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Beta Reading Samples: 5. Version 1 of How Many Years?
Marta’s comments are in red.
Gwynnyd’s comments are blue.
(see how much easier Workshop's WYSIWYG editor makes commenting? these were originally underlined and/or bold.)
"How Many Years?"
11 March 2004
"They made a level space, and at its eastward end they raised a mound; within the mound Isildur laid a casket that he bore with him. Then he said: 'This is a tomb and memorial to the Kingdom of the South in the keeping of the Valar, while the Kingdom endures; and this place shall be a hallow that none shall profane. Let no man disturb its silence and peace, unless he be an heir of Elendil."
"If then Mardil had exercised the authority of the King in his absence, the heirs of Mardil who had inherited the Stewardship had the same right and duty until a King returned; each steward therefore had the right to visit the hallow when he would and to admit to it those who came with him… Nonetheless, the Stewards, partly from awe, and partly from the cares of the kingdom, went very seldom to the hallow on the Hill of Anwar, except when they took their heir to the hill-top, according to the custom of the Kings."
-- "The Tradition of Isildur," Pt IV of "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan," JRR Tolkien's Unfinished Tales
Undergrowth covered the path now. I did not remember it being this overgrown when I last travelled it with my own father over fifty years ago. (You might want to switch the order and/or make it two sentences: I last travelled this path with my father over fifty years ago. It was not this overgrown in my memories.) Saplings now grew in the middle of the trail, not just along the edges as they had of old. You could hardly call it a path, but the sons of Húrin walked it nonetheless. Each man of my house travelled it twice, once with his father and once with his son. He hoped he would never have cause to walk it a third time. (Why? Because it would mean Boromir was dead and he’d have to walk it with Faramir? Thinking fondly of Boromir, he hoped…) It was well I knew the path so well, (how? if he’d only walked it once before? Was it burned into his memory? If so you should say that. It was well I remembered the path so clearly) or I should be cheated of my second hike as well. (as well? Was he cheated of his first hike?) (this would be a good place to mention that Denethor is carrying the Horn of Gondor.)(back?)
"Boromir," I called, turning to face him (as he lagged behind?) . His head snapped around to face me then, but not quickly enough for him to hide the furtive look back toward Minas Tirith. "They will still celebrate when you return," I assured him, "and they will sing all the louder for your arrival. But now I need you here." (Does Boromir know why they are going up the mountain? Maybe You know you are needed here.)
"The boy tries hard," Imrahil said.
"Trying hard will not help him find the path when he must lead his own son (to this place?)." I felt Imrahil's sigh on the back of my neck and turned to face him. "Perhaps effort suffices in Dol Amroth, but in the White City it does not. The Shadow does not shirk (I keep wanting to read this as shrink’. Shirk is to avoid a responsibility or duty.) back because we try hard, but because we remind it that Gondor is still strong."
Imrahil looked like he wanted to say more, but he mastered himself and continued silently up the hill. You flatter yourself, Denethor. The thought sprung (sprang) unbidden to my mind. The Dark Lord (question mark not comma) fear you? And what chance is there Boromir will ever lead his son this way? (why? Does he foresee this? Does he think Boromir is a raging homosexual who will never get it on with a woman? There’s no woman worthy of being his bride? Why?) I banished the notion to the far recesses of my mind from whence it came. This was not a day for troubling words, much less for troubling thoughts. (Just what is this day? You’ve made this into a ceremony where the Steward formally names an heir. This is great! I love the idea, but it does not necessarily follow from the paragraphs you quoted above. You might want to give the reader a line or two about the significance of what is going to happen.)
I walked back to Boromir's side, laying my arm across his shoulders. "Do you see that oak, my boy?" I pointed out an ancient tree whose trunk split into two halves, each twisting around the other until they forged (merged?)(they are reveling in the city before dawn? Or is there some ceremony that is also going to be held in the White Tower?) and Boromir's eyes danced as he watched its flight. Those are not the eyes of a soldier, I thought, surprised by this unusual display of mirth. But a boy you are yet, for a few hours at least.
"Denethor!" Imrahil called from ahead. "I found it (the stairs?)!"
Boromir sprinted ahead at that, nearly taking my arm with him, and I ran (hurried?) after him. Aye, still a boy.(How old is Boromir? 15? 20? 25? 30? He still acts like boy but has used his sword for many years. Please give the reader a clue as to how old he really is.)
