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Beta Reading Samples: 3. Paying for the Party — short comments
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Paying for the Party
Aragorn, recently crowned King of Gondor, had more work to do than was his wont. He fondly remembered long days of travel with nothing to do but stride along, eyes watching for signs of trouble, while his mind was free to think and plan. Now the plans had come to fruition and time to think was in short supply.
In days overloaded with meeting people he had little time to himself and snatched odd moments of rest and recreation where he could find them. Dawn was only just blushing the sky a deep rosy red and he was indulging in a private moment. What needed planning was no fete of great import, but it promised to provide him with some real entertainment amidst the more formal functions he was expected to attend every day.
Éomer wished to honor some of the Captains of Rohan with a party in Minas Tirith.
“It’s not that I don’t have the resources, Aragorn,’ Éomer explained, “but when we came south, I was not expecting to have to fund so much from my private purse.” He shrugged and poured another pint of ale into his mug. “While Gondor has been very generous in supporting my troops since we arrived, I really do not expect you to pay for this. The tavern keepers of this city are just as suspicious of foreign soldiers as ever. I could make arrangements as the King of Rohan, but,” he shrugged again and paused with his mug halfway to his lips. He smiled. “I’m no more used to being a king than you are, and I want to enjoy myself without worrying about the tavern keeper telling tales of the wild King of Rohan. It’s bad enough that they will talk about the wild Rohirrim. You are still planning to join us?”
Aragorn laughed. “Wouldn’t miss it, even if I do have to use my Ranger skills to sneak away from a formal reception. We are agreed then. Your stallion Firefoot will cover four mares from my private stables and my privy purse will pay for your party. But not damage to the inn, mind you. The city is battered enough without that.”
“Agreed.” Éomer looked around puzzled. “Was not Faramir to be here to handle the funds transfer discreetly?”
Aragorn laughed again. “He is. He was. My Steward needs a steward. He received word this morning of a crack in some historic building or other and needs must check it out himself. He’ll be back presently.”
“Ah, then I can wait.” He drank a deep draught of the ale. “Good breakfast ale is hard to come by in this city. Prince Imrahil keeps wanting me to discuss our border issues with the Dunlendings over breakfast.” Éomer shuddered. “Once was enough for that. Odd herb drinks and tiny, sweet cakes. Faugh.” He stabbed a slice of meat off the tray on the table between them with the point of his belt knife. “At least you know what a man’s breakfast should look like.”
Aragorn raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “I remember your grandmother. She knew what a fork was for. Rohan has gone sadly downhill.” Aragorn shook his head sorrowfully and speared his own piece of meat off the tray with a knife.
The men were still chuckling when there was knock at the door. Prince Imrahil entered and bowed formally to his King and then to the King of Rohan. He stood stiffly in front of the king.
“Sire, I have distressing news to report.”
Aragorn removed his booted feet from the low table and sat up straighter.
Imrahil squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and continued in the tones of one delivering unwelcome news, “Faramir was seen drinking heavily in several taverns in the lower city last night.”
Aragorn waited for the bad news. As the pause continued, it seemed that Imrahil was finished.
“And?” Aragorn prompted.
Imrahil made a clean breast of it. “With the periannath, who were also drinking heavily.”
Aragorn thought back to the hobbits’ drinking habits in Bree. That there was beer left in the citadel continually surprised him. With four hobbits and a dwarf to supply he expected to hear of shortages every day. Imrahil was still standing stiffly in front of him.
“Ah,” Aragorn prevaricated. “That is certainly unfortunate.”
“I was there, too,” Éomer contributed in a spirit of helpfulness. “Pippin was searching for brews that compared to the ones in the Shire and Bree and he and Merry disagreed on the flavors. Faramir and I went along to …” He trailed off into silence at the sour look on the Prince’s face.
“Well, in that case, I will speak no more of it.” Imrahil bowed to Éomer and turned to Aragorn. “But you should certainly discuss this disgraceful behavior with your Steward, my lord. It reflects very badly on the family. And the periannath need to be spoken to, as well.”
“Certainly, certainly,” Aragorn said soothingly. He stood and maneuvered Imrahil towards the door. “Yes, you can leave it me. I will certainly speak to them about their unseemly behavior last night.”
Seconds after the door closed behind Imrahil, it opened again to admit Faramir. His raven hair was windblown from standing on the battlements in the morning breeze, but his eyes were clear and sparkling. He held up a hand to forestall whatever Aragorn was going to say.
