Open Pen

To Khalgena: An Open Pen Critique

This Friday for Open Pen, Araenceana submitted an excerpt from her fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy this descriptive and dark story!

As for critiques, Araenceana is not looking for any specific type of critique, so feel free to share all (constructive) thoughts in the comments. As always, even short, simple comments help. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this piece– I know the authors who submit to Open Pen love your feedback!

God bless,


Open Pen is a critique opportunity  on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit, especially if you are targeting the YA audience. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.


To Khalgena by Araenceana

Night is a mysterious occasion. Sometimes, the wind whistles through the darkness like an unknown, invisible force, other nights, rain pours from the sky like a deluge, drowning out fields and flowers. In winter, snow falls thickly, carpeting the outside world in a deadly cold blanket of ice. It is always a mysterious occasion; there is a deep unknown about the cold darkness that is called night.
And it rained over the slave traders and their caravan that night. Not just a little fall of rain, it stormed, wind howling and wailing through the trees, water pouring through rents in the sky, hitting the dusty road and churning it into a path of mud. Though Mornaug, the captain of the slave drivers, sat under a canvas canopy in the foremost cart, the slaves and his men were not so lucky. Shivering and cold, the slaves huddled together in the wagons as the rain drenched them. Though it was still summertime, the season was on the cusp of changing, and the first chill of autumn air seemed to grow stronger.
In the corner of one of the carts sat a boy by name of Einyd, not much older than seventeen years of age. His wrists were bound, and his ankle was chained to the wooden side of the cart for extra caution. He was a slave like the rest of them, but no one spoke to him. The boy had caused trouble before, had even attacked one of the slavers with his chain, and his infamous attitude of carelessness infuriated most everyone. Rain fell upon his dark hair, running down over his face. He didn’t move. A smile played across his lips as he stared up at the pouring sky above. He’d always loved the rain.
Beside him, his sister Brya rested, worn out and hungry from a long day of travelling. Several hours ago, Mornaug had completed his last raid, a rewarding collection of at least a dozen young men and women suitable for slavery. The carts had stopped upon a nearby hill, while the slave driver and several of his men went to capture the newest slaves. The village must have fought back. The smoke of the burning town was visible for almost a mile after the caravan had finally continued on its way.
One of the girls had fainted shortly after being captured, and Einyd watched her now, as she began to stir again. The girl opened her eyes, and sat up, staring in utter horror about her. She must have forgotten what happened. Poor girl was in shock anyway, he thought to himself. He brushed a strand of wet hair from his eyes.
The girl who had awakened gave a cry. “No! What…where…?” Her eyes widened in panic, and she looked around wildly for an explanation. The girl next to her, probably her friend, put a hand on her arm. She screamed, pulling away from her.
“Sh! It’s alright, it’s alright. Don’t scream, they’ll hear you…” said her friend, looking desperately at Brya and Einyd, who sat right across from them.
The girl jerked her arm away, and stood up, sobbing tearlessly. The motion of the cart threw her down again, and she shrieked when she realized that her hands were tied.
“Sit down, Rell! Stop it, come on, come here!” her friend urged, crawling forward to help the girl back to the side of the cart. Rell cried out again in terror, her whole body shaking with fear and cold.
“What happened to us? Where are we? Ailatea, what’s become of us, I don’t remember anything!” Before the other, Ailatea, could say a word, she burst out into hysterical tears, sobbing and wailing.
She’s going mad, isn’t she? Einyd thought. He looked at his sister, who seemed to be watching the poor, confused girl with a pitying look. Unfortunately, it was often that captives reacted like this.
Rell continued to weep, crying and screaming, and before long, a guard came over, angry to have been disturbed from the bit of shelter the main cart offered. He jabbed at her with his spear handle.
“Stop your moaning or you’ll have something more to cry about!” he growled menacingly, and then turned and marched off, hunched down against the rain. Rell’s eyes widened and she stopped wailing, though she put her head into her hands and wept quietly. Her friend looked up at Brya, and shook her head.
“Why did they take us?”
Brya looked at the sobbing girl, and sighed. “Slave traders. The want to sell us.”
A look of horror flashed across Ailatea’s face. “Ohhh…” she managed. She swallowed.
“Where do they plan to go?”
“Khalgena. To the slave markets there.” Einyd explained.
Brya looked at her brother, surprised. “How do you know?”
Einyd pulled his scant cloak tighter around his shoulders. “I hear things. I eavesdrop, listen to the guards. Have a good memory.”
Ailatea narrowed her eyes slightly. “Khalgena. They’re taking us across the Drulu.”
“Aye”, he said, shortly.
“That’s worlds away”, Ailatea whispered softly.
Silence fell over the cart for a moment.
“You’ve never been across the divide before?”
Ailatea shook her head. “Never. Never even left Derlor.”
Einyd raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Then you will be in for quite an experience.”
“What do you mean by that?” said she, looking rather offended.
He shrugged, and said nothing more. Ailatea frowned, and sat back, wrapping her cloak around herself to stay dry. It helped little.
Rell stopped weeping after a few minutes, much to everyone’s relief, and it was not long before she had fallen back asleep. Ailatea too closed her eyes, letting the now soft rainfall calm her frightened nerves. She was relieved that her friend had finally woken up; she’d been frightened that Rell was traumatized beyond hope of recovery, but at the same time, the maddened, wild look on her friend’s face had worried her, and she couldn’t help praying that Rell wouldn’t go mad. Ailatea herself had been terrified beyond anything she’d ever felt before when the band of rough men had broken into her village in the middle of the night, kidnapping her and the others, snatching many of them from their very beds. She’d tried to fight back, but it was futile, only earning her more bruises and scrapes. And now here she sat, huddled in the rain next to her maddened friend, on the way to a foreign country across the great channel that separated Rendess from Semrone. A slave now, no longer free.
It would be wise to rest while peace lasts, she thought, and she rested her head on her knees.
Ailatea did not realize that she had fallen asleep until the cart stopped with a sudden jolt, and she was awakened by shouts and cries. Her whole body ached from sleeping in an uncomfortable position, but she sat up straighter and stretched to see what was going on.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked Einyd.
“Some idiot decided to try and escape. Don’t watch.” Einyd nodded in the direction of the third cart ahead.
Heedless of his warning, Ailatea looked, just in time to see one of the slavers force a captive to his knees and bring his knife down, hard. She gasped, and whirled back around, eyes wide with shock. A strange taste rose in her mouth.
“No…” she gasped out, sickened. She tried to wipe out what she’d just witnessed, but found that she couldn’t.
Einyd winced. “I told you not to look.”
Brya hid her face in her cloak. Ailatea covered her mouth, tears rising rapidly to her eyes.
“What did he do? What happened?”
“He tried to escape. Twice. And it seems that they had enough of it.”
“Enough? They killed him!”
Einyd nodded sorrowfully. “You shouldn’t have looked.”
Ailatea shook her head in disbelief and closed her eyes. Einyd felt sorry for her. Likely she’d never seen someone killed so brutally before.
The carts began to drive again, and soon they were back on their way to Khalgena, leaving the body of the dead captive behind. The rain gradually started up again, pattering harder and harder against the road until it became a downpour. Night began to fall, as the sky grew darker and the air grew colder.
It seemed that the journey had just begun.


