Wennish waves me to a stool beside his bed in the palace clinic. He looks weak and pale, but his voice is steady. “I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, so make yourself comfortable.”
I sit down and glance at my list of questions.
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“I used to, back when I had one. The palace is a great place to work, and I loved the fact that I was helping to protect the royal family. I admired King Jaymin so much.” Wennish sighs. “I should have died in his defense, but my life’s goal now is to do anything I can to help his son.”
2. Do you have any friends? Significant others?
He scowls. “Most of my friends were on the palace guard, and they’re dead. But Tonnis and Eleya are helping me get through this, and little Anya, too – I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
3. What is your idea of success?
“Keeping the palace and its occupants safe.” He scowls again, staring up at the ceiling. “Obviously we failed at that.”
4. What do you hate?
“Malornians.” He practically spits out the word. “And traitors like Talifus. He swore the same oath of allegiance I did, but look what he’s done to Alasia.”
5. What do you do in your spare time?
“Lie here.” Wennish gestures around the little room. “Sleep sometimes. Think about everything that’s happened, and about what might be going to happen. What else can I do? Tonnis won’t let me leave the clinic, not that I could get far if I tried. Sometimes he and Eleya and Anya come and sit with me when they aren’t busy, and we talk. But I get terribly bored.”
6. What did you have for breakfast?
“Anya brought some fried potatoes and eggs over from the dining hall. We always get our meals cold now, because those Malornians insist on eating first. Oh, and I had some nasty sort of tea that Eleya brewed up. I have to drink the most horrible medicinal brews you can imagine.”
7. Did you ever have a pet? Describe it.
“My family had a cat when I was a boy. And my parents bought me my own horse when I turned sixteen. I loved being able to go where I wanted any time.”
8. Do you believe in luck? Why?
Wennish hesitates. “I suppose I do. I mean, Alasia didn’t deserve to be invaded. The king and queen didn’t deserve to be betrayed and murdered. If that isn’t bad luck, what is?”
9. What is your favorite scent? Why?
He thinks this over. “Maybe the smell of fish frying. My uncle’s a fisherman, and sometimes when he had caught more than he needed to sell, he and my aunt would come over for supper with some of the extras. My cousins and I used to play at soldiers out back while our mothers fried up the fish with onions and herbs.” He smiles, remembering. “Those were good times.”
10. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
Wennish smiles again. “There’s an odd little pile of rocks about a quarter mile off the northeast coast. You can’t see it too well from the shore, but it’s visible from some of the other islands. At the right angle, it looks like the head of some giant creature rising from the sea, looking up at the sky with its mouth open. I once stood at just the right spot at the right time to see the sea monster swallow the moon.”
11. What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
Wennish’s expression turns grim as he remembers, and he is silent for so long that at first I think he isn’t going to answer. When he speaks again, his voice is low, serious. “It was just a couple of weeks ago. I had the night shift up on the sixth and seventh floors, which is usually really boring. You just patrol the hallways and the stairs, and check in every so often to report that nothing’s happened. Well, about half way through my shift I thought I heard a distant shout from below, cut off right away. I headed down to check it out, and then I started hearing other shouts; and about that time I happened to pass by a window that looked out on the front courtyard. You can imagine my shock when I saw hundreds of soldiers in red and black uniforms pouring into the palace through every entrance. I started yelling, myself, to sound the alarm, and I ran toward where the king and queen have their suite on the fifth floor. But then soldiers were racing through the hallways toward me.”
He stares into space, breathing hard as though reliving the scene. “Two of them attacked me at the top of a stairway, and I managed to hold my own for a moment or two, but I knew I couldn’t defend myself against both for long. At one point, when I turned to parry a blow from the first man, the other slashed out and caught me right across the chest.” He fingers the bulky bandages under his tunic. “I tried to dodge, but it was too late, and I suppose I lost my balance and fell down the stairs. I don’t remember what happened, but Tonnis says I must have hit my head and lost consciousness.” Wennish reaches back to rub the side of his head. “It was a lucky thing, because they left me for dead. I nearly did die, but Tonnis found me still breathing in the courtyard later and brought me into the clinic. I’d lost more blood than I thoughtI had to spare, but he and Eleya and Anya have slowly been pulling me back toward health. He says if I hadn’t fallen backward just when I did, that sword would have sliced right through my heart.”
Wennish shudders. “I still sometimes wish it had, you know?” He seems almost to be talking to himself now. “Why should I still be alive when none of the others survived?” He closes his eyes, exhausted from the long speech, one hand still moving restlessly over his bandaged chest.
“Thanks for your time,” I whisper. “I’ll leave you to get some rest.” He doesn’t look up as I tiptoe out.