We made our way through the woods as fast as we could until at least (last?) we broke through the trees and found the stone stair. We climbed toward the sky, Boromir bounding two and three steps at a time and I not far behind, until at least (last? Do you want two at least’s so close together?) into one some distance up. "That tree stood there when Ecthelion led me along this path when I was your age, and he said it stood when he was a boy as well. Look for it, when you bring your own son along this path, so you know you have not lost the way."
Boromir nodded, breathing in the crisp early morning air. A bird swooped past his ear, and he turned to see it. Its song broke the pre-dawn silence, we found Imrahil standing reverently before the raised mound.
Elbereth's stars fought that night's last fight with Anar before they surrendered the heavens, until tomorrow night. (They were climbing up this overgrown mountain path in the DARK? With no torches?) They always lost, yet they still fought on. Eärendil had long since passed (from?) these mortal lands, and with that precious jewel gone my own now had no rival. (I do not understand this. Are you trying to say that Earendil’s line has died out and so the Stewards have no king to be rival for their power? Or is this some literal jewel I’m not familiar with that you are comparing to the silmaril? It’s a nice metaphor, but I’m not sure what it’s referring to. Is Boromir the precious jewel’ of the Steward?)
Boromir and I walked gravely and took our places beside Imrahil at the row of white stones that circled the crest of the hill. We stood in silence, captivated by the simple image of a white ship and an eagle flying high above laid out in white pebbles on the mound. "Is that… ?" I heard Boromir asked, and Imrahil answered him.
What he answered, I could not say. They faded away, my son and my wife's brother, and I stood in Boromir's place, looking into my own father's eyes, asking him the same question.
"Nine ships there were," he (I think you should name Ecthelion here, or even Ecthelion, my father, to make it clear we’re in a flashback) had said to me, his hand resting on my waist, "and they fled before the black gale of Númenor, out of that twilight of doom into the darkness blacker than the night. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger. , (full stop, delete and and start new sentence) and waves (Waves) like unto mountains moving with great caps of tortured snow bore them up beyond the fell clouds, and after many days they were cast down upon our forgotten shores."
I looked up at him, and his eyes were clouded over, searching out the furthest West. Was Elendil's cloud like the one that now shrouded my father's eyes?
"Four they gave us for Elendil," I replied, "and for Isildur three, and for Anárion two. What more mercy should we ask of them?"
Ecthelion smiled at that. "Aye, you are right, son. Such wisdom!" He ruffled my hair. "You must forgive an old man. Sometimes we forget that the greatest trial often holds an even greater gift."
"Father?" Boromir laid his arm on my shoulder, pulling me back from the world of memories. I saw the same question in his eyes.
"Here Elendil lies." I kneeled (knelt) down and opened my pack, pulling out two flowers carved from the wood of one of Nimloth's heirs. "The Valar keep his grave well." I laid one flower on he mound, handing the other to my heir, (make the next part into a separate sentence.) and (I) stood up and (or — Standing up, I) walked to the edge of the clearing.
Some time later I heard Boromir's footsteps behind me. "How many years?" he asked quietly. "How many years make a steward a king?"
Now it was my turn to sigh. "You asked me that question before," I replied.
"Now I (I now) ask it again," he insisted.
"And I will (delete will’) answer you the same way," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "In Gondor, ten thousand years would not suffice."
"And yet here we stand beside Elendil's grave. Ondoher is dead, and Eärnur rode into Minas Morgul near a thousand years ago! This king who shall return, where will he hail from? Perhaps he waits in Númenor and will one day spring out of the sea? (Maybe add some description here of how Denethor receives this flight of fancy to account for the next line of dialogue.) It is as likely as anywhere else, father. Gondor has no king to return."
I refused to meet his eyes but instead let my eyes (gaze?) drift to the North, where I knew the Argonath stood beyond sight. I could not face him, (and) tell him that grown men should not engage in such boyish foolishness.
Boromir walked around to face me. "How many years, father?"
"The question is wise," I admitted softly, "but to ask it is foolish. You will be steward after me, until the king comes. And if he never returns, then you and your son after you will still be steward(s), until death takes you or the world ends. And no one, not I nor your people nor the Valar themselves, will hold you in any less honour because the minstrels sang of Boromir the glorious (valiant?) s(S)teward of Gondor."
Boromir nodded slowly, the words seeping in. And it was not Boromir son of Denethor who stood before me, but (I saw him as?) Eärnur, high king of Gondor. I could not have asked for a better gift in this, the darkest hour (what’s happening that makes this the darkest hour?) the Faithful had endured (in?) this age. The boy was gone, for the moment at least, replaced by a man well suited to what honour might demand of him."
