced over his shoulder.
The press of legs and skirts had swallowed Tam, gone to find a meal and hearth for the night. He rubbed his empty belly imagining the taste of food.
Since you haven’t named the old man and we haven’t heard of Tam, there’s nothing to tell us upon initial read that the old man and Tam aren’t the same person. You need to be more clear about who Tam is.
For that second sentence, “he” logically refers to the last person you mentioned, Tam. I think you mean for it to refer to Endren. Fix.
The crescendo of drums grabbed his attention. A man in shining bronze rode past on a horse black as night with others following.
“The soldiers are goin?” Endren said lifting his filth covered face to the man.
One of my many pet peeves is using a speech tag and an action at the same time. Delete “said” and this becomes: Endren lifted his filth-covered face to the man.
This sentence introduces a minor POV problem. Would Endren notice/point out the filth on his own face?
Perhaps a beat would be better than “yes” here. You could try: The old man nodded.
A tiny smile appeared and he began deciding which story he wanted Eriss to sing.
I have no idea what’s happening here. I’m assuming that the tiny smile is on Endren’s face, but the phrasing makes it seem off. Endren smiled (or, even better, grinned since you use smile later) would be much better.
I don’t like “began deciding.” “Considered” is more concise.
Faceless bronze helms glinted in what little sun pierced the clouds. Spear tips rose and fell with the thump of boots against the cobblestones. Row by row they past and his smile grew.
“Passed,” not “past.” I like the description here otherwise.
“Remember this day, it is the last day mothers and fathers will see their sons.”
The comma should be a period.
“They not coming back?” Endren asked hopefully and the man shook his head.
It’s generally considered bad to use adverbs inside speech tags. It’s probably okay here. Better would be to convey the hopefully another way, via expression or thought.
The man shook his head should be in a new paragraph. You cannot have one person acting and another speaking in the same paragraph.
Tam and the other boys liked when the soldiers returned. He hated it.
Don’t use a pronoun unless the antecedent is clear. Here, “he” wants to refer to Tam or one of the other boys.
Meals came easy but unless he was very lucky so did the beatings.
I think “unless he was very lucky could be deleted.
Usually, he hobbled long into the night until it was safer.
I don’t understand this. Hobbled?
The soldiers left to bed with Eriss or the others at The Ladies Purse for him.
I don’t understand “for him” at the end of this sentence.
Those nights he fell asleep among broken crates, shit, and rotting food. Alone he endured the unrelenting cold, a cold that takes the fingers and toes one by one as it had done already.
“Takes” is present tense. It should be “took.” It’s not clear from the sentence how many fingers and toes have been taken already. Is Endren now completely lacking fingers and toes? That’s the visual I’m getting. If you then show him later using a finger or toe, it’s going to confuse me.
“You know who they are boy?” He glanced at Endren’s tattered rags. “Of course you don’t”.
Again, don’t use a pronoun unless it’s clear who the pronoun referes to. It is not clear here.
The last period needs to be inside the quotes, not outside.
“I know who they are.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Turning back, the man’s grey streaked beard brushed against his wine stained shirt.
Watch your modifiers. You have the man’s beard turning back, not the man.
“They are fathers and brothers, some sisters too… they are sons. And today is the last time they will pass through the Sundering Gate… Don’t forget them.”
You do not need the ellipses in this paragraph. Replace them with periods. The “some sisters too” confuses the thought. Are the sisters sons? That’s what the old man says.
He never forgot when the soldiers left.
Again, there’s no indication that “he” refers to Endren and not the old man.
It was a holiday better than the feast of the sister moons, better then the Lamp Night when the young men and women ruled the streets. It was a celebration that lasted until new recruits replaced those gone.
I get that there’s a celebration when the troops leave, but that last part doesn’t make sense. Are you saying that the feast goes on for a long time or that new recruits are found quickly?
He looked away from the marching men in the direction of The Ladies Purse.
Delete “away from the marching men.”
His hands fidgeted and he spared a quick glance at the darkening clouds. If he left he might get Eriss to sing him a song while he ate the day’s scraps, if Eriss was busy Birria or Nella. He hoped Eriss though, she was his favorite.
You use “Eriss” three times in two sentences. Beware overusing words. Replace the second with “she.”
Google subjunctive mood. Grammatically, this should read: if Erise were busy.
She would hold him close to her while she sung, pressing him against her large naked pink breasts.
Delete “to her.” It’s redundant.
“Sang,” not “sung.”
They always reminded him of his mother, the few good times between the men who shared her warmth. After each song she would hold him close telling him how he was her special little dollop and hum until he fell asleep in her arms.
I think you can delete “always.” Try it without and see what you think.
“Held” may be better than “would hold” in this case.
Consider “and tell” instead of “telling.”
