Or.. 'Forgive me, Mark Twain'. LOL!
I've decided to post parts of my drafts for unbiased opinions. I'll take biased opinions, too, if that's what it takes! LOL.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is the 2nd draft of part of my first chapter.
Straightening her shoulders, Marian breathed in deeply. The air smelled of horses, flowers, hay and trampled dirt. All part of the May festival her village held every year, as was the white gown she wore as the May Queen. Sneezing, she straightened the garland of flowers sliding down over one ear. Understanding why she was chosen as this year's Queen didn't make the job less tiresome. Plastering a smile on her face, she forced herself to focus on the games taking place before her. The village boys held impromptu races; trying in vain to capture her attention.
“Marian, Marian! Watch me!”
Ignoring the calls, Marian found her gaze drawn to where young men, the beginnings of beards on their chins, raised bows to cheeks; letting the arrows fly toward their targets, those unassuming bales of hay stacked three and four high in a nearby field. Carpeting the ground were their failed attempts to hit the bulls eye. The prize was a kiss from her. Even as she hoped none of them would hit the mark, her eye was caught by a young man, his cloak hood pulled up firmly about his face, who drew back, fitting arrow to string, releasing it in one swift movement, then repeating the process almost faster than she could follow. Arrow after arrow followed each other into the dead center of the hay bale until the yellow straw resembled her mother's pincushion. Only when his quiver was empty, did he stop and, glancing her way at last, quietly collect his arrows. He approached her seat on the wooden raised platform.
His head was still cloaked, leaving his face in shadows, as he came closer and bowed low over her hand. “My Queen.” The voice was mocking, but also strangely compelling. Marian shivered at the sound. “I come to collect my reward, as was promised.”
Marian inclined her head as she imagined her many times great grandmother, Guenevere, had at Camelot's court. “Am I not allowed to see the face of the man I must kiss?” she said in her most aristocratic tone.
“As you wish.” The archer swept his hood back, revealing a strong, almost chiseled, face. Shoulder length brown hair was tied neatly back at the nape of his neck and warm brown eyes met her hazel ones fearlessly. Never had she seen a more handsome young man.
Marian licked her lips nervously. The flutter that had begun in her heart migrated to her stomach, threatening to give birth at any moment to fully grown butterflies. She searached her mind desperately for something to say, something that would make him stay and speak with her. “What's your name, sir? I don't remember seeing you around the village at all.”
“I'm not from here,” he said, his gaze leaving her eyes and dropping to her rapidly drying lips. “I'm Robin.” He stepped closer and she found herself unconsciously leaning forward in anticipation.
“There are other contests today, with greater rewards than this one,” she murmured under her breath, as she tried to keep some semblance of dignity toward this handsome stranger.
Robin smiled and stepped toward her, his lips mere inches from hers. “I can't imagine,” he whispered, his breath a tiny puff of air against her lips, “a greater prize than the one I'm about to collect.” Leaning forward, his lips lightly brushed against hers, and she felt the butterflies in her stomach take flight at his touch. She leaned closer, anticipating the feel of his arms around her, and nearly fell off her seat. Her eyes, which had slid shut, shot open. Robin stood a foot away, a knowing smile playing across his lips. “It seems I'm not the only one who values less monetary rewards,” he grinned as her eyes widened.
“How – how dare you!”
He grinned at her anger, pulling his hood back up around his face. “Thank you, Your – Majesty – for rewarding my efforts. Might I know the name of the beautiful queen who has stolen my heart?” He bowed, the forest green cloak flaring out around him.
“Marian,” she hissed at him from between clenched jaws. “For all the good it will do you.”
“Marian,” his velvet voice caressed the word. “Queen Marian of the May.” He laughed, and her hands formed fists at her side. “How – fitting.”
His laughter ringing in her ears, she watched him leave, his bow slung across his back. With a thump, she sat back down, but could not focus on the games at hand. 'How fitting' indeed! As if it was her fault the May Queen was traditionally a maid of virtue, yet one who embodied the passion and desire necessary to symbolize fertility. Vowing then and there to put the archer 'Robin' out of her mind, she smiled brightly upon the next villager who knelt to receive the traditional blessing. There were plenty of 'good' marriageable men within the village. All she had to do was find one before her mother did. Smoothing her hands down over her gown, she forced her rebellious heart to still, forced the butterflies in her stomach to tranquility by picturing a deep pool of unbroken water, leaves littering the surface; a pool she often visited when she snuck away from waiting chores to deep within Sherwood. It was, she promised herself, where she would go after the festival was done and she was allowed to remove the gown and slip back into the breeches she preferred. Looking down upon the next hapless fool who presented himself, she smiled, a genuine smile that lit her face. Sherwood waited.
And here is the 3rd draft, same length, or thereabouts :)
“Did you know Nottingham Castle is haunted?”