“Have I disgraced you to the point where you ask for my resignation?” he said smiling. “Uncle Imrahil certainly seems to think you would when you heard about my carouse last night. Although what he was doing in the third level at that hour, he never said.”
Aragorn sat back down and gestured Faramir into a vacant chair by the table. He poured Faramir a mug of ale and handed it to him.
“I hardly need hair-of-the-dog,” Faramir said wryly, putting the mug down and helping himself to a piece of bread from the tray.
“Nah, nah,” Éomer said gesturing with his own mug. “Breakfast ale. Weak enough for babies.
Aragorn looked severely at Faramir. “I do, however, have a very serious issue to discuss with you about your behavior last night.” He included Éomer in his disapproval. “Both of you.”
Faramir swallowed the bread. “Yes, my lord. I am sorry…”
Aragorn cut him off. “You trusted Pippin to be able to tell the difference between the ales. You, lords of Gondor and Rohan, went to many of the taverns in the city and drank indiscriminately.”
Faramir and Éomer exchanged guilty glances.
Aragorn drove the lesson home, ‘And you didn’t think to invite me?”
*** Author's note: And many thanks to Marta for the original discussion that led to this idea *******
Beta's comments I very much like this piece — it made me laugh in several places, it has a nice shape and pacing to it, the dialogue is mostly convincing, and it has a really good punchline at the end. I think you do a very good job of capturing Aragorn in this piece: I very much see the Ranger-turned-King who wishes he could be an ordinary Ranger again sometimes. I also like Éomer here: someone who enjoys life, doesn't have particularly polished manners but does have a heart of gold. However, there are some issues I think you should consider:
1. You seem undecided as to whether you want to go for a fairly modern style or a more archaic style (perhaps in keeping with Tolkien's own). You use some archaic words such as "wont" but more modern expressions such as "Wouldn't miss it". Given this is humorous piece, a modern style isn't out of place, but you should probably pick one or the other (or use the archaic words deliberately to add to the humour).
2. I don't have a strong sense of where this is taking place (or even entirely when). When you introduce Éomer's first piece of dialogue, I am unsure for a moment whether this is a conversation taking place at dawn while Aragorn is "indulging in a private moment" or is something he is remembering from earlier. This may be because Éomer suddenly appears in the story without anything to set up his presence. (The phrase "indulging in a private moment" made me think Aragorn was alone.) Also, when Éomer looks around for a Faramir a couple of paragraphs later, I'm wondering where he thinks Faramir might be hiding and if he expects him to pop out like a jack-in-the-box. I don't think you need a great deal of description to set the scene but a little more sense of place would be nice.
3. I said above that I liked your characterisations of Aragorn and Éomer. However, I'm a little unsure about Imrahil's characterisation in this piece. Why does he feel the need to report Faramir's "bad behaviour" (and the hobbits) to Aragorn? What is he expecting Aragorn to do about it? He comes across as rather pompous, especially when Aragorn, Éomer and Faramir laugh at him after he's gone. They also seem rather disrespectful of a character who, in the book, is represented as an embodiment of Gondorian virtues. I think it might make Imrahil more in character (without losing too much of the humour of Imrahil getting in a tizzy about Faramir having fun!) if you have him coming to Aragorn not to complain about Faramir but to express his concern that his nephew is behaving uncharacteristically (since Faramir rarely goes out and drinks) and is perhaps under too much stress. Has Aragorn noticed any signs of stress as well? Is there anything they can do? Aragorn could point out to Imrahil that they all have a chance to live their lives differently now the War is over—surely Faramir going out and having a good time is a positive sign? Aragorn can then reassure Imrahil that he will keep an eye on Faramir. When Faramir comes in, he could be touched by his uncle's concern—and I think you could then still wrap up with the same ending. Of course, it's very much your choice how you characterise and plot your story!
4. Given this is a humour piece with a generally modern feel, there are a few places where I feel you become a little over-poetic, For example: "Dawn was only just blushing the sky a deep rosy red" and "His raven hair was windblown from standing on the battlements in the morning breeze, but his eyes were clear and sparkling." The latter comes close to parodying a lot of rather over-the-top Faramir stories (I mean, I'm a Faramir fan, but I'm afraid that had me giggling for the wrong reasons) — without the rest of the piece being a parody to make it clear that might have been your intent. I think you should either look at toning down some of these descriptions or make them more clearly comic
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