6 thoughts on “To Khalgena: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. “Night is a mysterious occasion.” Why? Do they not have night here? OH I see…it’s poetics. So I’m not really sure what the first paragraph is doing for you, other than describing wind and rain and snow. The mention of snow really confused me in the NEXT paragraph, when you said it was still summertime. So it snows in the summertime? Or…no, that was just poetics. Nevermind.

    So I like that you chose to open with the main characters already enslaved. I think you could really improve this segment if you cut out most of the poetics and character descriptions and cut right to the dialogue and immediate problem of the moment. The characters are enslaved…I’m assuming they don’t want to be enslaved. Are they trying to escape? Are they about to fight off a monster? Let’s get to that part. Maybe you could start with Einyd fighting the soldiers. That’d be fun to watch.

    There were also a few inconsistencies within the text. For one, you TOLD us that Einyd had an “infamous attitude of carelessness,” but then you SHOWED us that he feels sorry for the other characters and doesn’t seem that careless at all. It’d be better if you just went ahead and showed us this attitude of carelessness (you did a good job with that in the dialogue) without actually telling us. That way the dichotomy of carelessness/empathy can play out more naturally without confusing readers.

    Then, there was the slave they killed. I was very confused because it sounded like Einyd had tried to escape a few times, and yet they weren’t killing HIM. Why pick on the other slave?

    And there was the panicked girl’s friend, who was able to put a hand on her shoulder even though everybody else’s hands were bound. Is her friend a slaver? That’d be interesting. Why aren’t we following the story of this girl?

    The dialogue, as I said, was good, although I did feel like you used it to drop more exposition on us. However, I really liked Einyd’s comment of “Then you will be in for quite an experience.” It felt like a natural way to tie up that line of conversation.

    One more thing before I go: I really got thrown for a loop when you hopped to Ailatea’s POV. Before I’d just known her as the friend of the panicked girl and I didn’t think she was gonna be important. I was embedded in Einyd’s POV and I had to stop and reread when you switched. I’d suggest cutting it entirely. If you wanna go into it in a later chapter, that’s fine, but don’t switch in the middle of a scene like that.