“Why? Arn’t they commin back?”
Be careful with dialect. It can be distracting. Consider getting rid of “commin.”
“You said they arn’t commin back…why?”
Are these two lines needed at all? Consider deleting.
“They are the Huldra, and they march to their deaths.” His eyes never left the passing soldiers. “May their mothers weep for them.”
I like this.
Endren watched the men in bronze and leather who’s footfalls pounded to the beating drums. Horse hooves chimed and echoed along the street.
“Whose,” not “who’s.”
Hooves chimed? I’m don’t understand the description.
He grimiced at the thought of the others at the Ladies purse.
“Grimaced” is the correct spelling.
I don’t understand where this thought originates.
The way they moaned in their rooms always left him with memories of his mother.
Consider deleting “always.”
“Left him with” isn’t quite right. “Brought up” or something similar maybe?
How she would drag him through the alleyways to lay in the filth of the street with pitmongers, slavers and other evil men even bad men feared.
For that last part, consider something like: men so evil that even bad men feared them.
He would huddle against the black stones of the alleyway trying to close his ears against the moans and screams, trying not to watch. It always ended the same, a few coins thrown at her naked and beaten body. All to buy smokemilk and ale. And those times she did not satisfy, she sold him.
Beneath furrowed eyebrows he glared at the Huldra trying to burn away his mothers memory.
Watch the placement of your modifiers. The way it’s written, the Huldra are trying to burn away his mother’s memory.
“Mothers” should be “mother’s.”
The sound of her voice, the smell of her hair. He puffed his chest and wiped a rogue tear.
Generally, puffing a chest refers to someone who is proud of himself, which is contrary to what Endren is feeling. What was your intent here?
“Why do they march to their deaths?” The boy asked aware of the somber mood, mothers crying and the silence, save for the sound of boots against the stones.
I’d prefer something like: Endren noticed the somber mood of the crowd. Mothers cried. Save for boots crunching against stones, silence prevailed. “Why do they…”
“Because they must,they leave to give us a chance to live.”
Need a space after the comma. I’d make the comma a period.
The way you have it punctuated, I expected a beat. Instead, you have a speech tag. Watch your punctuation!
The man said squeezing his shoulder.
Make this into a beat: The man squeezed his shoulder.
“Remember this day, the last march of the Huldra. They are our champions against the horde that comes. They march this morning when the T’aladulmn have forsaken themselves and us with them.”
This would be more powerful if you deleted the second sentence.
“Is your son a soldier? Is that why you care?”
Turn this around, and it’s stronger. “Why do you care? Is your son one of them?”
“All sons are soldiers this day, and all will die for the mistakes of their fathers. Fathers left to go home to wives who will never forgive them. A son who cannot forgive his father. I, who can never forgive myself.”
If you insert a beat between the two uses of “fathers” it will give the reader a second to digest the first part and make the speech stronger. Same thing after “father” and “I.”
Slowly one voice rose above the clamor and others joined. Their voices rose to carry the lament to those who passed.
How about “a” instead of “one?”
I don’t like the last sentence as it seems like a POV shift and reuses “voice.”
“You know the words boy…Course you don’t. It is an old song that is rarely sung.”
This is clumsy. Is it needed? Can you have Endren wonder what they’re singing?
The last of the Huldra vanished down the street leaving way to the wagons. Soon those too had gone and with them the crowd.
The man turned once more towards the Sundering Gate. “Goodbye my son, may you forgive me before you die. You got a name boy?”
This is confusing. You need to separate the thoughts of the man talking to his son and then addressing Endren.
“Me mother called me Endren and the whores call me Dollop.”
“I din’t say that.”
“No, your mother did, and where is she.”
Make that last two sentences, ending the second with a question mark.
Should be “she’s.”
Iress of The Ladies Purse on Broke s’head watches me now.” He paused suddenly wary. “You knew my mother?”
I don’t know what this means: “s’head.”
“No. A name is a world that can have meaning if you know the tongue, Endren, meaning bastard.”
A name is a world? It’s stronger without that. A name has meaning if you know the tongue. Endren means bastard.
Endren stared at his feet and rubbed the tears from his face.
“Come my son, lets go home.” The man said resting a hand on Endren’s shoulder.
I’m not sure I like the “my son” there. It seems callous given the context of the situation.
Get rid of “said.”
His steps faltered at first but he lifted his head and walked.
There’s no indication of who “he” and “his” refers to.
With the old man’s hand on his shoulder he walked away from Iress and The Ladies Purse, away from the pitmongers, away from Fleas Nest.
You need a comma after “shoulder.” Some would say that all introductory phrases need commas. All say that longer ones do.
Overall, this is much better than the first version you posted. It packs a lot of punch and has a gritty tone.
Hope this helps!