Imrahil approached, carrying a jewel-studded goblet. He handed it to me, and Boromir bowed without being told. Imrahil grasped the hilt of Boromir's sword and held it out for me to inspect. (Did he pull it out of the scabbard on Boromir’s belt? Is he holding the sword and scabbard in his hands? Did Imrahil carry the sword up the mountain or was Boromir wearing it? Did Boromir take it off and hand it to him a few minutes ago and you didn’t tell us this?) I allowed his eyes to rest on the blade for a moment; custom demanded it, though I already knew its worth. Boromir had wielded it for years already, and it would serve him for many years yet. Yet today, we would put it to a new use.
I handed Boromir the goblet, then took his sword and rested the broad side (this is usually described as the flat of the blade) on his shoulder. "In the name of Elendil, and Mardil, and all the Faithful, I name you, Boromir son of Denethor of the line of Húrin, my rightful heir. May your sword keep you and all Gondor safe, may your heart never falter, and may your memory (Boromir’s memory of this event? Or the memory that the people of Gondor have of Boromir?) be a joy when the years have passed you by."
Boromir rose (raised) his head at that and met my eyes (how? sincerely? eagerly? reluctantly? honestly? openly?). "Fealty and service to Gondor, and to her Lord, I now do swear: to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, in need or plenty, in my lord's living and after his dying, from this hour henceforth, until death take me, or the world end. May my feet never falter, my hands ever find righteous work, and my heart stay true to what it holds dear this day. So say I, Boromir son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor."
Then (delete then’) I removed the blade (from where? its hilt? Boromir’s shoulder? Maybe lifted the blade?) and handed it to Imrahil. I laid my hand at the base of the goblet and raised it to my son's lips. As he drained it I heard Imrahil say behind us, "And so do I, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and kinsman of the Steward, hear and testify as long as I have breath to do so."
"And so do I also hear," I said at last, resolving not to let the tears welling in my eyes escape down my cheeks. "Though life may be as bitter as this wine, may you drain it to the dregs as thoroughly as you have done here today." I then (delete then’) removed (maybe took’?) the horn (I think you need to foreshadow the horn. Back at the beginning when they are climbing, Denethor should mention the horn that hangs on his neck.) that hung from my own neck and raised it to my lips, sounding it like I had never done before. (Do you mean that he had never sounded the horn before, or that he did a better job of blowing it than he had ever done before? Maybe sounding it more clearly than I had ever done before or more earnestly’ or more musically’ or more fiercely’ or …)
The birds in the trees around the edge of the clearing flew from the trees (one of these trees’ should be branches’), and a great rush of wings accompanied my last call. Boromir bowed his head, and I settled the baldric around his neck. "Bear this horn to good fortune, my son. Sound it at need, and a thousand orcs shall not keep your brothers in arms from your side."
Then (delete then’) I took the goblet from him and gave it to Imrahil. I placed my hands on his shoulders and he rose (maybe drew him up’?)(with his lips pressed to Boromir’s forehead? You might want to say contemplating his suddenly mature features’ or seeing the man to be in his face’ or ?) Boromir and Eärnur or some new mix of the two, son of kings and son of stewards both. I stepped forward, kissed his brow, and lingered for some time wondering what he was thinking’ or something) before stepping back. He smiled, and we walked back toward the stair leading down from Amôn Anwar.
If ever I needed counsel, I decided, I would not seek it here. 'Twould be sacrilege to spoil a haven such as this with anything so worldly.
Marta replied by e-mail to Gwynnyd’s beta
I'm going to bed shortly so I'll save a full-out rewrite for tomorrow, but I did want to go ahead and address some of your comments. Thanks for this, and thanks for getting back to me so quickly.
He hoped he would never have cause to walk it a third time. (Why? Because it would mean Boromir was dead and he’d have to walk it with Faramir? Thinking fondly of Boromir, he hoped…
I hadn't thought of Boromir dying. Actually that was in reference to a line that I probably should hav quoted: "the King should visit the hallow from time to time, and especially when he felt the need of wisdom in days of danger or distress; and thither also he should bring his heir, when he was full-grown to manhood..."
Then there's the line that I did quote about the steward not coming to the hallows except with their sons. So my thoughts were, every steward came at least twice: when he reached his majority with his father, and when his heir came of age to repeat the ceremony. But the other possible purpose of the hallows was to seek counsel. However, the stewards would only do that in direst need.
Denethor knows the shadow is growing. He looks into the palantír not long after Finduilas dies, and that would have been ten years ago. Denethor is hoping that Gondor doesn't get in so much trouble that he has to come back a third time to seek wisdom in days of danger. I.e., that such a situation never comes up and that Gondor isn't attacked in his lifetime.
