Thank you for being willing to share you work with us so that we writers might glean more knowledge of the craft.
If anyone has questions about my suggestions below, please chime in. And don't be afraid to oppose one of my suggestions. I'm open to criticism. If there's a better way, please show us. That's why we're here.
Well Victoria, there weren't that many folks willing to jump in on this one. I think it's because the writing was quite good. You have a nice balance between interior monologue, beats of action, description of the setting, and dialogue that readers could easily follow everything. I think Janet made a good point about the names. And Diana did a great job at catching the POV jumps.
My comments are in blue below:
Jie paced, towel in hand. His thoughts churned between concern for his country and the boy.
He dipped the rag in the last of the water and mopped the Orchard Boy’s forehead with it. Droplets rolled away and wet the blankets, (but Jie didn’t notice. POV jump) He paced again, then faced his wife.
“Mei, I can’t stay here. I must send a message home for reinforcements, then leave for the capital in the morning. (I will I'LL—it's okay to use contractions in historical fiction. Sometimes writers tend to avoid contractions, thinking it makes the writing sound "old." Keep in mind, in every language, people used colloquialisms, contractions, etc. You can read more about writing historicals at Dave King's website. On the left click on "Writing Advice." Then go to the article "Time Travel for Writers." Scroll down the article to "Everyday Language." In my experience, excessive formality is the greatest weakness for most writers of historical fiction. You don't have a lot of it in this section, but I thought it'd be a good learning tool to point out) leave the guards with you and Shan. You have enough cash to care for the boy until he’s well enough for all of you to join me.”
Mei rose and took the rag from him. She nodded (and tried to conceal her trembling lip. POV jump. I can imagine he knows she's trying to conceal it, but if her lip is trembling just say "her lip trembled," that way it won't feel like a POV jump.) “Will you ask the innkeeper for more hot water and perhaps some tea?”
He kissed her on the brow as she knelt beside the Orchard Boy.
Jie closed the door behind him and entered the room he’d rented for his family. Shan didn’t stir while Jie rummaged in his trunk until his fingers touched the worn fabric (OF--great fix, Janet) his scholar’s box with inkstone, brushes, and folded writing silk. As he left the room, he stopped a passing servant and made Mei’s request.
The din from the first floor was twice as loud as when they'd arrived. He looked over the railing. The inn’s main room was overcrowded. A few of his men laughed over cups of wine, but he (did not DIDN'T) see the guard he sought. (Fragile paper lanterns swayed in his wake as he stepped off the landing and breathed in the smells of heated wine and steamed vegetables. Nice way to pull us into the scene.)
Memories drifted across his thoughts. On the eve of war, what he desperately wanted was to talk and laugh with his oldest brother, Mihei. But Mihei was dead. Killed by raiders when Jie was no older than the Orchard Boy upstairs. Jie shook his head. He’d promised Mei he’d leave the past where it lay. It was not an easily-kept vow.
The dice gamers had gathered a small string of cash in the center of their table. He smiled and shook his head at one of his men’s invitation to join the game. Give us some sounds. You've done well by adding smells. We just need a little more.
(“Do you know where Ge Hei is?” Jie asked. Who is he talking to? One of the gamers? If not, let us know.)
“He drew watch duty later tonight and decided to bed down in the stable, my Lord,” (the guard said. Again, is this guard one of the gamers? Who/where is he? This is minor, but it'd be good for us to "see" the scene a little more. Right now, this person is invisible to your reader.)
Jie decided he needed another drink before he wrote his message and ventured outside to find Hei.
Farmers in hemp robes gathered at the bar. He pushed between two of them and caught the innkeeper’s eye. While he waited for his drink, Jie looked at the scroll’s message.
He'd known for months that war brewed beneath the surface of his quiet country. It was why he and his family had journeyed to visit his nephew, the Emperor.
If only the Emperor had not issued this order(! Unless he's yelling in his thoughts, I'd change this to a period. Writers tend to overuse exclamation points to show excitement, etc. In doing so, they end up being overused, and the readers feel like the characters are shouting at them. Only use exclamation points if someone is shouting. I've seen judges in writing contests mark these wrong, even though the character was shouting. Keep in mind, it's not "wrong" to use exclamation points. Just make sure you use them when a character is actually shouting.) Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. But now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. To do otherwise was treason.
(If I could reach the rebels, I could talk to them! Avoid overuse of italics. We're already in Jei's head, so there's no need to put this in first person to show his thought. So far, everything we've been reading are his thoughts. So, I suggest changing this to third person, and taking away the italics: If he could reach the rebels, he could talk to them. Also, cut the exclamation point and replace it with a period.) He didn’t want to attack his brothers, but the Emperor did not need a mediator.
(Regardless of how they came to be traitors, they must be stopped. Again, no need to italicize.)
His stomach churned. (I’ll send Ge Hei for reinforcements. I will be a soldier in the Emperor’s legions until my men arrive. Here we've skipped to first person, while the entire text is in third. Either italicize the first person thoughts—something I don't suggest—or change these to third with no need to italicize. Keep in mind, we're already in Jei's head, so there's no need to emphasize his thoughts in italics. My suggestion: He'd send Ge Hei for reinforcements. Jei would be a soldier in the Emperor's legions until his men arrived.)
He smoothed his beard in a gesture Mei claimed heralded large decisions, then sighed and shook his head. He longed to do more.
Well, there you have it. Any questions or comments? Let me know.