Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Allen Rev 2

Name: Kathleen S. Allen
Genre: YA historical

Boar’s Head Tavern

The stench of unwashed bodies drifted around me as I weaved my way through the tavern crowd, my boots sticking to the floor as I walked through God knows what. Tonight the inn was crowded with drunken soldiers and the ale flowed freely. I looked around for one soldier in particular but he was notably absent. Where is he? Why isn’t he here tonight? Worried he might be indisposed; I walked past a group of his fellows and asked.

“Where’s James tonight?”

“Ah, Jenny fancies our captain,” Robert said. “She misses him.”

“Aww,” they said in chorus.

“I just wondered since he’s been here every night,” I said balancing a tray full of goblets and trying not to show how much I did miss him.

“Back at camp,” Robert said with a wink. “Join him there later, I bet he’d welcome the distraction from guard duty.” He guffawed. A captain who does guard duty? Unusual but not surprising. James struck me as the type to do whatever his men needed him to do. Smiling, I delivered the goblets to the next table over. I walked back and forth across the room carrying goblets of ale until my feet ached.

“Jenny,” Meg called from the doorway of the kitchen. I put down the tray and glanced up at her. She pointed to a soldier getting sick by the inside of the front door. I sighed. “Clean it up,” she shouted over the din. The soldier finished and made his way up the stairs but stopped on the landing, getting sick there too. He staggered back down the stairs and collapsed on a bench. Why must they drink until they either pass out or get sick all over the tavern? The smell wafted toward me and I gagged involuntarily. Seeing James might’ve taken some of the drudgery out of the evening but now I didn’t even have that to look forward to. With a loud sigh I filled the bucket from the cistern.

Sweet Jesu, I thought when a woman laughed and walked drunkenly into me causing the contents of the bucket I was carrying to spill onto my boots. I leapt out of the way of the filthy water but it was too late. My boots were soaked through. The woman laughed and fell back against one of the soldiers who peered down the front of her bodice before she got up and found her way back to her companions. I smiled and wagged a finger at the soldier who smiled back.

I wiped my hands on my apron and pushed and shoved my way through the crowd, tripping over boots as I tried to avoid the hands of a soldier who reached out to me. I shook my head holding up the rag.

“I have to clean one of your messes,” I said.

“Good ole Jenny cleans up for us,” he roared with a drunken slur.

“A good girl, that one,” someone else added with a shout.

“To Jenny,” he said and several raised their goblets to me. Acknowledging their thanks with a nod made me pause.

If I was a good girl, I should be content with my lot in life but I was not. From the kitchen door, I gazed at the crowd, most of them laughing and talking in loud voices. Two of the soldiers were dicing in the corner with four others behind them tossing down coins. A woman danced on a table to the sounds of a pipe played by a soldierThe sweet notes flowed through me touching a chord deep in my soul.

I’m not like them, I thought. And yet, I so longed to be. Carefree, happy, content. Going through my days with a smile on my face like Jane, a village girl recently married to one of the soldiers. She saw me staring at her and waved. She was a year younger than me and had her own household. It’s not fair.

I strode into the kitchen and through the back door. I filled the bucket with fresh water from the cistern. Reaching up, I snipped a piece of dried lavender to add to it. I overfilled the bucket and water sloshed over the edge soaking my boots. Maybe now they’ll smell better.

I trudged up the stairs, hauling the bucket to clean the mess at the landing. Once it was cleaned, I took the bucket over to the window into the closest room, mine. Squeezing out the rag, I put it on the sill and pushed open the window.

I meant to dump it out but something caught my eye. I gazed out at the full moon reflected on the blue black sea. The bucket, heavy in my hand made me recall what I was doing. I dumped the contents onto the ground below watching to make sure it didn’t hit anyone. There it was again, a shadow crossed in front of the moon. I paused and gazed out.

A ship!

As I watched, the outline of a tall ship stole into the harbor, gliding silently over the waves like a ghost ship carrying the dead across the river Styx.

What I wouldn’t give to sail on the open seas, adventures awaiting me at every port. For a brief moment I imagined myself standing on the deck of a ship, wind in my hair, on my way to…

A hiss made me turn. Meg.

