With my third novel in my Annals of Alasia trilogy ready to publish by the middle of May, I decided to conduct a series of “interviews” with my characters. This one is the first! I stepped into the setting of the book so I could have conversations with about ten of my main characters. Enjoy!
I have arranged to meet Ernth by a certain stream in the foothills of the Impassable Mountains. When I arrive, he is spearfishing from the bank, a pile of three or four fish on the grass behind him. A bay horse grazes nearby. He joins me on a log and I pull out my list of questions.
Do you prefer cities or the countryside? Warm weather or cold?
Ernth adjusts the belt of his deerskin tunic. “The countryside, of course. Who wouldn’t like it here? I hate cities. And I prefer warm weather, because the colder it is, the lower in the foothills my family has to travel, and that means we encounter more Lowlanders.”
How would you most like to spend a day off?
“I’d like to go off riding with my cousin.” He glances at the horse grazing a few yards away. I love to ride, but there isn’t much time for that most days. We could hunt deer or race our horses across the slopes.”
What object would you save if your home was on fire?
“You mean my tent? Well, if I didn’t have it on already, I’d save my jacket that I made from snowcat skin. Oh, and my necklace with the snowcat teeth.”
What is the one sentence you would never say?
He considers. “I can’t wait to go to the Lowlands!” His voice is scornful.
What makes you angry?
“When Lowlanders cheat us or take advantage of us because we don’t understand their ways.” Ernth frowns and pokes at the ground with his spear. “It happens almost every time we interact with them.”
What’s your favorite food?
“I love roast goat! It’s all the more special because we usually only have it to celebrate something important, like when someone in the family gets Accepted.”
What do you think of Lowlander food?
He makes a face. “It’s disgusting. Well, most of it. They have an orange vegetable that isn’t bad, and sometimes they serve something fruity after the meal; I like that. But the only really good thing about meals in the Lowlands is coffee. It’s an ugly-looking black liquid that you have to mix with lots of white stuff – it looks like goat milk but it’s not the same – and then you dump in lots of sweet powder. After that it’s delicious. It’s the only thing about Lowland life that’s better than what we have here in the mountains.”
Did you ever have a pet? Describe it.
“Well, my family keeps goats, of course, for their milk and meat. And there’s my horse.” He smiles in the horse’s direction. “Her name is Hungry, and she’s as close to me as a family member. I struggled through the Rite of Acceptance and nearly died to get her, but it was worth it.” As though she understands, the horse ambles closer and nuzzles him, and Ernth reaches up to stroke her neck. It’s obvious the two of them share a special bond.
What did you have for breakfast?
“Lumjum cakes with berries, and of course goat milk.”
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
He chuckles. “I suppose that would be Korram tumbling over the edge of a waterfall with a snowcat in his arms. Of course, since I was almost directly underneath, I wasn’t exactly laughing at the time. But it turned out all right, and that’s how we both got our jackets and necklaces.”
Have you ever been in love? How did that work out?
Ernth scowls, and when he finally answers, his voice is low. “It was almost two years ago. Her name was Jenth. She was murdered by Lowlanders. Why do you think I hate them so much?” He looks away, but when he finally meets my gaze again, he sighs. “Actually, we found out not long ago that it was an accident, a misunderstanding. The man who did it said he was sorry and gave us gifts of food, and my whole family has agreed to go back to his village to trade whenever we’re in the area. I suppose that’s a good thing.” He fiddles with the shaft of his spear. “But how am I supposed to change the way I’ve felt about them for so long?”
How many siblings do you have? Are they older or younger?
“I have one older sister, Charr. She’s married and has two young children. Her husband Thont is a good friend of mine.”
What were some things you liked to do when you were a child?
Ernth smiles. “My cousins and friends and I used to pretend we were on the Rite of Acceptance. We would make up situations for each other, like, ‘You haven’t eaten in two days, you just found a patch of berries, and there’s a hungry bear between you and them. What do you do?’ Then we’d act out the situation and try to impress each other with how we’d solve the problem. Sometimes it turned into a contest to see who could come up with the funniest solution.”
Of what are you proudest?
“That’s easy. Of succeeding in the Rite of Acceptance and earning my horse.”
Have you ever killed anyone?
“No. But supposedly we might have to when we all go to the Lowlands in this army of Korram’s.”
Do you have any scars you would be willing to show me?
Ernth pulls up the sleeve of his tunic to reveal a faint mark running straight across the side of his right shoulder. “I got this the day Jenth was killed. One of the Lowlander’s arrows grazed me as we were trying to get away.” He pulls up his other sleeve, and he grins as he shows me his next scar. “And this is my horse mark.” Sure enough, the mark – which appears to be a burn – is shaped roughly like a horse. “It’s the proof that I’ve been Accepted. The best pain I ever felt!”
What do you hope to accomplish? What keeps you from achieving your goal?
“I just want to live out my life here in the mountains with everything the same as it’s always been. I don’t dream of anything more than that.” He sighs. “But ever since Korram showed up with his complicated plans and his need for an army, nothing’s been the same. And now that I owe him a life debt, I have to go down with him to the Lowlands until I can fulfill it. But as soon as I can, I’m coming back home to the mountains, and then I hope I’ll never have to leave again.”