    So yeah. This was fun to read. If you wanna check out another story that opens with some slave drivers and does it well, I’d suggest looking up Nate Philbrick’s “The Broken City of Crows” on Wattpad. It might give you some ideas.

    Best of luck!

    (Side note to Gabrielle; you have no idea how happy I get when you post these things.) 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Faith! I am glad you like Open Pen! Also thank you for always commenting– I know it makes a huge difference to those submitting to know that they will have more than one person giving feedback.


    2. First of all: Thank you so much for your advice!! You don’t know how much I appreciated it!!

      Ok, so I happen to be very poetic when I write: The opening part, “Night is a mysterious occasion”, is going to be in for MUCH editing in the future, and I agree that it seems confusing for the description of snow to be in there when it’s summertime!!! However, keep in mind that I (stupidly) chose to submit this piece to Open Pen without editing it in the least. This was my rough draft first draft, therefore there is MUCH to be edited and worked on.

      Aha those inconsistencies. Yes, I just noticed that (duh)!! Einyd’s personality is a bit inconsistent in this first part, as you said, but I am going to change that. Also, the slaves’s hands are all bound, so I realize that Ailatea putting a hand on Rell’s shoulder would be nigh impossible. No, she is not a slaver! 🙂 It was a mistake. I see what you mean when you say I SHOWED something other than I had written. Thanks for pointing that out.

      And the slave they killed will be cut out of the book eventually (no pun intended, hehe). I see now that that was actually quite a plot hole…Einyd should have been killed long before, and they didn’t kill him. Also, that slave should be worth money, as Gabrielle pointed out.

      I am glad you liked the dialogue., though I am not sure what exactly you meant when you said, “I did feel like you used it to drop more exposition on us” ?

      And finally, the POV. I see how confusing it is to change so quickly. In future edits, I will change it so that the POV only changes at chapter breaks.
      Thank you SO much. I was so happy to get all that advice!!


  2. Firstly, I want to say that I really enjoyed the piece (I mean the writing, not that I’m a sadistic person who enjoys seeing characters suffer). I actually liked the poetics, although they were slightly confusing. The first paragraph pulled me in, and I liked the change of tense as well.
    It is grammatically incorrect to begin a sentence with “and”. This doesn’t stop authors from using it (sigh), but it is one of my pet hates. I think the beginning of the second paragraph would be better if you cut out “And”.
    Also, when you changed to Ailatea’s POV, you didn’t explain how she knew the other characters’ names. They had heard hers, but I don’t see how she knew the others’ names.
    Finally, you mentioned in the second paragraph that it was night, then ended with “night began to fall”. I’m confused. Did a whole day pass during that scene? If so, it would be helpful to give some indication of time passing.
    Thanks for sharing!


    1. I am super glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the tip about using “and”, I will be sure to keep that in mind when I rewrite. And yeah, I see what you mean by the fact that she couldn’t have known their names and yet did so. That is confusing, now I look at it. Oh, and the story was supposed to have begun around evening, hence the “and night fell”, but I obviously did not make that clear. Thanks for pointing that out.
      Wonderful advice…thank you!


  3. Thank you for submitting a piece for us to look over, Araenceana!

    -Firstly, the name Einyd really annoys me. Personally, when I read a story the name of the character means a lot to me (that might be just me though) and I am pronouncing the name EINYD as ENID, which is a girl’s name. So in my head, Einyd should be a girl, but isn’t, which annoys me. I don’t know if this is a problem that other people find when they read, so you might not have to worry about it at all. That’s just my two cents worth.

    -Other than that, I agree with Faith. The slavers don’t sound like the kind of people who would essentially kill their living just because it annoyed them.

    -As someone else also mentioned, the switch to Ailatea’s point of view was really abrupt and it jolted me out of Einyd’s pov, which I was really enjoying. Here, either rewrite it, so that the excerpt is entirely in Einyd’s or Ailatea’s pov, or indicate a break, and switch to Ailatea.

    -Maybe I didn’t read it properly, but I originally though that the panicked girl and Eidnyd’s sister were the same person. I had to go back and reread it to figure out that Brya and Rell were different people.

    -“What happened to us? Where are we? Ailatea, what’s become of us, I don’t remember anything!” This should be re-written as “What’s become of us, Ailatea? I don’t remember!”

    -And finally, is there any reason why Einyd and Brya should be so calm when they’ve been captured by slavers? Have they been there longer than the others have? Are they just resigned to their fate? Have they been brought up in a different way to the others? I realise that this is only an excerpt of a longer novel, so you might answer these questions later. I think it would be interesting to explore the differences between the two siblings and the panicking others.

    Anyway, sorry that this ended up so long. I hope you find it helpful.
    God bless. 🙂


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