The now empty bucket still in my hand, I gathered up the rag and plopped it inside. A quick glance out the window told me the ship was no longer there. Perhaps I had imagined it. I turned back to Meg who watched me from the doorway with a scowl on her face.

“Girl, you dreaming again? Get back to work before I whip you.” Meg flew at me with her hand raised.

Rather than pausing to explain and get slapped for the trouble, I dropped the bucket and scurried out of her way, running down the stairs two at a time. My only thought was to get as far away from her as quickly as I could.

“Get back here and pick up this mess!”

Meg was old and had a substantial girth so I knew she would not be able to catch me. I rounded the corner and ran smack into Thomas who carried a full tray of goblets filled to the brim with ale. They spilled all over him, me and the floor. I landed on my bottom, my dress soaked.

He glared at me. “Look at what you’ve done. Now fetch six goblets of ale from the ale room and take them to the table by the window.”

Thomas shook himself like a dog, sending more droplets of the nasty smelling brew all over me.

“I smell like ale,” I complained as I wrung out a handful of my hair that was dripping with the stuff. I stood and tried to get around him but he caught my arm.

“You wouldn’t want me to tell Meg you were daydreaming again, would you?” he asked, a glint in his beady eyes. No, I would not.

Picking up the goblets, I took them and the tray to what Thomas called the ale room.
Too small to be a proper room, the ale room was no bigger than an opening in the wall holding two barrels of ale and several bottles of wine.

Thomas watched me fill six goblets halfway with the ale before adding barley water from the bucket near the barrel. It was Thomas’s way of keeping the costs down. It felt like cheating to me. Most of the time I forgot to add the barley water but this time, since Thomas watched, I didn’t have the chance. I balanced the now full goblets on the tray and headed back out to the main tavern room while Thomas went back to the kitchen.

The men in the corner yelled for their drink.

“Bring our ale!”

“We’re thirsty!”

“Hurry up!”

I rushed to the table near the window, managing to keep most of the liquid in the goblets. One of the soldiers grabbed two goblets. Drinking from one, he passed the other to the soldier next to him. Hands grabbed the rest before I could set the tray down.
“Looks like Jenny has been tipping the ale herself,” Robert said. He yanked me to his lap and sniffed my hair. “Smells good, I like the new scent. Better than what my wife uses.”

I jerked away and stood. “Leave be.” I smacked his roaming hands. “Or I'll tell your wife that you're drinking in here instead of tending to your duties.”

He frowned. “Now, Jenny, be a good girl. I was only teasing. Give us a song and I'll forgive you.” A tiny spark of hope lit up inside me. Singing is the one thing I can do well. Even Meg can’t fault me for bringing in more guests because of my singing. I nod.


  1. Much better!!! I really get a feel for the tavern and all the soldiers and business. I also know a lot about your MC who is very likable. And you made James much more important to the story (so hopefully he is). :D Good luck

  2. This reads much smoother and the action is much more clear. We get more of a sense of your main character's voice, and can really feel the tavern setting. James is obviously going to be an important character, so I'm glad you've brought him to the forefront. One nitpicky detail--when Jenny is thinking, I would italicize those line to differentiate them from the rest of the prose.

  3. Your changes really make a difference. Atmosphere is much tighter and grabbed me right from the beginning.

    Only two things for me left to mention:

    1. I think Meg should rather be screaming and yelling. "Call" seems a little weak.

    2. Put the narration after the dialogue:

    “Bring our ale!”
    “We’re thirsty!”
    “Hurry up!”
    The men in the corner yelled for their drink.

    Best of luck

  4. Jenny's thoughts were in italics. I don't know why it didn't show up. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Opening sounds better.

    Don't need/ watch out for rhetorical questions so early in your text. ie "Where is he? Why isn’t he here tonight?"

    This is a GREAT line: "the outline of a tall ship stole into the harbor, gliding silently over the waves like a ghost ship carrying the dead across the river Styx."

    Remember to watch out for using *sensory* verbs... I saw, watched, looked, felt, touched, heard, smelled...

    Don't need this line: "What I wouldn’t give to sail on the open seas, adventures awaiting me at every port." Because the very next line, you *show* what you'd previously *told*

    Much better job. Keep it up.