Tuesday Critique: Donnchad and Liosa in the woods

I’m plugging away at Sons of Alba.  Here’s my latest scene featuring a bit of a heart to heart between Donnchad and Liosa:


This was one such occasion, as he crouched beside Mac Crinan and Mac Bheatha in the bracken, watching breathlessly as Thorfinn sighted along his drawn arrow at a calmly grazing stag.  Then a branch broke with a loud crack and the stag bounded away, along with all of Donnchad’s focus, as Liosa walked into view.
She looked like some otherworldly creature, like the fair folk of old, or an angel from one of the illuminated gospels, with a stray, filtered beam of sunlight gleaming gold on her brown head, her green gown like a garment of moss.  Thorfinn relaxed his bow and lowered the arrow, all the tension going out of his shoulders in a rush of disappointment at the sight of his sister.  Mac Bheatha stood up, followed by both Donnchads.  
Thorfinn greeted his sister with a torrent of angry Lachlannach speech which she turned aside gracefully before addressing the other boys in Gaidhlig.
“I’m glad to find you here as well.  Seannathair wishes to speak with you, Donnchad and Mac Bheatha.  Oh, not you, Donnchad Mhor.”  She coloured prettily and ducked her head.  “Hurry ahead, Thorfinn, cousins.  The message was most urgent.”
“If I’m not needed, allow me to escort you safely back to the palace.”  Donnchad peered at her face.  She looked ill at ease under the close canopy of the ancient woods of Caledonia.  
“Please.”  She gave a nod, her eyes huge in her white face.  He couldn’t completely lament her fear, for it gave him this rare opportunity to share her company, however fruitless their time together might be.  
They began to walk toward the palace, Baltair trotting in wide circles around them and crashing happily through the undergrowth.  Despite her obvious discomfiture, Liosa smiled at his antics.
“He’s grown quickly.  He’ll be a fine big dog soon.”  
“Aye,” Donnchad agreed proudly.  “He is a fine dog.  He’s got a nose can catch a trace of deer that’s three days cold, at least.”  He curtailed his mounting excitement when he noticed the reluctant half-smile on her face.  Of course, Liosa wasn’t interested in hunting.  “What do you think the Ard Righ wanted that was so urgent?”
She shrugged elegantly.  “I’ve no idea.  The Ard Righ never shares his mind with me.”
Donnchad bit his lip.  Yet another useless line of conversation.  “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be.  You carry no blame for the plain fact that I was born a maid.”
“You don’t like being a maid?” Donnchad blurted out the words before he could recall them.
Liosa laughed.  “Oh, no, it’s not that.  There are things I like about my life.  Being a princess of Alba is a charmed existence, to be sure.  But sometimes I wish I could be more a part of things – to have a choice …”  She trailed away into thought and Donnchad wondered what she might have said.  He knew enough not to ask.  
“There are few – man or maid – who have complete freedom over their fate.”
Liosa lifted her eyes to meet his, surprise in their depths.  “And what is your fate, Donnchad Mhor?”
“Kingship can be a burden, just as much as a blessing.  And an accident of birth can limit a man just as much as a maid.”
She flashed a smile.  “I’m not certain I agree with you.”
His cheeks burned.  Words deserted him.
“I didn’t mean to offend.”  She glanced at him in concern.
“Oh, no.  You didn’t offend me.  I just meant there are things that a man can’t choose – things he might want.”
It took all of Donnchad’s strength not to look at her then.  But he knew if he did, she would see all the longing in his eyes.  Would she mock him, or pity him, if she knew?  He couldn’t think which would be worse.  
“In my father’s land, a man is accustomed to take what he wants.”
Donnchad met her eyes then, and she was watching him with disconcerting forthrightness.  He swallowed slowly and gave her a weak smile. 
“And yet even in your father’s land, a man likely takes exception when his own possessions are stolen.”
She laughed in surprise.  “Well done! You are right.  I couldn’t imagine what my father might have done if another man did to him what he’d done to many others when viking.”
“It is well the Ard Righ made peace with him, then.  He was a formidable foe, and even more so a valuable ally.”
Liosa smiled, gratified.  “He was.  A man among men, for all his faults.”  Her smile turned sad.
“You miss him.”
“Of course.”  She managed a weak smile, though her eyes shone with unshed tears.  Donnchad wished he hadn’t stumbled over his tongue again.
“I’m sorry.”
“No.  It’s good to remember him.”
“I know.  I lost my own seannathair not long ago.  He was a great man.”
“Then you do know.  At least, a little.”
“But I couldn’t imagine losing my father.  He’s everything I want to be, someday.”
“You will be.  I know it.”  
Donnchad looked at Liosa in wonder, but her eyes were fixed on the path ahead, her expression frustratingly neutral.  Were these merely kind words, or the warm praise he wished they were?  No.  She couldn’t possibly care more than courtesy required.  She was only bestowing kindness, like a good Christian giving alms to a beggar.  But fool that he was, he would take every crumb she gave him.
The woods parted up ahead, giving way to green lawn and blue sky.  Liosa was visibly relieved, letting a breath go in a sigh and quickening her pace.  Donnchad wished the forest would never end.
At the edge of the wood, she turned to him with thanks.  
“It was nothing,” he said in reply, but it was far from nothing to his mind.  
She disappeared into the palace ahead like the faery he’d compared her to in the forest.  

As always, feel free to rip into it, tell me what it needs, tell me what you like, and share your own work so I can return the favour.  🙂

7 thoughts on “Tuesday Critique: Donnchad and Liosa in the woods”

  1. Hi Erin, Got to this through UBC. As a fellow writer, my primary advice for the next round of editing would be to weed out unnecessary words – especially adjectives – unless they are really unique and add to the flavor of the scene. I don’t want to be told that someone “gazed calmly” or “turned gracefully,” as much as I’d like to see it happen on the page. Looks like you have an interesting plot going. Best wishes!

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