Critique Tuesday: Eliora’s betrothal


Here is the opening scene from my first draft of a young adult novel called Slumber.  Please pick it apart and let me know what you think.  🙂

It was not at all unusual for a girl to balk at her prospective groom. After all, it was rarely her choice, even if she was not a slave like me. Some might throw a tantrum. Some might demurely accept their fate, hoping their husband might at least leave them as a young widow. Some might run away or devote their lives to the service of some god or goddess rather than face marriage.

The unusual thing about my betrothal was my parents’ objection. In fact, nearly everyone in the room objected, though they dared not say a word. Even my mother and father were silent, though they looked frantically at each other with dread. But no one would speak against Hassimir’s choice of husband for his pretty maidservant. Still less would anyone in all of Babylon contest a generous offer of marriage from the great Daon Nazaratus. At least, not to his face.

I knew all the other maidservants were thanking whatever gods they served it was not them. Every parent in the room vowed additional sacrifices for sparing their own daughters my fate. Even Hassimir looked a little apologetic as he led me to a cushion and bade me sit down, cross-legged. But he would never say no to such a generous bride-price. Nor would he refuse Daon. No one would.

Daon Nazaratus crossed the room to stand over me, looking down his gaunt nose with hard black eyes.

“Istara, slave of Hassimir, daughter of Gahal of Judah, I claim you as my bride.”

I stared daggers at the floor, my cheeks burning. My name is Eliora, not Istara. Someone save me from this.

“These treasures and more I will shower upon you when we are wed.” He spoke the ritual betrothal words, opened his hands and let fall a spill of gold and jewels that glittered like a snake’s eyes in the hollow of my lap.

I kept my eyes fixed on a whorl in the stone floor, and the jewels were only a mass of shining lights through the film of my tears. I did not see, only felt Daon’s lascivious stare rest on me before he turned and concluded his business with Hassimir. My old master was just as pleased as my new lord with the transaction. He gazed at the gold-leafed treasure casket Daon’s slave carried with the same lust I saw in Daon’s eyes when he looked at me.

When the masters left, the only sound in the room was my mother’s strangled sob.

“Alright, back to work,” Hassimir’s slave master said. The room emptied quickly. We would speak later, in the dark of the night, in the slave quarters. Then my parents would pray. Then they would weep over me. For now, we must forget. Forget we had hearts.

We Jews were good at that by now. At least while the masters of Babylon watched.

Really, I mean it! Please pick it apart. And feel free to submit your own pieces for peer critique, if you are brave enough. 🙂

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