I should be cheated of my second hike as well. (as well? Was he cheated of his first hike?)
Perhaps cheated is the wrong word to use here. I was trying to get across that Denethor hoped that he would never face a situation so desperate he'd have to come back a third time, so hoping this would be the last time he'd ever walk this path. In which case "cheated" is the wrong word to describe that hypothetical third trip.
(Does Boromir know why they are going up the mountain? Maybe You know you are needed here.
Yes, Boromir knows. He certainly doesn't act surprised by what happens in the clearing. I'll try to make that more clear here.
And what chance is there Boromir will ever lead his son this way? (why? Does he foresee this? Does he think Boromir is a raging homosexual who will never get it on with a woman? There’s no woman worthy of being his bride? Why?)
No, that’s not what I meant. I was just trying to establish the fact that Denethor has an internal battle going on. On the one hand, he's hoping against hope that Mordor won't attack during his lifetime. On the other hand, he's doing this once-a-generation ceremony and he has to ask himself whether Gondor will survive another generation for Boromir to lead his son here. I need to make that more clear, I suppose.
(they are reveling in the city before dawn? Or is there some ceremony that is also going to be held in the White Tower?)
Well, your future steward only comes of age once... but maybe pre-dawn's a bit much. I'll change that bit, I think, about the people already celebrating back in Minas Tirith. Perhaps I'll have Boromir cast a glance back to Minas Tirith where he knows they will soon be celebrating. I see at least a full day of revelling on Boromir's birthday, with Boromir, Denethor, and Imrahil arriving that evening.)
(How old is Boromir? 15? 20? 25? 30? He still acts like boy but has used his sword for many years. Please give the reader a clue as to how old he really is.)
Twenty. I'll work that in, but is it unreasonable that a twenty-year-old could get excited on a once-in-a-lifetime occasion like this -- something there's almost certainly been a fair amount of build-up to -- but have been serving in the guard in some capacity, for at least 3-4 years (say, since he's sixteen)?
Eärendil had long since passed (from?) these mortal lands, and with that precious jewel gone my own now had no rival. (I do not understand this. Are you trying to say that Earendil’s line has died out and so the Stewards have no king to be rival for their power? Or is this some literal jewel I’m not familiar with that you are comparing to the silmaril? It’s a nice metaphor, but I’m not sure what it’s referring to. Is Boromir the precious jewel’ of the Steward?)
OK, this is confusing, and my apologies. By Eärendil, I'm referring to the star. The star has passed over Middle-earth in its nightly orbit across the sky. It's a reference to Boromir's name which literally means 'Faithful Jewel'. Saying that the only jewel that even began to compare to his own (Boromir, 'Faithful Jewel') was the Silmaril. (And at the same time developing a little bit of Feanor-like attachment to his own jewel; one of Denethor's biggest faults, IMHO, is loving Boromir too much.) But then maybe none of this works and I've just been reading Silm too lately, and it's all fresh in my mind.
Imrahil grasped the hilt of Boromir's sword and held it out for me to inspect. (Did he pull it out of the scabbard on Boromir’s belt? Is he holding the sword and scabbard in his hands? Did Imrahil carry the sword up the mountain or was Boromir wearing it? Did Boromir take it off and hand it to him a few minutes ago and you didn’t tell us this?)
At this point I was looking for something for Imrahil to do, to be honest. I see him, reaching over and grasping the hilt of Boromir's sword (which he is still wearing at this point) and pulling it out of the scabbard, then handing it to Denethor. Are there safety considerations that make that impractical? How does this usually work, historically? Does the person being pledged take out the sword, or what?
may your memory (Boromir’s memory of this event? Or the memory that the people of Gondor have of Boromir?) be a joy when the years have passed you by."
the people's memory of Boromir. I think I was subconsciously pulling on an old Jewish saying I picked up as a kid, often said at funerals: "may his name be a blessing." Any suggestions on how to make this clearer?
sounding it like I had never done before. (Do you mean that he had never sounded the horn before, or that he did a better job of blowing it than he had ever done before? Maybe sounding it more clearly than I had ever done before or more earnestly’ or more musically’ or more fiercely’ or …)
It's the last time he's ever going to blow the horn, so I suppose he'd do a really good job of it. I'll change this to "sounding it more fiercely".
Right, well that's it for general comments. Carol, as always, thank you. I'm so glad to have someone who knows a bit about these kind of ceremonies and can help me polish this piece off
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