Part Two - Scene Development.
My second main suggestion is to focus on further developing the start of each scene, so it moves faster and quickly captures interest with a hook. One way to do this is to include more foreshadowing and tension. For example, for the opening scene you added a great hook about a haunted forest and began the story close to the inciting incident. To further increase tension, maybe see where you can add some foreshadowing. For example, your line “But today he found something new [in the forest]” might be a good place to add one:
But today, he ran into something new.
Something that made him wish he’d never ventured in.
Another example is when Neri spoke to Yerfed of the angry spirits and potentially endangering Rag Hill, which is awesome and attention-grabbing. I felt that the monologue could have been broken up and more tension could have been added to highlight the seriousness. The start of Neri's scene could have also used a hook, which brings me to my next point.
Another way to improve a scene’s beginning is to reduce information, and be more selective of what and when you share. The story should be constantly advancing, so info dumping at opening scenes slows the pace and dilutes tension. Instead, try introducing information only when it’s relevant to the scene and/or the reader needs it. For example, at Neri’s scene, a stronger hook would arouse more interest than his history would. Maybe the reader only needs to know that he’s a druid and wise enough for Yerfed to seek him out. Details about his unknown past are less important, so they can be sprinkled through the scene later or even not at all.
Reducing information also means allowing the reader to infer rather than spelling everything out for them. For example, when Neri’s “eyebrow” raises, don’t tell readers it’s an indication of surprise. Just leave it at that, and let them come to that conclusion. Another example is when you said Yerfed’s words faltered as Neri plucked fluff from him. That’s fine, but you can also show interruptions like:
“Well.” His grip tightened around his cap. “Y’know the woods, north of Rag Hill? I’ve been–”
Neri reached out and plucked some yellow fluff from his broad shoulder.
The druid’s silver eyes met his muddy brown ones. “Go on.”
OR (from Yerfed's perspective):
Yerfed raised his hand to knock at the door.
“Come in, Yerfed of Rag Hill!” a muffled voice called from inside. “Don’t linger at the door.”
In addition, try showing some information rather than telling everything, so it feels relevant and organic. This helps the reader feel they’re discovering and piecing everything together themselves. One method involves body language and actions. For example, to show that the druid is well-respected, perhaps Yerfed’s head would be slightly bowed, or if he’s wearing a cap, he may remove it in respect. You wrote that he spoke in a reverent tone, which is another good detail. Depending on his personality, maybe he’d nervously trip over his words or try having better vocabulary. For example, here's a scene I've quickly built together.
“Come in, Yerfed of Rag Hill!” the druid called, crumbling the last of chamomile into the cauldron. “Don’t linger at the door.”
Right after he yelled, there was a soft rap at the door that broke off, as though someone was about to knock. After a moment, the door creaked open, and footsteps shuffled in.
Neri glanced out of the corner of his eye, just enough to see a young man ducking beneath the low door. He blinked in the dim light, head swiveling as he took in the maze of dusty books and the hanging herbs. His eyes shifted to the kitchen, and upon falling on Neri, they widened. He scrambled to remove his brown cap, clutching it against his chest.
The cauldron’s contents bubbled. The druid’s attention snapped back to stirring.
“Ah, uh - good mornin’, sir.” The man’s voice was reverent and slightly muffled. He was probably bowing.
Another method involves dialogue. For example, rather than explaining to readers why Yerfed would seek out Neri, why not have it show in their conversation? Ideally, it’d be kept brief as it’s not as important. It might look something like:
“I’ve–er.” Yerfed’s boot scuffed against the wooden floorboards. “Not sure if you ‘member me, but my mother said you–”
“I do.” The memory was burned into his mind: Yerfed, only a babe back then, flushed with fever and deathly still in his mother’s arms. It’d been the longest night of his life, sprinting through the wild, tearing the forest apart for white willow bark. “You were fortunate.”
Shaking the past off, he leaned in and deeply inhaled the mixture. A mild, sour scent burned his nostrils, and he scowled before tossing in another handful of lavender. “A day later, and the sickness would’ve claimed you.”
For smaller background information, maybe you could sprinkle it throughout the scene. For example, you mentioned that the druid has unusual features betraying his nonhuman race (I love that) and that people seek his advice. This could be shown through something like:
As Neri bent away from the cauldron, firelight flickered on his grey skin, and the shadows elongated his narrow face. “What brings you to me, Yerfed?” Brushing soot off the front of his torn robes, he crossed his arms against his chest. “Not questions about crops, I gather?” His eyes twinkled. “Or midwifery?”
“Stay still.” Neri leaned in, and his hand patted around Yerfed’s shoulder, feeling for any leftover pollen.
The man’s eyes flickered down to the black, claw-like nails, filed down to short points.
“I wonder,” Neri hummed, tugging at his nest of white hair. The strands parted, revealing a long, twisted ear with a pointy tip. When the fire crackled, it flicked, and he quickly let his hair fall over his face again.
You can also try making background information feel more engaging, such as by telling it through the character’s voice. For example, the opening scene contains important, interesting history about Rag Hill, but maybe try adding colorful details to paint a clearer picture of what it’s like from Yerfed’s perspective. Specifically, “The Rag Hill of today was a boring little farming town in the middle of nowhere.” What about it is boring to Yerfed? This can be briefly shown, an example being:
The Rag Hill of today had long given up swords for pitchforks, content to grow fat with fields and stagnant villages.
Which was why he was out here. Why would he wallow in watery beer or throw rocks at hounds like the other boys, all when he could be traversing the wilds, drinking in the forest and its secrets?
Another example is:
What did a bunch of farmers know about hauntings anyways? Had they even ventured out beyond their cottages? He’d been tromping through the trees for months, and the scariest thing he’d run into was a black bear.
Or just add some details in general:
Centuries had passed since the knights massacred the native elves, watering the lands with their blood.
Overall, I felt that focusing on developing deeper perspectives, strengthening character voices, and spreading out background information would help your story. Other than that, your work contained many strong points. From evocative descriptions of the ghosts to the constant heightening of the stakes, it gave me many reasons to keep reading and rooting for your characters. I was eager to see how they’d resolve a seemingly impossible situation, as well as whether they’d find a way to appease the dead. I was also interested to see how this would shape Yerfed’s perception and development.
I enjoyed this story, and once again, I am honored that you’d ask for my critique. I hope my suggestions were helpful, and I wish you all the best!