Marian laughed, gathering her blond hair into a knot at the base of her neck. “No, it's not.”
The young man nodded. “It's true. I heard it from Celeste, who heard it from a friend of hers, who went to the castle last harvest.”
“And Celeste's friend saw the ghost?” Marian reached down, picking a stick up off the ground and twirling it.
“Ghosts,” he corrected.
Marian's eyebrows arched. “There are more than one?”
“Yup.” His brown eyes lit with a laughter she saw in him all too rarely.
“How many more?” Almost against her will, Marian became interested.
“Over a score. But you can't see all of them. Mostly they just moan and cry at night.”
“And that's all you wanted to tell me?” Marian threw the stick further into Sherwood Forest. “Really?” She turned to face him.
“Well,” Will began with a broad smile. “I heard the ones you can see look like boys. Younger than us. And if they don't like you, they play tricks on you.”
“What kind of tricks?” Marian left the path and strode confidently through the trees and into a large clearing. A small pool, nearly indistinguishable from the forest floor, lay almost directly at her feet.
Will shrugged. “I heard they played a trick on the sheriff that had him screaming in fear.”
Bending down, Marian rolled up the legs of her breeches. “You must have enjoyed that.”
Will's eyes hardened. “I did,” he said abruptly. “I hope that bastard gets everything he deserves.”
Marian touched his arm gently, but before she could anything, a
voice growled at them from through the trees.
“And what would you know of the sheriff?”
Marian whipped around, the sword she wore leaping to her hand. She blinked in astonishment as blue flames licked up the blade's edge to dance at its very tip.
“Will,” she whispered, not taking her eyes from the sword. “Do you see that?”
“See what?” Will shot back, his walking stick gripped in two hands.
“The blade – it's – glowing. Isn't it?” Glancing briefly at her friend, she saw his blank expression. “You can't see it?”
“I-,” Will began, but was interrupted before he could continue.
“Tell me, boy, whatcha know of the sheriff 'n his men.” The trees parted, revealing the unknown speaker. A giant of a man, bearded and huge. Muscled arms bulging, he, too, held a quarterstaff in his hands. “Well?”
Will straightened. “I know a damn sight more than you!” He said bravely. “But I don't know why we should tell you anything!”
Planting his quarterstaff in the dirt, the man leaned on it and it creaked ominously under his weight. “Because I asked you, boy. Or do you need me to teach you a lesson in manners?”
Marian stepped in front of Will, the blade held in steady hands. “You'll have to fight me first,” she stated.
“I haven't come here to fight you,” the man said. “I've been sent to get information.”
Marian didn't lower the sword. “Sent? By whom?” She demanded, but the big man shook his head.
“None of your business, I'm afraid,” he said. “Now, tell me your names.”
“I'm Marian, and this is my friend, Will Scarlett.”
The man's eyes widened. “You're La -,” he cut himself off. “Nice t' meetcha.”
“Now that you know our names, tell us, who're you?” Will asked, pushing a reluctant Marian behind him.
“Me? I'm no-one important. Just someone who's lookin' for some information, as I said.”
Will narrowed his eyes. “That still doesn't tell me why I should answer.”
“Boy, you're treadin' dangerous ground,” the man ground out from between clenched teeth. With great effort, his hands tightening on his quarterstaff, he forced himself to relax. “I'm not here to hurt you, lad.”
“Will,” Marian whispered, “just tell him what happened.”
“What if he works for the sheriff?” Will whispered back.
“How do we know you don't work for the sheriff?” Marian asked Little John.
“Me? Work for the sheriff?” Little John burst out laughing. “If I was one of the sheriff's men d'you think I'd be wearin' this?” The giant motioned to his clothing, which resembled nothing more than patches held together with spit and string, but upon a closer inspection became carefully cobbled together scraps of greens and mottled browns.
Will shook his head. His own memories of the sheriff's men consisted of stern riders all dressed in black, swords hanging grimly at their sides. “It was four years ago,” he began softly. “The sheriff's men killed my father. My mother went to Nottingham Castle and complained to the sheriff. She vanished without a trace the following week.”
The giant nodded sorrowfully. “Aye, I've seen that happen all too often nowadays.” Nodding once more, decisively, he continued. “There's someone who'd like to meet you, if'n you're interested.”
“Who and why?” Will asked.
“Our leader, that's who. As to why.. well, I'll just let him explain himself. Be here the evening after the town fair. At sunset.” Extending a hand, he grasped Will's firmly. “I'm Little John.” Nodding respectfully at Marian,who sheathed the now normal looking blade, he continued. “Sorry, miss, but the invitation doesn't extend in your direction.” At Marian's outraged gasp, he grinned. “Though I'm sure you'd make life.. interestin'.. for a selected few.” With that cryptic remark, he faded back into the trees.
Which one do you feel reaches out and 'grabs' you with that hook we all hear endlessly about?